Vehicles for Paddlers/What gets you to the put-in?

Of course, most of us have day jobs as well. Not to mention living in different climates and population densities… so maybe the paddling thing is among the less important criteria.

But looking at replacing a vehicle is something I’ve never really enjoyed. I have the ideal features and characteristics in mind but either the vehicle doesn’t exist or isn’t in my price range. I figured it might be worthwhile to put it out there. Maybe I’ll get some ideas I hadn’t considered.

To focus the discussion, I’ve started out by looking at Subarus. Looking in the range of about 2011 to 2014, I’m not too keen on the looks of the Outback or Forester. I like the older ones that were less “SUV-like” and more “wagony”. So that limits me to the Legacy wagon if I’m going the Subaru route. I’ve considered more “mainstream” (and less expensive) SUVs like a Ford Escape or similar, but I’ve always shied away from SUVs because they seemed less useful than they should be. Is it time I changed this belief? I’ve even thought that an AWD minivan would be great because of the space inside, but options are severely limited in this category.

I live in a snow belt area, in Ontario east of Lake Huron with heavy lake effect snow being frequent in the winter. I’m also rural and often find myself traveling down “No Winter Maintenance” roads just for the fun of it or to reach a nice put-in with my kayak. For where I drive, both related to paddling and just getting to work in the winter, AWD or 4x4 will definitely be used, some days even essential. I would prefer more ground clearance, as I’ve become rather used to the higher ride of my current vehicle, a GMC Canyon. Better fuel economy for the longer trips I’m thinking of taking would be great too. Simpler is better for me, but with some luxuries like heated seats. If they made a car without power windows I’d probably go that route because it’s less to worry about breaking at the worst time.

Maybe I’m just rambling on and thinking out loud, but if there’s anything helpful you can add in this stressful time it would be greatly appreciated.

Uh, keep the truck if it is in good shape or worth repairing. You can live without heated seats already, so why become dependent on them? You could warm up some pads indoors and put them on the seat when you drive, then bring them into work to heat up before going home.

Isn’t there a pad like that already? Maybe a microwavable one?

Here’s one that plugs into your vehicle’s ciggie lighter:

And another one:

Bed Bath and Beyond shows a microwavable LavaSeat or something like that. Search on “heated portable seat pad”.

Ahh…here it is, from Costco:™-Heated-Seat-Cushion-2-pack.product.10395433.html

I would like to try one of those, not so much for the truck but for at home when sitting on the floor. Which I often like to do.

It’s the wrong time of year to shop for these things, but maybe you can find one left in stock from the past winter.

hehe… ok, the heated seats were a request from my wife. Her Kia has them. Frankly this isn’t as high on my list of priorities; more of a “would be nice”. Maybe I should get one that plugs in for her to use in the truck anyway…

I had a '99 “wagony” Outback that I bought mainly on the rack height. It had the winter package including heated seats which I disconnected as the switches would accidentally be turned on and really not a need for them in Florida.
It drove nice but I spent way too many $$$$ trying to keep the oil inside the engine.

@grayhawk said:
I had a '99 “wagony” Outback that I bought mainly on the rack height. It had the winter package including heated seats which I disconnected as the switches would accidentally be turned on and really not a need for them in Florida.
It drove nice but I spent way too many $$$$ trying to keep the oil inside the engine.

Do you even need heat at all in a car in Florida? I’d have done the same with the heated seats down there for sure! Funny they wouldn’t have cars better targeted to different climates. Seems to me they could reduce the price by leaving some stuff out, or put in more useful things for warm climates.

Ironically one of the reasons for posting this is that my engine oil isn’t staying in the engine as long as it should either. I’m at the point where I’m wondering whether throwing a grand or two at it will keep me going for another couple years, or if that will just balloon into a few more grand and then end up sending it to the wrecker in another year or two due to body and frame rust.

I should mention this is a 2004 truck. I purchased it with pretty low mileage about 6-7 years ago for a very decent price and except for a few electrical glitches, it’s been good to me until recently. It doesn’t owe me much.

I agree with the idea of keeping the truck as your paddling vehicle.

You say that you think you want a vehicle that gets better mpg to lower the cost of the longer trips you hope to take? Sit down and figure out what the extra cost of gas will be for the trips you hope to take if you use the vehicle you have right now. Not the actual fuel cost, but the fraction of that cost that’s over and above the fuel cost you’d be paying with a more fuel-efficient vehicle of your choice. Then compare that extra fuel cost to the money you’d spend to acquire that vehicle in the first place. Once you’ve made that comparison, the replacement vehicle will NOT seem like it’s saving you anything on those long trips.

Now, if you make that same comparison for ALL the miles you drive and for ALL the fuel you burn, the more efficient vehicle will look a little more economical, but the odds are good you still won’t break even. That will depend on the details, and you’ll have to do the math and see.

Forget about miles per gallon. If you think only in terms of miles per dollar, the vehicle you already have is usually the best option.

Don’t forget that it’s quite normal for a small pickup like the one you have to be quite reliable well beyond 300,000 miles. If you are truly considering overall cost, don’t be too quick to replace it.

2011 Ford Ranger, and 2014 Ford Escape; both outfitted with racks.
We run our own shuttles. Don’t like to hassle with outfitters; we set our own schedule.
We go when we want to go, where we want to go, and take as long as we want.
Shuttle fees typically cost more than the second vehicle’s round trip gas cost, snacks. and a really good meal at a restaurant. Yes, we both are driving a vehicle; no big deal to us. Helpful if problems occur.

We paddle most often on moving water rivers. Typically base camp, but love to river camp too. We both paddle solo canoes.
Sometimes, we take 1 or 2 extra canoes if we’re base camping. An option I really love to have.
Our 2 vehicles will haul more canoeing & camping gear than 4 paddlers could ever want or need.

In basecamp we use a 6 man tent, and a 16x16 CCS tarp.
On the river we use a 4 man Eureka Timberline & a smaller size CCS tarp. We like our space…
We do not suffer needlessly.Been there & done that on hundreds of trip; no plans to do it anymore.


Good luck. We are the weirdos who need and like wagons. The rest of the world wants something else. No sooner than I found the vehicle that would suit my needs the manufacturer stopped making it. I live in central NC so AWD is unnecessary. I bought a new Hyundai Elantra Touring in 2010. Great little wagon with front wheel drive. I would have appreciated more ground clearance but it’s been an economical, reliable little kayak carrier… with heated seats.

I loved both of my Subarus for how well they got me thru anything. I did not love the head gasket replacement or the fact that the timing belt job at 105000 miles cost closer to 1000 bucks than 500 because of how much labor was involved. Foresters seem to be better than the outback as they age, but old is old.
Price for value and reliability, you may want to look at used, certified if possible, Hyundai or Mazda equivalents of the Forester. Less dollars than Toyota and very similar reliability. A small truck is a good idea too, just can’t comment on that because an unhrated cargo area is no good for string instruments.

Paddling vehicle is secondary to getting out of the house vehicle. We have had Foresters for a long time because they go in the snow and currently the mud. AWD Is a must and 4 WD handy. Even then 4WD does not mean you will always go… we were checking a put in last week but its still a snowmobile trail with two feet of slush. Our road to the house is a bit of a morass and my daughters Escape couldnt.

We have kept our vehicles to 300,000 miles and frankly don’t care what they look like till we get dirty leaning against them…

Forester has 150,000 miles on it. The last one had 200,000 on it but the AC stopped working at all and so did the radio and the hailstorm did it in.
No head valve gasket replacement
Toyota ran to 300,000
The Honda Ridgeline has 150,000 on it.

Heat in Florida is nice… We visited , camped and had some frosty mornings… North of Tampa is different from South of Tampa

RAV4, have 130K on it and still runs like new. Mine is 4wd with V6. City I average 20 mph, highway 27-29, depending how I drive. Have had no major issues with it at all and everything works. Carries boats easily.

Just one note on the drive thing - for a while now the only all time 4 wheel drive vehicles are Subaru and some trucks where you can force it to stay in 4 wheel drive. All but those two are only 4 wheel drive as long as the computer thinks it is needed. The operator can usually only override it up to about 20 mph. I have watched the dash signals above that, and what is happening is the cars are kicking in stability control where l would have preferred to be in 4 wheel drive.

I went with a certified Toyota for my last car, and the Rav4 is a very comfortable beast. Just tall, worked better with my decision to also get a Hullivator. But if l still had to navigate a relative’s driveway from hell or be absolutely certain l could get my husband to medical treatment thru anything, l would have gone with the Forester.

But be sure of what you are buying with the drive thing. All wheel drive in more recent models is not the same as full time 4 wheel drive.

With pickup trucks, part-time 4WD is the way to go and it is most common in them. Use 2WD most of the time and the DRIVER switches it over to engage 4WD, or 4WD low tranfer case range when necessary. The computer does not make that decision with conventional part-time 4WD.

Our 2012 Hyundai Santa Fe has AWD. The car starts off in it but switches to FWD at around 18-20mph. The switch over is smooth enough that you don’t notice it and there is a button on the dash that defeats the switch over and lets you stay in AWD, which I’ve used on slippery, snowy or icy roads.

Before the Santa Fe we had a Land Rover Discovery, so the Hyundai - as you might expect - doesn’t live up to the build quality of the Land Rover. But, it was a lot cheaper, has a great 5/10 year warranty, gets twice the gas mileage and doesn’t cost me an arm and a leg every time I take it in for a service.

The Santa Fe is not the most exciting ride and is quite high, but it runs well, has been super reliable.

I drive a 2008 Toyota 4-Runner and love it. Best vehicle I’ve ever owned. Enough room and comfort for 4 people. Comfortable ride. Has the basic bells & whistles that I want. Tows my raft trailer effortlessly, even though it’s a V6. Decent gas mileage for an SUV. 4 wheel drive if & when I really need it. Kinda tall for kayak loading, but I figured that out and it’s not a problem. 90,000 miles on it with just regular maintenence. My rafting buddy has around 200,000 miles on his older 4-Runner and it’s still running great.

I’m glad I got mine before they changed the body design. I don’t care for the new boxy look of the 4-Runner.

I owned a Subaru Outback years ago, and a Ford Ranger. Both were good. Lots of people love their Subarus here in Utah. It’s kind of the unofficial Utah vehicle…ski, bike, kayak, etc.

Thanks, I appreciate all of your comments and opinions.

So far, in very general terms, my takeaway is this:

  • Keep a vehicle for as long as possible; don’t get caught up with needing to drive something shiny
  • Subarus have a loyal following and are (were?) great, but possibly costly maintenance and potentially better choices
  • Modern part time AWD is more about marketing than functionality, stick with 4x4 or full time AWD

I’m going to take some time to assess the current state of my Canyon before going any farther down the road of vehicle replacement. Though the real 4x4 drivetrain is desirable in the used market, the rusted out rocker panels are not. It isn’t worth much if I sell it. I suppose if it’s possible to throw a few hundred at it now to keep it going for another few years, it’s money well spent.

And to bring it back around to how I spun this thread initially, it does work well as a kayak carrier and for other outdoor pursuits. There are plenty of times we’ve found ourselves off the beaten path and my wife or I mentions “boy, I’m glad we took the truck today!” Unfortunately, it’s been a few years since I’ve had a “snow day” to stay at home and relax in front of the fire. :wink:

My 2005 Forester roof is shorter than the current models and hence easier to load the kayak onto. It has higher ground clearance, and better visibility than comparable models of that vintage. It has only cost me tires, batteries, gas/oil and wiper blades in 148,000 miles. (o&m money) It doesn’t get stuck on the beach, clay mud road or snow. Eddie Bauer edition with the heated seats, plenty of 12v outlets, 6way adjustable seat, moon roof, Cruise control, electric windows, rear and front wind shield deicer (wires) and 6 cd changer. In North Florida we get freezing temps and a warm seat is nice. It also works great on lower back pain. (after kayaking?) Two kayaks and gear max it out space wise. It parks in little spots at crowded boat ramps.

The full sized 4x4 GMC pick up has ground clearance, doesn’t get stuck (yet), and pulls a lot of trailer. Loading the kayaks on the rack takes a step stool and a younger wife. But it can haul a lot. The addition of a canoe/kayak trailer and we can haul 6 boats and 6 people. Remember that 4x4 just means you’ll get stuck farther off the paved road where wreckers don’t go. Gas …well you buy a truck for what it can do not gas economy. It used to do work on the farm. I have spend $2,500 replacing tires, shocks and some brake work. All normal wear and tear. But like my old Z-71 it ain’t exactly stock.

The Honda mini van carries two on the roof and can tow the trailer to carry 6 boats and 8 people. Two wheel drive stay on improved pavement. Gas economy is 27 mpg on the road. But it got stuck twice in the father-in-law’s driveway. It also takes that step stool some times to load it. Ground clearance is terrible. The air dams plow snow and mud.

I feel your pain. I don’t enjoy changing vehicles either and I have just come to the point of realizing it is time to do so - and I have. The 99 4wd Ranger needs its third cat. converter, front tires are shot, rust has long since caught up to it…

I’d second what’s been said about 4wd pick ups with a topper being preferable to AWD. I also prefer SMALL 4wd pickups both for reasons of fuel economy and ease of loading, not to mention turning and maneuvering in tight spots that are often found at boat landings. The problem is there aren’t any made anymore. The 4wd Ranger, Tacoma, and Canyon/Colorado are now what I’d call mid-sized and have the fuel economy that goes along with the increased size. Where is the 2.2L 4wd Isuzu Pup or Mazda B2300 equivalent these days? Like you, I live in a rural area and drive more than many, and I’m in hills that can be treacherous in snow. I’m taking quite a few long (1000mi + trips) these days and gas mileage is important to me. My 84 Isuzu regularly got 30mpg, my B2300 got 28, the Ranger got 20 on the hwy on a good day - the trend is not for the better.

So I’m switching to a Rav4 and, because of the 3’ max crossbar spacing allowed by the roof rails (not enough separation to safely carry a couple 18.5’ canoes on interstates in wind, IMHO) I’ll be modifying a used boat trailer for canoe hauling. That way I get better fuel economy for everyday driving and, as in my last three pickups, can pack and keep paddling/camping equip in the trailer ready to go on short notice.

But as an addition and a different way of thinking of fuel savings I just though folks might get a kick out of a bit I read recently about the psychological errors all people are inclined to and how it can affect choices involving fuel economy.

Consider two hypothetical folks switching vehicles: One who doesn’t give a dang about fuel economy and goes from one that gets 12mpg to one that gets 14. The second does care about it and goes from on that gets 30mpg to one that gets 40.
There’s a side of our mind that immediately thinks the second person is being wise and is saving much more - a 10mpg increase as opposed to a 2mpg gain and a much higher percentage improvement in MPGs. That is intuitive and quick and takes almost no thought. So we think it, decide, and lay down our cash.
But hang on a second… get retentive about it, crunch the numbers. Most folks are loathe to do the math and won’t if they’re sure they see the correct answer intuitively. I often don’t and probably don’t even realize it when I don’t. And I doubt I’m the Lone Ranger in this.

So if both drive 10,000mi, the first goes from burning 833.3 gal to 714.28 gal for a savings of ~119 gal. The second goes from 333.3 gal down to 250 gal. for a savings of 83.3 gal. Who made the better choice?

So maybe, as folks have mentioned, hanging on to the old truck, at least for long distance boat hauling, is worth considering. Of course there are other considerations: insurance, maintenance, licensing, etc. but there’s more to it than shine.

Though my 09 Rav4 does shine and is quiet… hope I did right and that you will too.

My twenty one year old 4WD Toyota Tacoma truck with a Leer cap on the back.

Before the Toyota I had a 1990 Ford Explorer 4WD SUV which I really liked. The rear seat was fast and easy to drop leaving a flat surface plenty long enough to sleep on. Had to get rid of it after the manual transmission went out for the third time. Ford put a Mazda transmission in that vehicle that was designed for a smaller, lighter vehicle.

If you don’t need the ground clearance and 4WD, minivans actually make great paddle tripping vehicles. With doors that open on both sides you can stand on the rocker panels and easily access boats on the roof. If you take out most of the seats, there is plenty of room to sleep inside and stow gear.

I can and sometimes still do sleep in the bed of my truck under the cap but it is not quite as pleasant.