We’ve looked at some of the most popular kayak roof racks to find the best options for a kayak roof rack for cars without rails or for cars with existing rails and crossbars.
We’ve also included some rack-free options as well as our top picks for roof racks for cars without rails so keep reading!
Malone Downloader Kayak Carrier
- Easy to set up
- Fits most crossbars
- Comes with safety tie-downs, straps, and mounting bolts
When you start searching online for Kayak Racks or Kayak Roof Racks, you’re presented with endless possibilities of products, all of which have neat features to fit on different types of vehicles.
Thus, you might find it hard to choose the very best Kayak Roof Rack for a truck with roof racks or a kayak rack for a car without rails.
In this article, we talk about several kayak roof racks for cars without rails. We also give options for cars with existing rails or crossbars, so there’s something for everyone!
Some of these can accommodate up to four kayaks at the same time while others are rack-free. All in all, each one of the products we chose and review here are among the best on the market. We’ve researched and analyzed each one so that you can find your perfect match.
Our Top Picks: Best Kayak Roof Racks
- Top Choice: Malone Downloader Kayak Rack
- Premium option:Thule Hullavator Pro 898 Kayak Lift System
- Great value: Rhino-Rack Nautic 570 Kayak Carrier
- Best low-profile kayak rack: Malone SeaWing Kayak Rack
- Best 2 kayak roof rack: Thule Hull-A-Port XT Kayak Roof Rack
- Best foam kayak roof rack: Attwood Universal Kayak Roof rack
- Best inflatable roof rack: HandiRack Inflatable Kayak Roof Rack
- Best roof racks for cars without rails: Malone Versarail Roof Rack
- Best non-permanent roof rack: Seah Hardware Roof Rack
Quick Answers: Kayak Roof Rack For Cars Without Rails
1. Malone Downloader Universal Kayak Rack
Dimensions: 21 x 10 x 8 inches | Weight: 10 pounds | Load capacity: 75 pounds | Roof rack compatibility: Universal
We really like the Malone Downloader Universal Kayak Roof Racks because they’re one of the easiest to install and they’re great value for money. We’ve had ours for 3 years now and they’re still going strong.
The Malone Downloader Folding J-Style Universal Kayak Car Rack comes with a built-in boarding ramp that helps load the kayak onto the roof.
The Malone rack includes oversized padding which protects the kayak during your trip. The loading ramps help to load as well as unload the kayak.
Furthermore, its JAWZ mounting hardware is universal and it can fit any round, oval, or square cross rails.
The rack includes 60 millimeter and 70 millimeter pre-coated mounting bolts and cam style load straps. It also has buckle protectors that help keep your kayak free from any type of damage.
Most of the J-style cradles can be pretty noisy so we like that you can lay the Malone Downloader racks flat when you aren’t using them. There is no noticeable wind noise when they are down.
What we like most:
- It has a built-in ramp that helps to load and unload the kayak.
- It comes with oversized padding to protect and keep your kayak secure.
- Its JAWZ mounting hardware works well with square, round and oval cross rails. Best of all, it fits perfectly on the Malone VersaRail cross bars for bare roofs.
Overall, we think the Malone J-Pro carrier is a great option for one kayak and two kayaks when you have two pairs. It’s easy to install, it holds the kayak securely and the bow and stern tie-downs are great to make sure that the kayak is safe and well secured throughout the whole trip.
2. Rhino-Rack Nautic 570 Series Kayak Rack
Dimensions: 10 x 7 x 6 inches | Weight: 6 pounds | Load capacity: Check roof rack capacity | Roof rack compatibility: Universal
The Rhino-Rack Nautic 570 Kayak Rack is really easy to load, is super sturdy and fits most cross bars.
The Rhino-Rack Nautic 570 Kayak Roof rack can fit most of the popular brands of roof rack crossbars. Its front and rear cradles fit a wide range of hull widths and shapes easily.
The Rhino Rack 570 comes in two different styles – side loading or rear loading.
The carrier has 2 front rubber pads to protect and cushion your kayak from any damage. There are also two rear spring-loaded pads. On the rear loading model the rear pads are also covered with felt to help slide the kayak onto the rack.
The Rhino Rack 570 kayak rack comes with everything you need to get going. The package includes the rack, cradles, a key, tie-down straps, and fitting instructions.
While the Rhino Rack Nautic 570 kayak racks are great, these are more suitable if you only have one kayak to carry. If you have two large kayaks you may not be able to fit both on your roof so we would instead recommend you go for a J-craddle style like the Malone Downloader.
What we like most:
- The carrier has 2 front rubber pads and 2 rear spring-loaded pads to protect your kayak from damage and keep it secure.
- Even if you’re by yourself you can easily load and unload the kayak.
- It comes with a Security Allen key, 2 tie-down straps, 2 rapid straps. Tying down is a breeze, and the included straps work great.
3. Thule Hullavator Pro 898 Kayak Rack System
Dimensions: 21 x 10 x 8 inches | Weight: 40 pounds | Load capacity: 75 pounds | Roof rack compatibility: AeroBlade, SquareBar
The Thule Hullavator Pro 898 Kayak Lift System is the creme of the crop of kayak racks. It’s super easy to use with its 40 pound loading gas struts which make loading and unloading a kayak a piece of cake.
Thule Hullavator Pro 898 Kayak Lift System has wide cradles that can easily accommodate hulls as wide as 36 inches and as heavy as 75 pounds.
You can easily load, unload, and strap the kayak by lowering it 40 inches down the side of your vehicle. The gas struts make it easy to load and unload the kayak.
The strut system on this carrier take approximately 40 pounds off the weight of the Kayak making it easy to load without needing to ask someone for help.
This particular Kayak Roof Rack includes a QuickDraw bow, stern tie-downs, and dual central straps that further secure the kayak to the roof of your car. It also has car-protective buckle bumpers.
Moreover, the Thule 898Pro includes protective padding with 8 touch points to protect your kayak from getting damaged. The base and the cradles on this the roof rack are also anti-corrosive.
Although it’s a bit pricey, if you have the budget and you’re after a carrier that will do a lot of the hard work for you, the Thule Hullavator Pro shouldn’t disappoint you.
What we like most:
- It literally takes 5 minutes to load and unload your kayak!
- Its wide cradles accommodate kayaks up to 36 inches wide and 75 pounds.
- The 40 pounds loading gas struts make loading and unloading a lot more manageable.
4. Malone SeaWing Kayak Roof Rack
Dimensions: 28 x 8 x 6 inches | Weight: 10.5 pounds | Load capacity: 70 pounds | Roof rack compatibility: Universal
The Malone SeaWing is one of our favorite kayak racks. It’s a great choice if you need a simple low-profile kayak roof rack.
If you’re looking for a low-profile kayak roof rack then Malone SeaWing Kayak Carrier may be the one for you. It’s a single saddle design and is really easy to set up.
The set-up is for mid-point mounting so that the kayak doesn’t take too much of roof space on your car. It flexes slightly to cradle the kayak so it’s well secured.
We like how you can use on any type of crossbars. The mounting hardware it comes with fits a variety of cross rails/bars whether the cross rails are round, oval, or square. It also comes with 15′ cam buckle straps, two bow and stern lines, and an instructions manual.
It’s 27 inches long, 5 inches wide and 6 inches high, and it can support a kayak that weighs up to 70 lbs.
What we like most:
- It’s very easy to set up.
- It fits most cross rails.
- Its mid-mount design helps to save space on top of your vehicle’s roof.
- It’s perfect for sit in and sit on top kayaks.
Best Kayak Roof Rack For 2 Kayaks
5. Thule Hull-A-Port XT Kayak Roof Rack
Dimensions: 20 x 9 x 20 inches | Weight: 12.5 pounds | Load capacity: 130 pounds | Roof rack compatibility: AeroBlade, SquareBar
The Thule Roof Rack Kayak is the best compact Kayak Roof Rack that can take up to two kayaks.
The Thule Hull-A-Port XT kayak roof rack has a universal mounting design that can easily fit most types of cross bars that are 80 millimeters wide or less. It comes pre-assembled so all you need to do is take it out of the box and you’re good to go!
If you’re not using the rack, just fold it. This makes it easy to store in the car as well as your garage when it’s not in use. This rack fits the Thule AeroBlade Edge, Thule SquareBar, and Thule AeroBlade.
We also love that the Thule Hull-A-Port XT Kayak Roof Rack can convert from a its J-cradle shape into a 2 boat stacker!
The load straps have buckle bumpers, bow, and stern tie-downs which help to keep the kayaks firmly in place on top of the car. It can support one boat that weighs up to 75 pounds or two boats with a combined weight of 130 pounds.
The Thule roof rack has a unique and innovative Thule’s One-Key Lock Cylinders to lock the rack to the vehicle to keep the kayaks even more secure.
What we liked most:
- It can take 2 kayaks (weighing 130 lbs) at the same time.
- The rack folds flat which makes it easy to store.
- Great quality load straps with bow and stern tie-downs to keep the kayak secure.
Rack Free - Kayak Roof Racks for Cars Without Rails
8. HandiRack Universal Inflatable Roof Rack
Dimensions: 14.6 x 7.4 x 5.7 inches | Weight: 6.4 pounds | Load capacity: 175 pounds
The HandiRack Universal Inflatable Roof Rack is the best lightweight yet heavy-duty kit which is perfect for cars without rails or if you’re after a non-permanent solution.
The HandiRack Universal Kayak Roof Rack is in fact a pair of inflatable bars that you can easily mount on top of your vehicle’s roof. It’s lightweight yet feels heavy-duty and keeps the boat well in place.
We liked how you don’t even have to inflate the bars yourself. This inflatable rack comes with a pump that helps you inflate each one of the bars super quickly.
It has a maximum weight capacity of 175 pounds, it has been certified to be used at higher speeds and it feels safe on the highway. Moreover, the inflatable bars are secured to the rooftop by a strap that runs through the car’s door.
The strap has a strong cam buckle that keeps a the bars as well as the kayak in place. It features five metal ‘D’ ring anchor points. The straps are 9.8 feet long which help to keep your kayak as well as other accessories secured and safe on your rooftop.
The package includes 2 HandiRack Twin-tubes that have 5 D ring anchor points, 2 tie-down straps that are 9.8 feet long. It also includes a “HandiPump” to inflate the bars, a user manual, and a travel bag.
What we liked most:
- It’s compatible with most cars.
- The Inflatable bars cushion your Kayak and keep your vehicle’s roof and the kayak safe from any damage or scratches.
- The straps and heavy-duty cam buckle keeps the bars (and your kayak) well-secured on the rooftop.
- It comes with everything you need for to install it so no need to purchase anything to use it.
9. Attwood Universal Foam Kayak Roof rack
Dimensions: 20 x 8 x 6 inches | Weight: 1.6 pounds | Load capacity: Dependent on car roof capacity
The Attwood Universal Rack Free Foam Kayak carrier is a great compact rack-free kayak roof rack for cars without rails.
With the Attwood Universal Rack Free Foam Kayak Roof Rack you don’t a roof rack or cross bars on your car’s roof. This kit includes everything that you need to safely carry your kayak and offers great value for money.
The kit includes, as the name suggests, support foam blocks that are placed between the Kayak and the car’s roof. These foam blocks keep the kayak sturdy and secure on the roof during the drive.
To keep it in place, it comes with a 15 feet long polypropylene rope, which ties the kayak to the car roof safely. The kit also includes two straps that have adjustable buckles and clips to accommodate a number of kayak widths conveniently.
Overall, we think the Attwood rack-free kayak carrier gives good bang for your buck. It’s a great option if you want something compact and it’s a great alternative if you don’t have the budget for a kayak rack and roof rack.
What we liked most:
- The foam blocks are soft and don’t damage the roof in any way.
- Comes with adjustable buckles and clips to keep the kayak safe on the car’s roof.
- Easy to install, take down and store.
Best Non-Permanent Roof Rack For Cars Without Rails
10. Malone VersaRail Roof Rack
Dimensions: 50 x 8 x 5.75 inches | Weight: 10.5 pounds | Load capacity: 135 pounds
The Malone VersaRail Bare Roof Cross Rail Rack is an easy to assemble and versatile cross rail rack and is perfect for cars with bare roofs.
Malone comes in the market with a great new kayak roof rack for cars. The Malone VersaRail Bare Roof Cross Rail Rack converts a bare roof into a handy roof rack. You can use it to transport kayaks, bikes, canoes, as well as cargo boxes.
The maximum weight capacity is approximately 135 pounds. Its rectangular shape is ideal for storing most of the rack accessories.
The VersaRail requires no additional tools for installation. You will need a wrench but that’s included in the package. Best of all, the company offers a five-year warranty.
Overall, we think the Malone VersaRail are a great option for cars without rails. We had no problems at all while using them with j-bars. We like how that the racks are easy to put on and take off as needed.
One downside is that the rain will seep down the straps into your car if you leave them on for an extended period during heavy rain. But you kind of have to expect that with fabric straps.
We recommend you watch the weather and remove the racks if the rain is coming and you don’t plan on using them during that time.
What we liked most:
- Has a non-corrosive coating to make it durable.
- It has a maximum weight capacity of 135 pounds.
- The rectangular shape is optimal to attach rack accessories on the roof.
11. Seah Hardware Universal Roof Rack For Car Without Rails
Dimensions: 47.6 x 4.8 x 3.2 inches | Weight: 6 pounds | Load capacity: 150 pounds
Another of our favorite roof racks for cars without rails. The Seah Hardware Roof Rack is super easy to set up and it fits any 4 door car without rails and cars with rails!
Seah Hardware brings to the table a really convenient roof rack for cars without rails! It has a waterproof 1800 pounds ratchet tie-down system that ensures the roof bars remain well-secured to your car.
The Seah Hardware Roof Rack comes with a pair of 48″ long crossbars made from heavy-duty steel tubes. It fits most 4 door cars with a bare roof.
The only downside of this roof rack is that even though it does fit on most cars with existing rails, it won’t fit if the rails are higher than 6.4cm. It cannot be installed on two door cars either, because there isn’t enough space between the two bars to safely carry cargo.
Overall, we love the Seah Harware Universal Roof rack because it’s really versatile. Whether you need to transport a kayak, a mountain bike, or even a ladder, this rack is easy to use and will safely carry your gear anywhere you want.
What we liked most:
- It comes with a pair of 48″ durable crossbars made from heavy duty steel tubes.
- It has a 1800 pounds water proof ratchet tie down system that ensures the roof bars remain firmly on the top of your car.
- You can safely carry a kayak, or other items such as a bike with a maximum weight capacity of 150 pounds.
Buying Guide: Kayak Roof Racks For Cars Without Rails
In this section, we talk about kayak roof racks for cars with and without rails and what attributes you should look for while shopping for one. We also discuss some of the common questions you may have about Kayak Roof Racks without rails!
Types of Kayak Roof Racks
There are four major types of Kayak Roof Racks that you can get in the market. These are:
J-Cradle kayak carrier
A J-cradle Kayak roof rack is installed in a 45-degree angle. This kind of rack keeps your kayak secure on the top of the roof rack. Besides, it also leaves enough space so that two kayaks can easily be placed on the carrier.
Stacker Kayak Carrier
Stacker Kayak Roof Racks can carry two to four kayaks simultaneously. This type of roof rack is perfect for big families or people who are going on a kayaking trip. If you have luggage, in addition to your kayaks, it can also be easily stored on top of the roof.
However, the kayaks are secured in a vertical position which does not work well when aerodynamics is involved.
Temporary padding is one of the most instant solutions to a kayak roof rack there is. It consists of pads that are either made from foam or are inflatable. You can attach these pads to the roof of your vehicle whenever you need them.
This is ideal for people who cannot find any other type of roof rack that might fit perfectly on their vehicle. Also, if you’re not in favor of a permanent roof rack, you might want to opt for these types of kayak roof racks.
However, as the name suggests, the foam racks or the inflatable racks don’t last for a long time and are not a long-term solution.
Saddle Kayak Carrier
One of the most common types of Saddle Kayak carrier is an autorack. Most people like to get this type of rack since it’s easy and convenient to use. Furthermore, it firmly secures your kayak to the vehicle’s roof.
The kayak is placed horizontally on the rack. It doesn’t take up the entire space on your car’s roof and you have plenty of space to store additional accessories.
Also, this position is safe when aerodynamics is involved. You will be least worried about your kayak and accessories tumbling down the roof during your journey.
Considerations Before Buying a Kayak Roof Rack
The Shape of Your Vehicle’s Roof
This seems peculiar but it’s very important to examine the shape of your vehicle’s roof before investing in a particular roof rack. This is because different racks fit best with different roofs.
If you do not get a rack that fits like a glove over your vehicle’s roof, chances are that your kayak and other cargo might fall while you’re driving.
The Type of Kayak Roof Rack
Like we’ve discussed in the previous section, there are three types of Kayak Roof Rails that you can opt for. It’s always wise to evaluate the purpose of the roof rack before investing in one.
The four types –J-Cradle, Saddle, temporary pads, and Stacker, all have different purposes.
If you have a big family, a stacker is most likely the best one for you. Whereas, J-cradle and Saddle roof racks are ideal if you have a single kayak to carry.
Check the weight of the roof rack
Most people associate the heaviness of a product to how strong it is in construction. This is totally wrong!
Most racks that are made from steel are heavy whereas racks that are made from aluminum are approximately 20-30% lighter than the steel ones. These aluminum roof racks have the same, if not more, strength and weight capacity.
Furthermore, they are just as durable. Thus, evaluate the amount of weight your vehicle’s roof can withstand and then choose an accommodating roof rack.
If you don’t want an aluminum roof rack, no problem! You can always opt for foam or inflatable roof racks that barely weigh more than a few pounds!
Cost of the Kayak Roof Rack
The first and foremost thing you need to keep in mind is that; Just because a Kayak Roof Rack is expensive DOES NOT mean that it’s the best.
Several roof racks are expensive. If you search just enough, you will find a kayak that has the same features but available at a much lower price.
So always evaluate the price of the kayak roof rack and compare the features (not price) of the roof racks to see which one is best.
The Mounting System
Always consider the kind of mounting system you want. Different racks have different orientations and different screw bracket systems. Some roof racks remain mounted on the rooftop permanently while others need to be unmounted after every use.
Furthermore, the design of the brackets defines how the kayak will be loaded on the rack. So first, think about the kind of mounting system you want and then look for roof racks that fall under that mounting style.
The rack will be used many times and will even have to withstand harsh weather conditions and can get damaged overtime. Furthermore, loading and unloading a kayak frequently can affect the condition and lifespan of the roof rack.
Thus, always look at the material the roof rack is made of. Make sure it has protective coating that will ensure its durability. Finally, see the duration of the warranty.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q1. How to tie a kayak to a roof rack
Q2) Do you need to make holes in your car’s roof?
No, you don’t necessarily. It all depends totally on the type of roof rack you will choose for your vehicle. There are a lot of roof racks, which are mentioned in this article, that are placed on your car using heavy-duty straps and cam buckles.
On the other hand, there are roof racks that you can take off after use. Thus, it is not necessary to get your car roof drilled into to accommodate a Kayak Roof Rack. You have plenty of options which don’t require that!
Q3) How many kayaks fit on a roof rack?
Again, this totally depends on the type of roof rack that you’re opting for. Some roof racks only have the capacity to load a single kayak whereas others can carry as many as 4 kayaks simultaneously without any issue.
In the above products, you will find kayak roof racks that carry a single kayak to a roof rack that can carry 4 simultaneously!
Q4) Is it possible to get replacement parts for my roof rack?
Yes, you can get replacement parts for your roof rack very easily. Most companies offer replacement parts for their models.
Q5) Do roof racks affect fuel economy?
There is no correct way to determine whether your roof rack affects the fuel usage of your car or not. The reason is that several factors affect the fuel economy such as the type of engine you have in your car and the number of people in the car.
Other factors include the rolling resistance, tires, the type of surface you’re driving on, wind resistance, and much more.
However, the factor that can affect fuel consumption when you have a kayak on the roof rack is wind resistance. A roof rack can increase the air resistance which might make the engine exert an extra force which in turn uses more fuel.
Another factor that can affect fuel consumption is the size of the engine and the number of kayaks you are carrying. A small car might have a noteworthy change in fuel consumption after the installation of a Kayak roof rack whereas a larger car might not.
Again, many factors apart from the kayak roof rack itself can affect the amount of fuel your car uses during your journey.
Q6) Can you go through a car wash with the rack still mounted on the roof?
Yes and no. This depends on the type of roof rack you have. Some roof racks are waterproof so they won’t be affected by a car wash while those that are not waterproof might get damaged.It’s recommended that if you have a detachable roof rack, you remove it.
The roof racks put on the roof by straps and buckles might allow water to enter your car. How? When the straps get wet, they may allow water to seep into the car.
Roof Racks aren’t just for carrying kayaks but they can also carry a number of other items such as bikes, canoes and cargo boxes. They allow you to carry all the gear you need for your journey. This leaves more space for you and your family inside the car.
While all the Kayak roof racks we’ve reviewed here will all do a good job at keeping your kayaks secure during your trip, we found the Malone Downloader Universal Kayak Rack to be the easiest to use and the most versatile as it fits most vehicles and roof racks.
We hope we made choosing a kayak roof rack for your car with or without rails as easy as possible. Good Luck with buying your perfect Kayak Roof Rack for your vehicle! Happy Kayaking!
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