Pickup trucks are popular vehicles for hauling all sorts of gear for outdoor adventures. And truck bed tonneau covers provide useful protection and security for cargo. But can you still carry kayaks with a truck that has a tonneau cover installed?
The short answer is yes, you can absolutely haul kayaks in a pickup with a tonneau cover. There are several good options for transporting kayaks, even with a truck bed cover in place.
What Type of Tonneau Covers Allow Kayak Transport?
Not all tonneau covers are created equal when it comes to loading bulky cargo like kayaks. The most accommodating options are:
Retractable Tonneau Covers
Folding Tonneau Covers
Folding covers are made of vinyl panels that fold up toward the cab. This also allows full bed access for loading kayaks. Leading folding cover makes are BakFlip, UnderCover Flex, and Extang Tri-Fold.
L-Track Tonneau Covers
L-track tonneaus like the Ranch Hand Legend have integrated tracks for attaching racks and mounts. So you can directly attach kayak carrier racks onto the cover.
How to Carry Kayaks With a Tonneau Cover
Here are some of the most popular methods for transporting kayaks with a truck that has a tonneau cover installed:
1. Use Kayak Carriers Designed for Tonneau Covers
2. Use a Bed Extender
A good option to clear the cover is a hitch-mounted bed extender. It allows you to carry longer kayaks mounted over the tailgate, while keeping the tonneau cover closed.
3. Use Cross Bars
For hard tonneau covers, you can install a set of crossbars on top, then mount kayak racks to them. Thule and Yakima make bars that work with covers from brands like BakFlip and Extang.
4. Leave the Tailgate Down
With retractable and folding covers, you can often fit shorter kayaks by leaving the tailgate open. This will allow the kayak to overhang the lowered tailgate while keeping it secured on the truck bed.
Truck Bed Rack Systems for Kayaks
There are also some heavy-duty rack systems made to handle kayaks above the bed:
Extension racks like the Extend-A-Truck Cab2Kayak mount to the truck bed rails but extend rearward. This leaves space below for the tonneau cover.
Tips for Carrying Kayaks With a Tonneau Cover
If you want to haul kayaks with your tonneau cover in place, keep these tips in mind:
- Measure first to ensure racks will clear the cover and allow the tailgate to close.
- Retractable and folding covers provide the most versatility for loading.
- Roof racks are another good option if you have racks installed.
- Use bow/stern straps or blocks to prevent slipping and protect the kayak.
- Flag and light extending loads properly for safety.
- Check if you need a license plate relocation kit for rear racks.
- Be aware of low overpasses, garages, and obstructions during transport.
- Make sure all straps and racks are properly secured before driving.
Can You Fit a Kayak Inside With the Tonneau Closed?
For pickup trucks with a standard ~6-foot bed, you can often fit smaller 8-10 foot kayaks inside. But you’ll need to leave the tailgate open and have a front support.
With the tonneau cover closed, here are some tips for fitting kayaks inside:
- Use a foam block against the front wall of the bed for support.
- Make sure the kayak doesn’t press against the rear window of the cab.
- Strap the kayak down tightly using cam straps or rope.
- Angle the kayak or place upside down for the best fit.
- Use a kayak cockpit cover to prevent damaging the truck bed.
- Extend just a few feet from the tailgate and flag the excess properly.
Is It Better to Carry Kayaks Inside or Outside the Truck Bed?
- Inside pros:
- More protected from weather and road debris
- Less visible to thieves
- More stable and centered on the truck
- Inside cons:
- Tonneau cover must be open or removed
- Restricts bed access for other cargo
- Can scuff truck bed liner
- Outside pros:
- Leaves truck bed free for other gear
- Allows tonneau cover to stay closed
- Makes loading easier in some cases
- Outside cons:
- More exposed to elements and unsecure
- May reduce gas mileage
- Requires racks or extension bars
So it depends on your priorities – protection vs convenience. Carrying inside with the tailgate down gives the most security but limits bed space. External racks allow other cargo while keeping the kayaks safely strapped down.
Key Takeaways for Carrying Kayaks With a Truck Bed Tonneau Cover
- Look for a retractable, folding, or L-track tonneau cover if you plan to haul kayaks.
- Specific kayak racks can mount directly to the cover’s tracks.
- A bed extender allows the tonneau to stay closed when carrying longer kayaks.
- Crossbars and over-the-bed racks also work with tonneau covers installed.
- Make sure to strap down kayaks securely and flag protruding loads.
- Smaller kayaks can fit inside with the tailgate open and front foam block.
- Both internal bed loading and external racks have pros and cons to weigh.
So with the right equipment, you can absolutely carry your kayaks on a pickup truck that has a tonneau cover. Careful measurement, proper securing, and using kayak-specific mounting systems will allow you to haul your boats with the protection and security of keeping the truck bed covered. Getting set up correctly will let you enjoy the best of both worlds!