Transporting Your Kayak: The Ultimate Guide

Transporting your kayak safely and securely is a crucial consideration before purchasing your boat. Whether you own a pickup truck, a 4-door car, or an SUV, finding the right rack system can make all the difference in ensuring a smooth and hassle-free transport experience. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore various transportation options and provide valuable insights to help you make an informed decision.

Pickup Truck: A Convenient Option

The easiest method of transportation for your kayak is to simply throw it in the back of a pickup truck and secure it with a couple tie downs. By leaving the tailgate down and ensuring the kayak sticks out the back of the truck with a red flag attached to the end, you can ensure visibility and safety. There are also products available, such as the Extend-A-Truck, that can provide additional support for the kayak. This product slides into your hitch receiver and acts as an extra support out the back of the truck. It is highly recommended for pickup truck owners with a hitch receiver as it makes loading and unloading the kayak much easier and safer. Additionally, it is a cost-effective alternative to a roof rack system.


For longer trips or when you need extra storage space in the truck bed, you can install a single crossbar over the cab of the truck and transport the kayak above the truck, leaving the bed open for storage. However, it is important to note that this option should be approached with caution, as it may increase the height of your vehicle and limit your access to certain establishments. Smaller kayaks, like a mini-x, can sometimes be transported in the bed of a truck with the tailgate up. In this case, make sure to position the kayak securely against the forward side of the truck bed and rest the other end on top of the closed tailgate to prevent it from being pushed out by the wind. Remember to always use at least two tie downs for even the shortest trips.

Lumber racks can also be a good option for transporting kayaks in pickup trucks. However, it is important to note that the placement of the crossbars may pose challenges, especially if your kayak is under 13 feet long. If a saddle system can be attached to the two rear bars, this is the best way to transport your kayak. Otherwise, you may need to place the kayak upside down to ensure it rests on straight crossbars. It is essential to use a strap on all three bars to secure the kayak properly.

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Telescoping systems, such as the Xsporter, provide another option for transporting kayaks in pickup trucks. These systems consist of telescoping lumber racks with crossbars near the tailgate and at the front of the bed where it meets the cab. They can be folded down when not in use and include load stops to guide the kayak onto the rack.

4 Door Cars: Removable Soft Rack Systems

If you own a four-door car, you can utilize a removable soft rack system to transport your kayak. This system typically consists of two foam tubes with straps running through the center of each tube. To attach the soft rack to your vehicle, open all the doors and position one tube on the roof toward the windshield and the other toward the rear window. Run a strap through the doors and tighten it securely. Place the kayak upside down on the tubes and use the remaining straps to secure the kayak to each tube. It is crucial to secure the bow and stern of the kayak to the bumpers to ensure stability, especially during long road trips. While soft rack systems are a simple and economical option for short trips, a more secure, hard-mounted system is recommended for longer road trips.


It is worth noting that soft racks have some limitations compared to mounted crossbars. Due to their low clearance, they may not be suitable for kayaks with rod holders or permanent mounts that may damage the roof of the vehicle. Additionally, vehicles with rounded roofs may pose challenges in spacing the tubes apart without causing damage to the roof. Therefore, it is crucial to ensure that your vehicle’s roof shape and doors allow for proper mounting of the soft rack system.

SUVs: Factory Luggage Racks and Aftermarket Options

Most SUVs come equipped with factory luggage racks or side rails, making them suitable for transporting kayaks. If your SUV has a factory luggage rack with crossbars, it is usually adequate for kayak transport. However, it is essential to inspect the rack for any damage or looseness before loading the kayak. For SUVs with side rails but no crossbars, aftermarket rack options are available and highly recommended.


Aftermarket roof rack systems, such as those offered by Thule and Yakima, provide a wide range of options for securing kayaks to SUVs. Both Thule and Yakima offer crossbars with various mounting options. Thule’s square bars offer stability, preventing spinning in the mounts and add-ons. Thule also offers a wider range of fit kits for different vehicles, ensuring a secure and reliable installation.

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There are several mounting options to consider depending on your vehicle’s design. For SUVs with side rails, you can use mounts such as the Thule Crossroad to attach aftermarket crossbars. These mounts feature a metal core rubber strap that secures the crossbars to the side rails. This method provides the benefit of a more flexible metal bar compared to factory racks.

For vehicles with rain gutters or recessed areas in the roof, Thule offers specialized mounts such as the Gutter Foot Pack or the Podium foot pack.


For vehicles equipped with tracks or top tracks, Thule provides mounts compatible with these systems. The Tracker II foot pack easily mounts into tracks, while the Top Tracks system allows for the installation of a rack on top of campers or RVs.

Recently, more visually aesthetic roof rack options, such as the Thule Rapid Aero system, have become available. These systems feature larger, rounded bars and provide compatibility with a wide range of add-ons.

Loading The Kayak By Yourself: Techniques and Add-Ons

Loading a fishing kayak onto a vehicle can be a challenging task, especially when doing it alone. However, with the right techniques and add-ons, you can easily load even the heaviest kayaks onto your vehicle without assistance.

When loading the kayak by yourself, start by placing the kayak right side up on the ground behind the vehicle. Lift one end of the kayak onto the rear crossbar, ensuring it rests on the rack with the other end on the ground behind the vehicle. This technique prevents the kayak from rubbing against the vehicle and damaging the paint job. If necessary, use a towel or other protective surface to further safeguard your vehicle.

Next, lift the other end of the kayak off the ground and slide it forward onto the rack. Position the kayak on the rack so that the mid-point is halfway between the crossbars. This can be determined by using the side handles as a reference. If you prefer to transport your kayak upside down, now is the time to flip it over.

To secure the kayak, place it directly onto the crossbars upside down and use hand-tightened tie down straps. It is crucial to use the proper tie down straps to prevent any damage to the kayak. Avoid using ratchet-style straps or tie downs with metal hooks, as they can lead to over-tightening and potential damage. Instead, opt for hand-tighten tie downs with metal cam buckles. These straps are simple to use, allow for the correct securing method, and are not affected by sand or grit. It’s impossible to over-tighten them, ensuring a secure and safe transport.

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For longer trips or racks with extra flex, consider using bow and stern straps as additional insurance. By following proper securing techniques, such as looping the strap under the crossbars, you can ensure a secure and stable transportation.

Add-Ons for Enhanced Transport

There are several add-ons available that can enhance your kayak transport experience. Saddle-type carriers, such as the Malone Sea Wing or Thule Set-To-Go, allow you to place your kayak right side up instead of upside down. These saddles act as guides during the loading process, preventing the kayak from drifting off the side of the rack. They also allow the kayak to remain right side up during transport, eliminating the need to flip it over. With saddle carriers, you can even leave accessories on the kayak for convenient and frequent use.

To assist in the sliding process when loading the kayak by yourself, you can replace the rear saddles with a roller or felt-lined saddle. Rollers, such as the Thule Hydro Glide or the Rollercoaster, provide easy sliding but may create noise and get affected by sand or dust. Alternatively, felt-lined saddles offer a quieter and smoother sliding experience.

If you need to transport multiple kayaks, installing a holder like the Thule Hull-A-Port allows you to position the kayaks at an angle on the crossbars. This solution is ideal for narrow cars as it maximizes space. However, keep in mind that the additional height of the cradles may limit access to low overhangs and garages. For wider vehicles like full-sized SUVs or trucks with camper shells or Xsporters, the Thule Stacker can be used to carry a third kayak in a vertical position between two cradles.

With these add-ons, you can tailor your rack system to suit your specific needs, ensuring a secure and convenient kayak transport experience.

Transporting your kayak safely is crucial to preserving its condition and ensuring a stress-free journey to your favorite waterways. Whether you own a pickup truck, a 4-door car, or an SUV, there is a suitable rack system available to meet your needs. By following the guidelines outlined in this guide and investing in the right equipment, you can enjoy the freedom of exploring new waters with confidence.

Remember, safety should always be a top priority when transporting your kayak. Properly securing your kayak with the right tie downs, utilizing add-ons for easy loading, and regularly inspecting your rack system are essential steps in ensuring a smooth and worry-free transport experience.

To explore a wide range of kayak transport solutions and accessories, visit UpStreamPaddle. They offer high-quality products to make your kayaking adventures more enjoyable and convenient.