In a hurry? We think the Thule Hullavator Pro has to be the best Toyota 4Runner kayak roof rack in the market today.
Thule Hullavator Pro
I think the 4Runner is a great-looking SUV. If you own a Toyota 4Runner and love kayaking, you may be experiencing the dilemma of finding the best kayak roof rack for your 4Runner.
I feel the 4Runner’s unique design can make it challenging to install a kayak roof rack that fits well. The roofline of the 4Runner is slightly curved and may have features on there already like rails or a sunroof you need to account for, as well as considering the weight capacity.
Don’t worry though, we’ve conducted extensive research, putting different products through comparison tests and evaluations to reach our list of the 7 best Toyota 4Runner kayak roof racks.
Let’s get into it!
The 7 Best Toyota 4Runner Kayak Roof Racks
1. Best Toyota 4Runner kayak roof rack overall – Thule Hullavator Pro
Thule Hullavator Pro Rating Score
The Thule Hullavator Pro is the ultimate kayak roof rack for Toyota 4Runner owners.
Shoulder injuries are one of the most common injuries in the sport of kayaking.
And there is a lot of load and pressure put on the shoulders before you’re even out on the water from loading your kayak up and down.
My kayaks aren’t as light as I’d like them to be, and I have an office job too – so I don’t have the strongest shoulder joints around!
There have been times when I’ve lifted or pulled a kayak in a funny angle only to feel a twinge in my shoulder… right before I’m about to hit the water.
If you’re like me, you want to spend a good few hours or more on the water, and need to conserve and protect any energy and strength you have for on the water.
That’s why I’ve chosen the Thule Hullavator Pro as the top kayak roof rack in this article, compared to other manual-loading kayak roof racks that still might come with some form of load-assist, like the Malone Downloader below.
This rack is designed to make loading and unloading your kayak as easy as possible, without putting tonnes of strain on your shoulder or back again and again.
With its lift-assist mechanism, you can easily lift your kayak onto the roof of your 4Runner without the risk of injury or pre-session fatigue.
The rack is fully adaptable meaning you can load multiple kayaks or boards and bring friends with you to the water!
The Hullavator Pro also features a locking mechanism that keeps your kayak securely fastened during transport.
Thule Huyllavator Pro is Great For:
- Those with very high vehicles – perfect for the Toyota 4Runner because it has quite a high roof.
- For shorter kayakers unable to reach the height of the rack, even on standard vehicles.
- Those not confident lifting the full weight (about 30-40 pounds) of a kayak over their head repeatedly.
- Those who want to protect their backs, shoulders and arms from injuries that might take them off the water and prevent them kayaking.
Thule Hullavator Pros
- Probably the most effective load-assist kayak rack out there
- Great thick rubber padding to protect the kayak on the rack
- Canvas padding to hold the kayak in place on the arms
- Super easy switch to activate the gas arm
- Great lifting power from the gas arm – you can feel the power in the mechanism when you’re holding it!
- 2 points of security key lock to protect your kayak if you have to store it on your car
Thule Hullavator Cons
- A bit bulkier than other kayak racks, especially non-load assist like the Yakima JayLow rack. This will increase the height of an already tall Toyota 4Runner.
- It’s at the top end of the price range – but you get a lot for your money in technology and security.
- You’ll need to make sure you have the right cross bars fitted first. The Thule Hullavator Pro requires a bit of overhang (about 4in) to operate effectively on the side of your car.
- If you have a large roof box and want to mount the Hullavator on top, you’ll still need to lift the kayak up to about shoulder height to load it. The Hullavator arms will only reach this far in this case – especially on a 4Runner.
Thule Hullavator Pro Summary
This is one of the most popular kayak rack options out there, despite the price tag. These racks last years with good care and attention. So buying this rack is really making a great investment.
If you use your kayak often then not only will the rack last last a long time, but it will also be taking care of you over the years, avoiding the strain that leads to so many injuries. And, of course, making the experience of taking your kayak for great sessions on the water a whole lot easier and enjoyable – meaning you’ll be more likely to do it more often! Ultimately, I think you’re investing in long term happiness with the Thule Hullavator Pro kayak roof rack for your Toyota 4 Runner.
2. Best budget Toyota 4Runner kayak roof rack with load assist – Yakima ShowDown
Yakima ShowDown Rating Score
As we’re so keen on the load-assisted kayak roof racks, here is another great pick from us, for your Toyota 4Runner.
Again, this rack helps you take the pressure off lifting a 40-pound kayak up and down 6-7 feet to get it up on the roof of your 4Runner each time you want to get out on the water.
This rack has a really nice sliding mechanism that is easy to operate and feels very smooth straight out the factory. Time will tell whether that smoothness persists.
The other top feature I believe is the ability to remove the rack quickly and easily when you’re not using it. You just loosed up the clamps and there you go – the rack folds and comes off for easy storage until next time.
I like being able to remove and store things neatly when not in use, and if you have a roof box you need to fit on instead, this feature makes changing systems easy.
Like the Thule Hullavator, the Yakima ShowDown can handle a variety of sizes and types of watercraft, ranging from surfboards to paddleboards and tandem kayaks. And you can carry multiple at a time.
This is a strong, durable and secure load-assist kayak rack, but there are some failings compared to the Thule Hullavator Pro.
Firstly, the arms themselves don’t seem to have as much lifting power as the Thule Hullavator – let’s look at the comparison.
- For the ShowDown it’s about 35-40% lift assistance (depending on the boat’s width on the Showdown).
- On a 50lb kayak that’s about 20 lbs of lift assist.
- You get 40 lbs of lift assistance – which is the whole weight of some kayaks!
I hope I’ve understood that correctly from each brand’s product information, but that is a big difference! And I know I’d prefer the Hullavator’s lift over the ShowDown’s.
Secondly, the ShowDown doesn’t extend as far down as the Thule Hullavator. So if you’re unable to lift your kayak above belly height on your own, you’ll struggle with getting it on the ShowDown. Imagine after a 2-4 hour paddling session too – how confident would you be?
Yakima ShowDown is Great For:
- Budget-conscious kayakers seeking a load-assist kayak.
- Taller Toyota 4Runner owners – this rack doesn’t drop as low so may be a struggle for shorter kayakers.
- Those who prefer compact and lightweight options.
- Single-boat kayakers with kayaks around the 40lb mark.
Yakima ShowDown Pros
- You don’t need as much overhang on your cross bars, only 3 inches compared to the 4 inches for the Hullavator Pro.
- Comes with two types of adjustable saddles for different types and widths of kayaks, which slide easily to adjust.
- It’s pretty light at 21 lbs – almost half as light as the Hullavator is!
Yakima ShowDown Cons
- Not as smooth at sliding and extending downwards as the Hullavator.
- The Yakima ShowDown doesn’t extend down as far as the Hullavator making it difficult for some to load. On a Toyota 4Runner, this will be even more difficult.
- The ShowDown’s lift assistance is only 35-40% of the boat’s weight – this seems a lot less than the Hullavator.
Yakima ShowDown Summary
As mentioned, this is our next top load-assisted kayak roof rack for the Toyota 4Runner. It’s a lot cheaper than the Hullavator, and is a more compact, lightweight option.
It still packs a punch in its weightlifting capacity, helping you to load kayaks onto high roofs like a 4Runner with much more ease than manual loaders. Just be conscious that it is not as capable as the Hullavator, nor has the downward range of the Hullavator either.
3. Best Upright Toyota 4Runner Kayak Roof Rack – Yakima JayLow
Yakima JayLow Rating Score
Ok, now onto a slightly different style of kayak roof rack.
Here, we’re looking at what is called a J-rack. Because they look like a ‘J’!
The product we’ve chosen here is the Yakima JayLow, one of the most popular and versatile J-racks on the market for a number of reasons.
First, it’s designed to securely transport one or two kayaks on the roof of your Toyota 4Runner SUV. This versatile roof rack can accommodate kayaks of various shapes and sizes, including narrow and wide kayaks up to 80 lbs in weight.
The Yakima JayLow is also super lightweight and compact in form and can fold down flat when not in use. Making it easy to store when you’re not using it, and also reducing the clearance height on a tall SUV like a 4Runner without having big tall bars sticking out the top.
In terms of ease of set up and adjustment, the rack is basically a ‘tool-free’ setup, meaning you can switch between carrying a single kayak in a vertical position, or two kayaks in a J-style configuration – which is great if you have buddies to take with you to the water for even more fun.
I mentioned ‘versatile’ at the beginning because the JayLow J-rack is pretty much universal (apologies if there are bars that don’t fit it!). The rack is compatible with most factory and aftermarket crossbars, making it super-likely you can mount these on whatever you have on top of your Toyota 4Runner’s roof. The included straps and tie-downs are also easy to use and help to secure your kayak firmly in place, reducing the risk of damage or movement during transport.
In terms of build quality, the Yakima JayLow is made from high-quality materials that are designed to withstand the elements and resist corrosion. People end up using them for years.
Yakima JayLow is Great For:
- Those who don’t need load-assist roof racks.
- Those who want SUPER-easy installation and adjustability.
- Prefer transporting their kayaks upright.
- Those with one or two kayaks to load.
Yakima JayLow Pros
- It has a locking system to secure the rack in place for added security
- Easy installation and adjustment of the rack system – hassle-free!
- Rubber slanted ramp on the side to help with loading
- Two-kayak storage – you can mount one kayak on either side of the J arm to strap two kayaks to your roof
Yakima JayLow Cons
- No load assist to aid with lifting heavy kayaks up high
- The loading side ramp is quite high too
- The vertical position of the kayaks increases the overall height of the vehicle.
Yakima JayLow Summary
Overall, the Yakima JayLow is an excellent choice for anyone looking for a versatile, reliable, and easy-to-use kayak roof rack for their Toyota 4Runner. Its ability to fold down flat and its easy tool-free adjustments make it an ideal choice for anyone who needs a rack that’s both functional and convenient to use.
4. Best Budget 4Runner Kayak Roof Rack – Rhino-Rack Nautic 570
Rhino-Rack Nautic 570 Rating Score
The Rhino-Rack Nautic 570 is a high-quality kayak roof rack that’s designed to securely transport your kayak on the roof of your Toyota 4Runner. I like that this roof rack is designed to fit most kayak shapes and sizes, including kayaks with large or irregularly shaped hulls.
Now, we’ve been talking about load-assist kayaks a lot in this article, and the reason the Nautic 570 made it on the list is that I noticed it has two handy spring-loaded support platforms that go at the back of the vehicle.
These help with loading the kayak up onto the rack – great for those who can still lift most of the weight of a kayak at one end. For some, this will still be possible on the Toyota 4Runner.
Then once you slide the kayak over these, the kayak hull makes connection with the two rubber pads which feel super grippy and hold onto the boat nice and tight. These can of course be adjusted to how you need them – my fishing kayaks are a little shorter, so I can make sure they are situated in the right place.
Installation of the Rhino-Rack Nautic 570 is also a breeze, thanks to its easy-to-use clamping system. The rack can be mounted on most factory or aftermarket crossbars with a simple bolt-on installation process, and the clamps can be adjusted to fit the width of your kayak.
In terms of build quality, the Rhino-Rack Nautic 570 is made from high-quality materials that are designed to withstand the elements and resist corrosion. The rack’s frame is made from tough, rust-resistant aluminum, and the rubber pads are made from a durable material that won’t wear out easily over time.
Rhino-Rack Nautic 570 is Great For:
- Paddlers that are confidently able to lift at least one end of the kayak up to the height of a Toyota 4Runner roof.
Rhino-Rack Nautic 570 Pros
- Great adjustability with the moving pads.
- Some load-assist functionality with the felt pads that spring up and down to help leverage the kayak up.
- They fit most roof rack cross bars
- Won’t break the bank.
Rhino-Rack Nautic 570 Cons
- You’ll need to be confident with tying down your boat because the Nautic 570 has no vertical supports like the JayLow or ShowDown does.
- After a while the felt padding wears a little
Rhino-Rack Nautic 570 Summary
Overall, the Rhino-Rack Nautic 570 is an excellent choice for anyone looking for a secure, easy-to-use kayak roof rack for their Toyota 4Runner. Its innovative design, adjustable rubber pad system, and easy installation process make it a top choice for kayaking enthusiasts who want a reliable and convenient way to transport their kayak to and from the water.
5. Best semi-assisted 4Runner Kayak Roof Rack – Malone Downloader
Malone Downloader Rating Score
The Malone Downloader is a fantastic kayak roof rack for Toyota 4Runners. It’s specifically designed to transport kayaks, canoes, and other small boats securely and safely on the roof of your vehicle.
I chose it for this list because the Malone Downloader is easy to install and use, making it an easy to use option for anyone who wants a reliable kayak roof rack that doesn’t involve a bunch of hassle.
Because hassle can definitely ruin or at least delay your session… trust me from experience!
Similar to the Yakima JayLow, you’ll notice the Malone Downloader apart from other kayak roof racks is its J-style design.
This design allows you to easily load and unload your kayak from the side of your Toyota 4Runner, which is especially convenient if you’re doing it alone. The J-style also ensures that your kayak is held securely in place during transport, reducing the risk of it shifting or falling off the roof.
Malone is a pretty well-known brand in this space – you’ll see it come up in recommendations for kayak racks a lot – at least I have when I’ve conducted research in the past. The brand is fairly ubiquitous and regarded pretty well.
Malone Downloader is Great For:
- Those needing a pad to lean on, and want to transport their kayaks stood up, using very stable reliable J-bars.
Malone Downloader Pros
- J-style design allows for easy loading and unloading of kayaks from the side of the vehicle
- Accommodates kayaks up to 36 inches wide and 75 pounds in weight
- Made from high-quality materials, including corrosion-resistant aluminum and heavy-duty nylon straps
- Compatible with most factory and aftermarket roof racks
- Easy to install and use, making it a great option for kayaking enthusiasts of all skill levels
Malone Downloader Cons
- May be slightly more expensive than some other kayak roof rack options
- J-style design may not be suitable for all kayaks or personal preferences (some people may prefer a different type of kayak rack design)
Malone Downloader Summary
Overall, the Malone Downloader is an excellent kayak roof rack for Toyota 4Runner owners. Its J-style design, ease of use, and compatibility with most roof racks make it a reliable and versatile choice for anyone who loves kayaking and wants to transport their boat safely and securely on their vehicle’s roof.
6. Best Saddle 4Runner Kayak Roof Rack – Thule DockGlide
Thule DockGlide Rating Score
I’ve chosen the Thule DockGlide as THE top saddle kayak rack for the Toyota 4Runner because the brand makes such good quality products in the rack space. You buy Thule, you buy quality. The Rhino Rack Nautica 570 are good, but if you want solidity, reliability and durability – the Thule Dock Glide will take good care of your kayaks and skis.
Thule has thought well about the lighter-weight end of the kayaking world and the adaptability of the saddles and the materials the brand has used to create them show they underastand premium kayalers and ocean ski users.
Plus the design has factored ease in too when loading and unloading. The saddles allow you to effortlessly slide your kayak onto the roof of your Toyota 4Runner, without having to lift or strain yourself.
One of the cool features of the Thule DockGlide is its flexible rubber saddles. Similar to the Rhino Rack Nautica 570, these saddles conform to the shape of your kayak, providing a secure and stable fit during transport. The saddles are also designed to pivot, which allows you to adjust their angle to suit the shape of your kayak and ensure the best possible fit – whether you have a thicker or thinner kayak.
The Thule DockGlide is also equipped with adjustable and padded felt-lined supports. These supports help to protect your kayak during transport and ensure that it stays in place, even during bumpy rides or high-speed driving. The supports are easy to adjust, allowing you to customize the fit to suit your specific kayak.
As with many of the other racks in this list, the Thule Dockglide is broadly compatible with Thule and factory bars. This makes it a versatile option for Toyota 4Runner owners who already have a roof rack installed, or who plan to install one in the future. The rack is easy to install and use, and it can accommodate kayaks up to 36 inches wide and 75 pounds in weight.
Thule Dockglide is Great For:
- Those with lighter weight kayaks or skis who can lift and push it onto the roof of a 4Runner – who also want to make sure they’re buying the best saddles in the market for their boat.
Thule DockGlide Pros
- Unique design with flexible rubber saddles allows for easy and secure loading and unloading of kayaks
- Adjustable and padded felt-lined supports provide superior protection for your kayak during transport
- Compatible with most factory and aftermarket roof racks, making it a versatile option for Toyota 4Runner owners
- Easy to install and use, with adjustable components that can be customized to fit your kayak
- Premium build quality and materials ensure long-lasting durability and performance
Thule DockGlide Cons
- Slightly more expensive than some other kayak roof rack options, making it less accessible for budget-conscious consumers
- May not be suitable for larger or heavier kayaks, as it has a weight limit of 75 pounds
Thule Dockglide Summary
Overall, the Thule DockGlide is an excellent kayak roof rack for Toyota 4Runner owners who want a premium option that’s easy to use and provides superior protection for their kayak. Its flexible rubber saddles, adjustable and padded felt-lined supports, and compatibility with most roof racks make it a top choice for kayaking enthusiasts who demand the best in quality and convenience.
7. Best floating lockable-strap 4Runner Kayak Roof Rack – Inno INA445
Inno INA445 Rating Score
I think the next pick is a really neat option. I’m not saying I’ve left the best until last but this is a pretty cool alternative to other kayak racks.
The main thing I like is that it comes with straps to tie down your boat built into the rack. For some, this might be revolutionary. It took me ages to master the rachet straps I use for tying my kayak down – the INNO INA445 removes this pain!
It’s super secure and like other models has a locking system to protect your gear – much like the Hullavator does but at a much lower price.
The cheaper INNA45 model we’re looking at here actually has a newer evolved model too, the INNA46 that comes with padding to cushion your boat or board against the rack and movement on the car. It’s a little more expensive, but if you don’t already have padding you could use, might be a great option.
The thing I always make sure to check on is the compatibility of the rack with cross bars and existing roof racks.
Similar to the other models on this list INNO KAYAK/CANOE LOCKER INA445 is compatible with most factory and aftermarket roof racks.
This makes it a versatile option for Toyota 4Runner owners who already have a roof rack installed, or who plan to install one in the future. The rack can accommodate kayaks up to 36 inches wide and 75 pounds in weight.
Inno INA445 is Great For:
- Kayakers without rachet straps to tie their kayak down, or people who can’t be bothered with the hassle of using your own straps.
Inno INA445 Pros
- Unique lockable design provides added security and peace of mind during transport
- Aerodynamic design reduces wind noise and drag for a quiet and smooth ride
- Compatible with most factory and aftermarket roof racks, making it a versatile option for Toyota 4Runner owners
- Adjustable components can be customized to fit your kayak
- Accommodates kayaks up to 36 inches wide and 75 pounds in weight, providing ample capacity for most kayaks
Inno INA445 Cons
- May be more expensive than some other kayak roof rack options, making it less accessible for budget-conscious consumers
- Locking mechanism can be a bit difficult to operate, requiring some practice to get used to
- May not be suitable for larger or heavier kayaks, as it has a weight limit of 75 pounds and may require additional support for larger kayaks.
Inno INA445 Summary
Overall, the INNO KAYAK/CANOE LOCKER INA445 is an excellent kayak roof rack for Toyota 4Runner owners who want added security and protection for their kayak during transport. Its aerodynamic design, compatibility with most roof racks, and lockable security features make it a top choice for kayaking enthusiasts who demand the best in quality and convenience.