How to Transport a Kayak Without a Roof Rack | 7 Transport Hacks

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Even under the best of circumstances, a kayak can be a pain to transport. Kayaks are long and awkward to get from place to place. Unless you have a large truck with a spacious truck bed for hauling kayaks to and fro, you’re going to have to come up with a solution. The most common solution is to use a roof rack of some sort. A J rack is typically the most common of these. Although there are others to choose from. If you just bought your first kayak, you might not have considered a roof rack for transporting the kayak. It’s also possible that your vehicle is just not suited to the roof racks that are widely available. If you’ve fallen into this gray area of kayak transportation frustration, we’re going to introduce you to 7 kayak transportation hacks explaining how to transport a kayak without a roof rack.

If you need to transport a kayak without a roof rack, there are 7 different ways this can be done:

  • Foam Blocks
  • Pool Noodles
  • Kayak Trailer
  • Inside the Car
  • PVC Pipe Rack
  • DIY Roof Rack
  • Inflatable Roof Rack

How Are Kayaks Normally Transported?

As I said in the introduction, the J rack is probably the most common way to haul a kayak on top of the vehicle. But the J rack is not the only way. I’ll give a quick run-down of the common ways to transport a kayak using a roof rack or other roof system for your vehicle.

On the other hand, if you want to see the best kayaks racks for a car, see the full review and buying guide here:

J Rack

A J rack is a J-shaped carrier that mounts to crossbars on top of the car. The J rack will allow the kayak to be loaded from the side of the car, and the kayak lays on its side. You can also load from the front to the back of the car, but it gets a little more complicated there. This is especially true if you’re loading the kayak on a J rack by yourself. The J rack is the most popular option.


A stacker rack is used for loading the kayak in a vertical position. A stacker is typically used for smaller kayaks, and the upside is that you can load several smaller kayaks on the car. They also require the use of crossbars mounted on top of the vehicle.


Saddles will again clamp or attach to the crossbars on the roof of the vehicle. The kayak is sitting horizontally in the saddle’s cradle, which holds the kayak from the front and back of the hull. The saddles themselves are typically padded as to not damage the hull during transportation.


Rollers are similar in the way they hold the kayak to the saddle design, but as the name implies, they are rollers that spin. This design makes loading the kayak much easier.

Cross Bars

Crossbars are needed for all of the different kayak transportation methods, but crossbars by themselves can also be used to transport a kayak. Just laying the kayak on top of the crossbars and strapping it down can do the trick.

How to Tie Down a Kayak Without Roof Rack

Anytime the kayak is going on the roof of the vehicle, you’re going to need to secure and tie down the kayak. Using straps, and more specifically ratchet straps is crucial for getting the kayak secure.

If your vehicle includes rails instead of crossbars, or nothing at all, you can still use ratchet straps to get the kayak tied down and properly secured on top of the vehicle.

You’re going to need at least two straps running across the sides of the kayak. Run the straps through something structural on the kayak, so once the straps are tightened the kayak for sure is not going anywhere. If you don’t have any rails on the vehicle, you’ll have the run the straps through the windows of the vehicle and connect one end of the strap to the other.

If you do have rails, they can be used as a tie-down point. Here is a quick video showing the basic idea of tying down a kayak without a roof rack.

There are some things to remember when strapping down the kayak to your car or vehicle.

  • Don’t strap it down too tight: The straps can create pressure points on the kayak and damage the kayak, creating dents or bowing the plastic material of the kayak. This is called “oil canning”, and can actually affect the performance of the kayak on the water.
  • Make sure the straps aren’t frayed and in good shape: The last thing you’d want happening is for a strap to break while driving to your destination and the kayak to go flying off the car and into the road.

7 Kayak Transportation Hacks When You Don’t Have a Roof Rack

Luckily, there are different ways to get a kayak strapped down, secured, and hauled to its destination without the use of aftermarket roof rack systems.

Most of the ways of kayak hauling have a DIY aspect to them, but if you don’t want to shell out the bucks or can’t use a normal roof rack, you’re going to have to get a little creative for just how to carry a kayak on a car.

If you’re looking for a solution to hauling a kayak on a car or other vehicle without the use of a store-bought kayak roof rack system, then here are 7 kayak transportation hacks for how to transport a kayak without a roof rack.

1. Foam Blocks

Foam blocks are a fairly easy and inexpensive solution to laying the kayak on top of the car roof and strapping down. All you need is two medium-sized foam blocks, one at the bow and one at the stern of the kayak.

Foam blocks can come in all different shapes and sizes, but the best available will have a curved or V-shape that can cradle the kayak. The longer and wider the foam block the better. You’re going to want more surface area touching the kayak for a more secure fit and ride.

How to Make it Work

The kayak will sit, hull side down, on top of the foam blocks. Since the kayak is sitting on top of the two foam blocks, this ensures that you can get the kayak strapped down tight and not damage your roof or the kayak. Place the foam blocks equal distance from each other toward each end of the kayak.

If you’re using foam blocks, most likely you aren’t going to have any sort of rails or cross bars as a connection point for the straps. In this case, you’re going to have the run the straps through the open doors of your vehicle, where they can then be connected or tied together.

Over the top of the kayak, the straps will need to be running over where the kayak sits on the foam blocks underneath. After everything is strapped down, test that the kayak does not move or slide one way or another.

For extra security, you can use a rope, strap, or long bungee to attach from the stern and bow of the kayak to the front and back of your car. This keeps the kayak in place while you’re driving on the road.

2. Pool Noodle Kayak Rack

Using pool noodles to sit underneath the kayak as you transport it on top of your car is probably going to be the easiest and least expensive way to get the kayak strapped down without a roof rack and not damaging the top of the car.

Think of the pool noodle as the crossbars that the kayak would sit on if you, ya know, had crossbars. You can set your kayak on top of the pool noodle either upside down or right side up.

However, it might be better to transport the kayak upside down. This is the way to go especially when strapping the kayak down to the car.

How to Make it Work

You really only need a full pool noodle for both the front and the back of the kayak. When selecting the pool noodle itself, you’re going to want to get one that is fairly thick.

This is because once the kayak is strapped down tight, you won’t want the pool noodle to compress so much that the kayak is still scraping against the roof of the car.

The next thing you’ll need is the cam or ratchet straps for securing the kayak. Once you have these items, cut the pool noodles to the proper width of the car. You don’t want any overhead off the sides of the car.

In the next part, you can do one of two ways. It’s possible to set the pool noodles on the roof of the car and set the kayak on top. After strapping down the kayak, the pressure will hold the pool noodles in place.

The other, and better way is to run the straps through the holes of the pool noodles and through the open doors of the car. You’re going to want straps that are long enough to reach through the car.

Next, mount the kayak itself on top of the pool noodles and strap the kayak through the car in the same way. It’s best to space the pool noodles apart evenly at the front and the back of the kayak. For extra securing, strap the very stern and bow of the kayak to the front and back of your car.

3. Kayak Trailer

If money is the limiting factor keeping you from investing in a roof rack for your kayak, then a kayak trailer might not make sense either.

It’s possible though, that you simply don’t want a roof rack on your car, or the type of car you have is not right for a roof rack. Maybe you have a truck and can’t use the truck bed to transport the kayak.

There is an alternative that is beyond just transporting the kayak via the roof of a vehicle. The kayak trailer is that solution. Another bonus with the trailer is that you won’t have to contend with lifting the kayak overhead to get it mounted. Simply mount it on the trailer.

There are some pros and cons when it comes to a kayak trailer over finding some other means to transporting a kayak on your car. One pro to the kayak trailer is the added room for hauling other items along with the kayak.

The trailer is built to haul, so the amount of weight it can hold and carry is much more than what your car was designed to hold on its roof. Again, loading is much easier with the kayak loading at waist height instead of overhead.

Cons of the kayak trailer are of course the amount of money it takes to buy the trailer. A kayak trailer will run you much more than just buying an aftermarket roof rack. Your vehicle will need to have a hitch to haul the trailer too.

Also, it does take some time to get used to driving around with this trailer. Parking can become an issue. Plus, when you’re not using the trailer, you’ll have to find a place to store it.

4. Inside the Car

This option will not work with every car and every type of kayak, but this option does exist if you don’t have a roof rack and you really, really need to get the kayak somewhere. Will a kayak fit inside my car? Good question, check here to see what kind of kayak will fit in your car.

If you have a smaller SUV with a hatchback window that opens, you can let the kayak stick out the back. Putting a kayak in the car is not a great option, especially if you have other passengers, but if you’re in a pinch, it might just have to work.

How to Make it Work

The best way to do this if you have a smaller car is to fold down the back seat and push up the front passenger seat of the car, then put the kayak through the trunk. There are some shorter and smaller kayaks that will fit this way. Of course, a foldable kayak and inflatable kayak will fit inside any car.

5. PVC Pipes

PVC pipes can be used in certain circumstances when you have crossbars already, but still want to make your own custom rack solution for your kayak.

How to Make it Work

Laying the PVC pipe perpendicular across the crossbars and attaching them with U-bolts, you can use the PVC pipe to lay the kayak over as a make-shift kayak roof rack.

6. DIY Kayak Roof Rack

Most of the kayak roof racks alternatives on this list are some form of do-it-yourself but to varying degrees. Buying a couple of pool noodles and using them as a kayak roof rack is DIY, but not the full spirit of DIY. Below is an example of a full permanent DIY solution for a kayak roof tack that you can make for your own car.

How to Make it Work

For this option you’ll be using the straps and pool noodles, only this time we’ll be beefing it up a little with some aluminum square tube through the middle of the pool noodle. Here is how it’s done.

7. Inflatable Roof Rack

An inflatable roof rack is the same basic idea as the pool noodles, only the inflatable rack will provide more cushioning and surface area for the kayak to lay on. The inflatable rack will act as the crossbars for the kayak. Another plus is that when you’re not using them, they can be easily removed.

How to Make it Work

The inflatable roof racks are ready to install right out of the box. Simply lay them across the roof and using the included straps to go through the open doors of your car.

Once they are strapped down, you can use the included hand pump to air them up. The inflatable rack has d-rings for easy strapping of the kayak to the racks.

How to Transport 2 Kayaks Without a Roof Rack

Transporting two kayaks without a roof rack is done using several of the same methods as we already discussed.

The difference is you’re adding another kayak to the mix. How you place the kayak on the car might change as you’ll either need to stack the kayaks one on top of the other or stack them side-by-side.

Here are the best ways to transport two kayaks without a roof rack.

  • Pool Noodle Kayak Rack: If using the pool noodles, you can set them up the same way we described for the single kayak method. For two kayaks you can either lay them side-by-side if you have a wider roof, or stack a kayak on top of the other using two more pool noodles, cut to size and two more straps to hold it down.
  • Foam Blocks: For wider vehicles, simply buy another set of the foam blocks and use them side-by-side. If the foam blocks are more of a V-shape the kayak can be loaded on its side for more space on top of the roof.
  • Kayak Trailer: The option always exists to forego the roof rack altogether with a kayak trailer. The trailer gives the option to load two kayaks easily, or even more depending on the trailer.
  • Inflatable Roof Rack: If you have a wider roof that has the space to spare, you can definitely fit two kayaks across the top. The inflatable roof rack will stretch all the way across the roof.

Final Thoughts

Whatever you do, you’re going to have to have a way to transport your kayak to your destination, but remember, you don’t always have to go the conventional route here.

Using these 7 alternatives, you now know how to transport a kayak without a roof rack. Whether it’s DIY style or a removable option that can be used only when you want to transport the kayak.

Other times you might need a solution in a hurry for transporting the kayak. There is always a solution, so be sure to use what works best for you and your situation.

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