Rack options for a Subaru Outback

I have a shiny new Subaru Outback. It has a roof rack that turns into crossbars, I think many here are familiar with it. I know I have a couple of rack options. Any suggestions for what works best?

Unfortunately, while this car is a behemoth compared to my old Civic, it’s not big enough to just shove our 14’ boats in the back.

An older Outback…
is the best solution for touring length kayaks. But since you have the newer version -

The Subie sales folks are apparently supposed to tell you that longer kayaks are not possible on the new racks using a stacker or J-bar sold thru them, because of the spread of the bars being limited and maybe the weight limits depending on the boats. Longer kayaks appear to include anything in a sea kayak length, but it is unclear what the official Subie folks think is a sea kayak length. The only certain thing is that whitewater boats aren’t it. At least, that’s the story people on this board have gotten back in official missives from the company.

Here is a link to a blog where Thule tried some options out and came up with a solution that they feel was good for even longer boats. Not cheap, but they felt it worked. here have also been threads on this topic on this board, with some rather creative (also not cheap) approaches used. At least one included instructions for taking the dratted rails off or apart and re-installing the useful parts of the rail with a good third party system.


Go cheap
I’ve carried a 17 foot sea kayak on two Suby Outbacks for the past 10 years. Bought a couple shaped foam pads that slip (with some effort) over the factory cross bars. Hold down with straps, two sets in a lot of wind. Have driven cross country and annually to Newfoundland. And, horror of horrors, I don’t use bow and stern tiedowns.


Yakima Rack website
Use their fitting application and you can mount two crossbars and then any accessory you want. I have them on my 2011. Rock solid.


Marshall at the River Connection in Hyde Park, NY once posted that he developed an elegant work around. If you search, you’ll probably find it. If you google the name of the store, you can e-mail him and ask for instructions.

If you live anywhere near Poughkeepsy NY, his shop is great. I finally made the trek last week.


1 Like

Yakima control towers/landing pad 12

– Last Updated: Mar-14-12 10:29 PM EST –

You don't need an older model Outback, that's just more mis-information from someone who hasn't done any research, a quick Internet search yields: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F3dSLL4F5aw&feature=youtube_gdata_player

I just traded in my 02 Imprezza wrx for the Outback and am loving it, quiet, comfortable, good mpg. I've found the stock crossbars work fine with basic foam blocks, but I'll probably upgrade to the Yakima setup at some point. Enjoy the new ride.

No one says "it can’t be done."
The big gripe is that the spread between the bars is minuscule compared to what boaters have always preferred (for reasons I can explain to anyone who does not understand). If the people who did that video didn’t use that ridiculous fisheye lens, it would be obvious that the bar spread can’t be much more than 18 inches, so yeah, the roof rack STILL isn’t worth a crap. Putting a “reputable” brand name on it doesn’t change the fact that a good boat rack has a lot more spread between the bars. Someone once justified the garbage on that car’s roof by pointing out that you can actually carry a boat on a single cross bar with judicious use of multiple tie-downs, but so what? I could paddle a Coleman and still get on the water a lot, but I prefer something that’s actually made for the kind of paddling I do. By the same token, I prefer a roof rack that’s made to do a good job carrying boats, not some miserable compromise designed to make an almost-worthless rack out of a worthless one.

this topic always makes me sad
…so I’ll bite my tongue this time.

They significantly changed the racks
What model year are you talking about? The post-2009 (or was it 10?) racks are not remotely the same as the racks that you likely have. We have happily carried four sea kayaks on our 2007 Subie using third party rails, and I know of many people who carry two on the factory rails of the pre-2010 racks.

You’d be pushing your luck to try the same with the redesigned rack and rails, at least without adding some extra reinforcement. The spread has been reduced to about 21 inches, even before you get to the other issues.

that is why my 4th Subaru is a Forester
I cancelled my order on a 2010 Outback 3.6 and switched to a Forester XT. It saved me $5k in the end so I should be thanking SOA. Nevertheless, I wish the US got the same rail system as they put on the Legacy in the rest of world.

You still can’t beat a Subie for bad weather handling, but the compromises they keep making to appeal to the mass market alienate their long time users.

Not then

– Last Updated: Mar-15-12 9:45 AM EST –

So yes, I did not find the Yakima solution in a Google search - just the Thule one. It also did not exist for quite a while after the new design. We know people who went out expecting to replace their older Subie with a 2010 or even a 2011 Outback and, because they had to carry sea kayaks, got another car because there was no easy solution for the racks. The creative solutions that showed up here did not happen because people had too much time on their hands. They happened because the new racks were dreadful.

Unfortunately, the other issue that has only gotten murkier with this redesign is liability. If you read the old agreement carefully, anyone who had a property damage type issue while carrying three and four sea kayaks using third party equipment on the old racks could have had a problem. But with Subaru having put in writing all over the place that the Outback should not be carrying anything the length of sea kayaks, this has gotten much worse.

So it is nice that Yakima has come up with landing pads, but there is good reason for people to have issues with Subaru's response about this rack system. Especially since the Euro racks they provide in other than this country do not have these issues.

The other thing that I noted just now is that the Yakima 12 landing pads address (and thence confirm) that even they agree the original bar spread in the new racks is a problem. With the older racks, it wasn't hard to get a decent spread by running the towers out to each end of the open area of front-to-back rails. According to Yakima, they have designed a further spread into these new towers, to get it up to 30 inches.

Personally I'd still go with bow lines for that spread, but that's a whole other discussion.

Yakima Mako Aero
I have a 2010 Outback and went thru this same angst when deciding on how to carry my boats. The factory crossbars on the Outback with Yakima Mako Aero saddles have done a great job transporting my 16’ and 17’ sea kayaks. Make sure you secure the bow and stern and you are good to go.

You are 100% correct Eric. And that’s why when my 1999 Forester died at 240,000 miles on the way back from an Ozark Rendezvous I replaced it with another Forester instead of the Outback I thought I wanted.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the Forester soon got those stupid Outback roof racks. Not going to be my problem. Now that I’m retired and putting maybe 10,000 miles a year on my Forester it will likely last longer than I will.

Actual spread with the Yakima setup
is 30 inches. Not monumental, I agree, but with bow & stern tie-downs (a no-brainer) my Magic rides rock steady.

I would wager that 30" is more than what can be obtained with the new CRV,aand is about the same as an Element.


I am really amazed and disappointed to hear about about these problems on the new rack, especially given the number of times a sea kayak or rowing scull appears in the marketing literature.

I always use bow and stern ties, no matter how short the trip or how stable the set-up seems. I’m married to an auto insurance lawyer, so… :slight_smile:

That’s a 30 inch spread…
Adjust the telemetry on your tinfoil hat, and you’ll see it’s 30, not 18 inches.

I’ve dealt first hand with the new rack, loaded boats on it and driven the car around with said boats on it. This is not something I armchair speculate about. I actually own this vehicle and regularly strap a 17 foot boat to the rack. It is an entirerly competent rack, especially for a factory setup.

Unless you’ve dealt with something physically in person, you shouldn’t condem it, especially if you have no direct experience with it…

There are no problems with new rack…
It’s perfectly adequate for your 14 foot boats. Don’t miss out ona great car because there is some foolish internet speculaction hating Subaru’s new design…

A couple of other discussions on topic



What I’ve delt with …

– Last Updated: Mar-15-12 7:46 PM EST –

... physically and in person is racks of various bar-spread dimensions. Okay, so this rack give you one extra foot of spread (as pointed out by a few others already, but thanks anyway). I'm still not impressed.

Kayaks don't seem to be affected by crosswinds very much (not to the point that I've ever seen them move or felt them "try" to steer the vehicle out of my driving lane the way canoes sometimes do), so I think you can probably "get away with murder" if all you ever carry are kayaks. I've been in crosswinds with canoes on a rack with 65 inches of spread and found my side-to-side bracing to be severely tested at times (sideways sliding of the boats on the bars couldn't be completely controlled by the bow and stern lines, or even by auxiliary pairs of lines looped around the hulls from opposite sides at each crossbar location). Were the boats at risk of coming loose? Not the way I tie them, but such experiences are an indication of how much stress can be placed to the connections that hold the boat to the rack and the rack to the roof (more detail below). With less bar spread, canoes can be uncontrollable in those same conditions without the use of gunwale blocks. And try pushing as hard as a strong crosswind on the front of a long Kevlar canoe while it's locked in place with gunwale blocks just 30 inches apart and you probably won't like what you see (of course, the strength of that wind-push is difficult to judge, but after you've watched the stretch of your bow lines as the tip of the boat shifts sideways, and simultaneously felt the whole car get "twisted" off-course by the wind you can get an idea that's it's a very strong force when at highway speed). When I carry my guide-boat in strong wind, the effect is much worse than with the average canoe, so I have have zero acceptance of style in preference to function when it comes to racks, and that Subaru rack was designed to be stylish - end of story. I often see a guy in town who carries a fragile racing canoe, and his special rack provides about 9 feet of spread between the bars (!) so that his boat undergoes a tiny fraction of the stress as you'd get with a normal rack (such a rack is designed to reduce the stress on the lever itself more than the rack connections to the car, since the "lever" in this case is a delicate boat).

Gunwale blocks and fragile boats aside, increased mechanical advantage of the "boat lever" caused by reducing the bar spread is still something to consider. Observation of how the boats get shoved around shows that it's the wind against the part of the boat out in front of the rack that matters. The rear part of the boat doesn't seem to be affected by wind much at all. With that in mind, the sideways push of the wind against the front half of a 17' boat on a 30" bar spread can cause about three-times as much stress on all rack connections (boat-to-rack connections and rack-to-roof connections) as occurs with a 65" spread. As lightweight as car roofs and rack-to-roof connections are getting in recent years (along with car makers specifying that the roofs are not rated to tolerate much stress), anything that reduces the stress on those components is a good thing, rather than something to be scoffed at. People tend to concern themselves only with whether their roof is rated for the weight they will carry, forgetting that when carrying boats, the worst stress is from crosswinds at highway speed (at least if you carry canoes), and opting for less bar spread needlessly multiplies that wind-caused stress. Why multiply the stress if you don't have to? Subaru COULD have elected to continue installing roof racks with a reasonable spread between the bars, but instead they opted for something that any engineer and anyone with a smidgeon of mechanical understanding can see is worse than before. It was the change to a worse rack that has upset loyal Subaru owners, and no matter how happy some might be that you can still get by if you don't actually need a good rack, that's not the same as if Subaru still actually provided one.

30 in
I just measured the spread and it is 30 inches. On top of the car it doesn’t look like much but my last car was a Honda Civic and the rack attached to the front and back windows. That can’t possibly have been more than 30 inches.

What I can’t find, is a suitable place in the back to hook lines other than in the trunk.