How to select a kayak roof rack

Whenever I attend symposium, or training event with beginner paddlers there are a lot of questions about cartopping kayaks. What rack system to get, what is the best kind, etc.

As paddlers we all want to get to the water in style and put our kayaks in the water without a lot of hassle. Hopefully this article will help make a selection easier.

It is a good article. I wish I could
add some things about making “naked roof” tower systems work properly, and I wonder whether an Outback wagon really costs as much as 28k.

you’re right I wish I had

– Last Updated: Feb-03-09 10:06 AM EST –

more info on the naked roof stuff. But I also wish I had the permanent drill through variety too. It isn't something there is a lot of info about. But if someone has pictures or whatever they want to share about either, I would happily post them.

The mid level subaru is about 24k, mid to high is 28-30k.

So perhaps it is slight hyperbole on my part to say a subaru outback wagon costs 28k. But only slightly.

Subaru Outback
Kelley Blue Book starts Subaru Outbacks at 22.3K

For most people Subaru Outback is associated with wagon on Legacy platform, as compared to Outback based on the Impreza platform.

for me it is sort of irrelevant

i don’t have 22k, much less 28k for any wagon!


– Last Updated: Feb-03-09 11:17 AM EST –

On a more serious note - Ford Focus had a roofline designed for carrying kayaks... Ford killed it.

The main thing I would add is that if
one puts one or two solid fore-and-aft struts between the front and rear crossbars on a bare roof tower system, it significantly reduces the chance that the tower pads will slip. Bicycle trenches can serve as struts, or a basket carrier if it happens to fit the gap. Or, in my case, I had vertical kayak loaders that I wasn’t using, so I tipped them toward one another and hose-clamped them securely together. Being tall with a good reach, I can place or remove the entire rack assembly in one piece. When strutted together, the bars and towers are less subject to isolated twisting forces that could move the tower pads.

Thanks but …
… i’ll have to disagree/add info on several points, for what it’s worth.

The J cradles I think are better than stackers in that they typically offer a wider base to support the kayak than a piece of foam around the bar would with the stackers. Not an issue with rugged plastic boats, may create stress points in more delicate and especially on longer composite boats.

The square vs. round bar dilema is another one where there is no clear answer. I’m of the other opinion - round is better -:wink: To me the round bars offer some advantages over square bars. The fact that the attachments allow for some rotation is a plus in my book. This way my saddles (or Jcradles or whatever) can be canted up or down to match the rocker shape. Also, on cars with humped roof lines, a square bar makes most attachments stay in a canted, non-horizontal position, following a tangenta to the roof circle line, which is generally opposite to the line of the boat’s rocker, making the mis-fit even bigger.

Agree that rotating attachments on round bars could be an issue with rollers though and - one of the reasons why I got rid of the rollers on my rack early on (along with the small surface area a roller offers, thus creating stress points, plus the general useless ness of it when loading a narrow long boat - the sharp bow still scrapes along the bar b/w the two rollers, so what’s the use???).

However, on round or square bars, if you have an “extension” rail that links the two bars together an attachments are mounted on that rail (like in KayakPro’s racks, see below) it really does not matter in the least what the bar is - nothing will rotate on either bar since the extension provides rigidity. Even when carrying skis, snowboards, bikes (with a full rail attachment), a long case, etc. that is the case too.

I did not see a mention about the KayakPro extendable aluminum racks - I think these (and variations of) are the best option for carrying long delicate kayaks on a short roof-line cars.

But overall an informational read and thanks for posting.

for a permanent (drill-thru) installation of yakima bases on a '04+ Toyota Prius. Perhaps the owner of these posts will share the photos or you can link to their posts at least.

Max number of kayaks
I like my Malone Autoloaders. Unfortunately, I can only carry two kayaks when using them.

However, if you want to transport as many boats as your roof or nerves allow, putting them on the side becomes pretty much the only option. A bar perpendicular to the roof cross bar can then be used to hold them in place -idea behind “stackers” and others. I think our record is 6 sea kayaks with a single stacker :wink:

stress point and base size

– Last Updated: Feb-03-09 1:27 PM EST –

in my experience the base size between a foam pad and a roller are pretty close? The malone cradles aren't that much wider than a foam pad?

The foam pad is probably about 3.5" The cradle can't be more than 4-5 inches. Do you think the extra inch or inch and a half really reduces the stress that much on a kayak that is 18 feet long.

Marius will probably whip out his slide rule and prove me wrong. But I do wonder? Also the inherent sponginess of the foam pad I think is better than the hard plastic/aluminum of a cradle.

As to the stress points on a "delicate" kayak. There are two points to consider. One is the bar spread. If the bar spread is correct the stress on the hull, deck, and seams should be minimal. The second point is that kayaks, even composite, skin coat kayaks are more durable than you think. If a cradle/or pad is going to stress and fracture a boat, you probably need to worry about the quality of your boat before you worry about the cradle.

A foam pad may actually be better for composite boat than a hard cradle in my estimation.

Also like marius, I would reiterate the carrying capacity is an issue. Your max boat load is far less with cradles than with a stacker.

Keep in mind my objective was to recommend the best setup for the ease of loading, max number of boats with the least money spent.

Can I get some linkage on the kayakpro extender?

Thanks for your comments!

Yup - bar spread

– Last Updated: Feb-03-09 1:41 PM EST –

On my Prius the spread is 28" per Yakima. I've stretched that to almost 30 but still, that's barely over 2 feet. The front bar falls in the middle of the cockpit area where most kayaks are at their weakest - the widest unsupported area in the entire boat, far from reinforcements on the front bulkhead or the seat area.

I've settled for now on Mako saddles - they wrap around the round hull of my boat very well, offering the largest surface area I can muster of any other support form. Plus they are not very rigid - they flex around the boat. And have flexible bases that give down when the car goes over bumps. Can't say the same for J bars or other rigid arrangements.

I would agree - foam comes close and is much cheaper but has to be shaped to the boat or it won't work nearly as well.

My second kayak usually goes on the side with yakima stackers. I usually carry a single kayak only, so I keep my setup in the middle (there is still room for two more on the sides with stackers). But I can move it to one side and have the remaining half or more of the rack for other uses (skis, more kayaks or what not).

I have installed wood board (hardwood) extensions (treated with one coat of penetrating deck sealant leftover from when I did my house decks) on which the saddles mount with the stock Yakima hardware. The boards mount with another set of stock Yakima brackets to the bars ($10 at most stores). The entire thing or parts of it is easily removable. This setup gives about 5-6 feet spread, and is measured to fit just uder the front and rear bulkheads on my longest kayak. Along with front and rear tie-downs (rope, not belts to minimize flutter at speed) this seems to work very well.

Here's a link to a photo:

There are a couple more views in the gallery (feel free to download/reuse these if you wish for your article):

pop rivet or drill
A good installer of yakima racks admitted to me off the record that my taurus roof is too curved to carry a boat. I showed him how I had drilled up under the door jam and used stainless steel screws to really hold the rack. The trick is to use a really good drill and exactly the right diameter so the screw is hard to go in. Then have lots of span or else your long boat could blow off.

Nice job on the extenders that is one way around the short roof.

And I was rereading what you wrote about the round/vs/square bar. For shorter roof cars I agree that could be a problem.

Thanks for posting this.


nice setup!
You pretty much copied Kayak Pro approach.

Now, if you desire to look very professional, look at Variety of things than can be built using those modular systems is amazing!

The prices are steep, but very good deals can be had on ebay - companies sell off surplus materiel.

Being stressed
I still remember the look on your face that followed the bang against metal bulkheads near the lighthouse at Sleeping Beer… Ah! The sound FG composite makes when waves crash it into metal…

Me, plastic borrowed boat, worry? :wink:

yeah it was very fun going in there, but not much fun hearing the tail crunch against the steel piling.

what’s the payment plan on that
sweet wagon?

Nice stuff indeed! (n/m)

extreme roof rack solutions
On a 2002 Honda Van I installed Yakima tracks and then mounted Yakima racks to them. Drilled 14 holes in the roof of my new van. To install tracks with Yakima plus nuts you have to avoid the structural crossmembers in the roof when drilling the holes. Yakima used to pull vehicle headliners and then draw up a drilling schamatic for instillation. Yakima doesn’t supply drill pattern plans anymore, so you have to pull the headliner yourself and make your own drill pattern. Probably better now to pay a body shop to install the tracks for you.

With a kayak and a canoe on top, Yakima tracks worked fine for a 15,000 miles cross-country trip with many side trips. Even held up when a plywood canoe came 1/2 off at 82 mph in the midwest-a mistake in my tie down practice compounded by very strong cross winds- not the fault of the Yakima rack system.

After installing Thule Tracker II system on my wife’s CRV, I now prefer Tracker II feet on my vehicles. They are removable with the push of a button (after the turn of a key to unlock them). Thule doesn’t make a Tracker II fit kit for my Rav4 as most are sold with a factory rack- there would be few sales. I like the Tracker II feet so much that I removed the factory rack, made a adaptor plate (the bolt hole spacing is different between the CRV and the Rav4) and installed the CRV fit kit for Tracker II feet on my 07 Rav4. Gave me a 58" spread between bars! It’s great to be able to remove all the stuff on the roof with a push of a button at each foot. Removing the racks helps gas milage a bit. By removing the racks, it’s easy to change mounts for canoes, kayaks or bikes near waist height using sawhorses. The only flaw with this system is that I’m on my own if there is a problem, as I modified the vehicle from “as sold” state.

Round bars are somewhat better than square now since few vehicles are now being made with totally flat roofs, but I don’t think square bars are a deal breaker.