Fuel Efficient Canoe Haulers

I’m starting to look for a replacement for our faithful old Sienna mini-van.

I need to be able to haul two canoes, 4 adults and gear.

I’d like to improve on the gas mileage of the van, gas prices heading north a little higher each year.

I looked at a Toyota Highlander (hybrid) last night. The roof rails are so short that I don’t see how a canoe could be made secure for a highway speed haul. Has anyone put a pair of canoes on a recent model?

Hows the capacity of a Subaru Outback for gear? What is the mileage like?

The Prius V is only big enough for 2 people and 1 boat…

What other vehicles should I be looking at?

have you
Looked at the prius v? It is huge. The back seats even recline. I guess you would be a little limited on gear, but that’s the case with anything that is not a van or large SUV.

Either way you go, I would look to use after market racks, especially for the weight of two canoes.

Ryan L.

marginal answer
I reciently bought a low millage used 2007 Ford Focus wagon with a stick for $10,000. A lot of old people bought these,and a nice low millage one is not too hard to find. It hauls 2 boats and another paddler great,but may be marginal in rear seat room and cargo capacity for 4 adults on along haul. I get -35ish with it with boats and load on,+35ish without. It would depend how much you want to skimp for fuel millage. I’m real happy with it for my use.


I have an 2012 Outback with the 4 cylinder and a stick shift, put a Yakima rack on it that is rock solid. Car easily carried two 17 foot sea kayaks and lots of gear during a 2 week trip to Canada. Tons of room in the way back for gear, can easily fit four large duffel bags back there without obstructing the rear window. Good leg room in the back seat. The car will pull down about 22-24 mpg loaded with two boats and gear and going about 75 or so. Lowest was 18mpg running at about 85-90 on the highway for a stretch. I’ve seen about 26-28 with myself and 1 boat on the highway driving close to 60-65. Unloaded the car will pull down 26 in town and low 30’s on the highway, depending of course on hills and how you drive… Not bad for a big awd car…


– Last Updated: Oct-04-12 7:23 AM EST –

Are you talking about gear for multi day trips meaning cooking equipment, food boxes, personal gear/clothing bags etc.? Or are you talking about day trips?

Why do you say Prius 5 only for 2 people and 1 boat?

I use a 2005 Volvo V70 wagon. With a canoe and a load it will get about 25mpg/hwy. It is, admittedly, a bit small. From 2008 on they put a bigger engine in them and the mpg went down. The trick, if you are looking for good mileage is to stick with the normally aspirated V70. The XC70 is AWD and has a turbo. The mileage drops on those.


Load 'em up for four…
Exactly, I’m talking about multi-day trips. Food, packs, etc.

Consider a Mazda 5
My wife used to drive an MPV and I was so impressed by the handling that when I had to replace my Ford Sportrac, I got a Mazda 5. Looks like a cross between an MPV and a Honda Fit. I routinely carry two canoes on top and I have plenty of room for gear. I’ve also carried 6 passengers. Love how all the rear seats fold down as needed. I’m getting much better milage than I ever got with my truck, and the best part is the roofline is a foot lower, so hoisting up the boats on top is less of an effort (that feature becomes more important the older I get)!

new, or used?
…and what’s most important? Do you need AWD? Van or car? Is roof height important?

I would imagine the Highlander rack would work just fine. But you can’t beat the minivan for space. And you can’t beat the wagon for loading ease.

Minivan still best
I have owned many different SUV,s and wagons (Outback, Forester, Sort-Trac, Expedition, etc) and nothing really compares to the minivan for space, comfort, roof-rack capabilites and decent gas mileage. In particular I have a 2000 Grand Caravan with 336,000 miles and still going strong at average of 23 mpg. Heck you can even sleep comfortably on the big flat floor with back seats removed.

I was talking about a week long trip including food and gear. Might be a tight fit for four and gear though.

I talked to someone who had a Prius V and was having issues racking it. This owner claimed a Yakima customer service rep, who had the same car, recommended taking it to a rak-attack shop and getting rails installed.

thats becoming
More common. Some new cars are making it difficult to attach towers in a good position.

Ryan L.

New or Used?
I could go either way…if it’s used I’d prefer 3-4 years old, with some good life left in it.

The roof rack on the new Highlander I looked at was so short. It started well back from the trailing edge of the front doors. To balance a canoe on the rack it would have to project well out behind the vehicle.

I love my ‘04 Sienna for it’s capacity. It holds two 17’ canoes w/o problem. Just wish it had better fuel economy, mostly 'cuz as our second vehicle it has to serve for daily commuting to work when we aren’t out paddling.

How about using a trailer?
We put a hitch on our Subaru Legacy and it works well.

canoe hauler
I have owned several outbacks over the years and they will do a fine job…right now I am loving my 4 door nissan frontier pickup…you have a lot of options for caps or racks…it is also my daily commuter vehicle. I also had an f150 for years and after I sold it I had a hard time figuring out how I could get by without a pickup

To my mind, if you have four people, 2 canoes, and gear with you the majority of the time you are using the vehicle, a minivan makes sense. If, however, like most people 99% of trips are with one or two occupants, and only the other 1% is the canoe trip, I’d get a much smaller car.

I know I go on about this, but every car I have owned has been more than up to the task of getting me to the put in. I had an Oldsmobile Cutlass Sierra, which is a small sedan with a four cylinder, and I took it from Manitoba to Utah with 2 canoes and all the gear for four people. One of those canoes was a tripper xl at 20’, and the gear included coolers and water jugs. for the last leg, we had all four in the car with all their gear and we drove over the mountains. Yes, it was a bit tight and we had to be a bit clever in how things were arranged. However, the rest of the year I probably saved a few thousand dollars on gas, not to mention depreciation/capital cost on a more luxurious vehicle. I’ve had three canoes on a dodge omni, and currently drive a focus hatchback. On the focus, if I have to carry more than two I use a little trailer. In the old days having an eight horse team pulling your covered wagon was pretty big. I have something like 140 horses pulling my little focus, so it really is more than enough.

If I’m willing to portage it, my car can carry or pull it. I’ve actually been considering downsizing further, because typically when four or more people are going, two vehicles are needed for a shuttle. I’m thinking my next car will likely be something like a civic sedan, though I do like the prius c and scion iQ.

why not another Sienna?
Toyota, hard to go wrong. Honda makes a great minivan but they really retain their value. Nissan makes a nice one also.

I bet you noticed a bit less room in that Highlander compared to the Sienna, huh?

VW TDI Sportwagon
Up to 50 mpg and a rated roof capacity of 165 pounds, plus low enough for easy loading. In 100K the only thing I had to do other than routine maintenance was replace a low beam lightbulb.

stop making sense!

Kayak hauler
I owned a Volvo V 70 wagon (non turbo) and hauled my kayak up to my girlfriends almost every weekend for a few years

It was a great kayak hauler and could cruise at 80 with one or two kayaks on top. It got about 27 mph with no kayak and around 24 mph at 75 with one on top

I now have A 2010 VW Jetta TDi diesel wagon which has a similar Eurorail rack set up

I get a actual 42 mpg driving 100 miles a day to work with no kayak

I got ( measured by filling tank and countin gallons used) an actual 37 mpg when we took my 20 ft tandem on the roof from Daytona Beach to Key West and back with some excursions in between

The computer mpg gage runs a few mpg high

I like my Jetta TDI wagon but I don’t get any where near 50 mpg with it for high speed highway driving and certainly not with a kayak on top.

The Volvo V70 wagon was was mor comfortable on long trips and probably better built but Volvo stopped offering them in non turbo versions and now doesn’t seem to offer a v70 size wagon at all