Best Kayak Roof Racks & Top Canoe Racks For 2020!

If you’re going to be serious about kayaking, then you’re going to need a kayak roof rack to make it possible for you to bring it to the water. After all, not everyone is blessed enough to live by the shore of a lake or a beach. Most serious kayakers also don’t limit themselves to inflatable kayaks that you can tote around in a bag either.

TMS J-Bar Rack HD Kayak Carrier Canoe Boat Surf Ski Roof Top Mounted on Car SUV Crossbar

This is one of the most popular kayak roof racks in the market, and a quick glance at the features and the online customer reviews shows why that’s so.

It’s fairly affordable, yet its performance and features are very impressive.

We all know that kayak carriers aren’t always designed to fit on every roof setup on cars today.

But the J-Bar Rack from TMS is exceptional in its capability to do just that. It’s compatible with just about every load bar and crossbar out there. There are probably a few exceptions here and there, but generally this is a very safe choice.

You can, of course, return this if it doesn’t suit your roof. In fact, you can ask for a replacement for it at any time because TMS tends to offer a lifetime warranty for this. It’s that tough and well-made. Also, TMS offers installation services for an extra fee.

The steel design comes with adjustable padding, so you can secure the kayak well without risking any damage to it. This can fit in a kayak that weighs up to 75 pounds and up to 36 inches wide.

Your purchase should come with its own installation hardware, and these things are usually sent to you in vacuum sealed packages. These come in labeled boxes which also have item descriptions. If your purchase lacks any of these things, you better make doubly sure that you’re actually buying an authentic TMS item.

The hardware offers a “quick on and off” design. That makes installation easy and quick, and you can remove the kayak carrier from your car roof without any difficulty as well. The J-Bar also has a wide mouth, so it should be easier to load and unload your kayak on and from the roof.

With this design, the kayak is stored on your roof on its side. That leaves more space on your car roof for another kayak or for extra luggage.


  • This will in all likelihood be compatible with the crossbars you have on your vehicle.
  • It’s very sturdy, and you can be sure that your kayak will stay in place for the season.
  • It doesn’t occupy too much space, so you can fit in another set for another kayak if you have one.
  • It comes with a lifetime warranty, though you need to verify this to be certain.


  • It doesn’t come with a decent set of instructions, so either you figure it out yourself or you may have to do some online research to install it properly.
  • This will need some sort of crossbar on your roof. It won’t work on a bare roof.
  • The straps could have been better and sturdier.
Malone Downloader Folding J-Style Universal Car Rack Kayak Carrier with Bow and Stern Lines

This is one of the more highly regarded and popular J-cradles around, and the Malone brand is one of the fast-rising name brands in the business.

This Downloader Folding J-Cradle is one reason for the brand’s increasing popularity.

First you will have to determine if the J-cradle will fit the crossbars on your vehicle. You can do that with some online research to find some customers who have used this Malone on their car that’s the same as yours. You can also call the company to make sure. If you don’t have crossbars on your car roof yet, you can get the one from Malone which is guaranteed to accommodate this kayak carrier.

This kayak carrier does come with JAWZ mounting hardware, which is designed to match square, round, and most stock oval cross rails. This also includes the pre-coated mounting bolts that measure either 60mm or 70mm.

This comes with a boarding ramp that makes loading the kayak easy. This ramp has a hole that lets you stick the strap through before you connect to the buckle. This helps keep everything tidy and secured.

With its folding feature, you also have more overhead clearance. Your kayak is also protected by the over sized padding, which are covered by protective nylon sleeves so that the pads don’t rip apart right away.

This uses a single strap to attach to the bar, and it uses very heavy steel for the strap. It’s molded to accommodate square, round, or even elongated stock bars. You also get protectors for the buckles.


  • Most of the time, the kayak carrier attaches to your crossbars with no problem whatsoever. The steel strap is very durable, unlike the plastic straps you may find in other brands.
  • The Malone customer support is simply outstanding. If you find that the mounting hardware don’t fit your car’s crossbars, the company will send the right bracket for it. Also, if you suddenly find a ripped pad or some part has broken down, it’s likely that customer support will send you the replacement parts free of charge.
  • Loading your kayak on this is a cinch.
  • The folding feature helps boost the overhead clearance, which is great for lots of cross-country drives.
  • The pads won’t rip too quickly either.


  • The customer support is exceptional because there’s always a chance that some part of the Malone can go wrong.
  • This used to be built in Maine, but like most US items these days they’re now made in China.
Thule Stacker Kayak Carrier

If you have more than 2 kayaks to place on your roof, then a J-cradle won’t do. You need a stacker, and the Thule 830 stacker is a great option for that.

This comes with mounting hardware that would fit most factory racks.

Also, it can match up with Yakima, Rapid Aero, standard Thule, and Xsporter bars. The hardware is easy enough to put on and remove, so you can transfer this kayak carrier easily from one vehicle to another. You don’t even need tools for the installation.

With these carriers, you can place up to 4 kayaks side by side on your roof. The kayaks can reach up to 75 pounds in weight and 34 inches in width. All the rope, straps, and ratcheting hooks you need to secure your kayak are all part of the purchase. You even get additional ropes and straps to secure your kayaks at the front and rear.

When you’re not using these carriers, you can fold them down so they’re not sticking up. That leaves you with more overhead clearance and the more aerodynamic profile should minimize the wind resistance and the resulting fuel consumption.


  • This can let you fit in up to 4 kayaks on your roof.
  • Installing these carriers is easy and quick, and you don’t even need tools for the job.
  • It should fit on most crossbars.
  • It has all the “tie down” accessories in place that keeps the kayaks secure on the roof.
  • The carriers fold down when not in use for a more streamlined design.


  • Some kayaks are more than 34 inches wide.
  • You’ll probably need two people to unload and load the kayak.
HandiRack - Universal Inflatable roof rack bars

Now if your car has a bare roof and you don’t have crossbars, most of the other kayak carriers won’t work.

But this inflatable car rack will, as long as you don’t really plan on travelling for too long across bumpy roads.

This rooftop rack is 38 inches long and 9.5 inches wide with a height of just 3.5 inches. You have 2 of them on your car roof so you can secure your kayak on top without damaging your roof or your kayak.

This usually comes with a double action air pump to inflate the rack, but you can use a more effective air pump to make the setup go faster. It comes with load straps, but you can use extra straps to be sure.

It’s made of 420-denier nylon which makes it tough enough for kayaks. It offers 5 D-ring anchor points so you can strap down the kayak securely on your roof. You can use this for any kayak or even lots of furniture since it can take 180 pounds of weight.

This is easy enough to install, and it should match any vehicle that doesn’t have crossbars. However, it’s not compatible with cars that have side curtain airbags.


  • This is a quick and easy solution that allows even bare naked car roofs to accommodate kayaks without any damage to the roof.
  • Blowing this up even with a manual pump doesn’t really take too long.
  • It’s easy enough to install and remove, and that’s a very good thing because you can’t keep this on your roof.


  • While the material is tough enough to handle the weight of a kayak, it doesn’t do well with prolonged exposure to sunlight. So you need to remove this right away if you’re going to spend an entire day at the beach.
  • You will want to buy some ratchet straps to make sure your kayaks are really secure on the roof. Better safe than sorry.
9sparts J Bar Kayak Canoe Inflatable Boat Wakeboard Waveboard Paddleboard Snowboard Ski Roof Rack Carrier Car SUV Truck Jeep Roof Top Mount with Straps

This is another affordable option that gives you 2 pairs of J-cradle kayak carriers for the roof of your car. They each come with their own straps so you can set the kayaks on them securely.

This also goes with various “quick on and off” hardware that permits you to install and remove them quickly and easily.

The steel tube used for the J-cradle is 1.5mm thick for additional strength. It also has adjustable padding so the kayak is protected from the rigors of the road.

This will match the majority of flat, oval, or square crossbars out there today, whether they’re aftermarket or stock. Most of the time, OEM crossbars aren’t too different from one another anyway, as they don’t go past an inch in thickness and 2.5 inches in width.

If the bars are more than an inch thick, then this won’t fit right. But for the most part, the installation should pose no difficulty. It comes with a set of installation instructions but you won’t really need them.

This has a kayak load limit of up to 75 pounds and a kayak maximum width of 36 inches. So most probably your kayak will fit in just fine.


  • Generally speaking, this is easy to install on your car roof crossbars.
  • It’s fairly secure, as long as you do make the effort to tighten the lug nuts properly.
  • Loading and unloading the kayak is easy.
  • You can put 2 kayaks on your roof and they won’t touch each other.


  • The instructions are rather awful, so it’s lucky that the installation procedure is fairly intuitive. But you still should do some online research to make sure.
  • If you do make a mistake in the installation, you may have some trouble getting help from customer support if the J-cradle damages your car.
  • The problem with how easy it is to uninstall the J-cradle from your crossbars is that it’s easy for thieves to remove them too if your vehicle is unattended.

Buying Guide - Best Kayak Roof Racks

So how do you pick the best one among these options? If you’re going to look at other kayak roof racks outside this list, which factors should you focus? To help you out, here are some considerations that you should factor in.

Vehicle Roof Setup

This is perhaps the most important factor you must consider before you buy a kayak roof rack. The base setup of a vehicle roof tends to be one of these types:

  • Naked or bare roof
  • Stock/factory rails
  • Stock/factory crossbars
  • Aftermarket crossbars

For your bare roof or for stock rails without the crossbars, the most inexpensive and simplest option is to install inflatable or foam pads which won’t need the additional purchase of aftermarket crossbars. If you want better options such as cradles and saddles on your roof, you will have to get those aftermarket crossbars as well.

You also need to check up on the load capacity of your roof. That’s a concern when you have several kayaks to transport. The compatibility of your kayak roof rack with your existing roof setup is also an issue. Often a particular kayak roof rack will require a specific type of aftermarket crossbars.

Number of Kayaks

If your roof can handle more than a single kayak, then you’ll also need a kayak carrier that can carry more than one. Most options can do up to 2 kayaks at one time. If you have 2 kayaks and a narrow car roof, then a set of J-Cradle racks should do just fine.

If you have more than that, you need a kayak roof rack called a stacker. A stacker can load up to as many kayaks as your roof’s width and loading capacity will allow.

Driving Distance

Obviously if you live right next to the water then you won’t need a roof rack for your kayaks in the first place. But if you don’t have far to drive, then a temporary solution like an inflatable or foam pad on your roof will be enough.

However, you’ll need something more secure if you have a fair distance to drive. That’s especially true if you have bad roads along the way or if you encounter inclement weather. A foam pad under these conditions may just be blown away. You may also have to tie down your kayaks too tightly that you end up damaging them.

So for longer distances, more secure and solid racks such as saddles and cradles are more suitable.

Ease of Loading

When you tend to go kayaking very rarely, then you may not mind having to put up with more inconvenient loading procedures. That’s because the racks that are harder to load tend to be more affordable as well.

But if you absolutely need a more convenient way of loading, then you need more advanced options with more convenient loading features. These will come in handy if you’re a daily kayaker since you don’t waste too much time every time you go kayaking.

Final Verdict

The best kayak roof racks should be able to fit your roof, handle the number of kayaks you have, very secure, and easy enough to load. All the features must come with a price tag you can actually afford. These kayaks aren’t impossible to find—in fact, they’re all right there on the list of kayak roof racks we’ve compiled for you!

Share This Post
David Valle

I started this blog to provide advanced material, guiding you towards a better and more comfortable fishing experience. I deliver more than fishing gear guides, and motivate people to hit the water!