Kayaks & Truck Campers-Travel Advice

Now that my husband & I have retired, we plan to purchase a 4WD truck and a truck camper and travel the back roads of Alaska and Canada. (Because we will spend a lot of time in bear country, it is essential that we have a hard-sided truck camper and not pull a pop-up camper.)

As avid sea kayakers, we want to take our boats along and paddle coastal bays and inland lakes as we travel for several months at a time. The question is whether to pull a kayak trailer or try to strap the boats on top of the camper – no small feat given the height involved. We would welcome the advice of others with experience in this area. Here are some of the pros and cons we have been examining.

Kayak Trailer:


  1. Ease of loading and unloading boats.
  2. Eliminates risk of injury climbing up and down from top of camper to secure boats.
  3. Fewer worries about excessive height going under bridges and other structures.
  4. Less wind resistance, especially from dangerous side winds.
  5. Ability to include a storage unit on the trailer to contain paddles and other gear.
  6. Allows for the use of solar panels on top of the camper to minimize generator use.

  7. With sea kayaks 16-18 feet long, a trailer adds a lot of length to the truck and camper.
  8. Many ferries charge by the length of the vehicle & trailer, so travel in Alaska would be more expensive.
  9. Kayaks would have to be protected from rocks and other flying debris bouncing off the highway or gravel road.
  10. Greater concern with theft of the kayaks while we were away – on a hike, for instance.
  11. The general instability involved in pulling a trailer – backing & cornering.

good question
Thats a tough one. I never would have dreamed about pulling a trailer until recently (other than pulling a kayak trailer professionally for more than a few years). I don’t climb trucks with boat in hand nearly as well as I did twenty years ago, and now I have the highest roofline of my kayaking days.


Consider this idea to see if it may work:

Overland expedition rigs often times mount sand ladders onto the side of the vehicle.


What about mounting a sheetrock ladder to the side of the your camper. I’ve something like this at jobsites that are actually folding and 2 steps high. If you could locate one at a construction supply store, if its tall enough. Would be easy to mount securely to the side of the truck. Sorry, couldn’t find any images of the two step platforms.

Otherwise, I would also post the question on Expo. in the watersports forum, if its not already coverred there. Good luck.


Ah a familiar subject
I also have a truck camper and struggled with the best plan for me, and went to a trailer as a solution.

I frequently read the truck camper forum on rv.net, and there are several multi-page threads on this very subject. A lot of folks have posted a lot of pictures on how they solved the problem. You might check it out.

I have a hard enough time getting a 65 lb. kayak on my Jeep, much less getting it on top of my camper which is over 12’ high when on the truck.

Since the trailer is for kayaks and firewood, and fully loaded it weighs well less than 1000 lbs, I made an extension for my hitch receiver that is adjustable for length. I can make it only as long as it needs to be for the kayak(s) I’m hauling.

You won’t be able to see the trailer behind you. I’m thinking of getting a wireless camera to stick on the rear of the camper so I can see what’s going on back there.

I recommend a Dodge Cummins
Not a brand guy, but have owned a Cummins since new (Oct. 94) and have over 400k miles with nothing more than maintenance. Runs like new and has had a hard life of logging roads etc.

Of the new trucks I believe the 6.7 L Cummins to be the best engine by a long shot.

You got most of 'em
I would add that with a trailer you will lose no gas mileage, unlike with rooftopping where I personally experience 10 to 15% loss of mpg (Nissan Frontier 4x4), as does my husband with his Chevy Tahoe.

The stability with a trailer is no big deal. And if you need to unhitch it, a kayak trailer is light enough to hand-move. Get a lock so that you can lock the trailer coupler when it is unhitched-- this allows you to leave the trailer at camp so you can drive to buy groceries or whatever.

Uset Lasso Locks whether you rooftop or trailer kayaks, to discourage thieves.

RoofTopper Here
While we no longer have a camper, we did use a slide-in for several years, and found it possible to load and unload a VERY heavy canoe with relative ease, using a stepstool at the rear and a milk crate in front to gain that precious 18-24 inches…mind you, we were also a few decades younger at the time :->)). A trailer is certainly a solution, but roof racks always seem simpler and more secure to us.

roof vs trailer
I drive a F250 diesel w/racks ontop for my kayak. It’s a royal pain in the butt if I’m out w/out my husband because then I’ve got to get other people to get my boat off my truck and then find someone willing to help me get it back up there later when I’m finished paddling. So I looked into getting a trailer. Found a utility trailer that I had my husband make me some racks for and now I can pull that thing and load and unload my boat myself. What I’m getting at is… when you’ve got boats way up in the air on top of a camper that’s on top of your truck, they will become a hassle to load and unload. Now, once my boat is loaded, it rides very well up there on top of my truck, never have had any problems. Actually went from North Carolina to Florida to pick up a kayak this year, the boat rode back home real nice. Just had to have help loading it!! Pulling the trailer is easy. I’ve got mine set up to handle all my boats and some of my friends boats too. I’ve still got my racks ontop of my truck, just when I think I’m gonna remove them, I end up going on a paddle where I can’t pull the trailer. Maybe try trying to get you boat on top of your camper first to see if you can even get it up there?? Or if there is enough supports for a rack up there to hold your boats.

Trailer, no hesitation at all. You can unhitch it and move it by hand if you get in spot you can’t back. But your going to want a long tongue and that makes is easier to back. It doesn’t react as fast to a turn. The only draw back I see is the security but boat can be locked to a trailer.

I have a standard full size pickup and a very light wood boat. And I hate loading the boat by myself. I can not imagine a camper! I just bought a utility trailer to make a kayak hauler out of.

With a trailer your more likely to use the boats more often because they will be assessable. Quick and easy to load and unload.

5th wheel toy haulers
Not sure how big a trailer you want to tow, but there are several toy haulers that could be accommodated for your needs. They provide living quarters in the front and a drop down ramp and “garage” in the back. Makes for a great workshop and storage area if you’re only two. Saw some nice ones at the RV show this past winter. Might be worth looking into.

Kayaks & Truck Campers-Travel Advice
A big thanks to all the folks who responded to our questions on Paddling.net. We were reassured by those who recommended pulling a trailer. But we intend to follow up and investigate some of the other suggestions provided as well. We really appreciated your generosity in taking the time to write back and provide so much useful information.

Happy Paddling!

Kayaks on top of Camper
We have been hauling our two kayaks-CD Solsitce GTS’s on top of our 10 foot truck camper for 10 years. Relatively easy to load and unload if you know what you are doing. One person on each end, the taller person in front, just walk it up to the back of the camper with the the kayak over your head and slid it onto the back rail of the camper, leave it, climb up the ladder and simply haul it up onto your rack and saddles. For unloading just to do the opposite. Remember out of sight out of mind for would be thieves and no hassle with having to tow a trailer.

We had a custom rack with saddles built and had it installed on top of the camper. No issues in 10 years with it. May take the rig to the Baja this year or next. Good luck on your choice.

I have a small motor home with a door in the back, just open the door put a boat or two inside. The owner before me carried a 16 foot old town inside. I tend to carry a couple of solo canoes or kayaks. If I go to Raystown I may try for 3.