Kayak Trailer or Rack? A Buyer’s Guide

Deciding on the right trailer or rack for your Canoe or Kayak can be a difficult decision. I’d like to point out some of the major trade-offs you should consider before reaching a purchasing decision.

Here is a quick link to my summary at the end of the article.

First, you need to consider exactly what kind of gear you will be carrying. If you are a solo paddler and are only interested in transporting one canoe then that narrows down your options considerably. However, if you are into several different sports, or want the option to carry multiple boats, there are a variety of custom trailers and racks to consider.

Canoe and Kayak Roof Racks

Roof racks are going to be your cheapest option but they have some disadvantages. Fuel economy is one concern. Depending on the vehicle you can lose up to 30% of your fuel economy with a loaded down roof rack and even up to 5% with a unloaded roof rack at highway speeds. This is due to the added wind resistance. If you want to keep your roof rack on and you do a lot of highway driving, it could result in a substantial loss of money down the road (no pun intended).

Another disadvantage to roof racks is that they don’t hold nearly as much cargo as a trailer. Most roof racks max out at 2 boats, and many roof racks will only support around 150 lbs of gear. If you have a lot of stuff, trailers can carry much more cargo (for example this trailer can carry 16 kayaks).

Additionally, roof racks can be a pain to deal with. They can be difficult to install correctly, scratch up your vehicle and there is always a danger of them coming lose. Perhaps the biggest inconvenience is that it’s going to be more difficult to load and unload your cargo, especially if you have a large truck or van.

That said, roof racks have there place and in many applications they can be more than adequate. If you have a truck you can use a hitch mount roof rack. These are nice because you can easily remove the rack from the hitch and use the cargo bed of your truck for more storage. An example of this is the Thule Goal Post:

Canoe and Kayak Trailers

If you are serious about paddle sports and have the space and money for a trailer, it’s probably going to make more sense to buy a quality trailer. While fuel economy is a benefit, the main advantages of a trailer are the convenience and capacity. Lets be real; loading and unloading boats and bikes off the top of your car or truck is a pain. It will be much easier to haul your gear with a trailer.

Also consider that depending on the kind of trailer you have, you can haul 4+ kayaks. That means that for a long trip with friends or family you can use one vehicle instead of 2 making the trip cheaper and more convenient for everyone.

Disadvantages of trailers include the price, storage of the trailer, and a loss of maneuverability of your vehicle when the trailer is attached. Maneuverability becomes especially important if you like to take your vehicle off road to reach certain destinations; a trailer is going to hurt your off road ability.

For a more general and customizable trailer I would suggest something like the Malone MicroSport Sports Trailer. I like these trailers because they are lightweight and made of rust proof aluminum in the USA. They are very high quality trailers.

Another nice thing about Malone trailers, is that they are very well designed, and allow you to easily customize the trailer to carry whatever you want, be it kayaks, canoes, bikes, and more. If you know you want to haul kayaks and canoes, purchase some Malone AutoLoaders to make the job quick, safe and easy.

These kinds of trailers aren’t just limited to boats and bikes, you can also carry tools and accessories with a Malone Auto Racks MicroSport Trailer Storage Trunk. This is a nice modular unit designed for the trailer so it will fit easily and securely. Perfect for tools and smelly gear that you may not want inside your vehicle.

These kinds of accessories are examples of what you can do with your trailer. The modular aspect of the accessories is nice because you can easily customize your trailer for the task at hand.

For some people a trailer will be out of reach because they cost more than they would like to spend, and the don’t have a vehicle capable of trailering. In my opinion this kind of setup is best for serious enthusiasts, people with multiple kayaks and people who like to take their kayaks on long trips. Otherwise, you are probably better off with a roof rack.


Deciding on a roof rack or trailer for your boats can be a difficult decision. Here is a re-cap of some of the pros and cons to racks and trailers.

Rack Pros:
– Price
– Maintains the maneuverability of your vehicle
– Easy to store

Rack Cons:
– Reduced Fuel Efficiency
– Limited Capacity
– They can off set your vehicle’s center of gravity
– Less convenient than a trailer

Trailer Pros:
– Convenience
– Larger storage capacity
– Better Fuel Efficiency
– They will not negatively effect your vehicle’s center of gravity

Trailer Cons:
– Expense
– Fuel Efficiency is still reduced
– You need a vehicle that can haul a trailer, a hitch, and a place to store the trailer
– Reduced maneuverability and off road capabilities