Kayak Roof Rack for Cars Without Rails- Reviews and Buying Guide 2019

(Last Updated On: December 22, 2019)
how to transport a kayak without a rack
Kayak roof rack for cars without rails you can buy for your next outdoor adventure

Whether you are an individual who has taken kayak as a sport or just one of those who cherishes taking adventurous sojourns into the waters to go kayaking from time to time, you will surely understand the reason you will have to have the appropriate gear with you. One of the most basic gear every kayaker should not overlook is the kayak rack. The rack, which is usually attached to the roof of the car, makes it easy for kayakers to transport the kayak from one point to another. It ensures that the kayak is securely fitted to the car’s roof.

There are several designs and types of kayak roof rack for cars without rails available in the market today, and finding one that appeals to your taste should not a difficult task. In the light of this, we have elected to discuss the different types of kayak racks that there are, and also do some reviews on some of the top kayak roof racks for cars – those with/-out rails.

Types of kayak racks

We shall be looking at 3 major types of racks that are frequently used by kayakers to transport their kayak to [and fro] where the adventure is at.

1. Stacker kayak carrier: This set of kayak racks is specifically designed for carrying two to four kayaks at a time – the major benefit you get from using stacker carrier is that you will have more room on the roof to keep some other supplies. They usually hold the kayak in a vertical position which means they may not be a very good choice when one considers aerodynamics and having a secured carriage – this could be the reason why it is sometimes adjudged to be a difficult method of carrying kayaks.

2. Saddle kayak Rack: Saddle kayak racks are the most commonly used variety and that is probably due to the fact they are quite easy to use and provide the most secured (kayak) attachment. They usually carry the kayak in a horizontal position; this means the kayak gets to take up virtually all the space on the roof – but there is definitely no worrying about its placement in relation to aerodynamics.

3. J-Cradle kayak carrier: This type of kayak carrier is typically set up in 45⁰ inclination and the kayak is held as such. It provides good security for the kayak, and gives extra space for carrying an additional kayak – provided two (J-cradles) are available on the car’s roof.

Top Kayak Roof Rack for cars without Rails

Carrying kayaks directly on bare roof cars – that is those that do not have gutters or factory rails – would only mean one thing; denting the roof of the car and ruining the painting thereof. This is kayak roof racks that come with the right fittings to make up for the lack of factory rails on the car. So, next up is our review on seven top kayak racks for cars without roof rack.

1.Thule Traverse Foot Roof Rack


This is a rack system to make a car with a naked roof fitful for transporting kayaks. It has been integrated with an ample of elements that make it very functional and highly revered. Among these, are the advanced AcuTight tensioning tool to help you actualize and assured and/or stable installation; patented MaxClamp technology that further enhances its secure attachment to the car and lockable outer cover that not only blends with your car’s roofline but certainly help to hold your kayak in place when used with Thule key locking system. Its exclusive EZAssemble design is yet another factor that ensures ease of installation.

The ease of installation coupled with its quality seems to be the major reasons why many persons settle for the Thule Traverse Foot Roof Rack. However, a few users have at one point or the other, had reasons to complain about its package which they say is somewhat poor – and does not measure up to Thule’s standard. In some other circumstances, some parts that ought to be included [in the package] were found to be missing or dented in some instances.
There is no doubt that Thule has continued in its trend of producing top quality rack system and the traverse foot roof rack is in no way an exception, and that is why we give it 8.5 out of 10.

– Good quality
– Ease of installation
– Provides good security
– Innovative

– Might produce some noise while the car is on high speed.

2. Yakima Baseline Tower Rack

Looking for a piece of gear to turn your gutterless car into a functional space that meets your kayak-carrying needs? Then Yakima Baseline Tower Rack is all you need. A unique feature on this rack is the triaxial DropHook clip adjustment which makes it to fit perfectly unto different shapes of car roofs and allow ensures that it is securely in place [after installment]; its toe adjustment yet gives it some edge. Furthermore, it has been equipped with a bar-bed that allows it to seamlessly suit rounded roof lines – by the way, the barbed can be set to a pitch of 12 degrees. The Yakima Baseline Tower Rack is lockable to the vehicle using same key system (SKS) locks and has a carrying capacity of 100kg – a rugged one you have got here without any question. It is compatible with any of these bars: Yakima Roundbar, Jetstream Crossbars or corebar.

Quality wise, this seems to live up to what it is meant to be – an upgrade on Q-tower roof rack from Yakima – however, in terms of ease of installation, there tends to be some sort of drawback; this has often left some customers dissatisfied. On the flip side, the perceived difficulty encountered when installing the piece can be attributed to the need to have a much more secure fit. So, the effort is probably not lost on the long run but it’s good for Yakima to look into [and address the issue with another upgrade] nonetheless.

– Sturdy
– Highly functional
– Versatile
– Secure fit

– Difficult to set up
– Produces wind noise
– Pricey

3. INNO INA446 Car Top Roof Rack

Japanese manufacturer, INNO created a masterpiece of a kayak rack with the INA446 roof rack. The rack is compatible with wide range of crossbars – a feat made possible with the aid of its universal mounting adapters – and has been designed in such a way that makes loading really easy. It is made from a mix of top grade rubber and metallic materials. It comes with adjustable rubber pads which help to protect your kayak from scratches; and an integrated hand knob that secures it to the roof of the car – this is further advanced by its locking covers.

This is one rack that you will easily fall in love with for it has got everything required to keep both the roof of the car and the kayak well protected from getting ruined in any bit. We are thrilled by the whole lot of elements that have been incorporated into this particular gear. Is it about the crane-style spring loaded straps that make installation as effortless as you would have loved it or its assured covers that put your mind at rest while using the rack to carry your kayak? This is one rack we will surely recommend for anyone who wants to transport his/her kayak to and fro the ‘zone of pleasure’ safe and sound.

Though a few persons have complained about the rack not being suitable for their cars – well, it’s essential to state here that the INNO INA446 roof rack has a maximum crossbar dimension of 89mm X 3.2mm and a spread of 600mm – but it is hard to disprove the fact that it remains in the league of top-notch roof racks.

– Ease of installation
– Made from top quality materials
– Versatile
– Offers appreciable protection
– Easy to load

– None that we can think of right now

4. Malone HandiRack Inflatable Universal Rooftop Rack

When you’re looking out for kayak rack for cars without roof rack and yet very functional to create a good kayak – transporting platform on your ‘rail-less’ car, you should try out the Malone HandiRack Roof Rack. Its uniqueness lies in its makeup and efficiency; it is made from durable 420-dernier nylon and is capable of carrying a load of about 80kg – something that some highly rated metal racks cannot achieve. With its integrated double action air pump, the rack can be easily set up in just a couple of minutes. It has got five (5) different D-ring anchor points which offer considerable protection to the kayak, and comes with cam style load straps. It has a width of about 23cm and a length of 94cm.

Although there have been reports of its air chambers not being resistant to heat and how the rack does not retain water effectively [in case it starts to rain] but yet the Malone HandiRack Inflatable Roof Top Rack will still score a high mark when one considers its primary objective. The rack is a very good and handy alternative that you can use for carrying your car. Plus, it performs wonderfully well even when the car is moving at top speed.

– It is very convenient to use and easy to install
– Sturdy
– Good quality at an affordable
– Offers good protection

– Air chambers are not resistant to heat so they may get damaged quickly
– May scratch the car

5. Road Trip HQ Car Roof Rack

If you are thinking the Malone HandiRack Roof Rack is the only viable inflatable and/or temporary rack there is in the market then you may need to check out the self-inflating rack from Road Trip HQ. In its pack are the needed items for setting it up successfully and without any stress. Upon opening its valves, the rack is able to inflate itself [and ready for use] in the space of 2 minutes. The rack’s kit features two inflatable bars and two separate tie-down straps [that are about 2.7 meters long] to help secure the kayak while the car is on the move.

The rack is quite rugged but it is soft notwithstanding so, you can rest assured that your car’s painting will be preserved as you have this (rack) fixed to the roof through your adventurous journey. It is able to carry a load weighing about 45kg. The Road Trip HQ Roof Rack is truly up to the task and we see no reason why it should not be among the top roof racks. We give this 9 out of 10.

– Self-inflating and easy to install
– Strong and durable
– Comes at a reasonable price
– It is convenient to use
– It provides a good cushion for the kayak

– Considering its design and price, we got nothing untoward about the rack.

6. SportRack SR1002 Roof Rack System

This is another roof rack that has been well designed to carry your kayak [as well as some other supplies]; it can hold up to 59kg weight of load. It is made from steel and coated with black plastic to make it resistant to rust and keep it protected from the effect of ultraviolet rays. The package consists of two square crossbars and four roof rack feet clamps which can be affixed to the roof with the help of the clips that come with the kit. The rubber pads on the bottom of the feet ensure that the paint on the roof of the car is preserved.

Additionally, the rack has integrated locks to help keep it secure and ward off anyone with the intention of stealing it away.

The rack will work on virtually all kinds of vehicles – or maybe the models of cars – however, it is important to take account of the unique numbering system [available on each rack] in order to find the best fit for your car.

SportRack’s SR1002 is delivering the goods with great aplomb and it takes reading some reviews to see how highly rated kayakers [and it users in general] place it. Nevertheless, there are criticisms over how difficult it gets to shut the car’s door after this rack has been installed, and the wind noise is also another cause of concern. But drawing on the positives, the SportRack SR1002 Roof Rack System is a quality gear for the safe carriage of your kayak – even while you’re driving at high speed. And one more thing; this rack can qualify as an ‘all-weather’ piece as it comes with a weatherstrip that keeps water away to a great extent in rainy weather. When you weigh this along with its UV-resistant capability, you will most certainly agree with us on the ‘all-weather’ claim. That said, we feel it would be wise for the manufacturer to take care of the minor hitches that are connected to the rack; this can be done probably by designing an upgrade.

– It is affordable
– Very sturdy
– Lightweight
– Easy to install

– Produces wind noise
– Hard time shutting the door after it has been installed.

7. Malone Versarail Crossrail system

Let’s end this (review) by talking about a rack that can promptly turn a bare roof into a highly functional space that is suitable for transporting your kayak. Included in the package are abrasion resistant dual suction towers, vinyl coated steel bars, attachment straps and every other relevant add-on required to make its installation quick and easy. This rack comes in 2 varying lengths – 50 inches and 58 inches – and would safely carry a load of about 61kg.

Rainy weather apart, the Malone Versarail Crossrail system seems to be a ‘perfect’ rack for carrying your rack around. But with the waters pouring down from above, you will be in for a messy day right in your car. This has often caused people to be very critical of Malone’s Versarail rack system. Again, there have been few complaints about the quality of its straps – with some persons suggesting the need to have ratchet straps in their place – and on some occasions, some accessories are said to be missing from the package. We cannot agree less that this rail system is of good quality but there is a need to equip it with gutter clips to make it an excellent gear; it’s needless to say that the lack of these clips is ruining its quality – so, here’s a call for an upgrade and/or redesigning. Despite that, the Malone Versarail Crossrail system should get an 8 out of 10.

– It is easy to install
– Rust-resistant
– Durable
– High quality

– Does not have gutter clips

Carrying kayaks without roof rack

As we bring this discourse to a close, we will like to look at how you can transport your kayak without using a roof rack. So, in those instances whereby you are trying to cut cost on your spending or maybe when you find yourself in an emergency situation [with a rack out of reach], you will find this piece fo information very valuable.

Items required: Pool noodles/foam, a pair of scissors and ratchet straps. The pool noodles help to protect your car’s roof from scratches while the ratchet straps ensure that the kayak carriers for cars without roof racks is securely held in place after being loaded – you may need the pair of scissors to trim the pool needle to size.

To start with, have one pool noodle placed at the front, center and back of your car’s roof. Be aware that the pool noodles tallies with the shape of the roof of the car, and that each of them maintains a reasonable distance apart. A soft foam can be used in place of the needles. Now, run the trap through the hole of each noodle and have it go round the car through the windows – with the doors open – and hold them in place on the inside of the car.

Now, turn the kayak over [with the cockpit faced down] and have it carefully lifted and placed unto the rooftop; this is where you have to call for the help of another person in order not to get your car dented.

With your kayak already in place, pass another ratchet strap over the body of the kayak [at the front] and have it secured at the ratchet. Note that you must have left a good portion of the strap at both sides of the car. After the kayak has been secured at the bow, you should move to do the same at the stern. Do take note that maintaining a firm grip on the straps [and twisting them thereof] as you pass them through the car will help prevent wind noise.

Top Kayak Roof Racks for Cars with Rails

We shall now look at some of the best brands of kayak racks that can be attached to the rails of your car. These will certainly help you move the kayak to the point of recreation – the water – without any hassle.

1. Yakima JayLow Folding Kayak Carrier

Yakima is one of the well-known brands when it comes to kayak rack production and that is because of the quality that their products ooze out. The Yakima JayLow kayak carrier is a J-style rack that features an integrated ramp system that makes loading [of the kayak] easy, and it also has an anti-rotation adapter. The cam levers integrated in the upright arms make it possible to set it up in a vertical (stacker) position thus permitting the carrying of two different kayaks at a time. To ensure that the kayak is perfectly secure on the rack, the package also comes with heavy-duty straps and bow/stern tie-downs. This very kayak carrier is compatible with SKS lock cores to guarantee security thereby curtailing the incidence of you losing your prized carrier to theft.

As the wave of positive reviews from users reveal, there is hardly any reason to fret over the functionality of this piece. Nonetheless, there have been a few complaints over some components [of the rack] falling out of place – these might just be exceptions to say the least.
And I must say here that this carrier is worth recommending to anyone who is desirous of purchasing a gear for carrying his/her kayak in that it is foldable and provides a good cushion for kayaks are the other reasons why you need to try it out.

– Economical
– Foldable
– Good security
– Can hold 2 kayaks
– Easy to assemble

– A bit noisy
– Not so durable

2. Malone SeaWing Saddle Universal Kayak carrier

Here is a v-shaped carrier that can be used in carrying a kayak without causing any damage to its hull as it has got a padding attached to it. For its setup, it has got a universal fit Jawz mounting hardware – which can fit either square, round or oval factory cross rails – as well as mounting bolts, and it has also got straps and buckle protectors. It has been aerodynamically designed; this, in turn, ensures good safety and also has an impact fuel economy.

Besides a few concerns that have been raised over some of its parts getting loose rather easily, there have been a lot of rave reviews on the Malone SeaWing Saddle Universal Kayak Carrier. That is to tell you that this is a carrier worth having around if you are a kayaking freak. It is just the perfect carrier for right about any kind of kayak, and if you are one who loves moving at some high speed, you will not have any worry about your kayak falling off while you are on the go.

Furthermore, it is made from corrosion-resistant frames which impact a considerable degree of durability on it. Plus, its bow and stern safety tie-downs are of non-corrosive nylon. If we are to score the Malone SeaWing Carrier, we give it 8 out of 10.

– Durable
– Quick and easy installation
– Great flexibility
– Lifetime warranty
– Rubber padding is available

– Makes whistling noise when the car is in motion
– Made for relatively short rails

3. Thule Hull-A-Port 834 Kayak Carrier

This is another J-style cradle that is applicable on virtually every kind of factory crossbars – elliptical, aerodynamic, round, square … you name it. It comes with adjustable padding which makes it easy for one to custom fit the cradle contact points to the kayak that is being mounted – this means the hull of the kayak is safe from scratches and/or abrasions. It has got corrosion-resistant coating on its steel tubing and hardware which makes it highly durable. Since it is a J-style cradle, it leaves some extra space for carrying other supplies after loading one kayak.

This very kayak carrier has really got Thule’s signatory quality written all over it and as such, you may not get to read or see any negative comment about it; it does the job perfectly. Additionally, its package has two tie-down straps [with padded buckles] and bow/stern tie-downs. In terms of carrying capacity, the Thule Hull-A-Port 834 kayak carrier is suitable of transporting a kayak of about 34kg with a width of 3 feet. This gets a 10 out of 10 from us.

– Easy loading
– Durable
– Tight/secure fit
– Good quality

None that we can think of at the moment

4. Malone Stax Pro 2 Kayak carrier

Malone Stax Pro 2 Kayak carrier

Another product from Malone that we will like to talk about is the Stax Pro 2 which is designed as a stacker and can carry up to two different kayaks at a particular point in time. This carrier is profoundly stable as it has octagon-shaped aluminum posts and nylon platforms that have been boosted through injection molding. It is compatible with different ranges of cross bars. It features universal-fit Jawz mounting hardware and can be folded down when there is no need for it thus improving clearance and ensuring an appreciable an optimal fuel economy.

And should you be considering your kayak’s security, I will like to state here that you needn’t be worried as the Stax Pro 2 comes with 1ft cam style, load straps plus buckle protectors. It has the capacity of carrying two kayaks with a combined weight of 34-36 kg and a width of about 0.8m.

– Quite affordable and economical
– Offers tremendous stability
– Durable
– Easy installation
– Unique design

– Straps tend to fail on some occasions

5. OxGord Universal Kayak Roof Rack

If you are looking for an affordable kayak rack that ticks the right box then you should not look any fur – other than the OxGord Universal Kayak Roof Rack. The rack has a classic J-style cradle design and would securely hold one kayak at a go. The carrier is made with lightweight materials and is specifically constructed from water-resistant steel material. Its hooks are equipped with rubber grips which ensure that your kayak is held in a stable position [while you are on the move] and also prevent the hull of the kayak from getting scratched. It also comes with carrier straps and bow/stern straps to further boost the security of the kayak.

But if there is any reason why the manufacturer of this gear must be commended, it must be for not sacrificing quality on the altar of affordability – OxGord Universal Kayak Roof Rack is a steal for the price at which it is sold. Hence, we feel it deserves a 9 out of 10.

– Incredibly affordable
– Good quality
– Easy installation
– Good cushioning

– Scratches to the car’s roof may occur in some instances.

6. TMS J-Bar Rack HD Kayak Carrier

This can be mounted on right about any sort of load bar and is designed to hold kayaks weighing up to 34kg with a with a width of 1ft. it is made of steel and has been equipped with adjustable padding for stability and protection of the kayak. Its wide mouth J-shaped bar makes loading achievable without any hassle.

Most users have found it to be very functional and strong enough to provide the needed security for the kayak even while on top speed. There have however been some complaints over how difficult it is to set up the TMS J-Bar Rack HD Kayak Carrier while some others have shown their displeasure over the ease with which the straps fray. Notwithstanding, it must be said that the piece is really affordable and is not even too badly with regards to quality.

– Durable
– Affordable
– Adjustable padding
– Easy loading

– Straps are not long enough
– Not very easy to install

7. Rola Kayak Carrier Roof Rack

Sturdy, stylish and efficient are just some of the adjectives that come to mind when we get to consider this rack from Rola. Here, you have another J-shaped rack made from steel that has been coated with powder to give it anti-corrosion capability. It has got foam pad cradle and top grade heavy-duty straps and bow/stern tie-downs to ensure that your kayak is safely held in position. This very one is compatible with most of the cross bars available in the market and is even quite versatile as it can accommodate all kinds of kayaks.

One gripe that however gets to ring out loud is that hovering around its high cost – one could take this as the price for price though. We do believe that Rola Kayak Carrier Roof Rack is a good value for money. This gets 9.5 out of 10.

– Sturdy
– Easy loading
– Top quality materials
– Water-resistant

– Pricey