Best truck rack for canoe

Best truck rack for canoe
Video Best truck rack for canoe

If there’s one issue with owning a kayak it’s how to transport it efficiently, especially on a truck bed. Unless you’re paddling an inflatable or folding model, your boat is going to be long, heavy, and generally unruly. Getting it attached to your truck is a struggle, especially if you don’t have the right equipment.

Kayak racks for passenger cars and SUVs are pretty straightforward, however, kayak racks for trucks are a different story though. Fortunately, there are different options and kayak rack models to consider, that can make your paddling experience a whole lot less stressful.

Three Types of Kayak Racks for Trucks

Variety is the spice of life. Depending on your personal preference and your truck’s construction, there are three ways in which you can mount a kayak on your truck. These three types of kayak racks for trucks all have their own pros and cons which you should take into consideration.

Toppers are fantastic for camping or keeping your gear safe from the elements. Unfortunately, having an attached topper can be a hindrance to installing a kayak rack – the bed is already occupied. Fortunately, a few companies design crossbar systems that attach to your truck’s topper so it can remain attached while hauling your kayak. It can be difficult getting your boat onto the topper, but it is doable with the help of a friend.

Truck bed racks are the best option for paddlers that want a more permanent transportation system for their boat. Most racks bolt into the bed rails and are left on year-round. They’re also useful for carrying long loads that are not kayaks, like dimensional lumber, fence materials, and long pipes.

One of the easiest ways to transport your kayak is simply throwing it in the bed. If you’re paddling a whitewater kayak, especially a playboat, it’ll barely extend past the tailgate and may not even need a hazard flag attached. Touring boats are a different story though; their extra length necessitates extra support and that’s where a truck hitch rack comes in.

A hitch rack has a bar that extends from the hitch with a crossbar or “goal post” attached to the end of it. This provides vital support for a boat hanging four or more feet past the tailgate.

Hitch racks are usually the best for tonneau cover pickups as the brackets involved with bed racks cover the inside of the rails where the tonneau cover would be. If your boat has a very low profile, it might fit under the cover, but in most cases, you’ll need to roll it up first.

The MaxxHaul 70231 Kayak Rack Gets the Best Overall Vote

At first glance, the MaxxHaul 70231 looks like any other hitch rack. It extends between 24 and 49-inches, which combined with your truck bed is long enough for even the largest sea kayaks. It has a 300-pound capacity, which isn’t bad for a hitch rack and is sufficiently large for carrying two heavy fishing kayaks. With its impressive design, strength, and weight capacity, the MaxxHaul 70231 gets the vote as the best overall kayak rack for trucks.

Where the MaxxHaul excels is in its user-friendliness. The whole apparatus is assembled with quick-release pins, so it can be taken apart or put back together in about a minute. It also weighs just 32 lbs, making storage a cinch. Another one of the cooler features of the MaxxHaul is that the goal post arms fold down to create a workspace. Just lay a piece of wooden sheeting over the arms and tailgate and you’ve got at least four feet of table space hanging off the back of your truck.

The MaxxHaul 70231 is of great value when it comes to hitch-mounted kayak racks for trucks. Hitch racks are generally less expensive and this model is loaded with user-friendly features.

The Truck Bed Hitch Extender by Goplus Is the Best Budget Option

This is one of the least expensive options for carrying a kayak with your pickup truck and it’s one of the easiest to use. With its fantastic 750-pound carrying capacity at such an affordable price, this kayak rack gets the vote for being the best budget option.

The GoPlus hitch rack might be the best hitch kayak rack for trucks on the market right now. On each side of the crossbar, the GoPlus has vertical posts designed to keep any kind of load centered on the rack. Usually, there’s not too much movement with a properly tied down kayak, but these bumpers are useful when you’re carrying long loads like dimensional lumber.

For safety’s sake, the GoPlus is packaged with a red flag to place on the end of your kayak. The rack is also coated in reflective tape for extra visibility. Another great feature of the GoPlus is that you can use an adaptor to narrow the rack down to 1 ¼-inch to fit in smaller hitch receivers.

Read more: How to transport a canoe

While it’s unlikely that your pickup truck would have a 1 ¼-inch hitch receiver, the GoPlus can be adapted to fit the smaller hitch to be compatible with passenger cars and vans. You probably don’t want to load it up to full capacity using the 1 ¼-inch adaptor, as the vehicle will not be designed for carrying that kind of weight and the rack will be more unstable in the smaller hitch mount.

If You Want Something Heavy-Weight, Get the TMS Utility Kayak Rack

This model from TMS is the gold standard for truck bed racks. it’s built tough, it’s relatively easy to install, and it’s not too expensive. Let’s start with the construction, the 1.5-inch vertical and crossbar pieces are manufactured from heavy-duty steel, allowing you to carry up to 800-pounds, earning it the top spot for the best heavy-weight kayak rack for trucks.

It can be adjusted to fit any bed width between five and seven feet with a simple bolt, and the rack sits thirty inches above the bed rails. Each of the four vertical sections screws into the bed rails or can be clamped if you aren’t sure about a permanent install.

You can haul more than a couple of kayaks with the TMS too. Each of the vertical sections has a small post that sits above the crossbar that helps to prevent anything like a ladder or lumber load from sliding off. Hooks on the sides of each vertical piece provide more attachment points for bungees and rope that would complement your main tie-downs.

The only downside to this rack is that it’s cumbersome. The whole set weighs fifty pounds and if you don’t attach it permanently, they take up a fair bit of space in storage. There’s also the issue of drilling holes in your bed rails, but that’s a problem with any truck bed rack.

TMS also makes a version of the rack that does not include the goal post verticals. This model is a little easier to lift your boat onto since you don’t have to clear those extra few inches, but it’s less useful for carrying loose loads like lumber or pipe. Those verticals can be a lifesaver should something slip free of the tie-downs.

Vantech Universal Offers the Best Option for a Truck Topper Rack

Vantech’s M1000 is top of its class as a kayak rack for truck toppers as it’s well-designed, inexpensive, and very lightweight. It gets our vote as the best truck topper kayak rack.

The two sets of aluminum crossbars can be installed by drilling eight holes in your truck bed topper, which is, unfortunately, the only way to mount any of the topper racks.

The crossbars have a carrying capacity of 500 lbs and are 60 inches wide. The bars sit a little over five inches above the topper, which gives plenty of clearance for seats or any accessories that are attached to the deck of your kayak. The crossbars weigh just 14 lbs, making it the lightest kayak rack for trucks on this list.

The Vantech’s crossbars lack any kind of bumpers, which are usually quite useful for securing a load and preventing your kayak from slipping around. However, just getting your kayak up on a topper feels like it requires a ladder and an extra set of hands. Forgoing the bumpers makes the process a little easier as you don’t need to lift it over the vertical posts.

The M1000 is a good choice for buyers that need a lot of capacity and flexibility in how their load is attached. The lack of bumpers provides more usable space than most topper racks. It’s also priced fairly low for such a high-quality aluminum rack.

AA Racks Has a Great Truck Rack Combo Offer

The X35 from AA Racks is one of the best truck bed racks on the market for one reason – it comes with four J-racks that secure your boat in a semi-upright position rather than over the crossbars. The heavily-padded J-racks provide extra attachment points and prevent the boat from sliding laterally. Even with the more complex rack, it doesn’t cost any more than some of the aluminum models, which is why this is the top pick for the best combo offer.

The crossbars are adjustable between 35 and 57 inches. The ends of the bars have large bumpers to prevent anything from sliding off, but they are not removable or adjustable as they have been on other models. As with all topper racks, you need to drill a few holes to get the bars installed. Fortunately, AA Racks included some helpful gaskets to go on the mounts and prevent moisture from leaking into the freshly-drilled holes.

There’s nothing particularly special about the DX36, but the rack is very inexpensive and could be a good choice for paddlers that need something cheap and easy to use. The lack of features will be a turn-off for many buyers though.

Additionally, We Have Some Other Honorable Kayak Racks for Truck to Consider

The APX25 from AA Racks is perfect for the paddler who wants only the best when transporting their kayak. It’s made from lightweight aluminum, which shaves about 20% of the rack’s weight. Most steel models come in between fifty and sixty pounds, while the APX25 is a more comfortable 42-pounds. The aluminum frame resists corrosion much better than steel and the whole setup is powder-coated for enhanced durability. Lightweight materials don’t translate to lower capacity either, these racks can hold up to 800-pounds.

Read more: Hauling a canoe in a truck bed

A nice feature of the APX25 is the crossbar bumpers attached to the vertical sections prevent your load from sliding around too much. The bumpers are adjustable so you can squeeze the sides of your kayak with them and they can be removed if you’re carrying a wider load.

If you’re concerned about drilling holes in your truck bed, the APX25 comes with eight heavy-duty clamps for attaching the vertical brackets. These are the same clamps that are used to attach toppers to your bed, so you know they’ll stay firmly in place.

The only area where the APX25 falters is on price. It costs at least twice as much as its steel counterparts. It’s very well-built and deserving of a higher price tag, but if you’re not someone who will make use of its lighter weight, by installing and uninstalling each season, it’s probably not worth the cost.

MaxxHaul’s 70423 truck rack is a more budget-friendly version of AA APX25. Also constructed of aluminum, it weighs less for its size compared to steel and is great for buyers anticipating taking their rack on and off often. The MaxxHaul’s verticals are equipped with bumpers that keep your load from sliding around, but they reduce your crossbar’s usable length by a few inches on each side.

Additionally, the MaxxHaul only has a 400-pound weight limit, half that of the AA APX25, or the TMS. The aluminum construction just can’t take as much weight and the Maxxhaul lacks the reinforcements seen on the AA truck rack. Given that almost no kayak or canoe weighs 200-pounds, the Maxxhaul’s lower capacity isn’t a problem when carrying two boats, but could be an issue when hauling other things.

If you see yourself needing to take the rack on and off every season, the lightweight aluminum might be worth the extra cost. However, its lower carrying capacity combined with a moderately high price tag make it a niche product.

Extra Accessories to Consider

The most challenging aspect of setting up a kayak roof rack for a truck is drilling holes into your bed. The holes are unsightly when the rack is not attached, moisture can seep in and corrode the truck’s body, and there’s always the possibility that you’ll measure wrong and need to drill some extra holes. The solution: clamps!

Clamps are commonly used to attach toppers to truck beds and they can just as easily secure your kayak rack. These clamps from Y-Autoparts are especially effective at the job, utilizing a cap clamp design that will fit almost any pickup truck bed. The larger jaws hold better than standard C-clamps and powder-coating on them ensures they’ll last for many years.

These clamps are an excellent addition to your kayak transportation setup and one that will make your life a whole lot easier. While clamps aren’t as foolproof as bolts would be, they’re certainly easier to install and remove, plus you won’t need to worry about damaging the truck and reducing its resale value.

All of the above rack options are great, but they’re missing a critical component – tie-downs. The very best rack is useless without a strong set of tie-downs to secure the boat to the crossbars. You could use rope or bungees, but there’s always the chance that they’ll get some slack in them and your kayak could come flying off the rack.

These ratchet straps are the perfect solution to your tie-downs needs. They’re rated to 500 lbs, which is more than enough since even the heaviest fishing kayaks won’t weigh more than 150 lbs. Factor in the forces that come from driving 75 mph down the freeway and you still have a comfortable margin of error.

The durable ratcheting mechanism ensures a tight fit against the hull of your boat too; you’ll need to be careful not to overtighten them as they can deform the plastic quite easily. The straps are also 15’ feet long, so you may only need two of them to secure two boats (though four straps are included in the package).

The straps easily hook onto your truck bed, hitch, or any other attachment point via a pair of rubberized S-hooks. The rubber coating makes them less likely to strip the paint from your vehicle, even if they’re vibrating at highway speeds. Two bungee cords are included in the package, which can be useful for securing things like cockpit covers or other lightweight items.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Can I Prevent My Truck From Getting Scratched?

Rack systems keep your boat at least a few inches away from your vehicle, so there’s really no chance of scratching once it’s tied down. The problem is getting it on the rack without scraping any paint along the way. The best solution is to always have a friend to help you load the boats. One of you can stand inside the truck bed while the other slides it up the back rack. Alternatively, hitch racks are much easier to load by yourself as you don’t need to lift the boat above your head.

Can I Transport a Kayak on a Rack While Pulling a Trailer?

Read more: Canoe or kayak for fishing

There are a number of variables that will determine whether this scenario is feasible. First, is the trailer height shorter than your vehicle? If so, there should be no issue pulling one with your kayak in a bed or topper rack. These racks put the boat’s hull above your roofline, so as long as the trailer is shorter than this, you’ll be okay.

Let’s say you want to pull a tall camp trailer though; in this case, just make sure the kayak doesn’t extend past the truck’s rear bumper. Unless you’re carrying a very long sea kayak, your boat will probably be just fine sitting above the cab and bed, with little to nothing hanging over the bumper.

What Are the State Laws Regarding Kayak Transportation?

Before you put your DIY plans into action, check your state laws to ensure the design is in compliance with them. Every state is different, so you’ll have to look up the rules and regulations that are specific to you, but most states have similar laws regarding how a load must be carried. These are a few of the universals.

● A load (your kayak) cannot extend more than three feet past the front bumper. That’s just common sense; you don’t want to impale the vehicle in front of you.

● If the load extends more than four feet past the rear bumper, it needs a red flag attached to it so other motorists can easily spot it. If you’re driving at night, attach a red light to the end of the boat.

● Kayaks can only extend a few inches past the sides of your vehicle. Don’t build a massive rack that goes a foot or more past the doors. This can really mess with your vehicle’s handling and it’s a danger to cars that are passing you.

Rack systems keep your boat at least a few inches away from your vehicle, so there’s really no chance of scratching once it’s tied down. The problem is getting it on the rack without scraping any paint along the way. The best solution is to always have a friend to help you load the boats. One of you can stand inside the truck bed while the other slides it up the back rack. Alternatively, hitch racks are much easier to load by yourself as you don’t need to lift the boat above your head.

An Alternative Option – A DIY Kayak Rack for Your Truck

By now you’ve probably noticed something – kayak racks for trucks don’t come cheap. To save a few bucks, many paddlers build their own racks. It’s certainly not as easy as picking one off the shelf, but with a little patience, some handiness with tools, and a solid plan, you can put one together for a lot less money than a commercially available rack. Building your own rack also allows you to customize the fit to your vehicle.

If DIY isn’t for you, and you’re not satisfied with truck bed racks, then there’s always the option of the tried and tested kayak trailer.

Building a Kayak Rack for Your Truck

The vast majority of kayak racks for trucks are made from metal pipes. Metal is harder to work with and more expensive, so DIY-minded paddlers build theirs out of wood. You can find all the parts necessary at your local hardware store and it will probably cost half or a third of what it would to purchase a rack. As for tools, you’ll need a circular saw to cut your wood and a drill to tie it all together with screws.

Homemade Kayak Racks for Trucks

Building a kayak rack for your truck isn’t all that hard as the design for a truck bed rack is fairly simple; there are really only three parts to consider.

1) The uprights. These are the vertical pieces that go in the corners of the truck bed. You can bolt them into the bed, slide them into pockets along the bed rails (if you’ve got them), or just wedge them in tightly with the other components.

2) The crossbars. This is what your kayak lays on, so it’s a good idea to add some padding to them. It’ll protect the boat and provide some much-needed friction that’ll prevent it from sliding around.

3) Stabilizer bars. The uprights and crossbars form a box, but one that’s highly unstable. You’ll want to add some diagonal cross pieces on the sides and ends to prevent the whole rack from shaking as you speed down the highway.

While the weight of the rack frame, along with the boat on top of it, should keep anything from moving around, it’s always a good idea to attach a few tie-downs to the frame so everything is locked in place.

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