5 Best Kayak Racks for Cars and Trucks
Water lovers have taken the sport of kayaking to new heights, carrying their boats on kayak racks to explore waterways near and far.
But to safely transport them on cars and trucks, you need the best kayak rack for your boats and vehicle.
Today, we’ll look at several racks on the market and learn how to choose the carrier that’s right for you.
Let’s dive in!
What to Look for In a Kayak Rack
Before narrowing down your selection of kayak racks, you want to consider how many boats you’ll be transporting.
Will a rack that holds 2 or more kayaks fit on your vehicle? Can one person alone access the boats easily, lifting them into the rack and lowering them to the ground?
Another consideration may be whether or not the kayak rack you select will require the use of straps. Does your car or truck have the ability to tie down or ratchet straps tightly? Will they stay secure?
And how can you keep the strap ends from flapping in the wind or beating the roof of your vehicle?
Although many racks are made to fit different crossbars, you may need to shop for one that has a specific attachment for your existing setup.
Will you need to use padding to keep the boats from banging against each other or your roof? Easy access to place padding, tighten straps or loosen tie-downs may also take some planning.
You can even find kayak padding that will attach directly to the roof of a car. This gives you the flexibility of placing a kayak on your vehicle without the need for roof rails and a kayak rack!
All these questions raise some concerns. These days, however, there are so many different rack options that you should find the perfect one for all your needs.
Listed below are our top five choices for the most dependable racks around.
#1 – Thule Hull-a-Port Rooftop Kayak Carrier
Thule’s versatile kayak rack holds one or two boats and can double to handle four kayaks if desired. They built it sturdy so it can take a beating from continuous loading and unloading or buffeting from wind and weather during transport. Thule created the rack arms as a tie-down for straps (which are included).
Plus, their intuitive design with fold-down supports gives drivers the option to lay the arms down when not in use. This eliminates wind noise and drag.
Use the carrier arms in an up position to stack one boat on each side of it. Then add another arm on each crossbar to double your load! Take up to four boats to your favorite whitewater location in style.
The Hull-a-Port has a universal fit for most crossbar systems up to 80mm wide. Furthermore, it can be locked to the crossbars with Thule’s lock system for an additional charge.
#2 – Yakima J-Style Fold Down Kayak Rack
Yakima created an adaptive kayak rack that can act as both a J-style carrier or a stacker. Like Thule’s Hull-a-Port, this fold-down option can hold up to two boats at a time by stacking them on either side of the rack arm. Straps are included, and the entire rack is completely assembled right out of the box.
In addition, users like the ability to lay down the arms when the rack is not in use.
The manufacturer stipulates that at least 24 inches of crossbar spread is necessary to mount the rack safely. So make sure your vehicle’s rail system has that available.
This J-style rack is compatible with most round and square crossbar systems. Additionally, it can be locked with Yakima’s Same Key System (sold separately.)
#3 – Rhino Rack Nautic 570 Series
For a saddle-style kayak rack, look no further than the Rhino Rack Nautic 570 Series. This basic system provides four pads that attach to crossbars as supports for kayak hulls of all shapes and sizes.
The carrier comes with both ratchet straps and tie-downs to keep boats safely secure as you travel to and from the water. The pads fit various crossbars, but it’s best to check the Rhino website for specific models.
A nice benefit of the Nautic 570 Series is the ease with which kayaks can be loaded, even from the vehicle’s side. You don’t need a ladder, and can easily handle the job by yourself.
But this rack’s drawback is its lack of security as it cannot be locked.
#4 – Yakima Big Catch Kayak
If you’re on the lookout for a truck-mounted kayak or canoe rack, the Yakima Big Catch is the perfect complement to your big boat. It mounts over the truck bed, with clearance for your kayak over the cab.
Plus, the saddles can support boats of up to 150 lbs. The rack fits all Yakima crossbar systems and can mount onto SUV crossbars to carry larger boats like fishing kayaks.
The carrier comes with belt straps and tie-downs, and tall saddles that are adaptable to several hull shapes and sizes. One drawback, however, is the difficulty you may have loading boats from the side.
As a result, it’s usually more efficient to load larger boats on the rack from the rear of a vehicle.
#5 – Malone Foldaway Kayak Rack
If you envision using a kayak rack to transport mixed watercraft, this foldaway from Malone offers several adaptations to meet your criteria. Originally, Malone designed this as a J-rack but has added extension modules that allow the loading of stand-up paddleboards, canoes, and sea kayaks.
Add a base arm to the existing J-rack to bring along a separate kayak by stacking two side-by-side. Or fold flat to carry a canoe or SUP.
This versatile kayak rack has universal mounting hardware to fit most crossbar systems. And, with a folding arm, you can place it in a down position when not in use.
It’s delivered with load straps and tie-downs for two boats.
Tips for How to Transport a Kayak
When you’ve made your final selection and installed a kayak rack, be sure to load your boat(s) properly without putting stress on your back. If need be, utilize a second person to help in lifting the kayak onto the rack.
The carriers listed above all come with straps and tie-downs, so make good use of them. Secure your boat on its carrier, and don’t forget to tie down both the boat’s bow and stern to the front and back of your vehicle. This will not only assure the kayak’s safe arrival to water but will protect you and your fellow drivers from a loose boat entering rush hour traffic!
As with any item being towed or transported by auto, truck, or RV, check on your tie-downs after 15 minutes of travel. Make sure they are still secure and tight. Road vibrations and wind movement can loosen straps and turn a fun and safe trip into a free-for-all on the road. So check your straps periodically.
Choose the Best Kayak Rack for Safe Transport
With the increase in water sport participation, it was inevitable that kayaking would find thousands of new enthusiasts. Many don’t live within walking distance of a canal, river, or waterway, so transporting their new boats to these venues has taken on greater importance.
Kayak racks are a necessity now, and researching different styles, along with their attributes and drawbacks, will help you select a rack that should get you and your boat from land to water safely.
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