Saturday, December 22, 2012

Review of Riverside Car Top Universal Kayak Carrier

If you want an inexpensive and easy way to transport a kayak, check out Riverside’s Universal Car Top Carrier for Kayaks. It’s simple to set up and use, fairly inexpensive to purchase, and works as well as any other carrier if you’ve got a single kayak.

When I purchased my first kayak, I needed a carrier to both get the kayak home from the store and to take it out to the rivers to go paddling. I settled on the Riverside Universal Car Top Carrier mostly because it included everything I needed, was simple and was inexpensive (since I was already spending plenty of money on the boat). Within about five minutes of opening the bag and reviewing the instructions, I had the foam blocks on the car, the kayak up on the blocks and the straps tightened.

Carrier Basics 

The Universal Car Top Carrier is quite simple, with two foam blocks with tops shaped to hug a kayak’s bottom. These blocks can either fit over an existing roof rack on a vehicle or for those without racks, rest directly on the roof of the vehicle. Four tie-down straps are provided, which give you the ability to tie down the kayak by tightening these straps around the kayak. However, it’s important to note that while the instructions speak to using all four straps to tie down the kayak without placing one on either end of the boat, I would personally suggest using two of straps to hold the boat down and the two remaining to tie down each end of the boat (run the strap from the loop of rope on either end of the kayak to the bumper or to a hook below the bumper). I’ve found that the 2 straps are more than enough to hold the boat down and the straps at either end give the boat greater stability when it’s resting on top of your car and you are driving, especially at higher speeds.

The straps can either be tightened around the kayak and the existing roof rack, or if you don’t have a roof rack, you can run the strap around the kayak and through the car – opening the front and back doors and running the strap around so the kayak is tight against the car. Then just shut the doors and you’ll be good to go.

Set up is very simple and should only take a few minutes of centering the blocks, lifting the kayak to the roof and then tightening the straps down. When you get to your destination, the straps are quickly and easily released, the boat lifted down and then the foam blocks and straps stored away in your car.

I personally wouldn’t leave the blocks or the straps on the top of your car, they aren’t attached to anything and the foam blocks could easily blow away in the wind and the straps would make an easy target for anyone looking to add to their collection. Same with driving – if you don’t have a boat tied down, there’s no way that the blocks will stay on the car, even if you have them fitted down on top of an existing car rack.

Life Expectancy 

The high density foam that the blocks are made out of should last for quite a while. I have had my rack for two years and I haven’t noticed any compression or disintegration of the foam. The straps are made of a synthetic fabric and there hasn’t been any wear on them either with fairly regular use.

I would expect several years of use out of this set, which is more than enough for you to graduate to a more structured kayak rack, such as those offered from Thule or Yakima.


This was my first kayak carrier and I used it on the RAV4 that I have, which is fitted with a simple Thule rack (the starter rack that attaches to the factory rack). I fitted the foam blocks on that rack and used the straps to tie the kayak down – two over the kayak and after I saw how that held the boat down, I used the remaining two on each end of the boat. My only real complaint with the tie-down system is that I wish that they had offered a rope tie-down option for the front and back, since I don’t feel comfortable not having either end of the boat tied down and when you use the strap, especially in the front, it can be a bit distracting when you are driving. Plus is seems like overkill when all you need to do is stabilize the kayak in the front and back and not really winch it down.

I’ve also used the carrier on the Honda Civic that we have. That car doesn’t have any racks, so I had to do the straps through the car move and there wasn’t any problem with it. The kayak was held comfortably against the roof on the blocks and once the straps were tightened, I didn’t have any problem driving with it.

I did eventually graduate to dedicated Thule kayak carrier for the RAV4, but I still use this carrier on the Honda and on other cars when we are setting up return vehicle for one-way paddling trips. It continues to work as it should and it easily is transferred from car to car. For the roughly $50 I paid for it, I consider it money well spent.

Final Thoughts 

If you are looking for your first kayak carrier or need a secondary carrier for when you set up car shuttles, you should check out Riverside’s Universal Car Top Carrier for Kayaks. It’s fairly inexpensive, easy to use, long-lasting and easily transfers from vehicle to vehicle.

It might not be the last kayak carrier you get, but it definitely makes a good first carrier.

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