Best canoe cart for portaging

Best canoe cart for portaging

I’ve been transporting canoes from vehicles to lakes and from one lake to another for over 40 years. I’m always interested in new developments or trends that can make my life easier as I get older.

I was intrigued by the idea of a canoe cart when I first saw one in use. My mind started mulling over the pros and cons of having a cart and I wondered about things I knew that I didn’t know about carts.

So, I started researching and experiencing! Here are my conclusions on the issue of canoe/kayak carts.

Are Canoe / Kayak Carts Worth Buying?

If you plan on using your cart to help you transport your canoe or kayak to the water from your vehicle (parked nearby) and the terrain is relatively friendly (ie. boat ramp, grass, gravel, some sand, etc.) then it is worth the price to make your life easier.

However, it’s important to note that the advantages you fantasized about before you bought it, can quickly fade once you realize some of the disadvantages and the conditions under which you cannot use the cart.

Let’s explore some of the good and the bad of using a cart to help move your canoe or kayak over land.

What is a Canoe Cart?

A canoe or kayak cart is simply a device with 2 wheels that is designed to have a canoe or kayak rest on it while someone pushes or pulls the canoe/kayak, letting the cart take all the weight.

It allows a very heavy canoe or kayak (perhaps loaded with a week’s worth of gear) to be transported across the ground with no need to actually carry anything.

Here’s a typical cart widely available from outdoor retailers like Bass Pro Shops, Cabela’s, and others. We’ve found the best prices are typically at Amazon.

The Suspenz all-terrain kayak/canoe cart has 15″ wheels and stands in a class of its own. It costs close to $200 while lesser carts start as low as $45.

How Do I Move a Canoe or Kayak by Myself?

Of course, you can use a good-quality cart with large wheels to help you move a canoe or kayak to the water from your vehicle. Presumably, the canoe is either loaded with gear or just simply too heavy to handle.

However, my suggestion would be that if you can’t lift and carry your canoe or kayak, I would replace it with a lighter version. There are many options for solo canoes that weigh close to 20 lbs.

That’s not really a burden even for a senior citizen or someone who is very small or has minimal muscle mass.

How to Use a Kayak/Canoe Cart

Most carts are foldable to save on storage space. To use it, you would simply unfold it and set it on the ground beside or behind your vehicle. You will still have to be strong enough to move the canoe from your vehicle’s roof, trailer, or truck bed.

You would then place the kayak or canoe onto the cart with the hull facing the ground so you can now load your boat with gear. If you center the canoe on the cart, it may be tricky to balance.

It’s best to put the canoe on the cart so approximately 2/3 of the canoe is on one side of the cart while the remaining 1/3 sticks past the other end of the cart. You can even nudge the cart closer to the center balance point AS LONG AS one end of the canoe is still obviously heavier.

To transport the canoe, you would pick up the 2/3 part at the nose where there is usually a carry handle, and you would then walk the boat to the water.

How Do I Keep a Kayak or Canoe on the Cart?

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While most carts do not come with any sort of strapping system (because it’s not typically necessary – gravity does most of the work), you can easily strap the kayak to the cart.

Any short ratcheting strap or rope will easily suffice. If you are traveling on steep and rough terrain, it may be appropriate to tie the canoe down. This is especially true if you’ll be pulling or pushing the canoe and cart with a significant force.

Given the condition of most canoe or boat launches, I would suggest you always have a strap handy. If you don’t have one, you’ll inevitably find yourself pushing or pulling your canoe off the cart if the wheels hit a rock or stick.

This canoe is tied to the cart for added stability during a rough portage

PROS

There are absolutely times that a cart makes sense to use. Here’s a short list, and I think if you find 2 or more of these conditions apply to you, it may be a good investment;

  • You can handle mounting and dismounting a canoe or kayak on your vehicle, but carrying it any distance is a strain on your joints or muscles.
  • You are using the cart to portage your canoe, but you know the portage trail is wide and relatively flat, so a cart will roll fairly easily.
  • You can afford the $50 – $200 price point necessary to get a cart (I’d suggest the $200 kind for maximum versatility)

So, canoe/kayak carriers are welcome accessories on your outing if they are necessary to help you get to the water if they can be easily used on a portage trail, and they fit your budget!

CONS

As much as we like the concept of, and potential for the use of a canoe cart, the negatives seem to override the positives in MY situation.

If you’re like me, a cart will not be useful and even an inexpensive one will be a waste of money. Here’s a list of conditions that will render a cart either unnecessary or completely unusable;

  • If you’re strong enough to dismount your canoe from the vehicle and carry it (25 lbs to 80 lbs) by yourself or with a partner to the water nearby, you won’t need a cart.
  • If most of your canoeing or kayaking outings include multi-day trips over several portages and you are unsure of the portage trail conditions, a cart might be a useless piece of baggage.
  • Canoe / Kayak carts MAY not be allowed in certain recreation areas in your state (ie. BWCA).

In my situation, I find that I’m usually exploring new canoe routes so I never really know what the portage trails will look like.

More to the point, I usually have a tough time trying to find the trails because they are barely navigable. 40 years of experience tells me that about 95% of every portage trail I’ve been on, will render a canoe cart 100% useless.

Most trails include large rocks, fallen logs and branches, steep and immediate drops, and thick mud (or large puddles) that need to be crossed. Any one of these conditions will stop you in your tracks if you’re using a cart, and most of my portage trails have them all!

Can I Use a Bike to Pull a Cart?

Yes, you can use a bike to pull your canoe as long as you have a proper bar to secure the canoe to your bike. There is no official kit or tools for such a setup, but if you know how to secure the canoe properly and if the trail is suitable (and your cart is on the bigger/tougher side), there should be no major issues.

The only issue I can see is properly securing your bike once you get to the water. Presumably, you’re leaving it, so if it’s appropriate, I guess you can lock it to a bike rack or tree until you return.

If you secure the canoe properly to avoid damage to your boat, you can use this technique for at least a short distance!

Important Factors to Consider

If you’re thinking you might like to have a cart because it will help you in your situation, here are some important considerations you may not have thought of.

Size / Type of Wheels

If your budget only allows about $50 or so, you’ll end up with a cart that has small, cheap wheels. That means you’ll severely limit the versatility and usefulness of the cart.

Wheels should be a minimum of 9 inches in diameter for adequate service.

We like large wheels, and while you can get very hard wheels that look like those old steel tractor wheels from 100 years ago or fat, inflatable wheels that are good on sand, we prefer something right in between.

I would avoid carts with hard, plastic wheels as they have a tendency to get irreparably damaged.

We love the wheels on the Suspenz model, but (of course) the price of the Suspenz is at a premium for this and other reasons!

Storage

Read more: How to portage a canoe

Most carts fold down for storage but be sure to confirm that if you plan on taking it with you on multi-day canoe trips. You won’t want to get stuck with a non-collapsible cart sticking out of your canoe.

Protectors

All carts have some method whereby the hull of the kayak is not damaged when it connects to the cart. Rubber or foam (or both) are used in most carts to cradle the hull and prevent damage.

Before you buy, be sure to evaluate (by viewing photos at least) how efficiently the canoe will be cradled and secured by the bumpers or protectors.

Straps

Some of the higher-end carts provide a tie-down strap and I’d suggest getting one whether it’s included with the cart or you get one after you buy the cart.

You’ll inevitably have to deal with tilting, sliding, or obstructions which will challenge you to keep your canoe on the cart unless it’s tied down properly.

Are Canoe Carts Allowed?

During my research for this article, I received some information that may be worth considering. While I have not verified it 100%, it looks like some recreation areas may not allow canoe carts for whatever reason.

If you paddle in such areas, it may be wise to contact the part or rec. area office to confirm. One example of where they’re not allowed is the BWCA (Boundary Waters Canoe Area) in Minnesota.

My Top Pics – Carts for Every Budget

Canoe/Kayak carts start in price around $50 and go up to over $250. My research has shown that issues like small size and portability will be offset by poorer quality, and will come at a premium price.

Many carts are simply poorly designed and have very small wheels compared to others. I’ll show you my best options for 3 price points – around $50, around $100 and around $200.

Best Choice – $50

The RAD Sportz Canoe / Kayak Cart gets top marks from buyers at the lower price point. The 10″ wheels offer a bit more promise than some of the smaller 9″ wheel models and it’s a very basic, no-nonsense foldable design.

It’s best for groomed or semi-groomed paths and trails, and it does not come with a tie-down strap.

It offers a 150-lb weight capacity which is less than some, but should be adequate for most canoes without anyone in it!

Best Choice – $100

I chose THEKAYAKCART KC-10 Heavy Duty Canoe/Kayak Cart for a number of reasons. I like that’s made right here in the U.S.A. That’s rare for any product!

I also like the fact that even though the wheels are still only 10″ in diameter, they are way tougher than most others of the same size.

It’s also a heavier, more solid package overall which usually speaks of quality and longevity. We also love that it comes with DUAL straps so there won’t be any slipping going on!

The biggest thing going for this cart is its extremely portable size. This cart can fit under your canoe seat and you won’t even notice it on your trip.

The only downside I see is that because it’s so narrow, you’ll only be able to fit the nose of the kayak or canoe onto it. That means that you’ll be sharing the load evenly with the cart instead of having the cart carry all the weight while you just push and steer.

Best Choice – $200

Read more: Gci outdoor sitbacker canoe seat

Here’s a no-brainer of a deal! The Suspenz offers all-terrain 15″ wheels that no other cart can match (even pricier ones).

It comes with 2 SETS (yes, that’s a total of 4) of straps to really secure your craft no matter the conditions.

This cart comes as close to being able to navigate almost all but the most remote portage trails. On this metric alone, it stands WAY above its competitors.

It also offers a kickstand so it can sit upright while you’re placing your kayak onto it.

We also love that its frame is not aluminum (which always makes me nervous about bending or bucking with some jarring). The frame is powder-coated steel!

If you’re going to buy a cart, I’d go for this one hands down!

Honorable Mention

The only reason the Suspenz DLX Beach Cart with Balloon Wheels didn’t make our list officially is that it’s closing in on $250.

The balloon wheels make this very versatile over lots of different terrains (including sand which most other carts would have a tough time getting through).

The wheels are 12″ AND inflatable which is a huge upgrade to most hard plastic 10″ wheels. Suspenz even includes a pump.

Straps are included in the purchase price and the dual kickstand is a blessing as you mount your canoe.

Annual Canoeing Participants in North America By Group

DIY – Can I Build My Own Canoe Cart?

Yes, you most certainly can make your own cart. There are dozens of DIY kayak cart videos on YouTube and the price you’ll pay probably will come in around $30 – $50.

That price is similar to ready-made versions (low end) so you’ll have to assess whether or not you can make a better one for the same money, or a less expensive one of similar quality.

The basic construction is PVC pipe (which is not as strong as aluminum for this purpose) and you’ll need some basic tools and a bit of a mechanical aptitude. After that (and a bit of luck while doing precise adjustments with parts that were never meant to go together), you should be good.

Here’s a great video (since I haven’t done one yet) showing the process:

Key Takeaway

If you aren’t getting any younger and feel a cart might help you bring your canoe/kayak to the water, a cart may be an awesome option.

If you’re young and like adventuring through new-to-you wilderness canoe routes, I wouldn’t suggest buying or making a cart. It’s cumbersome, adds unnecessary weight, and might be absolutely 100% unusable on rough terrain.

So, know your locations/portages in advance and if you’ll use them over and over, a cart might suit you perfectly!

Happy Paddling my friends!

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