The perfect hitch kayak rack takes the stress out of transporting your beloved boats.

Unless you’re one of the lucky few with a dedicated on-the-water storage or moorage, a hitch kayak rack is often the best way to securely and safely tote your kayaks to your favorite watering hole.

However, there are quite a few options out there, and they vary in terms of durability, functionality, and price.

Depending on what you’re looking for, there are definitely some factors to keep in mind before purchasing your new favorite rack.

We have some ideas to guide you in your search:

6 Best Hitch Racks for Kayaks

The Best Overall Hitch Kayak Rack: Yakima Drydock Boat Hitch Carrier

yakima drydock boat hitch carrier
  • Weight: 36.6 lbs.
  • Capacity: 165 lbs.
  • High Points: Easy installation, tilt down feature, adjustable height
  • Low Points:  Requires a 58 in. cross-bar (sold separately), heavy
Why it’s a Top Pick:

The Drydock features a unique Y frame design that creates a top of vehicle system to carefully and effectively transport your kayak. This frame maximizes support while minimizing the amount of space it takes up.

It includes a tilt-down feature for easy loading and its height is adjustable to match the roof of your vehicle.

What the Experts Think:

This is a very solid, reliable option to carry multiple kayaks on different sizes of cars. Like other hitch racks, it does require a two-inch receiver, but this rack has better success with non-pickup or SUV type cars (smaller Subarus, etc.).

Because of the tilt-down feature, users were successful loading larger kayaks by themselves. The rack is a bit heavy, so you may need another person to help you install it.

Features and Considerations:

The Drydock requires both a 58-inch cross-bar and a roof rack, neither of which are included. Once you factor in all of the add-ons, you’ll need to purchase to make use of this option, it is one of the more expensive items on this list.

While good for mid-size vehicles, when used on trucks it does not tilt far enough down to use the tailgate.

Despite its weight and added necessities, the Drydock offers a reliable, versatile, and easy-to-use rack consistent with Yakima’s stellar reputation.

Our Runner-Up: Thule Goal Post

thule goal post
  • Weight: 24.9 lbs.
  • Capacity: 165 lbs.
  • High Points: Easy assembly, secure straps, adjustable.
  • Low Points: May not fit compact cars, pricey, requires a roof rack
Why it’s a Top Pick:

Thule’s take on a classic design offers an easy, adjustable, and secure way to transport your kayak.

Its two vertical load stops and hook straps help to stabilize your load and keep it in place in all conditions.

The telescoping mast adjusts up for various truck cab heights and can also be used with SUVs, provided they have a 2-inch hitch receiver. This rack partners well with other Thule roof racks or kayak saddles.

Its horizontal bar can be swapped with any of the longer Thule bars for a wider load.

What the Experts Think:

This rack is no exception to the consistency and quality that we have come to expect from top brands like Thule.

The Goal Post includes posts and straps for lateral support which cuts down on wobble and noise. The posts can easily be adjusted based on the size of your cargo and the included straps attach to docking points on your vehicle to reduce swaying.

With its steel bar, extra support, and anti-wobble mechanism, it is a bit on the heavier side. But this high-strength steel makes it very durable.

Features and Considerations:

In order to lock this rack, you must use a Thule lock; it is not compatible with aftermarket parts.

While height-wise it will work with a jeep, the spare tire will likely need to be removed. It is clearly made for trucks and other larger vehicles but can be DIY adapted to fit smaller cars.

Though a bit on the pricey side, with its anti-sway design, adjustable height, and easy setup, you can’t go wrong with Thule’s kayak rack goal post design.

Best for Truck Bed Extensions: Ecotric Truck Bed Extender

ecotric truck bed extender
  • Weight: 27.6 lbs.
  • Capacity: 750 lbs.
  • High Points: High weight capacity, inexpensive, can be used with hitch adapter, adjustable
  • Low Points: Does not come with pins, rattles
Why it’s a Top Pick:

Ecotric’s truck bed extender offers a budget option without sacrificing high load capacity.

It can be used with a hitch adapter for those looking to use it with a 1 ¼ inch receiver. Works best with vehicles with tailgate openings.

Made from heavy steel tubing, this rack is durable but still is easy to install.

What the Experts Think:

This truck bed extender is great for the price, offering a cheap way to transport up to two kayaks, as well as the load capacity to carry much more.

With its simple design, this rack is easy to install, but does not come with hitch pins and is reportedly a little bit flimsy and rattles.

Even so, you cannot do better for the price.

Features and Considerations

This rack includes a safety flag to attach to the back, but the longevity of this flag is up for debate. It does not include a security mechanism.

Its height and width are both adjustable and supports the highest weight capacity of any rack on this list at a whopping 750 pounds.

Overall, this is a solid, cheap, and easy choice to tow your favorite boats.

Another Good Pick for Truck Beds: Yakima LongArm Pickup Truck Bed Extender

yakima longarm pickup truck bed extender
  • Weight: 12 lbs.
  • Capacity: 300 lbs.
  • High Points: Light, strong, easy to install
  • Low Points: Only for 2-inch receivers, made for trucks
Why it’s a Top Pick:

Unlike many models, Yakima’s LongArm is made out of aluminum instead of steel, making it about half the weight of comparable models. As a lighter model, installation is a breeze, you’ll just need yourself and a two-inch hitch receiver.

Though it is one of the more expensive models, the dependability of Yakima’s reputation, combined with being extremely lightweight and strong make this a solid pick for any pickup truck or larger SUV.

What the Experts Think:

The LongArm will extend your truck bed up to four feet with a sixty-inch-wide cross bar. It is adjustable to three load-carrying positions–used at bed-height it is able to support 300 pounds.

This can be combined with the LongArm Extension and a roof rack to bring it up to truck cab height.

Integrated tie-down points make sure your boat has a secure ride.

Includes the Yakima signature bottle opener to easily enjoy a cold one post-paddle.

Features and Considerations:

The LongArm is compatible with Yakima locks, which are sold separately, so it does not include security features.

It is clearly made for trucks but will fit larger SUVs. Make sure to check out the specs to see if they will work with your specific vehicle if not using a truck, and be sure to have a two inch receiver.

Overall, the LongArm is an extremely lightweight, durable, and easy-to-use option for those who have a truck or larger vehicle and need just a little extra space for their kayak carrying needs.

Best for Your Wallet: Darby Extend-a-Truck

darby extend a truck
  • Weight: 25 lbs.
  • Capacity: 350 lbs.
  • High Points: Cheap, functional, folds for storage
  • Low Points: Can be noisy, some reviewers report inconsistent quality
Why it’s a Top Pick:

The Darby Extend-a-Truck is designed for secure and safe hauling of long loads with functionality and versatility in mind.

Its simple design makes it compatible with any truck or SUV with a 2-inch hitch receiver.

Like many of the other racks on this list, the Extend-a-Truck also requires some sort of roof rack or crossbars, but starting at a lower price point than many of the others, this offers a more economical alternative.

What the Experts Think:

The Extend-a-Truck is a cheap and simple, no-frills option for securing your boat.

Because of its simple design, installation is easy. Its versatility shines through with having both bed- and cab top- level loading options

Reviews occasionally faltered in regard to consistency in quality, but at this low price point it is generally a good pick. It is trusted on long and short-hauls alike and has a resilient powder-coat finish to stand up to the elements.

Features and Considerations

With this rack, it is important to keep in mind where you will be driving with your kayak. Sticking a 16-foot kayak on top of an 8-foot truck bed will make your truck cumbersome in tight parking spaces or in off-road put-ins.

While it is possible to use a hitch lock, this does not come with one, so if theft is a concern, you may want to consider investing in alternative methods.

As a simple, no-nonsense option, the Darby Extend-a-Bed is your no-frills solution for kayak transport.

Best for Solo Kayakers: Rhino Rack T-Loader Canoe and Kayak Rack

rhino rack t-loader canoe and kayak rack
  • Weight: 39 lbs.
  • Capacity: 132 lbs.
  • High Points: Easy loading, anti-swivel plate, sturdy
  • Low Points: Expensive, heavy
Why it’s a Top Pick:

The Rhino Rack T-Load Ball Mount allows easy load/unload of your cargo by yourself, mounting to a 50mm tow ball with an anti-swivel plate to stop any tow ball sway.

The T-Load lowers and then can be used as leverage to easily get your kayak onto your vehicle’s roof.

It comes with a Rhino Rack Vortex bar for the roof of your car so you do not need to worry about already having a rack or crossbars.

What the Experts Think:

While this rack is heavier, more expensive, and has a lower weight capacity than the others on this list, Rhino Rack has created a product with the single kayaker in mind; you do not need to worry about getting your cargo on the roof with their tilt system.

They include the crossbars and a sling kit for easy and careful installation. They’ve also thrown in a non-slip mat to stop slippage when loading your boat.

For the extra cost, this rack is well worth the peace of mind having a secure transport and easy loading.

Features and Considerations:

Check out the legal requirements in your state to see if you will also require a license plate holder to keep your plates visible at all times.

Due to its weight, you may need assistance installing the rack itself, but Rhino has ensured that you will not need any assistance loading your kayak once the rack is installed.

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The Complete Hitch Kayak Racks Buyer’s Guide

What to Look for: Factors to Consider in Your Search for the Best Kayak Hitch Rack

Hitch kayak racks provide a few advantages over other kayak carrying options.

For instance, they give you back the valuable time you might otherwise spend fiddling with tie-downs so that you can spend it on the water instead.

Hitches can handle a lot of weight, so you generally won’t need to worry about any damage to your vehicle, either.

Once you know you can wrestle your kayak onto your vehicle yourself, you can rest easy on solo trips. A great wrack also frees up valuable space inside your adventure-mobile for more friends and gear during group trips.

However, depending on who you are, what kind of boats you need to tote, and the configuration of your car, you’ll have different factors to consider when making your choice. Here’s our guide to what to be on the lookout for:

What kind of kayak are you looking to haul?

Hitch mounted carriers are typically used for sea kayaks or other longer boats which cannot sit securely on just the roof of your car.

They function mainly as “extenders” that prop up the back of your boat to balance the load. If your roof or truck bed are too short, a hitch rack will still keep the whole load secure.

If you have a whitewater or other shorter boat, you likely won’t have a problem fitting on just your roof, and a hitch rack won’t be necessary, but longer and ocean kayaks are definitely easy to transport with a hitch rack, even if you have a long vehicle or truck bed.

How many boats do you need to carry?

Hitch racks typically include a horizontal bar, which varies in length and shape. This bar will determine whether you will be able to carry multiple boats at once. Many racks will accommodate two or even three boats, with the width of your car as the limiting factor.

However, do keep track of the weight capacity of your hitch and rack, capacity of your rack. If you’re hauling multiple heavy kayaks, this capacity can also become a limiting factor.

What kind of car do you have? What size hitch?

All of the options on this list connect to your vehicle’s rear hitch; obviously, to make this work, you’ll need a towing hitch on your vehicle.

Almost all SUVs and trucks come with them, but if not, you can sometimes install an aftermarket hitch and ensure it’s the right size to accommodate a rack. Most of the carriers require a 2” hitch receiver to ensure that your car is sturdy enough to take on the load of one (or several) kayaks.

Typically, trucks and SUVs have no problem with these carriers, but if you have a smaller vehicle, be sure to check out the size of your hitch before you make the leap to purchase a rack.

While most kayak hitch racks require the 2” receiver, some will work with 1 ¼” hitches. With smaller hitches, however, usually comes a smaller load capacity. The adapter needed to convert 2” hitches to 1 ¼” dramatically reduce your hitch’s weight capacity.

What kind of security features are important to you?

Any time you’ll be carrying gear on the outside of your vehicle, it is important to consider what kind of security mechanisms are in place to protect your boat and your rack.

Kayaks and kayak racks are much more unwieldy than other items, but theft can still be a major concern, like for any other expensive piece of gear.

When deciding whether it’s worth springing for additional security, there are a few factors to consider, including:

  • Will you leave your boats unattended?
  • Do you have locks on hand you can use to DIY a security solution?
  • Does your system prevent someone from taking the boats off the rack and scenarios in which someone tries to steal your kayaks by taking the entire rack, kayaks and all, off your vehicle?

Many of the options on this list are compatible with locking systems from the same brand. Typically, these add-ons are not actually included with the rack.

You may also be able to buy a third-party option to tie down your racks, but often they are only able to use these specific locks, so if you have an aftermarket lock that you like, you may want to check in with the manufacturer to be sure that they will fit together nicely.

If you’d like to lock your kayak to your car or to your hitch rack, you will almost certainly need to supply your own locking system. This extra cost could influence your choice in rack.

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Selection Criteria: How We Ranked our List of Top Picks

While sorting through all of our top picks, we kept many different factors in mind to find those racks that will work best in as many situations as possible. All mean something different to different people.

There are also, of course, many different car/kayak/rack combinations. Each individual is going to rank certain criteria differently for their unique situation.

So, we combed through hundreds of reviews and specs to make sure that the majority of opinions out there were represented.

Here’s a more in-depth breakdown of how we assessed the options out there to create a ranked list based on user opinions and our own experience. Our list ranking is largely based on the following criteria:

Versatility

While hitch mounted kayak racks are generally made with trucks and larger cars in mind, we strove to include those that work well for large and smaller cars, alike. We looked for models that would suit a wide range of vehicles.

Capacity

Especially for those looking to carry several kayaks at once, the capacity of the rack is important to make sure that you do not damage your rack, your kayak, or your vehicle. Your rack should easily support the weight that you need it to; you do not want to be cutting it close if you can avoid it.

Here’s a quick comparison:

Ease of use

You want to spend your free time on the water, not fixing your rack. We looked for racks where users specifically felt that their racks were simple to use. Bonus points for solo person loading.

We also considered the amount of time required for initial installation and how annoying it generally was to take the rack on and off your vehicle when not in use.

Cost

Hitch mounted racks are generally pricier than roof racks, so it was important to us that you were getting what you paid for. We included racks at a variety of price points and feel that they best represent what can be purchased at each level.

Generally, though certainly not always, the more expensive racks offered more consistent ratings for durability and ease. Ultimately, you know the kind of use you will get out of this rack and will be able to make this decision for yourself.

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FAQs about Hitch Kayak Racks

Should I get a hitch rack or a trailer?

The main benefit of choosing a rack that trails your kayak behind your vehicle (instead of “bed extenders” that just add extra support behind your roof or truck bed) is that you’ll have higher weight capacity.

The benefit of extra wheels on the ground is that a lot of the weight of your boats and the rack is transferred to the ground, so you don’t have to worry about exceeding the tongue weight limit or how heavy the rack itself is.

Trailers are harder to drive with, maneuver, and park, and can have a greater impact on fuel economy and obstruct the rear of your vehicle more than hitch racks. They also tend to be more of a hassle to install onto your vehicle and store when not in use.

However, if you have a small vehicle, a trailer can make it safer and easier to carry multiple heavy boats at once.

Will a hitch rack damage my vehicle?

Combined with a roof rack, kayak hitch racks are unlikely to cause any damage to your vehicle. In fact, the boats may not even touch your vehicle at all.

Because a lot of the weight is on the roof of the car, these racks are also less likely to cause damage than other cargo and bike containers that attach to the hitch.

They can become dangerous if you don’t fully secure the kayaks to the racks, try to carry boats that are too heavy, or drive on rough roads that jostle the boats and increase the max pressure exerted on your hitch. Be particularly cautious of bumps if you know you’re getting close to the weight limit of either your rack or your hitch weight limit.

You can also often look for racks with extra padding and/or add-on cradles that minimize the chance of accidental scrapes on either your boats or your vehicle during loading/unloading.

Is it worth it to splurge for a more expensive rack?

Often, yes. When it comes to carrying valuable gear like kayaks on another valuable piece of property like your car, a high-quality rack is often a good investment.

It’s just not worth risking your expensive kayaks or car on an off-brand option; the last thing you need is for the rack to fail and spill your boats on the freeway.

Name brands like Thule and Yakima also tend to retain their resale value much better than cheaper versions, and also last considerably longer.

If you want to use your rack for a long time, it’s worth getting one you won’t have to replace every couple of years. And even if you only need it for a short time, you’ll still often save money by buying a rack that you’ll be able to sell when you’re done with it.

That said, racks can be very expensive. If price is a big concern for you, it’s sometimes possible to buy discounted racks from Amazon, Craigslist, or second-hand sellers. You can also cut down the final price tag a bit by not springing for all of the add-ons and accessories.

Many features like built-in locks, roll-on pads, and cushions are nice to have since they make it easier to use the car and prevent minor scrapes, but can often be jury-rigged from cheaper materials.  To save money, you can just buy the base rack and skip the bells and whistles. Like foam rollers, locks, saddles, stackers, etc.

Will I really be able to get this kayak on my car by myself?

In general, if you are able to move your kayak by yourself, you should be able to get your kayak securely attached to your hitch rack.

If weight is a concern for you, look into racks that have a built-in tilt mechanism so that you do not need to initially lift your kayak up as high. Once you lift the kayak into the tilted rack, a built-in mechanism eases the mechanical difficulty of lifting your kayak up to be level with your roof.

If you are using a truck with a large enough bed, you can also look for racks that sit at bed height instead of at the roof.

Many hitch kayak racks are somewhat heavy even before you load boats. Installing is often much easier with a few helping hands. The instructions are typically fairly straightforward, but if you opt for a steel over aluminum rack, it may be helpful to have a friend around to effectively attach the rack to your vehicle.

Product Name Tilt-Loading Assist? Works with Truck Bed? Works with Roof Rack?
Yakima Drydock Boat Hitch Carrier Yes Yes Yes
Thule Goal Post No Yes Yes
Ecotric Truck Bed Extender No Yes No
Yakima Long Arm Pickup Truck Bed Extender No Yes No
Darby Extend a Truck No Yes Yes
Rhino Rack T-Loader Canoe and Kayak Rack Yes No Yes

Wait, do I also need a roof rack?

Hitch racks work best as either truck bed or roof extensions.

If you opt to use your truck bed to carry the bulk of your kayak and just need the hitch rack as an extra support, a roof rack is not necessary. This is also the case with hatchbacks or other tailgate vehicles where the rear can be open to support your boat.

Many of these hitch racks, however, will extend up to the height of your roof. In that case, you will want to have at least cross bars as a way to tie down and support your kayak without damaging your roof.

Combining a hitch rack with a roof rack offers optimal support, however this option is also generally pricier and potentially unnecessary depending on the specs of your vehicle.

Will I have access to my trunk/truck bed while the kayaks are on top?

Hitch mounted kayak racks significantly decrease access to the rear of your vehicle, which may make getting into the trunk difficult.

If you will need consistent trunk access, it may make sense to opt for a lighter model to aid with the ease of installing/breaking down multiple times.

Do these increase noise during transit?

Particularly with loads that are as large and heavy as kayaks, anything you load with a hitch will move slightly while you’re driving, and this can cause some noise. You can minimize sway with additional tiedowns, but some noise is typically inevitable when it comes to stuff on the back and top of your vehicle, you will hear some noise when you drive at high speeds.

How securely your kayaks are held down will also affect fuel economy – look for models with a windbreak or additional ways to tie down the load and streamline the profile of your vehicle.

Will a hitch kayak rack interfere with my license plate or real lights?

These kayak racks typically ride high enough that they will likely not interfere with your lights.

However, they may result in decreased visibility through a backup cam and rear windshield, and may require you to remount your license plate. Check with your local laws to be sure that your license plate visibility will be compliant.

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