One necessary hassle most kayak anglers face is how to get their new boat to the water. The most practical solution for most is to purchase a set of roof racks. Over the years I have spent more money on roof racks than I wish. They do not come cheap, and the premium brands are only increasing in cost.
The Big Three
While many companies produce and sell roof racks, in my experience three brands dominate most markets. These are Thule, Rhino Rack, and Yakima these companies provide a wide selection of rack systems and even more accessories. I do not have much to say about these companies, prices are comparable and they offer fitting kits for virtually every make and model of car. Their products are generally well made and dependable.
There are also many more smaller companies such as Fabbri which is popular in Europe. In recent years, there have been many cheaper more universal bars mostly from china. These bars take a more one size fits all approach.
I am currently using a bar from a company called Youil and it’s bare roof kit easily transferred from a Ford Focus to a Range Rover. The site has a long list of compatible vehicles, all with the same under door fit kit. So in my experience, the universal bars still result in a sold fit.
Roof rack shapes
There are two main types of roof racks.
The most affordable of reach are square bars. They are the less aerodynamic and accessories typically secure around them with U bolts or various clumping mechanisms.
There are also round bars. They have similar proportions to square bars and also require u bolt style accessories. I have never used round bars, so can not say much about them. I can only assume they are slightly more aerodynamic.
Aerodynamic roof racks
Finally there are also aero bars. Aero bars are the most modern technology. They are designed to be aerodynamic and extremely streamlined to minimize wind use, and to decrease wind resistance. According to the companies, the difference is enough to be reflected in the fuel bills. But the moment you install kayak carriers, or even a whole kayak. The aerodynamics of the whole setup goes out of the window.
T Mount attachment system
Aerodynamic bars use the T-mount style accessories. These secure by threading the accessories mount through a grove in the roof rack before tightening them in place. I get the impression, that manufacturers are now moving away from the t-mount style attachment, in favor of a more universal mount that clumps around both square and aerodynamic racks. While T-Mount is certainly a tidier and more aerodynamic system, it also can be very fiddly to install.
Especially because some aerodynamic roof racks have a rubber core that must be removed before the T-Mount system can be fitted. Then the rubber core needs to be cut to length and each individual piece needs to be slid back on around the accessories. This works fine if you never plan on changing the positioning of the kayak carriers. But if you are like me, and transport various width boats, and even sometimes a rooftop box I find myself either cutting the rubber into many small sections, or leaving it off entirely.
If you leave the rubber off entirely, the racks starts to produce a slight whistling sound when driving, especially at highway speeds. Luckily, Yakima uses a soft flexible insert, which allows the accessories to slide above the rubber. This way the rubber never has to be removed. This soft strip is the main reason I favor Yakima bars over the competition and is my first pick when buying buys I plan to use T-mount accessories with.
Video showing the installation of T Mount kayak carriers into a Thule roof rack. I find needing to cut the rubber slip to fit the accessories annoying and it becomes a problem when changing the width of the cradles to fit various size boats.
My favorite Kayak Carriers
While it is possible to transport a kayak directly on the roof racks, most people prefer the more secure and flexible transport that a Kayak carrier offers. Over the years I have broken a lot of different Kayak Carriers from most manufacturers.
Looking online, there now seem to be countless variations of kayak carriers. The traditional ones hold the kayak flat close to the racks. While J carriers, hold the kayaks on their side. The major advantage with J carriers is that they take up less space, allowing additional accessories to be stored alongside them. They also typically fold down flat when not being used, in the flat position they are more aerodynamic.
I have never used J carriers, so can not give any personal recommendations, but I am sure the offerings from any of the major roof rack carriers will be up to the task.
My preference is the more traditional carriers. Like most things in life, you do get what you pay for. With the premium brand kayak carriers being more flexible and durable. This is most apparent with the included accessories such as straps and even the plastic tightening nuts.
While all the carriers I have tried work, my clear favorite is the Rhino Racks Nautic. It offers great flexibility to mold around various hull designs, it also rests fairly flat across the bars. It might only be an inch or two difference in height but that makes quite a bit of difference when loading and tieing on boats. They also come with my favorite complementary tie down strap. They just seem beefier and more secure than many of the other offerings.
I currently have Thule Dockgrips on my racks. They are certainly an improvement over the earlier Thule carrier designs I simply do not like how high the kayak seats upon them. That extra height just increases drag.
Side loading vs rare loading
Kayak carriers typically come in two variations. Some are designed to be loaded from the side, these carriers offer maximum grip. The downside is that many fishing kayaks are simply too heavy to safely load in that way.
While rare loading kayak carriers are designed to be easier to load kayaks from the back of the car. That is where you lean the bow of the kayak on the roof racks and push it up and along from behind. Believe me for heavy fishing kayaks this technique is significantly easier.
The main difference between side loading and rare loading carriers is that the rare seat of carriers for rare loading is made with a slippery surface which assists in pushing the kayak up and onto the racks.
Alternatives to roof-racks.
Some people just throw their kayak straight onto the car’s roof, thread the tie-down straps through the open door, and secure the whole thing down tight. This method is okay for the occasional use and shorter trips. Unless you really dislike the roof of your car, no one will use this method long-term.
A slightly more sophisticated transport method is to rest the kayak on a couple of foam pool noodles. These keep the kayak off the roof and provide some cushioning.
Others are lucky enough to live close to water, for them there are assorted trolleys and hand trailers that can be used to transport fishing kayaks a short distance to the water. But, no one will want to use this method for more than a mile.
The final popular method to transport kayaks is on a small trailer, this has many pros and cons. The pros is that the kayaks are never on the car, and there is no need to lift them over head height. Which can be challenging considering the weight of many modern fishing kayaks. The cons for trailers are the extra expense, and the need to take up a minimum of two parking spots. In areas with limited parking this can become a real headache