Kayak Rack Guide

Got a kayak and a vehicle? Want to transport the kayak on said vehicle? You’re at the right place!

Height of Vehicle
Tall vehicle roofs–more difficult to load from the side, easier from the rear
Low vehicle roofs–easier to load from the side

Number of Kayaks
How many kayaks are you planning to carry–the number greatly impacts which racks are best for you. Some racks take up a lot of space and therefore can’t accommodate multiple boats. The inverse is also true.
In general:

1 Kayak–Saddles, J-Cradles or soft-tops
2 — Saddles (>60″ bars) or J-Cradles
3-4 — Stackers or J-cradles used as stackers

Available Crossbar Space
Kayaks take up a fair amount of real estate on roof racks. In general, the wider the crossbar, the more stuff you can fit on it. Additionally, the wider crossbars stick out the sides of the vehicle, the easier it will be to load from the sides. For vehicles without crossbars, the softop option is good.
In general:

50″ bars can hold 2 kayaks in J-cradles or 1 kayak in a saddle
60″+ can hold 2 kayaks in saddles

Weight of kayak(s)
Light kayaks can be lifted by one person, heavy will need 2+ people. Heavy kayaks for one person are easiest slid up from the rear of the vehicle.

Loading Method
Factoring in the kayaks weight and height of the vehicle should give you a good idea on which loading method will be easiest and therefore which racks to consider.

Types of Racks

As the name suggests, they are in the shape of a “J” and hold the boat vertically/sideways. Usually, the boat is placed on the cradles from the side of the vehicle
-Take up less space

Saddles take up the most crossbar space as the boat sits on them like it would on the water, hull down. Saddles typically consist of 4 separate supports which help load, support and tie down the boat.

Kayaks are heavy. Load assist kayak racks help with the lifting. There are a couple different types of load assists, but the most common are elevator types where the j-cradle comes down to the side of the vehicle from is place on the crossbars. The kayak can then be loaded at an easier chest height and then assisted back into position up on the rack.

Consisting of simple vertical poles sticking up from crossbars, stackers are essentially a pole that boats can be leaned on or stacked on. This is an ideal solution for carrying up to 4 kayaks and most standard size roof racks. The boats are stacked on their sides against the stacking pole and tied down.

Soft Tops:

Usually, soft padded racks that are strapped through the cab of the vehicle on cars that don’t have other roof rack options. These are versatile, less expensive racks that can carry of range of items from boats to ladders.
Best bet:

Kayak Rack TypePriceEasiest to Load FromBest ForOur Picks
J-Cradles$-$$$SideLow vehicle roof height, 1-2 kayaks, optimizing rack space for other accessories (cargo boxes, etc.)
Saddles$$Rear1 kayak, loading from rear of vehicle
Stackers$$BothMultiple kayaks, 2+ people loading
Load-Assist$$$SideHeavy kayaks, tall roofs, 1 person lifting
Soft-Tops$-$$BothBar roof vehicles, temporary transport, budget


Always use bow & stern (front and rear of boat) tie-downs. They should be secured to metal attachments on the car such as toe hooks or hood anchors. They are provided with most rack packages and secure the boat from wind forces when driving.

Only use cam straps as boat tie-downs, heavy duty ratchet straps fasten too tight and can dent or mar the boat.

If lifting a boat by yourself, grab the cockpit of the boat–facing towards you and lift. Lift with your legs, save your back.

If lifting a boat with 2 people, having one person on each end is usually best.

If using a soft-top or placing a boat directly on crossbars, place the cockpit down and hull up–this is typically a flatter surface and less rocking and moving on the bars (unless you have a whitewater kayak, then have cockpit up and hull down).

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