J cradle or something else? And which PFD would you suggest?

I’m purchasing a fixed point Yakima for my car next week and haven’t been able to decide on which carrier options I’d prefer to have on the rack.

I only want to ever carry 2 kayaks at most. I don’t know how I feel about a j cradle holding my yaks up where they will catch so much air compared to laying flat on bow foam like I have been carrying them so far.

I know there are non j cradle options available for pretty much every bar so any help would be great.

As for the PFD. I was at REI a whIle back and tried on an NRS (I think) that was pretty neat but didn’t spend any time looking really. Im willing to spend whatever it takes to get a vest comfortable and low profile enough that I can stand wearing it all the time instead of just having it with me.


I’m not a fan of J-cradles if you drive long distances at highway speeds where wind is a factor. My SUV is already tall, and putting a giant “sail” on the roof scares me. A friend has J-cradles, and she had a very scary drive home from a trip with a 14 foot kayak on her roof. Windy day, and she had to stop numerous times because she was getting blown all over the place. I bought extra long cross bars so that I can carry 2 kayaks flat on my roof.

PFDs are a totally personal thing. There are a lot of good ones, but you have to try them on to see what fits your body the best.

I feel that loading alone on J-cradles is more challenging than stackers or rollers and cradles. But if you plan to carry two boats, the foam blocks would not be my fave because it puts the boats closer to the edge without a really solid fixed point anchoring them from side to side movement. Just about any rack mount for each boat would be more secure than two on foam pads. Ot at least one fixed mount, which can be sued to set the position of a second boat.

I like J cradles a lot. Easy to load, quick to tie down, work with WW and touring boats. Mine are on an '08 Subaru Forester. I do also have the Glide and Sets, just don’t like them as much so haven’t used them in years. Use the Thule J cradles for deeper boats, and the Yakima for narrower boats. REI carries the NRS Ninja PFD, which I really like.

J-cradles are fine if getting the boat up on them is ok with you. I hate them as all my boats weigh over 56 pounds. Much prefer rear loading slide boat up back type holders. Many different types out there.

The thing I like best about J cradles is that they accept any boat without adjustment. Long and skinny for one trip, short and fat for the next, no adjustment. The thing I like the least, the J cradles will make you lift the boat higher than when using hull supporting saddles. Loading from the side on a car or trailer, the J cradles are great. Loading from the rear on a tall vehicle, the saddles are much easier. We use terry cloth buffing pads on the saddles to increase ease of slide. It really depends on you, your kayak, and your vehicle as to what will work best.
As far as PFD’s go, a lot of folks like the Astral V8. Try one on.

The main question I have is if the 2 boats you would at most take fit on the rack while flat? If they do, then saddles could work just fine. But if they are too wide to lay side by side on your rack, then you need to put them on their side using j-cradle or stackers.

I have used all sorts of methods, and have never noticed that boats on side catch any more wind than boats that are flat. This is mostly with a Subaru Outback, and includes 1000+ mile trips with boats on roof. That said, I now have gotten to pretty much using boat flat on foam blocks on bars for 1 boat, and stacker for 2 or more boats.

On PFDs, take the PFD and put it on. Get it adjusted so it is comfortable. Then walk around the store and shop for other things. if you forget that you have it on, then you are good. If you can also try it while sitting in a boat like yours so as to confirm it is comfortable in your seat, that would be good (not likely possible at REI, more possible at a specialty kayak shop).

Regarding trying on PFDs, I would just add that in a store if you can’t actually sit in a kayak wearing a PFD you are interested in then at least sit on the floor wearing it with your legs straight out in front of you. Then at least you’ll know if the PFD rides up too close to your chin.

I load one on a set of J-cradles and one on foam blocks on the Forester. Otherwise they are too wide for side by side.

You can easily carry two kayaks side by side using Malone Sea Wings.
Astral has a new model of V8 with an even higher back than the original. It’s the most comfortable PFD (other than an inflatable) I’ve found.

Nothing like sitting in boat with jacket on to see how seat back feels

I like saddles. I have also been blown around in a cross wind using J racks.
Look at an Astral V8

I have J-racks but only use them for transporting my folding kayaks to protect those softer, lighter boats from pressure and flexing. I don’t care for them for rigid plastic or fiberglass boats because of the way they catch wind when driving. I’ve found the safest and most aerodynamic way to haul kayaks is upside down directly on the rack. No need for cradles nor fears of warping the hull or oil-canning on hot days, and since the cockpit coaming is between the racks, there is less chance of a boat sliding forward or back off the car in a panic stop, accident or strap failure (though I never haul boats without bow and stern line to the bumpers). When loading solo, I shove the boats onto the rack upright from the rear of the car and then roll them over onto their decks once they are centered.

I’ll add my vote for the Astral PFD’s – the V-8 is by far the most comfortable for hot weather – you will forget you even have it on. For cooler weather and more flotation I also have an Astral Camino. Recently got an Astral Abba (the men’s version in the Ronny) and like it very much for all but the hottest days. The Abba/Ronny models have a solid back (unlike the V-8) but use a softer flexible kapok fill that makes them very comfortable.

Picking the right pfd can be a daunting process, because there are so many to choose from and so many features to become aware of. What I did was to buy a low cost vest (Onyx paddling vest) that would serve until I had the time to sort out what I really wanted. I tried on a whole bunch and finally had some idea of what I wanted. I got very lucky and found a rescue vest on a sale I couldn’t pass up (nearly $200 vest for $54). Although it was an Internet deal, I was able to go try it on before buying it. It turned out to be a super great vest and is probably still my favorite, but over time, I have acquired a bunch of vests and just the other day I picked up an NRS Ninja for a very good price. I think the Ninja will be my hot days vest.

Anyway, my point is that deals will come along and in the mean time, you’ll figure out which configuration suits your needs the best. One thing to understand is that not all pfd’s are suitable for paddling. If you haven’t discovered the difference, you need to do a little research and that narrows it down quite a bit to start with.

In any case, do not make the mistake of buying a pfd just to have one on the boat to make you legal. Get one that you feel naked without having it on.

I also favor Sea Wings which as an old gizzer I find easy to use, especially with the stinger attachments, which I found on clearance for $14 each. I use J-rack on my trailer for local trips.

I have few kokatat off and I have a solquist trekker which is my favorite. Kokatat has few features I like better like zipper locks and pockets. Trouble is dealers stock little to try on. Or I would buy something else with a high back.