Kayak Racks for the Jeep Wrangler (Ultimate Guide for 2023)
I've been guiding sturdy rafts and inflatable kayaks through countless adventures for the past 7 years. And now, I want to share my expertise with fellow Jeep owners who love to kayak.
You already know that Jeeps are the perfect vehicles for adventuring, capable of tackling off-road terrains while still while still performing great in normal driving conditions, such as highway driving.
But how do you safely transport your kayaks or canoes to your next destination? What are the best Jeep rack options? How does the installation work?
In this article, I'll answer all the questions above and showcase the best kayak racks for Jeeps, so you can find the perfect one to enhance your outdoor experiences.
Types of Kayak Racks for a Jeep Wrangler
The first question you must consider is how you want to mount your kayak.
There are two main styles of kayak racks that can be used on your Jeep:
#1 Hitch-mounted racks, or #2 Roof-mounted racks
Which Type of Rack is Best for Me?
For most Jeeps, if you have a larger kayak, you should use a hitch-mounted kayak rack.
For smaller kayaks, a roof-mounted kayak rack will work just fine.
Hitch-mounted kayak racks give an extra contact point for the kayak to rest on, as you can see in the image below. It also increased the visibility in the front windshield.
On the other hand, if your kayak is long, it will hang over each end of the vehicle when you’re using a roof-mounted kayak rack.
This will affect visibility and also makes the kayak less stable during transportation. See this image as an example:
Overall, you’re better off using a hitch kayak rack, unless you have a short kayak.
Below, we list the best kayak racks for Jeeps depending on how you want to mount them.
Best Kayak Racks for a Jeep Wrangler
Now that you’ve reviewed the different types of Jeep kayak racks, you can make the best decision when buying your new rack.
We’ve narrowed down the top-rated kayak racks for Jeeps. We’ve evaluated and included both hitch and roof-mounted kayak racks.
Keep in mind that you’ll need some roof crossbars in order to use any style of kayak rack.
1. Rhino Rack T-Loader Hitch-mounted (Best overall)
If your kayak is long, you may want to invest in a hitch kayak rack to transport your kayak safely.
Our top pick for the best hitch kayak rack for Jeeps is the Rhino Rack T-Loader.
The T-Loader slides into your 2-inch hitch receiver and allows you to haul a kayak, canoe, paddleboard, etc.! It is also adjustable and includes straps for extra stability.
This will be more stable than a roof rack alone and also helps with visibility since the kayak will not hang over the front of your Jeep as much.
2. Yakima JayLow Roof-Mounted (Affordable & durable)
The Yakima JayLow is affordable, durable and versatile option for carrying a kayak on the roof of your Jeep.
The JayLow is made of high-quality materials. It’s one of Yakima’s most popular products (and for good reason).
One great advantage of this rack is the ability to carry two kayaks at once! If you’re familiar with this type of kayak rack, they usually only carry one kayak at a time, so this is a great bonus.
Jeep owners also reported having extra roof space after mounting two kayaks using this rack.
This rack also folds away when you’re not using it, which will help with vehicle clearance and aerodynamics.
3. Thule Hullavator Pro Roof-Mounted (High-quality)
The Thule Hullavator Pro is our other top choice for a Jeep roof kayak rack.
Although we list this rack second, it is quite an amazing rack. Although it’s technically a better rack than the Yakima JayLow, not everyone needs the over-the-top features that the Hullavator Pro offers.
The Hullavator Pro is a lift-assist kayak rack, which means it will carry up to 40 lbs. of your kayak’s weight when lifting it on the roof!
It’s definitely not for everyone since this rack is significantly more expensive than the JayLow, but people who struggle to get their kayak on their roof find it to be amazing.
The Hullavator Pro allows people who would have trouble lifting a kayak onto the roof of a Jeep to enjoy the sport of kayaking.
One important detail to note is that you’ll need Thule crossbars for this to work properly.
Got a Bare Roof? Here Are Some Roof Rack Options to Get You Started
As we mentioned before, you’ll need a roof rack before you start thinking about using a kayak rack.
A roof rack and kayak rack work together!
There are several great options out there. Here are our recommendations:
- Rhino Rack Aero Bar (Basic Crossbars, Hard-Top Only)
- Trail FX J029T Roof Rack (Advanced Rack System, Hard-Top Only)
- Rugged Ridge 11703.02 Roof Rack (Advanced Rack System, Soft-Top Only)
More Things to Consider When Choosing a Kayak Rack for Your Jeep
There are a number of factors you’ll want to take into consideration before you buy a Jeep Wrangler kayak rack. These include:
Ease of Setup / Removal
A kayak rack isn’t a permanent fixture on your Jeep and will only be in use when you plan on transporting your kayak. Therefore, you want a kayak rack that’s quick and easy to install and remove once it’s no longer in use.
Not all Jeep Wrangler kayak racks are created equally. Cheaper models from less-reputable brands may be made from less durable materials and potentially cause you more damage in the long run. Instead, look for kayak racks that are made from aluminum or steel – both of which are strong, yet lightweight.
You’ll also want to factor in how many kayaks you’ll need to transport at once. Most kayak racks only transport one vessel at a time, however, models such as the Yakima JayLow allow you to safely transport two at once.
We covered this earlier in the guide, but the size of your kayak really does play a large role in which rack you should buy. Smaller kayaks can be transported in a roof-mounted rack and still allow for optimal visibility while driving. If your kayak is on the longer side, however, then a hitch-mounted kayak rack is the best solution.
Also check out: Best Jeep Spare Tire Bike Racks
How to Install a Roof-Mounted Kayak Rack for Your Jeep
Roof-mounted kayak racks might be more popular for smaller kayaks, yet they’re also one of the most widely used types of kayak racks on the market.
Here’s the simple, 6-step solution to installing one on your Jeep Wrangler.
1. Prepare Your Jeep’s Roof
Start by cleaning your Jeep’s entire roof, including its crossbars. Additionally, you’ll need to mask the areas where your kayak racks will be laid. This helps to prevent scratching on your roof when installing the racks, as you’ll already know where they should be placed.
2. Unbox the Rack System
Your kayak rack system may feature two crossbars and two gutter mounts, or more than four crossbars and foot mounts. If this is the case, it’s best to place all the rack components upside-down on a table to determine where each element belongs.
Gutter mounts can be assembled and laid on top of your vehicle’s roof for marking reasons. They will not be permanently attached until later, however.
3. Fix the pads and caps to the crossbars and mounts
Most aftermarket rack systems, including some Jeep Wrangler soft-top kayak racks, have padding and caps to protect the rack from scratching the roof. This also stops water from entering hollow crossbars.
If you use J-bars or stackers, the caps are already securely attached, so you won’t need to complete this step.
Depending on the design of your roof rack system, you may need to attach the crossbars first before proceeding.
4. Attach the Crossbars
Before crossbars can be mounted to a solid roof rail, mounts must be fastened to the rails. Meanwhile, elevated roof rails will have their foot pack built in two parts. One part goes above the roof rail, and one goes below it, sandwiching the crossbars in position.
The crossbars for both roof rail types must be installed on the roof, which means they cannot be constructed beforehand.
5. Center the Kayak Rack on Your Roof
Position your kayak rack correctly on the roof, considering OEM safety rules and any other factors that may void your car insurance.
6. Securely Fasten the Roof Rack in Place
Assuming you’re using a normal rack system with gutter mounts and crossbars, the next step is to firmly attach the whole kayak rack to the roof of your Jeep Wrangler. If your rack came with light brackets, they should’ve already been loosely installed and are now ready to be tightened.
Tips for Using Your Jeep Kayak Rack
Here are some additional tips to make using your kayak rack a breeze:
- Always double-check the stability of your rack. More often than not, it’s a loose bolt that causes accidents, rather than an improper tie-down. Vibrations from driving can potentially loosen these, so it’s best to be safe rather than sorry.
- Cam straps hold your kayak down easily and securely. Ensure you have two straps that are at least 12 feet long on hand.
- You may also secure your kayak to the rack with a non-stretch, water-resistant rope, as the rope vibrates less than nylon webbing. One rope is often required for the bow and one for the stern, however, this might vary depending on the length of your kayak and vehicle.
Bottom Line for Jeep Racks
There are plenty of Jeep Wrangler kayak racks on the market to suit your needs.
Whether you’re looking for a roof-mounted kayak rack for a smaller kayak, or a hitch-mounted kayak rack for larger vessels, there’s a rack to suit you.
Fortunately, I've done the research, tested them on my Wrangler, and found the best kayak racks for Jeeps.
1. Rhino Rack T-Loader Hitch-mounted
Crowned as the best overall, this hitch kayak rack is ideal for longer kayaks. It fits into a 2-inch hitch receiver, ensuring stability and better visibility during transport. Notably, for Jeeps with a rear-attached spare tire, a 7-inch hitch extender is necessary to ensure the rack clears the tire.
2. Yakima JayLow Roof-Mounted
A blend of affordability and durability, the Yakima JayLow stands out for its high-quality build and versatility. A unique feature is its capacity to carry two kayaks simultaneously, a rarity among kayak racks. Plus, its foldable design enhances vehicle aerodynamics when not in use.
3. Thule Hullavator Pro Roof-Mounted
A high-quality option, the Hullavator Pro, though pricier, offers unmatched features. Its lift-assist mechanism supports up to 40 lbs. of the kayak's weight, making it a boon for those who find it challenging to lift their kayak onto the roof. However, it's essential to have Thule crossbars for optimal functionality.
I hope this guide has given you a great overview of the different types of Jeep Wrangler kayak racks, as well as the top products currently available.
Don't forget to follow the manufacturer's instructions for proper installation and secure your kayaks tightly before hitting the road.
To close this off, by investing in a reliable and secure rack, you can confidently transport your kayaks to any destination, whether it's a serene river or a challenging rapid.