As an owner of a Sprinter passenger van, I’d been perplexed on the best way to haul our 11 ft kayak. We tried once inside the van, that was ridiculous. I needed a rack but the prospects were grim. All options seemed to need a ladder for loading and unloading the boat. One day I came across the Thule Hullavator Pro kayak rack and it was game on.

Thule Hullavator Pro Features:

  • Waist-level loading, unloading and strapping by lowering the kayak 40 in. to the side of your vehicle
  • Gas struts absorb up to 40 lbs. of your kayak’s weight, allowing easy, unassisted loading and unloading
  • Wide cradles accommodate hulls up to 36 in. wide
  • 8 touch points of padded support for maximum protection of your kayak
  • Corrosion-resistant base and cradles enhance the life of the carrier
  • Includes QuickDraw bow and stern tie-downs and 2 center straps with car-protective buckle bumpers
  • The Hullavator Pro fits all Thule rack systems and round bars (excluding Thule Edge)
  • Made in the USA
  • Price: $649.95
Thule Hullavator Pro Review

Looks at those curves (of the cradle).

Sprinter Van + Hullavator = TLF

I am not exaggerating when I say that using the Thule Hullavator Pro is a dream. It addresses everything that’s a pain about other kayak racks and it makes loading a kayak on a Sprinter van actually feasible.

If you have a factory rack or an existing roof rack, the Hullavator Pro comes with everything you need to get it installed and carrying your kayak. I needed to install a roof rack (more on that later). The instructions for assembling the Hullavator Pro were straightforward and took me about 45 minutes to build with “help” from the kids.

The Hullavator Pro is extremely easy to use. The “assist” of the rack is so good. You only have to lift the rack high enough off the ground to lay it into the cradles. From there it’s almost effortless to raise it up (or lower it down) from the roof. Gone are the days of lifting a boat over your head, losing balance and dropping it, scratching/denting the roof of your ride. This is literally the only way we would be able to carry a kayak on the Sprinter. The van is tall and without the Hullavator Pro, I’d have to use a ladder (which wouldn’t ever happen). Given that the van is tall, I still can’t reach the roof from the ground but I just step on the wheel and can reach. I’m 6 feet tall and can reach just fine. The assist makes it all possible. There isn’t anything sketchy about loading or unloading. Check out this short video on how I do:

Thule Hullavator Pro Review

Rear view.

When raising and lowering the rack, be careful to not let the rack slam down. It would be easy to let it slam. The assist helps with the vertical movement but for the pivot from vertical to horizontal (or vice versa) you’re on your own. You have the benefit of mechanical advantage so it isn’t a lot of work to lift. It does take some care when closing. When closing the Hullavator Pro, because there is a single pivot point, it can flex to the side out of alignment and if you let it slam down, it could bend/damage the rack, preventing a solid latch. I hold it until it is sitting flat, then I climb onto the tire to make sure it’s aligned before pushing it down to latch.

Thule Hullavator Pro Review

Single pivot point so be make sure you are closing the rack in a straight line.

Loading and unloading is a breeze. The Hullavator Pro will lower your boat 40″ lower than the top of your car! The cradles are positioned so they hold your boat in place while you strap. Keep in mind that while you strap the cradles only hold the bottom of the boat. If you push from the opposite side the boat will fall out! I may or may not have done this a few times…

Thule Hullavator Pro Review

Cradles help hold the boat in place while you strap.

The cradles carry well. Included pads keep your boat from scratching. The cradles are adjustable up to 36″ wide. As part of the install you’ll lay your boat into the cradle and adjust one side to the width of your boat, creating a snug fit. The “buckle bumpers” on the straps are a nice feature. They keep the buckles from dinging your paint as you strap and unstrap. Two included tie-downs are easy to use to secure the bow and stern. The ratchets keep it easy and quick to get secure.

I’m a bit paranoid when hauling anything outside or behind my vehicle. I’ve had a number of incidents over the years with stuff flying off the roof or dropping off the back. The Hullavator Pro keeps the kayak secure! Fully loaded I’ve driven 80 mph on the freeway and boat is totally secure and I don’t have to worry about it.

Thule Hullavator Pro Review

Be sure to use the tie-downs to keep your boat secure while traveling.

Thule Hullavator Pro Review

Close-up of the tie-down winch.

Is the Hullavator Pro an MPG killer? This was one of my big concerns. All told, our MPGs dropped from an average of 21-22 to 19-20 with the rack and boat on. My other question was “I’m already driving a tall vehicle, is this going to be a giant sail or affect handling at all?” Driving freeway speeds was the best way to test this. I didn’t notice any difference in handling. It does catch the wind, which is expected, so pay attention to conditions and drive carefully. The Sprinter does come with Wind Assist and it definitely helps but don’t rely on it.

Thule Hullavator Pro Review

Solid contact.

You’ll notice in the pics that the rack does hang over to the right off the side of the van. I did this intentionally so I could still open the sliding door with the rack down. I have to be mindful of clearance but man, when you have kids, it’s crucial to be able to load and unload with the sliding door open.

Thule Hullavator Pro Review

With the Hullavator down I can still open the sliding door.

Thule Hullavator Pro Review

Door open with room to spare. No worries about dinging the door or the rack.

One thing that doesn’t come with the Hullavator Pro is locks. Locks are necessary to keep the rack secure. With the locks on, you cannot open or close (pivot) the rack at all. If you want to physically lock the boat itself, you will need to find a cable lock to secure it.

Thule Roof Rack for a Sprinter Van

I mentioned before that I needed to install a roof rack. In total there are four things you need to get if you don’t have a rack. First, make sure you have factory tracks or have them installed. My Sprinter was a bare roof. I bought t-tracks and installed those myself. Second, from Thule you need the feet, third the bars, and fit kit (and the Hullavator itself, of course). Your roof situation will dictate what you need. Because I had the t-tracks on my roof I went with the Thule Podium Foot Pack, the Thule Podium Fit Kit (Kit 3101) (specific to the foot pack and my style of roof rails), and the Thule 78″ square bar. Thule has a great rack finder to help find the right roof system for your vehicle and roof.

Thule Podium Rack Kit Review

All the pieces for the rack.

Thule Podium Rack Kit Review

Bars on an empty roof.

I also installed the roof rack. I couldn’t believe how easy it was to install. It took me maybe an hour, once again with “help” from the kids. The process was easy to follow and the rack is totally secure on the roof. One great note about the Podium Foot Pack, you can actually remove the entire rack by taking out two bolts from each foot. Unlock the foot, remove the cover, take two screws out of each foot and lift the towers and bars straight off. The piece that actually attaches the rack to your roof stays on. Thule even includes “shoes” that cover and provide weather protection. All told, it took less than 10 min8utes to remove the rack.This is a fantastic feature. When we’re not using the rack (i.e. outside of kayak season), I take the rack off and save myself some MPGs! I even left the Hullavator Pro attached to the bars so next spring all I have to do is remove the covers and install two bolts per foot and I’ll be ready to haul!

Thule Podium Rack Kit Review

“Shoes” provide weather protection for the feet after you remove the bars.

If you are installing a rack and Hullavator Pro, be sure to pick up a set of 6 locks to keep everything secure with one key.

You’ll need a set of six locks to keep your rack and Hullavator secure.

The Good

  • It lowers your boat 40″
  • Load assist is money
  • No more straining to load your boat atop a tall vehicle
  • Included straps are easy to use and keep the boat secure
  • Can still open the sliding door when lowered

The Bad

  • It’s an investment, but totally worth it
  • Careful when closing. If you let it slam you might bend the latch and then you’re up a creek

Bottom Line: Thule Hullavator Pro

The Thule Hullavator Pro is a 100% game changer in hauling a kayak (especially for a Sprinter van)! With the load assist feature, it’s honestly the only way to haul a kayak, in my book. The entire system is certainly an investment, but you’ll love it every time you need to load or unload your boat.

Buy Now: Available at REI.com

About Author

Eric is a UT native who currently resides in the Wasatch Back. He always takes his passion of the outdoors with him. Skiing, trail running, bike commuting, backpacking and camping fuel his outdoor endeavors. As a husband and proud father of 5 daughters he looks forward to passing on his passion for the outdoors.

3 Comments

  1. Thank You. I have same ride (2014 Sprinter Crew Low) and I was specifically wondering of these would work. What size(length) bars are you using? Square bars?

    • Eric Miller on

      Dave – the Hullavator Pro should work on your Sprinter Crew Low, granted you have the ability to mount a base rack system. My van has t-tracks which I mounted with the Thule Podium foot pack. I used 78″ square bars. They do extend a bit past the sides of the van, which I’m okay with.

      • Thanks Eric. Waiting patiently for the next 20% off at Rei to get my Hullavators. I don’t have the Mercedes rail but a different fit kit let’s me bypass it and set the Thule feet at set points. Might have dry run with dimensions to make kayaks rest correctly. If you figure out how to get 2 hullavators on top Plus the Thule awning let me know.

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