When it comes to canoeing – getting your craft to the water can be half the battle! If your canoe storage location is a significant distance from the water, you’ll need some way to load your craft onto your car or truck. Canoe carriers and roof racks solve this problem by turning your vehicle’s built-in roof rack into an ideal canoe transport solution.
A good carrier will make loading your craft on and off your vehicle much simpler. They’ll also make driving at highway speeds safe and secure – and will hold up to strong winds, rain, and stop and go traffic.
Because they’re specifically designed to handle canoes, they’re far more stable and secure than other carrying methods. I’ll break down some of the best canoe carriers on the market, as well as how to choose the best one for your needs.
Quick Answer: 6 Best Canoe Carriers
- Best Overall: Yakima KeelOver Rooftop Mounted Canoe
- Runner Up: Thule Portage Canoe Rack
- Truck/SUV Carrier: Maxxhaul Hitch Mount Truck Bed Extender
- Locking Canoe Carrier: Lockrack Universal Watersports Carrier
- Best Value: Malone Big Foot Pro Universal Car Rack
- Budget Pick: Malone Standard Foam Block Canoe Carrier
Best Overall: Yakima KeelOver Rooftop Mounted Canoe
When it comes to roof racks, Yakima consistently produces some of the best in class products – and this carrier is no exception. It quickly attaches directly to your roof rack right out of the box, making it one of the simplest canoe carriers around.
Installation takes mere minutes, with a simple tool-free bolt-on attachment. All the hardware you’ll need comes included, with straps, bow/stern tie-downs, and rubber stabilizers to cushion your canoe’s gunwales. The simple design will fit most factory crossbars, including round, square, and aerodynamic bars.
The 4 gunwale brackets completely lock your canoe into a secure and stable hull up position, ensuring it won’t shift or come loose no matter how rough the driving conditions are. They’re also easy to remove when not in use, so you can detach them when you need to use the roof rack for other things.
While it costs is a bit more than other canoe carriers, the superior engineering, and easy-of-use more than justify the increased price.
- Mount Type: Clamp and bolt
- Quick and easy attachment/detachment
- All necessary hardware comes included
- Fits wide variety of crossbars
- Minimum crossbar spread of 24” for boats less than 14’, and 30” for boats over 14’
- Lifetime warranty
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Runner Up: Thule Portage Canoe Rack
If you’re looking for a well-made all-in-one universal canoe mounting solution, this rack from the pros over at Thule is an excellent option. It makes mounting most canoes fast and easy, and will accommodate a wide variety of crossbar designs.
The design is similar to the Yakima model above, with two tightening bolts on each of the four brackets. It uses a wider attachment point, which results in a more universal bracket, but with slightly more flex. It still provides an excellent hold, but it won’t be quite as tight.
Installation is fast and easy, taking mere minutes to get everything set up. One tip to keep in mind for wider canoes is to install the rack with the vertical arm facing inward rather than outwards. This will allow the rack to accommodate a wider craft.
The rack comes with all the necessary mounting hardware, including center straps with buckles, and bow-stern tie-downs. If your vehicle doesn’t have mounting points, make sure to pick up loop straps to fit under the hood and trunk.
- Mount Type: Clamp and bolt
- Fast and easy to install
- Will accommodate a wide variety of crossbar designs
- Includes strap with buckles and bow/stern tie downs
- Lifetime warranty
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Truck/SUV Carrier: MaxxHaul Hitch Mount Truck Bed Extender
If you’re looking for a hitch-mounted canoe carrier for your pickup truck or SUV, then this canoe and kayak carrier from MaxxHaul makes an excellent option. It uses a 2-inch hitch receiver to mount to your truck or SUV’s hitch – creating a rear support section to hold your watercraft.
The carrier can be used in two different configurations: flat out behind the truck bed, or raised up to the height of your truck or SUV’s roof. Additionally, the carrier can be adjusted in both length and width, allowing you to customize it to whatever load you need to carry.
The load bar is fully width adjustable with a pin-secured connection, allowing you to adjust the width between 28 1/4” and 48 3/4”. This allows you to tailor the carrier to accommodate kayaks, canoes, lumber, pipes and more. You can also fold the side arms completely flat for transporting boards and other flat items.
The bar measures 53 1/2” long from the hitch to the end, and is extendable between 4 and 10 inches high. It features an overall load capacity of 300 lbs, making it more than capable of handing canoes and kayaks.
- Mount Type: Tow hitch
- Weight Capacity: 300 lbs
- Adjustable width (28 1/2″ to 48 3/4″) horizontal bar
- Height extendable
- Powder-coated steel construction
Locking Canoe Carrier: Lockrack Universal Watersports Carrier
This versatile roof rack is the perfect solution when you need to transport a canoe, kayak, sup, or other craft and not worry about it getting pilfered by some ne’er-do-well. The aluminum carrier uses a ratcheting design with 4 touch points to securely lock your craft in position. Its non-marking rubber arms fold in flat when not in use for better aerodynamics, and won’t scuff up your craft during transport.
The kit includes a universal adapter for round, square, or oval-shaped crossbars, as well as an accessory groove to fit most aftermarket racks like Thule or Yakima. Four detachable rack arms and two 26” rack bases enable you to fit a wide variety of craft – and with the ratcheting arms extending up to 7” on each side, you’ll be able to get a precision fit.
Because the arms are completely detachable, loading your craft can be done from either side or from the rear of the vehicle. Once you’ve loaded and secured your craft, you can lock it in position with the 4 included keys. This will give you the peace of mind to leave your vehicle without needing to constantly keep an eye on it.
Another advantage is the carrier doesn’t require any tie-down straps whatsoever. Simply load up your canoe, lock it in place, and off you go.
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- Mount Type: Universal adapter
- Securely locks in place to keep your canoe safe
- Fits a wide variety of canoes, kayaks, and SUP’s
- Completely detachable arms for loading or when not in use
- Eliminates the need for tie-down straps
- 26” base with arms extending up to 7” on each side
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Best Value: Malone Big Foot Pro Universal Car Rack
This easy to install canoe rack is the perfect choice for quickly mounting a wide variety of canoe sizes to your vehicle’s roof rack. The polycarbonate platform will attach to round, square, and oval-shaped cross rails, offering superior protection for your canoe’s gunwales. The sturdy frame locks your canoe in a solid position during transport – virtually eliminating shaking and shifting in transport.
Included with the four carrier brackets are one set of bow/stern safety tie-downs and two 12-foot buckle straps. The brackets require occasional tightening but are a huge improvement over cheaper foam padding.
One thing to keep in mind is the bolts may be too long for more compact factory roof racks – making completely closing them unmanageable. To fix this you can either purchase shorter bolts or cut the ends off the existing ones.
If you’re looking for a high-quality mount without spending an arm and a leg, then this car rack makes an excellent choice.
- Mount Type: Clamp and Bolt
- Weight Capacity: 90 lbs
- Attaches to a wide variety of roof racks
- Universal-fit Jawz mounting hardware
- Includes bow and stern safety tie downs
Budget Pick: Malone Standard Foam Block Canoe Carrier
While it may not have all the bells and whistles of more expensive canoe carriers, this basic mounting kit contains everything you need to transport your canoe effectively. It features four 6” long non-skid EVA foam blocks, two 15-foot cam buckle load straps, and two safety tie-downs to ensure a safe installation.
The foam blocks have universal cut-outs designed to fit around round, square, and oval-shaped roof rack bars. They’ll also work on car roofs without built-in roof racks, acting as protective padding for your roof.
If you’re looking for a canoe carrier for occasional use, and don’t want to break the bank, then these foam blocks will probably suit you. On the other hand, if you’re planning to transport your canoe on a regular basis, you’ll want to step up to a more permanent roof rack.
- Mount Type: Foam blocks
- Economical way to transport your canoe
- Foam blocks will fit nearly any roof rack shape and can be used without one
- Includes 2 x buckle load straps and 2 x safety tie downs
- Excellent for occasional usage
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How to choose the right roof rack
Choosing the right roof rack or carrier for your vehicle can get pretty confusing. With so many different styles, mount types, and features, choosing the right one can seem like finding a needle in a haystack.
Let’s take a look at what you need to know to help narrow down your decision.
Vehicle Roof Rack
Your vehicle’s existing roof rack has a major impact on which canoe carriers you’ll be able to use.
Built-in crossbars come with some cars and trucks, and usually don’t require any additional hardware to mount your canoe carrier to. Aftermarket crossbars work much in the same way and typically won’t require anything extra.
Elevated side rails are found in many crossovers, trucks, and SUVs. They run front-to-back on the roof, allowing you to mount nearly any type of aftermarket crossbars to them. These form strong attachment points for crossbars, and typically don’t require any additional hardware other than the crossbars to setup your canoe carrier.
Flush side rails sit directly against the roof of your vehicle and have channels for you to attach aftermarket roof racks to. Once the aftermarket rack is installed, you can typically fit any canoe carrier to it.
Naked/Bare roofs are roofs without any rails or built-in recessed channels. These roofs can still be used to transport canoes, with foam pads and tie-down straps. You also have the option of installing some form of clip fit roof rack to create a mounting surface for your canoe carrier.
When you’re transporting canoes, kayaks, and other heavy craft, you should always make sure to check the weight capacity of your vehicle and roof rack.
Loading and Unloading
Depending on the type of canoe carrier you’ve got, loading can either be done from the sides or the front/rear of your vehicle. Side loading canoe carriers is generally easier than loading from the front or rear and is particularly useful for taller trucks and SUVs. If you have a canoe hoist in your garage, then loading from above is another good option.
Cheaper options like foam pads are more of a pain to load and unload, and won’t last as long if you using them frequently. If you’re planning to use your canoe carrier often, then going with a higher-end model will make things much easier for you.
Depending on where you store your canoe, and your put-it location, a useful item to have is a good canoe cart. This will let you wheel your boat from your car or truck down to the water and back again.
The ideal canoe carrier for you will also depend on how you plan to use it. If you’re just looking for something to transport your craft a few blocks down to the lake or river, then a cheap foam padding carrier will work fine.
On the other hand, if you’re looking for a carrier to travel longer distances over freeways or highways, then you’ll want to have a mount that will stay in position even when it’s getting belted with strong winds. A more durable mount is definitely preferred in this situation. A good canoe cover can also be useful in this situation.
Either way, it’s important to always double-check your tie down lines, and make sure they’re secured correctly before taking off.
Canoes and other expensive watercraft left unattended on top of your vehicle are major bait for thieves. Even if the roof rack appears secured, thieves are well aware of how to quickly disassemble canoe carriers and snag your $1500+ canoe. If you plan to leave your car or truck unattended for any significant length of time, then you’ll want to make sure you have some way of locking your craft away from potential theft.
One of the best ways to accomplish this is with a locking canoe carrier like the Lockrack Universal Watersports Carrier reviewed above. Another method is to use lockable straps to secure the canoe to your roof rack. Thule makes excellent nylon covered steel straps that will protect your craft from theft as well as prevent scratching to your vehicle.