Canoe with Guide Gear life vest

Kayak and Canoe Carts

Whether you’ve ever had to portage a kayak any distance or merely move it up the beach from water’s edge while loaded, you can appreciate the convenience of a cart to help transport your kayak. Canoers dealing with long portages or extended river access points might also find a cart to be a useful advantage. In either case, the option of using a cradle on wheels to haul your boat makes for worthy consideration.

Carts are hardly the rocket science gear of paddling. Basically a cart needs to have the following attributes to be effective:Kayak Cart

  • A rugged frame capable of handling the anticipated loads it will bear
  • Wheels tall and wide enough to handle the load across various surface conditions
  • A carriage/cradle adequate for the size of the boat
  • Cushioning to protect the boat from damage
  • Straps or other methods for holding the boat firm on the cart to help prevent/minimize load shifting
  • Ability to breakdown and collapse for stowage on or below deck of craft

In some parts of the country, access to put-in launch sites are limited to non-motorized vehicles. So even though shouldering your kayak or portaging your canoe is an option, carrying all your gear and your boat on a cart may save you a trip as well as stress and fatigue. Such scenarios may also mean going from pavement or hard-pack to soft, wet shoreline environments all in the same transport.

Let’s look in a little more detail, at each of the components to consider when deciding upon which cart is best for your needs:


The most critical element in a cart’s make-up is its wheels. If they’re too narrow they may sink into the sand, if they’re too soft and wide, they may be sluggish on harder ground. Sometimes wheels tend to plow the sand in front of them rather than riding over it. Generally a wider, softer tire is going to travel over soft terrain better and with less impact and resistance than a narrow wheel. Picture the wheels on a vehicle riding over the delicate tundra.

Wheels/tires can be pneumatic (filled with air) or solid/foam cored (airless). Air-filled tires (“balloon” type) can be adjusted for hardness depending upon the terrain, but can also leak and/or be hard to re-inflate in the field. An airless tire is what-you-have-is-what-you-get, no adjustments. However, depending upon the width, it’s always ready to perform.

Both types should be firmly secured/locked onto the axel/frame, yet easily removable for stowage as the cart folds down or is disassembled. Carts with wider wheelbases tend to work better on softer terrain; narrower bases for harder surfaces. The type of wheel and the material used to make the wheel will affect both the weight and cost of the cart. Axel height is also a consideration depending upon the terrain. And, of course, plastic wheels don’t rust, and some do have a rubber tread applied to the wheel’s contact surface.

The Kayak Kaddy from Sportsman's Guide gets you to your launch site with minimal effort and no tools!
The Kayak Kaddy from Sportsman’s Guide gets you to your launch site with minimal effort and no tools!


Almost all frames are made from sturdy, but lightweight, anodized aluminum. A few cart makers also offer frames of molded polypropylene. Typically frames are classified as: 1.) Center-cart carry (cart positioned somewhere near the midpoint of the boat); 2.) End-cart carry (cart attached near bow/stern and leveraged at the opposite end when transporting); or 3.) Plug-in (typically incorporating scupper holes on SUPs).

Carts either collapse/fold down quickly into individual or sectional pieces for stowing, or disassemble quickly and easily (take care not to lose any separate pieces such as cotter pins for the wheels).


Some carts add a kickstand to help stabilize the cart during loading. Kickstand can be spring-loaded or otherwise hinged to swing up and out of the way during transit.


Straps are pretty much standard issue on all carts. Make sure the buckle or clips are padded to prevent scratching the boat. In addition, padding/pads are usually applied along the cradle portion of the frame to help seat the boat on the frame and to prevent scratches as well.

Straps should be wrapped around a secure cross strut on the frame and should not be able to slip or slide in transit. Typically two straps are tightened parallel across the deck of the kayak. If you have just one strap, crossing the strap from front strut on one side of the cart to the rear strut on the opposite side for a grip is less likely to cause the boat to shift.

Some end carts don’t require strapping to secure the kayak to the cart, but rather rely on its weight and position to hold it firmly on the frame.


  • To keep better control of your loaded boat, have more than half of the load on the towing end
  • Double check your straps when traveling across sloped terrain
  • As with any marine gear, do a thorough rinse after use, especially in salt water environments

The choices of carts are many, based mostly on the type of boat (weight, width, etc.) and the types of terrain over which you’ll be carting your canoe or kayak. Consider, too, the load limits it can bear; many are less than 100 pounds while top load weights can be upwards of 200 pounds. Other factors include the actual weight of the cart and how easy it can be broken down and stowed.

Clearly a cart increases our opportunity to get to out on the water, so be safe and have fun out there!

Purchase the Kayak Kaddy at Sportsman’s Guide > 



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2 Responses to “Kayak and Canoe Carts”

  1. Nick Mastrippolito

    I have often used a canoe for a place to sleep when trying to make time by saving the camp set up, and tear down. Port on dry ground, prefer level ground, get about 6 or 8 flexible tree branches about 6 feet long. Use them to push into the ground on each side of your canoe using them as a hoop to hold up a tarp, dry out the bottom of your canoe, and place a ground mat in the canoe with a pillow, or make a pillow of your dry bag, and there you have a easy and quick place to sleep. This is a dry, and safe place to sleep especially in areas with bugs, and reptiles that will bite ( bugs, snakes, etc.). Usually I do this when I do not need a fire, or a heater of any sort to keep warm. Fire, and heaters with this type of set up, are not canoe, or health friendly. One can us a tarp tied to trees to put the canoe under, to shed rain if needed.
    I do find both ways as quick, easy, and dry, sleeping quarters if applied correctly, try it you will see and develop your own style of this wonderful outdoors trick.

    • tom watson

      Maybe with a BIG canoe and a small stature, but the idea of using the shell as a “bed” is at least resourceful. If the bug issue isn’t that serious, also consider propping the canoe upside-down at an angle to create a dome over a sleeping area, using a paddle perpendicular to the center of the hull gives you a support beam over which to drape a tarp for extended roofing. On a beach, you can create a shallow depression for your body and you are set. Sweet dreams!