Trailer vs. Roof Racks

We used a trailer behind our Camry to haul our two kayaks last year, but just bought a Highlander which comes with a roof rack. The trailer is a good one, but is a pain in traffic, plus extra costs for registration, inspection, etc., so my strong inclination is to switch to the roof rack with Thule or Yakima “J” racks, which would be a lot cheaper than a new hitch assembly, plus tail light adapters, etc. and would seem to come with fewer hassles. I checked the archives to no avail, so I’m asking for your advice. Thanks!!

go with the rack. i’ve never liked trailers, even for small sailboats. puts a lot of wear and tear on your boat. and like you said it costs $ with registration, repairs, etc. could be safer as well, depending on driver experience, etc. i like racks much better, although yours is quite high from the ground:)

Go with the trailer
Roof racks work fine with one boat, but two or more are a real pain. I know it’s not impossible (I’ve done it), but the bars really stick out a lot. In addition, it is a lot harder to put a boat on top of a SUV than it is to put a boat on a trailer.

Even if you only have one boat now, the odds are that you’ll have more in the future (they do breed in your garage, you know :slight_smile: ). Since you already have a trailer, you hopefully feel comfortable driving it. Also note that the price of a good rack system is not trivial! Trailers are also a good way to carry the extra gear we have along. Mine has a waterproof box that can carry BWCA camping gear for 5, no problem.

Even better, get both! That way you can be the shuttle bunny for a crowd. I don’t know how many times I’ve hauled 2-3 boats on the trailer and another 2 on top of my vehicle moving things for a shuttle.


'nuff said
CanoePam nailed it. Both gives you unlimited options for different needs & occasions. Since you already have a trailer i’d go that route first & add rack carriers later. Either way it can get expensive.

Good luggage rack
If you have a good luggage rack you can just buy the foams and tie downs and be done with it…right?

If you go the roofrack route
You have a great headstart. Highlanders have what I consider to be a great rail system, long and strong and ready for Yakimas or Thules (or Saris’).

I use Malone “J’s” myself and am quite pleased with them.


Racks with j-cradles
I recommend buying the rack system and using J-style cradles (Malone, Yakima Hullraiser, or Thule Hull-a-port.) The J-cradles will easily allow you to keep two kayaks on the roof without having to buy long bars that stick out on the side.

get Thule roof rack parts
Good advice in the thread and although I have a cool alum trailer, I’ll avoid towing it if I only have four kayaks to transport. Over 28 years of serious travel all over the US we’ve used all kinds of racks and Thule is simply the best. I’m fired up since they are coming out with a tire step next month to make loading easier. Also I found that you can always go longer on cross bars than the chart and not bang your head since at 6 ft 1, I can find things to bang my skull into with the best of em. 50 in load bars are way too short for any SUV even the minis. All vehicles are narrow at the roof and then wider as you work down the body (cept for Elements, Rovers) so with exterior mirrors sticking out the way they do, we “train” ourselves not to walk as close to the very edge of our cars or that ole mirror will catch you in the gizzard. So get 58" or longer crossbars in most cases and you are golden. BTW-Malone and Yakima J racks work fine on Thule bars and vice versa. The problem with J’s is getting the third kayak in middle since you have to wrangle around the mounted J’s. So we often put one boat on the foam block on it’s hull with a boat in J’s to each side. The thickness and fit of the foam block makes ALL the difference. You don’t want your hull compressed all the way to the crossbar.

Depends how much you hate lifting
If the boats are heavy (and/or the vehicle tall), the trailer is a blessing. I also like the fact that I can see the boats any time while I’m driving.

If you anticipate using different vehicles to haul kayaks, the trailer is a blessing. $50 wiring charge and $10 ball on a solid bumper is often all that’s needed to pull a lightweight trailer. No need for different racks (at several hundred dollars each) with different rigs.

OTOH, if you expect to frequently board ferries with your vehicles and kayaks, the trailer will cost you dearly. But most people don’t need to worry about this.

I’d stick with the trailer for a while and see if you still want a roof rack for your new vehicle. Try lifting the boats that high to get a feel for what it’ll require if you go that route.

More info…
My wife an I have a Chevy Blazer 4 door. We use the 58" Thule bars which do stick out a little on each side, but it’s never presented a problem. Having the longer bars allows us to easily carry three boats. On the each side we use Yakima Hullraisers, then in the middle we use Thule Hydor-Glide saddles on the rear and H-to-Go cradles on the front. If we are only carrying 2 of our kayaks, we have plenty of room for a Yakima rocket box in the middle. Because the boats are on the outside, it is quite easy to load and unload by myself. I have never experienced a problem with Thule bars, and I highly recommend trying any of the J-cradles.

I cant pull a trailer into my favorite launch area. There are a lot of places you can launch car top boats but not trailered boats. In some states your speed is restricted if you are towing a trailer (CA 55mph).

OTOH you can sometimes get better parking at boat launches if you are towing and it is easier to load the boats on trailers. Some states (AZ)have one time permanent registration for trailers.

Use whats best for your situation. Thankfully, not everyone is in the same boat.

Trailer for sure
I have done it both ways and find a well designed trailer is the best option. A trailer designed for light loads is easier on the boat, the car, and the people loading and un-loading it. Check out for an example.