How to Choose Cartop Boat Mounts

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Woman lifting a green kayak onto a car's roof rack.

Ready to haul your kayak or canoe to the water? To do so safely, you need a roof rack or a foam block base, plus the right attachments to secure the boat down.


Your Choice: Car Rack or Blocks

Roof-Mounted Rack Systems

Thule and Yakima make the most popular roof-mounted systems. Both can be fitted to almost any regular-sized car, truck or van. A basic rack system consists of 4 vertical towers and 2 horizontal bars that accommodate various gear-hauling attachments. The towers are usually held in place by clamps, though some can be permanently attached to the roof itself.

Pros: Stable and secure; long-lasting; versatile, can carry other gear as well.

Cons: Somewhat complicated installation and removal; more expensive than foam blocks.


Factory Racks

If your vehicle already has factory-installed roof rack, you may need to buy a universal mount adapter that lets you add attachments to its bars. However, some attachments come with universal mounts, so check that out before you buy an adapter you may not need.

Pros: Stable and secure; long-lasting; versatile, can carry other gear as well.

Cons: May require adapters in addition to attachment mounts.


Foam Blocks

These inexpensive, temporary carriers attach to your car roof using the downward force of nylon straps, which are typically included. Some foam blocks (or saddles) are designed to fit between your kayak and your vehicle's roof; others are slotted to fit on the bars of roof racks as a mount. The whole system is held in place by 2 or 3 straps that attach either to your car's roof rack or circle through your car's interior and attach inside the vehicle.

Pros: Very inexpensive; easy to install and remove.

Cons: Less durable than a rack system.



Boat mounts come in a variety of designs, including cradles, stackers, saddles and even foam-block carriers. Attachments can be clamped, screwed or otherwise fastened onto rack bars to allow you to carry your boats and other gear safely.

  • J-cradles and stackers transport kayaks on their sides leaving space for multiple boats or more gear.
  • Saddle-style mounts nestle the kayak hull gently upright, grasping onto the sides of the boat without pressing in too hard on any one area, thereby saving wear and tear on the edges of the kayak's hull.
  • Integrated lift systems are the ultimate. They feature a rack mount plus gas-assist shocks to help you raise the boat onto the rack.

For tips on how to load and secure your boat, read the REI Expert Advice article, Transporting Your Boat.