How To Transport A Canoe With ANY Vehicle

In May of this year my wife Sydney and I drove to the beautiful north woods of Minnesota for our honeymoon.  With Minnesota being the land of 10,000 lakes I saw this as the perfect excuse for me to buy my first canoe.  Pretty much everyone in the state has a canoe hanging in their back yard, so it's relatively easy to find a cheap canoe. (A note to anyone who wants to buy a canoe in Minnesota, write out a bill of sale! They treat canoes like vehicles here, even if you never intend to use a motor with it.)

After purchasing a canoe it hit me... How am I supposed to haul this thing for 10 hours down the highway on my way home?

It was time to get creative.  After seeking some guidance from the locals I found that the canoe would ride nicely if I rested it against the back cab of my pickup, and the tailgate, while strapping it to the front, middle, and rear of my vehicle.  The only time I had to tighten the straps was one we ran into 50mph winds on the way home!

However, my mind was blown the minute I pulled into the charming town of Ely, Minnesota and saw how creative some paddlers got with their canoe setups.  I even remember seeing a Chevy Impala with 3 canoes strapped to the top. Now that's impressive!

After my experience in Ely I'm convinced that any vehicle can transport a canoe or kayak.  You don't need a fancy roof rack or trailer to haul your boat. You just need to raise your level of creativity! In this guide to transporting canoes I'll start with standard methods, and move on to some pretty extreme scenarios.

Let's start with the classic roof rack/canoe trailer.
Photo courtesy of
The photo above is canoe hauling to the max using the two most standard methods.  Canoes will fit comfortably onto a roof rack, especially when using canoe racks which can be purchased for relatively cheap from Amazon, Ebay, and many local stores that carry sporting goods.

Canoe trailers are the most ideal way to carry a whole group's canoes without having to make multiple trips (although whomever loaded up this rig is apparently capable of hauling 5 canoes on top of a standard 13 passenger van. Once again, I'm impressed).  The bad part about canoe racks is that they're difficult to find unless you live in the heart of canoe country.  Most people end up welding their trailers themselves.  Pickup bed trailers can be converted into good, sturdy canoe trailers! The one pictures below is used by the Jack Mountain Bushcraft School (during warmer months of course!)
Photo courtes of Tim Smith of
Lets move on to pickup trucks.

People usually don't have roof racks for their pickups, and many don't even have toppers attached, which adds another obstacle to overcome when trying mount the canoe evenly to your roof. Tho photo at the top of this post shows how I overcame that problem, but is there an even better way to the topperless pickup drivers to haul their canoes? I think so.

Some pickups are equipped with lumber racks, for transporting, um, lumber.  Although these racks often cost a couple thousand dollars, many DIY inclined individuals have made their own pickup canoe racks.  Here are a couple of my favorite examples!
Photo courtesy of
Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of
I love these examples.  My theory has always been that PVC, wood, screws, and gorilla tape can make most anything.

Now, Let's move on to smaller, and more unconventional vehicles.  That's right Smart Car! I'm calling you out!

If you put a roof rack or some canoe mounts onto any small sedan it will easily handle your canoe, even if it looks a bit Hillbilly.  But a Smart Car? Surely a smart car could never possibly transport a canoe, right? Wrong!

Photo courtesy of
As you can see from the photo above, with the right straps and the proper roof padding, even the Smart can handle a full sized canoe.
I prefer using basic cambuckle tie-downs to strap down canoes, due to their simplicity! If you feel the need to have your straps extra tight, you could purchase ratchet tie down straps. Both are very inexpensive, and extremely useful.
(EDIT - After driving through some extremely windy/rainy conditions on my way to a canoe trip, I now recommend ratchet tie downs, not cambuckle. The extra stability is a very assuring feeling.)
The photo above shows a fiberglass canoe, which is extremely strong, stiff, and durable, which makes it easy to mount to even the smallest vehicle for transportation.  However, if you own a kevlar canoe, this may not be the best idea.  Pictured below is a Smart hauling a small canoe trailer.  These smaller trailers can be built cheaply, and as you see, they can even store a dry bag or two!
Photo courtesy of Les McDonald

  Of course, canoes can be transported using even smaller "vehicles" with just a little more determination.  But enough writing for now, I need to get on the water! It's a beautiful Saturday!

Subscribe to check out next week's post on transporting a canoe by bicycle! As always, thanks for your support,

Samuel LarsonComment