How to Choose the Right Roof-Top Tent



Campers usually pitch their tents on the ground. But a trendy new breed is falling in love with roof-top tents that you place on the roof of a vehicle.

In the early days, roof-top tents created quite a stir on campsites. People weren’t used to the idea of their fellow campers pitching their accommodation many feet above the ground. Now, though, it’s become extremely popular, and seemingly everyone wants to do it.

This article covers how to choose a roof-top tent, the appeal of these tents, how to fit one to your vehicle, and how to attach it to your roof rack.


Choosing a roof-top tent isn’t as straightforward as you might imagine.

First, you’ll need to consider the capacity of the tent. Do you need something that will sleep an entire family or just one or two people? Roof-top tents that cover your vehicle's ceiling space are usually only large enough for one or two. However, you can also get tents that extend laterally from your car, supported by stilts or telescopic ladders. These provide significantly more space, allowing you to lift the whole family or a group of friends entirely off the ground.

Second, you’ll need to think about whether you want a hard or a soft-shell tent. Soft-shells are the most common variety and usually the simplest to set up. Most unfold from the roof rack, opening the canopy as you do so. (Folding them away is usually just as simple).

Hardshell tents tend to be much heavier because of their construction, but they operate under the same principles. You unfold them, strap them to your roof rack, and away you go. The only caveat is that you will need to consider your rack's maximum weight carefully. Hard-shells can weigh more than 100 kg.

Lastly, you’ll want to think about the conditions in which you intend to use your tent. Some tents are built for dry summer conditions, while others are ideal for freezing arctic retreats.



The appeal of roof-top tents is obvious. When perched many feet off the ground, you're a long way away from creepy crawlies. You feel so much more relaxed, especially if you’re somebody who doesn’t like spiders.



But that’s not the only bonus. Here are some more:

  • Better views: There is something primordial about being high up and able
    to survey your land. We all love doing it. And that’s precisely the sensation you get when you use a roof-top tent. You feel like an ancient human ancestor looking out across the land after a hard day’s hunting.


  • More convenient: Roof-top tents don’t force you to spend time bashing pegs into the ground, only to find their path blocked by annoying subterranean stones either. Instead, the setup is the same every time. You undo a few straps and poles, fold it out, and away you go. There's no need to carry separate bags from your car to the site you want to pitch your tent.


  • Camp wherever you like: Usually, you’re not allowed to pitch a ground tent wherever you want. You either have to find a regular campsite or get the landowner's permission to pitch your tent. The same, however, is not true of roof-top tents. So long as you’re allowed to park your vehicle overnight, you’re allowed to sleep in a tent on top of it.


  • Improved comfort: Most roof-top tents come with extra thick, plush mattresses - no more sleeping on pathetically thin roll mats.


  • Quick setup: Both rigid and softshell tents are incredibly easy to set up. Just unfold the canopy, fit any supports, and away you go.



Roof-top tents are much heavier than their ground-based counterpart, so you need to make sure that your rack is up to the job before you set off on your trip.

Most root-top tent manufacturers will provide you with a list of approved roof racks you can purchase separately. If you have one already but aren’t sure whether it is suitable, your best bet is to contact the tent manufacturer directly. Usually, they will be able to tell whether they support a particular rack or not. If they aren’t sure, you may need to work it out yourself by considering your existing rack's features and, if necessary, you may need to buy a whole new frame altogether.


  • Check fitting compatibility: Tent manufacturers should be able to tell you whether their product’s fittings are compatible with your rack. Sometimes, you’ll find lists on their websites telling you which types of attachments are not suitable and which you need to buy instead.


  • Weight considerations: Weight considerations are also important. You’ll need to find out whether your rack can support the tent's weight both while your vehicle is in motion and parked up.


  • Dynamic weight capacity: Dynamic weight capacity measures the amount of weight your rack can support while the car is in motion. It is different from static weight capacity, which measures what the vehicle roof can support when your car is standing still. At this point, things can get a little complicated. You’ll need to consider both the dynamic weight limit of the rack and your vehicle’s roof. Both need to be able to support the weight of the tent while the car is in motion. Sometimes you might have to consider static weight capacity, but rarely. Most vehicle manufacturers engineer the roofs to withstand high forces during a rollover, which are likely to be much higher than a tent's weight.


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How you attach the tent to your roof rack depends heavily on the product that you buy. Each tent has its own unique fittings, latches, bolts, and so on, so you’ll need to check the manual.

Often, tents come with pre-fitted attachments on the base that makes them easy to connect to most roof racks. It’s just a matter of using the supplied kit to attach all the pieces.

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