We all love our Subaru Outbacks and the flexibility it adds to our lives. However if we are being honest, the roof rack is a pain for anyone using a cargo box, bike rack, roof basket, or kayak rack.
The standard feature roof rails (models 2015 thru Present) that convert into crossbars are too flimsy and have an odd shape for regualr gear hauling. To make matters worse, the Touring grade switched from low-profile Euro rails to join the rest of the fleet preventing new owners from an easy solution.
The only remaining answer is to purchase aftermarket crossbars. Since we have received so many requests about the best roof racks for Subaru Outbacks, we decided to put together this guide to share our experience with you.
The 2020 Subaru Outback is one of the more challenging cars to buy after market crossbar because only universal crossbars and Thule bars will connect.
2019 and early models have more options than the newer models, but I would stick to these recommendations because they will carry forward if you choose to upgrade your vehicle.
The Thule Wingbar is our top recommecdation because it does everything a crossbar should do. High quality parts, aerodynamic design, and 220lb. carrying capacity will suit owners every situation.
If the budget is a bit tighter, StayThere offers a good crossbar for the money. It has an adjustable size and looks like a factory crossbar "at home" with the rest of the vehicle. However, it is lower quality than Thule and will need occassional adjusting because it doesn't bolt to the roof rails like the Wingbar.
- Dimensions: 50 x 3.2 x 1.2 inches
- Material: Aluminum Construction
- Weight Capacity: 220 lb./90 kg.
- Colors: Silver
- (2) Thule Wingbar Evo 127 50"
- (4) Thule Rapid Podium Foot Pack Kit 4063
Pros & Cons
The Yakima Railbar is quite simply, the greatest crossbar ever designed. It is an improvement upon all rival crossbars by offering owners the quietest ride possible. The secret lies in the wing-shape of the crossbar that slices through the air with extremely low drag.
If you don't trust me, think about this. Whispbar started as a New Zealand based start-up that sold only the Whispbar. After multiple years of success, they were purchased by the industry giant, Yakima. With all of Yakima's resources they could not replicate Whispbar's success so they bought the company and renamed it the Railbar!
The Railbar represents someone looking at the complaints of users and answering the call. The blades are so quiet you won't even know they are there.
The value on these bars is astonishing. The price point puts them in the premium category of crossbars but not by much. Crossbars are an investment and should be treated as such because they will often outlive the life of the vehicle.
The sturdy 165 lb. weight capability gives it the strength to handle any load you throw at it. Your getting a sleek, light weight crossbar capable of carrying any load you hand it.
- Dimensions: 50"L x 2.75"W x 1.1"H
- Material: Aluminum
- Compatible with all StreamLine System towers
- Colors: Black or Silver
- (2) 50" Jetstream Bars
- (4) Skyline Towers
- (4) Yakima Landing Pad 15
Pros & Cons
The Jetstream headlines the new "StreamLine System" of roof racks launched in 2016 by Yakima. Featuring JetFlow technology (teardrop shaped), this aerobar quietly cuts through the air with minimal drag. While not as quite as the Whispbar, this crossbar outperforms the rest of the market.
The lightweight all aluminum construction features multiple inner chambers coined JetStruss technology to withstand loads up to 165 pounds. Offered in two colors (silver or black), this stylish crossbar set boosts the appeal of most modern vehicles while adding functionality to boot.
Along the top and bottom of the JetStream runs T-Slot channels manufactured to accommodate lightning fast attachment and removal of accessories like kayak racks, bike racks, and cargo boxes. To maintain the aerodynamics of the bar, the T-Slots are covered by a rubber stripping that slips down into the channel when in use and pops back into place when not. Known as SmartFill, this seamless transition is adored by consumers for removing the need to custom trim the rubber stripping for each new accessory.
- Dimensions: 55 x 5.9 x 3.1 inches
- Material: Aluminum with rubber grip clamps
- Railbar so no other parts needed
- Colors: Silver
Pros & Cons
Brightlines really filled a niche with the creation of these Subaru Crosstrek specific crossbars. They are an easy and cheap entry-point perfect for first time crossbar users or people who will use the bar infrequently. The simple wing-shape produces little noise and frankly gets the job done.
Unlike other aftermarket bars, Brightlines already did the measuring for you. These bars adjust only a few inches either way because they were designed specifically for the Crosstrek. This makes installation quick and painless, usually under 20 minutes from box to roof top.
Like all things in the automotive world, there are companies that create identical products to the OEM at fractions of the cost. The Brightlines Aerobar for the Subaru Crosstrek did exactly this. You'd be hard pressed to find someone who could tell the difference between these and the OEM bars.
The Brightlines crossbars feature 150lbs of carrying capacity and a sleek aerodynamic design that stays quiet even at highway speeds. Although they do make more noise than the crossbar mentioned above, they are still a vast improvement upon round or square bars.
This product does not have T-slots so none of those products will work. However, all other major brands and accessories should fit just fine.
The Outbacks's Roof Set-UpAll You Need to Know
Even if you decide our recommendations are not for you, this section will contain all the information you need to select a roof rack that will work for your Outback.
The Subaru Outback is offered in four different models: Base, Limited, Premium, and Hybrid. All of these models except the Hybrid have black raised roof rails. The Hybrid features European style, low profile black gloss rails with black end caps.
This different roof rails styles will require different feet for each crossbar. The bar itself can be the same, but the attachment points to the roof rails will be different between the Hybrid and other models.
Subaru updated the Crosstrek for their 2018 model. It has the same bones, but with improved styling like better dashboard electronics, new grille, essentially cosmetic and minor functionality improvements. The roof and its dimensions are unchanged. As a result, this guide covers Subaru Outbacks’s from 2015 - 2022ish (exact design change TBD).
Dimensions of Subaru Outback Roof Rails
Crossbar positioning can vary depending on your preferences so we measaured three different points. Just make sure the bars can handle the maximum and minimum distance. The roof is not a perfect square so the roof rails are closer together near the trunk and grow further apart as you approach the windshield.
Front: 43-44" Middle: 40-41" Rear: 38.75-40”
Subaru Outback Roof Weight Limit
Roof Rack Considerations
All vehicles have posted weight ratings for their roofs. This is the total amount of weight that can safely be on top of the car while it is in-transit. Crossbars and roof racks are included in the weight rating calculation meaning the more these items weigh the less gear you can bring.
The Subaru Outback has a posted weight rating of 150lbs. A crossbar of 20 lbs. now reduces the Outback's carrying capacity to 130lbs. Add on a cargo carrier of 25 lbs. and this means you can only load only 105 lbs. of gear, safely on top of the Subaru.
Be thinking of the average amount gear weight you will want to transport and purchase roof rack accessory to support that.
The material that your roof rack is made from will often determine the longevity of the item itself. In most cases, steel will be your best bet for purchasing roof rack items because it will last forever and can handle a beating.
Steel doesn't bend or break, and it can endure years of weathering before showing any signs of fatigue. If you are going to choose a steel roof rack, make sure it has a powder-coating to prevent rust. Surfaces not covered by a protective paint layer will deteriorate far quicker than the rest of the unit. Even worse, is the copper-brown rust stains could bleed onto your car and ruin its paint job.
Car manufacturers pay entire teams of engineers to design vehicles with as little drag as possible. We have all seen commercials depicting scientists in white coats observing their latest vehicle model in a wind tunnel test. The smooth lines are a vehicle are there to reduce air turbulance, which equals a quieter ride and better fuel economy for their customers.
Unfortunately, auto manufacturers sell roof racks as an add-on accessory after purchase. This allows them to perform govenmental fuel economy regulation tests without accounting for roof rack wind noise. For consumers, this means roof racks do not get the same level of engineering as the rest of the car.
Adding any kind of accessory to the exterior of a car will add some noise and fuel economy losses. The degree of impact varies with each product, but simply put the more accessory the greater the impact.
If wind noise or fuel economy are high priorities for you, selecting roof racks that are easily detachable is the best choice.
Installing any of the products recommended in this guide, does not take a master mechanic or even your go to handy man. All products of installation manuals and there are tons of Youtube videos that can show you how to do it step by step.
Installation on an Outback is easier than your average car because of the raised roof rails. The space between roof and rail allow for crossbars to grab the bar all the way around. Installation for these type of connections is often much easier than other crossbar connection methods.
You are going to want to ensure the rack you buy can accommodate all the things you plan to transport with some room to breathe. Once you get the capacity to fully use your Outback’s roof, things you never knew about will need to be loaded on there.
To get a complete look at the capacity of the roof rack, you will want to look primarily at the weight carrying capacity and storage space volume. Sometimes it is not the pure weight of something that makes it difficult to carry, the shape plays a role too. A cargo carrier is designed to keep the elements out, but it comes with restrictions on shape.
Lastly, take a look at whether the weather will play a role. Do you want to put suitcase on the roof or gas canisters? The suit cases need to stay dry in order for you to have a good vacation, but gas canisters can handle the rain.