Yakima Jaylow Kayak Roof Rack Review: Solid and Reliable

Jakima Jaylow J-Craddle Rooftop Kayak Mount

The Jaylow kayak carrier from Yakima it’s one of the best options available for carrying either one or two kayaks. As a single kayak carrier it holds the boat in the somewhat upright J-cradle position. For two boats, it holds them in a vertical stacker position. With secure tie-downs, you’re safe to travel virtually any distance with your gear safely stowed.

In this Yakima Jaylow kayak roof rack review, we’ll take a serious look at all the details, to help you decide if this is the right device for you.

If you are in a hurry, you can check now this great deal for the Yakima Jaylow kayak carrier on Amazon.com. Otherwise, continue reading below or pick a section from the table of contents to go directly to any topic. Let’s start!

The Yakima Jaylow Kayak Roof Rack Features

Universal Design To Fit Most Roof Rack Cross Bars

The Yakima Jaylow fits any Yakima Streamline round, square, aerodynamic, and most factory-installed crossbars. It can easily handle a single boat up to about 80 pounds – or two kayaks with the combined weight of 110 pounds maximum.

Fast and Easy Installation

Out-of-the-box, it arrives preassembled for a quick, tool-free installation. A stable rack is one thing. But when it comes complete with heavy-duty straps and both bow and stern tie-downs – and you secure your watercraft properly, you can drive safely with complete peace of mind, so you can focus on the fun day ahead on the water. The Jaylow can be used with the SKS lock system (sold separately) should you choose to go that route.

This Lightweight, Compact Carrier Folds Down Flat When Not In Use

One of the most important features of this kayak carrier is that it folds down flat when you’re not carrying any cargo. So you don’t have to worry about completely removing the carrier when you’ve just finished a glorious weekend of kayaking and now just want to relax.

Yakima is a well-established brand of roof rack carrier and they know what they’re doing. That’s why they can confidently offer a full lifetime warranty on their Jaylow model. It’s one of the lighter carriers on the market, coming in about 11 pounds. Actual dimensions for each cradle measure 6 inches wide by 6.7 inches long by 20 inches high.

Jakima Jaylow J-Craddle Rooftop Kayak Mount
Jakima Jaylow J-Craddle Rooftop Kayak Mount

It’s Even Easier To Remove Later

Even though the Yakima Jaylow folds down when not in use, it’s also easy to remove from your car entirely. This means that these J-cradle racks are compact enough that you can take them off your upstream car and bring them down river to your new destination, whenever that becomes a necessity (and it does with river kayaking). It’s also nice to be able to have the racks totally removed (to prevent blatant theft) although the SKS locking system option works very well too – although it’s at a slightly higher cost.

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Straps and Tie-Downs For One

The most notable downfall of the Jaylow is that Yakima, for whatever reason, only provides straps for a single boat. It’s a common practice among manufacturers – not just in the roof rack category either. They make their product to accommodate two boats, yet should you choose to carry more than one, you’ll need to buy some extra straps. This just wouldn’t be an authentic Yakima Jaylow review if we didn’t also come clean with the product’s shortcomings.

Another thing to note is that the straps provided with the Jaylow rooftop carrier are not the best quality we’ve seen. They lack a ratchet connection to really help pull them tight, which means you’re going to be dealing with knots instead, if you’re using the original straps that the Jaylow ships with. It’s not a deal breaker by any means. But something to be aware of if you’re planning to carry two kayaks on a single set of J-cradles.

Jakima Jaylow J-Craddle Rooftop Kayak Mount
Jakima Jaylow J-Craddle Rooftop Kayak Mount

Securing Those Straps The First Time Can Be Tricky

When you trying to tie down your boat to the Yakima Jaylow kayak rack, you’ll notice that there’s no holder for the straps. This means that keeping them in position while you’re trying to get everything secured in place can take a bit of practice. You would think it would be easy for the manufacturer to add some kind loop to hold the strap and make it less difficult for a single kayaker to load their boat solo. But as of this writing, that apparently hasn’t yet happened.

It’s just one of those little things you tend to notice after years of using many different types of roof rack systems. Again, this isn’t a reason to avoid picking up the Yakima Jaylow. And it does get easier once you’ve secured the load a couple of times. But it’s something you should be aware of nevertheless.

Lots To Love About Jaylow

You will find much to love about the Jaylow kayak carrier by Yakima. For example, it’s a versatile carrier that doesn’t take up a ton of space. That’s important for those trips to the lake house, or when you’re heading out on a camping trip and you’ve got a bunch of extra gear to take with you.

Yakima put its experience in the field to good use when they designed this one. Its unique base is designed to accommodate a variety of vessels. That’s important because there are lots of different boats out there.

Switching Is Easy

The carrier itself has been engineered to fit to most round, square, elliptical, aerodynamic and even factory installed roof racks. Due to its versatility, that Jaylow is an excellent option for use on multiple vehicles with differing roof racks. That’s nice to know if you plan on switching your rack amongst different vehicles. It’s not always a smooth transition. But in this case, the Yakima Jaylow comes through with flying colors.

The cradles on the Jaylow are wide and grooved to accommodate and hold different hull shapes. And since the Jaylow only takes up part of your roof rack, there’s plenty of room for other things. And if you’re going camping with friends, you’ll also be able to accommodate a large camp box, folding chairs, tents, sleeping bags – and more of that sort of thing on the roof as well.

You don’t have to worry about having tools on hand (or being an expert at using them) or lugging those extra tools around with you, either. The Jaylow is a tool-free install. All you need to set it up and use it effectively is included with your purchase – with the exception of those extra straps for a second kayak, as mentioned earlier.

Jakima Jaylow J-Craddle Rooftop Kayak Mount
Jakima Jaylow J-Craddle Rooftop Kayak Mount
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Be On Alert With Rounded or Elliptical Bars

You have to be careful when using the Jaylow with rounded or elliptical cross bars because due to their shape – they can easily slip. You will need to use the appropriate adapters so the holding brackets don’t spin or rotate on the cross bar. Oh and… in case you’re wondering, those adapters do work very well in providing a solid and secure hold, so you don’t have to worry.

We found installation to be a little bit easier when done on the passenger side. Just be sure to take your time and follow the appropriate steps. Like anything else, it gets easier and quicker the more you do it. Once you’ve lifted your boat to the roof, you can then use the provided clamps to lock your kayak into position. When properly positioned, be sure to tie it down tight so there’s no movement. Thankfully, the provided easy turn wing-nuts make it effortless to safely secure your kayak in the desired position.

Check and Double Check Your Tie Downs

As with any kayak carrier, once you have your kayak in position on your car’s roof and strapped in place, you want to tug on the ropes just to make sure that the vessel is secured to the roof rack and is definitely not going to go anywhere.

Set the J-Cradles in Place and Load From the Side

Once the cradle arms are in place, you can load your kayak easily from the side of the car. The unique ramp feature on the Jaylow makes this easier than other carriers because you can simply slide your kayak up the side of the ramp and into the cradle.

Don’t tie anything down until your kayak is in the position you want it to be and centered on your vehicle, evenly between the two J-cradles. Then you can secure your boat with the two straps, as well as the bow and stern tie-downs. Ratchet clamps on the straps are a huge asset as they help pull those straps down tight. The extra tie-downs for the bow and stern help make your load secure – no matter if you’re traveling a short or long distance.

Jakima Jaylow J-Craddle Rooftop Kayak Mount
Jakima Jaylow J-Craddle Rooftop Kayak Mount

Fits Crossbars That Are 24 Inches +

The Jaylow was designed to be used on cars with crossbars 24 inches or wider. It’s easy to set up and there’s virtually no maintenance required with this particular roof rack. The first time you use it, it will probably take you a little longer. That’s natural with anything we’re unaccustomed to. The good news is that it gets much faster (and easier) as you go. Use the Yakima Jaylow kayak roof rack just once and you’ll see why it’s one of the more popular kayak roof racks on the market today.

According to the manufacturer, the design makes the Jaylow one of the more aerodynamic carriers on the market. It’s intelligently engineered for efficiency and ease of use. The Jaylow features a small tubing system that’s small enough to be lightweight, yet strong enough to carry a relatively heavy load – without any problem whatsoever. Isn’t that what you want most in a kayak carrier?

It Gets Even Better

What makes the Yakima Jaylow even more useful is when you make a couple of additional purchases. Several options are available, such as the extra straps with the ratchet included and the optional slide rails for easier loading to protect the surface of both your car and kayak.

The design of these J-cradles helps hold virtually any kayak or canoe sturdy and securely in position. Although you can fit two kayaks on a single system, some people opt for a second Jaylow to carry both kayaks – back to back. Some prefer not having to change the configuration. And since each set of cradles comes with straps and tie-downs for a single vessel, why not pick up a second rack? It looks pretty cool too as you cruise the highway with a dual load up top.

Flexibility Abounds

Virtually all roof racks can easily accommodate this configuration too. And the built-in cam lever allows you to adjust the racks to the upright position easily. Surprisingly, it’s just as easy to fold the Yakima Jaylow kayak rack down flat when not in use, to provide you with better clearance for getting in the garage at home or one of those underground parking lots downtown. A folded-down rack also reduces drag and improves your mileage somewhat.

Jakima Jaylow J-Craddle Rooftop Kayak Mount
Jakima Jaylow J-Craddle Rooftop Kayak Mount

Superior Cradle Design

One huge plus is that the Jaylow boasts padded contact points to provide extra protection of the hull and to strengthen the rack’s grip while transporting your kayak.

Another thing I like about the cradles on the Yakima Jaylow is the built-in grooves where the boat sits in place. It’s a cushioned base with clearly defined grooves that allow for any sand grant to fall away from the surface, thus preventing scratches.

Be sure to purchase additional straps if you plan to carry two kayaks on a single Yakima Jaylow. And it’s highly recommended that you purchase extra ratchet straps to go all around both vessels, to help keep them securely fastened to the roof rack of your car. If it’s not secured, the bottom of the second kayak can kick out. Safety is of the utmost importance whenever you’re carrying cargo. With extra cargo, it can get a little tricky.

A Quick Fix For Any Whistling Noise

You may experience a whistling noise while driving, particularly at higher speeds. This is due to the exposed holes on the steel rack. But this minor inconvenience is easily remedied with a piece of duct tape or electrical tape placed over each of the holes. Perhaps in the future, the manufacturer will offer plugs that fit these holes perfectly. But until then, duct tape works just as well.

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The Good (What Buyers Like Most)

It offers multiple settings to fit various roof racks.

This is huge. You don’t want to have to purchase additional crossbars if you can avoid it. And that’s exactly what you get here. Pretty much every car on the road is capable of accommodating this particular kayak roof rack – without requiring any additional purchase.

It’s lightweight and easy to maneuver.

It’s no fun wrestling with a car carrier, just trying to get it up on top of the vehicle and securely in place. Then you have to worry about your kayak or canoe too. With the Jaylow, life is easy. It’s lightweight, so it’s easy to install and uninstall. So taking it off your car frequently is a breeze.

You get an aerodynamic design folds down when not in use.

Sweet! Even when the rack components are easy to remove from the roof, it’s not something you want to bother with every single time. That’s what’s so great about the Yakima Jaylow kayak carrier. It simply folds down and out of the way, whenever you’re not using it. That means you can fold it down and out of the way for any low clearance situation, like the one I just encountered at the mall. And a folded down rack also gives you slightly better gas mileage, thanks to the improved aerodynamics.

Extra padding provided on contact points to protect your kayak.

Not every roof rack offers padding and most don’t offer it to the extent the Jaylow does. If protecting the finish on your hull is important, you should strongly consider this model of rooftop kayak carrier. If your kayak is older and beaten up, the padding probably won’t mean squat. But if you’ve just invested in a sleek new kayak and you like to take care of your things, you’ll appreciate having a Yakima Jaylow kayak carrier.

You can easily lock it down to the rails.

This feature is pretty neat. There’s a super-handy onboard wrench built right into the Jaylow. It can be pulled out when you need to secure the J-cradles to the roof rack. Then all you do is tighten the set screw to keep the cradle firmly attached to the cross rails. Then, slice the wrench back in place, so it’s always with the rack, wherever you go. As an option, you can also replace the cylinder with a locking mechanism. Either way works great.

It offers a fair price point that represents solid value.

When you set out to buy a quality product, you expect to pay for what you want – and you typically get what you pay for. With the Yakima Jaylow, you’re getting a better than expected car kayak carrier. Heck, these guys have been around a while and they know what buyers want in a kayak carrier (hence the single set of straps). This is a well made product that holds your kayak safely in place – even at high speeds over long hauls. It’s a quality product at an affordable price.

It’s easy to install and uninstall.

In a perfect world, all cars would come off the assembly line with a built-in kayak carrier like this one. But until that time, we have to set it up and take it down as required. Thankfully, it’s a breeze to do with the Yakima Jaylow. It can be set up just minutes (once you’ve figured it out) and it comes down even faster than that. Kayakers want to maximize their time on the water – not waste time setting things up for the trip. That alone makes the Jaylow worthy of serious consideration.

It works well in the stacked position (for 2 kayaks).

If you need to carry two kayaks, this one can accommodate you. Simply set it up in the vertical, stacker position and load both kayaks. Just be sure to order extra straps for the second kayak in advance. It’s still one of the most cost-effective ways to safely haul two vessels at the same time.

This system seems solid and sturdy.

Properly installed and within the weight limit, this kayak carrier does the job. Its strong steel construction and stable design can easily support a wide range of kayaks, so you won’t have to worry about it.

Supplied tie-downs are strong and easy to use.

Yakima has plenty of experience in the field and they understand what’s needed in tie-down straps so they safely stow any kayak, whether you’re going down the street or across the state. These are relatively easy to use, compared to some of the others out there that we’ve tried.

It provides smooth and efficient loading and unloading. Once the Jaylow is installed on your car, it’s quite easy for most adults to load a kayak. Shorter folks might need a stable step stool. But the majority of people can load with their feet on the ground, standing beside the vehicle. The difference-maker is the built-in ramps on the Yakima Jaylow. Just slide the kayak up and over in to the secure J-cradles. Easy peasy.

The Not So Good

  • It’s little difficult for smaller people to load their kayak (as it is with most carriers)
  • It’s SKS lockable, but you need to purchase the locks as a extra purchase
  • Rubber/plastic coating protecting the metal clamp can wear off too easily – leaving exposed metal that can scratch your kayak and car
  • Loud whistling noise when driving with the sunroof open (easily remedied with duct tape and by twisting any lose straps)
Jakima Jaylow J-Craddle Rooftop Kayak Mount
Jakima Jaylow J-Craddle Rooftop Kayak Mount

The Verdict

Yakima is a major player in the marketplace and one of today’s top kayak roof carrier manufacturers. Their Jaylow kayak roof rack makes a solid choice – whether you plan to carry one or two kayaks.

With a weight capacity of 80 pounds for a single kayak (more than the average) and 210 pounds for two (one of the larger limits available) – the Yakima Jaylow can handle just about any scenario.

If you think the Jaylow is not for you, and have more budget available to invest in one the the coolest car kayak racks ever made, check out the Thule Hullavator Pro. If, on the other hand, you are looking for a very affordable, yet good quality option, you should check out the JDM Auto Lights Universal Roof Rack.

About the author

    Martin Tripodi

    Software Engineer, husband, father, and avid enthusiast of outdoor activities! Total fan of great quality and functional gear, spends part of his free time researching and compiling loads of information in the form of guides, product recommendations and reviews.

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