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Finding the Best Kayak Rack

As the weather warms up, many of you are either getting back out on the water or contemplating your first boat. Inevitably, part of the buying process is considering how you’ll transport that boat from home to water. Finding the best kayak rack can be challenging, so I’ll break down some of the differences in boat racks and pricing.

First, look at the vehicle you’ll use to transport the boat and ask yourself these three questions:

  • Does my car already have crossbars?
  • What kind of boat do I want (fishing kayak, canoe, recreational kayak, or sea kayak)?
  • Am I able to lift a kayak onto the roof of my vehicle?

Answering these moves you in the right direction. From there, we’ll break down the carriers by features, ease of use, and cost.


Foam Blocks: Sea to Summit Solution Traveller Soft Rack


Sea to Summit Solution Traveller Soft Rack

Many vehicles will not have crossbars and this can present a financial barrier, with Thule and Yakima rail systems costing upwards of $400, depending on the vehicle. There are alternatives if you only plan to drive short distances (within 25-50 miles and not on the expressway). If you can’t afford a roof rack and will stay local, consider foam blocks. These systems can be rigged many ways, but are largely the same. Two blocks rest across your vehicle’s roof. One strap goes through the vehicle and another goes over the boat. With wider boats, you may wrap the boat with one strap through the vehicle. In any case, never use ratchet straps, which can dent the roof of your vehicle and crack or warp the body of your boat.

The advantage to foam blocks is the low cost, but there are drawbacks, such as straps through your car (which can leak in the rain or bring moisture from the boat into your vehicle) and being limited to shorter drives at lower speeds.

Best for: short commutes and tight budgets


J-cradles: Thule Hull-a-port, Thule Hull-a-port XT, Yakima Jaylow

If you have crossbars on your vehicle or plan to get crossbars, there are several options for you. J-cradles are one of the most secure options for transport and make strapping boats easy. First is Thule’s Hull-a-port, a basic J-cradle. At $199.95, this comes with two cradles and straps to carry one boat. To transport two boats in their most secure configuration, you would need two sets, mounted on either side of the vehicle.

Thule Hull-a-port XT

If you have two boats and don’t want to buy two cradles or you park in a garage, other options are Yakima’s Jaylow or Thule’s Hull-a-port XT. Both systems fold down and have the capability of carrying two kayaks, with one going in the cradle and the other going on the crossbar similar to the configuration shown in the photo at left. These are a slight cost bump from the standard Hull-a-port, with the Jaylow coming in at $229.00 and the XT coming in at $219.95. If pulling into your garage without removing your kayak rack is important to you or you have a wider boat, this price bump will be worthwhile.

Best for: recreational kayaks, sea kayaks


Folding Cradles: Thule Compass, Thule Stacker, Yakima BigStack

Another option for those of you with two boats would be the Thule Compass. With a price tag of $299.95, it’s essentially a Hull-a-port with two cradles and is easy to use if you often carry two boats. The Compass is also a good option if you transport paddleboards and folds down when not in use. For someone looking to carry more than two boats, check out Thule’s Stacker (pictured below) or Yakima’s BigStack. These fold down for garage parking and noise reduction; they also give the user the ability to stack up to four boats on their crossbars. Both have a price tag of $199.95, but the systems can be difficult to use and often require a helping hand. For those willing to fuss with straps to secure their boats, their convenience and capacity pay for themselves.

Best for: multiple boats, SUPs

Thule Stacker with four boats

Load Assist: Thule DockGlide, Yakima Deckhand & Handroll, Thule Hullavator Pro

Yakima Deckhand

Load-assist systems work great for heavy fishing kayaks or solo paddlers that struggle loading their boat. Most load-assist systems simply involve pushing your boat onto your roof and then strapping it in. Some have panels that glide; others like the Deckhand (paired with Yakima’s HandRoll) have wheels. Prices can range from $300 for something like the Deckhand/Hand Roll all the way up to $800 for a fully load-assisted system like the Hullavator, the hydraulic loader pictured below which can lift up to 40 pounds of your boat.

Best for: fishing kayaks, solo paddlers


Thule Hullavator Pro

Canoes: Thule Portage

For canoe paddlers, Thule’s Portage carrier is similar to the DockGlide or Deckhand but tailored to fit canoes. Additionally, you could pair those systems with Thule’s Waterslide to easily push a boat onto your vehicle’s roof and minimize the potential for damage to your boat or vehicle.

Best for: canoes, hybrids


Hopefully this article helped you in your roof rack quest. For further information on the system that’s best for you or to inquire about car rack installations, come down to RRT to chat with an expert. Hope to see you paddling down the river sometime soon!


*Prices are listed as they are at time of posting. All prices are subject to change. RRT promises to offer the lowest price possible and always uses MSRP.


by: Ben Shaw