Thule vs. Yakima

About to get a kayak rack system for my car… At least where I live, it seems as if there are two major players in the market.

My car is a 2003 BMW 530 if anyone has any experience with one over the other for this make/model…

All suggestions welcome.

Either way
I don’t think you can go wrong whichever one you choose. Thule might have the slight advantage because some of the Yakima items will fit on Thule bars. Rack systems from the big boys are expensive, so if it were me, I’d price out a complete system from both, and then go with the better deal. Myself, I have Thule.

The major difference is …
… that Yakima has round bars and Thule has square. I have Yakima racks on my wife’s Subaru and we tried using Hully Rollers for our sea kayaks. The Hully Rollers rotated on the round bars, which made them unusable. The same was true of the WW racks. As we drove the vertical bars would shift toward the front and rear and the boats would be loosened. So for my 2005 Subaru I installed Thule. So far they have worked fine. You can put virtually any Yakima attachment on Thule bars if you change the plastic C-clamp.

Why don’t round bars work with rollers?
I have two sets on my Yakima and they work fine. Yeah, they move back and forth a bit, but that seems to me to be good. It enables the angle of the rollers to conform to the hull with less stress on particular points.

In fact, I know someone who tried to mount older Malone J racks on Thule bars, and found that they would not adjust back or forth to accomodate the exact shape of the hull the way they did with Yakimas. Maybe current Malones have fixed this, but I don’t know.

Beyond that, a circle is nature’s most perfect shape. That’s not just philosophical. Round bars (cylindrical, that is) of a given material strength and thickness are stronger overall than square (prismatic) ones. It’s easy to imaging a square bar buckling before a round one, not that there are those kinds of stesses on bars.

All that said, I have been more impressed recentgly with Thule’s ingenuity and snazzy engineering in the various boat mounting accessories.


My experience is different.
You have the hully rollers in place. You put the kayak up on top of the the rear one. You lift the stern and push the boat forward (yes, I undid the locks). The Hully Rollers rotate forward and clunk. The kayak is sitting on the bars. Nothing I could think of to do prevented this. So, the two of you lift the boat up and place it on the Hully Roller on the rear and saddles in the front. Strap everything down. Down the road you stop to check the boats. You find the Hully Rollers have again rotated on the bars, or, and this is probably more important, the bars themselves have rotated in their holders. The problem in this latter case is that you can only tighten the round bars in discrete amounts. If the bar is too loose then trying to tighten it only results in a lever being only half way around to where you need to go to get it to fold back. I finally went with saddles fore and aft. Round bars are a pain.

Yakima round bars
I have been using the hully-rollers on my Yakima bars for four years now, and I have yet to have them roll on the bars to the extent that the kayak is sitting on the bars after loading. I do tighten them every few weeks, or at least test them for tightness…

That’s one vote for the round bars and one against. Hardly a representative sampling.

I retrospect, I wish I had gotten a second set of the front holders (the name escapes me at this critical juncture ) as the kayak doesn’t really “roll” on the rollers when it’s wet anyway, and I don’t like the way the rollers have so little contact point (putting pressure on too small an area for my liking when tightened down for highway driving).

But I suspect that it’s a case of “six of one and half a dozen of the other” when it comes to distinguishing betweek Thule and Yakima.

Good luck with whichever you get.


Mako saddles
I agree… Mako Saddles front and back.

I’ve never had the problems described with the rollers. But I agree that they are far from the gentle, conforming support that my boats would like, and like the saddles provide.

Besides that, rollers leave the boat with black rubber marks. I’ve covered the rollers with old wool socks tos top the marring, but I’m going to replace them soon with Mako Saddles and some kind of soft boots. I understand that with those boots, Kayaks slide pretty easily.

A quick look at the standard Yakima boots makes me think that the center strip of the saddle will still make good positive contact with the hull, provided you thread the straps properly (which a lot of people don’t).


I have Thule and most of my friends

– Last Updated: Sep-11-05 9:01 PM EST –

have Yaks. Several of them have had the problem with the bars rotating and a fix is to wrap the bar in sand paper where it is held in place by the tower.

My Thule set up used to have the Hully Rollers in the rear and the Thule saddles in the front.

I have replaced the rollers with Thule Hydro Glides in the rear and have been extremely happy with that set up.

I have been using this set up for about three years now without any problems. I had the Thule bars for over 7 years and never had a problem with them at all.

How about drywall sanding screens
I don’t have any attachments to rotate since I only tie canoes down on top of my Yakimas. But, if you are taliking about putting something in there to increase the friction, I highly recommend drywall sanding screens (sold in the drywall departments everywhere). They are gritty on both sides and very easy to work with.

Among other things, I use them to loosen oil filters.

We have the Thule system w/ two Hull-a-ports on top of our well-worn Grand Cherokee. No complaints, easy to load and secure.

Duct Tape
I have the Yakima round bars with the hully roolers. I used black duct tape under the rollers, solves the problem and looks good.

JUst a FYI…
A lot of Thule accessories will not fit Yakima bars as well. I know that my Thule Top Deck Kayak saddles fit my Yakima rack just fine and it even says on the box that it fits Yakima. Seems like the companies are realizing that they can make more $ if they make mounts that fit both systems.

My vote is for Thule
because of the round crossbars on Yakima racks. I’ve seen others who use Yakimas, and they do have problems with rotation.


Might check with your car dealer
I kind of think BMW sells a crossbar setup that’s made by Thule, and it might be worth checking to see whether the car has mounting points designed to mate with the ones they sell. I don’t know about BMW, but Saabs do, and BMW may have a similar setup.

They do… and it’s the same thing Thule sells as a specialty item. Based on the advice here and some time spent on the manufacturer’s sites I went down to REI today and got the Thule package designed for the integrated carrier slots on my car.

Of course, they’re on backorder, but… (and I have to plug REI here)… the guys there went out of their way calling other stores until they found a set in a store in Massachussets… shipping them to my house and will be here in 3-5 days.

Thanks for all of your great advice, folks…


not to confuse the issue, but you would do well to look at the saris system.

-much easier on and off the car–takes about 2 minutes total.

-incredibly well built (far superior to both thule and yakima, imho.)

-the kayak cradles are soft yet quite secure.

-and it’s the same price or cheaper.

look at the reviews on this site, for more info.

I vote for Yakima…
only because my Thule rack for my 2002 pt cruiser causes the door to leak. The clips go over the weather stripping and let water run down the inside of the door. Yakimas design might be the same however. Thule never did answer my email. I also think the plastic handles to tighten down the rack are junk, but Yakimas maybe the same. I can see them breaking since I have to take the rack off and on often due to the leaking.

Has anyone ever tried…
SportRack bars or canoe/kayak carriers?..

Round bars are stronger
Square bars will eventually sag. I’ve never had problems with excessive “rotation.” Maybe I have the world’s strongest fingers.

I also notice a lot of rusty attachment hardware on Thule racks.

Another vote for Thule

– Last Updated: Sep-15-05 8:41 AM EST –

I have had both the Thule and Yakima racks and I like the Thule much more. The Yakima attachments rotated on the round bars and the bars created a lot of wind noise compared to the Thule, which are almost silent. I also prefer the Thule kayak attachment with the roller wheel and felt lined holders in the back with traditional holders in the front. I had the Yakima Hulley Rollers and the actual contact area with the kayak is very small, which puts more stress on the kayak hull when the straps are cinched down tight. The only negative I've seen on the Thule rack is the bolts on the attachments do rust eventually.