Kayaking is unquestionably one of the best ways to explore. You can do it almost anywhere there’s water, easily get to areas that are otherwise inaccessible, cover a great deal of ground in a relatively short time period, and fish along the way. As a bonus, kayaking is also an excellent workout.
The only real caveat when it comes to kayaking is that, well, you need a kayak. Sure, you can rent one or beg friends to borrow theirs every time you want to hit the water, but that quickly gets old — and expensive. Purchasing your very own yak is definitely the way to go, but even that comes with some catches. Namely, owning a kayak means you have to store and transport it.
Getting your kayak to and from the water may seem fairly straightforward, but you may be surprised at how many methods and devices there are. After all, no two vehicles — including kayaks — are alike. If you know you need a kayak roof rack but don’t know the difference between saddles, j-cradles, and rollers, we’ve got you covered.
Of course, choosing a kayak roof rack may depend on whether your kayak has a flat full, rounded hull, or a V-shaped one, as well. So it’s good to keep those considerations in mind when narrowing down your possibilities.
Knowing that there is a lot out there to sort through, we hope to make this process easy on you. Here are our picks for the six best kayak roof racks you can get your hands on:
1. Thule Hull-a-Port XT
True to Thule’s simplistic-yet-somehow-innovative roots, the Hull-a-Port XT is a j-cradle kayak roof rack that transforms into a dual stacker. Our favorite feature is that the upright folds flat when not in use. This exceedingly rare detail allows you to leave the kayak roof rack installed and still park in your garage. We also love that we can lock it with Thule’s One-Key System.
The Hull-a-Port XT comes fully assembled and is compatible with Thule and factory roof racks. While two individual j-cradles are included, you only get straps and tiedowns for one kayak. You’ll need to purchase another set if you plan to haul two.
2. Malone SeaWing Kayak Carrier with Stinger Load Assist
This is the only “twofer” on our list, a kayak roof rack and integrated loader in one. The SeaWing is a low-profile v-style kayak carrier for both recreational and sea kayaks, and it’s compatible with most vehicles with cross bars.
The included Stinger Load Assist attaches permanently to the SeaWing and extends 22” to make loading your kayak safer and easier. Its padded design enables you to effortlessly load the kayak by sliding the bow, or front, onto the retractable loader directly onto the v-cradles — no lifting required.
3. Yakima SweetRoll
It doesn’t get much simpler than saddle-style kayak roof racks — and Yakima’s is one of the best. The SweetRoll has four smooth-molded saddles, or pads, with integrated rollers in the rears. Each one is spring-loaded to automatically adjust during loading for a perfect hold.
Much like the Malone Stinger, the SweetRoll’s roller system dramatically simplifies kayak loading. The vice-style universal mounting clamps enable tool-free installation on most cross bars, and Yakima’s Same-Key System (SKS) locks are available separately.
4. Rhino-Rack Nautic 570 Series
The side-loading Rhino-Rack Nautic 570 offers versatility, also capable of carrying a SUP or surfboard. Unique 180-degree pivoting saddles allow you to roll your kayak on and off the rack, as opposed to having to lift it up and over.
The Nautic 570’s santoprene rubber pads perfectly cradle your kayak and conform to a variety of hull and board shapes. All pieces are also corrosion-resistant, which is especially helpful for sea kayaks.
5. Yakima Jayhook
Yes, Yakima made our list a second time. Its aptly-named single j-cradle kayak roof rack is that good. The Jayhook is simple but effective, utilizing a padded metal j-cradle that protects your kayak from getting scratched while loaded in the carrier.
Although the Jayhook’s capacity is limited to a single kayak, the space-saving upright style allows you plenty of room to add another kayak roof rack or other accessories. As with most Yakima racks, no tools are required to install the Jayhook, and it can be locked with SKS cores, sold separately.
6. Malone HandiRack Inflatable Roof Rack
If your vehicle doesn’t have cross bars, you probably thought a kayak roof rack was out of the question. Wrong! The HandiRack was designed specifically for rail-less vehicles. Each of its bars features inflatable twin tubes with straps that run through the door frame into the car interior. The included HandiPump inflates each bar in seconds.
The universal design and 175-pound weight capacity mean you can also carry a canoe (as you can see above), SUP, surfboard, or winter sports gear.
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