For most vehicle accessories Thule vs. Yakima will appear to be very similar. The difference between two is almost always down to price and the number of features. However both brands offer superior quality and customer service than other competitors. The differences are in the details.
30 Second Summary
In general, Thule products are beautifully designed with premium features not offered elsewhere. Many of their products are on the cutting edge of design and functionality. This is the place where engineering and artistic vision intersect.
Yakima's products offer exceptional value by maintaining a reasonable price point without sacrifices in quality. You will find fewer features than Thule in general, but the products will last just as long. Products that achieve their purpose without extra gilts and glamour.
- Thule makes the best: Cargo Basket, Cargo Box, Kayak Racks
- Yakima makes the best: Crossbars, Truck Racks, Bike Racks
Yakima Vs Thule Category Breakdown
Crossbars are the basis of any roof rack system because they serve as the foundation to which cargo boxes, roof baskets, kayak racks, and bike racks are attached. This is a logical starting point because you cannot have a roof rack without first having crossbars. The majority of roof racks, no matter the type, will attach to any crossbar variation.
Thule's crossbar product line is centered around their aerodynamic bar named the Wingbar or Aeroblade. This crossbar has these names because it is shaped after an owl's wing that silently cuts through the air. The crossbar market as a whole is trending away from round and square bars, which Thule does still offer.
The Aeroblade up holds Thule's reputation by displaying a sleek design and premium features. The Aeroblade crossbars add to the look of the car instead of being an eye-sore like other brands.
Premium features such as Top Track (T-track) attachments points and integrated locks make Thule's crossbars a breeze to use with accessories like kayak racks or bike racks.
Enough about Thule, What about Yakima?
As I mentioned earlier the industry is shifting towards aerobars and Yakima took note. Their most popular bar since the early 1990's is the Yakima Roundbar. This crossbar made the name for Yakima and is still offered today in the same design.
But Yakima is smart and made an adjustment after seeing the rise in Aerobars by acquiring an Australian company named Whispbar in 2010. Whispbar had the best aerodynamic bar on the market and Yakima wanted it. Yakima rebranded the Whispbar naming it the Flushbar but kept the exceptional design.
The Flushbar is the simply the best crossbar on the market to this day. It offers all the features of the Aeroblade and Yakima's newest bar, the Jetstream, with one HUGE design boost. The bar is considerably quieter than the Jetstream or Aeroblade.
Don't believe then watch this short video. (Low quality video but results say it all).
Our Posts Comparing Crossbars:
Roof Baskets, A Basket is a Basket.. Right?
Roof Baskets give you extra storage capacity for trips requiring lots gear or rugged items that just make better sense to be out of the car. Roof baskets will fit any shape crossbar regardless of manufacturer.
Thule's flagship roof basket is the Canyon XT. Let me tell you, this thing has style. The lines on the roof basket compliment the rounded lines of most SUVs. In addition the wind fairing is angled nicely to reduce wind noise and improve fuel efficiency.
Yakima lives up to its name with a standard roof basket design. Square edges and a square wind fairing make it look like a steel box without a lid. There wasn't much though put into the overall design of the box, so Yakima made it larger than it's Thule competitor.
The Yakima LoadWarrior is only slightly larger with an additional 3 inches in length and 1.5 inches in height.
Thule's design and price point make it superior across the board in terms of the best roof basket.
Cargo Boxes - So cool you put it on a Porsche
Cargo boxes are great for adding weatherproof, secure storage space to the roof of your vehicle. This makes them ideal for luggage or other valuable goods that you need to conceal and keep safe.
Thule offers a wide variety of cargo boxes with price points from a few hundred dollars to over $1,000's! Their fanciest cargo box, the Thule Vector Alpine, is even advertised a top a Porsche.. they are clearly targeting the well to do with this box.
In all Thule has 20 different cargo boxes to choose from compared to Yakima's 10 products. Thule adventure into the ultra high end cargo box allowed some of their nice features to filter down into the lower models. Some offer interior lighting and multi-side opening so the box is usable at all hours with functionality from either side.
For most people a cargo box around the $500 dollar mark provides plenty of space, features such as locks, and an aerodynamic shape. All three of these features are critical to a cargo box you will enjoy for years to come.
Yakima's currently has 10 different cargo boxes to choose from with a price range of $500 to $800. The cargo boxes overall are taller and worse visual experience. Increased box height gives the user more packing space but worse fuel efficiency.
Overall Thule dominates the cargo box category by offering a great selection at all price points with a buffet of features to choose from. Those in the market would do well to choose a Thule box.
Kayak Racks - Any boat, any situation
When it comes to hauling kayaks, you really only have to choice: trailers or rooftop kayak racks. Kayak's long shape make them too difficult to fit inside of a car so Thule and Yakima answered with a series of options for consumers.
Depending on the size of your kayak and the quantity you wish to carry there is a kayak rack for you. I could write for hours about the pros and cons of each specific rack (and in some cases I have), but at a high level here is the breakdown.
Our Posts Comparing Kayak Racks:
J-Racks - Given the name J rack because the rack resembles a "J", kayaks are held at an angle to maximize roof space. A set of J racks can hold a single kayak, but most roofs can support to sets for two total kayaks. This is the most popular style of kayak rack.
Stackers - These racks are designed to haul a single kayak up to 4 kayaks. Ideal for large families, stackers are a central tower which kayaks are leaned against. The kayak side itself rests on the crossbars of the car and is held in place by the stackers and tie downs.
Saddles - Saddles carry kayaks on the bottom or hull of the boat. Used most commonly on high end kayaks or long sea kayaks, saddles offer excellent protect to the kayak. Best for one kayak per car situations but are capable of support to sets of saddles per vehicle.
Lift Assistance - Kayakers needing help getting their kayak onto the roof of their car can find aid here. Lift Assistant kayak racks feature waist height, side loading and a mechanism to help push the kayak onto the roof the vehicle. These a premium racks that come with price tags to match.
Trailers - The priciest of all the options, but the most secure. Trailers can handle any number of kayaks depending on the size of the trailer. Thule offers no trailers so Yakima's Rack n Roll trailer series wins by default. However, many people prefer to go custom or use an old general purpose trailer.
Across all categories for kayak racks both Thule and Yakima offer great options. Thule racks are pricier but feel more sturdy and come with higher quality component parts than Yakima. For more detailed breakdown, check out a series of posts I wrote detailing individual products vs posts.
Trucks Racks, the Average Joe vs the Pro Joe
Trucks are in a category of their own for roof racks due to their limited roof space. Two crossbars supported by steel or aluminum poles attached to the truck bed serve to create a plane even with the roof of the cab. The elevated crossbar enable long items like kayaks or ladders to carried.
Thule has a series of universal truck racks and additional roof racks designed for the popular Toyota Tacoma. (Thule has a business relationship with Toyota) Featuring aluminum construction and an impressive 1,250 lbs. of carrying capacity, all of Thule's racks are all-in-one racks meaning the crossbar and supports are sold together.
Yakima's truck bed racks are geared towards flexibility. When you buy one of their truck bed racks you only get the support beams. This allows you to choose a crossbar that fits your needs. Additionally, the supports can be adjusted up and down. Not every load needs to ride above the trucks cabin.
Thule trucks bed racks are aimed at professionals who need heavy duty racks on their truck at all times. Yakima is selling flexibility for private consumer use.
Bike Roof Racks
When it comes to bike racks the major debate is between fork mounts carriers (front wheel off) and wheel mounted carriers (wheel on).
Yakima dominates the roof top bike mount industry compared to Thule. This is honestly Yakima's bread and butter since the company started. With a wide selection of bike racks at many different price ranges Thule just can't compete in the roof game.
Bike Hitch Mounts
Thule brings a bigger presence to bike hitch mounts than was seen in bike roof racks. Both manufacturers offer a slew of products, but they can be broken down into hangers or platforms. Oddly enough Thule wins the platform category and Yakima is best for hangers.
Serious cyclists prefer platform racks because they contact the bikes wheel's instead of the frame. Hangers contact the bikes frame, which can cause damage over time due the racing bike's ultralight aluminum frame.
A casual cyclist will likely have a sturdier and cheaper bike frame that will be fine hanging for its entire life. Yakima's brand aligns with being budget friendly so they specialized in hangers because that's what their customer want. As premium brand Thule catered towards high end customers who seek the very best despite price.
Frequently Asked Questions
About Thule - The Swedish Quality
Thule - pronounced [tool-e] - based in Malmo, Sweden, and designs a wide variety of transportation focused products. A reputation of quality and long-lasting products has made Thule the world’s most popular supplier of roof rack systems.
Thule creates products of the finest materials that are designed to add to the vehicle’s appearance and functionality. For these reasons people often buy Thule and stay with them for life.
About Yakima - The Every Man's Rack
Yakima started as a small machine shop in Yakima, Washington state. Then in 1979, Steve Cole and Don Banducci, hardcore kayakers and cyclists, acquired the company. By 1984, they put Yakima on the map at the Summer Olympics, decking out every race vehicle with original aerodynamic fairings.
Today, Yakima's products target customers who have price and functionality in mind. They design roof racks to perform their core job without additional gimmicks.
Q: Are Thule or Yakima Racks Better?
A: In general, Thule racks offer superior style and more functionality than Yakima racks but with a premium price tag to match. Yakima racks are more wallet-friendly and get the job done with fewer bells and whistles. Who is better will depend largely on the specific rack and the purpose for which each consumer needs it.
Q: Are Thule and Yakima Racks interchangeable?
A: Yes, Thule and Yakima racks are interchangeable. Accessories like kayak racks, roof baskets, cargo boxes, and bike racks from Thule will work on Yakima's crossbars and vice-versa. The biggest factor to consider is the shape of the crossbar and attachment style of the accessory to the crossbars. It is best to review this question on a case by case basis as their are the odd pairings that simply won't work.
Q: Where is Thule Made?
A: Thule is a Swedish company that manufacturers its racks in Europe and the United States. As the US representes 75% of Thule's sales volume, the ThuleGroup aimed to lower transportation costs by establishing manufacturing plants in Seymour, CT and Chicago, IL..
Q: Are Yakima or Thule Cargo Boxes Waterproof?
A: To be waterproof, a cargo box must be able to be completely submerged and not let water in. Yakima or Thule cargo boxes do not meet this definition so they are considered weatherproof. Both Thule and Yakima cargo boxes are water tight during heavy rain and wind, but the manufacturers advise placing items in dry bags or plastic bags if water may damage them.
Q: Are Thule Roof Racks Worth it?
A: Thule roof racks offer exceptional value for the money. Their roof racks compliment the look of most vehicles and offer high-end features not seen by competitors. Exterior car accessories should be treated as an investment as they will last as long as the car.
Q: Does Thule fit Yakima?
A: In the majority of cases, Thule racks will fit Yakima bars and vice-versa. However, specific product pairings should be reviewed in detail to ensure compliance. There are some cases will the two will not play nice.
Q: Do Thule Roof Racks fit any car?
A: Yes, Thule has roof racks that will fit any car, SUV, truck, or van. If people drive it, Thule has a product for you. For best information, Thule has a fit guide on their website to show roof racks for each specific make, model, and year.
Q: Does Thule own SportRack?
A: The ThuleGroup purchased SportRack in 2006 and continues to own them to this day.
Q: How Much Weight can Thule Roof Racks hold?
A: Thule roof racks can typically support gear weights of around 70 lbs. The specific crossbar, roof rack, and gear combination is best assessed on a case by case basis. Often times Thule roof rack capacity is limited by the weight limit of the roof of the vehicle itself. Since each item in the chain of vehicle roof to crossbar to roof rack to gear must support the accumulated weight of the items above it.