Subaru Outback Factory Rack vs. Thule???

My wife bought a 2012 Outback. It is not my primary carrier for canoes and kayaks, but I wanted to be able to use it for this purpose as well so I put a Thule Rack on top.

However, after doing so I started to question this decision. The car does have a factory rack that apparently you can get J cradles and now even gunwale style canoe carriers.

So do I need the after market Thule Rack? Does it really give me anything more than what I already have in the factory rack?

Specifically I plan to use the Yakima bow down cradles for carrying kayaks. Does anyone use these in conjunction with the factory rack on the Outback?

Just seems that the aftermarket rack may not be necessary and that I may be able to unload it and get some cash that I could use for some more needed paddling accessory.



Have you checked weight capacity?
Last I knew the third party racks still had a higher top end than the new Subie racks.

I am also not sure that Thule has a mechanism that you can successfully jury-rig onto these factory rails.

Good point on the weight capacity. I will have to check that out.

Yakima actually has accessories that are supposed to bit on these bars.


Yakima Foot Pack
The Yakima Control Tower and Landing Pad 12 will work on the top of your car to both give you more load capacity and a wider bar spread.

For short drives
…you can put minicell blocks on oval/flat factory crossbars. Rutabaga sells the blocks that have cut-outs to fit ANY bars: round, square, or oval. I wouldn’t do this for long highway trips but it’s OK for local jaunts. My husband used them on his older Subaru once or twice; no problems doing so.

Outback Rails

– Last Updated: Mar-25-13 1:33 AM EST –

Does the 2012 Outback have the rails that pivot to become the cross bars? If so you might not have enough spread to install your own crossbars to carry a kayak. There are some work around for cars like that but you probably need to get some insight before buying.

I had Bowdowns on the factory rack on my 2009 Forester -- they did work on the aero style bar. You do have to play with placement a bit and you will probably have to try a few times to get them to stand up straight. Having them lean a bit will happen but you can still carry a kayak fine on them. I never tried two kayaks.

As I added a cargo box, bike racks and 2nd set of bowdowns, I upgrade the factory crossbars with Thule bars (even though all my carriers are Yakima -- like their holders, dislike the round bar). Having a flat surface makes mounting a lot easier.

2012 and up…
Subaru added a slot for the rear cross bars that is further back - in fact I’d say it is very, very close to the spread you got on the pre-racksfromhell redesign in 2010. I parked my 2007 Outback next to one of the newer ones in a lot and compared.

The proprietary quality is still an issue though.

I have a 2012 Outback…

– Last Updated: Mar-24-13 9:36 PM EST –

And installed the Yakima landing pads and control towers. The factory rack was pretty good for lighter boats, and does neatly fold out of the way to increase gas mileage, but I don't feel it was suitable for heavier\longer boats. The Yakima setup is pretty solid, I put wider bars on to help get my long heavy Foster Shadow up there more easily. I've carried two long heavy boats up there on j-cradles for multi-day drives and they were rock solid.

When I was using the factory bars I just used foam blocks, seemed to work ok. If I was going to stick with the factory bars, I would just use a Yakima Bigstack and foam blocks or surf pads...

As stated above…
The bars on my 2012 Outback will pivot around to become cross bars, and they have the same spread as the Yakima setup I currently have.

The Bowdown J cradles will attach to them (although I have not tried driving with a boat on them.

I would occasionally drive this car with two boats on top.

So I guess the setup will work, but just not sure how the security of teh setup would be compared to the full on Thule rack. May not be any less though which is why I hope someone out there can comment based on their experience.

Just seems like having the Thule rack on their might be redundant and unnecessary.



Weight Capacity
I have been researching this topic. Weight capacity may be the issue.

I need to confirm, but what I have read online so far says that the weight capacity of the factory crossbars is 100 pounds…and the capacity of the Thule Rack is 150.

So if that is the case you can really only carry one Brit style sea kayak on the factory rack, but could manage two on the Thule rack.

That might be a deciding factor for me.


I’d go with Yakima over Thule…

– Last Updated: Mar-25-13 6:31 PM EST –

Let try this again...

As Brei already pointed out, Yakima makes a kit specific to the 2012 Outback (control tower and landing pads 12) that replaces the stock bars and keeps the 30 inch spread. It's rated to 165 lbs. So this is probably your best solution. The most weight capacity with the best bar spread.

If you already have a Thule Crossroad setup laying around, and that is what you are planning on using, knock yourself out. You are gaining weight capacity but decreasing bar spread from 30 inches to about 20 inches, so it is probably a more solid setup than the stock bars, but still not as good as the Yakima setup two people have tried to point out to you.

Good luck with the setup whatever you decide to use. I'd be careful putting boats on and off the Outback. I've discovered the sheet metal is so thin on the roof of the new Outbacks, that even just bracing my forearms on the edge of the roof to gain leverage to move boats around, will leave indentations...

Thanks - Johnysmoke
Thank you Johnysmoke…

Matty - The Yakima system is the best fit for what you are looking to do - Brei (Jake from The Kayak Centre of Rhode Island)

Foam blocks
"you can put minicell blocks on oval/flat factory crossbars … I wouldn’t do this for long highway trips but it’s OK for local jaunts."

Respectfully disagree here. There is absolutely nothing wrong with foam blocks – they merely support your kayak and do a very good job of it. It’s the tie-down that matters, not what the kayak rests on. I’ve taken many trips of 300+ miles each way with no problems whatsoever. If I’m transporting one boat, it’s my preferred method. I only go to the J-rack if I’m carrying two, due to space limitations.

300 miles is not that long
Especially if it’s not through big, windy stretches like much of Wyoming, Montana, Nevada, Utah, Colorado…hell, a lot of the interior west, with its 75 mph Interstate highways.

got it…
I missed that post above. Sorry. I got now though. I didn’t realize they made something to extend the crossbar width. That would be great.

thanks Jake!


I was going to ditch the Thule bars (which I already have) and get the Yakimas but then…

I contacted Subaru and they told me the weight limit on their factory rack is 150 pounds.

So if this is indeed the case I am not sure if the Yakima or Thule system would really give me anything more than using the factory cross bars–which have a 30 inch spread and therefore are the same as the Yakima bars and wider than the Thule bars.

Does anyone use this setup?

If so, are they noisy on the highway? I use my thule setup with a wind fairing so it is relatively quiet.


Bowler, the Subaru weight limits for
their racks are not based on actual measurements, but are probably a ballpark figure from Subaru lawyers.

However, if you’re serious about carrying, you should consider a Yakima or Subaru setup.

trying to understand but not disagreeing
I am not necessarily disagreeing, but just trying to understand why putting a thule or Yakima rack on top of the factory rack makes it better. If they still have the same weight limit and my Yakima accessories will fit my factory rack, and I have enough space on my factory rack, then I am just wondering why the aftermarket rack is better.

Again, I am not saying it’s not–it very well may be–I just have not yet come to understand why.

Not trying to be obstinate here–just want to understand it so I can make the right decision.

If there is not that much difference then I can’t justify keeping the thule rack given that it is about $300. not sure if it is $300 better than the factory rack…but maybe it is.

thanks again


I agree with George
Too many people, including independent shippers and kayak shops, use this simple setup for me to doubt it. I also use it myself and have never had any problems. It may require a bit more diligence and attention.

I haven’t looked at Thule but Yakima’s

– Last Updated: Apr-07-13 4:10 PM EST –

setup that BREI mentioned...sounds good to me...will be the most secure...y/n? ...coming from a canoe guy...sooooo what do I know... Getting the secure connection from the footing to roof is most important as the Yakima components will work together great... That's the key area... With the good job that engineers of component-makers do...might wanna look at it... Most fuel-efficient car makers aren't going to put anything burly on carry even a single kayak or canoe...imho.
The weak point is the connection of bar to footing...and the whole Yakima-thing solves that...that is IF the Yakima Footing fits solidly into the roof or factory-footing.