If you are not one of the lucky few that live on the water’s edge, a kayak roof rack is by far the easiest way of transporting your kayak to and from the water. Skimping on a kayak roof rack and not doing the proper research before purchasing one can lead to headaches down the road.

A sub-par rack will at best lead to frustration, and at worst can cause damage to your kayak or car. The idea behind kayak roof racks is quite simple.

You attach specially designed carrying cradles to your roof rails. Then, you secure your kayak on top and away you go. Getting this formula just right, however, takes a lot of engineering and manufacturing expertise.

A great kayak rack will allow you to lift and place your kayak on top of your car with ease and speed. It should also be easy to install.

It should provide peace of mind knowing your vessel is safely and securely strapped in, no matter what. When your kayak is mounted on a first rate car roof kayak rack, it should feel like an integral part of your vehicle.

This is exactly what Thule provides. The Swedish manufacturer of all things outdoors and transport solution-related has a truly impressive roster of kayak roof racks to choose from.

You cannot go wrong with a Thule rack. However, each model has a feature or two that makes it stand out.

Some features might not be that important to some users. However, they might provide a significant marginal gain to others. We have done an in-depth analysis of the top-selling models. We compiled a detailed list of the best Thule Kayak roof racks.

Rankings

RankingRackTypeAssist FeatureCapacityProduct weight ReviewPrice
#1thule hullavator proThule Hullavator ProHorizontalLift & Load134.7lbsRead Review
See Price on Amazon
#2thule dockglideThule DockGlideHorizontalLoad16.8lbsRead Review
See Price on Amazon
#3thule 887xt slipstream kayak rackThule SlipstreamHorizontalLoad127.3lbsRead ReviewSee Price on Amazon
#4thule hull a port xtThule Hull-a-Port XTVerticalN/A212.5lbsRead Review
See Price on Amazon
#5thule stacker rackThule StackerVerticalN/A41lbsRead Review
See Price on Amazon

Selection Criteria: How We Ranked the Best Thule Kayak Roof Racks

Not all Thule kayak racks are created equally. Some are relatively simple.

Others have advanced features that can provide a much better experience in day-to-day use. Some racks require very little strength to use. Others will need you to get quite physical with your kayak lifting.

When making our list, we selected a few key characteristics of each rack so they can be differentiated at a glance. Depending on your needs and preferences, some of our selection criteria can be more or less relevant to your final decision.

The 6 key characteristics are: type, assist feature, maximum load capacity and number of kayaks it can accommodate, as well as product weight and what type of roof rack it is compatible with.

The following is a breakdown of each of these criteria, and why they may or may not be an important factor when shopping for a Thule kayak roof rack.

Type

The most rudimentary classification of kayak roof racks is based on what position the kayak is in once mounted. All kayak racks can thus be divided into horizontal and vertical racks.

There are distinct, if subtle, advantages and disadvantages to both types of kayak roof racks. Vertical stacking is a bit trickier than horizontal stacking, and can also be less stable as there is a smaller contact surface with the rack.

There are also minor fuel consumption disadvantages, as a vertically stacked kayak has a higher profile and consequently more wind resistance.

One major advantage that vertical stacking has over horizontal racks is that you have more space on your roof. This is a valuable advantage for people who want to carry more than one kayak, or have additional space for a car roof box after the kayak is mounted.

Assist Feature

When considering what kayak rack to buy, you need to be acutely aware of how capable and/or willing you will be when lifting and loading your kayak onto the roof of your vehicle. While the kayak roof racks of yesteryear required sheer strength on your part to lift your vessel, some advanced models have assist features that take much of the grunt work out of lifting and loading.

Some racks have both lift and load assist features, some only have load assist, while others have none at all. If you are confident and willing to lift your kayak unassisted, you can save some money by opting for a rack with no assist features. If, on the other hand, convenience is a primary concern, lift and load assist is the way to go.

Lift assistance works by sliding two arms of the rack out and down, so the cradles are perpendicular to the side of your car. To then only have to raise your kayak to hip height in order to mount it. After the kayak is secured to the rack, you just lift the hydraulic arms and kayak and slide the whole thing onto your roof.

Load assistance still requires you to lift your kayak yourself onto your roof, but makes the final loading easier. You just have to lift the nose of your vessel onto the back part of the rack, and then slide your kayak forward until it is properly positioned on your roof.

There are two basic load assistance mechanisms. The first utilizes pivoting felt-lined rear saddles that both support your kayak and allow it to glide forward onto your roof. The second uses a sliding mechanism that pulls out past the back of your car and slides along with the kayak to its final mounted position.

Max Load Capacity

This one is pretty self-explanatory; it is the manufacturer’s recommended maximum load capacity. If you have a modern, lightweight kayak you shouldn’t really be too worried about this. If, on the other hand, you have a heavy vessel, or plan on carrying multiple kayaks, a rack with a higher load capacity will be your best choice.

Bear in mind that a kayak roof rack is only as strong and stable as our roof rails. If your roof rails are extremely sturdy, you might get away with going over the weight limit a bit, but it is not recommended.

Number of Kayaks

This is another straightforward categorization, the maximum number of kayaks you can load onto each rack. Thule offers racks that can carry from one to four kayaks. That being said, a lot depends on the size of your vehicle, i.e. how wide your car roof is.

Just because a rack is rated to accommodate four kayaks does not necessarily mean this carrying configuration is compatible with all cars. Just imagine fitting four kayaks onto a Mini, it simply cannot physically be done.

Roof Rack compatibility

Kayak roof racks are all designed to fit onto pre-existing roof racks. All Thule Kayak racks fit perfectly onto Thule’s premium AeroBlade load bars, and the come highly recommended if you do not already have load bars installed on your car. They are also fully compatible with Thule’s SquareBar load bars.

If you have some other factory load bars already installed on your car, some of Thule’s kayak roof racks might not be compatible. It is best to check if your rack can support the kayak rack by checking Thule’s fitting guide.

Some of the racks on our list require the kayaks to rest directly on your roof rack, and in these cases it is important that your roof rack is in good shape, i.e. rust- and corrosion-free.

Product weight

This number is the total weight of the mounted kayak rack. Heavier racks are usually bigger and have more advanced features. Racks with load and lift assist features are significantly heavier than their more basic counterparts. If you plan on taking your rack on and off your car frequently, finding a lightweight product can be high on your list of priorities.

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Research and Reviews

With the breakdown of our selection criteria out of the way, it is time to dive straight into our product reviews. The list was composed based on an in-depth analysis of product characteristics, user reviews and personal experience.

The products are listed in descending order, and we have tried to uphold an objective approach, listing both the good and bad features of each product. Without further ado, here is our pick of the best Thule kayak roof racks available on the market right now.

  1. Thule Hullavator Pro
  2. Thule DockGlide
  3. Thule Slipstream
  4. Thule Hull-a-Port XT
  5. Thule Stacker

Our #1 Pick: Thule Hullavator Pro

thule hullavator pro
  • Type: Horizontal
  • Assist Feature: Lift & Load
  • Max load capacity: 75 lbs.
  • Number of Kayaks: 1
  • Roof rack compatibility: AeroBlade, SquareBar
  • Product weight: 34.7 lbs.

The High Points:
Extremely easy to use, requires very little strength from the user. Very well padded to protect your kayak.
The Low Points:
This product is only compatible with Thule roof rack load bars. It is also the most expensive rack on our list.


The Thule 898 Hullavator Pro Kayak Lift System comes in as a strong number one on our list. It is jam packed with advanced features which allow it to be used easily by anyone, regardless of physical strength.

The main draw of this model is that you load your kayak from waist level, at no point needing to raise and balance it over your head to reach the roof. Gas struts extend from the roof and straight down to the side of your car, so you can easily lift your kayak and place it perpendicular to your car onto the rack.

Once you strap the kayak on, the assist gas struts hydraulically assist in raising the vessel onto your roof. These specially designed gas struts take 40 pounds off the weight of your kayak; effectively making your kayak next to weightless.

The cradles on the Hullavator Pro are quite wide, and can comfortably accommodate kayaks up to 36 inches wide. The entire construction is made of corrosion-resistant materials, and the rack is surprisingly light for what it is.

WHAT DO REVIEWERS SAY?

While some users commented on the high price tag, they all agree that it was well worth the money. Ease of use is highly praised, and the raising mechanism is reported to be extremely smooth and reliable.

The only problem reviewers found with installation was due to the specific nature of the extending arms. This rack has no margin of error when mounting onto your vehicle, as improper installation could damage your car or rack. The Thule Fit Guide comes highly recommended as a useful resource to see exactly what you need for a snug fit.

Another group of users who found this rack superior to others they had used were owners of heavy vessels. While racks with no assist features require help from a friend, the Hullavator pro allows you to be independent when loading and unloading your kayak.

FEATURES & CONSIDERATIONS

Be sure to fold your side rear-view mirror when lowering the kayak rack to the side of your car, to avoid any potential damage. If you are concerned about the safety of your kayak rack, you will need to buy Thule’s One-key lock cylinders separately. This will allow you to lock the carrier onto your vehicle.

An important consideration when getting this kayak rack is that it is exclusively compatible with Thule crossbars. Unlike with some other racks, there is no viable workaround for using this rack with factory crossbars, as the fit needs to be just right in order for the load assist to operate safely.

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The Next Best: Thule DockGlide

thule dockglide
  • Type: Horizontal
  • Assist Feature: Load
  • Max load capacity: 75 lbs.
  • Number of Kayaks: 1
  • Roof rack compatibility: AeroBlade, SquareBar, Factory Racks
  • Product weight: 6.8 lbs.

The High Points:
Lightweight and easy to install. Compatible with most roof racks.
The Low Points:


Installation instructions are hard to follow, no lift assistance. Cannot be locked onto crossbars.

The Thule DockGlide got its name from the innovative gliding motion used to load your kayak onto your car roof. The rear saddles are lined with felt to allow you to push and slide your kayak from the back of your car right to the front.

The rack consists of four individual parts which are lightweight and quite small. This makes the rack system extremely convenient to take off and store your kayak and rack when not in use. You could easily keep it in the trunk of your car without worrying about it taking up too much space.

All four saddles pivot and follow the shape of your kayak, making it extremely versatile. The rack can easily fit kayaks up to 36 inches wide and 75 lbs. in weight.

When loaded, your kayak is further secured with load straps that are equipped with buckle bumpers that protect your car’s paint job; which is a nice touch. QuickDraw stern and bow tie-downs keep your kayak stable at higher speeds.

WHAT DO REVIEWERS SAY?

Reviewers are happy with the overall build quality and load assist system. Many buyers note that the slide loading system takes a bit of practice to get right, but quite easy once you get the hang of it.

The only disappointment noticeable in the customer reviews was a complete lack of safety features. This rack is designed for easy on/off functionality, so there is no mechanism to lock the rack onto your car.

An advantage of this rack is that it can be installed on almost any type of crossbar, as opposed to other Thule products that require Thule crossbars. If you have factory crossbars on your car and do not wish to invest in new ones, this is the rack for you.

FEATURES & CONSIDERATIONS

The first time loading and unloading can be a bit tricky; and if not done correctly can damage the back of your car. A great tip is to place a thick blanket over you rear windscreen during your first few mounts and take-downs, just in case.

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Our Next Favorite: Thule 887XT Slipstream Kayak Rack

thule 887xt slipstream kayak rack

  • Type: Horizontal
  • Assist Feature: Load
  • Max load capacity: 75 lbs.
  • Number of Kayaks: 1
  • Roof rack compatibility: AeroBlade, SquareBar, Factory Racks
  • Product weight: 27.3 lbs.

The High Points:
Great for vehicles with spoilers and those with forward mounted racks.
The Low Points:
Not as aesthetically pleasing as other Thule kayak racks


At number three on our list is the Slipstream kayak rack, which uses a slide-out mechanism to allow for easier kayak mounting. A roller extends from the back of your car to minimize the chance of kayak-car contact when loading and unloading.

The only reason this rack is not higher on our list is because, simply put, we don’t think it looks that good when mounted on your car. Although the loading system is simple and convenient, the rack sticks out quite a bit, and does not flow well with the lines of the vehicle.

A particularly useful feature of this rack is the roll assist. These rollers extend beyond the back of the car and can take 50% of the kayak’s weight.

This rack has four extremely well-padded touch points and is constructed of corrosion-resistant double coated steel. Pivoting front saddles securely fit all kayak types, and are particularly well-suited to holding fishing kayaks.

WHAT DO REVIEWERS SAY?

The rack received great customer reviews, and was praised for being sturdy and taking a lot of punishment without decreased functionality. The consensus is that it works extremely well on lower cars, but can be cumbersome on taller SUVs and jeeps.

The most prevalent negative comment was that the rack does not slide that easily. Users of a shorter stature were particularly vocal on this subject.

FEATURES & CONSIDERATIONS

The sliders could benefit from some lubrication, especially if you find the sliding motion to be difficult. Shorter users and those with taller vehicles recommend using a footstool to gain better leverage and have an easier mounting and dismounting experience.

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4. Thule Hull-a-Port XT

thule hull a port xt
  • Type: Vertical
  • Assist Feature: N/A
  • Max load capacity: 130 lbs.
  • Number of Kayaks: 2
  • Roof rack compatibility: AeroBlade, SquareBar, Factory Racks
  • Product weight: 12.5 lbs.

The High Points:
Can carry two kayaks at the same time, folds flat when not in use. No assembly required.
The Low Points:
No lift or load assist, can be loud at higher speeds due to wind resistance.


The Thule Hull-a-Port XT is the first vertical kayak rack on our list. It is a conventional J rack, so called because of the shape of the profile when you lift the rack. It can transform from a j-cradle to a two boat stacker position if you need to load two kayaks at the same time. When not in use, the rack folds down to reduce drag and lower height clearance.

This rack is extremely easy to mount and dismount onto your car, which is great if you want to take it on and off frequently. It can also be an invitation to thieves, so you should probably invest in a Thule lock cylinder, which they sell separately.

The vertical mounting position means that you save a lot of space on your roof. This is extremely useful for users who wish to have a roof box mounted on their car at the same time as their kayak.

WHAT DO REVIEWERS SAY?

Installation is very easy, and the integrated tightening tool is extremely useful, as you do not have to worry about losing it or not having the right tool when you need it. The oversized levers used for raising and lowering the rack received a lot of praise, as well.

As with any rack that does not have lifting and loading assistance, some users noted that lifting and mounting kayaks can be physically taxing. You should definitely not use this for extremely heavy boats.

Some reviewers were not happy with the rack’s performance when carrying two wide kayaks. The worst case was that the rack dug into one kayak, causing the shell to warp. For best results, reviewers recommend using it for either two small kayaks or one large one.

FEATURES & CONSIDERATIONS

This kayak rack carries two kayaks, but loading the second kayak will require you to solidly load the roof rack. When you load two kayaks, one sits on the rack while the other is technically on the roof, so you might need to improvise some additional padding for the second kayak.

Kayakers with taller vehicles can have a hard time reaching the top of this rack. A simple solution for this problem is to keep a stepladder or footstool in the trunk of your car.

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5. Thule Stacker

thule stacker rack
  • Type: Vertical
  • Assist Feature: N/A
  • Max load capacity: 300 lbs.
  • Number of Kayaks: 2
  • Roof rack compatibility: AeroBlade, SquareBar, Factory Racks
  • Product weight: 7.8 lbs.

The High Points:
Extremely lightweight, minimal carrying solution
The Low Points:
Tricky to configure and set up when carrying multiple kayaks. Additional tie downs and straps required for carrying more than one kayak. Not compatible with larger kayaks.


The Thule Stacker is the most low-tech of all the kayak roof racks on our list, but it is also the least expensive. It consists of two fold-down steel arms, and that’s it. No cushioned cradles, no load-assist system, no lift assist.

If you happen to have four small, lightweight kayaks that you want to transport at the same time, this might well be a good fit. However, if you have a kayak longer than 10 feet, or have a wider kayak, they simply will not be compatible.

A definite advantage of the Thule Stacker is that it leaves ample roof space for other roof-mounted accessories. Quick on/off hardware allows for rapid installation and removal.

WHAT DO REVIEWERS SAY?

This rack system definitely requires a lot more tweaking and ingenuity when securing kayaks onto it, and this is apparent when reading the customer reviews. Many people noted that it is a whole lot easier if you make the loading and unloading process a two-person job.

Reviewers agree that this is a no-nonsense, no-frills rack that does the job. That is, if you know what you are doing.

A lot can go wrong if you do not mount and secure your kayak correctly, and this model has no cradles or other features to facilitate a perfect fit.

A few users noticed some slight wind noise at higher speeds, but nothing loud enough to cause distractions while driving. When folded down, users have not reported any noise.

There was a lot of head scratching related to how exactly people should fit four kayaks. People found the instructions to be severely lacking in this department. Luckily, several users pointed to YouTube tutorial videos that explained this specific setup and how to do it.

FEATURES & CONSIDERATIONS

This rack only comes with two straps, so it is a good idea to order additional straps, especially if you plan on using it for more than one kayak.

With this rack, the kayaks sit directly on the car’s crossbeams, so improvising some form of padding might be a good idea, especially if you have a more fragile fiberglass kayak. Foam noodles are an inexpensive and often-used tool for just such a situation, so buying a few of these could significantly improve rack performance.

You can use this rack for transporting four kayaks, but it ultimately depends on the width of your car. Be sure to measure this before purchasing the rack to avoid any disappointment down the line.

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