2019 Subaru Outback rack help

I just moved back to Florida and I am itching to do some kayaking… but we currently only have 2 cheap little 8’ sit-on-top kayaks that are pretty tippy (were fine in NC lakes, but less fine in choppy intracoastal waters or in rivers with alligators). I want a better sit-on-top, but that means I’ll need a way to transport it.

I’m currently using J-hooks on the factory rack, but that won’t work with a larger/heavier boat… I’m 5’2" and have crappy upper body strength, plus intermittent rotator cuff issues in my right shoulder.

I’ve considered:

  • Any of the many rear-loading setups. I’ve never tried this before, but it sounds easy enough. Will my spoiler and antenna get in the way, though? Many internet searches have left me undecided on whether this is feasible in a '19 Outback.
  • Hullavator. $$$$, but worth it if it gets me out more? I’d only need one, because if my husband or someone wants to join me in one of the 8’ kayaks, they’d also be available to help with loading. I guess I’m kind of leaning this way right now, but I’m really hesitant to spend the money unless it really is the best option.
  • A trailer. Less appealing due to accessibility issues, needing somewhere to store it, and the fact that I’d have to remove my hitch-mounted bike rack every time I wanted to go kayaking… but I’m not completely opposed to the idea.

Spam me with all your thoughts and experiences on a '19 Subaru Outback, please!

I have 2 hullavator setups on a 2013 Forester. No spoiler, but there is a center mounted antenna which does not get in the way. My guess is that the spoiler will not be a problem. But my boats are narrow (about 21, 22") so wide boats may be more crowded.

One of the nice things about the hullavator is that you can strap the boats to the carrier while the boat is still at the side of the car, no climbing on top of the vehicle. Of course, a light boat is still better than a heavy boat. Mine are roughly 50 pounds per boat. A heavy SOT might still require more upper body strength than you have.

The Outback factory rails are not well loved by some of us including myself. The are one of the reasons we have a Forester and not an Outback. That said, looking at Rack Attack, it looks like Thule & Yakima now have fit kits for the Outbacks. A couple of things to look at:

Consider stackers. With these you don’t have to get a kayak up into the cradles but can load it flat and then turn it onto its side later. You can protect the car with something like a bath mat when sliding the boat up.

Go for a lighter kayak that is 13’ or longer. Some of the Eddyline kayaks are light and have a large cockpit. Or, rather than the expense of Hullavators, put your money into one of the shorter Stellars like the S14S. Not cheap but 34 lbs.

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Neither the antenna or the spoiler will be an issue when loading from the back of the car. I have a 2014 Crosstrek and I use Marco Saddles on Yakima aero bars which work very well for my kayaks (they probably would not for a wide SOT). My procedure is to place a bathmat on the back of the car, lift the bow of the kayak onto the bathmat then lift the stern and slide it on. Does involve some lifting but is simple and quick.

The Hullavator is the gold standard for easy loading on the roof but in addition to being super expensive it must be mounted on aftermarket crossbars - so add that to the cost if you don’t already have them (it sounds like you just have the weird factory crossbars).

A trailer will be the easiest as far as little to no lifting. Malone makes a nice, relatively inexpensive kayak trailer, along with the more pricey (but fancier and easier to store) Yakima Rack n Roll. Trailers can be a hassle but at least here in Florida there is usually no problem finding a place to park a trailer at a launch site.

Keep in mind that right now stock of any kayak related product is low, and will get lower (to nonexistent) when the season starts up north later in the spring. If you’re thinking of pulling the trigger on a kayak, rack or trailer, I wouldn’t wait, or you could be waiting a very long time.

On my 2017 I moved the rear bar back to the rear mount position. I often use foam blocks for one kayak and a j-bar for the other.

I used to use cheap cradles you may see in some of the pics. They fell apart with use. The spoiler gets in the way, yes. Some club members load over it using a towel. I load with friends usually, easier benefits of a group.

Sometimes over the side. I use the clothes rod as an outrigger.

Pick the bow up and place on outrigger. Then pick stern up and place on rack.

Here is picture of both kayaks on the outback. Note when using a j- bar strap the boat down to the horizontal bar securing the boat and j-bar.


It’s also best to have help for that load on the j-bars.

Trailer…I often use a trailer which works at most launches we go to.

Thanks so much for all the info and tips ! I’ll definitely be doing some research on everyone’s recommendations.

I’m not looking for anything super hardcore or fancy in a kayak… I work and have a husband and an elementary school-aged kid, so I’ll be lucky to make it out once a week (if that!). I’m mostly envisioning some lazy solo paddles, mostly focused on enjoying the scenery and the salt salt air, checking out some of the mangrove tunnel areas, etc. At the same time, though, it would be nice to be able to keep with with some of the more low-key group paddles that happen here in my area. (Lots of different kayaking groups/meetups/etc. around here.)

@Brodie - I think your Crosstrek has the same spoiler setup as my Outback. You let your kayaks rest directly on the spoiler when sliding them up and haven’t had any problems? I’m paranoid about it breaking off or something, but maybe that’s a ridiculous and unfounded fear.

6.5 years and hundreds of paddles (I paddle a LOT) and no problems. The spoiler on my car model is fairly short, not sure about yours but I have a friend with a 2020 Crosstrek and it is a bit longer, although I still think it would be OK. My boats weigh 45-55 lbs. I’ll see if I can find a photo that shows the back of the car adequately.

Where are you in FL? I have lived here in St Pete for 8 years now and have done a lot of paddling around the state. Happy to share some good paddling spots.

True, mine is a bit longer. But maybe not too different. (This photo is from the move down to FL a few months ago, before we had the bikes/pets loaded.)

We’re in Punta Gorda. I grew up in Sarasota and lived in Tampa for a year before college, so I’m familiar with the area… but not from a kayaking standpoint!

I think you’ll be fine with the spoiler. If I haven’t had any problems with mine given how much I use it - it’s OK!

I haven’t paddled too much in the PG area since it’s a bit far south for me for a day trip but here’s a few suggestions: check out the Woolverton trail in Placida - there is a nice launch right off Placida road with easy access to miles of mangrove tunnels. Peace River is great for paddling and fossil hunting at the right water levels (info available online). And Fisheating Creek in Palmdale is beautiful, but lots of gators, so maybe best after you get some more stable kayaks! Need to check water levels there too. Lovers Key in Ft Myers beach is fun also.

If you’re ever further north, Emerson preserve and Robinson preserve (both in Bradenton/Palmetto) are great places (Robinson is very protected and has a kayak wash rack, always a bonus!) Weedon Island preserve in St Pete has a fabulous mangrove trail as does Caladesi State park in Dunedin. And you do need to make a trip to one of the spring fed rivers further north - Weeki Wachee, Rainbow, Silver are my favorites (there are others further north but I can hit those in a day trip).

You can probably fit two of these and gear in the car, no roof required. https://pakayak.com/

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I have no experience with Subarus or with this device, but Yakima makes the “Showboat” kayak loader that has a roller that slides out over the back of the car. The photos in the attached link even show it on a Subaru. I personally would be hesitant to put the load directly on the rear spoiler, but like I said, I have no experience with Subarus.

Thanks for all of the suggestions, @Brodie! Despite growing up in Florida, I’ve never actually been to any of the springs… so that’s definitely on my list!

That honestly looks like the best solution yet! Thank you!!!

A petite paddling friend has a DIY rig made of PVC pipe (1" I think but might be 3/4") with wheels for loading onto an Impreza. Sits on the back glass (maybe with foam padding) with straps to the rear bar. The wheels are up for the kayak.

The Hullavator is the best, but more expensive method for solo loading. All of the strapping down and attachment of the bow and stern lines to the boat is done at a little above waist height. There are now similar load assist products from other manufacturers.

There are both extendable rear loading slide out bars to slide the boat up from the rear as well as a slide out bar that comes out from the side from inside the crossbar to help you load the boat…
The links are just examples. There are many variations from a number of manufacturers

I find saddles preferable to J-bars. It is very difficult to solo load a boat that has J-bars unless you are tall or have a car that is not very tall. A relatively light boat helps as well. In addition they are more susceptible to cross winds. However, they may be the only choice for carrying multiple boats on a narrow car. Be aware that there have been recent reports of J-bar failures in some lesser known brand manufacturers.

A trailer is very easy to load and may give you added storage space for hauling gear as well, but they have some disadvantages. They tend to be somewhat expensive. Everyday parking may be harder to find. You need experience hauling and backing a trailer. You need a tow package with electrical hookup. It must be licensed and insured. In some states there may be an annual property tax or inspection requirements. Increased tolls and parking fees. In some jurisdictions you may be required to have an annual ramp permit or pay a fee, whereas there may not be similar fees for car top boats. Maintenance and storage.

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I’ve used a Werner Step Platform with success. It’s 2 steps high and 3-1/2’ long. Set it parallel along side the vehicle, shoulder the boat, step up on it and you have a very stable platform to pop the boat into the saddles. Much better than a step stool or ladder. Legs fold flat, about $50. I’m sure you could try it and if not satisfied, return it. Or use it to paint a room.

I have a 2006 Highlander with similar style factory rack.

I use big size pool noodles with thick plastic tubing all the way through the holes and sticking out a few inches on either side. I strap these on as tightly as I can to the top of the crossbars with 2’ straps and mount my SOT top down (the flatter side).

I use a piece of 3’ wide indoor-outdoor carpet closed in the car doors on both sides, running over the fore and aft rails and between the side to side rails, and slide the kayak up on this, then grab the aft end that sticks out more than the fore end and swing the kayak around. To tie it down side to side I use straps looped under each side of the rack base and then over the top, so that you have two lengths of strap running across the upper side of the kayak rather than one to better distribute the pressure on the hull.

I use plastic tubes with strap loops held down by the hood on each side and tie down the front to the strap loops. I tie down the back to the trailer hitch.

This system has been working well, but I will be experimenting with passing a strap or line through the cross tube to reinforce the tie down to the crossbar. If I am not careful loading the pool noodles can sometimes slide for or aft of the crossbar with the present system.

I would hate to spend as much on a rack as I do on a kayak, and try to follow Jim Land’s Law in all things - Don’t buy what you can make, and don’t make what you can find.

Along the lines of saleroso’s “Don’t buy what you can make, and don’t make what you can find”, here’s another loading method. I have bars made of PVC plastic pipe that connect the ends of the Thule bars on my rack. I rest the kayak on the PVC bar, slide it up across the car and then pivot the kayak so it faces front to back like it should. I insert a taller vertical post into the little PVC stub to help guide the kayak while loading. The pivot method won’t work with tall cradles like stackers or J cradles.


Just for fun I thought I would throw in this photo of my Outback towing a trailer for an event.
The red canoe on the car which is mine, is just strapped to the rack and tied down front and back.

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Good with wood here.


Also holds 4x8 sheets of plywood.