Cartopping a Kayak: Upside down vs Rightside Up?

I am an “occasional” kayaker who needs to transport my Old Town VaporXT 10 kayak on the top of my new 2022 Jeep Wrangler that has a 3 piece hardtop. The old crossbar/“J” cradle system I used on my last vehicle will not fit on my new Wrangler - so I’m starting from scratch.

I wasn’t crazy about the “J” cradle system. I didn’t care for the 2+ feet of added height - and found that the straps were noisy as can be once I hit anything over 55 MPH. I’m thinking about simply adding a pair of cargo bars to the Wrangler - and just putting the kayak on them “upside down” (i.e., cockpit opening facing down) and using a couple of ratchet straps to hold it in place.

Does anybody have any experience using this approach? Do I need to be concerned about weird aerodynamic “lift” being created by loading the kayak “upside down”? Any feedback on this approach from somebody with some experience with it would be greatly appreciated!

Ratchet straps can easily damage boats, so I recommend using quality cam straps instead. I’m not very familiar with your particular boat, but I’ve hauled boats deck-up and deck-down. If you’re loading directly on the bars or with just padding, I’d haul it in whichever configuration puts the ‘flattest’ part of the boat on the bars. As you tension the straps, the boat will ‘flatten out’ on the bars, so the least hull deformation the better. I’d still prefer the use of cradles of some type, or better yet, something like the Goodboy Rack.


Right side up or upside down is just fine. Carrying the kayak upside down is a good way to prevent oil canning of a rotomolded hull in hot weather. A little oil canning on the deck, if it occurs, will not affect performance. I would definitely pad the crossbars to further reduce the possibility. Saddles or foam blocks on the crossbars are best.

Try and support the kayak over the internal bulkheads if it has any. Do not rest the boat on the cockpit combing if possible. It is too narrow and can crack or deform.

As @High_Desert has said do not use ratchet straps on any cartop boat. It’s too easy of over tighten them and damage the boat. Cam buckle straps are best. Easy to use and tension, they are immensely strong and will not stretch or loosen if in good shape. Snug is good enough. Always use fore and aft tiedowns in addition to the main straps.

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IMO canoe or rec-kayak it is the only way to fly.

Use two cam straps around cross bar then over boat and then around cross bar.

Get two more cam straps and one to the bow and one to the stern.

Load boat or boats and barely snug straps around the boat. When you are ready to drive cinch them up and slam the extra tails into the doors to keep them from blowing around. When you get to where you are going pop the straps to take most of the tension off. It doesn’t take a lot of baking in the sun under tension to dent the plastic boats.

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I highly recommend for strapping the the better than bungee product.

the rope is replaceable when/if it gets frayed and any 550 paracord will work.

I use there for the bow/stern line attachment tie-down, and then I made one big loop using a Canjam XT and a 10ft piece of rope with a loop tied on the other end, for the around the cross-bar and boat hold down.

It’s been good enough to keep the boats on the car at 80mph…

you can pull everything tight so nothing will move but not so tight to dent your boats.

The reason flat nylon straps make noise at high speeds is because people are too tidy in making sure the straps lie flat all the way around as they wrap them over the boat hulls and racks. It looks “sloppy”, I know, but if you add a couple of twists to the straps they won’t “sing” because the airflow over them is broken up. I also wrap paracord in a spaced spiral around my square Thule rack bars to reduce wind noise from them when I am driving unloaded… Same principle.


I also don’t recommend using the black rubber straps that truckers use. It takes too much effort to stretch them and they tend to fail with little sign of imminent failure.

The same goes with bungees. They are little more than a collection of rubber bands in a nylon sheath. With time the rubber bands tend to fail, a few at a time out of sight, until the rest fail all at once leaving the bungee worthless.

Right-side-up, up-side-down - either will work. I do add foam blocks, and a bow line if I am going any distance. Up-side-down keeps the boat from filling up with water in the rain.

Home at last

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so mostly I’m a right side up kind of guy. Whitewater creek boats tend to have a lot of rocker and most but not all of my boats ride better right side up.

Sometimes the spread between the bars is just right for upside down car topping.

Oner advantage of right side up is that the tail of the boat is more out of the way for opening the rear hatchback, but I still have to loosen the rear cam strap and slide the boat a bit to open the rear hatch. I can’t open it at all if the boat is on upside down. I will have to remove the boat to open the rear hatch.

Unfortunately, when right side up they do collect rain water unless you use a cockpit cover .

As far as oil canning goes, I could care less. My last three kayakss have all worn out directly under the seat- gotten holes within a couple of years. I’m really hard on boats. That is a because of my weight, 215 pounds, and the fact that small rocks gets lodged up under the seat. Pyranha’s foam under the seat isn’t dense enough. Small rocks cut through the foam and eat at the hull from the inside out and I’m never shy about sliding over rocks while going down the river…

So how do I get the small gravelly rocks in my boats? Mostly from getting in and out, but also camping gear. Sometimes the pebbles stick to the bottom of dry bags. I run a fair number of streams that require multiple portaging, mostly around wood. When you start getting in and out of your boat a lot, you are very likely to get grit in your boat.

get ya some cam straps from nrs, can never have too many of those!

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That was a very helpful piece of advise! I don’t hear the noise when the Jeep/Kayak combination is being towed behind our motorhome … but when I’m actually driving the Jeep - I find that the noise has a tendency to make me drive slower … sometimes too slowly. I’ll give the “twist” fix a try!

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Thank you all for the helpful responses! It’s obviously you all are far more in tune with the nuances of the boats! I’m a recreational kayaker at best … for the most part, I use mine as platform from which to fish from on little inland lakes. If I’m real lucky I manage to get 2-3 hour “point to point” river trip every couple of years.

Based on your collective input - I’ve decided I’m going to simply pick up a couple of cross bars and some of the foam rubber supports - and will mount the kayak upside down. I understand the issue with overtightening ratchet straps - and have probably already caused some minor damage to my boat because of it. I intend to continue using ratchet straps - primarily because I had a bad experience with cam strap that managed to come loose on me. I think it was more an issue with the strap buckle having some minor damage in the first place … I’m therefore somewhat partial to the ratchet strap (since given how I put it on - it simply CAN’T loosen/come off). I will however be much more gentle in terms of how much I tighten them!

Thank you all for the comments - they have been very helpful!

The SpaceNorman

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Hey snorman what brand were your cam straps? If you bought them at a big box store there is some real crap out there. I don’t say that because I’m anti big-box, just that I have seen folks use absolute crap straps with bad results. Some of the cheaper straps stretch and slip and the buckles are weaker. Mostly though, it is about the strap itself which is simply too soft and pliant.

I do use racheting straps for rafts on flatbeds or with an overloaded pick up truck bed full of boats. That’s about it though. Cam buckles are way easier and I always tie off the end with a stopper lash or stopper knot. When I strap I not only go around the crossbars but also the side rails of the factory rack. Racks and crossbars have been known to fail as well. It’s good you are thinking about this stuff.

Any strap that has a lot of stretch is an accident waiting to happen, regardless of how it tightens. If you got a system that works for you, and you are only going occasionally then rachetting will work, until it gets messed up. Then cussing follows. Don’t twist your rachetting straps, keep them flat and they will be easier to deal with.

I’ve used NRS cam straps for 3 decades. Never a problem unless I
caused it. I’ve had 2 buckles obviously fail and some straps got UVd to retirement.
I had some of the soft flimsy ones but not for long.

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IF the deck of the kayak is sturdy, it can be carried upside down. In the past, many kayak decks were much lighter than the hull, so you carried them right side up. Depending on the construction of you kayak, it can go upside down, if the deck is strong enough and there is some support where the bars are. As one person said - have the bars under a bulkhead, but if your kayak is like mine - there are none - have the bars at least in front and back of cockpit, do not put the cockpit combings on the rack. I have and Old Town Loon 180T (tandem - 17feet) so I carry it right side up, as I can not get racks far enough apart to risk it upside down.

Your OT Vapor XT 10 kayaks is very similar in cockpit size as the OT I showed in the post above. The cockpit opening is flat enough to sit on cross rails and held down with cam straps without needing any additional foam. I personally don’t like adding foam as I want the stretch in the cam straps to provide the tension and not the compression of the foam.

When you have this boat upside down the straps without twisting will fit tight against the hull making total contact and no place for air to get in and make noise. IMO you are more likely to warp the hull when straps are hitting on points when pulling down than when in full contact.

For me the theory is with 2 straps and a bow/stern strap it is like holding your pants up with 2 belts and 2 pair of suspenders. Having 4 ways of holding means if any one point failed you have nothing to worry about.

In the photo I posted above I made 2x4 crossbar extenders that bolt to my crossbars. You can also buy racks with extension crossbars. The big reason for J hooks is to be able to get 2 rec-kayaks on the roof at the same time by setting them on the side. If you are just hauling 1 and have a normal rack/crossbars all you might have to do is unscrew the roof antenna and load it on upside down. Figure out how you want to attach a bow/stern line.

In my case I wanted to haul 2 canoes or 3 rec-kayaks so I needed some width.

Not filling with rain is a plus.

Depends on the shape of the hull, in my experience. I still like J-cradles for the Eddylines and the OT Camden. The Bell Rob Roy just doesn’t fit my Js well and the cockpit is too long to carry upside down, so it sits upright in saddles. I had to make a load assist out of a dock roller so I can put it up on the 4Runner myself. The canoe (Magic) rides upside down on Thule aero bars. My local paddling shop expert says foam is unnecessary with these bars because they have a soft vinyl strip that resists slippage and protects the gunwales. I always use cam straps as well as bow and stern lines. In addition to holding down the front end, the bow line is especially useful because you can see if the boat starts to shift before it gets serious and make appropriate adjustments.