Few of us live within a short distance of a bike trail, river, or mountain, and large recreational outdoor equipment like bikes and kayaks can be difficult to fit in a trunk or back seat. The best roof racks all offer a convenient means of carrying and securing this equipment.

For this review we tested the best roof racks for skis, kayaks, and bicycles, looking at ease of use, capacity, and stability. Be aware, however, you’ll need a vehicle with roof side rails to install most roof racks, including those we recommend.

This article and our recommendations focus on roof racks for carrying equipment such as bikes, skis, and kayaks. If you are looking for something to add cargo space to your vehicle, check out our review of the best rooftop cargo carriers.

#1 Best Bike Rack: Yakima HighRoad Upright Bike Carrier

Yakima HighRoad Upright Bike Carrier

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For an upright bike carrier, the Yakima HighRoad is an excellent option. It is simple to install and use. While it only carries a single bicycle, it is possible to attach multiple HighRoads to a single roof. However, keep in mind your car’s load capacity, as carrying several bikes will add a lot of weight to your vehicle.

Key Features

  • Approximate cost: $270
  • Capacity: One bicycle
  • Weight: 19.0 pounds
  • Fits bikes with 26.0- to 29.0-inch wheels
  • Compatible with 2 SKS (same key system) lock (sold separately)
  • Lifetime warranty

Our Experience

The HighRoad is especially easy to install. The instructions are straightforward and the tools you need are included with the rack. The tightening mechanisms are easy to use and provide a secure fit. The Yakima bike rack is similarly easy to uninstall.

We especially like the mounting system for affixing a bicycle. It is simple, secure, and intuitive. Once installed, the bike is very stable. The tightening mechanism makes it easy to properly secure your cargo.

This rack can only fit one bicycle, but it would be possible to install several on the same roof if you need to transport multiple bicycles.

Overall Rating4 out of 5
Ease of Use4 out of 5
Capacity3.5 out of 5
Stability4.5 out of 5

What Customers Are Saying

Amazon reviewers give the Yakima HighRoad an average score of 4.7 out of 5 based on more than 310 ratings. A total of 92 percent of reviews give this roof rack 4 or more stars.

Most agree this rack is one of the best roof racks on the market, and several customers appreciate that it accommodates a wide tire. Many people have used this rack to transport their bikes long distances with no issues. The Yakima HighRoad is stable and reliable.

Some reviewers say that their HighRoad arrived with parts missing. Another issue some have with this rack is that it doesn’t accommodate bikes with tires smaller than 26.0 inches. Others are upset that the locking system is sold separately. Reviewers feel it should come included considering the high cost of this roof rack system.

#2 Best Kayak Rack: Leader Accessories Folding Kayak Rack

Leader Accessories Folding Kayak Rack

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Leader Accessories offers an easy-to-install system that uses a J-hook design. This kit comes with four pieces capable of carrying two kayaks. It is sold at various sizes so you can choose the right option for your kayak.

Key Features

  • Approximate cost: $140
  • Capacity: Two kayaks
  • Weight: 23.4 pounds
  • Foldable
  • Universal mount
  • Quick-release handle
  • Includes four-piece ratchet tie down straps

Our Experience

This folding kayak rack comes mostly assembled and no tools are required for rooftop installation. The instructions are straightforward and we were able to set this rack up in minutes.

To attach a kayak, you’ll need to use the included ratchet straps. These are simple to use, but require some strength and you’ll need to tuck away the excess lengths of the strap. These straps offer excellent security and ensure a tight fit for any size kayak.

Overall Rating4.3 out of 5
Ease of Use4.5 out of 5
Capacity4 out of 5
Stability4.5 out of 5

What Customers Are Saying

With more than 800 ratings, the Leader Accessories folding kayak rack has an average rating of 4.5 stars. A total of 87 percent of reviews rate this roof rack 4 or more stars.

Those who’ve used this rack for a long trip report that it worked well to keep their kayak(s) in place. Many praise the quality materials and ease of installation for this roof rack.

Many reviewers say that their rack came incorrectly assembled. There is a rubber metal protector intended to guard your hood from the metal mounting bracket. In some cases, the product ships with the protector on the wrong side of this bracket. It is easy enough to switch this yourself, but it’s still something customers should know. Another complaint is that water can get in the tubes when it rains, rusting the rack from the inside.

#3 Best Ski Rack: Yakima FreshTrack Ski & Snowboard Mount

Yakima FreshTrack Ski & Snowboard Mount

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This easy-to-install mount is an excellent means for transporting your skis or snowboards. It sits low on the roof and can accommodate up to four sets of skis (though your mileage on this may vary depending on the size of your equipment).

Unlike some of the other best roof racks we tested, the Yakima FreshTrack features an integrated SKS lock design to protect your cargo from thieves.

Key Features

  • Approximate cost: $240
  • Capacity: Four sets of skis or two snowboards
  • Weight: 7.0 pounds
  • Tool-free clamp design
  • Ski-lift attachment provides clearance for taller bindings
  • Integrated SKS lock
  • Lifetime warranty

Our Experience

This was the easiest roof rack to install among any we tested. No tools are required and it attaches easily. The mechanism to open the rack to load ski equipment is simple to use and you can lock this rack for added stability and security.

While this rack does cause some wind noise and drag, that’s inevitable for any roof rack.

Overall Rating4.7 out of 5
Ease of Use5 out of 5
Capacity4 out of 5
Stability5 out of 5

What Customers Are Saying

The Yakima FreshTrack mount has more than 120 ratings on Amazon and an average score of 4.6 stars. A total of 89 percent of reviews give this roof rack 4 or more stars.

Most say this rack is sturdy, secure, and easily installed. Even without reading the instructions, most are able to attach the FreshTrack in a matter of minutes.

A couple of people complain that the Yakima FreshTrack doesn’t fit two snowboards (and included pictures). Depending on the width of your board, this rack may not accommodate the advertised two boards. However, there was at least one reviewer who was able to carry two snowboards with no problem. Other complaints about this roof rack are that it is expensive and noisy on the road.

#4 Best Cargo Basket: Arksen Universal Roof Rack

Arksen Universal Roof Rack

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If you want a roof rack for items other than bikes, skis, or kayaks, consider the Arksen Universal roof rack. It is simple to mount and load, though you’ll need to purchase bungee straps or cords separately to tie down your cargo.

This is a good option for transporting camping equipment or dirty tools you wouldn’t want to put inside of your vehicle. This rack is also compatible with cargo boxes if you need a weatherproof storage option for your next road trip.

Key Features

  • Approximate cost: $150
  • Capacity: 150.0 pounds (area of 43.0 inches)
  • Weight: 37.0 pounds

Our Experience

The Arksen is not difficult to install and once attached can be left on the roof without adding too much drag to your vehicle, even at high speeds. It won’t provide any protection from the elements, but you can purchase an Arksen storage box (sold separately) if that’s a requirement.

Overall Rating3.8 out of 5
Ease of Use4 out of 5
Capacity4 out of 5
Stability3.5 out of 5

What Customers Are Saying

The Arksen universal roof rack has an average Amazon rating of 4.3 out of 5 stars. A total of 79 percent of reviewers give it 4 or more stars.

Most say this rack is easy to install. Reviewers appreciate the secure fit, which is aerodynamic and does not rattle or produce much noise on the roof. The lightweight frame is nonetheless durable. Many use this for gardening or camping equipment.

There are some complaints about the instructions, which can be difficult to follow. This carrier does not fit all vehicles, so make sure it is compatible with your cross bars. Some have mentioned that the Arksen is not entirely waterproof, and the frame can begin to brown and rust if left in the rain.

#5 Best For Wide-Tire Bikes: Thule UpRide Roof Bike Rack

Thule UpRide Roof Bike Rack

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The Thule UpRide is a bike rack suitable for carbon body bikes and wide tire bicycles. It’s a good option for mountain bikes and even fat bikes. An adapter (sold separately) is required to mount bikes with 5.0-inch tires.

Key Features

  • Approximate cost: $260
  • Capacity: One bike
  • Weight: 18.5 pounds
  • No frame contact
  • Fits 20.0- to 29.0-inch wheels
  • Can fit 5.0-inch tires with adapter (sold separately)
  • Lifetime warranty

Our Experience

The included instructions with the Thule UpRide are not very good. While we were eventually able to properly install this bike rack, it took us the most time of any of the best roof racks that we tested. It is certainly more of a hassle to install than the Yakima HighRoad.

Once installed, we felt like the Thule was a little more secure than the Yakima. We like the tightening system which is easy to use and firmly grips your bike. Overall, we found the Thule to be extremely stable.

Overall Rating4 out of 5
Ease of Use3.5 out of 5
Capacity3.5 out of 5
Stability5 out of 5

What Customers Are Saying

This roof rack has an Amazon’s Choice designation and an overall score of 4.4 stars based on over 240 ratings. A total of 86 percent of reviewers rate the Thule UpRide 4 or more stars.

Many reviewers report excellent results with this bike rack. It is durable and stable and works with carbon-framed bikes. Users like how quickly they are able to mount their bikes onto this rack.

Some complain about the installation instructions (which are admittedly poor). The most glaring criticism comes from some reviews who say that their bikes fell off the rack while in use. This is obviously a danger and a significant concern. The issue appears to occur with road bikes, which have thinner tires. We don’t recommend this roof rack for small tire bikes, it is more suitable for bikes with thicker tires.

Buyers Guide: Best Roof Racks

Roof racks are a necessary tool for those who want to transport their bikes, kayaks, skis, or any other outdoor equipment that won’t fit in a trunk. Roof racks can also be used for additional storage space if you pack heavy. When selecting the best roof rack for your needs, first consider what it is you want to transport.

Bike Racks

A full-sized bicycle won’t fit inside most vehicles, so bike racks are a common sight on the highway. You can carry bikes on your roof with a heavy-duty roof rack, or behind your vehicle with a bike hitch, and each has different advantages.

bike roof rack connects to the top of your vehicle. It won’t block access to your trunk and is ideal for transporting your bike short distances. Be careful if you park in a garage, as most don’t have enough clearance to accommodate a roof bike. If you park your car outside, you can leave a bike roof rack attached to your car when not in use.

bike hitch attaches to the back of your vehicle. You don’t need a roof rack to install a bike hitch and these tend to be more aerodynamic. Bike hitches are better for long-distance drives. However, hitches block access to your trunk and are not something you can conveniently leave attached to your car.

Some bike racks require that you remove your bicycle’s front wheel. This makes for a greater hassle installing and removing your bike, but is more stable and secure.

Kayak Racks

As with bike racks, there are multiple styles of kayak racks. Some designs feature a J shape, which cradles your kayak flat against the roof. These are secure and easy to use. Typically J racks are also less expensive than other types of kayak racks.

Other kayak carriers hold the kayak on its side. These are sometimes called stackers, as they allow you to stack multiple kayaks. This type of kayak carrier is less secure.

Ski Racks

As with bike racks, there are ski racks that can attach to the roof of your car or to the back of your vehicle.

  • Top-mounted ski racks: These fit onto your roof rack and clamp down over your ski or snowboard. These types of racks are versatile and fit all sizes of skis and snowboards. Some top-mounted racks use magnets and suction to hold your skis down, but this is a little less secure.
  • Rear-mounted ski racks: This model of rack attaches to the back of your vehicle and holds your ski equipment upright. You may need a car with a trailer hitch installed to use this type of rack, which is more accessible than when your skis are affixed to your roof.

Compatibility

The best roof racks for your vehicle depend on the type of car you drive. To use any roof rack, you will need a car that has cross bars. Otherwise, look for carriers that attach to the trunk.

In addition to considering roof rack options that are compatible with your vehicle, be sure to get one that is compatible with your equipment. If you regularly transport two bicycles, you’ll need to get a carrier that accommodates two bikes. Certain carriers are also only compatible with specifically-sized equipment, so make sure your gear fits properly.

Our Review Standards

The roof racks in this article went through two rounds of reviews. We started by searching Amazon for top products, looking at factors like Prime shipping eligibility, customer ratings, Amazon superlatives, and prices.

The products that best met these standards were ordered by our team for testing. A team member affixed each rack to a Subaru, taking note of the ease of use, carrying capacity, and stability. Each roof rack was given a rating out of 5 stars based on these criteria.

We reviewed several racks for different types of equipment, focusing on the most common cargo: bikes, skis, and kayaks.

Ease Of Use

Affixing any roof rack will require that you get above your car, either using a ladder, stool, or standing on your car’s wheel. Securing equipment into the rack also requires lifting said equipment over your vehicle. This can be extremely difficult for those who have trouble lifting 25.0 to 30.0 pounds overhead. Our ease of use score assumes this is possible for the reader. If not, any roof rack will be difficult to use and you should consider a hitch rack that attaches behind the trunk.

We gave the best scores to roof racks with simple instructions and a fast installation process. We also considered the difficulty of attaching and removing equipment from each rack.

Capacity

This score is based on the number of items a rack can carry. Roof racks able to carry multiple snowboards, kayaks, or bicycles scored better in this category.

Stability

Once attached to a roof rack, it’s important that your equipment stay attached. Roof racks that held cargo firmly in place with little shake scored best in this category.

Roof Rack Testing Process

To test roof racks, we installed each rack to the top of a Subaru. We then loaded each carrier and secured the cargo. We made note of the ease of setup and loading. We also checked cargo for stability once affixed to the vehicle.

Frequently Asked Questions: Best Roof Racks

*Data accurate at time of publication.