Wide Open Spaces

Take Your Kayak Anywhere With The Best Kayak Racks For Cars

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There are few things more serene than gliding along a river or lake in a kayak — and whether you're fishing or just taking in the scenery, it's a pretty special way to experience nature. But unless you live right on the water (lucky you!), chances are you're gonna need a little help hauling your kayak from the water to your home. That's when you'll need one of the best kayak racks for cars: It will keep things secure and help one or more kayaks get exactly where you need them to, safely and securely. There are plenty of car racks that are easy to install and use, but it's important to first understand what type you'll need.

For most kayak installations, you'll need a roof rack on your car already. You can install your own or install one on your truck bed, but if you don't have a rack on your car already, we suggest figuring that issue out first before you buy these accessories. Thule, one of our picks on this list, has a guide to installing your own here: there's no universal model for this, so you'll have to find the right one for you by using the model and year of your car. However, if your car came with a roof rack already, then you'll only need to purchase the kayak rack and a few accessories — which can be taken on and off with some ease, so you won't have to keep it on all year long. Although installing a kayak rack for your car is relatively easy, you will need some tools, patience, and time. Another note: most kayak racks come with everything you need to get things up and running, but some kayak racks for cars will require a universal adapter should you install it on your existing roof rack — if that is the case for any of these, we will note it below. You also might opt for some accessories: crossbar pads, for instance, attach to your roof rack and add extra protection for both your car and kayak. At $40, we think this is a solid addition to your car. You also might opt for a raised crossbar for some racks, which takes some weight off your car as well.

1. The Most Universal Kayak Rack


Leader Accessories Folding Kayak Rack - Amazon, $129.99

These racks from Leader Accessories will allow you to store two kayaks on your car, and they'll fit on pretty much any car (although we recommend you check to see if your exact make and model will work when you're picking your particular kayak rack). The nice things about these is they also work for surfboards or canoes, so they can be something you'll use all year round. The powder-coated steel also comes with foam padding to protect your kayak and your car. They're tested to haul up to 150 pounds, and the alloy steel and rubber ensures stability without damaging your kayak. The installation is simple, and according to a recent Amazon reviewer, it should only take about 20 minutes. 

2. A Rack That Requires A Crossbar But Lightens the Load On Your Car


TMS® 2 Pairs J-Bar Rack HD Kayak Carrier - Amazon, $74.99

To save space and put less weight on your car, some kayak racks can be secured with a crossbar, which run less than $50, like this one here. The crossbars go across your roof rails and then you can attach the TMS carriers to it, so it uses less space and puts less weight on your car. With this, you could even buy two sets and fit up to four kayaks or skis on your car. The trade-off here is that with a 75 pound capacity, a TMS rack can't match some higher-end options, but its solid steel design and easy install should serve most basic needs. 

3. A Favorite from a Trusted Brand


Kuat Class 2 Kayak Rack - REI, $169.00

The Kuat Class 2 rack is a well-loved option among kayakers, and is known for its durability, ease of use, and security. The design is simple and solid, and the rack can carry up to 80 pounds. The rack comes with high-quality straps, and the J-Hooks offer a variety of holes to accommodate whatever you're strapping in. Reviewers note this is better for local travel, however. One writes: "Super solid rack that has keeps your boat safe and in place on the highway. However, most of our paddling locations don't require us to go over 40MPH so we press the rack into double duty. I probably wouldn't try this at highway speed but for local spots - no problem."

4. A Higher-End Upgrade For Frequent Kayakers


Thule Hull-a-Port Aero Kayak Rack - REI, $349.00

Thule kayak racks are rarely cheap, but there are few options that you can feel more secure with on your roof. The sleek design of the Hull-a-Port Aero allows you to fold the rack down while it's not in use, and happy customers praise its reliability.  You need an add-on to your roof rack for this, so find the right one for your car here. It's about $500+ for the system all together. At its price point, this rack probably isn't necessary for the casual kayaker, but if you're headed out on the river every weekend, you'll find that it's well worth the investment.

READ MORE: The Best River Shoes For Kayaking, Rafting, & More