Best Rack-Free Car-Top 2 Kayak Carrier Kit?

Sincerely appreciate suggestions for a rack-free car-top kayak carrier kit that can hold 2 kayaks on a small to mid-size sedan (in this case a Camry) for a car I use seasonally. I’ve only used Thule rack systems before.

I’ve seen rack-free systems like this - one type uses two foam blocks per kayak, with webbing belts with ratchets to hold the blocks on the roof of the car, and then other webbing to hold the kayaks on the blocks + ropes tying down the bows of the kayaks to the front bumper, and the sterns of the kayaks to the rear bumper. I should note that our kayaks are 17 and 16 ft, while I think the Camry is 15 ft long, not that this should matter much. Some examples:

I tried foam blocks many years ago and got got in a rainstorm and my 17’ wooden kayak I had just built was sliding across the roof. The next day I bought a Yakima rack and have had the rack now for 25 years.


Foam blocks work if you secure them and the boat properly, but they will eventually scratch the paint. (It’s hard to keep all debris from getting between t hem.)

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There’s no doubt that solid rack systems are best - we had a Thule rack and Thule box on our Outback - but this is a car we have in another location which we typically would only use occasionally within a few month period. So we’re reluctant to get an expensive roof rack system for it. And also because we may replace this car within the year.

Also open to recommendations for an inexpensive rack system that’s easy to remove and holds onto the roof from the space in-between the door and the roof.

Re sand, what if we wipe off the bottoms in contact with the roof before each use? They won’t be used too often.

Appreciate recommendations for specific double kayak carrier kits that can hold a 17 ft and 16 ft sea touring kayak.

It’s really hard to get rid of all foreign material. Really, really hard. I’m in the ham radio hobby and we have the same issue with magnetic mount antennas that stay in one place for years. Dust will slowly migrate underneath, and abrade the finish.

As for a rack, if you know what you will be buying, you could check what Yakima and Thule have for rack options. I know that if I wanted to move my rack from my Accord to my wife’s Fit, I’d just need a mounting kit that’s pretty inexpensive. The rails are movable, the vertical mounts are movable, but I’d need a new fit kit to mount the mounts to the roof. Fairly inexpensive.

Another option? A trailer. Even fairly modest vehicles can often tow the small, light trailers one would use for kayaks, and you also get better aerodynamics by having the boats behind the vehicle. This creates other complexities of course, but in some situations it will be the best answer.

As the other poster mentioned, foam blocks can migrate on the roof. I’ve had to use double front and rear tethers to stabilize my boat side-to-side if I’m in a really strong cross wind. A single tether front and back isn’t enough.

A buddy bought and used the soft rack system for a couple weeks on a rental car while his car was being repaired. He was happy to use it about 3 times, but is glad to have his rack (and car) back. He kept it for future emergency use, but said people attempting to use it as a primary rack for a sea kayak are looking for trouble. He felt the system was not secure enough for other than neighborhood travel.

I’ve used foam blocks that slip on a rack and even pool noodles as emergency rack/pad. Going cheap on a sea kayak carrying system is asking for trouble while transporting a kayak. A good rack is a one time expense…it’s nice occasionally for carrying lumber also.

Thank you for the advice and suggestions. @kayakhank, I agree with you 100% for a primary vehicle, which is why we had one of the best rack, crossbar, roof box and hitch systems on the market. We’re just reluctant to spend a lot on a rack system for this vehicle when we won’t be using the vehicle long (we’ll only be using with kayaks maybe a half dozen times at most through November). And we don’t plan to keep the vehicle long.

Since the next vehicle will either be a crossover like an Outback or similar, or a van, we were doubtful the system purchased for a Camry will work well for the next vehicle. Do you see a Thule or Yakima rack system for a Camry being easily transferable to a much larger crossover like an Outback or a van?

@PhotoJim regarding trailers, which inexpensive 2-4 kayak trailers have you seen out there? I don’t think I’ve seen one for less than $1500-2000. And though you’re cutting down on drag from rooftop carry, you’re dealing with a long trailer and all that comes with that.

Please do not take my comments as an endorsement of any kind for the blow up racks. My buddy would use them again in his neighborhood in an emergency, not for normal use. Emergency use is not what I would use for 6 months. Get the correct rack system for your safety and that of other drivers. For me, the same sentiment applies to foam blocks and pool noodles, emergency use = ok. Not a wise rack system for standard, everyday use.

I use Yakima racks because that I what was available for my first car and parts have been somewhat transferable for the past 30 years - they have been outstanding for my vehicles. I have been able to transfer racks by buying the correct footing attachments from Yakima. Thule racks are also outstanding according to friends who have them.

To determine rack interoperability to/from a Camry, you would need to go to the Yakima or Thule rack system assistant tool on each manufacturers website.

Before I got my minivan repaired and back on the road, I used this on my girlfriend’s Nissan Maxima.

Unlike the foam blocks, this setup secures to the car with straps that go through the door openings. It also has straps attached to it that secure the kayaks to the pads. It worked, but it wasn’t ideal. In fact there was plenty I didn’t like about it, things the manufacturer could have done to improve the design, but I did find it better than the cheap foam blocks. If you don’t want to install a universal rack on your car, this may be your best alternative. I was able to transport both mine and her WS Tsunami 165 kayaks with this on her Maxima.

Just make sure you use bow and stern lines with anything you choose.

A friend used these blocks for a single kayak on rental cars, but a slightly different system which she said worked better. She would strap blocks first to the kayak using standard straps (not ratchets). Then pick up the kayak and blocks and put on roof, and strap that whole thing to the car. She found attaching the blocks to the kayak better than trying to strap blocks to the car (but maybe using ratchets to strap to the car would have removed whatever issue she had).

Just thinking out loud here and for the record I’m a fan of racks over roofs for a couple reasons.

With one boat on foam blocks or whatever padding you use the strap will go over the boat and thru the door openings and the angle of the straps will be determined by the width of the roof. With crossbars and normal double over the boat method the straps end up pulling 90 degrees to the cross bar locking the boat side to side when the straps are single and assuming the doors don’t allow them to move the boat can still move somewhat because of the triangle strap configuration in addition to the max tension on the straps is not because of the straps stretching in tension but the foam blocks compressing. So IMO there is likely more room for movement unless the foam is squeezed down to solid. I think this is the reason rack manufactures use hard rubber padding that offers some protection without a lot of compression.

Now when you put two boats on top on foam do you still just run the straps around both boats together? It seems like that would pull the boats together until they contact and I don’t see how you could strap each separate without the boats interfering.

The idea of the double pad thing that straps around first and then the boats strap to that seem the best. I would like it even better if the part that went across was solid with padding for the roof and maybe a ratchet strap for inside the car then whatever kind of normal cradles you want attached to that. A solid one could even then be wider than the car for say two canoes or wider kayaks without needing to use Js.

If I am traveling distances, I am generally using my Roadtrek van conversion; up to three boats go inside. Locally (within New England) I use my Hyundai; I have Thule racks for it, and pad it with the foam blocks. I now have a Sea Eagle 393 inflatable, and if I don’t want to deflate it (maybe I’m kayaking the next day?) and I don’t have the racks on, I tie it directly to the roof. The car has 170,000 miles and may not pass inspection next spring; I’m not concerned about finish at this point! Attached bow and stern; lines run through the rings inside boat and around through the doors. The only time it has shifted was on the interstate in very windy conditions - and I’d been lazy about enough line in enough places. Stopped and retightened; solved problem. I don’t think it’s physically possible for it to come off the roof, with lines over the top, through its rings, around through both doors! When using the Thule rack, I do a variation of the same - bow and stern, around boats, rack, and at least one line through the car.

I recently came across the Malone VersaRail universal cross bars. They use suction cups, plus straps through the doors to secure the bars. It looks like a pretty versatile system. This screen grab is from Amazon.

Can’t speak to the bottom part of the mount, but Marshall who posts here regularly did indicate in another thread that Thule’s Pro Bars are more flexible on length to fit their foot pad packs than the other options. Because the slot runs full length.

One note re the Outback, as far as I know the raised rail that makes it work with third party systems cannot be gotten in the US or I think Canada. They have their own dumbass integrated thing that you would not like with two sea kayaks, and last I knew rendered an add on like the Hullivator impossible.

What you will find out there are a lot of cars that have gone to a flush rail system where part of the rack underpinnings is a Fit Kit that bolts directly into the frame on top. Then a foot pack goes into that, the latter actually holds the cross bars.

The only exception to that I am aware of in small SUV category is the Subie Forester, which still uses the raised rails that take the Cross Country mounts. Toyota went with the flush rail mounts in Rav4 in their 2019 redesign. Thule’s newer designs involve a slotted cross bar most of which are set up to work with specific cars.

So when you do look at cars, make sure you account for the specific investment in rack systems as well as whether there are insurmountable issues for two sea kayaks. I am changing what I said here on first draft, apparently there is a system from Yakima that plays OK with the post-2009 Outback. If you think Hullivator is in your future, follow up on whether it will work with the Yakima bars mentioned.

I dont see how you do 2 boats using foam blocks. Load both then tie down together with straps over both or tie down separately???

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I just got an Outback a month ago, and put a Yakima system on it (Skyline towers, Jetstream bars, which have full-length slots, and landing pad #27). I don’t have a Hullivator, so I don’t know if it fits the Yakima aero-shape bars, but most other Thule stuff does. Anyway, putting a rack on a newer Outback works just fine. And personally, while I’d love to have a Hullivator, at $800 on top of the cost of the rack system itself, I’ll be pondering that one carefully for a while.

I know the OP doesn’t want to spend a ton on a car they might be getting rid of soon, but at the very least the bars could be reused on the next vehicle, and possible the towers (or could be resold on Craigslist or FB Marketplace pretty easily). You may actually be able to find a used rack for the current car that way. I just took a Thule system off the Crosstrek I traded - they are out there!

You could always size the length of the bars for whatever your next vehicle might be (if it sticks out too far on the Camry in the short term, just put tennis balls on the ends or something) and then only have to replace the towers, or possibly only the landing pads.

Finally, I can’t find whether you said how far you’d be traveling with the boats. If it’s just a mile at slow speeds down a backroad to the water, that’s a bit different from 100 miles on a 70mph freeway. Foam blocks might be perfectly safe for one situation, but terrible for the other.

I need to make a correction re the Rav4 2019 redesign. I just pulled into a parking space to see a Rav4 with the older style raised rack on it.

It is the Adventure model, essentially an XLE wirh a higher wheelbase and a couple of other changes.

I cannot say how easy it is to find an Adventure model in a hybrid. This one is gas only.

I have never paid full price for major Thule components, which is what I have used on all my vehicles (6 so far) over the 20 years since I got my first sea kayak. Because they are so model specific, people sell used racks and parts used all the time because they have replaced car and their rack doesn’t fit the new one. As soon as I have a new vehicle I get the rack part numbers from the Thule fit matrix and start searching Ebay and local Craigslist for what I need. I have had extremely good fortune in this regard: when I bought the last car, a Mazda CX5, within a week of watching a guy who lived 15 minutes away was selling a rack off the same model for half what I would have paid for it new. Went to see it and it was pristine: $150 for feet, rails, even extra keys for the locks and spare rubber bar caps. And 6 months later I snagged a new-in-box Thule stacker pair for $50 on Craigslist from another nearby seller.

I can understand why some people might be concerned about “safety” with used racks but I have hauled 10’s of thousands of highway miles on used Thule racks with zero failures. You can tell by looking at the parts if they have been abused or misused or are beat to crap. But it seems to me that people who regularly replace late model cars care about the appearance of their “accessories” and tend to either have racks professionally installed or do it carefully themselves (and maintain them well.)

For airline travel (with my folding kayaks) I have a Malone inflatable HandiRack that I can use on rental cars (see images). But I have only used that with my folders, which weigh from 24 to 37 pounds and, having a flexible skin, have higher friction against the cross supports than a hardshell would, so I can’t comment on how well those work with heavier solid boats (Malone rates the rack to 180 pounds when inflated with the pump.) Of course, the Citroen Cactus (in the photos) that I rented in the UK had lateral bars that I could strap the boat to.

I used foam blocks the first year I had a sea kayak and that was the biggest problem: lashing the blocks to the roof was easy but having to then secure the boat to the rack and car securely was a huge pain.

I lucked out with the first Thule rack which was gift from my first paddling mentor who had it stashed in his basement from a Volvo wagon he no longer owned but had been of the same vintage as mine at the time. He saw me struggling with the foam blocks when I visited him in coastal Connecticut for some open water paddling and came to my rescue.

I do suspect the inflatable tubes would be less likely to slide around the car roof under load than I recall the foam blocks doing when I used them for other people’s hardshell kayaks and canoes.

Be interested to hear if others who stumble across this string have experience with the inflatable racks for heavier loads than I have used them for.

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For example (per my previous comment), here is somebody near me in Pittsburgh selling a used set of BOTH the rails and a set of 480 universal feet (for a car without rails or rain gutters) for $100. New that setup would be $500.