Unless you live on the beach, you’ll need to transport your kayak from your home to the water somehow.
Even if you do live right by a body of water, there should be nothing stopping you from taking your kayak to other shores.
This is where kayak roof rack carriers come into the picture.
There’s a lot to consider when buying a carrier for your kayak. Is the rack padded? Does it have good quality straps, and will it hold your kayak sturdily on long trips?
We’ve tested a number of kayak roof rack carriers and summed them up for you, below.
Kayak Roof Racks (Comparison Table)
Top Kayak Roof Carriers
Best Budget Kayak Roof Rack: TMS J-Bar Kayak Car Roof Rack
The TMS J-Bar Kayak Car Roof Rack is a sturdy, budget-friendly, and universal option that will fit most cars. It is sufficient as is but can be easily and inexpensively improved.
We used the TMS J-Bar carrier on a long-distance trip and the carrier held our kayak well, even at very high speeds. Our kayak didn’t budge once, and neither did the carrier!
We loved that the TMS J-Bar carrier is universal. With some adjustments, we got it to fit on several different vehicles from our fleet.
This carrier comes with a simple diagram rather than assembly instructions. However, we found it easy to assemble and it took us only about twenty minutes in total.
If you’re struggling, there are tutorials on YouTube and some helpful customers have put instructions on the Amazon review page!
The kit does come with a small, flat wrench to assist with assembly and tightening of nuts and bolts. We found this wrench a bit weak, and our own tools worked better.
We also found that using oil or another lubricant made assembly much smoother than it might have been otherwise.
The straps that come with this carrier are sufficient, if a bit short. However, it is simple and cheap to buy additional straps while keeping within a limited budget.
Unfortunately, this carrier doesn’t come with front and rear tie downs. We used some extra that we had on hand.
Once assembled, this carrier is an easy on-and-off. We’d recommend storing it when not in use, as the finish is likely to scratch and rust.
Best Quality Kayak Carrier: Malone J-Pro 2 J-Style Universal Car Rack Kayak Carrier
Extremely durable, secure, and light: That is how we would sum up the Malone J-Pro carrier.
Our only problem with this carrier is that the bolts that it came with were too short. We went out and bought longer bolts and then the carrier worked like a charm!
Aside from the bolts, this carrier comes with everything needed to mount it onto a car.
It took us a bit of practice to figure out exactly how to mount this carrier. Once we had the knack of it, we loved how sturdily it locks down and how tightly it held our kayaks.
The straps this carrier comes with are strong and of excellent quality; we found them to be the perfect length. It was awesome that the carrier came with all necessary straps and tie-downs.
This carrier is especially good for long distance trips; we went on a two-hour trip and had absolutely no problems. Even before we fastened the straps, our kayaks didn’t slide or shift at all.
Plus, this carrier has great padding, which has covering that protects it from getting damaged by the kayaks. We also love the e-coating on this carrier which prevents rusting.
This carrier is perfect for larger kayaks and very convenient if you need to transport more than one kayak. It might be overkill if your kayak is a smaller model.
Best Overall Kayak Rack: Yakima JayLow, J-Style Fold Down Rooftop Kayak Carrier
First things first, we found this carrier incredibly simple to install and adjust, without even using any tools. It took us only a few minutes to mount this carrier, and not much longer to strap in our kayaks.
We loved how secure and tight our kayaks were on this carrier! We used this carrier on a day trip and our kayaks didn’t budge, even at high speed.
With high-quality foam padding, this carrier protected and cushioned our kayaks extremely well. This carrier comes with straps for the centre and for both ends, making it extra sturdy.
Depending on the size of your kayaks, this carrier can easily hold between two and four kayaks.
This carrier has two main drawbacks, or cons.
The first is that ours made a strange and annoying whistling sound while we were driving. However, taping some duct tape over the screw holes fixed this issue.
The second con is that the rubber straps are of low quality and began to tear on first use. We went out and bought rachet straps to replace them.
Although, it is important to note that with rubber straps, there is no danger of the straps damaging your car.
The crowning glory of this carrier is that it folds down. We folded it down to fit our car into our garage, or when we were driving without kayaks.
This also means that, since the carrier is durable, you don’t need to take it off your car when its not in use.
A big plus is that this carrier has an (add-on, optional) lock. We loved the feeling of security that came with being able to lock our carrier down.
It took us no more than ten minutes to mount the Malone Downloader carrier on our vehicle. We were pleased that the carrier withstood driving and high speed through rain and wind, without our kayak wobbling.
We did notice some air noise while driving, but no whistling.
This carrier comes with two heavy-duty, durable straps that make this carrier rock-solid. We loved how securely these straps held our kayak.
Best of all, this carrier comes with a small ramp that made sliding our kayak onto the carrier a breeze. In the past, we’ve caught kayaks on the ends of carriers, so this was a great touch.
We also loved that this carrier has a protective nylon sleeve on the padding. This protects the padding from getting torn or otherwise damaged.
This is a fold-down carrier; folded down, the carrier was sleek against the roof of our vehicle and practically unnoticeable. We loved that this meant we could easily fit our car into our garage, or drive around without our kayaks.
Plus, we found the folding mechanisms to be incredibly smooth, even if cold weather.
A word of warning: Although it claims to be a universal fit, this carrier is made to fit square bars. If you have oval or aero bars, you might struggle to get this carrier to sit snuggly.
A great plus is that this carrier has a lifetime warranty.
All-in-all, this is a decent carrier, despite not being a universal fit; the loading ramp is an especially nice feature.
Most Reliable: JDM 2 Pair Universal Roof Rack
We found this JDM carrier a bit tricky to assemble and mount, especially because the instructions were a bit vague. Also, we used our own tools rather than the included wrench, which wasn’t strong enough.
However, once mounted, this carrier held up well. We took it on a three-hour trip through rough weather and experienced no wobbling or slippage.
The straps included with this carrier are suitable, but not the best. We went out and bought some rachet straps, just to make sure our kayaks were safe.
Unfortunately, the foam padding isn’t very thick, or protected. Although it has held up so far, we are worried that it won’t last very long.
Depending on your car, you might find the bolts that come with this carrier too long. We went out and bought shorter bolts, that wouldn’t scratch the roof of our car.
We loved that this carrier is extremely versatile. We used it to transport kayaks but also other sport gear.
Also, although it doesn’t fold down, this rack has a low profile. We were fine leaving it on our car even when not in use.
At an inexpensive cost, this carrier will suit a kayaker on a budget or a less serious kayaker.
Buyer's Guide for Kayak Roof Racks
To fold or not to fold?
Whether or not your kayak carrier folds down can be a make-or-break detail.
If it doesn’t fold down, you might need to take it off before you can park your car in a garage. Plus, an empty kayak carrier can be a serious drag when you’re driving around town.
However, fold-down models are typically more expensive. If you’re not planning on using your carrier more often, a fold-down model might not be necessary.
Weigh It Up
How heavy, or not heavy, your carrier is makes a difference. If you’re going to be mounting the carrier alone, you might want a lighter carrier, especially if you’re of shorter build.
When buying a kayak roof rack carrier, it’s important to keep in mind how many kayaks you plan on transporting at once.
Most, but not all, typical carriers are built for two kayaks. If you expect to be transporting three kayaks, make sure to get a carrier that can handle the extra load.
Plan on transporting four kayaks at once? We recommend using two carriers who can each hold two kayaks each.
Taking the brunt
As with all hardware, sports-related or not, durability is key when it comes to kayak roof rack carriers.
Nobody wants a carrier that will scratch easily, or rust. Plus, nobody wants a carrier that will damage their kayaks.
In our experience, e-coated kayak carriers are best for withstanding the elements. When it comes to padding, it absolutely needs protective covering, or it will tear on the first few uses.
Every kayakers nightmare: You’re cruising down the highway, you look in the rear-view mirror, and your kayak is flying off your roof.
Okay, we’re being dramatic. But it has happened.
It’s crucial that you get a sturdy carrier. We tested all of ours in high-speed, long-distance condition, and often under extreme weather.
It’s helpful to get a friend to follow you on your first trip with a new carrier. Ask them to watch the carrier, and let you know if it or the kayak wobble or budge.
If you’re uncertain about the quality of straps, it’s always better to be safe rather than sorry and buy replacements.
Also, always make sure that every component of your carrier is as tight as can be.