Mounting Yakima’s Exo modular hitch rack is like moving from a studio apartment to a house with a garage.
I do a lot of sports and multi-activity adventures that require a lot of gear. So when I head out for the weekend, my Toyota Rav 4 Prime is loaded so full I can’t see out the back window. What’s more, my dogs have to sit uncomfortably atop duffel bags, bike shoes, climbing ropes, a cooler, toolbox, and more.
Thankfully, that all changed since I mounted Yakima’s Exo rack on my hitch. The fully modular rack has dry, secure storage; bike and ski racks; a burly basket that holds coolers and duffel bags (and also converts to a handy wheeled wagon); a bamboo table — the list goes on.
The Exo is a unique rack that fits any 2-inch hitch receiver. It offers one or two levels of carriage: the Exo SwingBase serves as a kind of lower deck that can be paired with the Exo TopShelf that sits above. Both decks both hold any of the Exo storage baskets, boxes, or racks.
Yakima Exo Modular Hitch Race: Setup
It all starts with the SwingBase, built on a swing-away that connects to a hitch receiver with a locking screw-in pin. Its two folding arms have tracks for any of the Exo system accessories (more below).
With the SwingBase installed, storage and mounts slide into tracks on the arms and tighten down with locking screw knobs. The rack rotates away from the vehicle for hatch access hatch. And a burly, overbuilt screw handle secures the closed SwingBase when it’s closed.
When it’s open with loaded racks or storage, a quick-install leg supports the open rack.
Next, the SwingBase has a receptacle for Exo’s TopShelf, the upper deck storage and rack holder. It locks to the base. It also rotates independently of the base when the two aren’t locked together.
Yakima Exo Accessories
DoubleUp Bike Rack & GearLocker
Most of the summer, I’ve used Exo’s DoubleUp bike rack on the upper deck, and its GearLocker on the lower deck. I keep all my riding gear in the dry, locked storage box. That keeps dirt and stink out of my car, and keeps all my gear where I can grab it fast at the trailhead.
In the setup I’ve been running, the GearLocker box won’t open unless I rotate the upper deck with the bike rack away from the lower deck. While it’s a minor annoyance, having the extra storage has proven worth it.
So when I use a GearLocker on the lower deck, instead of using the locking bolt to secure the top level to bottom level, I secure the two levels to each other with a quick-to-remove pin and a knob.
When I didn’t need locked, dry, dustproof storage for my gear, I slid the GearWarrior basket into the lower deck mount.
Yakima sells wheels and a handle that can convert the GearWarrior into a wagon. If you’ve ever hauled heavy coolers, six-person tents, firewood, and other camping gear for any distance, you’ll understand the value of this system.
The wheels install in minutes tool-free, and they can support up to 110 pounds. So not only was the basket spacious and easy to load and unload, but it also helped me get my gear to camp when I couldn’t drive to my site.
One of the mounts I was unsure I’d use was the Exo’s BackDeck. The bamboo tabletop, which comes in a protective carry case and must be stored inside the vehicle for transport, ended up being one of my favorite Exo accessories.
Post-ride beers were even more awesome served on this table. It had space for a cooler, snacks, a Bluetooth speaker, and gear. I also used the BackDeck as a work stand to hold tools, chain lube, rags, and more for field repairs.
And, when I parked to catch a sunset over Lake Champlain, I set it up on the Exo’s lower level where it was the perfect camp chair height to set drinks and food while kicking back.
Because the rack will block your taillights and your license plate, Yakima also makes the LitKit, a license plate holder with taillights that mounts on the rack where it’s visible to other drivers. Note: You will need a wiring harness.
If you’re installing this rack on a vehicle other than a pickup, which likely came with a wiring harness, you’ll probably need to have one installed by a mechanic.
Yakima Exo Review
The biggest downside to the rack is that it’s heavy. And when I’m using both upper and lower decks, it’s hard to see out my rear window. On many vehicles, the system also blocks the backup camera.
Of course, the big downside is the price. The SwingBase and TopShelf are around $930, and that’s before adding the GearLocker ($419), Cargo Basket ($349), DoubleUp bike rack ($499), or BackDeck tabletop ($129). All mounts are specific to the Exo base rack, which can be installed on a 2-inch hitch only.
From my perspective, even if I get all the mounts and storage options, it’s a heck of a lot cheaper than buying a new car with more space. As an incurable gearhead who wants to be ready for any adventure that presents itself, this system has been invaluable to me.
And my dogs say that hitting the trailhead, crag, and put-in has become a lot more comfortable since I mounted the Exo on our hitch.
The Exo systems isn’t perfect, but it’s user-friendly, easy to operate, and gives me space I’ve only dreamed of. And because it’s modular, I’ve added mounts as I need them and as the budget allows.
So, I’m building a customized system that meets all my needs that can also be transferred to another vehicle if I’m traveling with a friend, or when it’s time to trade in my wheels for something new.