The 8 best kayak racks of 2021

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Staff, courtesy of BougeRV

When it comes to kayaking and other water sports, paddling a lake or river is only half the battle. Equally important is being able to safely transport equipment from your home to a water source or to a campsite miles away. For cars and SUVs, the most elegant way is to attach the kayak to the roof of your vehicle.

For this purpose, you will need a specialized stand or glides to give the boat a stable mounting surface while protecting the car from potential scuffs and scratches. Popular mechanics has selected a range of these products, suitable for a range of functional needs and budgets.

What to consider

The first thing you need to think about when looking for a kayak rack is your current roof configuration. Many rigid solutions require the installation of a standard “cross bar” roof rack, as well as ratchet tow straps. Softer fabric or foam cushions often attach directly to the roof, but do not provide such a tight grip on the cargo.

Luggage racks, luggage racks and roof rails are also rated for different levels of cargo capacity. You will want to be sure that a preferred carrier can support the weight of your kayak. While the vehicle must be able to carry the full weight of the kayak, carry handles and any installed crossbar brackets.

How we selected

Popular mechanics uses a combination of first-hand experiences with these products and examines data collected from publications such as AutoWeek, Trucks.com, and Outside. Item prices are also taken into account to create a selection that can satisfy both under and over budgets.

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1

Budget option

Orion Soft Pad Holder

Orion engine technology
amazon.com

This Orion product is an inexpensive alternative to a crossbar rack and offers its own padding. The straps are fully integrated, with a lower band on each pad passing under the roof of the vehicle and an upper band hugging the mid section of the kayak. You may want to purchase a few additional straps for the front and rear tips of the boat, depending on the size.

Both pads are 33.5 inches wide and weigh 165 pounds in distributed weight. The luggage rack features nylon outer layers that protect the vehicle’s paintwork from scratches, while the polyethylene foam cores gently cradle the cargo.

  • Affordable security
  • No roof rack needed
  • Straps included
  • Larger kayaks may require additional straps
2

Easy installation

Yakima Aero earpads

For those who already own crossbar mounts, these Yakima pads can be covered with Velcro to provide a bit more grip and cushioning. Two pads are all that is included in the pack, so the ratchet straps will need to be purchased separately.

The sets are available in a width of 20 or 30 inches. Since they are mostly fabric, the weight capacity should match whatever the installed crossbar can hold. One advantage of this setup is that it can easily carry cargo like surfboards or paddle boards without modification. If you plan on transporting a kayak long distances, you’ll probably want the added safety of hard-mounted options.

  • Good for various cargoes
  • Easy to use
  • No strap included
  • Not as stable as hard mount
3

Affordable security

J TMS bar

The J-bar is one of the most popular varieties of kayak carrier because its shape provides inexpensive strength and security. Two of these brackets are included in the TMS assembly, which bolt to the roof cross bars. The kayak is then attached to the racks tilted at a 45 degree angle using two included straps.

This storage method allows for two additional J-bars and a second kayak, provided the roof is large and strong enough. Each set supports a boat up to 75 pounds and 36 inches wide. The bars themselves are hollow steel with added foam padding for protection of the hull.

  • Add another set for two kayaks
  • Heavy-duty steel construction
  • Relatively low weight capacity
4

Low profile

AA J-Bar Folding Racks

AA-Racks
amazon.com

$ 75.90

These are very similar J-bars to the TMS set, and all have the same benefits, but with a few additional elements. Most obvious is the folding mechanism, which allows the bar to accommodate larger kayaks, and also allows it to fold completely flat when not in use. In the stowed position, drivers can easily stow the luggage racks or just leave them on the roof without worrying about headroom issues.

Each set of two J-bars can also support a heavy weight of 150 pounds, with up to 40 inches in width. The assembly is mainly made of steel with rubber and foam handles. Two ratchet straps are also included.

5

Double capacity

BougeRV bilateral J cradle

BougeRV
amazon.com

$ 179.99

This bilateral transporter is basically two J-bars combined into one, providing the most convenient way to haul a few kayaks at the same time. The product is fully adjustable, with each of the two brackets having three hinge points. The side handles can be positioned closer to the center for a secure grip, while the vertical bar can be adjusted at an angle for kayaks of two different sizes. It also folds completely flat for a low profile ride.

The set’s stainless steel frame and rubber grips support a combined weight of 150 pounds, supporting kayaks up to 40 inches. Straps are not included with the set.

  • Two carriers in one
  • Adjustable and folds flat
  • Expensive
  • Straps sold separately
6

Convenient

HandiRack inflatable transporter

The HandiRack acts as both a temporary crossbar and a padded cushion. The nylon outer layers of the set contain an inflatable rubber chamber, which is easily inflated with the included hand pump. When not in use, they can be deflated to lie flat or balled up and tossed in the trunk. The cushions are secured to the roof by tie-down on the inside, while the kayak is secured at the front, rear and center with the four ratchet straps in the set.

The HandiRack supports cargo up to 38 inches wide, with an exceptional load capacity of 175 pounds. One caveat with this system is that the cushion can get over inflated when sitting in the sun, so you’ll want to let out some air when the temperature rises.

  • Easy installation and removal
  • Huge weight limit
  • Four straps included
7

Additional grip

AA Steel Pier Racks

AA-Racks
amazon.com

$ 94.90

The Jetty set is made up of four individual handles, which give a crossbar great stability when transporting a kayak, and can easily be adjusted for a particular width. The bottom of each saddle has a clamp that bolts to the roof rack, and the top is a rubber pad with a hinge for angle adjustment. Two ratchet straps are included in the pack.

The weight capacity is 100 pounds, with about as many width adjustments as the installed roof rack can physically allow.

  • Four points of contact
  • Lots of adjustment possibilities
8

Premium option

Malone SeaWing

Malone
amazon.com

$ 190.95

The arched design of the SeaWing gently cradles a kayak, with a flexible polycarbonate and rubber body. Two straps are integrated directly into the assembly, preventing them from getting tangled or lost. Two additional bungee cords are also supplied with the set to better secure the bow and stern. The bottom of each wing mounts to a crossbar using four small screws.

The maximum weight load, however, is 70 pounds, with about 35 inches of cargo width. The bracket itself is also quite wide, so smaller vehicles may only be able to fit one set without clearance issues. The trade-off for this width is that the unloaded media is practically flat, without the need to play with the folding mechanisms.

  • Holds cargo firmly but gently
  • Convenient integrated straps
  • Always discreet profile
  • Expensive
  • Large footprint
  • Low weight capacity

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