rack for scion xa and plastic kayak?

I need advice on racks for my '04 scion xa. I’ve done the configuration thing at yakima.com and talked to more or less competent salespeople at my local outfitter but there’s still some things I’m not clear about.

  1. With a rotomolded episea without a front bulkhead, should I go for a system that carries it on its side so as not to leave dents in the plastic? Also, I’ve heard hully rollers cause dents in soft kayaks, is it true?

  2. If I did carry it with, say, mako saddles would there be room for another kayak?

  3. How hard would it be for a small person to load a 36 lb yak onto something like hullraisers?

  4. Would it even be possible to load 4 yaks on something like stackers for short careful trips?

    I’m hoping to carry at least two kayaks because I’d like to drag my friends along. I need something reliable and strong because I’m nervous about strapping a 14 foot kayak to a 12 foot clown car. I haven’t decided on yakima, it’s just that they seem to have the most info out there.

    Thanks in advance for your help!

XA with yaks…
I have also looked at a Scion XA for my “low-cost” alternative for transportation. Nice little car, though I have heard from a guy who owned one that these are considered “low end Toyotas” quality-wise.

  1. With a rotomolded episea without a front bulkhead, should I go for a system that carries it on its side so as not to leave dents in the plastic? Also, I’ve heard hully rollers cause dents in soft kayaks, is it true?

    I would not use Hully rollers on COMPOSITE boats, much less plastic boats for just that reason. You may find folks quite happy with theirs, but I woul d never subject my boats to those things. Go with flat and smooth cradles for maximum surface contact instead of hard little wheels…

    I had Mako saddles and used next to J cradles on my wifes car…not a problem.

    As to a 36lb EpiSea (nice little boat) it all depends on your strength. I loaded my 62lb Valley Nordkapp on my 7 foot high pickup…

    As to four boats, you need to think about how this little car will be affected by sidewind and effects of semitrucks passing you and putting stress not only on your racks but on your control of your vehicle.

    I took a 19 and 18 foot kayak on my wife’s mini cooper…so would figure that the length of your car is not the only question but how the boats are secured. Ensure you use bow/stern tiedowns.

    Let us know how your XA handles boats, I am very interested for obvious reasons!!


I put two 17’ sea kayaks on my Xb / Yakima rack. Works just fine. I put the plastic one in makos with rollers and the kevlar boat on hullraisers. I second the issue with the rollers… but only learned this from another paddler after I bought them. I bought the rollers at a boat event, and the Yakima factory reps assured me they would be just fine with my kevlar boat. Not so much. For that reason, I would recommend all saddles or a raiser for any boats. You can do two sets of saddles side by side, just opt for the longer cross bars to make sure they fit. (and watch your head getting in and out of the car!)

I used to load my rec boat into the hullraisers pretty easily. I was able to lift one end at a time and set it into the cradle. Worked great, but I parked right at the edge of the driveway so the end of the boat on the ground wasn’t on concrete.

In the past, I used a kayak stacker to haul four plastic sea / rec kayaks on a short distance, low-speed shuttle for me and my friends. This was, however on my old 6 cyl pick up truck. I would really consider your engine size and wind profile before using a stacker for more than 2 boats on such a small car. And, just to make sure you know… the stacker is really designed for whitewater boats that are short and won’t get pushed around in the wind so much. Long boats on a stacker will slide around on the rack.

Good luck!


From our experience…

– Last Updated: Apr-15-07 10:58 AM EST –

We have had either Mercury/Ford sable/taurus wagons, and most recently a Subaru Outback, since we have had our own boats. So we've had long low rooflines in a resonably heavy car - adjust whatever I say for the situation you have with the Scion.

1. Plastic boats are always best carried on their edge, via a stacker or a Jbar, because that's where the boat is strongest. I suspect that a stacker would be easier for you to get the boat set into, but I might be wrong. If you can find these - the older Yakima stackers were actually an upside-down narrow U shape. They hold a boat very securely and, for a shorter person, are a little easier to reach and run a strap thru than the vertical ones.
We carried our first sea kayaks, one 16' and one 16'7", on these stackers mounted on Yakima rails supported by Yakima towers. We had this combo in pretty high winds - 30 mph plus - many trips over two hours and an annual one of 8 hours. The boats never budged. In that position the boat is real solid.

2. Saddles take up more space than stackers to carry a boat. In order to get more than two boats up, or two on saddles and a couple of bikes, we had to go to the longest bar length - something in the 70's as I recall.

3. (should be) fine to heft 36 pounds into a hullraisers for even a small person. You just might need to get a stool and push the boat around a bit to finish things off. If you can't do it you should hit the gym because you'll beat up your shoulders etc that much with regular paddling and hurt yourself.

4. We've carried four 16' to 17'8" glass boats for short trips on (padded) stackers and cross bars, and have carried two glass 17' plus and one plastic 16' boat on a 10 hour drive to a symposium in Maine on stackers. Not a problem.

One alternative to rollers in back is gliders - small flat feet that spread the weight out but till are easier to slide a boat into than regular saddles. I think the gliders are Thule - but you can mix these things up. I would recommend double straps in back and altogether very careful strapping of tying down with them - they offer a little less in the way of comforting surface to lock a boat down onto than saddles or stackers.

Center of gravity
The issue is not length per se. As “slovrien” has said, there is no problem carrying long items on small cars. We carried our 17’ canoe on top of our Saturn SL without too much difficulty. The bow and the the stern absolutely have to be tied down to the car – the rack is not strong enough to counteract the torque force of the side wind on a long canoe or kayak.

XA is fairly tall, short, narrow and light vehicle. Roof-loading it will affect its stability and handling. Part of the effect is due to raising the center of gravity. Part is due to the wind load on the roof, applied at the highest point on the vehicle. The less you put on the roof, the better. The more aerodynamic the roof load is, the better. Loading the roof too much can lead to a roll-over.

You should also consider reducing the wind profile and the hight of what you carry to make sure that the car can still be handled in the wind or on the freeway.

Contrary to what has been said here, I would not carry a kayak on the side on XA because it is less aerodynamic and might add to the instability. I would even consider foregoing the rack alltogether, and carry the boat directly on roof on foam blocks, to reduce the height and wind effect.

If you want to carry multiple boats, you might want to put a couple of sand bags on the floor of your car, to make sure the center of gravity stays low.

Having said that, I did rooftop 3 plastic kayaks on top of my Sienna using Yakima stacker. But this is a much bigger and heavier vehicle than your XA. At my 5’6", loading it was fun.

Also, bear in mind that your XA is taller and has a higher center of gravity than the Mini mentioned here.

using blocks instead of a rack sounds very interesting. I’d love to not have to spend the money on a rack, but is it secure at highway speeds? could it dent my car or kayak?

Also has anyone carried a kayak and a bike on a smaller car?

“If you want to carry multiple boats, you might want to put a couple of sand bags on the floor of your car, to make sure the center of gravity stays low.”

…or just ask the wife to lie down in the back seat…



You get the point
However you achieve it, keep the center of gravity low…

The blocks are secure
as long as you tie down the kayak well. You’d still need to tie down bow, stern, and have at least one tie-down in the middle. I’ve used blocks before I got the roof rack, and they work.

The blocks may scratch your roof over time – some sand and grime will invariably get underneath, between the block and the roof. It makes sense to wipe the roof well before putting the blocks down.

Before comitting to blocks, make sure that your roof is flat enough and strong enough. Not all cars roofs are.

Block kits for kayaks usually come with tie-downs, and special hooks for gutterless roofs. Make sure they work before comitting to them.

Not Problem

– Last Updated: Apr-17-07 6:42 AM EST –

I drive a Suzuki Aereo hatch back with a shorter roof line than your XB. Routinely driven several hundred miles to ME with two long boats and two white water boats on the racks. Make sure you use front and bow tie downs.

As to saddles and all that jazz... I simply pad my bars with pipe foam insulator wrapped with black duct tape and have center stackers (straight up poles) so that I can load four kayaks if need be. You can easily load two kayaks, top down, without saddles. Just don't want to over tightened the straps to where you literally see the boat compressed by more than an inch. I also assume you have gotten air bag(s) for the front of the boat. You can inflate these, but not overly, to help keep the shape in the front of the boat.

I understand your concern about a new boat and all. But, really... Unless you are a real gorilla and tighten the heck out of the straps, your boat will be fine.

Fear and concern are what is used to drive the sale of all kinds of extraneous or not totally necessary stuff. I certainly fell for it. Heck, I had saddles and stuff for the rack. After the first year, I got rid of them as I found it much easier to go with stackers and padded bars. But then again, I'm not locked into just boats which the saddles are designed for. The saddles were just totally and absolutely inconvenient for ww boats, surf kayaks, waveskis, etc.

Gave my saddles away free to the person who bought my long boat a week ago. Thank goodness for getting rid of unnecessary gear.


PS. Saddles will also just eat away at mileage even if you didn't have boats on them as most folks seem to leave them on all the time. (Look! I am a kayaker! ;) )

my option
I have installed the foam blocks on my Yakima bars and used a bit of contact cement to keep them in place. The shape fits the hulls of both my Greenlander and Black Pearl much better than any set of saddles and boy, are they lighter to put up on top of my truck now too. That, along with fewer moving parts to fail seems to me to be my best compromise for my rack.

Now, if I can just afford to pickup that Xa to replace my monster truck…


If you only need to carry 2 kayaks, I’d highly reccommend the THULE-HULL-A-PORTS (the “J” looking brackets), or one of the similar products. They are the studiest kayak holders I’ve ever encountered! I’ve had 2 yaks strapped on-board, and made decent road trips with speeds in excess of 85mph… without bow/stern lines (I’m not neccessarily reccommending this, but the fact is the rack would blow away long before the kayaks would come loose from the “J” holders). The brackets are nicely padded with neoprene and I’ve never had indentation issues (and I crank the straps down with Herculean might).

The down side is you can only reasonably get 2 yaks mounted, and you’ll need 2 sets of the HULL-A-PORTS (or some other similar model). There are systems that let you stack the kayaks, but they didn’t seem to hold the boats well enough for my road antics. :wink:

As for the loading question, can you lift your boat to head height? If so than you should more than be able to lift it onto the brackets mounted on the rather low SCION XA roof. Optionaly if you’re brackets are spaced creatively, you could drop the bow of the boat on the rear “J” bracket and slide it forward to the front bracket (the padding on the carriers are more than ample, but I can’t vouch for the stress on a particular boat).

The straps that come with the brackets are pretty high quality too.

As for the aerodynamics… Well you’re carrying 2 kayaks on the roof of your car, what do you want? At lest they won’t blow off and you won’t have to chase them down the highway.

The foam blocks are a cheap solution, but can dent your car top, and are nowhere near as sturdy.


This sounds like the best price-performance compromise.

Main reason
The main reason I did this is that I have used both Thule and Yakima systems. WHile I have no preference between them for the roof attachments or bars, I have noticed that no matter which systems I use, I have trouble finding something that touches my boat in more that a couple of small spots. Either they touch at the chines, or touch at the keel. I even tried the Malone wing saddles, but the angles were all wrong and only touched the boat at the chines.

The precut foam blocks, on the other hand, VERY closely fit the hull/dead rise angles and touch my hulls all the way from the keel out to the chines, and when you strap your yak down on them (making sure they are sand-free) they compress slightly and provide solid support all the way across. Now, add the fact that they are way cheaper and way lighter than kayak saddle systems from Malone, Yakima, Thule, etc and you can understand my thinking.

Just my $.02 worth.


J Cradles
As much as I like the idea of J Cradles for some vehicles - I would seriously question them for use on a Scion XA car. They raise the center of gravity too high (see previous posts) and boy - do they catch alot of wind from semi-truck trailers!!

Of course, at 85mph (YIKES!!) not many trucks will pass you!


85mph with 2 rooftop kayaks?

This is beyond my calculated risk level. The trike I fly occasionally barely goes at half that speed.

Man, if you will fly, you will FLY.

Per “slovrien”, I’d also be very cautions about equipping something like XA with with two J hooks and raising the center of gravity so much.

I’m somewhat paranoid about rollovers in small narrow cars, having survived one in 77 Toyota Corolla in my youth.