If you're like me, you can't resist the gas mileage practicality of a small, efficient vehicle. Yeah, I'm one of that Mini Cooper, Yaris, Fit, Prius crowd. Mind you, there's no way I'll give up getting my boats to the put-in. Relying on friends with trucks and trailers gets old fast, for everyone. So, redefining the limits of tiny vehicles and freighting the gear we love has become the challenge for this think-small generation of paddlers.
Lucky for us, rack-manufacturers are as eager to defeat mini-rig limitations as paddlers are, and they've conjured a staggering array of ingenious racks and accessories to keep us in the game. All good, but before you go shopping, there are a few things you'll need to know.
Keep in mind:
1. For side-to-side reach limitations, most states require that bars extend no more than 6 inches beyond the side view mirror. On my Prius, I went for a 66-inch bar, which gives me room to spare, but allows for two solo canoes strapped side by side. I could go longer, but who needs a punctured lung in the driveway?
2. Front-to-back span can be more problematic. Industry specs call for at least 24 inches between bars for boats 14 feet or longer. 28 inches to 32 inches is even better. The Yakima rack I went with for the Prius gets me a full 30 inches, but on a car like the 2-door Yaris, for example, it's tough. Manufacturers have resorted to extension arms reaching back from an anchored front bar to cover that span, so it can be done, but it might involve some creative engineering.
3. Assess the rooftop arch of your car as well. Some boats may have seat backs or other pieces that hang down, and depending on the spacing, the rounded top of a car can hit the boat.
4. In an era without rain gutters, every car needs its own rack, pretty much. Some can be self-installed to window openings or factory luggage racks, while others may entail an appointment at your local rack shop. For the factory jobs, if you're like me, it's worth the investment to let the shop do it.
In my case, I bought a used 2006 Prius. I looked around, and found racks that required bolting anchor points to the roof, and others that used the window opening to clamp to. I went with Yakima's clamp model, and added their Keel-Over accessory for stability. An hour after installation, I headed for Utah with a 16' Dagger Legend strapped overhead. Nearly 2,000 miles and a few windstorms down the road, it was still bomber, and any vestiges of small-car-syndrome insecurity were history.
More from C&K
–How to tie down boats with different canoe and kayak racks.
-Visit our GEAR homepage.