Campervan Ideas: Keeping A Kayak On Your Vehicle

The Vanna Project - Keeping a Kayak On Your Vehicle - Tips + Ideas for Your DIY Conversion Van

A kayak was always in the picture for us when we thought about traveling full-time in our van, but we've learned a lot about what having a kayak on our van means and we thought it would be helpful to share the insights we've gathered over the past several months.

Something to know up front: our kayak is a plastic sea kayak over 16 feet in length. We aren't precious with it, so scrapes aren't a concern for us, but we do want to make sure it's stored safely and in a way that won't damage the kayak. We also keep it on our van at all times unless we're out camping by the water or if the vessel is in use.

With that out of the way, let's dive in!

How to Store a Kayak on Your Campervan

3 different components work together to create the rack our kayak sits upon:

Aluminess Roof Rack

We have an Aluminess roof rack on our van and love how versatile it is! They make all of their roof racks customized to fit your needs and will ship them to you if you don't live in or around San Diego, where they're headquartered.

Yakima Round Cross Bars

Across the front and back of our roof rack sit the Yakima round cross bars. We originally started with square cross bars but due to a couple of factors, including our solar panel set up, we needed to use the round ones and are extremely happy with them.

Thule Top Deck Kayak Saddles

These kayak saddles from Thule are great because they can fit to the width and shape of most vessels. That means if we ever want to trade our current kayak in for a different boat, we don't need to worry about whether it will fit or not!

The Vanna Project - Keeping a Kayak On Your Vehicle - Tips + Ideas for Your DIY Conversion Van

In addition to these 3 components, we use these lashing straps to secure the kayak to the roof rack system. They're lifesavers!

Tips for Keeping a Kayak on Your High Roof Vehicle

Take it from us-- it's completely possible to keep a kayak on top of your high roof camper. In fact, not only is it possible, but having the kayak strapped to the top of our roof rack transforms the space on top of the van into a great hang out spot, with the kayak serving as a sturdy seat back for up to a few people. The kayak can also serve as storage if needed, which is a plus if space ever feels tight (which, let's be real-- it usually does!). However, there are a few things we learned after hitting the road with the kayak on top that would be good to know up front:

Know How Tall You Are

One thing we didn't think about until needing to navigate some low-clearance tunnels was how much taller our van was with the kayak on top! Take a proactive measure and find out how tall your van is with this new addition sooner rather than later-- it's possible that your camper will be a full 12-18 inches taller with the roof rack hardware and vessel.

Dealing With Wind

While we have rarely had a true issue with windy weather, adding a kayak on top of an already-tall vehicle does create more drag and pull on the van while driving. To keep the kayak more streamlined, it helps to have a cockpit seal (we use this one from Seals) and a lashing strap to go over it. While we thought the cockpit would stay on its own, all it takes are a couple gusts for it to fly right off so you'll thank yourself for using a strap over it as well!

How to Load/Unload Your Kayak from Your Camper

One question we get the most often about our van travels is regarding how we get the kayak on and off the van. While it might be more comfortable initially to have two people maneuver the kayak, most times Shane takes the kayak off by himself in under 5 minutes. As long as the kayak is empty you should find it to be rather straightforward! 

Note: In order for unloading the kayak to work well, it's important to have plenty of space behind you (and on either side if possible, especially if it's your first time).

To illustrate his technique, we made a quick video of the kayak coming off the van. To put the kayak back on, simply do the same but in reverse! Despite what you might think, getting the kayak back up onto the van is really an easy process. Once you have enough of the kayak up on the roof, the rest float up like a lever.


Do you have any other tips or questions to add? Drop us a line in the comments, contact us, or connect through Instagram and Facebook!