Three Rack Systems Handle a Ton of Gear on a Daylong Adventure

Thule Snowpack Extender ski/snowbaord racks on a 2019 Toyota RAV4 Adventure hauled two pairs of skis, but can handle up to six. (Photo: Garrett King/Trucks.com)

There are few places where you can surf and ski in the same day. California is one of them, and it served as the center for a Trucks.com Sea to Summit Adventure Drive, a challenge to find the best locales along with the best vehicles to fulfill such a quest.

But to surf and ski in the same day takes preparation beyond just checking the surf or snowpack. Driving a vehicle capable of handling coastal highways and icy mountain roads is important, but so too is figuring out how to haul such diverse gear.

The Trucks.com team conquered both sports in one day on a recent drive in top-selling compact crossovers from Huntington Beach, on the Orange County coast, to Big Bear, in the San Bernardino Mountains. The agenda consisted of sunrise surfing off the Huntington Beach pier followed by afternoon runs at Bear Mountain Ski Resort.

Six people, plus gear, piled into three test vehicles outfitted with their own unique roof rack systems. A 2019 Honda CR-V was equipped with a Yakima FatCat 6, a 2019 Nissan Rogue with an Inno surf locker and a 2019 Toyota RAV4 Adventure with Thule’s Snowpack Extender.

The rack systems from Yakima and Thule are designed for skis and snowboards while the Inno surf locker is for stand-up paddleboards, kayaks and surfboards. Though a few of the tripgoers owned board bags from Dakine and FCS, the boards and skis were strapped onto each vehicle’s roof.

With the hard goods on the roof, each vehicle was left with two open passenger seats, as well as a clear view to the rear window. The test vehicles also packed along the empty board bags and at least one duffle bag and backpack per person.

Willie Woodward roof racks

The roof racks allowed each vehicle to have two passenger seats available. (Photo: Garrett King/Trucks.com)

Each rack proved itself to be of more use than simply freeing up interior space. Once the drive concluded, it was clear that the systems did the job but also had their own quirks.

Below are the advantages and disadvantages of each rack system, as discovered by the Trucks.com team and three hardcore athletes who surf and ski or snowboard.

Editor’s note: The use of each rack system would not have gone as smoothly without the help and instruction of the Costa Mesa, Calif.-based store Rack N Road. The store provided its expertise by installing both the Thule and Yakima rack systems. The surfboards, leashes and wax were loaned to Trucks.com by the team at Infinity Surfboards in Dana Point, Calif.

2019 NISSAN ROGUE

Towers and bars: Inno IN-AR Base Stay Set ($180 for set of 4) and Square Base Bars ($85 for 2)
Rack system: Inno INA445 SUP/Kayak/Canoe/Surf Locker ($210)

The only vehicle with a surf-specific rack was the 2019 Nissan Rogue outfitted with Inno’s surf locker. Capable of carrying canoes, kayaks, stand-up paddleboards and surfboards, the rack features a floating strap design that allows for easy adjustment of its size depending on the cargo.

In addition to the surf locker, the Rogue also had an Inno IN-AR Base Stay Set and an Inno Square Base Bar system. The base stays attached to the crossover’s raised roof rails and the crossbars were inserted into either end. The surf locker system was then attached to the middle of each crossbar.

One of the rack’s highlights is its versatility. It can be placed left, right or center on the crossbar to accommodate equipment of various widths and to increase ease of access. By sliding the attach points of the locker in either direction, it’s capable of a snug fit on a narrow shortboard or wider paddleboard.

  • rogue rack gallery 1

The Sea to Summit Adventure Drive called for two surfboards on the rack: a 9-foot-6-inch longboard and a 6-foot-2-inch shortboard. With a towel placed between for added protection, the longboard fit on the bottom with the shortboard stacked on top.

The rack’s crank system softly tightens the stainless-steel cable straps around the boards and affords enough force feedback to alert users when to stop tightening. Rubber sections of the straps are adjustable to fit on each surfboard’s side rail to avoid damage. That’s especially useful for easily damaged fiberglass boards.

Even when cranked tight, the rack is still gentle on the boards, said Caley Vanular, a snowboarder from Vancouver, Canada. “It was really easy to use, and I’d love to see what this rack can do with various sporting goods,” Vanular said.

Each end has one of the locker clamps closed to secure the straps. The straps loosened slightly after several hours of driving, and should be checked periodically on long drives.

Overall, the team liked the Inno surf locker and recommends it as a good surfboard-hauling system.

2019 TOYOTA RAV4 ADVENTURE

Towers and bars: Thule Rapid Crossroad Foot Pack ($220 for set of 4) and 53-inch Aeroblade bars ($200 for 2)
Rack system: Thule Snowpack Extender ($320)

With more skis and snowboards to transport than surfboards, ski racks took priority. On the 2019 Toyota RAV4 Adventure was a Thule Snowpack Extender, as well as Thule Rapid Crossroad Foot Packs and Aeroblade crossbars. This setup allowed for the transport of up to six pairs of skis or four snowboards, though only three pairs of skis were used.

The best aspect of the Snowpack Extender is something more rack systems should make use of: sliding arms. This allows each arm of the rack to extend away from the car for easy loading and unloading. It also helps users avoid awkwardly climbing along the side of the vehicle to reach across the roof.

The slideout feature lets you use the whole rack without leaning over the vehicle, said Willie Woodward, a skier from Salt Lake City. “The entire lock-and-slide mechanism is intuitive and seemed burly, even when extended,” Woodward said.

Because the arms slide in only one direction, it’s important to have an installation strategy. Situating the system to slide out on the passenger side is ideal. It’s much safer to adjust the rack while standing on the shoulder than in oncoming traffic.

  • rav4 rack gallery 1

The raised design of the Snowpack Extender also accommodates skis and snowboards with taller bindings. This is helpful to avoid smashing the bindings into the roof of the vehicle or being forced to remove them.

Each end of the rack, as well as the installed towers, locked via Thule’s One-Key system. This allows for a single key to lock or unlock both sections of the rack.

Once skis are placed onto the arms, the rack’s rubberized arms clamp down, providing a secure fit that won’t scuff any of the surfaces. Opening the arms requires just a single press of a large button and can be accomplished in gloves or mittens.

It’s capable of carrying the same number of skis or snowboards as Yakima’s FatCat Evo 6, but its sliding arms give the Thule an edge in terms of accessibility. It’s recommended for anyone who doesn’t want to always lean over the roof of their car to load gear.

2019 HONDA CR-V

Towers and bars: Yakima Skyline towers ($219 for set of 4) and Jetstream bars ($219 for 2)
Rack system: Yakima FatCat 6 EVO snowboard rack ($440)

The 2019 Honda CR-V was the trip’s designated snowboard hauler. It was outfitted with Yakima Skyline towers, Yakima Jetstream bars and a Yakima FatCat 6 Evo ski and snowboard mount. Though it’s able to carry up to four snowboards or six pairs of skis, just two boards made the trip from ocean to mountain.

The FatCat rack features a rubberized clasp as its crossbar attach point, allowing it to fit a wide range of crossbar shapes and sizes. It does take some back-and-forth tightening on either side to dial in the fit, but once it’s secure, it remains snug.

Though it doesn’t feature a handy sliding arm like Thule’s Snowpack Extender, it was still easy to put snowboards on the rack. Thankfully, the CR-V doesn’t sit too tall, so boards were able to be placed on the rack while standing on either the street or back passenger door opening.

  • crv rack gallery 1

Its rubberized arms kept the boards secure and protected against unnecessary scuffs. This helped while loading and unloading, allowing boards to be slid back and forth without inflicting any damage. It also features a raised design similar to the Snowpack Extender that allows for skis or snowboards with tall bindings to fit unhindered.

One of the FatCat’s strong suits is how easy it is to clamp the top arm into its locking mechanism. With boards in place, just closing the arm down into the clasp is all it takes to lock the rack. It does require a small amount of force, especially if there are multiple boards or skis. But once clicked, it’s locked. An extra push can be done to tighten the rack further if needed.

The rack opens via a large button located on the front of the clasp. No matter how tight it is, the rack doesn’t fling open. Instead, it just lifts off the lock, allowing access.

Each clamp also has a lock that helps keep the rack and its contents secure, whether while driving or parked at the mountain. Like Thule’s One-Key system, the FatCat used Yakima’s Same Key System that allows the towers, crossbars and rack to be compatible with a single key.

It’s not as easy to access as the Snowpack Extender, but the FatCat excelled in terms of both loading and carrying multiple boards safely, making it a recommended pick for anyone with more than two snowboards or pairs of skis.