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Best Kayak Carrier Review (6 Great Carriers Overviewed)

best kayak carrier review

Happen to be looking for the best kayak carrier out there? Well, we think that we have a few interesting options for you.

For today’s review, we’ve selected six kayak racks that we think are the best out there! Below, we’ll provide you with a rundown for each of them, as well as will give you a couple of tips on how to choose the absolute best kayak carrier.

Shall we get started with the reviews?


Our top pick of the best kayak carrier


Yakima Jaylow Kayak Carrier

We think that the Yakima Jaylow is the best kayak carrier among the ones reviewed. It is pricey, but it is very well-padded, easy-to-mount, folding, as well as can hold two kayaks!

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The rest of the racks overviewed also have a lot to offer, however. If you don’t quite like this rack, maybe one of the others will be more to your taste!


Best kayak carriers reviewed


Yakima Jaylow Kayak Carrier

First up on the review of the best kayak carriers is our top pick, the Jaylow carrier by Yakima.

This is a pricey kayak rack, so you need to have a good budget to afford it. However, it has a few features that may really interest you.

First of all, the Jaylow kayak carrier is much, much easier to mount than the majority of other racks on our list. This rack relies on convenient and fast torque set installation, and Yakima even includes a torque wrench to assist with the mounting!

The second benefit of this rack is its padding. It’s very easy to see the difference between the padding in this and other kayak carriers. Most other racks lack padding in the lower portion of the bars, but the only place where the Jaylow carrier doesn’t have padding is the top 3-4 inches of the bars.

Another thing that you may like about this carrier is that it has a folding design. With mere folding, you get plenty of extra clearance with this kayak rack.

Remarkably, the Jaylow carrier can carry two kayaks in a vertical, stacked position, or one kayak in the traditional J-cradle position. The supported load of this rack is 110 and 80 pounds respectively for two and one vessels.

All this beauty costs quite the money, as we mentioned in the beginning, but we think that it is worth it.

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Pack’em Folding J-Style Kayak Rack Set

This set by Pack’em is quite inexpensive. Furthermore, it includes two pairs of racks, so it has some great value for the money!

The Pack’em kayak rack set also features a folding design to allow you to increase the overhead clearance of your vehicle without having to unbolt the rack.

In terms of weight capacity, these racks are better than the Jaylow rack since they can accept kayaks weighing up to 100 pounds, 20 pounds more than the Jaylow rack can provide for single-kayak usage.

Some people may also like that Pack’em actually offers 6 color options for these racks. On the other hand, the paint quality seems not to be that great, which is a thing to keep in mind.

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Malone Downloader Kayak Carrier 2-Pack

The Malone is another good option if you are ready to spend a couple of hundred dollars on a kayak carrier.

This carrier set again includes two pairs of racks. These racks boast oversized padding that covers most of the bars’ surface. The padding isn’t as good as in the Jaylow rack, but it’s still quite up there.

The Downloader kayak racks also have a fold-down design, which again would allow you to quickly increase the overhead clearance of your vehicle without removing the carrier.

One thing that may especially delight you is that Malone includes a very decent set of their SpeedLines mini ratchet tie-downs. These tie-downs add to the price of this set a little, but they are much better than what comes with cheaper kayak racks.

On the not so bright side, each pair of the racks supports only 75 pounds of weight, so you won’t be able to carry very heavy kayaks on them. On the other hand, most kayaks out there weigh less than 75 pounds, so this shouldn’t be a problem for the majority of people.

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HandiRack Inflatable Kayak Rack Bars

These inflatable kayak rack bars by HandiRack are less heavy-duty than J-style racks. However, they have many other benefits to make up for it.

First of all, this inflatable kayak carrier can be installed pretty much on any vehicle roof, be it with or without crossbars. The only vehicles that this rack cannot be installed on are those that have curtain airbags or soft-top roofs.

The setup of this kayak carrier is very easy as well. You just need to inflate it with the included double-action pump and strap it through the interior of the vehicle, and you are ready to go.

The HandiRack kayak rack bars are as easy to remove as to install. Due to this, this carrier is more suitable for people who are going kayaking relatively rarely and who don’t need to have a kayak rack on the roof all the time.

Thanks to the inflatable design, this thing occupies very little storage space as well!

The HandiRack inflatable kayak carrier also has a rather tough design, being able to carry up to 180 pounds. But in spite of this, this product still isn’t going to be as heavy-duty and long-lasting as J-style carriers, so be mindful of that.

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Rhino Rack J-Style Kayak Carrier

This Rhino Rack J-style kayak carrier is also a very interesting model. It’s a bit pricey, but it has a couple of features that may interest you.

The first thing to note in this carrier is that it has an inbuilt cradle designed to carry kayak paddles. This is the only kayak rack on the list that has this feature, and it may make this carrier more appealing for you than the others.

The Rhino Rack J-style carrier also has a folding design, so you don’t really need to remove the racks to gain additional clearance on the roof.

What you may also like about this rack is that it is very easy to mount, with its bolt tightening mechanism requiring no tools. Aside from that, this carrier is designed to be mounted to any crossbar shape and type.

Finally, this kayak carrier has 99 pounds of load capacity, so most, if not all kayaks should be no problem for it.

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GSG J-Style Roof Rack 2-Set

And the final contender for the title of the best kayak carrier is this roof rack set by GSG. Quite an inexpensive set, this may be the most interesting model for you among the carriers reviewed.

The thing is that this rack set comes with a kayak dolly! This dolly has 150 pounds of load capacity, as well as comes with 12 feet tie-down straps. It’s not a top-notch kayak dolly, but if you are really tight on the budget and need one, this set offers some great value.

The racks in this set, on the other hand, are much simpler than in other kits. Mainly, they aren’t foldable, as well as don’t have as much padding as pricier racks. On the bright side, this set is much cheaper than others.

In the end, if you happen to be looking both for kayak racks and a kayak dolly, this product may be the best kayak carrier set out there for you.

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Picking the best kayak carrier


Now that we know what each of the carriers has to offer, it’s time to pick the absolute best one from them. The guide below is going to provide you with info and tips on what exactly to look for in kayak racks.

Types of kayak racks

As you could have noticed from our top, kayak carriers can be of different types. We’ve featured two types of racks on the list, but there actually are four types that you should know about.

Let’s overview each of the types a little bit in-depth.

1. J-cradle

Most kayak racks that you will come across will probably be J-style racks.

J-cradle racks, as their name implies, are shaped like the letter J and are designed to hold the kayak on its side, at an about 45-degree angle.

Since J-cradle racks are installed on crossbars on the roof’s side, they leave plenty of free room on the roof for other gear. Furthermore, you can actually mount two sets of J-cradle racks on the roof to carry two kayaks!

The not so good thing about J-cradle carriers is that they add extra height and considerably reduce the overhead clearance of the vehicle. Some racks are designed to fold though, somewhat solving this problem.

J-style racks also usually require installation on crossbars, so you need to have them on your vehicle’s roof.

2. Stackers (vertical)

Occupying most of the room on the roof, stackers are designed to carry multiple kayaks in a vertical position. Depending on the rack and the width of your car, you could carry up to four kayaks on a stacker carrier.

On the other hand, stackers take up the entire area of the roof, leaving no room for other gear, which is an important thing to keep in mind.

Just like J-style racks, stackers significantly increase the height of the vehicle. However, some stackers are again foldable.

In addition, be mindful that stackers again usually require crossbars for mounting.

3. Saddles (horizontal)

Saddle racks are designed to hold the kayak horizontally, usually with the cockpit up. Saddles again occupy most of the roof’s surface, but unlike stackers, saddles usually allow for the transport of only one kayak.

Due to the horizontal orientation, kayaks sit on saddle racks much more securely than on vertical carriers. This may be especially noticeable when traveling at higher speeds.

Besides, adding less extra weight, stackers boast improved aerodynamics compared to vertical racks.

Again, stackers usually require crossbars on the roof for installation.

4. Temporary racks

Temporary kayak carriers are designed for kayakers who go kayaking rather rarely. Due to this, temporary racks are less heavy-duty than other rack types.

On the other hand, temporary kayak racks are much easier to install and remove than other rack types. This will be great if you, say, travel only once or twice per year – you won’t have to put too much time and effort into setting up the rack.

Aside from that, temporary carriers require no mounts or rails on the roof, so they can be installed on any vehicle that has a hard roof.

Some temporary carriers are strapped onto the roof through the interior, which makes them unsuitable for vehicles with curtain airbags. That’s because such carriers are going to interfere with the deployment of the airbags.

Temporary racks can be made of foam or inflatable. Foam racks don’t have any risk of puncture and don’t require inflation, but they aren’t as convenient to store as a deflated rack. Either type can work though, so pick whichever one that satisfies your preferences.

Factors to consider in kayak racks

Aside from carrier types, there are a few important factors that you need to consider when looking for that best kayak carrier. Let’s overview them below.

Dimensions

The first thing to consider is the size of the rack.

First of all, you need to make sure that the rack satisfies your demands in terms of roof space. The carrier needs to be able to fit onto the roof, as well as leave some free area for other stuff to carry if you need it.

In addition, the rack needs to be big enough to fit your kayak. Kayak racks are designed to fit most kayaks out there, but they may be unable to accommodate very large kayaks. If you have a bulky kayak, you may need to do extra research to find the right carrier.

Load capacity

The load capacity is very important to consider as well.

It’s very simple – you need to make sure that the rack can support the weight of your kayak. If your kayak is too heavy for the carrier, then you should not attempt to use it. The rack may seem to hold together at first, but not being designed for excessive loads, it will probably break sooner or later.

Mounting

It is also crucial to consider how a kayak rack is designed to mount onto the roof.

The majority of racks out there require crossbars for installations. Not only that, but some racks may be able to work with a limited variety of crossbars. Whichever rack you pick, make sure that you have the right crossbars installed on your car’s roof.

Fortunately, modern kayak racks are designed to work with most crossbar types. And even for unsupported crossbars, manufacturers offer conversion kits that you can buy separately.

Padding

All kayak carriers are going to have some kind of padding in them. However, some racks have more padding than others.

You can be sure that all kayak racks out there will have sufficient paddle to keep the hull of your kayak safe. But if you are very concerned about it, you could go for racks that offer extra padding.


Final words


That’s it for our overview of the best kayak carriers out there!

If you found what you were looking for, then great, the only thing remaining for you is to go and get that rack!

But if you are still unsure, don’t rush any decisions. Instead, do more research in order to better understand all the intricacies associated with kayak carriers. Besides, make sure to fully understand what you exactly need.

If you happen to be looking for a kayak paddle, check out our roundup of 6 best inexpensive kayak paddles. You may also be interested in kayak seat pads.

Aside from that, you may want to check out our roundups of best camping kayaks, lake kayaks, kayaks for fishing, and the overall best kayaks for the money.

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