The upside of getting a new car is, well, getting a new car. The downside of getting a new car is the possibility that your old kayak roof rack may not plug-and-play nicely with it. Having said goodbye to my beloved old girl and committing to a new one, I figured this might be a reality.
With hauling kayaks, there are three considerations at hand. The first is the crossbars. What weight can they hold and can they hold the weight of your kayaks? If they can, awesome, skip to three. But if not, the second consideration are the “towers” or the things that hold your crossbar to the top of your car instead of the factory rack. These are what cost the most for a custom rack. Whereas bars are around $100, the towers vary depending on the make and model of your vehicle. The towers on the Jeep I had were rare because they connected via the “gutter system”, something not common on most cars after 2000. You’re kind of stuck with the cost of whatever “tower” is needed to attach your bars.
The third consideration is the actual “holding system” of the kayak. This is basically all based on your preference or ability or preferred ease of lifting/not lifting your kayak on top of your car. Common J-Racks are stationary and you lift your kayak up, usually over your head into place. This is not ideal for people who can’t lift 50lbs of awkward plastic without using their back (who can, really?). Some systems have an arm that will pick up your kayak mid-body and lift it on top of your car – those cost the most. The in-between is the Glide and Set system, which I had and was accustomed to. You basically lift the bow up to some paddles at the rear of your vehicle and slide it up and onto rubber holders. But that system requires space (or width) as your kayaks will ride flat versus propped vertically (which is preferred apparently, as they are more aerodynamic but who knows if that’s really true since I’ve found nothing confirming that.)
At first, I thought I’d gotten lucky since I could use the factory rack on my new Subaru Outback, (or Newbaru, if you will) instead of buying new towers to transfer my old crossbars onto. Score! I could simply attach my Glide and Set system and go. Double score! Until I realized the space between the towers on my old racks and my new factory rack was 5 inches less, making for a very tight fit for both Glide and Sets. If I had narrower kayaks, this wouldn’t be an issue but I don’t, and who knows whose boat I might be shuttling at any given time? Then I remembered I had a pair of old Hull-a-Port J-cradles that were included in a Craiglist kayak sale a few years ago. I could use those to save some room on the roof rack and still use the Glide and Set on the other side! Triple score!
But then… after installing everything in my driveway, I peered over my rack and something devastating caught my eye – the garage opening! Worry washed over me. I inched the car towards the opening, nudging the front J-rack slowly towards the mouth of the car hole. Sonofabitch, there was 5mm of clearance, if that. No score!
Alright, I’ll stop being dramatic. Long story short, thankfully, Thule has foldable J-racks called the Hull-a-Port Pro. This solution was widely suggested on various Subaru boards, as well as others whose vehicle just won’t fit in the garage due to the added height of a vertically-standing kayak rack solution. So, I bit the bullet and purchased a pair (luckily my timing was right as REI was having its Spring sale which allowed me to save 20% on these). Even still, it’s a chunk of change to throw down, discount included. But much like a kayak, once you have it, rarely should it have to be replaced and they hold there value on the aftermarket (Craigslist, etc.)
What We Like:
I’m a Thule guy. Always have been, always will be (sorry, to my KaYakima friends, no judgement here, it’s just a strong preference). Why? Nothing specific, really. There’s just something about the style, fit and functionality. The Hull-a-Ports are a prime example of Thule’s ingenuity and engineering.
They attach like all other of their rack accessories, with 4 simple screws that tighten a clamp under the crossbar, all easily done by hand. Once attached, it’s simply a matter of threading a strap in the outer handle, pulling the lever, then pushing the outer handle up and back into position until the lever snaps into place. Like voodoo magic. Or witchcraft-ery. I’d like to go into more detail here but there really isn’t anything else to it.
With a couple trips of some distance under my belt, so far so good using the rack (but I’ll revisit this post if my addoration changes). I should note thought, that this is no Glide and Set – this is a “lift and set” kind of rack, so for those who don’t like to (or just can’t) lift a kayak on top of your car, this definitely isn’t your solution.
For what it’s worth. I did notice that the basic Hull-a-Port J-cradles are a bit more curved, more “J-like” instead of right-angled (or 100-degrees if we’re getting technical) but maybe that was just a design change or to allow the rack to lay flatter when folded. Which, by the way, do remember to fold these down before pulling into the garage, they’re still the same height.
Thule includes blue straps but they are quite lengthy. The longer your straps, the longer you’ll spend tying the loose ends. I have yet to find a way to cut and melt long straps for a clean edge (I don’t recommend trying*). I do however highly recommend the Sherpak Over-The-Hull Strap. Not only are these quality nylon, but they are crazy affordable. I use 9′ straps which is generally all the length you’ll need. (If you live in Madison, Rutabaga Paddlesports has their own brand with the exact same make and style – they might even be made by Sherpak because they’re crazy identical, save for the custom “Rutabaga.com” lettering stitched within the braid.
*Friend of Miles Paddled, Allen, has offered his suggestion on how to cut straps: “The quick clean way to cut nylon straps: Find a big kitchen knife you don’t care if you mess up. Find piece of scrap wood. Mark strap at cut point and lay on board. Heat knife with a propane torch to dull red hot. Press hot knife down through strap. Nice clean cut. Be careful with hot knife.” Thanks Allen!
Also, specifically related to the Subaru Outback 2015/16/17 models, finding a place to tie-down the bow and stern wasn’t as obvious as one would expect from a popular outdoor vehicle such as this. So I visited Rutabaga because I knew they’d have some suggestions. After some thoughtful advice, I bought some Baga Hood Loops which attach under the hood for my front tie-downs and some Baga Hood Loops which can also be used in the trunk despite the name. Essentially, the strap is clamped in by simply shutting the trunk and the little rubber handle prevents it from popping out. It’s actually crazy simple.
The Final Word:
Elegantly designed, easy to use and most importantly, a practical choice when you don’t have the extra height to spare, Thule’s Hull-a-Port Pro kayak racks are worth the price of admission.
Thule Key Info:
Load Accomodation: 75lbs
Rack Fit: Thule rack systems, round bars and most factory racks
Fit Guide: Thule Racks
Accessories: Thule Load Bars
Sherpak Key Info:
Manufacturer: Seattle Sports