Best Kayak Rack For Truck: Our Top 5 Picks, Guide & More

by Jason | Last Updated:   April 11th, 2022
Best Kayak Rack For Truck: Our Top 5 Picks, Guide & More


The best thing about owning your kayak is that you get to go to the river whenever you have spare time. The downside is, it’s tough to get your kayak and all the gear you need to the river.

Even if you have a big pickup truck, you can still find it a pretty tricky task. And this is why we want to talk about the best kayak rack for trucks.

The best kayak racks are great for providing more room for equipment and will allow you to attach your kayak to your truck securely.

In this article, we’re going to talk you through two styles of truck kayak racks:

  • Truck bed extender
  • Truck utility ladder rack

Which one you’ll want to go for will depend on what you’re looking for. An extender is an excellent option if you have a short bed truck. But, if you want to use the space in your truck bed, you might want to try a ladder rack.

But we’re going to speak about this further in later sections. So, without wasting any more time, let’s take a look at the five best kayak racks for trucks:

IN A HURRY? HERE ARE OUR TOP PICKS…

Reviewing The 5 Best Kayak Racks For Trucks

AA-Racks Model X31 800 Lbs Capacity

AA-Racks model X31 designed their kayak truck mount with powder-coated steel, which means it can stay strong in all weathers and not rust. They also weight tested the mount to 800 lbs, which is more than enough for a couple of kayaks.

They also wanted the kayak truck rack to be universal between different trucks. Not all trucks are the same width, which is why you can adjust the rack between 51” and 71”. 

The top section has two “T” sleeve bars and the middle crossbar. The double-barreled effect of the center bar ensures the bar doesn’t bend when put under extreme loads.

They include five drill holes on each mounting plate for the installation, so you can choose which ones fit your truck the best. They even included the eight bolts, nuts, and washers you need to take on the task.

Pros
  • The rack was straightforward to install and comes with everything you need to get the job done other than the drill.
  • I liked that you could adjust the rack to quickly transfer it to a new truck if you get one.
  • You can easily place two kayaks or more on top of the rack without going over the weight limit. 
Cons
  • The powder coating chips exceptionally easily, which means it can be prone to rusting if you don’t protect the paint.

MaxxHaul 70231 Hitch Mount Bed Extender

The truck bed extender is designed to help carry your kayak when you have a short truck bed. It’s made with powder-coated stainless steel and can extend your truck bed by 46” and provide a 15”-23” rise.

To make things better, you can also extend the width of the extender from 28” to 48”, which enables you to carry two kayaks without an issue.

At the rear of the extender, they added reflective strips, which help to warn other word users that you have an overhanging load at the back of your vehicle. This should help to give you peace of mind that your kayak will be safe while driving.

Of course, you don’t want to have to drive around with the extender constantly on your truck, which is why they added quick-release clevis pins. All you have to do is take the four pins out, and you’re good to go.

Pros
  • You can quickly detach the extender when you’re not using it by pulling the quick-release pins.
  • It feels extremely solid when in use, so you don’t have to worry about it bending under a lot of weight.
  • The more weight you place on it, the more stable it feels while you’re driving down the highway.
Cons
  • The paint on the extender can bubble quickly, which results in rust forming on the steel.

7BLACKSMITH Adjustable Steel Pick Up Bed Hitch Extender

If you’re looking for a bed extender that can easily transport two kayaks, this might be the best option for you. It can extend from 29.5” to 49”, which is more than enough space for two kayaks on the back.

Not only does the extender add extra height and width, but it also adds 4 feet in length, which should be enough for a large kayak.

At the rear of the extender, they have reflective strips which help to warn people of your presence. They also have a safety flag that you can attach to the back of the extender to warn people of your overhang.

If you need to take the extender off for any reason, you can do it relatively easily. All you have to do is pull the four clevis pins out and take things apart.

Pros
  • You can quickly assemble and disassemble the truck bed extender for storage, which is excellent if you don’t have to use it much.
  • It’s built with extremely strong materials, so you don’t have to worry about anything bending while you’re driving.
  • It’s highly adjustable, so you can easily transport one to two kayaks depending on what you need.
Cons
  • The pieces don’t fit together very snuggly, which does make it feel a bit more concerning when you’re putting it together.

TMS 800 Lbs Adjustable Utility Ladder

The kayak racks frame is made with heavy-duty steel, which has been powder-coated to help prevent rust from forming. On top of that, you can easily carry up to 800lbs and carry at least two kayaks.

One of the great things about the truck rack is you can extend the width from 60” to 84”, so you don’t have to worry too much about the width of your truck.

I also love the fact that it adds an extra 30 inches to the height of your truck bed. This allows you to transport more equipment without having to worry about space.

Finally, the truck bed rack is effortless to install, and it comes with everything you need to do the job. All you have to do is drill the holes and insert the screws and bolts provided in the pack.

Pros
  • It’s straightforward to install, so you don’t need much DIY experience to get it up and running.
  • Made with very sturdy material and can hold a lot of weight without warping or deforming under pressure.
  • Depending on the width of your truck, you’ll be able to carry three kayaks very comfortably.
Cons
  • The paint can be rubbed off very easily, so you need to protect the paint as much as possible.

MaxxHaul 50241 Adjustable Steel Utility Truck Ladder

The truck kayak rack was built with heavy-duty steel and features triangular gusset reinforcements to provide extra vertical support and stability. They also powder coated the steel to help prevent rust arrosion.

On the crossbars, you’ll find rectangular-shaped anchors to provide you with tie-down points. And on the vertical poles, they have rope tie points for the times you have to use a rope to secure your load.

Overall the kayak rack can only support 500 lbs in weight, which is still more than enough for two kayaks. This is due to the no-drill installation; the frame uses a J-bolt mounting system to hold it in place while it’s in use.

Finally, you can adjust the kayak rack to suit the needs of your truck; it starts at 51” and finishes at 71”, so you should be able to fit it onto any truck bed.

Pros
  • It’s effortless to install and adjust to your truck, thanks to the J-bolt system included in the rack.
  • Made with strong and robust materials, so you don’t have to worry about anything bending when putting underweight.
  • Wide enough to support two kayaks with ease.
Cons
  • The paint coating is inferior, which means rust appeared almost straight away.

Our Top Choice 

Every one of the truck kayak racks above does a great job. This means choosing one from the best kayak racks list above is more complicated than it seems. And to make it worse: 

It really depends on what style of pickup truck kayak rack you want to use.

For me, I’d probably go for the AA-Racks Model X31. It’s straightforward to install and can hold a lot of weight. You’d also be able to fit at least two kayaks on the rack, but it depends on the width of your truck.

The only downside I found was the paint chipping easily, which seemed to be the case with many of the items we’ve reviewed. If I was you, it wraps the crossbars with a pool noodle to help protect the paint from chipping.

The other problem you might find with this model is it’s a permanent solution, which means you need to drill holes into your truck bed to fit the rack.

If you’re looking for something less permanent, you should look at the MaxxHaul 50241. It uses J-Bolts to attach the rack to your truck, so you don’t need to drill holes into your vehicle. The problem is it only holds 500 lbs, but then again, that’s more than enough for two kayaks.

If you’re not sure if these versions work for you, make sure you check out my buying guide so you know exactly what to look for.

Things To Consider Before Buying The Best Kayak Rack For Truck

Okay, so you can’t make up your mind about what kayak rack for trucks will suit your best. And that’s okay; it’s best not to rush into these things anyway.

So, in this section, I will give you all the ins and outs you need to consider if you want to buy the best truck bed racks for kayaks.

Once you’ve finished this section, take another look at the truck bed rack list to see which one will suit your needs the best.

So, let’s get started:

Type Of Rack Types

One of the first things you need to think about is what type of pickup truck kayak rack you want for your truck. When it comes down to it, you have three main styles to choose from, and in this section, I’m going to break them down for you:

Bed Extender

If you’re looking for a none permanent option and something that minimizes the risk of securing your kayak, then this is the best option for you. Hitch-mounted kayak racks don’t require you to lift a heavy kayak above your head to get onto your truck.

Not only are you going to minimize risk, but it’s also straightforward to install, and you don’t have to drill into your truck. 

Most hitch-mounted kayak racks are designed to fit onto a standard two-inch receiver hitch, making it extremely easy to remove. Once removed, you can break them down into smaller sections to store behind the backseat while you’re not using them.

Bed Rail Rack

In my opinion, one of the best options is a bed rail rack. That being said, if you’re not looking for a permanent solution, it might not be the best option for you. 

This style of or rack mounts to the side of your kayak with a series of boots to help you secure it place tightly. It then provides a raised structure that towers above the truck’s bed, which gives you extra storage space.

One of the problems with this style is that you have to lift the kayak above your head to get it on the rack, which might be difficult for some people.

I’d recommend this kayak rack style for any who likes to go kayaking a lot. You have to remember; it’s a permanent solution to your truck, which not everyone is ready for, especially if you’re only going once a month.

You can learn more about installing a truck rack here.

Roof Rack

The final style I want to talk about is a roof rack for trucks. The good thing about roof racks is how easy they are to install and remove when you’re not using them. This makes it the perfect option for the casual kayaker that doesn’t want to make any permanent changes to their truck.

The problem with a roof rack is you need to have the fitting on your car already (if you have one, learn about the installation process here). If you haven’t got these fittings, you’re going to have to look for different styles of roof rack that might be able to fit your truck.

Kayak Rack Materials 

The next thing you need to think about is the material the kayak racks are made with. And when it comes down to it, there are two materials you’ll commonly find:

Steel

Steel kayak racks are the most commonly found on the market due to them being a cheap and robust material to produce. The great thing about steel is it’s usually rated to handle more weight than aluminum.

Aluminum

Aluminum kayak racks are the more expensive option of the two. But the good thing about it is that it’s exceptionally lightweight, making it easier to install/remove by yourself.

Saying that you’ll find many systems use a combination of steel and aluminum. Both materials have their strong point, which is why it makes sense to use both when needed. The one downside is it’s not as strong and usually can’t hold as much weight.  

Maximum Weight Capacity 

Another essential thing to consider when buying a kayak rack is how much weight it can hold. That being said, most of the kayak racks for trucks can far exceed a kayak’s weight.

As a rule of thumb, you should always weigh your kayak/kayaks before selecting your kayak rack; I mean, how else will you know if the kayak rack can handle the weight?

Knowing this answer will allow you to choose a kayak rack that can actually hold the weight of everything you need to carry.

As a rule, I always make sure the kayak rack can hold at least 100 lbs more than you require. It gives you an excellent safety barrier and avoids any chances of the rack breaking while you’re transporting the kayak.  

Kayak Rack Security 

If you’re worried about people stealing your kayak rack while you’re out on the water, you might want to think about the security of the kayak rack. You see, some kayak racks for trucks lockdown to your vehicle easier than others.

If you’re using a bed extender, you can buy a lock for the hitch receiver, which will prevent anyone from being able to take it off. That being said, it’s pretty easy to take the bed extender apart and put it away in your truck.

Bed rail kayak racks for trucks don’t usually get stolen because they are bolted to the truck bed. Most thieves are looking for a quick grab and won’t come with the tools to take it apart, so you should be good.

But…

If you’re using bed rail kayak racks that don’t require being drilled into, then you might want to look for a way to secure it to your truck while you’re on the river.

Do You Have A Trailer Hitch?

If you’re looking to use a bed extender to transport your kayak to the river, you’re going to need a trailer hitch. 

If you don’t have a trailer hitch on your truck, you can get one installed, but that does add to the price, and it’s not cheap. Think and see if it’s worth the money getting it installed before you commit to anything.

Aerodynamics

If you’ve never driven with something on top of your roof, you’ll notice the difference when you start reaching speeds. 

Having a lot of drag on the car can severely decrease the fuel efficiency of your truck, which is something you need to think about. If you plan on using the kayak rack a lot, the fuel efficiency of your vehicle could become a hassle.

If that’s the case, try to look for a kayak rack with improved airflow performance so you don’t feel the pain in your pocket every time you need to fill up the tank. 

What’s Your Budget?

As with anything you buy, you need to make sure you have a budget laid out beforehand. Kayak racks for trucks have many price points depending on the features, what it’s made of, how much weight it can carry, and many other factors.

Have an idea of how much you’re willing to spend and stick to it as much as you can. And remember, extenders tend to be cheaper, so if you haven’t got a big budget, that might be the best option for you.

How Do You Haul A Kayak On A Truck Rack?

If you want to learn how to transport a kayak on a truck kayak rack, you should check out my article “How to transport a kayak in a truck”; it details everything you need to know about the process.

But, just in case you haven’t got the time for that, let me give you a quick brief about how to transport your kayak on a truck rack:

Step #1: Prepare The Truck Rack

The first thing you need to do to haul your kayak on a truck rack is get everything prepared. I like to wrap the crossbars with padding to protect the kayak from damage. Things like…

  • Towels
  • Pool Noodles
  • Roll Matts

… All do a great job at protecting your kayak from bare metal. It also helps keep the powder coating on the steel, so it doesn’t rust.

I also like to get the strap in place before I lift the kayak onto the rack; it stops you messing about on the next steps. Just place the straps under the crossbars, ready for strapping the kayak down.

Step #2: Lifting The Kayak Into Place

Lifting a kayak onto your truck rack isn’t an easy job, especially if you’re by yourself if you can ask for some help to get your kayak onto the kayak rack.

Have one person on each end and lift the kayak onto the roof rack. Make sure the kayak is in a central position and runs parallel with the car.

Step #3: Stap The Kayak To The Rack

Okay, now you have your kayak in place; it’s time to strap it up and get it nice and secure. Take your first cam strap and position the buckle on the side of the kayak and one of the crossbars.

Toss the strap over the kayak and walk around to the other side. From here, you need to wrap the strap underneath the crossbar and then chuck it back over the kayak towards the buckle.

Walk back to the starting point, wrap the strap underneath the crossbar, feed it into the buckle, and cinch it down. Tighten the belt but not too much; you may need to adjust later.

Do the same for the second strap on the other crossbar.

Once both straps are in place, make sure the kayak looks like it’s in the correct position. You should have an equal amount of kayak sticking over the crossbars on both sides, and it should be parallel to the kayak.

If you’re happy with everything, tighten the straps fully. Make sure it’s not too tight though; you don’t want to warp the kayak.

Step #4: Double Check The Staps 

The last step before you get going is to double-check all the straps. Make sure everything looks secure, and the straps aren’t loosening. Go around and wobble the kayak to make sure nothing is slipping.

If the kayak looks a little too loose, just give the straps a quick tightening.

With the ends of the straps, you need to wrap them around the crossbar, so they’re not flapping in the wind. Trust me; nothing is more annoying on the drive than listening to straps blowing everywhere.

Pro Tip

Okay, your kayak is ready to go, but I have one final tip to give you. After about 15 minutes of driving, pull over and recheck the straps.

Nothing loosens the straps quicker than driving. With the wind pushing against the kayak, it can easily loosen the straps, so just have a quick check.

Give the straps a quick pull again and make sure everything is nice and tight. If everything is still tight, you’re good to keep moving. But, if they’re loose, you’ve just saved your kayak flying off on the highway.

Do you need to transport more than one kayak? Good, you can learn how to strap two kayaks to a roof rack here.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can You Carry A Kayak In The Back Of A Truck?

Yes, you can transport kayaks on truck beds and without any problems. The one thing you need to look out for is that there’s not too much overhang. At least 70% of the kayak should be on the standard truck beds. If it isn’t, you’ll need to get a truck bed extender.

Can You Use A Ladder Rack For A Kayak?

Using ladder racks is an excellent way of transporting your kayak. If you already have one, there’s no point in buying a rack for your kayak. Just make sure everything is tied down correctly, so it doesn’t go flying down the road.

Hey, my name's Jason, and before I was a writer, I worked as an outdoor activity instructor where I took groups kayaking and camping. Now I use my personal experiences to share tips and tricks I've learned over the years. For as long as I can remember, I've been passionate about the outdoors, and now I want to share that passion with my readers.