A rooftop tent is one designed to go on the top of your vehicle. These tents were initially designed for adventurers who wanted to sleep above the ground so they were safely out of reach of predators. The convenience and easy set-up of these tents has made them popular.
The rooftop tent may be as narrow as the top of a jeep or extend in several feet in either direction from the edge of the vehicle, creating as large an area as a conventional tent.
Some rooftop tents extend into the vehicle bed, such as when you have a truck. This could give you additional, private and protected space to work with. In other cases, the sheltered “annex” extends to the ground.
You could use this annex space as a changing room or additional sleeping space. The annex is generally large enough for an air mattress or dining table.
That means these rooftop tents can sleep three to four people, though only 2 may sleep in the top annex. Some roof rack tents don’t come with a tent annex, but you may be able to buy a tent annex separately on the open market.
Is a rooftop tent the same thing as an SUV tent?
No. An SUV tent goes in the back of the vehicle instead of on top of it. An SUV tent could be used to provide a private changing area or sleeping area for your family.
It generally requires the hatch of the SUV to be open. It may include a section that sits on the ground, creating a larger enclosed living and working space. An SUV tent doesn’t require a roof rack. And it can work with vehicles with either rear hatch or barn doors.
Is a roof rack tent the same thing as a truck tent?
No. A truck tent is a tent designed to fit in the back of the standard pickup truck. While it does let you sleep up and off the ground, it doesn’t put you up as high as a roof top tent.
These tents do share a number of benefits. The sewn in bottom of the truck tent protects you from dirt in the truck bed.
You get privacy due to the door and mesh windows. You’re protected from the elements and biting insects.
Note that use of a rooftop tent depends on having a compatible roof rack. This does open up the possibility of putting a roof rack on the top of a pickup truck that extends over the cargo bed.
This would allow you to utilize the roof rack on a truck to hold up the tent, and you can carry cargo in the truck bed. And you may be able to remove the roof rack when it isn’t needed, though you’ll have to securely re-install it.
Do you need a roof rack for a roof top tent?
A roof top tent can be installed across a canopy, flat racks or cross bar roof racks. Cross-bar roof racks have the slight advantage of giving you an even bottom to the tent.
However, the key consideration aside from whether the roof rack can fit the tent is whether it can hold up the weight of the tent and its occupants. This is true even when the roof top tent extends over the edge of the vehicle and has additional supports.
Note that roof rack tents do not come with the roof rack. You’ll have to connect it to an existing roof rack or install a base for the tent to bolt to. Installation of the roof top tent is easiest when the roof rack tent is rated as compatible with the OEM roof rack of your car.
What are the benefits of using a roof rack with a roof top tent?
A roof rack tent is attached to the vehicle’s roof. It unfolds almost instantly. (It takes two to three minutes, and it can be done by a single person.) Then you extend the ladder so you can get in and out.
Another benefit of roof rack tents is that it allows you to camp almost anywhere. You can camp anywhere you can securely park your car. You could then camp at a trailhead or parking lot.
Just make sure the car is parked level enough for you to comfortable sleep in the roof top tent. It doesn’t matter if the ground is muddy or covered in sharp rocks. A secondary benefit is that the tent itself can’t be damaged by rough ground.
When the tent is mounted to the top of your vehicle, you never have to worry about the tent blowing away. Just make sure the car can’t roll away, since it will take you and the tent with it.
The roof rack tent offers more protection than sleeping under the stars. Note that a hard shell roof rack tent offers more protection from hail, rain, falling tree branches and predators than a soft-shell. However, the hard shell models weigh more.
What kind of roof rack do you need with a roof top tent?
You can’t use just any roof rack with a rooftop tent. The roof rack must have a “dynamic weight capacity” or DWC equal to at least the weight of the tent. However, if you’re going be sleeping in the tent while it is connected to the roof rack, the DWC must be greater than the weight of the occupants, gear and the tent.
This means that not all cars, trucks and SUVs can support a roof top tent. For example, if the minimum weight the roof rack is 200 pounds, it can’t support anything other than a 200 pound tent.
This means you may have to buy a stronger, aftermarket roof rack to use a rooftop tent.
The tent could add anywhere from 80 to 280 pounds to your vehicle. Choose rooftop tents with aerodynamic covers so that the tent doesn’t kill your car’s fuel efficiency.
What are the concerns about using a rooftop tent?
Very few vehicles have real estate for both a rooftop tent and a cargo rack or box. You can either carry 500 pounds of gear up there or a rooftop tent.
However, that isn’t an issue if you’re carrying the cargo in the back of your vehicle or on a trailer.
If you’re using a roof top tent, you can’t put your bikes on top of the car, either.