11 Best Kayak Roof Racks – Secure & Fast Transportation of Your Vessel

No matter which stage of your kayaking journey you are at – whether you’re just getting started (we’ve all been there once) or you are a pro, there is a mandatory accessory that you need to own – kayak carrier and roof rack system. Knowing how to haul a kayak is a problem every kayaker needs to solve

I mean, to go kayaking, you first need to get the kayak to the water. And the most efficient way to do so is by carrying it horizontally on this useful piece of gear on the top of your vehicle.

As you know, I am kind of a kayaking private eye, and my round-up of the best kayak roof racks surely has the one that suits your needs! 

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In A Rush? The Winner After 40 Hours Of Research

Yakima JayLow Rooftop Mounted Kayak Rack

Yakima JayLow Rooftop Mounted Kayak Rack

  • Our Rating: ★★★★★

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Why is it better?

  • Has a built-in cam lever that allows tilt angle to be adjusted easily
  • Low profile design enables high overhead clearance
  • The padded construction protects your kayak during the transport
  • Universal rack fitment, it fits a wide array of crossbars
  • Can carry two kayaks in a vertical position (up to 110 lbs)
  • Comes complete with sturdy mounting hardware
  • Easy and quick to attach or remove 

What Every Kayaker Needs to Know About Kayak Roof Racks

Green Kayak Transportation on the Car Roof Rack.

The first step on the road to kayak carrier purchase success is understanding all the key features and terms.  Afterall, you don’t buy your kayak roof rack every day! 

I handpicked some advice and information that I believe you should be well acquainted with before you make a decision.

Kayak Roof Rack Defined

Formally, as ISO (the International Organization for Standardization) puts it, kayak roof racks are “devices produced for carrying sailboard(s) with or without boom and mast on roof racks, decks, or bars.”

In other words, racks are installed on the roof of your vehicle depending on the system that you use (it’s usually different kinds of crossbars), and then your yak is put above so that you can carry it. 

Safety First!

Car with red kayak on  j-cradles roof rack

As a driver, it goes without saying that you carry an immensely high amount of responsibility.

With accessories that you use, kayak roof racks being one of them, it becomes even higher.

Why do I say so? 

Unfortunately, statistics show that roof racks seem to play a significant role in many accidents. As a study of the crash investigation by AAA (Foundation for Traffic Safety) estimates, 25000 crashes were caused by the debris deposited on the ground, whereas 81 resulted in death.

In case your kayak rack detaches, a vehicle behind you can get struck by it, people might get injured trying to avoid it, or your car (and you) can suffer damages.

Here are my recommendations for ensuring that your kayak roof racks are safe:

  • Read the manuals. By this, I don’t mean just the instructions of a roof rack that you get, but also your vehicle manual. Check whether they are compatible, and calculate the weight that you are going to add to the full construction. When you do, it mustn’t be above the maximum weight that your vehicle can carry safely.
  • Check local laws and regulations.   If you are in the US it’s wise to check with the DMV to ensure a roof rack isn’t an unlawful modification to your vehicle type.
  • Make sure that the roof rack meets safety standards. I did this part for you – all of the picks on my list are in congruence with the highest safety standards.
  • More massive load on the bottom, lightweight on the top. This rule is there to balance the weight and prevent any accidents. So, in this case, kayak first, and then some accessories (e.g., paddles).
  • Be aware of the height. Kayak and the roof rack are going to add a lot of height to your vehicle, so be careful to plan out where you will pass, as your clearance is limited. Is there a parking ramp ahead? An overpass? These are all the things you have to ask yourself.
  • Learn how to load and secure your kayak to a roof rack – make sure you know how to get your kayak on and off the rack, and how to keep it there by strapping it down correctly – these are essential skills.
  • Double-checking. I did my part of the job – short-listed roof racks that come with secure bolts and connectors – and yours is to double-check whether you have placed them correctly before getting on the road.

Also, here’s a short video of loading a kayak on the roof rack:

Do Kayak Roof Racks Have an Impact on Your Driving?

oyota 4runner and whitewater inflatable kayak on roof rack

Besides the apparent impact (the added weight on the top of your car), which means that you have to drive more carefully around corners and turns, there are some indications that roof racks impact your fuel economy.

This is especially true for the increased fuel consumption when you’re carrying a rack without a kayak or cargo.

So, the moral of the story is: To not affect your gas mileage, disassemble a kayak roof rack when not in use!

What to Consider When Buying a Kayak Roof Rack?

Red Kayak on the Car Roof Rack
.

Combing through the market should not be aimless and arbitrary.

You should get acquainted with all the types of kayak roof racks before you make a decision.

Types of Kayak Racks

J-Cradles Roof Rack

Lifetime Warranty TMS® 2 Pairs J-Bar Rack

These are my favorite, and I’d say their purpose will fit most of the paddlers’ needs. That’s why my top pick is also a J-style rack.

Their name stems from their shape, and they will sit at a 45-degree angle on your crossbars, allowing for an easy side-loading of the kayak. You’ll find that the sideways loading is a lot easier than lifting the kayak to the top! 

You can check out how to assemble J-racks if the instructions aren’t clear enough:

Stackers

Malone Stax Pro2 Stacker

People named this kind of racks stackers because they “stack” kayaks in an upright position (meaning they will sit on their sides).

Thus, there will be more space on the top of your vehicle, and you’ll fit as many as four kayaks.

Saddles (with Rollers)

Car Rack & Carriers Universal Saddles Kayak Carrier

The design of the saddles is such that they have a bigger surface to put the kayak on, meaning they offer an additional layer of security compared to the other types.

If they come with a roller system, they can be extended so that you just put your kayak without lifting it, and then use the assist rolling system that takes the weight off your kayak to load and unload it. You’ll feel as if it does the job instead of you!

Inflatable Roof Rack

WOOWAVE Inflatable Car Roof Rack

When you carry a kayak in a range of vehicles, and swap between the cars often, it is easier to use inflatable roof racks.

They are temporarily attached to the doors and easily packed when you no longer need them, meaning that you don’t need to have mounting points on your car. This kind is the most compact and cheapest, as well.

Best Kayak Roof Racks: Detailed Review Of The Top Kayak Carriers 

1. Yakima JayLow Rooftop Mounted Kayak Rack

Yakima JayLow Rooftop Mounted Kayak Rack

  • Top Pick – Overall Best Kayak Roof Rack 
  • Rating: ★★★★★
  • Price: ★★★★★

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Spoiler alert: if you’re looking for the most reliable kayak carrier, the Yakima JayLow Kayak Rack might be the one.

Why do I say so?

First and foremost, unlike many J-style racks, this one does not add too much height to your vehicle. Its low profile design features a built-in cam lever and fold system that expands the clearance and thus can remain mounted without taking it off.

It comes with all the necessary straps you need to tie down and secure the kayak, along with the safe oversized padding with nylon covers that protects your valuable boat. Therefore, it is easy to install it on your vehicle without any additional tools needed.

Technical Specs

  • J-cradle
  • 80 lb load capacity in J-cradle position (1 kayak)
  • 110 lb load capacity in a vertical position (2 kayaks)
  • Additional padding for protection
  • Heavy-duty straps and bow
  • Stern tie-downs
  • Easy installation

Pros

  • Very secure mounting hardware
  • High-quality construction
  • Large load capacity
  • Versatile; fits most of the crossbars
  • A handy integrated cam lever that adjusts the position
  • Can carry two kayaks 

Cons

  • A bit heavier than your standard roof rack
  • Instructions aren’t precise

The Yakima JayLow Roof Rack is a real testament to the fact that it doesn’t have to cost a fortune to obtain a top-notch rack – and that’s why it earned the first place on my list.

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2. Thule 830 Stacker Kayak Rack Carrier

Thule 830 Stacker Kayak Rack Carrier

  • Best Kayak Roof Rack for Multiple Kayaks
  • Rating: ★★★★
  • Price: ★★★★★

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As I mentioned, what you need if the whole family is into kayaking (just like mine) is a stack kayak roof rack. My favorite choice from this category is the Thule Stacker Kayak Rack Carrier for several reasons.

Let’s dissect its highlight features.

Just like my first pick, you can also fold down this rack for higher clearance. When used in that mode, it shouldn’t stick more than around 3.5 inches above the crossbar.

Unfortunately, although this stacker can hold up to 4 kayaks (depending on their size), it only comes with straps and tie-downs for two.

Technical Specs

  • Stacker
  • Fold-down design
  • 75 lb capacity
  • Fits up to 4 recreational kayaks
  • Steel construction
  • Fits most of the round, square and factory cross rails

Pros

  • A tight grip on the kayak without shaking
  • Leaves enough space on the roof to carry some additional gear
  • Suitable for the whole family
  • Steel construction with a non-scratch coating

Cons

  • No assist features
  • It comes only with two sets of accessories for securing the kayaks

The Thule Stacker Kayak Carrier will surely let you and your family enjoy this watercraft to the fullest with its carrying capabilities.

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3. Malone SeaWing Saddle Style Kayak Rack

Malone SeaWing Saddle Style Kayak Rack

  • Best Compact Kayak Roof Rack
  • Rating: ★★★★★
  • Price: ★★★★

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Out of all racks on my list today, the Malone SeaWing Kayak Rack is the most attractive one with its grey frame and red mounting straps.

This model is for you if you need that extra roof space that seems to lack if you use some bigger and more robust racks.

The classy low-profile single saddle design with heavy-duty polycarbonate frame and rubber padding for protection is indeed a winning combination.

Due to the Jawz mounting hardware that you can often see with Malone racks, this product is compatible with most square, round, and oval cross rails.

Technical Specs

  • Saddle style rack
  • Fold-down design
  • 70 lb load capacity
  • Jawz mounting hardware
  • Carbon frame
  • Ribbed synthetic rubber padding

Pros

  • Leaves a lot of space due to carefully utilized dynamic profile
  • Corrosion-free frame
  • Attractive design
  • Can carry two kayaks due to its midpoint mounting
  • Secure load straps
  • Easy to install

Cons

  • Slightly lower load capacity than its sibling on the list
  • A bit pricey

Do you need additional space for your life jacket, anchor, or paddles next to your kayak on the top of the roof? With this rack, you’ll certainly have it.

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4. AA-Racks Model X35 Truck Kayak Rack

AA-Racks Model X35 Truck Kayak Rack

  • Best Kayak Rack for Truck
  • Rating: ★★★★★
  • Price: ★★★★

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In case you’re driving a truck, keep reading about the AA-Racks X35, as it is the perfected version of their high-quality series of kayak racks.

It comes with everything you need for the secure transportation of your kayak(s) – 8 C-clamps (which are also very easy to take off), heavy-duty bolts, and tight ratchet strips.

The “X35” part of its name means that it is compatible with the bed’s standard size. There is also the top bar that allows you to extend it to fit different sizes.

Acknowledge, though, that you can’t use it with your standard truck accessories. So, any side boxes, tonneau covers, and utility track systems have to go off.

Technical Specs

  • J-cradle
  • Eight non-drilling C-clamps
  • 800 lb load capacity
  • Ratchet lashing straps
  • Steel frame
  • Stern tie-down straps

Pros

  • One of the largest weight capacities on the market
  • Excellent for transporting kayaks on pickup trucks
  • Sturdy steel frame
  • Can carry two big kayaks
  • Free additional foam pads
  • Great value for the price

Cons

  • The truck needs to be stripped of all accessories to use this rack (but this is often the case)
  • It seems to have rusted a bit on the bottom

The name of the game with the AA-Racks X35 Truck Kayak Rack is the incredible weight capacity. It isn’t compatible with all the truck accessories, but considering what it offers, this is a small price to pay.

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5. Yakima ShowBoat 66 Slide-Out Roller System Roof Rack

Yakima ShowBoat 66 Slide-Out Roller System Roof Rack.

  • Most Convenient
  • Rating: ★★★★★
  • Price: ★★★★

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The Yakima ShowBoat Kayak Rack is already a second pick by Yakima on my list.

What can I say? They genuinely seem to hit a home run with their roof racks.

Now, I’m an expert in installing kayak roof racks – I’ve probably installed over a hundred – and yet, it took me around 30 minutes to assemble this one. It takes longer than with other racks, and this is one of its primary downsides.

However, once you install this rack, it can extend up to 24 inches, which allows for really easy loading of your kayak onto the roof of your car

So, not only this rolling system is the most convenient for putting your yak on the rack, but it is also very accessible.

The price is a bit steep with this one, but it comes with two 66-inch crossbars, which is something you don’t see quite often.

Technical Specs

  • Load assist roller system
  • 80 lb load capacity
  • Two 66-inch crossbars
  • Steel frame
  • Padded protection

Pros

  • Doesn’t take up a lot of space
  • Corrosion-resistant frame
  • Sturdy steel frame
  • The lift assist makes it very easy to load and unload the kayak
  • Free additional foam pads
  • Great value for the price

Cons

  • Higher price tag
  • Longer installation time than average

Although I suggest you consider recruiting a pair of helping hands to install this kayak roof rack, you won’t need any to load a kayak back and forth with its smooth roller system.

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6. TMS J-Bar Rack HD Kayak Rack

TMS J-Bar Rack HD Kayak Rack

  • Best J Style Kayak Carrier
  • Rating: ★★★★
  • Price: ★★★★

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Another shiny gem in the J-style kayak roof racks (my favorite kind) is the TMS J-Bar HD Rack.

Why did this kayak roof rack earn the title “the most adaptable”?

Well, simply put – it works with everything.

Owing to its different lengths of bolts, it will suit pretty much any kind of existing crossbars, and it accommodates kayaks wide up to 36 inches.

Even the padding can be adjusted if it gets in the way!

Though this roof rack comes with accessories only for a single kayak, there is enough space to fit another one when you mount it.

Technical Specs

  • J-cradle
  • 75 lb load capacity
  • Two lengths of bolts
  • Steel frame
  • Adjustable padded protection

Pros

  • Compact rack system
  • Easy load and unload
  • Fast removal and installation
  • Adjustable size
  • Fits basically kinds of all crossbars
  • Great value for the price
  • Doesn’t require any additional tools

Cons

  • Felt a bit shaky compared to some other picks
  • I’ve seen more quality padding

If you switch vehicles often, you might as well get a versatile kayak roof rack that will be compatible with all of them – and the TMS J-Bar HD Rack is one of the leading contenders there.

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7. Thule Hullavator Pro Kayak Lift System Rack

Thule 898Pro Hullavator Pro Kayak Lift System Rack

  • Best Kayak Rack for SUV
  • Rating: ★★★★★
  • Price: ★★★★★

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Remember how I told you that some roof racks would make you feel as if they are lifting the kayak by themselves? The Thule 898 Pro Hullavator is one of them.

Let me explain how it works.

First, this outstanding rack expands up to 40 inches to the side of your vehicle so that you can perform the loading and strapping comfortably and naturally.

The main point of its lift system is the gas-assisted loading method that can lift as much as 40 lbs of the weight of your kayak. This allows you to push it almost effortlessly to the roof.

Technical Specs

  • Lift-assist
  • 75 lb load capacity
  • 40-inch extension
  • 40-lb assist gas struts
  • QuickDraw bow
  • Stern tie down
  • Two center straps with buckles

Pros

  • Elegant design
  • Makes the whole loading process twice as easy (at least)
  • Comes with all the accessories
  • Corrosion-resistant frame
  • Feels very secure
  • Straightforward instructions

Cons

  • Less versatile than other racks (works only with Thule crossbars)
  • A bit high

Do you own an SUV or a big car? Owning this kayak roof rack will make everything a lot easier. It’s also great if you’re fed up with exerting too much force and strength into the loading process!

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8. Malone HandiRack Inflatable Roof Rack

HandiRack Universal Inflatable Roof Rack

  • Best Inflatable Kayak Carrier
  • Rating: ★★★★
  • Price: ★★★★★

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If you like the idea of inflatable roof racks that don’t require mounting hardware – or maybe your car doesn’t have factory rails, so you’re looking for a kayak rack for cars without rails – my last pick, the HandiRack Universal Inflatable Roof Rack, is for you.

This unique kayak carrier comes with all you need to securely hold your vessel at the top of the vehicle. The tie-down straps are tight, as well as the buckles, and the pump that comes with the package is efficient and fast.

Also, this rack can pride itself on quite a high load capacity of 175 lb.

One note, though, is that this roof rack is compatible with all kinds of vehicles except for those that have sliding doors (because that’s where you attach it).

Technical Specs

  • Inflatable
  • 175 lb load capacity
  • 5D ring anchor points
  • Two tie-down straps
  • High-volume HandiPump
  • Travel bag for storage

Pros

  • Universal design
  • Concise and clear instructions
  • Well-secured straps
  • Doesn’t require side rails
  • Comes with a travel bag
  • Compact and easy to store when not in use

Cons

  • Less durable than steel racks
  • Needs to be removed when not in use

Malone HandiRack delivers one of the most innovative roof racks that don’t require factory or aftermarket crossbars, roof rails or any additional accessories. And you can also use it to transport the vessel’s gear!

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9. Thule Xsporter Pro Aluminum Truck Rack 

Thule Xsporter Pro Aluminum Truck Rack

  • Best Kayak Roof Rack For Flatbed Trucks
  • Rating: ★★★★★
  • Price: ★★★★

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If you’re tired of the fixed, non adjustable rack systems, Thule Xsporter Pro is the answer. Having an easy-to-remove truck rack that can be height-adjusted as necessary is – well, a dream come true for many paddlers. 

The rack can support a great deal of load – up to 450 pounds – meaning it’s suitable for larger kayaks. What’s more, it can carry two ‘yaks just the same. 

The plastic caps are the one downside I found in Xsporter Pro’s sturdy design, as they’re bound to wear off and break over time. It remains a robust and stable aluminum rack, though. 

Installation-wise, it doesn’t require any drilling or cutting – but it is demanding, nonetheless. Don’t worry, though; as long as you follow the instructions, you’ll do fine. 

Technical Specs

  • Stacker 
  • 450 lb load capacity 
  • AirTrip bar for better aerodynamics
  • WindDiffuser to reduce noise 
  • Heavy-duty aluminum construction
  • Included SecureLock locks

Pros

  • Excellent roof rack for larger and heavier kayaks  
  • Easily removable and height-adjustable 
  • Heavy-duty aluminum frame 
  • Integrated technologies for a quieter car performance
  • Great value for the price 

Cons

  • Somewhat demanding installation process
  • Several low-quality plastic pieces
  • The rack’s adjustability won’t work if your truck bed’s interior isn’t flat 
  • Doesn’t work with a tonneau cover

Thule Xsporter Pro has the upper hand over any fitted, welded rack – because it adapts to your needs. Plus, Xsporter’s robust design is a testimony to durability!

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10. WOOWAVE Kayak Carrier Deluxe 

WOOWAVE Kayak Carrier Deluxe

  • Best Kayak Carrier for Small Cars
  • Rating: ★★★★
  • Price: ★★★★★

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If you happen to own a small car, or you’re not into the permanent kayak-carrying solutions, Woowave could be the transportation option for you.

Given the carrier kit’s easy installation and setup, you’ll be able to shoulder one kayak on your small car with ease. What’s more, its load capacity is rated at 110 pounds.

You can mount the universally-fitting foam blocks onto pretty much any vehicle – and you can even use them on cars without a roof rack system. 

The carrier kit includes two soft foam blocks, two tie-downs with buckles, straps, and two S-shaped hooks. 

The EVA foam pads feature universal cut-outs and ensure a non-skid grip on the bottom so that you can be sure everything stays in its place. Plus, they provide cushioning for your kayak while you’re on the road. 

I wouldn’t recommend them for longer trips, though. 

Technical Specs

  • Temporary pads
  • 110 lb load capacity
  • 6-feet long non-skid EVA foam blocks
  • 15-inch cam buckle straps 
  • Easy setup

Pros

  • Protects the car’s roof from scratches 
  • Easy to set up on vehicles without a roof rack system 
  • Temporary, budget-friendly solution 
  • Includes a bag to store the kit when not in use

Cons

  • Comes with only two sets of straps to secure the ‘yak 
  • Not sure how well the foam will hold up over time 
  • Foam blocks aren’t the ideal solution for longer trips

Fuse convenience and security, and then add safe transportation to the mix; that’s what you get with Woowave’s kit. Have your ‘yak transport-ready in minutes with this carrier! 

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11. YAKIMA BigCatch Kayak Fishing Boat Saddles 

YAKIMA BigCatch Kayak Fishing Boat Saddles

  • Best Fishing Kayak Roof Rack
  • Rating: ★★★★★
  • Price: ★★★★

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Not all roof racks are made to support and secure big kayaks. However, with an above-average 150 lb capacity, Yakima’s BigCatch is designed to cater to most paddlers’ needs.

The power of this roof rack lies in its design: 

BigCatch has rubber-padded saddles for extra protection to your ‘yak, aiming mainly at fishing and sit-on-top kayaks that are, as you probably know, hefty by design. Moreover, the oversized cradle is adaptable to various hull designs. 

Plus, you’ll get heavy-duty straps and bow and stern tie-downs to secure your kayak properly, as well as felt pads for easier loading. 

The installation process itself is smooth and doesn’t require any additional tools – unless your car features T-slot crossbars. In that case, you’ll have to buy the Yakima SmarT-Slot kit. 

Technical Specs

  • Saddle style rack
  • 150 lb load capacity
  • Rubber padded saddles 
  • Oversized cradle 
  • Heavy-duty straps, bow, and stern tie-downs 
  • Easy installation

Pros

  • The cradle conforms to a wide variety of hull shapes
  • Can carry a big fishing kayak or a big tandem kayak
  • Easy tool-free installation with universal hardware
  • A stable platform for full-contact support 
  • Great for trailers and pickup trucks 

Cons

  • The materials aren’t weather-resistant 
  • It doesn’t work without a pre-installed roof rack
  • On the pricier side 
  • Vehicles with T-slot crossbars will require an adapter kit 

Transporting a bulky fishing kayak is a feat in itself – but Yakima’s BigCatch says otherwise with a hassle-free process. Its oversized cradle and above-average capacity will fit your ‘yak like a glove!

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Final Verdict – Best Roof Racks for Kayaks

Best kayak roof racks - SUV with a Saddle rack with kayak

After careful consideration of all the models that I’ve reviewed, it’s time to pass the crown to the winner.

This time around, I decided to hail the Yakima JayLow Rooftop Mounted Kayak Rack the best kayak roof rack.

It has vaulted past many rivals and passed each aspect of my gauntlet of tests with flying colors – and as you know, I can get quite picky and strict with kayak accessories.

What is more, it checks all of the boxes that make up a perfect kayak carrier – reliability, easy loading and unloading, and high-quality construction – not to mention that it is unrivaled at this price range.

Do you have multiple kayaks and other large items of equipment to transport? If so, why check out our guide on the Best Kayak Trailers.

Don’t have the money for a roof rack? Then check out our No Rack, No Problem Guide.