Kayak Roof Rack For Cars Without Rails or Roof Racks

Written by: Ash James

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!

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. 

Best kayak rack Malone downloader

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 reviewed here is 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

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.

Malone downloader set up and folded down

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.

Malone Downloader carrier with kayak mounted

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.

If you don’t have permanent roof racks and you’re after a cost-effective option, this kayak rack fits perfectly on the Malone Versarail or the Seah Hardware roof racks for cars without rails.

2. Rhino-Rack Nautic 570 Series Kayak Rack

Rhino Rack Nautic 570 series

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. This model 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.

Rhino Rack 570 with kayak mounted

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-cradle 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

Thule Hullavator Pro

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 takes 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.

Thule Hullavator Pro Kayak Rack Set Up

Moreover, the Thule 898Pro includes protective padding with 8 touchpoints to protect your kayak from getting damaged. The base and the cradles on this 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

Malone Seawing Kayak 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 up too much roof space on your car. It flexes slightly to cradle the kayak so it’s well secured.

We like how you can use it 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.  Yakima JayLow J-Cradle Kayak Roof Rack

Best kayak rack Yakima

Dimensions: 20.3 x 10.4 x 7.8 inches | Weight: 1.3 pounds | Load capacity: 110 pounds | Roof rack compatibility: Round, square, factory, and aerodynamic crossbars.

We found the Yakima JayLow kayak carrier to be the best compact Kayak Roof Rack that can take up to two kayaks.

If you only have one kayak which can have a maximum weight of 80 lbs, it can fit in the J-cradle position. However, if you want to mount on two cradles, they are stacked vertically. The weight of the two kayaks combined should not exceed 110 pounds.

Though it has a minimum crossbar spread of 24 inches, the rack fits well with the Yakima StreamLine and many other square, oval, and round crossbars.

This kayak roof rack comes with everything you need for installation. The package includes heavy-duty straps, bow and stern tie-downs, and the Same Key System (SKS). Each contact point of the rack is extra padded so that it does not scratch your kayak.

These features help secure your kayaks on top of your car’s roof without having to worry that they will fall over during the journey.

You can easily adjust the upright position of the Kayak with the integrated cam lever. The rack can also be folded flat when you are not using it.

The Yakima JayLow Kayak rack comes fully assembled. All you have to do is take it out and put it on! The installation is tool-free and takes about 10 minutes.

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 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 helps to keep your kayak as well as other accessories secured and safe on your rooftop.

HandiRack Kayak Rack For Cars Without Rails

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.


  • Saves up space.
  • Cushions your kayak and other accessories safely on the vehicle’s rooftops.
  • Compatible with almost all cars and SUVs.
  • Comes with a free nylon drawstring carry bag.


  • Unsuitable for vehicles that have soft-tops and curtain airbags.
  • The straps are a bit flimsy.

9. Attwood Universal Foam Kayak Roof rack

Attwood Universal Foam Kayak Carrier

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 crossbars 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.


  • Supporting foams help stabilize the kayak on your vehicle’s rooftop.
  • The 15 feet long polypropylene rope ties the kayak to the car’s roof securely.
  • The kayak can easily be loaded and unloaded.


  • The foam flattens up after a few uses.
  • The straps are a bit flimsy.

Best Non-Permanent Roof Rack For Cars Without Rails

10. Malone VersaRail Roof Rack

VersaRail Bare Foot Cross Rail 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 is a great option for cars without rails. We had no problems at all while using them with j-bars. We like how 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.


  • The rack has a non-corrosive outer coating to protect it.
  • Has heavy-duty straps to secure the kayak.
  • Easy to assemble and install.
  • Durable and reliable.


  • The water could seep into the car through the straps during heavy rainfall.

11. Seah Hardware Universal Roof Rack For Car Without Rails

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 Hardware 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.


  • Easy to assemble and install.
  • Durable and reliable.
  • Great value for money
  • Heavy-duty steel bars


  • Not suitable for two-door cars

Also See: Our outdoor gear guides to find other equipment for kayaks and outdoor activities when camping.

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 at 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

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 carriers 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

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.

Type of Kayak Roof Rack

As 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.

Roof Rack’s Weight

Most people associate the heaviness of a product with 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!


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 that’s 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.

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 over time. 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 a protective coating that will ensure its durability. Finally, see the duration of the warranty.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q.1. How to tie a kayak to a roof rack

Transporting a kayak is not that hard but you do need to make sure you load it properly onto your vehicle to ensure it stays secure.

Follow the steps in our How to Tie Down a Kayak guide and you’ll be good to go.

Q.2. 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!

Q.3. 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.

Final Thoughts

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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Ash James

Ash has always loved camping, fishing, and being outdoors. His idea of a perfect day is finding new trails to explore, driving to a remote location, and camping off the beach with Karyn and their two kids. He's pleased to share the knowledge and skills he's learned over the years. You can find out more about Ash here.

2 thoughts on “Kayak Roof Rack For Cars Without Rails or Roof Racks”

  1. I was looking for a low-profile kayak rack so I went with your recommendation for the SeaWing and that’s exactly what I needed, thank you! Exactly like the lady in the video, I’ve tried the J-style racks on my Jeep before but I was struggling to load my boat on. I can now load it from the back all by myself and it works perfectly!

    • I hear ya Janice, we have a Land Cruiser and it’s a bit tricky to load anything on top so that’s why we really liked the Seawings. I’m glad we’ve contributed to solving your problem 🙂


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