Advice on kayak weight

Woman paddlers - how important is the weight of your kayak? I’m shopping for my first kayak, plan to use it for day trips and would like the option to go solo. My first inclination is to go as light as possible so I can load it myself easily, but the cost seems to go up as the weight goes down. For those women who have been paddling awhile - does the weight of your kayak become an issue for you? Is a 50lb boat manageable for a solo women, on & off a minivan -or is it worth paying more to get down to 35-40 lb. I’m ‘upper’ middle age but in decent shape. Would appreciate advice. Thanks much!

Boat Weight
I have a 42 lb. boat that I load on top of a Dodge Caravan without too much problem. I’m 30 with a signifigant knee injury that limits my lifting abilities.

One piece of advice I can give you regardless of boat weight is to buy a cheap rubber backed bathroom rug, sling it over the back of the vehicle and slide it up onto the roof. This way, you only need to really prop one end up to roof level instead of lifting the entire weight of the boat. The backing makes it non-skid and it will also prevent you from scuffing up your paint job.


Use rollers etc

– Last Updated: May-03-07 3:29 PM EST –

You can get rollers that hang off the back of a rack to help push the boat up or slide it down, as above put a mat or a blanket on the car to protect it, another ont he ground to protect the back end of the boat where it slides on the ground. Move it around from there with a cart. I can move pretty heavy boats in needed this way, I am 55 and in decent shape but haven't been to the gym enough in quite a while.

The one thing that may be an issue is the height of the minivan. I have worked out systems to get pretty heavy boats on and off the backs of station wagons by myself, but nothing involved has been tall enough to require use of a stool during an part of the process. So I've been able to stand quite securely on the ground.

You may want to check with others specifically who are dealing with minivans, also consider if you could spring for something like the Malone auto-loader over time. That roof height definately could complicate things. Often longer is easier by the way - gives you a better chance to prop it securely halfway up while you reset your own position and grip.

One thing to mention - if you must lift around a heavy boat by yourself, plastic boats tend to have one significant advantage over the fancier materials. If you start losing your grip, you can just get out of the way and let them drop on the ground. Especially if on dirt or grass, they'll just bounce. You'd have to be much more concerned with the same issue in something like a kevlar boat.

Maybe an S&G Kayak…
…could meet your requirements.

Since weight is a concern, you might want to consider a stitch and glue kayak - they’re tough, very reasonably priced (used, or build your own), and quite light - my VOLKSKAYAKs weigh in around 40 lbs. I can easily place them atop our 4Runner by myself, but can’t come close to getting my wife’s Cape Horn 15 up there. There’s a couple of S&G 'yaks listed on the classifieds. Several of the regular female posters on p/net have S&G boats - maybe they can offer some comments re designs, how they handle them ashore, etc.

Weight is important, but
not the only issue. What kind of water do you plan to paddle? If it includes a lot of shallow rivers, where the boat might scrape bottom, plastic may be the best choice even if its heavier. I have plastic and stitch and glue. My 17 foot SnG is lighter than my 12.5 foot plastic boat. But my SnG boat gets used mostly on lakes and ocean, plastic on rivers.

Take a look
at the Hurricane Aqua Sports boats.

I have a 16.6 ft Tracer and it weights only 46 LBS. They have many different size and styles of boats. They just came out with a new boat, Tampico 140 S, that looks very interesting. I would like to get my wife to demo one.

Also there customer service is great.


Weight is not a deal breaker
I frequently paddle alone. I am 50 years old and 5’2"/“petite”.

Weights over 50 lbs are not a big deal for just carrying around short distances as long as the balance point and outfitting of the kayak allow shouldering.

BUT hefting onto a cartop is another matter. It depends not only on kayak weight but on your height, your strength, and vehicle height. If you can use sideloaders ($400 in addition to the roof rack and cradles), bar extensions ($60), or rollers ($???), you might still be able to load a 50+ pounder onto your minivan roof.

I myself chose a different solution: trailering. As long as you are considering paying a lot more $$ for lighter weight, you may as well consider paying the same (or less) to buy a trailer. If you buy a plastic kayak for $1500 and a trailer for $1000 you are still spending less than what it takes to get the weight down to 35-40 lbs in a sea kayak.

Whether it’s “worth” spending more for the lighter kayak is something only you can decide, and the answer may lie partly in where you paddle, too. Sometimes light weight = less durable.

It makes a difference
My 5’ wife was able to load and unload her 55-pound boat by herself using some of the techniques described here, but it was never fun for her. When we stumbled on a deal(minor shipping damage, big discount) on a 35-pound boat we took it, and it made a big difference for her. Being able to easily carry her own boat was a huge confidence booster and made her feel much more independent.

If the thought “What a nice day to go paddling!” is followed by “That means wrestling that *&%#@ boat on & off the car”, you won’t use it as much.

Another alternative
to rooftopping are folding kayaks. Check out either Folbots or Packboats – both have low-weight models that can be carried in a trunk. Of course, setup/teardown time needs to be factored in. For more info, look at

"Being able to easily carry her own boat was a huge confidence booster and made her feel much more independent."

I completely agree. My first kayak was a 60 lb plastic one that I could barely carry by myself. The one I have now is a 30lb wooden kayak and it makes a big difference. It feels great not to have to ask for help all the time. It really depends on your size too. The plastic kayak I had weighed more than half of my weight and I really have to stretch to reach the roof of my suv, so for me weight made a big difference.

Angstrom is right
We are in our late 60’s and my wife recently damaged her knee. The knee along with our not so great backs has caused us to sideline our 50+ lb boats. We are using our 43 to 45 lb boats and we are looking for under 40 lb boats. The car is not so bad but when we travel we use the truck and it gets harder. We tow a fifth wheel trailer and have to stack the kayaks over the cab. The second boat is not fun but they do go on a different rack when we drop the trailer. The point is, go light if you can. We normally paddle several times a week and that means a lot of moving boats around. The lighter boats are much easier.

Light is nice but …
I’m 5’3. I have a 16 foot, 52 pound fiberglas composite sea kayak that I load on top of a Nissan Xterra, which is taller than a lot of minivans. I rest the boat against a pad on the top of the car to protect the roof edge (similar to the excellent bath mat example given), have a big thick beach towel on the ground to protect the boat and use a step stool to help push it on top and get it down. I have hully rollers on the back rack. I can load/unload it myself, but it’s sure nice to have help. I don’t think I could handle 5 pounds more. As someone else said, the key is not to get a boat so heavy or unweildy that it discourages you from getting out on the water.

I have been kayaking many years and I have had my jeep wrangler as long as I have been kayaking. Get a rack with rollers or get a rubber mat so that you can slide your boat onto the rack. The hardest part is getting the bow of the boat to the rack after a long day of paddling. Once I get bow on the rack, I slide the boat the rest of the way. I used to load my 80 pound Grumman canoe that way on a truck rack. I used a rubber matt that I had duct taped onto the back of the rack. Get a kayak that you like and that you can fit in. Thats most important. Once you decide on a kayak, then you can figure out how to put it on your vehicle. There are lots of options for loading and unloading your kayak. Try looking at the Thule website. They have lots of racks.

lighter is better for me
I’m in decent (barely) shape for a mid-50’s gal and have been paddling for over 10 years. At a whopping 5 ft 2 I learned that not only are longer, heavier boats hard to load and carry but I could not control it out on the water like I wanted and I didn’t progress as a paddler as fast as my husband. Some younger women don’t have the issues with the 50+ lb kayaks but I sure did. My current day touring boat weighs 41 lbs and my rec boat 36.

As light as you can afford!!!

– Last Updated: May-07-07 9:59 PM EST –

Personally, my upper limited is 35lbs. Portaging heavier boats is a real pain, and a potential shoulder injure one must avoid. I am in my early thirties with no strength problems, but the risk of injury oneself is very real.

PS: Be ware of many manufactures no properly listing boat's weight. As a rule, plastic boats are way heavier than the disclosed weight.

Look Listen Learn

– Last Updated: May-07-07 10:30 PM EST –

What works for one person may not work for someone else. I'm 5'2" and load my boats by myself on a Toyota Sienna mini-van. Look at how other people load their boats when you're in a group. Listen to any tips they give's amazing how you might not think of the simplest things, but you'll pick up ideas from others. Learn from what you see.

Other factors besides weight will make a difference in loading ease. My canoe, a royalex Wenonah Sandpiper, weighs approximately 39 lbs (if you don't count the duct tape and bungee cord). My Kevlar Bell Rob Roy weighs 37 pounds. The Rob Roy is MUCH harder for me to load by myself even though it weighs less. The difference? The Rob Roy is 1 -1/2 feet longer than the sandpiper. That extra length makes it harder (for me).

I also find that it is much easier for me to load boats now than when I started just because I've gotten used to it, and have developed little techniques that work for me. Don't be afraid to carry a step stool with you. I don't need one anymore because I can open the van doors and stand inside the van to gain height, but when I had another vehicle the step stool made a lot of difference.

It might help to have someone spot you a few times until you get the hang of things. That way you don't damage your car while learning how to balance things.

However, to truly answer your question...I would go as light as I could afford and still get the right boat for the conditions you will be paddling. I can't imagine having a heavier boat, but then again, I sometimes paddle in places that do not have easy access to the water, or from the water back to the vehicle. If you have to carry your boat any distance over uneven terrain, or a hillside, you will be kicking yourself for buying a heavy boat. You don't want to go too light (if light translates into fragile) if you are going to be paddling in rocky conditions. For those reasons, I will probably buy another royalex boat when it's time for the next one simply because some of the other materials just won't be suitable or durable for where I'll be paddling.

I hope I never have a boat that weighs 50 lbs or more. 40 is manageable, and I could probably go higher (I'm looking at a boat that is listed at 46 lbs, but I hate the idea of the additional weight).

Good luck, and enjoy the sport.


light boats
Yes! Lighter boats are wonderful. I’m 45, in very good shape, and I had a kevlar necky 48 lb boat (and a low car roof, plus hully rollers) that I thought was great–until I came across a 30 lb wooden, hand built boat from BBK. It’s wonderful having something I can slid on the car almost one handed, and carry around with little effort. 48 lbs didn’t seem heavy, until I got a 30 lb boat. Now it’s so easy to go out for a quick paddle, that I go almost every day in the summer after work. If you can afford a wonderful 30 lb boat (BBK makes nice ones that many people like), I think you’ll find it’s worth the extra money. (Actually, my hand made 30 lb boat cost about the same as the kevlar necky, but more than a fiberglass boat of the same quality).

sliding bar
I was paddleing a couple weeks ago with a friend and a female paddler I hadn’t met before.

At the end of the day when we took the boats out, I ask if she would like help loading and she said no. I have no idea what brand of cross bars she had but she pulled a pin and the front bar slid out a couple feet and she lifted the bow of the kayak up on the bar that was slid out then lifted the stern of the kayak up on the rear bar, then slid the bow over on the craddle.

She only had to lift half the kayak at a time, it was a very neat way to go.


Once you get used
to a light stiff, high end composite boat you won’t want anything else. I’m a 210 lb. strong guy and I like high end light boats. I feel sorry for petite women who struggle with 55 lb. boats. That cannot be fun. I say go as light as you can. I paddle a 33 lb. infused carbon glass boat that’s tough as can be. Not something for sale though. Some of the wood boats are light and super stiff and strong.

They have an accessory they call the Boat Loader.

It is a bar that telescopes out of the end of the crossbar, pretty much as you described.

The only difference is that they use a handwheel operated clamp to secure the bar.

We have two of the Boat Loaders on our Yakima setup for our TALL Honda Element, and find them indispensable.