Best Canoe Cart Carriers

Updated September 2021
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Buying guide for Best canoe cart carriers

There are few things more relaxing than exploring a calm lake or winding river from the comfort of a canoe or kayak. Often the hardest part of one of these adventures is dragging the boat from your car to the water. The more isolated the paddling spot, the longer the distance you need to haul your boat and gear (portage). This can be a problem, particularly if you’re canoeing or kayaking solo. 

A canoe cart carrier can save your back and keep you from using up energy better spent paddling. Try it once on a long portage and you’ll quickly see your canoe cart carrier as one of the best sporting accessories you can buy.

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For a maintenance-free tire that won’t be sidelined by punctures, consider going with a cart that has solid tires.

Key considerations

Capacity

The weight of canoes and kayaks varies greatly, particularly when one is loaded up with paddles, cooler, fishing tackle, and other gear. As such, a canoe cart carrier has to be able to handle a fair amount of weight without breaking or getting so bogged down that it can’t move.

While weight capacities for canoe cart carriers range from 120 to 300 pounds depending on the carrier, most are in the 150- to 165-pound range. If possible, load your boat with gear and weigh it to get a rough idea of what capacity you should be looking for in a canoe cart carrier.

Assembly

You will probably have to assemble part of your canoe cart carrier, but it shouldn’t take you more than a few minutes to put together. While some carriers can be assembled without the need for tools, don’t be surprised if you need a wrench or screwdriver. Some of these carts come with minimal or no instructions, which can add to the assembly time and difficulty.

Storage

Also important is how easy it is to break down a canoe cart carrier for storage, both on the boat and when it’s not in use. Most of them fold, making it much easier to fit one in a canoe or kayak or store it out of the way in the off-season. While less common, some canoe cart carriers are designed so the tires can be easily removed, providing you with even more storage options.

Features

Materials

While the body or tubing of some canoe cart carriers is made of composite, plastic, steel, or other materials, most are made of aluminum. This creates a lightweight cart that is both durable and corrosion-resistant. Some canoe cart carriers are also powder-coated for added protection.

The hardware connecting the frame and tires should be stainless steel for both strength and corrosion resistance. Avoid carts with plastic hardware, or consider swapping out the plastic for metal before using the carrier. Losing a tire to a snapped plastic part halfway through a long portage won’t add to the enjoyment of your trip.

Bumpers

All canoe cart carriers should have some form of rubber or foam bumpers, which are essentially padding to help protect the canoe or kayak from scratches and keep it from sliding around on the carrier. In general, the more and larger the padding, the better protected your boat will be.

When choosing between tie-down straps, choose simpler, quick-release straps over ratchet straps, which are overkill for applications like this.

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Tires

The quality of the tires or wheels on the canoe cart carrier determines how effective the carrier will be on different types of terrain. Essentially, the taller and wider the tires, the better the cart will be able to roll over sand, stones, and other surfaces. Tires generally range from 9 to 12 inches in diameter.

You also need to choose between solid or airless tires and inflatable tires. While solid tires can break more easily, they aren’t susceptible to punctures and low air pressure like inflatable tires. One other benefit of solid tires is if one does break, you can easily find a replacement at your local hardware store.

Kickstand

A kickstand allows a canoe cart carrier to stand upright, much like the kickstand on a bike. This helps to improve stability when you’re loading and unloading your canoe or kayak. While not all canoe cart carriers have a kickstand, most incorporate one or sometimes two.

Extras

You won’t get many accessories with your canoe cart carrier, but one extra that’s fairly standard is a tie-down strap to help secure your boat to the carrier. Most canoe cart carriers come with one and some include two straps. Note how long the included straps are (typically around 12 feet). Longer is better, particularly if you have a canoe. Try to avoid using any straps with plastic buckles, which can easily break. While rare, some canoe cart carriers include bungee cords, and few come with a mesh bag, which can be used to store your canoe cart carrier when it’s not in use.

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Did You Know?
A kickstand can help stabilize the carrier when you’re loading your canoe. For maximum stability, select a carrier with two kickstands.
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Canoe cart carrier prices

Inexpensive: Canoe cart carriers that cost around $50 typically have a simple design and are lightweight and not terribly durable. These carriers tend to have a lower weight capacity of under 150 pounds. One of these is a decent option for those who only occasionally need to portage over less rugged terrain.

Mid-range: In the $55 to $75 bracket, the quality of canoe cart carriers improves considerably. These carriers are capable of handling different types of terrain and can carry weights up to 200 pounds. Features and accessories like kickstands and straps are common. These canoe cart carriers are designed for frequent use.

Expensive: At this price, you can find carriers capable of holding 200-pound loads and more. Many of these canoe cart carriers are extra-wide, making them perfect for use with larger craft. The quality here is exceptional, with powder-coating and other features designed for many years of use over rough terrain.

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Did You Know?
Canoe cart carrier tires should be at least 9 inches in diameter to allow for easier handling in sand and over rough terrain.
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Tips

  • Buy sturdier tie-down straps. The straps that come with these carriers are often not the best quality. If you plan to use your canoe cart carrier frequently, you might want to invest in some sturdier straps.
  • Make sure the straps are long enough. If you’ll be using your carrier with a canoe, make sure the straps will fit. Canoes tend to be larger than kayaks and usually require longer straps to properly tie them to the carrier.
  • Try the carrier with your boat before you buy. If you’re able to try out a particular canoe cart carrier with your own boat before you buy it, this is highly recommended. Boats differ in size and shape, and some carriers will fit your kayak or canoe much better than others.
  • Choose rubber bumpers over foam. When considering the pads the boat rests on, choose rubber. While both rubber and foam are effective at protecting the boat and keeping it from slipping, rubber is more durable.
  • Match the carrier to the kayak. While less common, some carriers are built to work with a sit-on-top kayak’s scupper holes. It is far easier to use with this type of kayak than a carrier that uses straps. Measure the distance between the scupper holes carefully before purchasing a carrier.
  • Secure the carrier in the boat. Some canoe cart carriers float; others don’t. Make sure the carrier is well secured when you’re out on the water so it won’t fall overboard.
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In addition to canoes and kayaks, canoe cart carriers can be used to transport a wide variety of other watercraft like paddleboards, surfboards, and jon boats.

FAQ

Q. Can these carriers be used on all types of terrain?

A. That largely depends on the carrier, but most of them can handle many types of terrain, including gravel, grass, and sand. The tires are the most important element when dealing with difficult terrain like sand. Generally, the taller and wider the tires, the more easily the carrier can roll, particularly through sand. Tires with treads also tend to be more effective than smooth tires on some surfaces, especially when they’re wet.

Q. Are straps absolutely necessary when using one of these carriers?

A. While some canoe cart carriers are wider and better designed to hold a canoe or kayak even when it isn’t strapped down, it’s still recommended that you secure the boat to the carrier. Canoes and kayaks can easily tilt, slide off, or brush against objects and be jostled off if they’re not tied to the carrier, possibly damaging the boat. To better protect your canoe or kayak, secure it with straps or bungee cords, and be sure the straps are cinched tight.

Q. Can I use a carrier to pull a kayak or canoe behind a bike?

A. While you might be able to get away with this over a short distance, it isn’t recommended. A carrier isn’t a trailer and as such shouldn’t be dragged behind a bike at any speed. Even strapped down, a canoe or kayak can easily shift on the carrier, resulting in possible damage to the boat, the carrier, the bike, or you.

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