Best Soft & Inflatable Roof Racks for Surf Boards & Kayaks

    We have a kayak, a longboard, we struggle to fit our bodyboards in the car and we've attempted to bring garden fencing from the local garden centre too (which didn't work). What we really needed were soft or inflatable roof racks. We didn't want to buy and fit side rails for our car, they cost a few hundred and thats without the cross roof bars.

    Does this sound like you? Do you think you'll need to move some items around which won't fit inside your car, it's a good thing you're here to find out what would suit your needs and car.

    Unlike traditional metal roof bars, which have to fit a specific make or model of car, inflatable and soft roof racks are universal, adaptable, portable and much cheaper than the metal alternatives, we've tested and review 4 of the best car roof racks.

    Problems

    We have a rooftop aerial, luckily, it sits right at the back, so we can get away with putting long items on top of our car, it just sticks out over the front a little bit. If you have one sat at the front of your roof, you will definitely have a problem with fitting anything to your roof.

    If you are tall and have a smaller car (height wise), you may find the straps get in your way. I'm 6' 1" tall and my head just touches the straps in our small Panda, definitely something to consider whilst driving longer journeys and if you're taller than I am.

    3 Door Inflatable Roof Rack

    You have a small car? You have a 3 door car? You need a roof rack set up so you can still transport surfboards, kayaks and other awesome ocean going objects.

    You can purchase the Nothcore 3 door roof racks or the HandiRack, both will fit a 3 door car, with or without rear windows. What you'll need are either rear windows you can open, even if just a tiny bit to get the straps through or a boot that you can open and tie around the hinges of the boot.

    What Can You Carry With Soft & Inflatable Roof Racks?

    We feel you will be completely fine carrying anything within the weight limit as long as it has a flat bottom. As long as it doesn't have anything sticking out, you should be fine from getting your car roof dinted or scraped, so no scratches for you.  The only real problem that may happen is getting dirt underneath the roof racks and then them moving about may scratch your roof.

    If you are carrying larger items, such as kayaks, you will also need extra straps for the front and back. These will hold them in place at all points and stop it moving forwards and back when accelerating and braking. You can tie them to your towing mounts just underneath the front and rear bumper.

    DIY Fixed Roof Rack & Cross Bars

    After something a bit more substantial and don't mind doing it yourself? There are a few options for you, depending on what you want to carry. If you want some heavy loads going on your roof, more than a few surfboards in weight, then you can try out the DIY Instructable guide here http://www.instructables.com/id/DIY-Roof-Rack-Cross-Bars/?ALLSTEPS

    Or if you would be happy with similar set ups to temporary soft roof bars and only want to carry smaller items, you could go with a foam insulation piping solution. A really cheap solution and something you can definitely make yourself. Perfect for carrying a single surfboard short distances. You'll just need a few items:

    • Two foam insulation pipes which you will rest your item on
    • Rope or strapping that will fit through the piping and in to your car under the roof to tie or strap together
    • Strapping to secure your surfboard on top of your roof

    At our local beach break, we have seen this approach used a couple of times with surfboards and a small kayak, so it definitely works.

    Comparison

    Hands down, the best soft or inflatable roof rack for temporary and portable use has to be the Airrack roof rack setup. It's not too expensive, unlike the Handirack and Sea to Summit, which are both very good soft and inflatable roof bars but also quite a lot of money.

    We really liked the Streetwize soft foam roof bars and the Northcore. The Streetwize we have actually seen as other names on Amazon, you may notice them too, for around £25-$40 on amazon. They are quick to fit, will hold a good amount of weight, not as much as 80kg but a single kayak, garden fencing or surfboards should be more than fine. The Northcore was great because it had three different setups, we linked to each in the review of them. You can get 3 door roof racks, single soft roof bars which will hold a few surfboards on your 5 door car and even a double set up which can hold up to 10 surf boards, side by side. Both of these are great prices too, especially compared to the Sea to Summit.

    The Sea to Summit traveller soft racks are great, so too are the Handirack, they're both really well made, hold the most amount of weight, we'd personally go for the Handirack out of the two as the Sea to Summits price gets close to that of metal, fixed roof racks that you can have permanantely on your car.

    A great test review of inflatable and soft roof racks for temporary use, we loved all of them in different ways, but you can choose what you want depending on what you want to carry and how much you have to spend. We hope we have helped with these reviews.

    Review of Airrack Self Inflating Inflatable Roof Rack

    Self inflating universal roof rack bars by Airrack which we test out on our surfboards and for other carrying purposes.

    airrack self inflating inflatable car roof rack

     

    Technical Details
    Self Inflating
    Yes
    Carry Capacity
    80
    Fits 3 Door
    No
    Fits 5 Door
    Yes
    Rating
    5/5
    Price
    ££
    Warranty
    No
    Vehicle
    car
    suv
    Brand
    Airrack
    Category
    universal
    Number of seats
    0 seats
    Dimensions
    90cm x 12cm
    Weight
    2000 g
    Washable
    No
    Next Day Delivery
    No

    Are you after a no nonsense inflatable roof rack set up for your, then look no fruther. This is the simplest in terms of set up compared to the other inflatable roof racks, because it pumps itself up, no pump required, no blowing it up with your mouth and no electric car pumps needed either. Even though this is what they are sold as, like other self-inflating products we own (mostly camping beds), we added a little air at the end by blowing in to the valve, just to make sure it was fully inflated.

    airrack self inflating screw open to inflate

     

    Other than this feature, it is very similar to all of the other universal car roof racks. Once inflated, open your doors, wrap around the top of the door, in to your car and secure inside, under your roof.

    What we liked about the Airrack inflatable car roof rack is that it had multiple secure points on it, so you could carry very small items or much wider things. With the supplied strapping, you can secure a kayak, surfboard or three, wooden pallets, garden furniture, timber and many more things.

    airrack inflatable roof rack for kayak

     

    Now, what did we try and fit on top of our car with these universal roof bars? We have an extra large 3 person hard kayak at my parents, which we leave there. They live near the ocean in south Wales and we love going for a long day out on it to enjoy the sea. Our last visit there, we put the kayak on top, attached with the supplied strappings and also strapped the front and rear of the kayak, because it is very long, to the front and rear of our car. The furthest we drove was about 25 miles in one day with it on top of our little Panda, but it did incredibly well!

    airrack inflatable car roof rack

     

    The hardest part was lifting the kayak on top of the car with just two of us.

    Once it was on, it took 5 minutes to tie in securely and we were off, driving down very bumpy, hilly, country roads and we really can't complain. We got back to my parents and it was in the same position we had fitted it in for our return. The kayak weighs approx 60kg and the max load of 80kg for this inflatable set didn't seem to have any trouble with it.

    What Else Did We Carry?

    We carried a long board surfboard with two bodyboards on top (so 3 in total). The two bodyboards were packed in a bodyboard bag and we looped the strapping through its shoulder straps for extra security.

    We brought some trellace fencing from our nearby garden centre, this was only a 4 mile journey, but it seemed to carry 8 panels, which we couldn't fit in to the car.

    I think the fastest we travelled with the Airracks on was about 60mph and they were good at this speed.

    Packing Away - Use On Multiple Cars

    We really liked these inflatable car roof bars and to top it off, we could deflate them in a few minutes, just unscrew their valve, unstrap from the car and you can place on to any other car or vehicle you might have.

    Pros
    • Self inflating, no others we tested were
    • Really wide, can fit up to 1.2m wide on top of your car
    • Has extra secure points all along the inflatable roof bars so you can put on different size things on top of your car
    • Great price
    Cons
    • Instructions aren't in English but not too hard to work out
    • If it rains, you may get some water in your car as it leaks through the straps, not much thankfully
    • Only fits cars with 4 doors (front and back)
    Verdict

    A really good inflatable roof rack that you can let self-inflate and strap in in just a few minutes. Will hold most things you want it to, ladders, gardening stuff, ski's, snowboards, surfboards, paddle boards, kayaks, canoes and more!

    Review of Northcore 3 Door Overhead Soft Roof Rack

    Surf board specific soft roof rack bars for your car. We tested this with a single long board and inflatable stand up paddleboard.

    northcore three door soft roof rack

     

    Technical Details
    Self Inflating
    No
    Fits 3 Door
    Yes
    Fits 5 Door
    Yes
    Rating
    4.4/5
    Price
    £
    Warranty
    No
    Vehicle
    car
    Brand
    Northcore
    Number of seats
    0 seats
    Dimensions
    43cm x 13cm x 3cm
    Washable
    No
    Next Day Delivery
    No

    These are the first soft roof racks we tested and although they are advertised as surfboard roof racks, we tested them with bodyboards and some long ladders. We didn't have these to test with our kayak which we have down south.

    We have added a video which has instructions on how to fit their Northcore range of soft car roof rack bars to hopefully give you a better insight.

    Again, like the others, you don't need fitted roof bars or racks to use these. You just need a car, with a roof and in this case, Northcore do soft roof racks for 3 and 5 door cars.

    northcore double soft roof rack for surfboards

     

    We tested the double soft roof rack by Northcore which can hold up to 10 surf boards, 5 on each pad. As well as the double, they also do a single and a 3 door car roof rack.

    Fitting The Roof Rack

    One thing we liked about this rack was that it attached through the front doors and the rear section went in to the boot compartment. It then uses rubber style hooks/stoppers which you can tighten against to pull the rear soft section back and finish off the fit.

    One thing we noticed is that when pushing the straps through the buckles, they frayed immediately, we glued these together on our return so that this wouldn't happen again. Other than that, the straps felt very safe and strong, just had this one problem.

    Driving With The Northcore Roof Rack

    We went out to our local beach break, down some country lanes and managed to hit 65mph with a longboard strapped on to the top with a bodyboard bag on top of that. We didn't have any issues, it was only a 25minute drive but we're sure this rack set up will be more than fine at high speeds and for longer durations.

    Pros
    • Can be fitted to 3 door cars, a perfect 3 door roof rack
    • Easy to fit, no inflating is needed
    • They have different products depending on how many surfboards or pieces of gear you want to hold
    • Great price
    Cons
    • Strapping ends fray when fitting it to your car
    Verdict

    A great simple soft roof rack setup by Northcore. You have multiple options to fit your requirements, 3 door cars, larger cars, multiple surf boards. No real problems and felt great with multiple boards on top and at speed.

    Review of Streetwize Soft Car Roof Rack Bars

    Streetwize surfboard soft roof rack setup, great entry price, being the cheapest we have reviewed. We give it a whirl to see how it reviews.

    streetwize soft car rack set

     

    Technical Details
    Self Inflating
    No
    Fits 3 Door
    No
    Fits 5 Door
    Yes
    Rating
    4/5
    Price
    £
    Warranty
    No
    Vehicle
    car
    Brand
    Streetwize
    Number of seats
    0 seats
    Weight
    939 g
    Washable
    No
    Next Day Delivery
    No

    These are advertised as surfboard soft roof rack bars, but they can definitely carry more. We also tested with ladders, bodyboards in a bodyboard bag and an inflatable SUP (Stand Up Paddleboard).

    They are light and compact roof bars which are another great replacement for roof rails and roof bars. Being soft instead of inflatable means that you just chuck them up on top of your roof and strap them up on the inside of your car. They are made of foam and will protect the roof of your car from getting dinted or scraped. You know you don't have to worry about it popping either being made of foam.

    We used these to go to the beach a couple of times and the second time it poured down on our way there. The rear roof rack got soaked and brought in some water, it didn't pour in but did drip from the strapping. We weren't worried about this though as it's only a few drips and we had car seat covers on our rear seats anyway. If it just drizzled, we don't think any water would come in as the strapping soaks up the water before it comes in.

    This soft roof rack vibrated more than any others when we first fitted it but after moving it around, tightening it and making sure everything was lined up it stopped rattling and vibrating at speed.

    Pros
    • Best price you will get for a soft or inflatable roof rack set up for your car
    • Really easy to install, just takes a few minutes
    Cons
    • Doesn't carry as much as the other portable rack set ups, 2 large surfboards at most
    Verdict

    A great alternative to metal, fitted roof racks and bars. Really cheap compared to the manufacturer sets and if you just want to transport a couple of surfboards or other small items, it's perfect.

    Review of Handirack Inflatable Roofrack

    Universal fitting for 3 and 5 door cars Handirack inflatable roof rack bars by Handiworld.

    handirack inflatable roof rack

     

    Technical Details
    User Guide & Manual File Download
    Self Inflating
    No
    Carry Capacity
    80
    Fits 3 Door
    Yes
    Fits 5 Door
    Yes
    Rating
    4.2/5
    Price
    £££
    Warranty
    Yes
    Warranty length
    1 year
    Vehicle
    car
    suv
    Brand
    Handiworld
    Number of seats
    0 seats
    Washable
    No
    Next Day Delivery
    No

    So, the product spiel:

    "The HandiRack is a truly brilliant solution. This is a totally unique, multi-purpose, portable load carrier for the car that can be fitted and removed in just a matter of minutes. The straps pass through the car doors and the bars inflate in a matter of seconds using the supplied HandiPump. Two 3 metre HandiStraps are also supplied for securing loads to the 5 'D' ring anchor points located on each HandiRack."

    We will agree with the brilliant solution remark, as this feels like a great solution to the problem of not having a fitted roof rack side rails or roof rack bars already fitted to your car. If you don't want to pay hundreds of pounds or dollars to get the manufacturer recommended side rails fitted, then inflatable Handirack roof rack bars could be perfect for you.

    They carry up to 80kg and have D rings on either end of the inflatable bars which will help secure your garden furniture or kayak on top.

    handirack inflatable roof rack

     

    What you get in the portable box, the two inflatable sections, a pump which is perfect for getting your racks inflated quickly and some tie down straps. When we unboxed it, it looked really good, well made and looks to be a quality piece of equipment for your car, which is exactly what you want if you are to put large objects on top of your car and drive at faster speeds.

    Fitting them takes less than 5 minutes, even for your first time fitting inflatable roof rack bars. We have included the instructional video which walks you through fitting as well as the user guide PDF for you to download.

    But even without these you won't have any issues fitting, just open your doors. Place the inflatable sections on top of your car roof and inflate with the pump that came with the pack. This should only take a minute to inflate. Wrap the straps underneath your roof and inside your car and tighten up, thats it. You're now ready to place whatever it is you want, on top of your car, within the 80kg max capacity weight ofcourse.

    What Can You Carry Using The HandiRack?

    We tested the Handirack with a longboard surfboard (7foot minimal), a bag with two bodyboards inside and with some ladders. You can also combine the Handirack with the Handiholdall which is a 320litre waterproof soft bag which you can fit inside whatever you want. This is perfect if you want to carry smaller items, bags, suitcases or other items which can't sit outside unprotected.

    boat on top of handirack roof rack

     

    As well as surfboards, you can fit light and small boats, garden furniture, large equipment and other gardening products which won't fit in your car. Kayaks and other large water based craft such as Stand Up Paddleboards (SUPs) as well.

    handirack inflatable roof rack

     

    It really is a heavy duty product, even for an inflatable roof rack set up it really punches above it's weight.

    Using The HandiRack Inflatable Roof Rack

    When not in use, they come off in just a matter of minutes as well, just open the valve where you inflated, let them deflate as you roll them up and pack away in their little bag and put in your boot. They don't take up any space and are ready to fit and install on your next adventure.

    These were used on a really long journey visiting family and on dual carriageways as well. We only had a lightweight surfboard on top but they were more than up to the job and high average speeds of 65mph+. What we liked about these at speed are they are a little wider than others and feel a bit more stable because of this.

     

     

    Pros
    • Can carry up to two kayaks and even large garden furniture, as long as its less than 80kg
    • Easy to assemble
    • Hard wearing, good quality, strong material
    • Something that may last you years
    • Can swap form one car to another, very portable
    Cons
    • Do not use if you have side airbags, the straps will get in the way. Unless you can switch these off and control them when you fit the inflatable roof racks.
    • You need more straps or larger things, such as kayaks, to hold the front and back of the kayak
    • We have only tested for a weeks worth of beach visits, only time will tell if the valves last as we read online that they don't last more than a year or two.
    Verdict

    A hard wearing set of inflatable roof rack bars, they can carry up to 80kg and are great for even two kayaks at once or other large items. We really liked using them and would definitely recommend.

    Review of Sea To Summit Traveller Soft Racks

    This is a review of the Sea To Summit Traveller Soft Racks. It is one of the pricier travel racks for your vehicle we look at whether its worth paying that little bit more for.

     

    Sea To Summit Traveller Soft Racks

    Technical Details
    Self Inflating
    No
    Fits 3 Door
    Yes
    Fits 5 Door
    Yes
    Rating
    4.3/5
    Price
    ££££
    Warranty
    No
    Vehicle
    car
    Brand
    Sea To Summit
    Category
    universal
    waterproof
    Number of seats
    0 seats
    Seat Position
    driver seat
    Dimensions
    43 inches (110 cm) length x 8 inches (19 cm) width x 2.5 inches (8 cm) height
    Washable
    No
    Next Day Delivery
    No

    The Setup

    To set up the roof rack requires placing the two foam pads roughly where you want them on the top of your car,  the grip lining underneath the pads provide extra resistance and I feel also helps when securing the rack on. Then you will need to open the car doors and feed the attachment along the inner side of the car roof. Ideally they are positioned evenly to accommodate whether you have a 3 or 5 door vehicle. What is great about these is it will work well with either. Once fed through you just need to tighten them into place. I did have concerns about how this would hold up in bad weather and did notice a slight amount of rain come down the attachment however this could be to do with the actual attachment becoming wet. 

    Once you've tightened up both racks and your ready to put your gear on top there are a number of points along the daisy chain centre of the foam pad to attach your equipment too. The different points mean that you can transport both narrow, long or wide objects such as Kayaks, SUP boards, furniture. 

    The Material

    These soft racks are large in size allowing transportation of a range of large sized objects. The soft padding is great for providing a cushion for the object your are transporting and it is also good for the car, I was happy knowing no scratches or dents would appear from this type of roof rack system. 

    The Functionality

    While driving with the roof racks in use, they appeared stable and strong and I had no worries they would come loose at all. Due to the easy and quick attachment of the Sea To Summit soft racks means it can be stored away easily when not in use. If you regularly transport kayaks or surfboards but not so often that you would keep it applied all the time, if can be stored folded away in the boot or under your car seats. 

    Pros
    • Large rack
    • very good for carrying SUP boards, Kayaks
    • Easy to attach
    • Quick to fit
    • Grip on base provides extra security
    • Saves on fuel cost of a permanent roof rack
    • Ideal as a temporary measure that can be carried within the car when not in use
    • Usable with a rental car
    • Does not leave any roof rack scratches on top of the vehicle
    Cons
    • Important to make sure secure tightly
    • If it rains you may get a few drips of rain come into the car where the straps come in
    • Not as long as some permanent roof racks available designed for carrying long kayaks/boards
    Verdict

    The Sea to Summit traveller soft roof racks provide a gentle solution to your car, leaving no trace or scratch behind as you easy whip it off as quickly as you put it on. It provides strong and stable transportation for objects even of a large size. This roof rack is multipurpose and would suit many different car owner whether as a temporary measure for a rental vehicle, for an occasional kayker or your everyday surfer. 

    Frequently Asked Questions

    You Have Roof Rails, Can You Still Use These Type of Roof Bars

    Totally! Just measure the distance between the rails and make sure that distance is bigger than the length of the inflatable or soft roof rack so that it will fit. It would be extra handy to make sure they have a gap underneath so you can tie the straps inside the car.

    How Do You Deflate The Inflatable Roof Bars

    Just unscrew the valve, or pop out the valve and open up. It depends on the type of inflatable you have purchased but either of those should suffice. They will deflate themselve's a little but if you squeeze the valve whilst rolling up or leave the unscrew valve open and roll up the roof bar, they will deflate.

    How To Repair A Puncture

    They don't come with repair kits, well the ones we tested above didn't, but you can use inflatable kayak or rib puncture kits.

    Can I Put Suitcases On Them

    Yes, you can put whatever you want, as long as the items stick to these rules:

    • Don't have any obtrusive sections to it
    • It has a large flat surface to it you can use to place it down on to the roof bars
    • Don't mind getting wet if you drive for long distances
    • Aren't over the max capacity of the roof bars and not too heavy for your cars roof

    What Is the Maximum Weight We Can Put On Them

    Two of the products have a max capacity of 80kg, we managed a 60kg extra large kayak but wouldn't put anything over 80kg just for the sake of your cars roof.

    Can I Use These With A Softop or Convertible

    Short answer is No.

    Van Roof Racks

    We did not test these on a van, but if you have side doors on both sides or at least entry points for the straps then yes, these could all work on van roofs and carry more things about.