Short on time? Our pick for the best kayak rack is the Lund Hitch Mounted Truck Bed Extender.
Read through our guide to finding the best kayak racks for trucks.
I find kayaking fun but transporting kayaks gives me a mild anxiety attack.
Driving at highway speeds with a kayak can be a nerve-wracking experience if you don’t have a secure and safe hauling system.
Nothing *terrible* happened the last time I drove with a kayak on our truck, but it wasn’t fun either, and we weren’t looking forward to trying it again.
That’s why I’ve decided to research the best kayak racks for trucks so that *your* next kayak moving experience is better than mine was–and wow, did I learn a lot!
Whether you’re simply transporting your kayak in your truck’s bed or looking for roof-mounted racks, I’ve rounded up the best kayak racks for trucks of all models.
Whether you have a truck topper, a Tonneau cover, or a utility track system, I have the best kayak racks for you.
Plus, if you’re confused by all the different rack systems available (and wow, are there a lot!) I’ve created a jargon buster at the end.
For more easily transportable kayaks, check out our list of the best inflatable kayaks.
Note: this post contains affiliate links, which help run this site at no extra cost to you so I can keep providing free travel advice and tips.
Here’s a Quick Look at Our Recommendations
- Thule Xsporter Pro
- Lund 601021 Hitch Mounted Truck Bed Extender
- AA Racks Model X39 Short Truck Ladder Rack
- Apex Aluminum Universal Truck Rack
- Yakima Outpost HD Mid-Height Heavy Duty Truck Bed Rack
- TMS Adjustable Utility Rack
- Thule 997 Goal Post
- Yakima BigCatch Kayak Saddles for Racks and Trailers
- AMP Research 74802-00A / AMP Research 748111-01A
- Rhino Rack Midsize Truck Rack
- AA Racks Model APX25-E
Table of Contents
#1 Thule Xsporter Pro
Our Rating: 4.5/5
Weight: 57 lbs
weight limit: 450 lbs
The Thule Xsporter Pro is a no-drill kayak rack for a truck. This sturdy, aluminum-construction bed rail rack comes with adjustable height bars, giving this bed rail maximum carrying versatility and allowing it to fit almost any pickup truck.
An additional benefit of the adjustable height is that it gives you the option for extra storage space.
The installation of this adjustable kayak rack is straightforward. No drilling holes here! Thule uses a OneKey locking mechanism on each leg so you can easily attach the frame.
One of the cons with this Thule kayak rack is that it’s hard to use other accessories–even Thule brand ones. You have to remove the end caps to add mounting brackets, and even then, not all Thule accessories fit.
- No drill installation
- Wind Diffuser Technology
- Adjustable kayak rack
- It fits most truck beds
- Difficult to use Thule accessories
#2 Lund 601021 Hitch Mounted Bed Extender
Our Rating: 4.9/5
Width: 30’’ to 50’’
Weight: 46.2 lbs
Weight limit: 750 lbs
The Lund 601021 Hitch Mounted Truck Bed Extender is a removable kayak rack for a truck hitch. This truck bed hitch extender fits a standard 2-inch receiver hitch and gives you about four feet of the extra room beyond the trailer hitch.
This hitch rack is made of heavy-duty steel and has an extremely high weight limit of 750 lbs.
There is a lot to like about bed extenders in terms of their ease of use, and the Lund Bed Extender is no different.
Installation is straightforward and non-technical, plus it folds up and can be stored anyway when not in use.
You can use this truck bed extender so the “goal posts” are vertical and can support a roof-mounted kayak, but you need an additional adapter.
I particularly appreciate this kayak truck rack because it includes the (legally required in most states) safety flag and comes with red reflective tape.
Finally, the arms of the goal posts are adjustable, too, which allows you to transport kayaks of multiple sizes.
- Very high weight capacity
- Includes flag and reflective tape
- It fits a standard 2-inch receiver hitch
- Easy assembly hitch rack
- It needs an adapter to use the rack system in the vertical position.
#3 AA-Racks X39 Short Truck Ladder Rack
Our Rating: 4.7/5
Length: 53.5’’ to 90’’
Width: 51’’ to 71’’
Weight: 105.8 lbs
Weight limit: 1000 lbs
The AA Racks Model X39 Short Truck Ladder Rack is one of the best kayak racks if you have a shorter truck bed with no other accessories in the back. This truck bed rack is easy to install even though it requires drilling.
This bed rail ladder rack for trucks has cross bars around the entire vehicle bed, all flush with the height of the cab.
One feature I particularly like about the AA Racks Model X39 is that it has an optional over-cab extension, which is nice when transporting kayaks because it gives you additional anchor spots for the front of the yak.
Overall the design of this truck rack is highly adjustable, so it fits most pickup trucks. That said, there are exceptions.
This rack won’t work if you have a Tonneau cover (folding bed cover), a camper shell, a permanent toolbox, or a Chevy Avalanche or Honda Ridgeline.
Other than that, it’s a reasonably priced, sturdy kayak mount for trucks that allows you to haul multiple kayaks.
- Optional over cab extension
- Very high weight limit
- Highly adjustable truck bed kayak rack
- Reasonable cost
- Drilling required
- It does not fit if you have a toolbox, utility track system, camper shell, Tonneau cover, or the Honda Ridgeline or Chevy Avalanche.
#4 Apex Aluminum Universal Truck Rack
Our Rating: 4.8/5
Weight: 87.7 lbs
Weight limit: 800 lbs
The Apex Aluminum Universal Truck Rack might be the best kayak carrier for trucks because of its nearly-universal truck compatibility and ease of installation. You don’t have to drill holes with this bed rail rack. Instead, just use the C-clamps to attach the bed rail to almost any truck bed.
Note that the “C’s” clamp onto the inner side of the bed, so this truck rack won’t work if you have a Tonneau cover.
The Apex Universal Truck Rack has anodized aluminum construction which means it’s about as lightweight as possible. The anodized finish also helps prevent corrosion.
Finally, this truck rack has an 800-pound weight capacity, suitable for carrying two kayaks (or more!).
One con about this rack is that sometimes it doesn’t come with all the necessary pieces (we’re talking missing bolts, etc.).
- It fits any mid-size, compact, or full-size pickup truck
- Easy C-clamp installation
- An anodized finish prevents corrosion
- The kit may be missing parts
#5 Yakima Outpost HD Mid-Height Heavy Duty Truck Bed Rack
Our Rating: 4.6/5
Weight: 38.5 lbs
weight limit: 300 lbs off-road, 500 lbs on-road
Tonneau covers seem like they’re getting more popular, but carrying kayaks with a Tonneau cover can be tricky or downright damaging to the surface if you don’t choose the right truck rack.
Many truck bed racks are incompatible with tracked beds or Tonneau covers, but the Yakima Outpost HD Mid-Height Heavy Duty Truck Bed Rack is compatible.
The thing I like about this Yakima truck rack is that it’s made of powder-finished aluminum construction, making it lightweight and corrosion-resistant. It’s compatible with all the Yakima mounting systems, which means it can accommodate kayaks, paddleboards, canoes, and bikes.
It also has a relatively high on-road weight capacity (500 lbs).
Some of the dings I see on this truck rack are that it doesn’t fit Toyota or Nissan truck beds, which, let’s be honest, are two top-rated car brands.
It also has a lower off-road weight capacity (probably because that lovely lightweight aluminum can’t stand up to the bumping of off-roading), and it’s a mid-height rack, meaning it isn’t flush with the cab.
While this last factor isn’t a deal breaker, I prefer truck racks that are flush with the height of the cab so you can lay the kayak over the cab.
Despite these drawbacks, this is still an awesome kayak rack for a truck with a Tonneau cover.
- It fits most trucks with Tonneau covers and tracked bed
- Works with all Yakima mounts
- Powder coated finish prevents corrosion
- Lightweight, aluminum construction
- Bed Track Kit 1 Accessory needed for Toyota and Nissan bed covers
- Lower off-road weight capacity
- Mid-height bars may not be ideal in all situations.
#6 TMS Adjustable Utility Rack
Our Rating: 4.8/5
Weight: 50.4 lbs
Weight limit:800 lbs
The TMS Adjustable Utility Rack is an excellent option for hauling multiple heavy kayaks. This double kayak rack for a truck has an adjustable steel frame. With a capacity of 800 pounds, it’s specifically for large and long items.
The rack width is adjustable between five and seven feet, and the height is 30 inches. The thing I like most about the TMS Utility Rack is that you can attach it by drilling it in or using C-clamps.
One of the downsides of this truck bed rack is that it doesn’t have a powder coating, which makes the surface susceptible to scratches and rust.
That said, this is a hard product to beat for the price.
- Optional drill mounted or C-clamp mounted
- High weight capacity
- Economically priced
- No powder coating makes it susceptible to scratches.
#7 Thule 997 Goal Post
Our Rating: 4.6/5
Weight: 27 lbs
Weight limit: 165 lbs
The Thule 997 Goal Post is a no-fuss, affordable truck bed hitch extender. The Goal Post sits upright like, well–goal posts, and it fits standard 2-inch receivers. This truck bed extender is adjustable between 46-67 inches, so it should fit standard truck beds and full-sized pickup trucks.
The Goal Post comes with adjustable stopper bumpers to keep your kayak stable and an “anti-wobble” design to keep the hitch tight in the receiver.
The Thule 997 Goal Post is a perfect kayak rack for a truck with a bed cover because it won’t touch the bed. This feature is also nice because it leaves the entire bed as storage space.
- Adjustable height to fit different size trucks
- “Anti-wobble” design keeps it tight in the trailer hitch
- Fits 2-inch receivers
- Anti-corrosion finish
- Carriage bolts prone to snapping
- Low weight capacity
#8 Yakima BigCatch Kayak Rack
Our Rating: 4.9/5
Weight: 8.5 lbs
Weight limit: 150 lbs
If you’ve got a bigger, heavier, or composite kayak prone to warping during transport, check out the Yakima BigCatch Kayak Saddles for Racks and Trailers. It’s the perfect kayak rack for big boats on vehicles with a truck rack already installed.
The standout features of these saddles are the padding. The cradle shape is large and can accommodate kayaks of all sizes, with soft rubber padding.
These saddles can only handle one boat at a time, but with a weight capacity of 150 pounds, they can take even the biggest motorized fishing kayak or wide canoe.
This kayak rack fits almost any crossbar except T-slot crossbars, for which you’ll need an accessory kit (see below).
- Padded cradles are great for any size kayak
- Comes with straps
- It fits almost any crossbar shape
#9 AMP Research BedXTender
Our Rating: 4.7/5
Weight: 14.2 lbs
Weight limit: N/A
The AMP Research BedXTender is the best truck bed extender if you already have a trailer hitched up to the truck.
You should check out two products from AMP–both have the same design but fit different trucks. The options are the AMP Research 74802-00A and the AMP Research 748111-01A. Both of these bed extenders are made of metal grates and sit on the tailgate.
Either truck bed extender will give you two feet of additional bed space with the tailgate down. Both are easy to put together and install and will fit with a Tonneau cover.
Both are made from aluminum alloy tubes with a powder coat finish and have a 3-year limited warranty.
This rack is ideal if you have a shorter kayak or a long bed. Either way, you’re giving yourself more space.
One minor con about this bed extender is that the instructions are unclear.
- Between the two, will fit most pickup trucks
- Easy setup and installation
- Adds two feet of bed space
- Unclear instructions
#10 Rhino-Rack Midsize Truck Complete Track
Our Rating: 4.7/5
Weight: 17 lbs
Weight limit: 220 lbs
The Rhino Rack Midsize Truck Rack is the best roof rack for a truck topper. This highly adjustable, aerodynamic rack system comes with high-quality parts and a lifetime warranty.
The Rhino Rack crossbars come with literally hundreds of accessories to help you tie down any piece of outdoor gear, not just kayaks.
Another nice feature is that the crossbars are moveable along the roof track.
One of the downsides to the Rhino Rack is that sometimes it comes with missing parts or the wrong instructions.
- Designed explicitly for truck toppers/caps or tonneau covers
- Aerodynamic cross bar shape
- It comes with a lifetime warranty
- May have missing parts or incorrect instructions
#11 AA-Racks Model APX25-E Short Bed Truck Ladder Rack
Our Rating: 4.8/5
Weight: 69 lbs
Weight limit: 800 lbs
Since most truck designs prioritize cargo space, it’s a bit rare to find roof racks for trucks. The best roof rack for trucks is the same as roof racks for any other vehicle.
That said, the AA Racks Model APX25-E is the best kayak roof rack for a truck, in my opinion.
This no-drill AA Racks Model uses eight clamps in the truck’s bed and provides both bed racks and a roof rack in one package. AA Racks Model APX25-E uses reinforced aluminum with a powder finish, so it’s very durable.
One thing to note about this AA Racks truck rack is that you must install the rack perfectly and load the rack evenly to get the max weight capacity of 800 pounds.
The manufacturer is clear about this; the product can snap if something isn’t aligned correctly.
- Universally compatible with full-size pickup trucks
- No drill installation
- Made of durable, reinforced aluminum
- High weight limit
- Not compatible with utility track systems
- you must install it perfectly to achieve an 800 lb weight capacity.
Buying Guide: How to Choose the Best Kayak Rack for Trucks
What to Look for in a Truck Kayak Rack
The two most common materials for truck kayak racks are aluminum and steel.
Aluminum is lighter but durable and tends to be more expensive than steel.
A heavy-duty steel rack is highly durable and cost-effective but will be heavier.
Consider how much weight your truck kayak rack will need, especially if you’re transporting multiple kayaks.
Number of Kayaks It Can Hold
Kayak racks can typically hold anywhere from one to four kayaks, and the rack style will determine how many kayaks you can haul.
The Shape of the Crossbar
You may need to start from scratch if your truck has no roof rack.
Perfectly cylindrical crossbars are sometimes the most economical option when building the best truck kayak rack for a pickup truck.
However, they come with one downside: they aren’t aerodynamic and will create wind noise as you drive.
Crossbars with a thin profile may be more expensive, but they will also reduce wind noise. They will also help a bit with gas mileage, although, to be fair, this might be negligible, considering you still have a big kayak on your roof.
Drill Vs. No-Drill Construction
Some kayak holders for trucks require you to drill into the bed. For obvious reasons, this is unattractive to many people. Look for no-drill options if you don’t want to damage your truck bed.
Straps with Rubber Buckles
Tie-down straps are perhaps the most crucial piece of your kayak rack.
Whether you use ratchet straps or cam buckles is a personal choice, and both are heavy-duty straps needed for many kayak rack types.
Regardless of what you choose, consider purchasing straps with rubber buckles. You don’t risk dinging the window when you flip the strap’s end over the kayak/vehicle.
Many states require you to put an orange safety flag on anything sticking more than two feet beyond the end of your truck bed. The Frienda 2 Piece Safety Flag’s design keeps kayaks explicitly in mind.
Types of Truck Kayak Racks
Many accessories can fit on a roof rack, and it’s helpful to know the distinctions.
- Crossbars: You can attach your kayak directly to the crossbars on your truck. Using this method, you’d typically only want to transport one kayak at a time.
- J Racks: These kayak racks are shaped like a tilted-back J and provide a “cradle” for your kayak to sit in. You can use one J rack or two J racks back to back to carry up to two kayaks.
- Saddles: Saddle-style kayak racks use small, curved attachments on your crossbars to create a seat for the kayak. These are very important if you have a composite kayak as the saddles help prevent the kayak from deforming by the pressure of the tie-down straps.
- Rollers: Rollers are an excellent adjunct to use with saddles because they help you load the kayak onto your vehicle. Check out this demo of how rollers work.
- Yakima HullyRollers Kayak Carrier Demo by Rack Attack
- Stackers: Imagine attaching two two-foot pillars down the middle of your roof rack. That’s essentially what the stacker style of kayak rack looks like, and it provides a place to strap up to four kayaks (two on each side) when stacked on their side.
If you imagine putting the standard roof rack setup over a truck bed, you’ve got a good picture of truck rails.
Truck bed rails can sit right over the bed or be tall enough to flush with the cab’s roof.
Unless you plan to strap the kayak directly to the bed rails (an option), you’ll need one of the roof-mounted kayak racks like a J rack or saddles.
Hitch-mounted kayak racks are also called bed extenders. A truck bed extender looks like a mini football goalpost that attaches to the truck hitch. You lay the tailgate down and place the end of the kayak in the goalposts.
Truck bed extenders are best for those who don’t want to mess around with after-market crossbar attachments.
They’re also great because you don’t have to lift your kayak above your head, and most hitch racks fit a two-inch receiver hitch.
Lumber-style racks look like a giant wooden bed frame in the back of the truck, flush with the cab’s roof.
This homemade kayak rack is a great DIY option (if your carpentry skills are adequate) and a good choice for those who paddle frequently.
I’ve also seen this style of kayak rack described as a “ladder rack” (because you could also transport a ladder or long pieces of lumber). This style is usually metal and is essentially bed rails on steroids. Again, perfect for serious paddlers.
The downside of lumber-style truck racks is that they’re a reasonably permanent installation on your vehicle, so if you end up needing the whole truck bed, you may be SOL.
FAQs About Kayak Racks for Trucks
Can you put a kayak rack on a truck?
Multiple kayak truck racks include bed extenders, bed rails, and lumber-style kayak racks.
Putting a kayak rack on a truck isn’t that different from setting a rack on any other car type, and the most important thing to do is follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
What is the best way to haul a kayak in a truck?
You have several safe options when it comes to hauling a kayak in a truck.
The number one way to carry a kayak in a car, regardless of the type of kayak rack you have, is to secure the kayak to each crossbar and have a strap at the bow and stern of the boat.
Don’t lay your kayak in the bed of a truck at a 45-degree angle with the kayak overhanging the truck’s cab. This recipe for disaster could seriously hurt someone on the highway because the kayak will become a giant wind sail.
You can safety tie a kayak down at a 45-degree angle if it’s overhanging the back of the truck.
For shorter kayaks (<10 ft):
Lay the kayak diagonally in the truck’s bed with the tailgate up and use the built-in tie-down points in the truck bed and the handles or loop attachments on the kayak.
For longer kayaks (>10 ft):
Use a bed extender, bed rails, or a lumber-style rack to mount the kayak on top. Use your tie-down straps to attach the kayak to the crossbars.
For longer boats, attach it to the truck and rails in at least two places, and don’t forget the safety flag at the end.
This video has some fantastic practical tips on loading kayaks. I highly recommend watching it.
How do you store a kayak in a truck?
If you need to leave your kayak in your truck for an extended period, store the kayak upside down, so the cockpit doesn’t collect rainwater or debris.
How do you mount a kayak on a truck roof?
- Lay the kayak on the roof rack.
- Use the built-in hard points on the kayak and the roof rack’s crossbars to firmly tie the kayak down. Use at least two ratchet straps or cam straps in two places along the rack.
- Use your hand to try and wiggle the kayak and make sure the kayak isn’t too loose.
How fast can you drive with a kayak on the roof?
With a properly secured kayak, you should be able to drive the speed limit.
Yakima, a company that makes kayak racks, recommends you not go over 80 mph with a kayak on your roof.
How far can a kayak stick out of a truck?
Ideally, you want 75-80% of the length of your kayak to have contact with your truck bed.
If your kayak sticks out more than this, you’ll need to use a bed extender or other truck-mounted kayak rack to transport the kayak safely.
If your kayak sticks out more than two feet from the end of the truck, you’ll need to use an orange safety flag on the end of the kayak because it’s a legal requirement in many states.
Should a kayak be transported upside down?
Rotomolded kayaks (think kayaks made of a single piece of plastic polymer) can be transported on their side or upside down.
You should transport composite kayaks with the cockpit facing up since they are more prone to deformation due to the cam straps.
Additionally, if bad weather is threatening, transport any kayak upside down for the storm’s duration so that the cockpit doesn’t fill with water.
How do I build a kayak rack for my truck?
There are lots of good kayak rack designs for trucks. If you’re choosing to build a kayak rack for your vehicle, the most important thing to do is follow the instructions for a safe design for your truck models.
Conclusion: Our Pick for the Best Kayak Rack for a Truck
Finding the right kayak rack for your truck means the difference between a busy summer on the water and not.
After reviewing about a million kayak racks for trucks, I’ve determined that the Lund Hitch Mounted Truck Bed Extender is my top choice.
There’s a lot to love about this bed extender, including its 750 lb weight limit, affordable price, easy installation, and small storage when not in use.
Plus, it fits standard 2’’ receivers and comes with orange safety flags and red reflective tape.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Meredith is a biologist and writer based in California’s Sierra Nevada. She has lived in 6 states as a biologist, so her intel on hiking and camping is chef’s kiss next level. One of her earliest camping memories was being too scared to find a bathroom at night on a family camping trip. Thankfully, she’s come a long way since then and she can help you get there too!
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