by Dennis Stuhaug
The hardest distance you'll travel on any canoe or kayak trip is that few hundred meters between your car and the water's edge. Sure, you'll experience some white-knuckle time on the water, and on more than a few trips you'll ache from the pull of the paddle and the glare of the sun, but those are going to pale in comparison to the grunt work of moving your boat and gear on and off the beach.
You can grab the near side of the cockpit with one hand, horse it up to your hip, and waddle down the trail. Of course, you'll probably throw your back out before you throw your boat down. It's a little more efficient to grab your cockpit by the far edge and roll the boat up to your shoulder. On your way down the path to the water you're like a jousting knight, and the bow of your boat is a lance.
If you're open-boating, swing the boat up with the center thwart over your shoulders. You won't be able to see where you're going, and eventually you'll run into a tree or into a boat coming the other way.
In any case, you're moving an empty boat with your gear left behind. Try to pack it at the same time and you're an unbalanced cannon, caroming out of control down the path with each shift of weight.
Want an easier way? Strap a pair of wheels linked by an axle under your boat, and go rolling merrily along.
Some paddlers like a cart that goes under the midpoint of their boat, sort of like the fulcrum of a teeter-totter. They think balancing the boat atop the cart makes it a bit easier to steer, and supports more of the load on the wheels rather than your arms. Others like the wheels under one end, and lift the boat from the other like a wheelbarrow. This may make the boat a little easier to load into the cradle, and may possibly make it a bit easier to steer precisely. Passionate preferences aside, both work equally well. In either case, I like to load the cart a little bow heavy, to keep the bow from rising and the stern from scraping as I wheel along.
Put your cart next to your boat, amidships for a double or at the cockpit for a single. Lift one end—usually the stern—and swing your boat over and onto the cart. Play around with positioning until you find the sweet spot for your boat and cart.
I prefer to extend the kickstand, if it pivots vertically from one of the crossbars, in the direction of travel. That way, if I forget to tuck it up, any obstacle will simply push it back toward the wheels. If the kickstand trails the wheels, an obstruction will force the stand against the web adjustment strap, bringing the boat (and me) to an abrupt stop.
Loop a strap with a cam-type buckle around one of the crossbars over your deck and around the other end of the crossbar. With a single, position the strap under the lip of your coaming. Do the same with a second strap on the other crossbar. You'll occasionally see paddlers make do with a single strap around both crossbars. You'll also see them frustrated as the cart skews about during the portage. Elastic shock cord doesn't work as well as a single strap.
Thread your web straps through the cam buckles, snug them down tight, and you're ready to roll.
At the water's edge, or at your vehicle, reverse the process by extending the kickbar, removing the straps, and pivoting one end of your boat from the cart cradle to the ground.
Narrow, high-pressure tires are easier to roll on hard surfaces, and will sink in sand and loose gravel. Wide, low-pressure tires will float over loose sand or small gravel, but require more oomph to roll on hard surfaces. Large-diameter tires—9 inches or more—will climb over roots or stones that will block smaller-diameter tires. Smaller tires are easier to stow.
The cart that is perfect for hauling a boat from a parking lot down a paved path to the water's edge is a different animal from the machine packing a boat up and down a root-strangled, muddy backcountry trail. What's best? What do you expect to face? Here are a half-dozen flavors of cart worthy of being called shipmate. The tubular aluminum carts tip the scale at around 8 pounds, the Davis Kayak Dolly about 10 pounds, and the tail-dragger a mere 3.5 pounds.
Want to jump to a specific cart?
DELUXE BOAT CART, Seattle Sports Co.