Best Kayak Racks For Trucks – 10 Racks For Any Truck & Any Budget

Even the biggest trucks could use a little help when transporting kayaks – and a kayak rack may just save the day.

Some will allow you to extend the length of your truck’s bed and others make it possible to stack kayaks on top of your truck’s cab. And all of them will make it possible to take your ’yaks out for a spin without having to reorganize the entire truck bed every single time.

You know you want one. The question is: 

How do you pick the best kayak racks for trucks?

This guide is all the help you’ll need!

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In A Rush? The Winner After 43 Hours Of Research:

AA-Racks Model APX25 Pick-Up Truck Kayak Rack

AA-Racks Model APX25 Pick-Up Truck Kayak Rack

Our Rating: ★★★★★

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Why is it better?

  • The rack is constructed out of reinforced aluminum with a powder-coated finish
  • The universal design makes it suitable for a variety of full-size pickup trucks
  • It weighs a mere 40.4 pounds, making it ultra-lightweight for a truck bed rack
  • It’s capable of supporting up to 800 pounds of cargo, which is more than enough for kayak transportation
  • Can easily accommodate two full-size kayaks
  • You can adjust the included tie-down points for maximum security
  • It comes with eight universal mounting clamps for no-drill installation
  • Excellent value for money 

Choosing The Best Kayak Rack For Pickup Trucks: 3 Things You Need To Consider 

Silver Truck with Orange Kayak on rack
Image courtesy of DiamondBack Covers  (CC BY 2.0)

First off, keep in mind that there’s no single, one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to transporting a kayak on a truck.

As you’re about to see, when selecting a suitable kayak rack for your truck, there are many different options available on the market, and you’ll have to base your choice on several factors. The truck’s model, the kayak – or kayaks – you’ll be transporting, the style of the rack; it’s all going to affect your choice.

But enough with the intro. Here’s what you need to consider when choosing the best kayak rack for pickup trucks! 

Types Of Kayak Racks For Trucks

When you drive a ”regular“ car, the only kayak racks you can go with are the ones that mount to the roof of your vehicle. Pickup trucks, on the other hand, present quite a few different options – besides the obvious throw-the-kayak-in-the-truck-bed solution, that is.

Here’s an overview of the types of kayak racks for pickup trucks

Roof-Mounted Racks

AA-Racks Model DX36 Universal Roof Rack System

Roof-mounted racks need no special introductions. It’s the rack style that you’re likely familiar with; most vehicles – pickup trucks and otherwise – have some variation of a roof rack, either factory or aftermarket.

One potential deal-breaker – depending on how open you are to making permanent mods to your truck – is the fact that installing one typically requires drilling. 

Truck Bed Rack

AA-Racks Model APX2501

This type of kayak rack for trucks is arguably the best fit for those who want a more permanent transportation system for their kayaks. Most truck bed racks mount to the sides of the bed and are left in place year-round since they give you full access to the truck’s bed even when they’re in use. 

Bed Extension Receiver Rack

MaxxHaul 70231 Hitch Mount Truck Bed Extender

The so-called bed extenders are generally your least expensive – and most convenient – option. The best truck kayak rack, if you have a short bed truck.  They mount to the truck’s receiver hitch, adding a single crossbar that extends behind the tailgate to support the portion of the kayak that doesn’t fit inside the truck’s bed.

One potential downside is that they’re usually not suitable for transporting more than one kayak since you’d have to squeeze them all into the truck’s bed. And that can be hard to pull off. 

Kayak Rack’s Construction & Materials

Regardless of the type of kayak rack you choose for your pickup truck, construction-wise, you’ll have two options:

  • Steel, painted or powder-coated, doesn’t need much introduction in terms of its durability and ruggedness. It’s strong, robust, capable of supporting more weight than aluminum – with the added benefit of being affordable and widely available. But it’s also noticeably heavier.
  • Aluminum will cost you more than steel, but kayak racks made of aluminum tend to be significantly lighter. That difference in weight could be a massive advantage if you don’t plan on installing the rack permanently and want the option to remove it when it’s not in use. 

Aluminum excels in certain areas, while steel is better in other applications.

Since both materials have their respective strengths and weaknesses, it’s not uncommon for the best kayak racks for trucks to feature a combination of both in their components. This way, you’ll get a little bit of both – best of both worlds, as they say. 

Kayak Rack’s Capacity

When it comes to the capacity of your new kayak rack, there are two things you’ll need to think about – weight limit and length.

First and foremost, you need to consider the rack’s capacity – as in, how much weight it can support. I mean, you have to be sure that the kayak rack you choose can handle the kayaks you’ll load onto it; that goes without saying.

Find out how much your kayak weighs and choose a rack accordingly – but make sure that the capacity is at least 100 or so pounds more than the weight of your kayak. Err on the side of caution capacity-wise.

The good news is: 

Most of these kayak racks have high enough load capacities that, for the purposes of transporting a kayak in a truck, the chances of overloading them are rather slim.

And the second, as I already mentioned, is the length of the kayak you’ll be transporting.

If you go with a rack that extends from the truck bed over the cab – a utility rack, for example – it should generally accommodate most kayaks.

But it’s when you have a particularly long ’yak, like a tandem or an ocean kayak, that problems begin to arise. Not only do you have to think about how you’ll distribute the weight of the kayak’s hull in a well-balanced way, but how much overhang you’ll have, too.

That could be a legal issue, given that most states have a limit regarding how much your cargo can stick out during transport.

Buyer Beware – Living With A Pick-Up Truck Rack

We all know that a pickup truck is not the most fuel efficient vehicle out there, but adding a rack could make it even worse. Racks change your truck’s aerodynamics which increases drag and reduces mileage by up to 8%

Yet for many this is a downside they are willing to accept as a trade off for being able to transport large items, such as; boats, bikes or lumber. However if fuel economy is your top priority then you may be better off transporting kayaks in the bed of your truck with help from a hitch rack

Wind noise issue on roof rack wrx

Another side effect, which is far more annoying, is rack noise – rattles, hums, to ear piercing whistles.  For some the noise is unbearable, leading them to remove the rack completely.  

Although frustrating, typically the noise is caused by my wind being pushed under the crossbar causing a whistling effect. Fitting an aftermarket wind deflector, or putting pool noodles under the bars, can help eliminate this.

The next common culprit are tie down straps, when laid flat they vibrate as wind passes over them causing a humming sound. By adding a small twist, the air is defused and the noise banished. 

How do I get my SUP tie down straps to stop making noise?

Best Kayak Racks For Trucks: Reviews & Recommendations For 2021

1. AA-Racks Model APX25 Pick-Up Truck Kayak Rack

AA-Racks Model APX25 Pick-Up Truck Kayak Rack
  • Best Kayak Rack For Trucks
  • Rating: ★★★★★
  • Price: ★★★★★
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AA-Racks’ APX25 is a kayak rack for pickup trucks made of heavy-duty aluminum, meaning that lightweight construction will be one of the rack’s most notable advantages. In fact, for a rack that measures 71 inches in width and 28 inches in height, the 40-pound weight is surprisingly light.

It gets more impressive when you know you can still load up to 800 pounds on it – although I doubt you’ll be hauling 800 pounds worth of kayaks. But you never know, huh?

Another significant advantage of this system is the easy, no-drill installation. Instead of making permanent modifications to your truck by drilling holes in it, you can use the universal mounting clamps that come with it.

One complaint is that the powder-coated finish seems a bit easy to scratch – but that’s mostly a matter of aesthetics.

Technical Specs

  • Truck bed rack 
  • Aluminum construction
  • 40.4-pound weight
  • 800-pound capacity

Pros

  • Designed to accommodate two kayaks
  • You can adjust the tie-down points
  • The build quality is exceptional and worth every penny
  • Includes universal mounting clamps for no-drill installation

Cons

  • The plastic end caps come off quickly and might get lost
  • Be careful not to scratch the powder-coated finish 
  • It’s not height-adjustable 

If you drive a full-size pickup truck and want the best of the best for transporting your kayak, the APX25 pickup truck rack by AA-Racks is, hands down, your best bet.

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2. AA-Racks Model DX36 Universal Pickup Truck Cap & Topper 3 Bars Rack

AA-Racks Model DX36 Universal Pickup Truck Cap & Topper 3 Bars Rack
  • Best Kayak Rack For Truck Topper
  • Rating: ★★★★
  • Price: ★★★★
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The DX36 is another solid option from AA-Racks – especially if you’re looking to put your truck’s topper to work when it’s time to get your kayak to the water.

Construction-wise, this kayak rack system is all steel – 11-gauge for the mounting base and 17-gauge for the crossbars – and galvanized and powder-coated for added protection. And thanks to the telescoping design, it’s pretty much universal-fitting.

And while the DX36 has a 350-pound load capacity, you should keep in mind how much weight the truck topper can support. That’s your actual loading limit; everything above that is welcome – but not usable.

Keep in mind that installation requires drilling. So, if you’re not up for making permanent mods for your truck, this won’t be the right choice for you.

Technical Specs

  • Roof-mounted rack 
  • Steel construction
  • 27.4-pound weight
  • 350-pound capacity

Pros

  • The telescoping, length-adjustable design ensures a universal fit
  • Galvanized, powder-coated steel construction for weather resistance
  • The mounting bases feature polyfoam gaskets to protect the topper
  • Relatively easy to install and includes necessary hardware

Cons

  • Installation requires drilling and making permanent modifications to the truck
  • The vehicle’s roof weight limit caps the rack’s capacity

The AA-Racks DX36 isn’t particularly fancy, but it’s inexpensive and gets the job done when you need it to – and that’s what matters the most. 

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3. Goplus Pick up Truck Bed Hitch Extender Adjustable Extension Rack 

Goplus Pick up Truck Bed Hitch Extender Adjustable Extension Rack
  • Best Kayak Rack For Truck Hitch
  • Rating: ★★★★
  • Price: ★★★★★
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There are several reasons why the Goplus Pickup Truck Bed Hitch Extender deserves the title of the best in its class, starting with the rugged steel tube construction.

The 750-pound load capacity is overkill for a truck bed hitch extension rack – but at least you don’t have reason to worry about overloading it by accident.

What’s more, Goplus’ bed extender already comes equipped with reflective tape on its front and sides, as well as a red safety flag, meaning visibility shouldn’t be an issue – even at night. Plus, it ensures that you don’t get in trouble with the law.

I wish that the crossbar had some sort of padding where it supports the kayak’s hull. It’s not bad as is, but scratches are a genuine concern during transportation.

Technical Specs

  • Hitch extension rack
  • Steel construction
  • 23.5-pound weight
  • 750-pound capacity

Pros

  • Fits 2-inch hitch receivers
  • Can be used on 1.25-inch receivers with a hitch adapter
  • Excellent capacity given its lightweight frame
  • Comes with a red safety flag and reflective tape on the front and sides

Cons

  • The bed extender doesn’t come with a hitch pin
  • The bar that supports the hull should have some padding
  • Tends to wobble a bit

The Goplus Hitch Extender Rack is not only one of the easiest and least expensive solutions for kayak transportation but one of the best kayak racks for a truck hitch, too!

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4. Lund-in-Motion Universal Truck Bed Xtender

Lund-in-Motion Universal Truck Bed Xtender
  • Best Truck Bed Extender For Everyday Use
  • Rating: ★★★★
  • Price: ★★★★
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Now, this is something a bit different. Lund-in-Motion is a truck bed extender by definition – but it doesn’t mount to the hitch.

Instead, the U-shaped design of this Lund-in-Motion truck bed extender mounts to the sides of the truck bed’s walls and flips out when you open the tailgate, providing up to two feet of extra cargo space. When you close the tailgate, it pops back in – and it can be easily removed thanks to the quick-disconnect mounting brackets, too.

It’s made from powder-coated aluminum, with rounded rectangular tubes that are not only light – weighing only 9.2 pounds – but virtually unbreakable, too.

This universal truck bed extender works on all full-size and mid-size trucks, although it might not be compatible with tonneau covers. One potential downside is that some components are made of plastic.

Technical Specs

  • Truck bed extender
  • Aluminum construction
  • 9.2-pound weight

Pros

  • Ideal for everyday use
  • Gives up to two feet of extra cargo space
  • Works with the tailgate open or closed
  • Can be used to section off the truck’s bed
  • Quick-disconnect mounting brackets for easy removal

Cons

  • Some components are made of plastic and feel “cheap” to the touch
  • Might not be compatible with some truck beds and tonneau covers

If you want a simple, U-shaped truck bed extender that will be convenient for everyday use and allow for effortless removal, the Lund-in-Motion should be one of your top choices.

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5. Tidal Pickup Truck Utility Rack

Tidal Pickup Truck Utility Rack
  • Best Utility Rack For Trucks
  • Rating: ★★★★
  • Price: ★★★★★
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Tidal Pickup Truck Utility Rack is an absolute beast of a ladder-style rack – and I mean that in every possible way.

The adjustable design fits long-bed and short-bed trucks, removable crossbars that will fit taller cargo, gusseted corners that add extra strength, and built-in tie-down points; it can handle virtually anything.

As long as you keep the weight evenly distributed, you can load up to 1500 pounds on the utility rack. Of course, that’s too much for the average kayaker, but if you plan on using it for other stuff – like work – then the above-average might be a huge plus.

Keep in mind that the Tidal utility rack weighs a massive 88.8 pounds, though. So, even though no-drill installation is an option, consider mounting it permanently if possible – and ask someone to assist you. It’s not something you’ll remove daily, anyway. 

Technical Specs

  • Truck bed utility rack 
  • Steel construction
  • 88.8-pound weight
  • 1500-pound capacity

Pros

  • Can be adjusted to fit long- and short-bed trucks
  • Built-in tie-downs for securing cargo
  • Exceptionally high load capacity
  • Gusseted corners add extra strength
  • No-drill installation is an option

Cons

  • Weighs nearly 90 pounds  
  • The instructions could be better
  • Installation will be a two-person job
  • A wind deflector is a must due to the noise

You can’t talk about utility racks without mentioning the Tidal Contractor Ladder Rack. This thing’s a beast that can handle virtually anything you load on it!

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6. AA-Racks Model X39 Utility Rack

AA-Racks Model X39 Utility Rack
  • Best Affordable Over-The-Cab Kayak Rack
  • Rating: ★★★★
  • Price: ★★★★★
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Another utility rack worth checking out is AA-Racks X39 – especially if you don’t have a large budget.

The rack is designed to fit full-size and semi-truck beds, with both the over-cab extension bars and sidebars being adjustable in length. Even more so, the top crossbar is flexible, as well and can be adjusted to fit different bed widths.

Beyond versatile fitting, another impressive feature of the X39 utility rack is its 1000-pound load capacity.

Also, the two handrails for grab-and-hop convenience will be a plus whenever you need to get up onto the truck’s bed. It makes little difference in terms of kayak transportation, but it’s a nice touch in general.

I have to warn you that, at 122.7 pounds, this utility rack is anything but lightweight and easy to manage. You’ll need a helping hand with the installation process.

Technical Specs

  • Over-the-cab utility rack
  • 122.7-pound weight
  • 1000-pound capacity

Pros

  • Minimal wind noise
  • Over-cab extension bars and sidebars are adjustable in length
  • The top crossbar can be adjusted to different bed widths
  • Two handrails for getting onto the truck’s bed  

Cons

  • There are some compatibility concerns that could affect the installation
  • At 123 pounds, it weighs a lot more than my other picks 

The high level of adjustability, the 1000-pound limit, and minimal wind noise, and the fact that the AA-Racks X39 won’t burn a hole in your wallet, make this a tremendous budget-friendly pick. 

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7. Tricam SLE-1/SKLE-350 Hitch Mounted Kayak Racks

Tricam SLE-1/SKLE-350 Hitch Mounted Kayak Racks Load Extender
  • Best Vertical-Mounting Kayak Rack For Truck Hitch
  • Rating: ★★★★
  • Price: ★★★★★
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I already showed you my personal favorite when it comes to kayak racks for truck hitch, but that doesn’t mean that the Tricam SLE-1/SKLE-350 isn’t worth considering. It takes the cake as the most versatile hitch-mounted load extender.

Tricam’s truck bed extender is constructed out of tubular, powder-coated steel and weighs 36.4 pounds, so it’s reasonably light while still heavy-duty and rust-resistant. Flexibility is its strongest suit, though:

It’s designed to be mounted on any 2-inch hitch receiver – both horizontally and vertically, and it has five adjustable heights to accommodate all sorts of oversized cargo, kayaks included.

And it’s an excellent value for money, too.

Yes, the 350-pound might seem limited, but if you think about it, most ‘yaks – even the heaviest ones – don’t come anywhere near that limit.

Technical Specs

  • Hitch extension rack 
  • Steel construction
  • 36.4-pound weight
  • 350-pound capacity

Pros

  • Versatile, reasonably light, and easy-to-use design
  • Rust-resistant construction
  • Designed to fit any 2-inch hitch receiver
  • Can be mounted both horizontally and vertically
  • Has five adjustable heights

Cons

  • It feels relatively wobbly when set to the maximum height
  • It doesn’t fit as deep into the receiver as expected
  • May require an additional hitch tightener

All you need is a two-inch hitch receiver, and Tricam SLE-1/SKLE-350 is ready to go; it doesn’t matter if you want to mount it horizontally or vertically. How’s that for versatility?

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8. Thule Xsporter Pro Pickup Truck Rack

Thule Xsporter Pro Pickup Truck Rack
  • Best Truck Bed Rack
  • Rating: ★★★★★
  • Price: ★★★★
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Next up is the sought-after Thule Xsporter Pro – a pickup truck rack made of reinforced aluminum.

It’s reliable, easy to install – without any drilling, might I add – extremely versatile, thanks to the CustomAdjust bar height, and provides excellent efficiency and aerodynamics, too.

On that note, Thule’s trademarked AirTrip technology redirects airflow, while the WindDiffuser technology ensures a quieter ride.

Moreover, it boasts a maximum capacity of 450 pounds, which should be more than enough for at least two kayaks – plus some additional gear. And yet, it still manages to weigh a comfortable 67.6 pounds.

Thule isn’t the most affordable truck bed rack out there, but overall, you’re getting your money’s worth.

Technical Specs

  • Truck bed rack
  • Aluminum construction
  • 67.6-pound weight
  • 450-pound capacity

Pros

  • Adjustable bar height for maximum versatility
  • Thule’s trademark technologies for better aerodynamics and minimal wind noise
  • SecureLock cylinders for locking the rack to the truck
  • Can accommodate two kayaks
  • Tool-free load stops for securing oversized cargo

Cons

  • Available accessories, like carriers, are limited and typically costly
  • Not the most affordable truck bed rack on the market
  • The exposed brackets might corrode

Thule is a brand known for making well-designed and reliable vehicle accessories – and it lives up to the reputation with this Thule Xsporter Pro Pickup Truck Rack, too!

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9. AA-Racks Model APX2501 Truck Bed Kayak Rack

AA-Racks Model APX2501 Truck Bed Kayak Rack
  • Best Lightweight Kayak Rack For Pickup Trucks
  • Rating: ★★★★
  • Price: ★★★★
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Yes, that’s another model by AA-Racks. What can I say; this company knows a thing or two about making reliable kayak racks for pickup trucks.

The APX2501 is also a ladder-style rack constructed out of powder-coated, weather-resistant aluminum and weighs a good 41.8 pounds. It’s easy to install, too, as it comes with a set of 8 universal mounting clamps and doesn’t require any drilling.

Another plus is that it boasts height-adjustable bars, which makes it rather versatile.

The APX2501 has a slightly lower capacity of 450 pounds, but it should still be plenty for kayak owners.

That said, the price tag could be an issue for someone on an extremely tight budget. Of course, it’s far from overpriced, but it’s still something to keep in mind as you make your choice.

Technical Specs

  • Truck bed rack
  • Aluminum construction
  • 41.8-pound weight
  • 450-pound capacity

Pros

  • Extremely lightweight aluminum frame
  • Universal design that fits full-sized pickup trucks
  • Uses universal mounting clamps for no-drill installation
  • CustomAdjust bar height ensures cargo-hauling versatility

Cons

  • Not compatible with utility track systems and tonneau covers
  • While it’s not expensive per se, it’s not the cheapest option, either

If your primary goal is to keep the kayak rack as lightweight as possible, the 42-pound aluminum frame of the AA-Racks APX2501 will be the perfect fit for the job.

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10. Front Runner Slimline II Load Bed Rack Kit

Front Runner Slimline II Load Bed Rack Kit
  • Best Low-Profile Bed Rack Kit
  • Rating: ★★★★★
  • Price: ★★★★
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Last but not least, I’d like to recommend the Front Runner Slimline II. It’s a modular, low-profile kit that includes a cargo tray, load bed tracks, and a wind deflector, creating a full-size, shelf-like rack that sits above the truck’s bed.

The rack’s construction is a combination of aluminum and stainless steel, which, as I explained earlier, ensures the “best of both worlds” when it comes to the strength-to-weight ratio. It weighs just over 60 pounds, so it’s not precisely lightweight – but it’s not extremely heavy, either.

At 660 pounds, it will meet the needs of kayak owners, even if it’s not as crazy high as in some other models. It can haul all the equipment you need for casual outings and camping trips – and then some.

I have to say that I’m not too thrilled by the price tag, though.

Technical Specs

  • Bed rack kit
  • Aluminum and stainless steel construction
  • 60.8-pound weight
  • 660-pound capacity

Pros

  • Combines aluminum and steel for an excellent strength-to-weight ratio
  • Convenient and modular shelf-like tray for customizable arrangements
  • T-slot mounting system creates a flat, low-profile deck

Cons

  • The price tag of this bed rack kit isn’t exactly budget-friendly
  • Drilling is required for installation, which might be a deal-breaker for some

If you want a modular, low-profile kayak rack with an impressive strength-to-weight ratio and versatility to boot, the Front Runner’s Slimline II Roof Rack Kit is one of your best bets.

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Best Kayak Rack For Pickup Trucks – Final Verdict

Blue kayak on truck bed rack
Image courtesy of DiamondBack Covers  (CC BY 2.0)

While your choice of the rack will significantly depend on the kayak and the model of your truck, I’d say my round-up of best kayak racks for trucks has some rather versatile options. After all, you’ll likely use it for more than just carrying your ’yaks to the water. 

And each of the models I picked out has you covered in that sense, too. 

That said, there’s one option that stood out from the bunch – the AA-Racks Model APX25 Pick-Up Truck Kayak Rack.

Even though the AA-Racks APX25 is my top choice – and for a good reason, too – it’s best to take your time and see what works best for you. Any of the models you’ve seen today could be a great fit!

Feature image courtesy of DiamondBack Covers  (CC BY 2.0)