Best Kayak Roof Rack For Cars With And Without Rails

We’ve looked at some of the most popular kayak roof racks to determine what the best options are for a kayak rack for a car without rails or for cars with existing rails and cross bars.

Contents show

In a hurry? Checkout our top pick: Malone Downloader Folding J-Style Universal Kayak Carrier

Our Best Kayak Roof Racks

If you google search Kayak Roof Racks, you will be presented with endless possibilities of products, all of which have neat features to fit on different types of vehicles. Thus, you might get confused when searching for the best Kayak Roof Rack for a truck with rails or a kayak rack for a car without rails. 

In this article, we will 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 other units are rack-free. All in all, each one of the 11 products we chose to review here are among the best in the market. We’ve extensively researched each one so that you can find your perfect match.

Best Kayak Roof Racks For Cars With & Without Rails Reviewed

1. Malone Downloader Folding J-Style Universal Kayak Rack

Malone Downloader Kayak Rack

We gave the Malone Downloader Folding J-Style Universal Kayak Car Rack 4.8 stars out of 5. This particular rack is one of the easiest to load. It takes the best overall Kayak roof rack you can find in the market. Why? Because:

  • 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.

Malone Downloader Folding J-Style Universal Kayak Car Rack comes with a built-in boarding ramp that helps load a kayak with ease.

To make sure that your kayak is safe and sound on top of your car, the 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 since it can fit any round, oval, or square cross rails without any trouble.

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 secure and safe from any type of damage.

The bow and stern are excellent in carrying one kayak on the roof of the car vertically. If you are not using the rack, you can just fold it which will create a better overhead clearance.

  • Has a universal mounting design.
  • Its loading ramps make loading and unloading the kayak easy.
  • Has oversized padding for better protection.
  • You can fold it down when not using.
  • Some complaints about the bracket slipping back and forth on the side rails.

2. Thule Hullavator Pro 898 Kayak Lift System

Thule  Hullavator Pro 898 Kayak Carrier

With a rate of 4.5 out of 5 stars, The Thule Hullavator Pro 898 Kayak Lift System is super easy to load with its 40 pound loading gas struts.

  • 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.
  •  It’s super durable due to its corrosion-resistant base.

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 your vehicle’s side. The gas struts make it easy to load and unload the kayak without needing any assistance as the carrier will take approximately 40 pounds of the weight of the Kayak.

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 that has 8 touch points to effectively protect your kayak from any damage throughout your journey. To ensure that it lasts as long as possible, the base and the cradles of the roof rack are anti-corrosive.

  • ou can easily load at waist-level.
  • The gas struts make loading and unloading the kayak a lot easier.
  • The base and cradles are resistant to corrosion.
  • Really easy and quick to set up.
  • The Thule’s One-Key Lock Cylinders are sold separately.
  • Pricey

3. Rhino-Rack Nautic 580 Series Kayak Carrier

Rhino Rack Nautic 580 Series Kayak Roof Rack

Earning a rating of 4.4 out of 5. The Rhino-Rack Nautic 571 Kayak Carrier is really to load, is resistant to water, UV radiations, mold, etc.

  • The carrier adorns 2 front Santoprene rubber pads and 2 rear spring-loaded pads to protect your kayak from damage and keep it secure.
  • Even a single person can easily load and unload the kayak from this rack.
  • It comes with a Security Allen key, 2 tie-down straps, 2 rapid straps, and a unique buckle protector.

Rhino-Rack Nautic 571 Kayak Roof rack can fit most of the popular brands of roof rack crossbars. Its front and rear cradles have been engineered with precision to fit a wide range of hull widths and shapes easily.

The carrier has 2 front Santoprene rubber pads to protect and cushion your kayak from any type of damage. Whereas there are two rear spring-loaded pads which are felt covered. These pads help you to single-handedly load your kayaks onto the roof of your vehicle within seconds.

Furthermore, this particular Kayak roof rack comes with everything you need to get on with the show. The package includes the rack, cradles, a key, tie-down straps, and fitting instructions.

The rack is resistant to anything that might deteriorate the quality of the product such as UV radiation, mold, corrosive substances, and water.

What made it win points in our eyes is that the company offers a 5-year warranty!

  • It’s compatible with most roof rack crossbars.
  • It has front and rear pads that help to keep the kayak secure.
  • It comes with everything you need for installation and operation.
  • It’s resistant to mold, water, and UV radiation.
  • It doesn’t work well with aero style crossbars.

Best 2 Kayak Roof Rack

4. Yakima JayLow J-Cradle Rooftop Kayak Mount

JayLow J-Cradle Rooftop Kayak Mount

With a rating of 4.5 out of 5 stars, Yakima Rooftop Mounted Kayak Rack is ideal for you if you are looking for a rack that can withhold two kayaks.

  • It has extra padded contact points, heavy-duty straps, bow, and stern tie-downs to completely secure and protect the kayak on your car’s roof.
  • You can adjust the upright position of the kayak by the cam lever.
  • The rack takes 10 minutes to install and the installation is tool-free.

This Rooftop Mounted Kayak Rack can hold two kayaks at the same time.

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 two kayaks should not exceed 110 pounds combined.

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

This kayak roof rack comes with everything you need for the installation. The package includes heavy-duty straps, bow and stern tie-downs, and 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 any worry that they will fall over during the journey.

You can easily adjust the upright position of the Kayak by the integrated cam lever. To make things as convenient as possible, the rack can 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! The installation is tool-free and takes at most only 10 minutes.

  • It can carry two kayaks at the same time.
  • The contact points are padded to secure and protect your kayak.
  • SKS Lock enables you to lock the base rack.
  • The rack comes pre-assembled.
  • If you're driving and the rack is folded, it whistles a bit.
  • You have to buy the SKS lock separately.

Best 4 Kayak Rooftop Rack

5. Rhino Rack Kayak & Canoe Nautic Stack Carrier

Rhino Rack Stack Kayak Carrier

Getting 4.5 stars out of 5, the Rhino Rack Stack Kayak carrier is your best option if you want a rack that can carry four kayaks simultaneously.

  • Suitable for all types of vehicle
  • Fits on most roof rack cross bars.                        
  • Comes fully assembled and ready for installation
  • Folds down when not in use

If you’re looking for a Kayak roof rack that can carry 4 kayaks without any trouble, You can’t go wrong with the Rhino Rack Stack Kayak Carrier. It’s a super strong carrier with a glass reinforced nylon base along with a bar made of high strength anodized alloy.

The Rhino Rack Nautic Stack comes with two fixing styles in the kit – a universal clamp style and c-channel nut and bolt.

This rack has several ways to secure the StackClamp system which allows fast loading and unloading of the kayaks. The installation of the rack itself takes only a few minutes.

When you are not using the rack, you can easily fold it down and carry on with your day.

Furthermore, the design allows other accessories to be mounted on top of the roof.

  • Fits all vehicles and most roof rack cross bars.
  • Design that saves space on top of the roof for other accessories.
  • Easy and quick to install.
  • None we could think of.

6. Malone Seawing Universal Kayak Carrier

Malone Seawing Kayak Rack

With a rating of 4.5 stars out of 5, the Malone Seawing Universal Carrier is one of the most ideal low-profile kayak roof racks that you can opt for.

  • It’s very easy to set up.
  • Its JAWZ mounting hardware fits most cross rails.
  • Its mid-mount design helps to save space on top of your vehicle’s roof.

If you are looking for a low-profile kayak carrier then Malone Seawing Universal Carrier is the one for you. It has a single saddle design and easy to set up!

The set-up is for mid-point mounting so that the kayak does not take too much of roof space on your car. It flexes very gently to cradle the kayak and as well as improve the gas mileage.

Furthermore, the JAWZ mounting hardware easily fits a variety of cross rails/bars. Thus, whether the cross rails are round, oval, or square, this carrier will mount on easily with the kayak!

It’s 27 inches long, 5 inches wide and 6 inches long and can support a kayak that weighs up to 70 lbs.

  • It has a distinctive mid-mount design.
  • Saves up space.
  • Universal JAWZ mounting hardware fits most cross rails.
  • Really easy and quick to set up.
  • Not for larger kayaks.

7. Thule Hull-A-Port XT Kayak Roof Rack

Thule Hull-a-Port XT Kayak Rack

We are giving this roof rack a rate of 4 stars out of 5 stars. The Thule Roof Rack Kayak is the best compact Kayak Roof Rack that you can invest in.

  • It can take 2 kayaks (weighing 130 lbs) at the same time.
  • The rack is foldable which makes it easy to store.
  • The load straps buckle bumpers, and bow and stern tie-downs keep the kayak secure.

This Kayak Roof Rack embraces a design (dual-position) that converts from its J-cradle shape into 2 boat stackers!

This Thule kayak roof rack has a universal mounting design that can easily fit most types of load bars that have a width of 80 millimeters or less. Furthermore, 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 Thule AeroBlade Edge, Thule SquareBar, and Thule AeroBlade.

The load straps have buckle bumpers, bow, and stern tie-downs which help to keep the kayaks secure in their place on top of your car. It can support one boat with a weight of 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 that help to lock the rack to the vehicle to keep the kayaks even more secure.

  • It can carry up to two kayaks simultaneously.
  • Has a mounting design that fits most kinds of hulls.
  • Included load straps help to secure the kayak on the roof of the car.
  • The rack is foldable.
  • It might not be compatible with all rail systems.

Rack Free - Kayak Roof Racks for Cars Without Rails

8. HandiRack Universal Inflatable Kayak Roof Rack

HandiRack Inflatable Roof Rack

Receiving 4.5 stars out of 5, the HandiRack Universal Inflatable Kayak Roof Rack Bars are the best lightweight yet heavy-duty kit in the market.

  • It is compatible with most cars.
  • The Inflatable bars cushion your Kayak and keep your vehicle’s roof and the kayak safe from damage and scratches.
  • The straps and heavy-duty cam buckle keeps the bars (and your kayak) secure on the rooftop.
  • The unit comes with everything you need for its proper installation and functioning

The HandiRack Universal Kayak Roof Rack consists of inflatable bars that you can easily mount on top of your vehicle’s roof. It is a lightweight yet a heavy-duty product that will keep your boat safe during the trip.

You do not even have to worry about inflating the bars yourself. The unit comes with a HandiPump that helps you inflate each one of the bars within seconds.

It has a maximum weight capacity of 175 pounds and it has been certified to be used at highway speeds! Moreover, the inflatable bars are secured to the rooftop by a fitting strap that runs through the vehicle’s door.

The strap has a heavy-duty cam buckle that keeps a strong lock on the bars as well as kayak. The straps are 9.8 feet webbing tie-down ones which help to carry your kayak as well as other accessories securely and safely on your rooftop.

Furthermore, 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 for convenient transfer and storage when not in use.

  • 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

We rated the Attwood Universal Rack Free – Foam Kayak Roof Rack 3 stars out of 5. It is a great compact rack-free kayak roof rack for cars without rails.

  • Uses foam blocks and a 15 feet long propylene rope to carry the kayak on the rooftop of the car.
  • Contains adjustable buckles and clips to keep the kayak safe on the car’s roof.
  • Easy to install and use.

Attwood Universal Rack Free –Foam Kayak Roof Rack does not require a kayak carrier to be strapped on to your car’s roof. This kit includes everything that you need to safely transport your kayak from your house to the beach or the lake and vice versa.

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 firm 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.

This particular roof rack is easy to remove and can be stored away using as minimum space as possible.

  • 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.

Base Rack Systems For Cars Without Rails

10. Malone VersaRail Bare Roof Cross Rail Rack

VersaRail Bare Foot Cross Rail Rack

We gave the Malone VersaRail Bare Roof Cross Rail Rack 3.5 stars out of 5. It’s an easy to assemble and versatile cross rail rack.

  • 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.

Malone comes in the market with a new Kayak roof rack for cars! The Malone VersaRail Bare Roof Cross Rail Rack converts a bare roof into an operational roof rack within a few seconds. You can use it to transport bikes, canoes, kayaks, and cargo boxes.

The rack has an outer coating that is resistant to every type of corrosive substance that could threaten its durability. It also embraces twin cup vacuum towers and 1.5 inches of attachment straps.

The maximum weight capacity is approximately 135 pounds. Its rectangular shape is ideal for storing most of the rack accessories.

The unit 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

  • 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. YAKIMA Baseline Adjustable Towers Kayak Roof Rack

Yakima Baseline Adjustable Towers For Cars Without Rails

We gave this rack 4.5 stars out of 5 – The YAKIMA Baseline Adjustable Towers is the best roof rack foundation for cars without rails or gutters

  • Simple, sleek, compact, and secure.
  • Compatible with JetStream, RoundBar and CoreBar crossbars.
  • Weight capacity of 165 pounds.

If you‘re looking for a roof rack that’s secure, simple and sleek, the YAKIMA Baseline Adjustable Towers Kayak Roof Rack might be what you’re looking for.

They are easily adjustable to accommodate a large number of roof shapes all the while providing secure hold. Furthermore, they easily lock the carrier to your vehicle with the SKS lock.

The Yakima Baseline Towers are compatible with JetStream, RoundBar, and CoreBar crossbars.

The weight capacity is 165 pounds. They are sturdy, strong, and quiet. So you do not have to worry about the roof rack whistling nor you have to worry about your kayak falling over and out of the rack during your trip.

Though the installation takes about 60 minutes, it isn’t complex and all the tools you need are in the package.

Besides all this, the Yakima Baseline Adjustable Towers have a limited lifetime warranty.

  • It’s compact, durable, and reliable.
  • The structure of the rack is sturdy and strong.
  • It’s compatible with several major crossbars.
  • Can be easily adjusted to roof shape.
  • You need to buy the SKS lock separately.

Kayak Roof Rack for Cars without Rails Buying Guide

In this section, we will talk about kayak roof racks for cars with and without rails and what attributes you should look for while shopping for one. We will also discuss some of the common questions you may have about Kayak Roof Racks without rails!

Types of Kayak Roof Racks For Cars With & Without Rails

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

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.

Factors to Consider Before Buying a Kayak Roof Rack For Your Car

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. Furthermore, loading and unloading a kayak frequently can compromise the condition and lifespan of the roof rack. Thus, always look for the material the roof rack is made of. If it has any additional coating that might ensure its durability and finally, see the duration of the warranty.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q1) 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. This video explains how to tie it down.

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 11 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.

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 Folding J-Style Universal Kayak Carrier 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 clear as possible. Good Luck with buying your perfect Kayak Roof Rack for your vehicle!

You May also like:
Did you find our post useful? Click to rate it!
[Total: 1 Average: 5]
Share This!
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on email
Share on print

We hope you love the products we recommend! Just so you know, when you purchase something after clicking links in our articles, we may earn a small commission which helps generate revenue for the running of the site. In saying this, our product recommendations are and will always be unbiased.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

error: Content is protected !!