Kayaking is one of the most enjoyable ways to explore the water. Unlike canoes, however, you often need one kayak per person on your trip. Even if it’s just you and a partner it can become a chore to figure out how to transport those big plastic boats to the lake or river.
So, what’s to be done? Use a kayak trailer, of course!
Whether you’ve got two kayaks or half a dozen, there’s a kayak trailer out there for you. The problem is that there are almost too many options. So, in order to help you spend more time paddling and less time shopping I’m going to guide you to picking out the best kayak trailer for your money.
We’re going to take a look at the good, bad, and ugly of a handful of kayak trailers so you can quickly sort out the best from the rest. I’m also going to teach you what to look for and how to spot a great kayak trailer so you can be confident in your choice.
Let’s get to it!
Quick Answer: Top Kayak Trailers
Kayak Trailers Compared
- Malone XtraLight 2 Kayak Package
Humber Sport Rating
- Kayak Capacity: 2
- Weight Capacity: 275 lbs
- Malone Auto Racks XtraLight
Humber Sport Rating
- Kayak Capacity: 2 - 4
- Weight Capacity: 275 lbs
Kayak Trailer Reviews
Malone is one of the most prolific makers of kayak trailers and trailer accessories. You’ll be seeing more of them in this review because they’re making trailers the right way and users love them!
This trailer is going to arrive at your door in pieces. You’ll have to build the whole thing so make sure that you’re ready to get your DIY on when you open the box. Some of the pieces are going to weight a few pounds, too so get a helper.
This trailer does feature a leaf spring suspension like most small trailers. At a total weight of 250 pounds it won’t be light, but when it’s assembled and riding on properly inflated wheels it should be a breeze to maneuver around.
Don’t worry, trailer lights and electric wires are all in the package and all you have to do is make sure it’s hooked up when it’s time to hit the road. Everything is done to DOT standards so you shouldn’t have any issue with authorities when it comes to transport.
This kayak trailer come preloaded with two V shaped kayak holders. Each holder has its own tie-down strap and the trailer can hold 2 kayaks total.
Overall this trailer is a good pick although I can’t help but feel like there’s room on there for more than just two kayaks. I would have liked to see some additional use of space like a gear bin or more racks.
If you liked the looks of the last kayak trailer but you weren’t interested in the V shaped kayak racks that were included, look no further! While it’s still the same base trailer, this one doesn’t come with any racks so you can pick your own.
If you’re the type of person who prefers a little DIY or you just aren’t happy with other racks, this one might be your top pick. On top of the steel frame of the trailer are two horizontal bars which allow you to mount any rack of your choosing.
Depending on the racks you use and how you set things up you may have room for 2-4 kayaks on this trailer as-is. Any kayak racks that fit on a roof rack should also fit these rails so you can reuse ones you already own.
As you get ready to add your own racks and make this trailer your own, just keep in mind that the total safe load capacity is 275 pounds. This really shouldn’t be an issue, but if you try to load this trail down you might get close to that weight limit!
Honestly there’s not much to complain about here. Their goal is to provide a blank slate for users to modify with their own racks and it’s up to you to put together the rest of the puzzle.
This means more options for advanced users or DIYers, but it could end up being an extra hassle for those who want to just “get it and go”.
Surprised to see another Malone trailer on our list? You should be getting used to it by now because their trailers are among the best on the market anyways. This one is a totally different design than the other Malone trailers on our list, though.
The MicroSport has a coupe of differences that are important when compared with the XtraLight trailer. One major change is the addition of a spare tire which is an important feature for any trailer.
There are no tricks here – you’ll have everything you need. The racks each come with a red tie-down strap that’s quick and easy to use. They’re pull style straps so if you prefer ratchet straps you may have to replace them after the fact.
I think the only real improvement I’d like to see on this trailer is a gear storage box, but we’re going to talk about that next.
You probably already noticed that I keep mentioning gear box storage on the trailers we’ve looked at so far. It always bothers me when trailers fail to maximize storage but with this additional box you can get every ounce of performance out of that new trailer!
So, you got a new trailer and don’t have room in your vehicle for all the gear, vests, paddles and other goodies. Where else can you store that stuff? With this storage box you can put it on the trailer and out of sight.
One of the coolest features about this storage box is that it can slide in and out underneath the boats. You don’t have to take the boats out to get to the gear stored inside thanks to the roller bars that are included which let you slide the box right off the side of the trailer!
According to the manufacturer, this trailer box is not waterproof, but highly water resistant. There is a water resistant rubber gasket that goes around the lid to seal everything but apparently it must not be that reliable.
It seems to me if you’re going to go through the effort of making an expensive trailer box with a rubber lid gasket that it should be waterproof. However, at least you can put water sensitive gear in a waterproof bag inside the box if you really need to.
This is almost a necessary addition to any Malone trailer.
Not quite a full trailer, but a useful addition to a trailer you probably already have laying around. If you’ve got a utility trailer for a lawn mower, yard work, or other small tasks, chances are you can use this inexpensive addition to turn it into a kayak trailer!
If you’re like me, chances are that you like to save money and get every bang for your buck that you can. In those respects, it doesn’t get any more efficient and effective than the Trailer Cross Bar System.
All you have to do is install the upright steel bars to the side of your existing trailer using simple bolt brackets.Then you can put in the horizontal braces that fit trailers up to 65 inches wide. Hint: it will almost certainly fit any standard size trailer.
Once properly installed you can add kayak racks to the horizontal bars. Or simply toss a kayak on top and strap it right to the rails.
The best part is that all the space underneath is still usable so you can toss in a few more kayaks on the trailer itself. There’s a good chance with creative use of space and some good ratchet straps you could get 4-6 kayaks on a normal lawn trailer.
Of course this option may not be appealing if you want a dedicated kayak trailer, but for those to love utility value, it doesn’t get much better.
How to Choose the Best Kayak Trailer for You
DIY or Finished Trailer?
This might seem counterintuitive at first but bear with me. You have two options for starting your kayak trailer adventure. Either start with a trailer that’s already equipped with everything it needs, or start with a base trailer.
Finished kayak trailers have a rack included with the frame, suspension, and wheels of the trail itself. Base trailers, like other blank trailers you can purchase, are lightweight, purpose built kayak trailers but without the kayak racks.
If you don’t want to muck around with picking out racks and adding them after market, you’ll want a finished trailer. Many of us are in this category.
Unfortunately, sometimes you just can’t find the right trailer size with the correct racks you need. If you want to be able to customize the type of racks you use for transporting and storing your kayaks on the trailer, a base trailer gives you this freedom.
You’re not necessarily stuck with your choice, however. If you order a finished trailer and think you may want to change rack styles later, look for a trailer with removable or adjustable racks.
It’s easy to consider the biggest trailer for your money to be the “best”, right? I’d encourage you to think twice before you leap on this path of thinking.
Many of us don’t have huge storage spaces. Before you buy, think about where and how you’ll store the trailer when not in use.
Some trailers can actually fold up to be stored in a corner of the garage. Others are permanently fixed and must be stored in operational position. Trailers with boats on them and a long trailer tongue sticking out can end up taking up an entire garage spot on their own!
When searching for the ideal kayak trailer, make sure to be realistic and check in with yourself (or your spouse) about how much room you really have.
Don’t be afraid to store the trailer outside with a tarp over it if all else fails!
Remember that some aspects of the trailer size just can’t be controlled. If you need a 4-kayak trailer, you’re going to be stuck with something bigger than a 2-kayak trailer.
The workaround for this is to use the rooftop of your vehicle to store 1-2 kayaks and the trailer to store the rest. In this way you might get away with a smaller overall trailer in some cases.
Ball hitches come in several different sizes and they don’t play well together. Luckily it’s pretty easy to get a new ball. It’s not so easy to change the receiver on the trailer, however.
If you find a trailer you like but the ball hitch size is different than yours just get an additional ball hitch for your vehicle. You’ll end up using it for more trailers in the future anyways, and it’s better than choosing a trailer based solely on a matching hitch size.
Tire Size and Type
Small trailer tires are generally quite universal. However, some inexpensive kayak trailers may use quirky or uncommon tire types or wheel sizes to get a lower price. In the end this will cost you far more in time and effort trying to fix or replace a surprisingly difficult to find tire.
You’ll have to make your own call, but before you buy a trailer try this to see if the tires are common. Read the specifications or ask the manufacturer what the tire size is. Then, run a quick search to see how much it will cost and how easily you can find replacements.
When you go to buy a kayak trailer you’ll probably find that most of them are aluminum. However, some will be offered in steel models. Is there a difference, and should you care?
- Steel is heavier than aluminum but usually cheaper. Since kayak trailers are small to begin with, even a steel trailer will still be quite light and manageable.
Steel holds up well but can rust over time. Even a moderately well made steel trailer should last a lifetime, however. Look for powder coated or galvanized steel if you want extra rust protection.
- Aluminum is more expensive but lighter and won’t rust. Even in saltwater conditions you don’t have to worry about aluminum decaying at all. Yay!
Unfortunately, you’re likely to pay a bit more for aluminum than steel.
If you’re carrying the trailer on a small vehicle with a small engine, the lightest possible trailer is probably ideal. Aluminum trailers can help relieve some stress on smaller engines by lightening the load.
Do you really need a suspension (shocks) on your kayak trailer? It’s debatable.
I’ve used canoe and kayak trailers without suspensions before and they’re just fine. However, because they’re very lightweight, you do need to be careful not so smack into big potholes at speed. It can send the trailer and kayaks bouncing all over.
Properly secured kayaks should not be in danger of flying off a trailer even on bumps. However, if you do a lot of driving on nasty unmaintained roads, a moderate suspension of some sort on your trailer might be worth investing in.
It will definitely cost you more money to get ahold of a trailer with a suspension than without. It’s up to you to decide whether or not you need it. I’ve driven kayak trailers with and without and haven’t ever had a problem either way.
Maximum Trailer Load
Each trailer will have an upper limit to the amount of weight it can handle when loaded. For trailers with racks already installed, you only need to worry about the weight of the boats.
If you’re buying a trailer without preinstalled racks, make sure to factor in the rack weight when calculating.
Maximum load rating is most important if you’re planning to add any additional modifications. Some kayakers like to add a gear box to haul vests, gear, and other stuff on the trailer. If you’re doing this make sure your trailer can handle the added weight.
Tongue Jacks and Tongue Wheels
If you’ve used a trailer before then you’re already familiar with tongue jacks. These help lift and lower the trailer without you having to pick up the weight on the tongue.
In the case of lightweight kayak trailers, most of us could probably pick up the tongue without a problem. However, those with back injuries, weaker arms, or other considerations may want a tongue jack or tongue wheel.
If you don’t think you need a full jack for the tongue, you can get a tongue wheel that rests the tongue at a preset height. This is nice so you don’t have to pick the tongue up off the ground every time.
If you plan on adding gear boxes or other accessories consider a tongue jack.
This is a must-have in my world. Many kayak trailers don’t come with a spare, but it’s easy enough to add. You can buy spare tire kits for trailers that include the hardware you need to mount a spare out of the way on the trailer itself.
Once you get that taken care of, find and order a replacement wheel and just bolt it right on to the trailer. Then, when that fateful day comes, you won’t be left high and dry at the boat launch.
Don’t forget to add a lug nut wrench into the trunk of your vehicle or into a gear box on the trailer.
The type of kayak trailer you choose should be based on your own needs.There’s no one single “best” kayak trailer out there. If you’re still not sure what kind of kayak trailer to get, make sure to re-read the “how to choose” section.
Remember that you can always start with something simple like a blank kayak trailer such as the Malone XtraLight Base Trailer. Lash your kayak directly to the rails to begin with. Over time you may want to add on a rack or two. Then eventually you can make or buy a gear storage bin for your trailer.
There’s no reason to jump to a purchase you won’t love. So start slow and take some time to think about how you’ll use the trailer, how many boats you’ll carry, and whether or not you may need to expand to carry more kayaks in the future on your trailer.