If you’re somebody who loves to explore and travel but you don’t like the idea of pitching a tent on the wet ground every night, a rooftop tent might be just the thing for you. Having your home away from home attached to the roof of your car is a great way to see the world, but how do you get your tent attached in the first place?
Once you know your vehicle’s load capacity, both dynamic and static, and you have a roof rack and tent that match, fitting the tent itself is not a very complicated process. Most rooftop tents can be simply slid into place and then fitted tightly with U-Bolts or universal clamps, depending on the exact mounting system that your model comes with.
For most people, the appeal of a rooftop tent is how convenient and easy-to-use it is when compared to a traditional ground tent, but you do need to make sure that you have the right vehicle and roof rack before you get started.
A little bit of research and investigation can go a long way because, although most rooftop tents will suit most cars, buying the wrong equipment or installing it incorrectly can be very costly.
Can My Car Support a Rooftop Tent?
Before you even look into choosing, fitting and attaching your tent, you need to make sure that your car can handle one. Almost all vehicles are able to support a rooftop tent of some kind, but there are a few exceptions.
Essentially, if your car can have a roof rack fitted, it can probably handle a rooftop tent. Even cars with sunroofs will manage safely. If your car has a completely bare roof with no tracks or rails, however, a rooftop tent may not be a possibility. These types of roofs are quite rare, however, and only really feature on very small cars.
Rooftop tents will work on vehicles that have gutters, siderails, crossbars, tracks, and fixed points. However, you should not be mounting a tent directly onto the roofing that came with your car, unless it is a dedicated roof rack, because the factory-installed crossbars and siderails won’t be able to take the weight.
Obviously, soft-top, open-top or fully glass roofs can’t handle a rooftop tent, unless they allow you to have a specialist roof rack fitted. In general, though, the vast majority of cars can support a rooftop tent.
Is a Rooftop Tent Going to be Too Heavy for My Car?
Weight is obviously a very important factor when it comes to attaching anything to the roof of your car, and the main consideration for both your car and your roof rack is whether they can handle the load of your tent.
Every vehicle’s roof has a static load capacity and a dynamic load capacity, meaning an amount of weight that it can carry while stationary and while the car is in motion. When the vehicle is moving, it won’t be able to handle as much load, so the dynamic load rating will be less.
When you are parked up and climbing into your tent for the night, your static load rating will apply. When you are on the road, the dynamic load rating is what you need to consider. Most rooftop tents weigh between 40kg and 60kg, so you should aim for a roof rack with a dynamic load rating of at least 75-100kg.
You can check the manual from your vehicle’s manufacturer to identify what the load rating for its roof will be, and the load rating for a roof rack will be clearly marked.
Not all rooftop tents weigh the same, so you need to make sure that you are buying one that is not heavier than your vehicle’s load rating or that of your roof rack system. Hardshell rooftop tents, for example, are almost always going to be significantly heavier than softshell options.
How Do I Choose a Roof Rack for a Rooftop Tent?
Even among those with a high dynamic weight capacity, there are many different roof rack systems out there. Almost all kinds can fit a rooftop tent, provided the mounting is the right size.
Often, the type of roof rack that you use will be decided by the roof on your vehicle and whether you are fixing it to the roof structure, the gutters, or drilling it into place.
Crossbars are probably the most common roof rack systems, and most of them are easy to instal, though they often have a lower load capacity. If you’re using crossbars, you need to make sure that they are evenly placed so that the weight of your tent will be properly distributed.
Platforms usually have quite a high load capacity and they are often considered to be the most stable roof rack option. They can, however, be quite tricky to install and they sometimes require some drilling to secure the rails in place.
If you have a truck, a lot of people like to use a truck bed rack, because they can have a very high capacity and you can still use the space below for storage.
How Do I Put a Rooftop Tent On My Car?
Fortunately, the job of actually attaching your rooftop tent is usually a very simple one. The exact mounting method can be quite different depending on the model that you have, but the steps to getting it installed are usually pretty similar.
First, you will need to slide your packed-up tent into place on top of your roof rack. Make sure that you have carefully positioned it to be exactly centralised so that the weight is distributed evenly for both the roof rack and the car itself.
Actually affixing the tent is usually done with either U-Bolts or universal clamps. Both of these are easy to use but they can come in different sizes, so you need to make sure that the width of your mounting equipment matches the width of the bars on your roof rack.
U-Bolts just need to be placed around the bars and then a metal piece will fix them in place. Usually, you will place washers onto the threaded ends of the bolts and then tighten the nuts as far as they will go.
A universal clamp system is similar. It is generally comprised of two metal components that encircle the bars on your roof rack and then are tightened together with separate bolts, washers, and nuts.
Always follow the instructions that come with your specific tent, and make sure that everything is securely in place before you set off. You don’t want your tent moving around at all when you’re on the road.
When you’re ready to camp, make sure that the ladder is securely attached as well. A poorly attached, wobbly ladder is an easy, but potentially painful, mistake.