Best canoe hauling vehicle


LOVES Wooden Canoes
My Suburban is almost 10 years old. It has been a great and versatile canoe hauler. I never expected good gas mileage, so can tolerate the trade off.
Now I'm 10 years older not liking the lift over to get canoes on the roof rack so much anymore.
Thinking of the next vehicle, want to get some opinions on what is the best canoe hauling vehicle with a lower roof height? I am sometime hauling a light two-canoe trailer too. Don't think that adds much power requirement, but who out there has experience enough to recommend vehicles to consider.
Suggestions please....


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While I hated the vehicle, the mini-van we had worked well for hauling canoes; long roof and relatively low, at least compared to the full size van it replaced and the full size truck I now have.

Actually the truck is a terrible canoe hauler, as the roof w/topper is way too long, unless you are hauling 20ft or longer canoes. (ex cab and 8 ft box, a 16 ft canoe just barely fits, with about 2-3" to spare on each end.)

i think you will really miss the suburban. what i did was put a piece of electrical plastic conduit pipe over my yakimar round poles between the brackets. this allows me to put one end of canoe up over rear rack then just roll it forward. of course this would not help much if you were hauling more than one canoe. once you own a suburban you get use to their capacity and i feel you could not get a more comfortable riding truck.
After a lot of years with a Mitsubishi Montero - very high lift and terrible in cross winds but great on bad roads and good old fashioned gutters for Yakima towers, then a couple of years with a Mazda Tribute - factory rails too short for longer boats, I went way out of my comfort zone financially and bought a Volvo XC-70 Wagon. The Volvo is near perfect for two people, two boats, and gear - loading boats is easy, factory rails seem plenty solid enough for clamp- on Yakima towers, mileage is OK, four-wheel traction is good, and it's very comfortable. The only problem with the car is cost - initial purchase and up-keep - I'm always in shock when I see the dealer's bill for service and repairs! I love the car and hope I can afford to keep it.
MotorWeek recently reviewed a number of small sport utes and if I recall, the Chevy Equinox was the winner. You can watch Motorweek online. The Dodge rated highly as well. They also rated a number of Mini Vans recently too. The Yakima extension bar makes loading quite easy. Put one end on the extended bar and then lift the other end.
Thanks to you all for your feedback.
At Assembly I saw many different vehicles, though most were trucks, so same lift over issues. I was thinking of something like the Volvo wagon - and appreciate Mike's candid assessment of the issues with owning one. Who has experience with a Subaru Legacy or other wagon size vehicle that has a long roof rack to give me the spread for the bars, but not the lift over and maybe a little better mpg?
I also talked with the owner of a Honda Element - not exactly what I was thinking of, but has a lot of gear capacity if only two people are going.
Thanks again!
The roofrack that Subaru put on the Outback is an abomination; just not enough space between the crossbars for canoes. Look at the VW wagons -- the deisel gets more than 40mpg, though ground clearance is short. Depends on whether you go off road...
I bought a 4 door Jeep Wrangler ("JK Unlimited") a year ago and find it quite handy for hauling a single canoe, with or without a weeks worth of car camping gear for a couple of people. There's quite a bit of room in the back when you fold the seats down. I got a hardtop thinking it would provide more options for a canoe carrier than a softtop (which it does). I ended up with a Yakima rack mounted to the roof that goes up and comes down quickly without needing tools. It is a bit short (front to back) since you can't drill through the part of the roof over the front seats as that part of the roof comes off, similar to T-Tops used to be. I would highly recommend an Unlimited for anyone, but if you need to carry a canoe with one be certain that you research options for a carrier before you take the plunge. On a road trip to wilds of Michigan with canoe on top and gear in back it averaged 20 MPG..
Subaru Outback Wagons -- maybe the 2012?

Ken --

I have used a 1999 Subaru Legacy Outback Wagon, and am now using the 2009 version of that car, for hauling canoes.

Mostly I have hauled 15 and 16' canoes, both Royalex and w/c, but have hauled 17' and 18' boats from time to time. I have often carried both a canoe and a clam-shell type Yakima carrier at the same time. I use Yakima bars afixed to the side rails of the factory-installed roof rack.View attachment 16566

The rack height is much lower than on almost any SUV or mini-van -- one of the reasons I have the Subaru wagon. The Subaru Forrester seems like a nice car in many ways, but it has a higher roof and would be harder to load.

The newer Subaru's have adequate (not great) power for the job (the 1999 was just barely adequate), and I would think that the 6 cylinder engine would have more than adequate power. They can be fitted with most of the bells and whistles anyone would want (heated seats, luxury stereo, moon roof, GPS, leather seats, etc., etc.).

But the factory roof rack on the 2011 Outback is, as has been noted, an abomination. I have not used it, but I have examined it closely, and have even seen Yakima bars mounted on one. The basic problem is that it will not allow aftermarket bars to be mounted far enough apart for any serious load -- it looks like the maximum spread between bars could be only about 2' -- I wouldn't carry even my 15' OT 50 pounder that way for more than a couple of blocks, and certainly would not carry an 18' boat or a heavy boat with such a minimum spread. I find it hard to see how it could effectively haul anything (lumber, plywood, bicycles, furniture from Ikea, etc.) that I and most people use roof racks for. I cannot believe that they have not heard many complaints about the current rack which was designed, I believe, with only style and lowering wind resistance in mind. It seems strange that the designers of such things never seem to actually try them out or use them to carry a real load.

So while the car is fine, the rack is not.

The 2012 Subarus will be out in a month or so, and it will be interesting to see if they have something better -- if they do, then I would recommend the Subaru Outback (unless they keep making it bigger and higher, another trend to watch out for).

16' canoe and Yakima box
canoe and clamshell.JPG

18' Morris on 1999 Outback
18' Morris-1999 Outback.JPG

16' red & 15' yellow canoes on 2009 Outback
16' and 15' canoes - 2009 Outback.JPG 16' and 15' canoes 2 - 2009 Outback.JPG

16' Neal on 2009 Outback
16' Neal on 2009 Outback.JPG

I have an 07 outback that I carry up to two canoes at a time. Its OK, but I'd say the rails are not as good as the previous one, an 02 Forester. I like the lower height of a car instead of a van or pickup. This car will have to stay around awhile, but I find myself lusting for a Volvo XC 70. Nice long rails and they look like the Yakima bars would clamp right on. The last Volvo I had was a 145 back in the steel rain gutter days. That's when a canoe hauler was a canoe hauler.
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I think you will really miss the carrying capacity of your Suburban. We use a Toyota RAV4 with Yakima 78 inch bars to carry two canoes side by side. The modification we made was to remove the factory roof rack and install Yakima (Thule also makes one) short rain gutters on those landing pads. (Toyota makes a kit to remove the factory rack and install a smooth pad over the landing pads). This way you use existing threaded bolt attachments and do not have to cut holes inside your roof panel to access the roof for nuts. And, you get a long distance between crossbars for stability.
The 2006 RAV4 with the seats released forward has a large capacity but no way as much as a Suburban. For tie downs, I used the towing bolts in the front and the transport tie downs in the rear. (All such threaded holes need to be chased with a tap.) The Yakima rack can be totally removed between uses for better mileage. Mileage with two canoes on top is typically 22 mpg.
However, if overhead reach is your problem, I suggest you make a Fred Capenos Canoe Unloader to lift and lower canoes to the rack. (See back issues of Wooden Canoe for construction and operation details.)
Although I like the RAV4, a Suburban can carry much more volume and weight. After all, Calvin Rutstrum used one. Also, a Suburban would make a better tow vehicle when you upgrade to transporting 3-6 canoes.
I will be very interested in what you decide upon and your experiences.
I suggest you make a Fred Capenos Canoe Unloader to lift and lower canoes to the rack. (See back issues of Wooden Canoe for construction and operation details.)

Is this available online anywhere?
Thanks Jim and Greg, CParker, Paul and Mark.
I do like the Suburban and expect I will miss it occasionally. Wonder if a Subaru Legacy GT - not as high a ground clearance or with the same roof rack system as the Outback, might be a good choice? All your input has been helpful and fun to consider. A Volvo or maybe even an Audi A4 or A6 wagon might be nice, but not sure I'm ready to make that large an investment.
Thanks too for adding photos where you have.
Check what you can do for roofracks before you make the decision. I don't know how much distance you can get between the crossbars on the Legacy wagon -- best to find out. May have to go to a Yakima and Thule dealer, where they have the "car fitter" feature.
The article on Fred Capenos Canoe Unloader that I referred to is in Wooden Canoe Issue 149, October 2008. I am not aware that the old issues are online anywhere but if you contact Patty MacLeish the Editor of our fine publication at I am sure she can tell you how to obtain a back issue.
I am getting closer to buying a trailer with a long tongue. I've seen them with a large box to store the gear and two or three canoes on the top of the box. If I could get a deal on the frame only, I would build a custom box with capacity for two or three, if stacked properly.
With the right trailer I'd pull it with my Prius and start getting 45 mpg with all my gear.