Review: Yakima’s EXO Overlanding-Inspired Cargo System

September 28, 2021 by Jerry Hirsch, @Jerryhirsch

For the average driver on a road trip, a single cargo carrier offers plenty of extra storage space. But overlanders and outdoor adventurers often need to store more gear than what one carrier can hold. Another issue is that most cargo boxes are not designed for transporting specialty outdoor equipment — like bikes and kayaks.

Yakima, a leading automotive accessory brand, aims to solve this problem with its most recent creation. The Exo is a customizable cargo carrier designed with overlanding space requirements in mind. The double-decker system allows for vehicles to carry two levels of hitch-mounted cargo gear at one time. In short, it doubles the storage of traditional hitch-mounted carriers.

The system includes two base platform tiers and a lineup of outdoor-specific gear carriers. These accessories attach to both platforms, allowing you to mix and match configurations.

After months of testing out the Yakima Exo, it has proved to be among the most innovative ways of hauling outdoor gear. As an individual carrier, it holds its own alongside top-tier competitors — while also providing for the added convenience of rear vehicle access.

DESIGN

The SwingBase serves as the base rack and lower level cargo carrying platform. Mounting the TopShelf platform above the SwingBase provides for an optional second tier of storage space.

This base platform connects the Exo to vehicles with Class III and Class IV two-inch hitch receivers — excluding campers, trailers, and RVs. Limited rear vehicle access is the most common complaint about hitch-mounted cargo carriers.  In an attempt to address this, Yakima designed the Exo base rack as a moveable arm that swings open about ninety degrees to the right side of the vehicle. This makes for easy access to back hatches and trunks.

The rack features two arms designed to support the various Exo accessories. They fold down when not in use and stow out of the way. An integrated hitch lock secures the system to the vehicle. Both the base rack and accessories are easy to install using Yakima’s tool-free Cleat system and ergonomic locking knobs.

ACCESSORIES

There are 20 different possible system configurations and four base accessories. These include the waterproof GearLocker cargo box, two-bike capacity DoubleUp bike carrier, WarriorBasket cargo carrier, and SnowBank snow gear mount. While you can use most of the mounts on whichever level you prefer, the DoubleUp bike rack must be installed on the TopShelf to use both levels at the same time.

Exo GearLocker 

  • Provides for 10 feet of waterproof cubic storage space
  • Tool-free installation and SKS locking system
  • 100-pound load capacity mounted on SwingBase; 80-pound load capacity mounted on TopShelf
  • Weight: 27.8 pounds
    Yakima Exo cargo carrier

    Yakaima’s Exo lifestyle basket over a locker box.

Exo Gear Warrier Basket 

  • Ideal for transporting bulky gear like firewood, coolers, and water jugs
  • 110-pound load capacity mounted on SwingBase; 80-pound load capacity mounted on TopShelf
  • Weather-resistant, durable steel construction
  • Tool-free installation and SKS locking system
  • Weight: 22 pounds

Exo DoubleUp Bike Carrier 

  • StrongArm hook design attaches to bikes at wheels, protecting frames and painted surfaces
  • Fits 20″ to 29″ wheel sizes, tires up to 4.8″ wide, and accommodates disc brakes, through axles, boost hubs, and full suspension systems
  • The DoubleUp can haul two bikes at a time weighing up to 40 pounds each on the TopShelf or two bikes weighing up to 50 pounds each on the SwingBase
  • Tool-free installation and SKS locking system
  • Weight: 37.15 pounds

Exo SnowBank 

  • Hauls up to four pairs of skis or five snowboards at once
  • DoubleHinge joint is designed to expand and accommodate wider style skis and boards
  • Fits skis up to 185 cm long on most standard width vehicles
  • Large button makes for ease of use while wearing gloves or mittens
  • Tool-free installation and SKS locking system
  • Weight: 13.25 pounds

FLEXIBILITY

You can mount any Exo accessory onto either the SwingBase or TopShelf by sliding it down universal tracks and fastening it into place with knobs. The Exo is an ingenious system because of its customizable accessory line-up — but that’s not all. Yakima went a step further and “accessorized the accessories”. It added utility to individual components and offers them as optional add-ons to any system.

ADD-ONS

Exo LitKit 

  • Attaches to Exo SwingBase arm to improve license plate and taillight visibility
  • LED taillights provide for full brake, turn signal, and lighting functionality
  • Installed using 4-Flat electrical connection; includes all necessary installation components
  • Tool-free installation 

Exo WarrierWheels

 This accessory allows you to transform your WarrierBasket into a wagon you can use to wheel gear on land to your destination.

  • 100-pound load capacity
  • Features all-terrain tires
  • Tool-free installation 

Exo GearTotes 

These are ideal for further organizing your gear within the Exo GearLocker.

  • Carries up to 50 pounds each and folds down flat when not in use
  • Made from heavy-duty ripstop nylon
  • Includes a removable divider and webbing handles 

Exo BackDeck 

  • Mounts to the SwingBase or TopShelf and provides for a 50″ x 17″ UV protected bamboo work surface
  • 80-pound load capacity
  • Includes a bag for easy transport and stows away into the GearLocker or GearWarrier when not in use

FINAL THOUGHTS

After months of testing out the Exo on my Ford Transit campervan, I’ve concluded that it’s the most convenient way for overlanders and full-time adventurers to free up interior space. I’ve been using the GearWarrier mounted above the GearLocker configuration and find it an ideal set-up for my needs. This configuration allows me to store and protect my climbing gear in the waterproof locker and bungee down my bulky crash pads in the GearWarrier Basket above it.

DOWNSIDES

The Exo’s downsides include how heavy it is and how hard it is to see out of the rear window, especially when using both platforms. On some vehicles, the system blocks the use of back-up cameras. Price is another big downside. The SwingBase and TopShelf together cost just under $950 — and that’s before adding accessories. The GearLocker runs at $420, the CargoBasket costs $350, the SnowBank retails for $300, and the DoubleUp bike rack goes for $500. That doesn’t include any of the add-ons, either.

Bottom line, the Exo proves to be extremely user-friendly, secure, and easy to use. This hitch-mounted cargo carrier is the first modular, customizable innovation of its kind and is sure to create some buzz within the overlanding community. It might not yet be perfect, but it serves to meet an increasing demand for more efficient ways to haul cargo — especially outdoor gear.

Amanda Ellis December 26, 2019
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