Thule Hull-a-Port vs. Pro vs. XT vs. Aero

In Gear by Tanner V.

Old Reliable

Hull-a-Port

Thule Hull-a-Port

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Most Popular

Hull-a-Port Pro

Thule Hull-a-Port Pro

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2-in-1

Hull-a-Port XT

Thule Hull-a-Port XT

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New Model

Hull-a-Port Aero

Thule Hull-a-Port Aero

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About the Author
Hi Everyone! My name is Tanner, and I am the founder of kayamping.net. I started this website as an outlet to pursue my hobby of kayaking, camping, and exploring the world at large. Every post here is written and curated by me so stop-in, have a read, leave a comment, and most importantly, get going on your next adventure!

Those looking for a J-cradles from Thule need look no further. The Hull-a-Port series is Thule's most popular line of kayak racks on which the renown brand built an empire. In recent years the Swedish juggernaut has improved upon the original Hull-a-Port by offering three seeming similar variations.

Overwhelmed? Have no fear!

Think of this article as your friendly kayak-rack Sherpa, who will cleverly guide you through the features, good and bad, of the Thule Hull-a-Port, Pro, XT, and Aero.

Thule Hull-a-PortThule Hull-a-Port ProThule Hull-a-Port XTThule Hull-a-Port Aero
Product Name

Thule Hull-a-Port

Thule Hull-a-Port ProThule Hull-a-Port XTThule Hull-a-Port Aero
Overall Score
76%
86%
88%
91%
What We LikeLong-lasting steel, low price, entry-level modelThick padding, steel construction, folding mechanism means more clearance and better aerodynamicsGrippy rubber bottom, easy to use lock mechanism, 2-in-1 versatilityGrippy rubber on bottom and upper arm, strap catcher, built-in locks, t-track capable
What We Don'tNo folding create eye-sore and clearance issues, needs more cushion at bottom of rack, bracket position makes difficult installLocking mechanism can be hard to operateUniversal crossbar clamp can slip during transit, need to be careful hand tighteningAdapter required for crossbars without T-tracks, pricey, minimal aero improvement over other variations
Bottom LineBasic, pricey J-cradle that lasts foreverEverything you need and nothing you don't - it's popular for a reason2-in-1 function = high versatility, but clamping needs redesignHigh end carrier that combines premium features with the latest technology
Durability
85%
85%
90%
95%
Functionality
70%
85%
80%
90%
Value
70%
90%
85%
85%
Installation
85%
85%
95%
95%
Aerodynamics
70%
85%
90%
90%
Base ConstructionSteelSteelPlastic ResinPlastic Resin
Padding TypeThick FoamThick FoamThin FoamRubber
Crossbar BindingBracketBracketClampT-Track
Weight Capacity75 lbs.75 lbs./130 lbs.75 lbs.75 lbs.
Kayak Quantity111 or 21
T-Track Compatibility
with adapter
with adapter
Foldable
Lockable
sold separately
Strap Catch

1

The Original

Thule Hull-a-Port 834


Hull-a-Port close up side angle

Our Score

7.6
Durability
8.5/10
Functionality
7/10
Value
7/10
Installation
8.5/10
Aerodynamics
7/10

from Price not available

Check on Amazon
What We Like

Long-Lasting: The original Hull-a-Port is crafted using a single bar of high-grade steel looped through a hard plastic resin mount. This simple design removes points of failure found in other models' locking mechanisms. The unit brackets on to almost all crossbars but will need adapter for bars with T-tracks. Thule products come with high quality accessories like all-weather pads, tough straps, and rubber covered buckles to protect your boat from scratches.

Space Saving: J-cradles are the most popular kayak rack style because they save you roof space and fully support the kayak unlike saddles and stackers respectively. It is common users will purchase two set of J-cradles to carry multiple, which is not doable with traditional saddles. The strongest part of the kayak where the hull and deck meet, carries the weight of the kayak leading to a lower risk of damage and oil canning. The Thule Hull-a-Port offers its owners these advantages combined with long-lasting hardware for a kayak rack you can depend season after season.

What We Don't

Clearance: The Hull-a-Port stands 16.5 inches above the crossbars on your vehicle. Parking garages, fast food lines, and home garage doors may be a very tight fit for taller vehicles like SUVs or trucks. The inability of this rack to fold down gives many users two options: remove the racks when not in use or constantly be aware of overhead structures when driving. Most will opt for the first option as the second is risky, but this requires you to take the kayak racks off after each use. Putting them on and taking them off every time is a hassle that foldable model completely avoid.

Padding Position: We may be nit picking here with this one, but the padding position of the Hull-a-Port is on the vertical arm of the J-cradle. However, most of the kayaks weight will be centered on the resin bracket at the bottom of the "J". Thicker kayaks will avoid this issue but thinner kayaks may rub on the resin if you're not careful.

Key Specifications:

  • Dimensions: Dimensions: 21"L x 7"W x 16"H
  • Material: Rust-Resistant Steel Construction
  • Weight Capacity: 75 lb./34 kg.
  • Product Weight: 9 lb.

    2

    The Improvement

    Thule Hull-a-Port Pro 835


    Hull-a-Port Pro close up side angle

    Our Score

    8.6
    Durability
    8.5/10
    Functionality
    8.5/10
    Value
    9/10
    Installation
    8.5/10
    Aerodynamics
    8.5/10

    from Price not available

    Check on Amazon
    What We Like

    Foldable: The biggest improvement over the original Hull-a-Port is the ability to fold down when not in use. The Pro is more aerodynamic when folded down and can be left on top of your vehicle all season long. Using only your hands, pull the lever located on the side of each J-cradle, fold the rack down, and that's it. This single feature will save you hours over the course of the kayaking season.

    Improved Padding Position: Thule adjusted the kayak padding by moving the large cushion to the bottom of the rack where most of the kayak contact will be. The rack maintains a strong steel construction to firmly support the kayak and weather resistant padding to prevent chips, scratches, and deforms. It seems Thule heard the feedback from the original Hull-a-Port made all the right adjustments.

    What We Don't

    No Anti-Theft Features: The Hull-a-Port Pro can be installed and removed without any tools. The bracket that attaches the rack to the crossbars is secured by four bolts, easily unscrewable by hand. This makes the Hull-a-Port Pro a target for thieves who see the Thule name. At the premium price point the Pro commands, you would expect their One-Key lock system to not only come with the product but to at least be compatible.

    Key Specifications:

    • Dimensions: Dimensions: 20"L x 5.5"W x 10.5"H
    • Material: Rust-Resistant Steel Construction
    • Weight Capacity: 75 lb./34 kg.
    • Product Weight: 122.6 lb.

      3

      The 2-in-1

      Thule Hull-a-Port XT 848


      Hull-a-Port XT close up side angle

      Our Score

      8.8
      Durability
      9/10
      Functionality
      8/10
      Value
      8.5/10
      Installation
      9.5/10
      Aerodynamics
      9/10

      from Price not available

      Check on Amazon
      What We Like

      Versatility: The XT offers tons of flexibility by way of multiple locking positions with its vertical arm. It can quickly conform to kayaks of various widths by locking the cradle into a different angle. It will also fold down completely when not in use for better clearance and a cleaner overall look.

      2-in-1: The XT serves as either a J-cradle to support a single kayak or with simple adjustment turn into a stacker to carry support two kayaks. By sparing owners the need to purchase two sets of J-cradles, Thule saves its owners money and hassle. This is the perfect rack for solo kayakers who only sometimes need additional the ability to bring another kayak.

      New Platform: Thule parted ways with the traditional steel construction for an all new plastic resin base coated with a grippy rubber surface. The upright steel arm is painted black with a new eyelet to help guide the straps during loading. We found the new design to be quieter and have improved durability thanks to the switch from thick padding to rubber.

      What We Don't

      Universal Clamp: The new platform brought about a universal clamp that can attach to any crossbar less than 80mm wide. It is ready to be installed right out of the box and all you need is an Allen wrench to tighten. The flaw with any universal clamp is that it works great on some bars, good on most, and poorly on others. The XT has a tendency to roll during transit so owners should be prepared to check the rack before and after each trip.

      Still No Anti-Theft: Thule improved upon the Hull-a-Port Pro by making the XT compatible with their locking system, but we feel they still missed the mark. Even though the price increased, the One-Key locks are still sold separately.

      Key Specifications:

      • Dimensions: Dimensions: 20"L x 9"W x 15"H
      • Material: Steel with hard plastic resin
      • Weight Capacity: 75 lb. 1 kayak / 130 lb. 2 kayak
      • Product Weight: 12.5 lb.

        4

        The Latest and Greatest

        Thule Hull-a-Port Aero 849


        Hull-a-Port Aero close up side angle

        Our Score

        9.1
        Durability
        9.5/10
        Functionality
        9/10
        Value
        8.5/10
        Installation
        9.5/10
        Aerodynamics
        9/10

        from $198.95

        Check on Amazon
        What We Like

        Standard Anti-Theft Locks: Finally, I mean finally Thule included anti-theft locks standard with Hull-a-Port Aero. The One-Key locks located on the front of the bottom arm are easily accessed and a breeze to operate. Short of cutting the crossbars off the roof these racks are impossible to remove without the key.

        T-Track Integration: The Aero is Thule's newest J-cradle and with it comes the integration of the latest technology. The crossbar field is moving away from traditional, solid round or square bars towards aero bars with top tracks. The Aero is designed to fit in the T-tracks right out of the box. T-tracks makes for easier installation, removal, and improved aero.

        Stylish Look: The Hull-a-Port Aero's all black paint job and aerodynamic lines gives it a minimalist, sophisticated look. Matching sturdy construction with sleek design Thule found the sweet-spot between form and function.

        What We Don't

        Adapter Required for Older Crossbars: Progress often requires slowly phasing out the old way of doing things. The Aero's out-of-the-box T-track design requires the purchase of an adapter (sold separately) for square or round bars. T-tracks are superior to traditional bars so if you have not yet bought crossbars I would consider the Thule Aeroblade or Yakima Jetstream.

        Price Tag: The Aero matches its rival the Yakima JayLow in price as the most expensive J-cradle on the market. It is a premium product that does everything you need and looks good doing it, but you are paying 30-40% for the look and novelty.

        Key Specifications:

        • Dimensions: Dimensions: 18"L x 17.5"W x 8"H
        • Material: steel with hard plastic resin
        • Weight Capacity: 75 lb./34 kg.
        • Product Weight: 15.2 lb.

          Frequently Asked Questions


          Q: How to Install the Hull-a-Port?

          Every kayak rack comes with a set of instructions that are easy to follow. Times will vary for each of the variations but none will take more than an hour. The Hull-a-Port  and Hull-a-Port Pro attach via a bracket and bolts. The XT comes ready to go out of the box and clamps to crossbar with an allen wrench. The Aero uses a T-track so you simply slide the Aero on the top of the rack and lock it in place.

          Here are links to installation videos if you have specific questions about any of the models:

          1. Hull-a-Port Installation video
          2. Hull-a-Port Pro Installation video
          3. Hull-a-Port XT Installation video
          4. Hull-a-Port Aero Installation video

          Q: Can the Hull-a-Port carry a canoe, snowboard, ski, etc..?

          In short, the answer is no. The Hull-a-Port series is designed exclusive to haul kayaks. Any size kayak will work with these carriers as long as it does not exceed a weight of 75 lbs.

          Q: How to load a kayak with the Hull-a-Ports?

          All of these racks transport kayaks in a rack known as a j-cradle because it mimics the shape of a J. The kayaks are rested in the rack at angle so that the hull (bottom) of the kayak rests against the upward arm of the cradle. Kayaks should then be strapped to the cradles via camstraps (included with purchase) one strap per cradle. Lastly, bow and stern ties need to attached to the front and rear of the kayak and bumper/tailgate of your vehicle. These precautions will ensure a safe trip even if something were to go wrong.

          The Hull-a-Port Origin Story

          The way to think about these models is best to view them on a timeline. The Hull-A-Port came into production first and is the most simple kayak rack. It is a standard J-cradle with no additional features, that sold like hot cakes. Quickly thereafter competitors like Yakima marched into the marketplace so Thule began to listen to there customers an innovate by unveiling the Hull-a-Port Pro.
           
          The Pro remixed the original Hull-a-Port’s padding structure by flipping the large cushion to the bottom of the rack where most of the kayak’s weight rested. Additionally, Thule introduced a locking fold mechanism to give the Pro owners better aerodynamics and clearance when the rack isn’t in use. The Pro proved to be a hit and Thule’s audience swarmed to the product. 
           
          Modern business demands change or die so Thule again innovated by creating a feature rich variation coined the Hull-a-Port XT. A new hard resin platform replaced the steel tubing and the thick foam padding was reduced to a thinner substitute. The XT offers customers a 2-in-1 design so it can be used like a J-cradle for a single kayak or position upright to serve as a stacker for 2 kayak transportation. Crossbar compatibility has always been an issue with kayak racks so Thule sought to remove the confusion by creating a universal clamping mechanism. This gave the XT lightning quick installation capability and universal application.
           
          Finally, Thule introduced their newest variation in the Hull-a-Port Aero in 2019. This model showcased out-of-the-box T-track capability to keep stride with their latest aero crossbar series. The plastic resin platform first seen in the XT was clearly a success as Thule continued this design for the Aero. Another first is the integration of the One-Key lock system standard with the Aero. All other variation required the locks to be purchased separately.
          Jump to: Hull-a-Port Aero Review

          Conclusion

          To summarize this article, the Hull-a-Port series is the most popular kayak rack series in history. That sounds dramatic for a kayak carrier, but it is simply true. All of the Hull-a-Ports will serve you well. These racks are for the person who doesn't mind spending a little extra for a dependable, long-lasting kayak rack.