A comparison of the Yakima Showdown and Thule Hullavator to find the best kayak lift assist rack for kayaking.

Yakima Showdown vs Thule Hullavator

In Gear by Tanner V.

Yakima Showdown
Sliding Lift Assist

Yakima Showdown product image

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Thule Hullavator

Gas Strut Lift

Thule Hullavator is the most automated kayak rack on the market.

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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!
The future of kayak carriers is here, and you can be apart of it. For the first time getting your kayak on to the rooftop of your car is easy. The only problem is choosing between the two leading products: The Yakima Showdown and Thule Hullavator.
  • The King of Kayak Racks

Specification:

Dimensions: 16"L x 6"W x 36"H

Max Kayak: 36" Width x 75 lb/ 34 kg Weight

Weight Capacity: 35 lb./15.9 kg.

Colors: Steel with black

Pros & Cons

  • 40 lb. Lift Assistance
  • Easy to Remove Arms
  • Lifetime Warranty
  • 30 minute Install
  • Locking mechanism sold separately

The Review

The Hullavator 898 Pro is quite frankly the best kayak rack on the market. The aid it provides its users makes kayaking accessible to those with injuries or disabilities. This rack grants freedom to independent kayakers.

Although the setup of the rack will take a bit of time, considering the complexity of the system it is still not bad. Plus the arms can quickly be taken off thereafter so they are there only when you need it.

The installation process actually gave the Hullavator a big edge over the Showdown. The Thule requires more time because it is more safely attached to the vehicle.

The initial investment of time is worth the additional safety features.

The gas struts are covered by a limited Lifetime Warranty and Thule is known for great customer service. You can feel confident this rack will last for years to come.

The price tag scares many away right off the cuff, but a closer examination reveals you get huge value. Kayak racks are an investment and should be treated as such.

Truly the best kayak rack on the market. Buy one and find out for yourself!

Comparison at a Glance

Product
YAKIMA - Showdown Rooftop Mounted Load-Assist Kayak and SUP Rack for Vehicles, Carry 1 Kayak or 2 SUP Boards
Our Pick
Hullavator PRO Black/Silver
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YAKIMA - Showdown Rooftop Mounted Load-Assist Kayak and SUP Rack for Vehicles, Carry 1 Kayak or 2 SUP Boards
Hullavator PRO Black/Silver
Overall Rating
Lift Assistance
Safety
Value
Ease of Installation
Compatibility with Other Products
Product
YAKIMA - Showdown Rooftop Mounted Load-Assist Kayak and SUP Rack for Vehicles, Carry 1 Kayak or 2 SUP Boards
Image
YAKIMA - Showdown Rooftop Mounted Load-Assist Kayak and SUP Rack for Vehicles, Carry 1 Kayak or 2 SUP Boards
Overall Rating
Lift Assistance
Safety
Value
Ease of Installation
Compatibility with Other Products
Our Pick
Product
Hullavator PRO Black/Silver
Image
Hullavator PRO Black/Silver
Overall Rating
Lift Assistance
Safety
Value
Ease of Installation
Compatibility with Other Products

You found the best kayak rack, now see the best crossbars too!


Competition is Great for Consumers

The Thule Hullavator was the rooftop kayak carrier with lift assistance to hit the market. Their innovative design features gas struts that reduce the weight of the kayak by 40 lbs and guide the kayak onto the roof with ease.

Thule's long time rival, Yakima, introduced the Showdown just a few years later to compete in the newly created kayak lift assist market segment. Opting for a more affordable solution to lifting kayaks, the Showdown offers guide rails to remove the balancing act of hoisting kayaks.

Never before has kayaking been so accessible for those who struggled with loading kayaks, but which kayak rack is best for you?

Key Features


Lift Assistance Comparison

The primary purpose of purchasing one of these racks is to make getting a kayak onto the car easier than before.

We compare the Showdown and Hullavator in action below.

Ease of Use

Both kayak racks allow the user to load their kayak on the side of the vehicle at about waist height. This includes placing the kayak in the carriers and strapping the kayaks in place. The products differ when you go to move the kayak from the side position to the top of the vehicle.

The Hullavator has gas-struts that provide upward thrust when the kayak begins its upward movement. These struts provide exactly 40 lb. of force on a kayak with a maximum of 85 lbs. of weight. That is nearly half the sheer lifting force removed your shoulders and back!

Watch the video to see just how easy it is.

The Hullavator in Action

You can see the hydraulic lift assistance combined with the guide rails makes for an effortless lift. If you squat down to get under the kayak and use your legs, it feels like almost no work.

The gas struts are the major advantage of purchasing the Hullavator because the Showdown does not have gas struts. It relies on you to provide all of the force to lifting the kayak. Don’t misinterpret what I am saying because the Showdown still makes loading kayaks massively easier.

The Showdown removes the balancing act from the loading and unloading process. Similar to the Hullavator you can load and strap the kayak at waist height then push it along guide rails up on top of your vehicle. Yakima claims the guide rails remove approximately 30-40% of the TOTAL force required to load kayaks. This may seem high but anyone familiar with using dumbbells vs. machines in the will understand.

The Showdown in Action

The Showdown and the Hullavator have the same loading process except for the amount of power you, the loader, must supply. For that reason, the Hullavator is the superior system for those prioritizing safe and easy kayak loading/unloading.

If you’re like me, your next question is: Well don’t the gas struts wear out? It can’t be that easy.

Warranty

Both have a limited lifetime warranty - This means the manufacturer is obligated to repair or replace parts for the lifetime of the product based on flaws in design or workmanship. Basically if it breaks and it not as a result of misinstall, you misusing it, or something else crazy they will replace/repair the product forever.

Considering both products have a limited lifetime warranty, you can rest assured these racks will last. It is in the best interest of the companies to make sturdy products so they do not have to pay for repairs.

This gives a extra bode of confidence to the Hullavator due to its complexity. It is likely that if the Showdown broke, you could fix the problem. However, the Hullavator uses gas struts which may require uniques tools or expensive machines to fix.

Ease of Installation

With the complex nature of these racks, you might expect them to take a whole Saturday to assemble. Your expectations are wrong in this case.

The Showdown takes about 10 minutes from box to ready to go. I am not kidding. 10 minutes is all you need.

The Showdown is fully assembled in the box. All screws have attached knobs for hand tightening meaning the only tool you need is a measuring tape. The most tedious part may be placing the gripping onto the carrier surface to add padding and reduce slippage.

Thanks to a clamp design to grab the crossbar, the Showdown can be quickly attached and reattached. Clamps are advantageous for those who don't like to leave their kayak carriers on the car year round, but it isn't without drawbacks.

The clamps, which are hand tightened, have been known to become loose on round crossbars. The Showdown should be checked before each use to prevent this.

The Showdowns initial setup time is very similar to the time it takes to add and remove after installation. Pop it on Friday has you head out to the water and take it off Sunday when you return so it's there only when you need it.

Thule isn't to be outdone by the Yakima but the Hullavator does have a more complicated setup process. The Hullavator arrives in pieces and will require some assembly - mainly screw tightening. You can expect to spend roughly 30 minutes on the initial setup.

Once the Hullavator is installed for the first time, it too can be quickly  added and removed; albeit by a different method. The Hullavator consists of two main parts:

1. Crossbar Attachment
2. Arms

The crossbar attachment uses brackets to firmly grip the crossbars on all sides and is tightened by screws. This portion is meant to stay on the vehicle all season long.

The arms hold the carriers and is attached to the crossbar assembly via a single easy to remove pivot pin. When not in use, the arms can be removed in under a minute with no tools and placed away for storage.

Installation Conclusion

All in all both kayak racks are simple to install with little expertise required. However, the edge must be given to the Showdown. Yakima packages their product virtually ready to go just out of the box.

The clamping technology makes adding and removing the rack from your car just too easy. Throw in hand tightening knobs and the Showdown can only be on your car when you want it.

Compatibility

The things everyone wants to know. Will X fit on my car? In short, there are far too many vehicles for me to answer this, but I know someone who can. The manufacturer website will be able to tell.

Yakima Fit Guide Link

Thule Fit Guide Link

The rule of thumb for either rack is that they will both fit Yakima or Thule crossbars, but no others. 

Kayaks

Each rack craddles the sides of the hull to support the kayak.

This lends itself to the majority of hull shapes but not V shaped boats.

V-Shaped boats come into contact with the bare metal of the arms. If too much pressure is applied by the straps, you kayak will oil can or bend.

An easy fix is gluing a small block of foam padding. Cheap and effective

Thule Hullavator is great with kayaks but owners of V shaped boats might want to load upside down.

Safety

Loading items on the roof of your car should be done with care. I should not need to explain that an 80 lb. kayak slipping off a car at interstate speeds is a danger to you and everyone else on the road. I don't want you to be responsible for something like this so we took a look at which of these racks is the safest.

Crossbar Adherence

The Showdown presents a few risks in this area that the Hullavator has designed out.

1. Hand tightened knobs becomes loose over time. Humans are simply not strong enough to lock screws in place like a screwdriver can. The leverage is just not there. Showdown owners should check their knobs before each use.

2. Clamps - The showdown clamps do not go all the way around the crossbar. Instead it squeezes the bar from three directions. With round surfaces, the clamp does not have much grip on the crossbars which leads to the slipping issue. While the fear is minimal of the Showdown actually coming loose of the crossbar, again these clamps should be checked before each use.

Tuck in side mirrors during loading!

Side loading is great for your back and shoulders but watch side mirrors and all close doors.

Value

Lift assistant kayak carrier make up the premium end of the market. They are the most expensive because they offer the most features.

The Hullavator is priced a couple hundred dollars greater than the Showdown. If you are looking for the cheaper option, the Showdown is the way to go. We are not looking at price though. We are looking at VALUE. How much does is your dollar getting you?

We believe anyone can load a kayak on the roof of their vehicle with the Hullavator. We do not think this is true for the Showdown. The difference are the gas struts that add 40 lbs. of lifting force. The Showdown eases the transition from vertical lifting to horizontal pushing so that may be all you need.

The Value judgement decision is up to you and your needs. For us it is a tie.

Specification Comparison

Showdown
Hullavator
Max Kayak Weight
80 lb.
75 lb.
Max Kayak Width
28 in.
36 in..
Rack Length
47 in.
36 in.
Rack Weight
21 lb.
35 lb.
Height Above Roof
8 in.
9 in.
Lift Assistance
30-40% ~ Removes balancing40 lb. and remove balancing
Warranty
Limited Lifetime
Limited Lifetime

Things You Should Know


Crossbar Over Hang Required

Crossbars are a support structure used to carry other items on the roof of the vehicles. While the wing bar shape is not totally new technology as of 2019, there are still some carriers that cannot be adapted to them. By themselves crossbars are useless so you need to know if they place nice with others.

Added Height to the Vehicle

Crossbars are a support structure used to carry other items on the roof of the vehicles. While the wing bar shape is not totally new technology as of 2019, there are still some carriers that cannot be adapted to them. By themselves crossbars are useless so you need to know if they place nice with others.

Frequently Asked Questions


Is the Showdowm/Hullavator compatiable with my crossbars?

The only way to know for sure is to check the Thule or Yakima Fit Guides.

Rule of Thumb is:

Factory crossbars = no

Aftermaket Yakima and Thule = yes

Can I fit two Showdown or two Hullavtors on one car?

Yes, as long as the car is wide enough. Be aware of your roof's max weight capacity.

2 Hullavators = 80 lb

2 Showdown = 42 lb

The average car roof weight rating is 165 lb so pick you kayaks accordingly.

My kayaks keeping oil canning. What's the problem?

Unfortunately, this is likely a user error. Try adjusting the saddle width to make it fit the hull better. Use bow and stern lines to immobilize the kayak. It is easy to strap the kayaks down too hard, try loosing the kayak straps just a little bit.

What's the difference between Thule Hullavator 898 and 897XT?

Thule Hullavator 898 Pro is the latest and greatest edition of the Hullavator. It is also the only one in current production from the manufacturer. It have minor performance improvements from the 897XT. Most notably it will accomodate a kayak max width of 36-38 inches.

897XT is the old model Hullavator that is no longer made by Thule. You can buy these aftermarket for fractions of the price of an 898. Mostly the same performance but only accommodates a max kayak width of 36 inches.