Things to Keep in Mind When Buying a Kayak Rack

When it comes to kayaking, one of the most vital equipment to have is a kayak rack. Fastened to our cars, this thing keeps our kayaks in place while also preventing scratches to the surface of our vehicles. However, if you are new to this hobby, choosing which kayak rack to buy might be a daunting task. This article is a comprehensive guide to help you make your decision, so that you can finally get one and start paddling and fishing. 

Types of Kayak Rack


Perhaps the most popular type of kayak rack are the J-Cradles. From the name itself, this rack is J-shaped, which allows loading of the kayak from the side of the vehicle. Since the kayak is tilted at an angle, this type of rack is great for smaller cars. The space saved in the roof also allows room for other luggage or another rack for a bicycle.


As the name implies, stackers are meant to carry multiple kayaks. The kayaks sit on their side and are fastened to poles. This rack is inexpensive, secure, and easy to install. It is also best to use with smaller boats, such as whitewater kayaks.


In contrast to the rack type discussed in the previous paragraph, saddles are applicable for use in carrying large kayaks. The boats are positioned horizontally and are loaded by resting at the back of the car then pushing up towards the roof. The assembly can be a single piece or a pair, and several accessories are available in the market to make loading and unloading easier.


One of the accessories that can be installed at the rear portion of the roof are the rollers. The kayaks are loaded to these small wheels and one just needs to push up the boat, doing so with much less effort. There are also newer technologies available, such as lift or load assist. The type of assist system varies, with some as simple as bar assist, to more complex side-loading types.


This car accessory is not exclusive for mounting kayaks, as anything can be loaded and strapped to it. However, this can serve the purpose of kayak racks by itself, thus its inclusion in the list.

Temporary Pads

Just like crossbars, temporary pads are not used solely for carrying kayaks. These can come as inflatable or with foam and can be easily installed by using straps through the vehicle’s windows. Temporary pads are meant to be used for short trips only and can be removed as easily as it can be installed.

Bed Extenders

So far, only roof-mounted racks installations were discussed. This type on the other hand utilizes the bed of pick-up trucks. According to, this type is ideal for  kayakers who do not have much upper body strength, as well as first time kayakers. Installation and removal are also very easy, and it can be stored just about anywhere.

Lumber-Style Racks

If you live and breathe kayaking, this rack might be the ideal solution for you. Permanently fixed to the side of the truck bed, lumber-style racks are heavy-duty. Other cargoes can also be placed in it such as canoes or paddleboards.

Things to Keep in Mind When Buying a Kayak Rack

How to Choose a Kayak Rack?

Now that we’ve discussed the various types of kayak racks, the different factors that need to be considered in choosing which kind will suit your needs is next.

1.   Car Base Roof Set Up

First thing when selecting the type of kayak rack is to know whether your vehicle’s roof is bare, with side rails, or crossbars. Having side rails already installed, inflatable pads are the recommended type since there is no part to which gear mounts can be attached. For those with crossbars already, the maximum weight that can be loaded into it must be noted. 

2.   Car Roof Width and Number of Kayaks to be Carried

The numbers of kayaks that can fit is primarily a function of your car’s roof width. However, it also dictates which type of rack you will need. At most, two kayaks can be carried by most racks. Having more than that will require stackers.

3.   Travel Conditions, Frequency, and Distance

Since wind resistance is the number one enemy when carrying kayaks, especially for roof-mounted ones, travel conditions must be considered when choosing which one to buy. J-cradles and saddles offer the most assurance for windy conditions and are also ideal for long travels. The reverse is true for temporary pads, and these are also ideal if you want to remove them frequently.  

4.   Aerodynamics, Kayak Weight, and Safety

As aforementioned, wind is the main antagonist when carrying kayaks. Thus, the aerodynamics is of utmost importance, and the least wind resistance is ideal. The weight of the boat obviously dictates which rack can support it. Ultimately, these two are the main factors for having safe travels.

So, you are now equipped with the knowledge for selecting which kayak rack will suit you. Use this information when you are in front of the various product options in the market and you will not be intimidated anymore.

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