by Dexter Mahaffey
Canoe & Kayak Web Exclusive
I hate lugging my crap around. I'm a sea kayaker, so the boat's as long as my house, full of disorganized gear that weighs more than my car, at a put-in that's half a mile away through loose sand. When I'm on my own, I hate it even more, which is probably why I paddle less than I would otherwise. Lazy, lethargic, or little though we may be, the country's rack makers know our pain and have even created a market niche to relieve it. From home storage to roof- or bed-top to transportation, it's becoming easier and easier to manage your gear (how do you tie a trucker hitch again?), even if you're one of those lucky rodeo bastards with a boat shorter than my kid nephew. Read on and learn the tricks of keeping unruly equipment in line.
GROUND CONTROL SYSTEM
Yakima's Ground Control system has more detached bars and mounting gizmos than a zoo monkey's cage. But the few hours of simple, follow-the-pictures, tool-free assembly turn out to be far easier than the tangled collection of boxes and parts suggests, and end with a series of silky gray loops. The structure is more rigid than the foundation of the old farmhouse to which it's bolted and manages to hold my 16-foot boat, two bikes, four pairs of skis, and a gaggle of paddles, PFD's, helmets, skirts, and gear bags. The Ground Control might be too neat for you, and it's not cheap—$250 for the base and another $250 when trimmed with the requisite goodies. But if you're ready to grow up and organize your gearhead tendencies, it's one beautiful, disgustingly user-friendly piece of equipment that actually does exactly what it purports to do.
FAR OUT ROOFTOP BAG
Snugged between my pairs of J-cradles resides Yakima's Far Out rooftop bag . I'm not about to throw this bad boy's nine cubic feet of storage on my back for a quick summit grab, but you bet your shuttle rig I'm taking advantage of its padded back, shoulder, and sternum straps on the way to the put in. The Far Out's nylon is supercoated for serious weather protection, it easily mounts to any bars by four beefy straps with windflap-preventing Velcro tethers, it has two rigid and adjustable dividers, and the whole tamale is padded with foam so you can check it at the airport.
Got a truck, want to buy local (meaning something actually made in the USA), and looking to support the garage band equivalent of the rack world before they sell out to the big boys? Check out Sportraxx. Jerry and Sherry Simpson work like this: she manages the books, he heads out to the shop, and together they produce some of the most rigid, customizable, and affordable pick-up truck racks around. Unlike systems where the pillars are separate, Sportraxx's system forms a cage that is so structurally sound, it can bear weight before it's mounted. Sportraxx racks are handmade, which shows in their industrial welding and heavy stock aluminum, and once it's mounted, the system is so intuitive and fast, it actively eases boat loading. The Rolly Holder ($109) rolls your kayak on its keel up to the cradles by way of a three-inch grooved wheel that drops below and clips fast once the load is complete. The massive size of the Canoe Raxx ($329) is justified by the fact that it lets you load your canoe perpendicularly from the side of the truck and then pivot it into the parallel drive-time mount, avoiding slipped discs and hernias as well as protecting that slick paint job you sprung the extra grand for.
Thule's Hullavator design from a few years back remains the industry standard for load-assisting kayak rack mounts; paddlers who are under 5-foot-6, weigh less than 120, or just don't want to spend as much time at the PT as they do paddling have discovered the system's perks. Thule's new SlipStream goes one step further in lumbar protection while simultaneously ensuring contact free sea kayak loading. It works like this: a long rectangular base mounts to your crossbars while supporting front cradles and svelte, flexible rear Hydro Glides; a grooved horizontal roller eases boats off the back. The SlipStream's ingenuity is that it slides back about a foot and locks, so you can lift your kayak's bow to the roller with enough clearance to avoid touching your wagon, van, or SUV. Roll the boat onto the cradles, unlock the SlipStream, slide it forward, lock it down into travel position, and strap your boat down. Gone are the days of feeling your spine readjust as you try and fail to manhandle your boat far enough up to engage your rollers without denuding your car's paint job.
Mini Mag Canoe/Kayak Combo Gear Trailer
For those, however, who want freestanding boat transport so sweet, so entirely over the top, it'll make even glammed-out Harley guys look twice, nothing serves quite like the Mini Mag Canoe/Kayak Combo Gear Trailer from Magneta Trailers. Gary Oldenkamp knows metalworking from years of outfitting Midwest farms, but and has turned his efforts to recreational trailers. Sixty feet of cargo space inside a composite, dent-resistant shell is a good start. The ability to color-match and injection paint it means you won't be stuck with the typical, dreary gray or beige. And the lockable door hatch with spring-assist gas shocks saves you from any '80s head-banging flashbacks. But the beauty of this trailer is that unlike other models requiring a metal cage outside the composite box to support boats, the Mini Mag's shell is strong enough by itself to mount crossbars directly and support two kayaks or a variety of other toys all by itself. Making for a much cleaner design, the lower profile is also much lighter, making for easier towing, and the extendable tongue allows for mounting long sea kayaks or canoes. It's pretty much our favorite trailer.
16-foot Canoe Dolly
What deflates many a paddling expedition is that painful realization that even once you get near your honey spot, you've still got to lug that expedition boat and an expedition's worth of stuff across an endless stretch of terrain. Ditch the helpful, yet unstable dolly and check out Seitech, a custom manufacturer who builds everything from dollies and storage systems to multi-boat trailer racks according to each client's specifications. Seitech dollies are so hardcore and overbuilt, you'll confuse them for trailers at first. Their stout appearance lies in their competitive sailing industry heritage, as does their ease of use and collapsibility. The first thing you notice about their 16-foot Canoe Dolly is how light it feels for its 35 pounds. The hollow, square aluminum tubes and fiberglass-reinforced joints go together so simply that instructions aren't even necessary. And in about 30 seconds, the dolly breaks down again small enough to slide into a space only moderately bigger than a sedan's trunk. The size B general terrain wheels are perfect for navigating a wide variety of conditions, but the beauty here is how the dolly balances and supports a fully loaded canoe so efficiently that you don't even notice the weight, which is the whole point.