One Helluva Roof Rack: Thule Hullavator Pro Paddle Rack Review


Thule’s Hullavator Pro rack is the next big thing in terms of gear-hauling: a rack that will do the hauling part for you.

Thule makes a lot of roof- and hitch-mounted accessories — bike racks, cargo boxes, you name it. But the latest and greatest Thule product we tested was a standout in the kayak-carrier category: a paddle rack. Meet the Thule Hullavator Pro.

In short: This paddle rack not only provides a sturdy way to haul your boats or boards, but it can also haul those items in various sizes, and it has some major user-friendly features built in. Namely, spiffy hydraulics that take the weight (up to 40 pounds) off your shoulders.

Here’s everything you need to know about hauling a kayak (or paddleboard!) with the Thule Hullavator Pro.

Ease Your Load: Using the Thule Hullavator Pro

thule rack loading
Simply pull out and down and let the Hullavator’s hydraulic struts do the lifting for you!

This rack looks like a beast but was actually fairly easy to install. And it definitely brought a lot to the table in terms of use.

First of all, its design means you can actually load your kayak or board from the side of the vehicle, and at a lower height. Second, it takes a load off (literally) when it comes to the usually cumbersome task of lifting a slippery, 20- to 40-pound boat above your head onto a car.

The Thule Hullavator‘s hallmark feature? Gas-assist struts lower and lift up to 40 pounds of your kayak or paddleboard’s weight. No sweat on your part, so you can save your energy for paddling.

Now, once the rack is locked onto your vehicle and your boat loaded, you’ll want to strap it down. We chose to use a couple Thule locking straps, but we also tested locking our board down with a DIY system of NRS tie-down straps paired with a cable lock.

Here’s what the rack looks like in action, before and after. I was lowering a 28-pound hardshell epoxy paddleboard by myself. And with the Hullavator, it was as easy as it could get.

the thule hullavator rack, before and after
Before and after; (photo/Mary Murphy)

The board lowers to below chest height (I’m 5’8″ for reference). Factoring in the height of your vehicle, Thule claims the rack will lower a kayak by up to 3 feet. I’m guessing even the shortest paddlers (older kids or wheelchair users too) could help unload a kayak from this rack.

Unloading and loading with this rack takes about 30 seconds, as opposed to the 10-20 minutes it takes configuring, lifting, and strapping down a kayak with other roof or cradle bars. We found the Hullavator method much more convenient, safe, and great for saving time and energy.

Before you load up, you’ll want to do some recon on size compatibility. First, measure the width of your kayak (or board). The max width the rack can handle is 36 inches. We definitely tested this aspect, as my paddleboard was just over 32 inches wide at the widest parts. It nicely fit with the cradle arms adjusted to the widest setting.

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One of the top perks of investing in the Hullavator Rack — for me, and many gearheads in my opinion — is the adjustability. The exterior cradle arms actually slide and tighten to different widths with a clamp and Allen key, so you can securely haul different boats with this one rack. Yours, your friends’, a kayak or paddleboard, you name it.

Thule Hullavator Pro Rack Specs

  • Materials: Aluminum, double-coated steel construction, corrosion-resistant arms and cradles
  • Includes: Cradle cushion covers, two tie-down straps
  • Compatibility: Thule WingBar Evo, AeroBlade, SquareBar Evo, ProBar Evo, Xsporter Pro, and TracRac (truck and van models)
  • Rack weight: 39 lbs.
  • Price: $750

Read on below for our feedback on installation as well as some pro setup tips.

Install & Uninstall

The Thule Hullavator Pro Rack is a fairly simple install, and the manual and installation how-to video are pretty great. The only complicated part of installing the Thule Hullavator Pro is the number of smaller parts. (Lay down a towel, count the nuts and bolts, take your time.)

Our first pro tip that we learned the hard way with this rack install: Don’t do it at high noon. The roof, and maybe your car’s leather seats, will be burnin’ up, and you’ll find yourself cursing that wrench you left boiling on the cement sidewalk. (And probably shedding all your clothes as you climb atop your car roof holding onto and leaning against various pieces of hot metal.) Yeah, no.

Pick a cool morning or cloudy afternoon. It’s also much faster if you have a partner to help with the install.

close up

In our test, we actually had to take off the rack — uninstall — to put it back on a rooftop cargo box. (We were hauling and testing lots of racks and gear that week.) Strangely, uninstalling the rack took just a few twists of a hex key. It was an easy process, and you can leave it on the bar mounts if you wish.

One reason we foresee maybe having to remove your rack: The Thule Hullavator adds a good 16-18 inches to the top of your car. This is definitely a clearance issue for fitting into some parking garages (and things like car washes). If this applies to you (ahem, city-dwellers), take note.

Thule Hullavator Pro: Conclusion

Save your back, save your sanity. If you find yourself frequently hauling and lifting a kayak, tandem, or hard paddleboard, this rack is just what you need. It will do the heavy lifting for you. And for a roof rack, that’s pretty cool.

Yes, it has a higher price ($750), but that’s expected with what it offers: ease in transport, lifting, security for your boat, and more.

Check Availability at ThuleCheck Availability at REICheck Availability at L.L.Bean

putting rack to roof with lift assist
Lowering the rack (and our paddleboard) with ease; (photo/Mary Murphy)
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