How To Choose the Best Paddling Cart


Use this guide to find the right paddling cart for you.

Roll ’em! That’s the motto behind a new wave of paddling carts designed to help transport your craft from your car to the water and back, making paddling logistics easier than ever. Most carts employ two wheels that attach beneath your kayak or canoe’s stern, with a strap extending over the top of the hull for security. All you have to do is grab the craft’s bow and pull it along behind you to the water. Some carts break down so you can bring them with you on the boat (perfect for canoe trips with portages), while others need to be left in the car. Regardless, they all save your back.   


Consider your boat size and what you’ll be using it for. Smaller carts, which fit at the end of the stern, weigh less and are better for bringing along for portages; larger carts, usually placed closer to midship, are better for bigger boats (like fishing kayaks) and just getting your craft to the water. Key point: Make sure you get a cart whose capacity exceeds that of your boat and gear weight. Most have capacities between 150 and 450 pounds.  


Several different types of paddling carts sport features that are best for certain uses and boats. Most carts feature some sort of saddle or cross bar carrying configuration, with straps for securing the boat. They also come with wide wheel bases for stability, and look for a low center of gravity to prevent tip-overs. Key features: Some carts are also self-standing, which makes them easy to load and unload. And look for spring-loaded kickstands or scupper posts to provide additional stability while loading. 


Most carts are made from powder-coated aluminum, padded by either rubber or foam, with stainless steel hardware. These materials are built to last, so avoid anything with excessive plastic. 


Paddling carts employ a variety of saddle configurations, from simple crossbars to bent-up cradles. Depending on your budget, look for one with an adjustable width to fit different boats and better prevent the craft from twisting and slipping sideways. Also look for foam pads to protect your boat’s hull. Some are designed with bar-style frames, which can also be adjusted up and down to accommodate odd-shaped hulls that could rub cart wheels. 

Canoe strapped to a cart to transport it to a lake. Photo: Danita Delimont


Cart wheels come in a variety of diameters, often between 8 inches and 13 inches, and are designed to roll smoothly over rough terrain. In general, the bigger the boat, the bigger the wheel diameter you want. Wheel widths also vary, from 3.5 inches up to 7.5 inches. Wider and softer wheels navigate soft terrain like sand better. Some tires are airless—either a solid mold or filled with compressed polymer (plastic)—which are heavier and bounce more on rough terrain but are less expensive and will never go flat. Others are low-pressure, pneumatic “beach” wheels, made from such materials as heavy-duty PVC and TPU, making them better at absorbing rough terrain and rolling over sand.

Attachment Points

Most paddling carts will include some sort of cam-strap attachment system to secure the craft to the cart. Ensure the strap is long enough to go around your boat or through the hull’s scupper holes, if available. Make sure the strap is fastened securely before transporting your boat. 


Collapsible carts may cost more, but they break down easily for storage. This feature also makes it possible to bring the cart with you on your paddle, storing on top of the stern or inside a stern tank well, for portages and boat carrying at the end of point-to-point journeys. 

How to Use

Set the cart next to the rear of your kayak or canoe (and engage the kickstand if your cart has one). Lift the stern of your boat up and onto the cart, and then move the bow over so it’s in alignment with the cart and stern. Make sure it’s centered left to right. Smaller carts are designed to be positioned at the stern of your craft; larger carts for bigger boats are designed to be used slightly behind the midpoint of your craft. Secure your boat to the cart with the manufacturer’s included strap system.  

How to Carry Your Kayak

No cart? No worries. The easiest way to transport a kayak is to use two people, grabbing each end of the boat by its grab loops or handles. If you’re solo, either carry the kayak like a briefcase (if weight and distance allow), or hoist it up facing forward with the cockpit rim resting on your strongside shoulder. An easy way to get in this position: lean the kayak up vertically against your car, cockpit facing outward, then slowly tip it over, resting the cockpit on your shoulder. To transport, grab the cockpit rim in front of your shoulder with the same hand and find the proper, easiest balance for walking (usually with the bow slightly higher than the stern). Tip: Try to rest your shoulder against the boat’s hip pad during your carry. For tips on carrying a canoe, see this article.

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.