First, I’ll talk about the different types of cars and things I considered when making my last purchase. Over the years I’ve owned almost every type of vehicle, most of which I’ve used to go fishing. Since starting to kayak fish I’ve had a full-size truck, full-size SUV, compact hatchback, and now a mid-size SUV. They all had their pros and cons, but here are some things to consider.
- How many kayaks do you plan on carrying, regularly and occasionally?
- Do you need secure storage for all your gear?
- Do you use one-piece rods that you want to put inside?
- Will you be sleeping in it? If so, is it just a few hours at a ramp, or will you spend several nights in it instead of setting up a tent?
- What sort of mileage do you want to get? For most of us, we will have to use this car for things other than going fishing.
- What are your rack options?
Me? I wanted to be able to get three kayaks on my vehicle, plus I wanted secure storage for rods up to 7’6”. Just with the first three questions, I narrowed my choices down to an SUV. While a truck would have held all my gear, I like to do long trips and want to have all my gear secured inside my car when I stop to get a bite to eat on the way. Even my on my local trips into Boston, I like having everything locked inside. While I did consider a truck with a shell on it, I did not want another truck with an 8’ bed, as a short bed would not have kept the 7’6” rods up and out of harm’s way.
A custom five-kayak rack the author built for his truck.
Now when I did short trips to the local ponds around my house 90% of the time, having my truck was great. And if you’re considering a truck you probably should check out a bed extender. Here is an article discussing them: Getting There and Back - Bed Extenders.
Now I did put up to four kayaks on my HHR (and regularly had three on it), and it had plenty of secure storage to hold a Boondoggle’s worth of gear for two anglers. With my youngest son getting older, I need more room to hold three anglers and all their gear. The compact hatchbacks were out.
The author’s HHR was a staple at Boondoggles, making the treks from New Hampshire down to Charlestown, Virginia Beach, and Kars Park.
Once I narrowed it down to an SUV, I had a few more things to consider. First, I regularly sleep in the car - I’ll just recline the driver’s seat for a few hours of sleep between an evening of chasing stripers and a predawn launch at a different ramp. I have on occasions saved time and effort by sleeping in the back rather that setting up a tent. That being said, I wanted to make sure the rear seat folded flat.
Lastly, I considered mileage. While I am still waiting for that “fullsize Tahoe that gets 40 mpg” reality, I had to compromise between size and economy. For me, between fishing, work, and driving my son all over New Hampshire for hockey all winter, I normally put 20K miles on my vehicle in a year. I decided I wanted to get a real-world 20 MPG, so that all but eliminated full-size SUVs and had me looking at the mid-size ones.
The last question I’ve learned the hard way, twice. Once you think you’ve found the perfect vehicle or vehicles, research what rack systems are available. When I purchased my HHR a few years ago, I knew that all the major manufacturers made rack systems for it. What I didn’t realize was for all the systems you needed factory-installed side rails. Since the HHR did not have side rails my only option was to drill through the roof and do a custom mount system. While this did not faze me because I have a professional background in modifying vehicles, some people would get chills at the thought of drilling through the roof of their new car.
The author’s HHR with a custom rack that regularly hauled three kayaks.
So after learning that lesson, this time I had narrowed my choices down to a few models I researched and looked at all the details of the rack systems for the different models and options. I thought I was prepared. After getting my Ford “Edge” home, I installed some racks onto the factory-installed side rails and thought I was ready to go. Well the rails that I though felt pretty solid turned out to be metal rails mounted between two cheesy plastic mounts. There was some serious flex with one boat, let alone two or three kayaks on it like I planned. So I will be making a custom set-up again, and next time I’ll do a little more digging.
Like kayaks, there will never be a perfect one-size-fits-all vehicle for everybody. If you take the time to think through what you liked and didn’t like about your past vehicles before you get to the lot and see all the shiny new cool cars and trucks, you have a much better chance of getting the best vehicle for you.