April 16, 2021
By Joseph Albanese
Whether you’re headed to the whitetail woods or the fishing hole, odds are pretty good that you’ve got a bunch of stuff to take with you. Guns, treestands, canoes and fishing rods all take up space, and can max out a vehicle’s capacity in short order.
Adding the correct cargo management system to your vehicle makes taking it all with you easier and minimizes the chance of damaging your valuable equipment. And, perhaps more importantly, it will make loading up faster so you can spend less time packing and more time hunting or fishing.
Canoes and Kayaks
A trip to any river, pond or smallish lake will reveal the popularity of canoes and kayaks. But because of their size, getting these watercraft to your favorite fishing spot can be difficult. The simplest method involves throwing a few foam blocks between it and the roof of your vehicle and lashing it down. This will work, but it’s time consuming and not necessarily the most secure way.
A dedicated rack made for your vessel is faster and more secure. There are two basic styles: J-cradle racks and saddles. You’ll need a roof rack on your vehicle already, but both styles install quickly.
J-cradle racks make the most of available roof space because they tilt the kayak on its side, so you can use the remainder of the roof rack for other equipment like fishing rods, bicycles or even an additional kayak. Yakima’s JayLow ($199; yakima.com) works with nearly any factory or aftermarket roof rack and just about every kayak, be it sit-on or sit-in.
The upright nature of these carriers creates drag on the highway even without a ’yak attached, and can create issues getting into parking garages. Folding J-cradle racks, like Malone’s Downloader ($170; maloneautoracks.com) have a smaller footprint when not in use.
Saddle racks work with a wider variety of hull styles and make loading easier. To get your boat on the roof, simply rest it on the back and push it up and forward, eliminating the need to lift the entire weight of the vessel.
Yakima’s SweetRoll ($239) has a roller built-in to make the process even easier. Malone’s SeaWing with Stinger Assist ($230) adds an extension to protect your vehicle’s rear glass and facilitate loading.
Canoe-specific saddles, like Yakima’s KeelOver ($119) and Thule’s Portage ($140; thule.com) are designed to protect the gunwales while preventing the boat from sliding from side to side.
Because of their length and fragility, fishing rods present a unique transportation challenge. Storing rods inside the vehicle decreases the chance of theft and keeps them out of the elements, but you still need to secure them to keep them safe as you travel.
Racks like the Rodmounts Rod-Up ($199; rodmounts.com) keep your casting, spinning or fly rods tucked up along the roofline with a metal framework that won’t wiggle free on even the bumpiest roads. If you’ll be sticking to smooth thoroughfares, the Rod Saver Vehicle Rod Carrier ($35; rodsaver.com) is an economical choice. Just keep in mind that the nylon straps that keep the rods suspended will sway with each bump.
While many vehicles can accommodate rods up to 7 feet long inside the cab, anything over that becomes a challenge. If you don’t have the room inside your vehicle to fit your rods, you’ll need to transport them on the outside.
One option is the Portarod rod holder ($119 and up; portarod.com), which fits inside the bed of a pickup and securely holds rods upright as you drive.
Fly anglers hopping from hole to hole will sometimes tuck their rods under a windshield wiper and hope for the best. Obviously, this is a gamble—one sharp bump and your prized rod can be destroyed. To keep your rods in place as you motor upstream, use a carrier like the Rodmounts Sumo ($150). This two-part system attaches to the hood and the roof, letting you strap your rods in quickly. Both suction and magnetic models are available, so the rack will work no matter what your vehicle is made of. The Sumo rod holder doesn’t require any additional mounting equipment, and will work with other types of rods.
If you have a roof rack and want the ability to keep a pair of fly rods rigged and ready, the Trxstle CRC System V2.0 ($395; trxstle.com) is an excellent choice. Unlike other rigid tube carriers, the CRC system collapses for storage.
This lets you use the CRC as a protective case, safely storing your broken-down rods for airline travel or other rough passages. A pair of locking, quick-release clamps lets you install the carrier on a variety of racks quickly.
If you want to keep up to four fly rods rigged and don’t need the portability of the CRC System, then Yakima’s DoubleHaul ($699) fits the bill. This carrier stacks the rods on their sides, making the most of roof rack space. The reel box accommodates the butts of two spey rods, so you can store double-handers up to 10 feet in length.
You can also get locking exterior storage for spinning and casting rods. Thule’s Rodvault ST ($450) features the now-familiar tube-and-box construction of rigid fly rod holders, with an increased diameter for larger guides. Yakima’s TopWater ($550) takes a different approach, completely enclosing up to eight fully rigged fishing rods in a weatherproof box.
If you have really long rods, such as surf, spey or centerpin setups, then you’ll need an open carrier to accommodate them. Racarod Rod Holders ($245 and up; racarod.com) feature locking reel cradles and tip sections that gently sandwich your rods to keep them stable at highway speeds. These are built beefy to handle the heaviest setups.
Years ago, it seemed like every pickup truck had a gun rack in the back window. You can still get away with that in some parts of the country, but visible guns tempt thieves. Keeping guns locked up—especially when you’re away from the vehicle—is the safest course of action.
One of the easiest ways to store handguns is to harden your existing console with a locking top. Tuffy makes a variety of locking console safes for handguns ($168 and up; tuffyproducts.com), custom fit to a number of vehicles. Prying eyes will only see the stock upholstery, so the addition won’t let on that you have valuables in the car.
If you don’t want to give up your center console, you can utilize one of Tuffy’s under-seat locking storage containers ($141 and up). These are also out of sight and won’t attract any unwanted attention.
Rifles and shotguns are a bit tougher to store, but you can make use of the space under your truck’s back seat.
DU-HA offers custom-molded liners formed with slots to securely hold long guns ($179 and up; du-ha.com). These are available for most full- and mid-sized trucks. If you want something a bit more secure, there are locking versions ($299) for select vehicles.
If you’d prefer to keep your guns more accessible, you can install the Great Day Center-Lok Overhead Gun Rack ($195 and up; greatdayinc.com) in your truck or SUV. The Overhead Gun Rack is built similarly to the old-school window racks, but is designed to hug the ceiling, keeping your guns out of view of most passers-by. To retrieve your firearms, just undo a couple Velcro straps and be on your way.
Truck Bed Systems
Many outdoorsmen and -women choose to drive pickup trucks because of their off-road prowess, load capacity and overall utility. You can make your truck even more useful by outfitting the bed with a drawer system. These allow you to carry cargo, such as ATVs, treestands or other bulky, heavy items, while creating an easily accessible storage area below. These systems are more complex to install than a kayak rack or rod holder, but you can get it done in a few hours with the help of a buddy.
Tuffy’s Heavy Duty Gear Drawers ($2,472) provide organized, weatherproof storage in two locking drawers with a 2,000-pound load rating above. You won’t have to worry about your gear walking off, thanks to Tuffy’s automotive OEM-quality pushbutton locking mechanism that incorporates a 1/4-inch-thick steel security latch and all-metal construction. Even when the drawers are fully loaded with guns, bows or camping equipment, the precision-ground stainless steel sealed roller bearings ensure they pull out easily. Check with Tuffy to see if they make a drawer system for your truck.
Decked ($1,149 and up; decked.com) takes a distinctly different approach to truck bed drawers, manufacturing them out of high-density polyethylene with a metal skeleton. Despite the mostly plastic construction, the system has the same 2,000-pound payload capability. The drawers hold 200 pounds each, sliding over the existing bed on rubber casters. Decked has a variety of custom-made accessories designed to fit the drawers and keep your gear organized.
If you’re looking for weatherproof storage that’s less permanent than a drawer system, check out Pelican’s Cargo Cases ($249 and up; pelican.com). These rotomolded containers are designed with mounting systems for truck beds and roof racks, so you can keep them loaded with gear and be ready to hit the road in minutes.
Built with oversized handles for easy carry, the cases go from garage to truck to campsite easily. Sizes for everything from firearms to a couple weeks’ worth of hunting or fishing gear are available.
Whatever vehicle you drive, outfitting it for your adventures will ensure you make the most of your available space, and that your stuff gets there in one piece. And with the proper gear to haul your equipment, you’ll spend more time in the woods or on the water and less time packing.