Best kayak rack for a car


Always double-check your roof racks after installation and loading them up with your kayak to make sure everything is secure.

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Which kayak rack for a car is best?

Kayakers who don’t own a truck or live right by a river or bay will be happy to know there are many racks designed to work with cars. They are easy to install, come in several styles and will transport your kayak securely and safely. 

You aren’t limited to transporting just a single kayak either. Some models, such as the Yakima JayLow, are designed to carry up to two kayaks, so you can spend the day paddling with a friend. 

Before clicking that buy button though, there are a few factors you’ll need to consider. Certain styles of racks work only with vehicles equipped with crossbars. You’ll also want to pay attention to the weight capacity and look for features that can make loading or installing less of a hassle.

What to know before you buy a kayak rack for a car


Kayak racks for cars come in four types: J-cradles, stackers, saddles and pads.

As the name implies, J-cradles look like the letter J. They have one long side that acts as an upright support and a low side that allows for easy loading. These are one of the most popular types, because they have a small footprint but are still very secure. There are even some that have an adjustable upright post so you can turn them into a stacker for transporting two kayaks.

Stackers have a single vertical post that you strap your kayaks to. They are designed for transporting up to two kayaks, but thanks to their fully vertical carrying, you can fit two of them on some cars for a total of four kayaks.

Saddles are a pair of short, angled racks that together make a V shape that your kayak sits in horizontally. This only allows you to carry a single kayak, but many appreciate the aerodynamic shape, because they don’t make much noise or produce a lot of drag when traveling at high speeds.

Pads sit flat on the roof of a car and may be made of a dense foam or inflatable. These are the best choice for those without roof racks and are the quickest and easiest to install and remove. However, they aren’t quite as secure as the other three types so are best for short distances, rather than long trips at highway speeds.

Your vehicle

It is important to consider what, if any, hardware your vehicle has before choosing a kayak rack. If you have crossbars, you’ll want to choose J-cradles, stackers or saddles. However, if your vehicle doesn’t have any kind of luggage rack on the top, you’ll need to opt for pads instead.

How many kayaks you want to transport

Before purchasing a kayak rack for your car, determine how many kayaks you want to transport. Models that carry kayaks horizontally, such as saddles and pads, will allow you to transport only one kayak on top of the average car. If you want to carry two kayaks, you’ll need to buy a rack that holds kayaks vertically, such as J-cradles or stackers.

Features to look for in a quality kayak rack for a car

Weight limit

Every kayak rack has a weight limit that must not be exceeded. For most, this is around 75 pounds, which is enough to accommodate the majority of kayaks. However, there are some large tandem and fishing kayaks that weigh 100 pounds or more. Before choosing any rack, check how much your kayak weighs to ensure the rack can safely handle it. 


The last thing you want is for the hull of your kayak to be damaged while in transit. To ensure this doesn’t happen, look for a rack with dense foam or rubber padding everywhere it will come into contact with your kayak.

Adjustable position

Some J-cradle kayak racks have adjustable posts that allow you to carry your kayak at an angle or in a vertical position. When the posts are set in the vertical position, they turn into stackers so you can transport a pair of kayaks.

Loading ramp

Getting a heavy kayak up and onto the roof of your vehicle is hard enough without your rack adding an extra few inches of clearance. To make this process easier, some models feature ramps that allow you to slide your kayak into the rack. 

Easy installation

Kayak racks should be easy to install without the need for any tools. For saddles, stackers and J-cradles, look for hardware designed to be tightened down by hand. For pads, look for models with cam locks or similar types of easy-to-tighten buckles on the straps.

How much you can expect to spend on a kayak rack for a car

Kayak racks vary in price based on both quality and type. Pads and saddle-style kayak racks generally cost $50-$125. J-cradles and stackers tend to cost $100-$300. 

Kayak rack for a car FAQ

Do you need to remove the kayak rack from the car when you’re not carrying kayaks?

A. You don’t need to remove your kayak rack from your car when it’s not in use, but many people choose to. Most racks greatly increase your clearance requirements, which some may inadvertently forget when driving around. Also, an empty rack is a potential target for thieves.

Do kayak racks fit all types of kayaks?

A. Kayak racks are designed to be universal for the most common sizes and weights of kayaks. However, if you have a very large and heavy kayak, such as a fishing one or a tandem model, you’ll need to check that whatever rack you are considering can accommodate something of its size and weight.

What’s the best kayak rack for a car to buy?

Top kayak rack for a car

Yakima JayLow kayak rack

Yakima JayLow

What you need to know: This versatile roof rack can carry up to two kayaks and is designed to fold flat when not in use.

What you’ll love: It allows you to carry kayaks in an angled or vertical position and has an angled ramp that makes loading easier.

What you should consider: It can whistle when folded flat and driving at high speeds.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Top kayak rack for a car for the money

TMS 2 Pairs J-Bar Rack

TMS 2 Pairs J-Bar Rack

What you need to know: When it comes to value for the money, you’d be hard pressed to beat this pair of racks from TMS. 

What you’ll love: They have a tough steel construction, giving each set a 75-pound maximum capacity. Also, they are designed for a near-universal fit with all roof racks and crossbar systems.

What you should consider: Although easy to install and use, the instructions are confusing, so some may struggle with them at first.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Worth checking out

Malone Downloader kayak rack

Malone Downloader

What you need to know: These lightweight but sturdy racks come with everything needed to mount them, as well as tie-down straps for the kayaks.

What you’ll love: The combination of dense foam and rubber padding ensures they won’t scratch your kayak, and they conveniently fold down flat when not in use, so you won’t mind leaving them installed on your vehicle at all times.

What you should consider: They fit round crossbars better than square or rectangular ones.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon


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Brett Dvoretz writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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