Kayak Truck Racks – Best Options & Buyers Guide
When you begin searching for kayak truck racks, you quickly realize how many options and different variations there are on the market.
Kayak racks for trucks can differ in material, size, weight capacity and the actual make and model of the truck they are compatible with. Trying to sift through all of the options can take a long time, and ultimately confuse most people.
Below, we have outlined our top picks for the best kayak truck racks and compiled a buyer’s guide to help you make better-informed buying decisions.
Kayak Truck Racks at a Glance:
- YAKIMA, Heavy Duty Kayak Truck Bed Rack (Truck Bed Rack)
- TMS Universal Extendable Steel Pickup Truck Rack (Truck Bed Rack)
- AA-Racks Aluminum Truck Rack (Truck Bed Rack)
- Darby Industries 944 Extend-A-Truck (Truck Bed Extender)
- Guide Gear Truck Bed Extender (Truck Bed Extender)
- AA-Racks Universal Pickup Truck Topper (Roof Topper)
- Yakima SweetRoll Kayak Carrier (Roof Topper)
Solid kayaks that require a truck rack, aren’t the cheapest piece of gear in the world. Making sure your investment is transported properly and safely is crucial, not only the kayak but also protecting your truck is important as well!
Using a high-quality kayak truck rack will ensure transporting your kayak is simple, quick, and worry-free. Getting your craft to and from your favorite kayaking spot will never be easier. No more strapping it down to your roof!
Below we will dive into different kayak racks for truck options that are suitable for different situations. Let’s dive right in!
Best Kayak Racks For Trucks
This truck rack for kayaks is produced by a very well-known racking brand - Yakima. This particular model is a heavy-duty option that attaches to your truck bed. It is suitable for mounting multiple kayaks, paddleboards, canoes, and other heavy-duty items.
It has been built to last with engineered aluminum construction and a durable powder-coat finish.
The height is adjustable between 19-30 inches to create custom setups for maximum utility and the uprights are easy to take on and off in minutes, so the truck's only racked-up when needed.
You can even customize the rig further by attaching sidebar mounts (sold separately) for more gear storage.
The connection to your truck is not permanent and requires no drilling, simply clamp it down to the bed-sides.
- Maximum on-road rating of 500 lbs.
- T-slot attachments make adding gear mounts and accessories fast
- 1hr assembly (all tools included)
- Clamps onto most truck beds
This TMS kayak truck rack is a heavy-duty, steel construction rack, that is suitable for most trucks. It has an adjustable width of 5 feet minimum to 7 feet maximum where the rack attaches to the bed-sides.
The rack can support an impressive 800lbs, which is ideal for taking multiple kayaks, paddleboards, and canoes. It can be left on year-round and can support other heavy items like ladders, timber, and building supplies.
It includes a rear window protector, to prevent any debris or shiting loads from hitting your window.
- Max Height: 30 inches plus the height of your truck's bed.
- Adjustable for most pickup trucks
- Window Protector
- 800lbs load capacity
- Adjustable width of 5 to 7 feet
This kayak truck rack is an excellent option for anyone who wants that semi-permanent rack that can be left on year-round or just used as needed. It requires no drilling into the truck panels, it simply connects via universal mounting clamps.
It has a universal design that can fit most pick-up trucks, however, it will not fit trucks with pre-existing utility track systems in the bed.
This kayak rack supports up to 800lbs, which is great if you plan on taking 2-4 kayaks with you.
- No drilling required, easy installation with universal mounting clamps (set of 8 clamps included).
- Powder-coated aluminum for extra protection.
- Four adjustable load support brackets.
- Over-cab design accommodates longer kayaks and loads up to 800 lb.
This option is a truck bed extender, it is ideal for anyone that would like to transport their kayak in the truck bed, as opposed to on their roof.
The Darby extend-a-truck is produced from steel-box sections and connects to the truck via a standard 2" hitching point.
It features 4-foot wide support and adjustable height for rooftop hauling as well as bed extension. The extend-a-truck can be stored flat behind the seat when not in use and comes with a red flag for extra-long loads. There are two tie-down points on the end of the extender for straps.
- Width of top bar: 49"
- Reaches 53" back from the hitch point
- Reaches 15.5-23" above hitch point (bed level position)
- Reaches 55-62.5" above hitch point (roof level position)
- 350lb load capacity
Another great truck bed extender on our list is produced by Guide Gear, who manufacturer a whole lineup of storage ideas for trucks. And, this particular bed extender is a great price.
The frame is made from steel cross-sections which have been black powder coated for extra protection from the elements.
It extends your truck bed by 4-feet and can be placed at truck bed level, or roof level depending on your cargo.
It fits your truck using a standard 2" hitching receiver and has tie-down loops so you can securely strap down any kayaks.
- Holds up to 350 lbs.
- Extends truck bed by 4'
- Can be extended vertically from 52" to 60" for hauling canoes, kayaks, etc.
- Welded tie-down loops
- Fits vehicles using a 2" receiver
The next kayak truck rack on our list is a roof-mounted option. This is only necessary if you don't have any pre-existing roof bars. If you do have roof bars or tracks already, you could mount a removable horizontal bar option.
These bars are permanently secured to the van, drilling will be required.
The crossbars are made with 17 gauge steel (powder-coated) that can support up to 350lbs of weight.
It is a universal fit, that will be suitable for most trucks. The crossbars are extendable between 35 and 57 inches.
The extra-wide mounting base uses a polyfoam gasket and interior plates to secures the rack system onto the vehicle.
- Adjustable width from 35" to 57"
- The max load capacity for this 2 bar system is 350 lbs.
- The steel is powder-coated black for protection
The next kayak carrier on our list requires the pre-install of horizontal roof bars, this rack isn't so much a roof 'rack'. It's more like a roof carrier.
The Yakima sweet roll carriers come fully assembled right out of the box, all you have to do is mount them to round or square horizontal roof bars (minimum crossbar spread of 24").
The spring-loaded tilting paddle feet adjust to the shape of your kayak whilst loading, to ensure a secure and snug fit.
The kit includes heavy-duty bow and stern tie-down straps.
Overall, this is a great choice for anyone who has pre-installed crossbars to securely load a kayak onto a truck. One downside is that they only carry a single kayak, and you will need to install more if you take more.
- 80lb boat weight limit
- Comes fully assembled
- Paddle feet mold to the shape of the kayak
- Smooth feet with rollers protect boat hull
Pack of 4, 15ft ratchet straps with a breaking strength of 1500lbs. These are great for transporting a variety of objects on your truck rack, from canoes, kayaks, ATVs, large boxes, machinery, building equipment, and more.
One of the more difficult aspects of choosing and setting up your truck rack for kayaks is attaching it to your truck.
Some truck racks are designed to be used alongside mounting clamps to prevent the need for any drilling into your truck bed. This is ideal if you want a semi-permanent option, and know that you might need to remove the rack frequently.
Even some models that require drilling, can also be used with mounting clamps.
These particular clamps are made from heavy-duty aluminum and are compatible with most truck beds.
Once you have added your truck's crossbars, either on the roof or into your truck bed, you could also add a set of J-bar kayak carriers to support and mount your kayak.
Whilst you can strap the kayak straight to the cross bars, this may cause damage to your bars and more importantly the kayak - especially if you own a composite kayak.
These J-bars have soft padded supports, which will securely grip the kayak and prevent any damage to the hull. The side support also keeps the kayak more stable in high winds.
This set includes ratchet straps to securely fasten the kayak to the J-bars.
Another great aspect of J-bars is that they turn the kayak on its side, so if you are carrying several kayaks or paddleboards, you can fit more across the width of your truck.
Kayak Racks For Trucks – Buyers Guide
There is a ton of ways to transport your kayak in/on your truck, whether it’s in the bed, across the back, or on the roof. You can even get creative and not use a kayak rack at all.
Your choice of kayak truck rack is largely dependant on how comfortable you are with modifying your truck, some solutions are semi-permanent and can be left on year-round. Some solutions aren’t bolted to your truck and can be attached/detached as needed.
Types of Kayak Truck Racks
Truck Bed Racks
Truck bed racks are one of the most common and secure options for kayakers looking to fit a permanent transportation system into their truck. Most of these racks will bolt into the bed rails and can be left on permanently.
You can also use your bed racks for carrying other long and heavy loads, such as timber, furniture and building materials.
Truck Bed Extender
Truck bed extenders are a great choice for anyone who doesn’t want to semi-permanently alter the look of their truck.
Plus, you also minimize your injury risk as you will never have to lift your kayak above your head. Simply, lift the kayak onto your truck bed, and slide the rack into place.
Truck bed extenders might also be referred to as hitch racks, this is because they easily install onto a standard two-inch receiver hitch. They usually also pack away fairly small and can be stored in your truck.
Roof Mounted Racks/Truck Topper
Kayak roof-mounted racks are probably the easiest option to install. They are usually horizontal bars that lay across existing truck roof racks. It’s a good option for a recreational kayaker that only goes out a few times a month or year.
The only downside to roof racks is that they often require pre-installed roof rails on the truck.
The weight capacity of your kayak roof rack is one of the most import considerations you have to make. It’s important that you know the exact weight of your kayak(s) before purchasing a roof rack. You can either weigh them yourself, or get the information from the manufacturers website/brochure.
Kayak racks are usually built to support a lot of weight, so as a good rule, try to get a rack that can at least support 50-100lbs more than your maximum carrying capacity, it’s better to be safe than sorry!
Until you have driven either a large flat-sided vehicle or your truck with a kayak on, it’s difficult to understand how much of an impact it can be whilst driving.
You’ll be slower, have worse fuel economy, and feel a pull when you are driving in strong winds. Therefore, it is best to choose a rack that is as aerodynamic as possible.
If you can see this being a big issue, sometimes it’s best to opt for a truck bed extender for your kayak, as it won’t increase the surface area of your truck from head-on (the kayak will lie in the truck bed).
Tying the kayak down
Regardless of what kind of kayak rack you opt for, you wil still need to securely fasten the kayak to the rack/cross bars.
The last thing you want to happen, is that your kayak becomes loose mid-journey and finds itself tumbling down the highway. Not only is this likely to destroy your kayak, but it also causes risk to other drivers and yourself.
The best way to tie a kayak down is by using ratchet straps that have a high break strength. Make sure to use the designated strapping loops (common on most kayak carriers) and wrap them around your kayak to secure it tightly.
You should always strap the kayak down at more than one point, usually using straps over the bow, stern and center is the best choice.
Before setting off on your journey, double-check that there is little to no movement in your kayak. It should feel solid once in position.
Kayak Truck Rack FAQs
What kind of roof rack do I need for a kayak?
The kind of roof rack you need for a kayak can vary depending on your truck or car. You can opt for any of the truck racks we have listed above, alternatively you can use soft foam pads, rollers, or J racks for your kayak. Most options will need pre-existing vertical or horizontal roof bars fitted.
Alternatively, you can transport a kayak without a roof-rack.
Should kayak be transported upside down?
Kayaks can be transported upside down, or upright. But the type of kayak you own is the deciding factor on which you go for. If you have a solid polyethylene or rotomolded kayak (most recreational kayaks), then it can be transported upside down.
However, if you have a composite kayaks should always be transported upright, mounted on the hull using cradles or rollers to prevent damage.
Can I put two kayaks on top of my car?
Yes, you can put two kayaks on top of your car, but you have to make sure they are tied-down correctly and that your kayak truck racks can support their weight. You also have to abide by the laws in regards to how far out the front, back, and sides of your vehicle your kayak can hang.
How far can stuff hang over my truck?
Under the Federal Size Regulations law, the DOT allows trucks to overhang a cargo by:
- 3 feet over the front, this is common sense, ideally, you don’t want it even overhanging by this much.
- 4 feet over the rear of the truck. If you have to hang your kayak more than 4 feet over the rear you have to attach a red flag to the kayak to make it more visible. If you are driving at night, a red light is also a good option.
- You can overhang your kayak and other items 4 inches over the sides. Any more than this and your handling is affected and you might endanger other drivers passing you.
This can change from state-to-state, you can find more info here.
Is a kayak rack better than a kayak trailer?
In our opinion, we believe that a kayak rack is better than a kayak trailer for a few reasons.
Firstly, a kayak rack usually costs less. This is simply because they aren’t as big, they are produced from fewer materials and don’t require any lights or indicators on the rear. And, for the difference in price, they basically perform the same function.
Secondly, they take up less space. The rack is on top or inside of your vehicle – it’s out of the way. A kayak trailer needs to be stored somewhere when not in use, and that’ll take up space on your driveway or in your garage.
Thirdly, kayak truck racks are utilitarian, especially if you get a truck bed rack. You can use it for hauling other gear which might include building supplies, ladders, mattresses, and more.
Whilst some trailers will allow you to do this, dedicated kayak trailers with kayak brackets are usually only good for kayaks, paddleboards, and canoes.
The only time a kayak trailer might come in useful is if you are transporting many kayaks, canoes, or paddle-boards at once. With a truck rack, you might be able to squeeze 2 or 3 kayaks on the roof or in the bed at a push.
Choosing the best kayak truck racks isn’t that easy, we know all too well how many variations, options, shapes, and sizes there are on the market. All this info can soon send your head in a spin and you never end up buying anything.
But, that’s exactly why we have created this guide, to break it down for you in simple terms, and give you our picks for the best kayak truck rack.
Remember, to always double-check the sizing of your truck bed, and that you have sufficient room to utilize either bolts or mounting brackets to attach your truck rack. Alternatively, you could get creative and use soft pads/pool noodles or build your own rack!
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