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Guide: How to Haul Your Kayak

Guide: How To Haul Your Kayak

Really interested in taking up kayaking but have no idea how are you going to get your kayaks from here to there? Read on for an overview of several ways you can haul your kayak.

Truck Bed

If you have a pickup truck, you are in luck. An open truck bed is by far the simplest way to transport your kayaks. Open the tailgate, and throw the kayaks in. Larger trucks can easily fit four kayaks, while smaller trucks may only be able to fit two. Lift the noses to latch the tailgate or leave them flat.

You can now secure the boats to the truck using bungee cords, ratchet straps, or rope. Wiggle each kayak to make sure it is properly secured. It should not move when you push or pull on it. A kayak can act like a sail. If the wind catches it and it isn’t properly secured, it could fly out as you drive down the highway. Be sure to attach a red flag to the end of one kayak (a red rag will do). It is required by law in many jurisdictions. Regardless, this will help it be more visible to traffic.

Roof Racks

Planning on kayaking frequently? You will probably want to invest in roof racks. They are a convenient and secure way to haul your kayaks. When selecting your roof racks, the type of vehicle you have and its size will be the biggest consideration. You will also want to determine if the racks are adjustable and fit your kayak and whether you will be transporting more than one kayak. Always select roof racks made of durable, anti-corrosion material. This is particularly important for sea-kayakers that are frequently near salt-water. Last but certainly not least, the number of kayaks you will be hauling will affect the type of roof rack suitable for you.

There are many styles of roof racks worth considering:

J-Style Kayak Roof Racks

When transporting a single kayak, J-style racks are popular. When not in use, many of these racks fold down. You can leave them on your vehicle and be ready to head off on your next kayaking adventure at a moment’s notice. Your kayak is held at a 45-degree angle in a J-style rack. This leaves a small amount of storage space on either side of your boat or room for a second J-style rack and another kayak. Choose racks constructed using corrosion-resistant, heavy-duty steel. Of note, all roof rack systems cause a whistling noise while traveling at highway speeds.


Yakima J-Style Fold-Down Kayak Roof Rack
Yakima JayLow, J-Style Rooftop Kayak Carrier

This is the priciest of the roof rack systems we recommend, but they are great value. What we like about this rack system is that you can carry 2 kayaks with the J cradles in the ‘stacker’ position. They accommodate many styles and sizes of kayaks. These racks are well constructed and include adjustable padding to protect your kayaks. They are easy to install, include all of the hardware and come with tie-down straps. No tools are required for assembly and the racks fold down when not in use. To load the kayak, you simply lift it up and over on its side onto the J-hook. The one drawback of this racking system is that it doesn’t have security locks, but they can be purchased separately.

Horizontal Roof Racks

For more aerodynamic transportation of one kayak, horizontal racks hold your kayak in place parallel to your car’s roof. Simply install cross-bars between your side rails and use ratchet straps and rope to secure your kayaks to the roof racks. You may need foam blocks or cradles depending on the shape of the bottom of your kayak.

Vertical Roof Racks

Vertical kayak racks are yet another option. With these racks, you slide your kayak in on its side (not vertically, because that would just be odd-looking!) They are simple to install and usually affordable. Depending on you your roof size, you may be able to carry as many 4 kayaks.

Lift-Assisted Kayak Roof Rack

If you are a frequent solo kayaker, a lift-assisted rack may be worth the investment. There are different styles of lift-assisted racks, many feature hooks that slide down, allowing you to easily attach your kayak to the rack. The rack then acts as a lever, distributing the weight of lifting the kayak onto the roof of your vehicle. This is an excellent option for anyone who isn’t able to or want to more easily lift their kayak onto the roof of their car on their own. Lift-assisted racks are awesome if you have a heavier boat.

Foam Mount

Foam mounts are simple, inexpensive, and effective for shorter distances. These mounts are not as sturdy as other racking systems. Straps can loosen, foam pads can shift. It’s best to steer clear of driving long distances. Foam Mounts designed specifically for mounting kayaks on vehicles consist of either two or four pieces of foam.

For a two-piece set-up, the foam is typically thin, long, with an inverted slope. The foam pieces serve as a rest for the bottom of your kayak, separating it from the roof of your car.

With a four-piece kit, the foam typically has a small slit in each piece that you slide the sides of your kayak into. Both systems work by providing a barrier between your boat and your vehicle. You will need rope, ratchet straps, or bungees to help hold your kayak in place. The ends of the straps will connect inside your car.


Foam Mount Kayak Car-top Carrier
Attwood Car-Top Kayak Carrier Kit

What we like about the Attwood Car-Top Kayak Carrier Kit is that it comes with everything you need: straps with adjustable buckles and clips, 2 foam pads, and 15′ of polypropylene rope. Just remember that foam mounts are for short distances. A sturdier racking system should be used for longer trips.

Haul Your Kayak On A Trailer

A trailer is a great option in terms of ease of use. If it’s a regular cargo trailer, open the tailgate, or lift the kayaks over the side and into the trailer. Secure each kayak as you would in a truck bed. You may also consider a purpose-built boat trailer. Again, strapping each boat securely before driving anywhere. And when using a trailer, it leaves the top of your car or SUV open to bring your bikes along on your next adventure. If you leave your kayaks on the trailer between excursions, be sure to loosen the straps once you get home to prevent warping the kayaks. Then, once you are once again ready to head out, you simply have to tighten the straps, connect the trailer and drive away. Of note, lightweight purpose-built trailers are particularly useful for vehicles with limited towing capacity.

Malone Racks XtraLight LowBed Trailer

The Malone Racks XtraLight LowBed Trailer easily carries a 13′ hard-shell kayak. With a few modifications, you could fit 2 kayaks. Features DOT approved LED lighting and 8″- five lug high-speed wheels, 72″ padded bunks with mounting hardware and 2pc extended tongue. It has a flat four-wire harness, tongue skid plate and lift handle. The galvanized heavy-duty axle is built to last. Made in the USA.

Malone Kayak Trailer


Tight On Space?

If you are really tight on space, or if you are going to go backpack-hiking, you can research whether a folding kayak or an inflatable kayak is the best option for you. They are the most portable and space economizing options.

Bonus Tips

  • Stow a small, foldable, one- or two-step ladder in your trunk. It makes tying-down and getting kayaks on and off of the roof of your vehicle a lot easier.
  • Ask a friend to help load kayaks onto the roof of your car. It’s much easier with help.
  • Ratchet straps make securing the kayaks easier and more reliably than with rope. You may need to add a bit of padding to protect your boat in the buckle area. Also, inspect your ratchet straps regularly and replace them if they start showing signs of wear.
  • If you don’t have a lift-assist system and you are loading your kayak solo, kayak rollers are a cost-effective option of lift-assist.

Kayak On!

Even before you get to go kayaking, you have to figure out how you will transport your kayaks. You need a way to move your kayaks safely to and from the location you’ll be paddling. Hopefully, this quick guide on how to haul your kayak helps get you started.

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how to transport a kayak


I was first introduced to kayaking as a teenager when I joined a competitive canoe club. It was instant love. But when I went off to school and then got a job, adult responsibilities got in the way. Now approaching retirement, I've rekindled my kayak romance. My husband and I love to throw the kayaks on the trailer and head out on adventures. Maybe you'll join us?!

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