The ultimate guide to install and using a roof top tent for the first time


Roof top tents are great for campers looking for a simple and comfortable alternative to a traditional tent. The main advantage of a roof top tent is that the setup times are very quick, that it allows you to sleep high above the ground, and that it keeps you away from potential dangers such as water or animals. Plus, even if the camping ground is very rocky you will always sleep on a nice flat surface. 

Another big advantage of a roof top tent is that it is very sturdy. With the proper care and attention, you should be able to go 3 to 6 seasons of camping without any problems occurring. Most roof top tents are made from a canvas treated for weathering and UV resistance to prevent mold and mildew. Not only is the canvas durable, but the support system it is made of is stronger than that of a traditional tent. The hardshell roof top tents are even more robust. Not only are they stronger, but they also allow for better comfort in bad weather while you are camping.

In this article, we will cover the basics of installing and using a roof top tent.

How do you set up a roof top tent?

As the name might suggest, roof top tents are mounted on the roof of your vehicle using mounting brackets attached to your roof rack. The tent is folded up for travel and when you reach your destination you can easily set it up by folding it out or ‘popping’ it open. Because you are high above the ground you enter your roof top tent with a mounted ladder. 

Do you need a roof rack to mount a roof top tent?

The answer is yes, you need some kind of roof rack or bars to install a roof top tent onto your vehicle. It is impossible (and dangerous in fact) to mount a roof top tent on the roof of a car without any support systems. Without a roof rack, you will not be able to secure the tent properly, which means you will risk the tent falling off when you are driving. Besides that you also need stability when the tent is pitched, something you won’t have without a roof rack.

Load capacity: difference between static and dynamic load

There are different types of roof racks you can choose from and the most important thing to consider when looking for a roof rack is the weight it can support. You need to pay attention to 2 different aspects: static load capacity and dynamic load capacity.

Roof top tents can be quite heavy, so your roof rack must be able to support the full weight of the tent when it is in motion. This is the dynamic carrying capacity of your roof rack which often ranges from 50kg to 100kg. It is good to know that a packed roof top tent (so without any people in it) will almost never weigh more than 100kg. When parked, your roof rack can take more weight. This is called the static load capacity and this number can easily go up to 300kg. Pay close attention to the maximum load that the roof of your car can support. You will find this number on your registration certificate or your owner’s manual. 

Roof of your vehicle

Roof rails or also known as longitudinal bars

Before investing in a roof rack, it is important to first take a look at your vehicle’s roof to know what type of mounts you need, and secondly to the owner’s manual to find out how much weight the roof can support. In general, there are 4 ways to attach roof racks to your vehicle:

  1. Your vehicle has roof rails or longitudinal bars. They are in the lengths of the vehicle and can be used to install a roof box for example. The bars are fixed onto the car’s roof in the direction of the width of the vehicle and you see these kinds of rails often on SUVs for example.
  2. The roof of your vehicle has 4 anchor points on which to fix the bars. They are usually covered by plastic covers. You will need special supporting brackets to mount roof bars onto it. 
  3. Your vehicle has no rails or anchor points. No worries, there are roof bars that fit into the door openings.
  4. Your vehicle has gutters on which you can fit your roof rack.

Each of these possibilities requires a different solution. So refer to the vehicle’s owner’s manual to find out what you need before you buy anything online.

Which roof rack types are available for roof top tents?

Roof racks are usually made of either aluminum or steel. Aluminum bars are more aesthetic and generally lighter. They often come in contoured shapes which means that they have less resistance from the wind and that results in less wind noise and more favorable fuel consumption. On the other hand, steel bars are more robust and less expensive. There are two types of roof racks: 

Full Roof Rack: A full roof rack is the best choice if you plan to use your tent frequently. This option allows you to evenly distribute the weight when the vehicle is stopped (static load) and is very strong when the vehicle is in motion (dynamic load). A full roof rack is ideal if you intend to keep your roof top tent up and don’t plan on taking it down often.

Crossbars: Crossbars or longitudinal bars can be a good option if you have a lightweight tent or don’t plan to keep your tent mounted for most of the year. Crossbars are not as stable as the full roof rack option but for an occasional camping trip that doesn’t mind at all. Almost any crossbar can carry the weight of a roof top tent.

How to install a roof top tent on your vehicle’s roof

The most important thing for mounting a roof top tent onto your car is to install it in a manner that is stable and secure at all times. Here are a few steps to follow to set up your tent. The steps may vary depending on your tent model:

  1. Check the assembly instructions: they will tell you what you need and how to set up the tent. A good instruction manual should have all of your questions answered.
  2. Get the right tools: The instructions should tell you what wrenches and other tools you will need. Make sure you have all the tools before you start mounting the tent.
  3. Find a good place to work: You will need a good workspace to use before you can mount your tent. Make sure that this space is clean, flat, stable, and has enough space to accommodate your car and the tent.
  4. Make sure all your parts are included: your tent should come with amenities such as a ladder, brackets, nuts / bolts, tent cover, and everything you need to use the tent. Make sure each item is listed in the instructions.
  5. Make sure your roof rack is set up properly: No matter how well you mount your tent, it doesn’t mean anything if your roof rack is not secure.
  6. Set up and secure the mounting rails: Attach the mounting rails to your tent so it can be installed on your roof rack.
  7. Attach the Ladder: Attach the ladder to the tent according to the instructions provided.
  8. Attach the cover: Attach the cover to the tent according to the instructions provided.
  9. Attach the tent to the roof rack: move the tent, center it and attach it to the roof rack. This step often will require more than one person.

How long does it take to install and setup a roof top tent on the roof?

It is well known that roof top tents don’t take a long time to set up. Once you get to where you are going, setting up the tent should only take between 6 and 10 minutes. Getting it on your car should only take you an hour or two if you have the right tools and assistance.

Once the tent is mounted on your roof, it unfolds in a few minutes when you arrive at your campsite. Most of the time, this is easier than putting up a conventional camping tent. You can even leave your bedding inside the tent while it’s on the roof so you don’t have to put it in and out on every trip.


So here you are, you are ready to go on an adventure, and to camp almost wherever you want, within the limits of what the regulations of wild camping allow of course.  Installing a roof top tent will offer you a new perspective on your journey. The installation process is not difficult, and it can be done easily with the help of a few friends. Are you looking for a roof top tent? Maybe this article will help you find one that matches your needs: Best Roof top tents for families of 3.

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  1. It’s so cool that you explained how we could install a rooftop tent on our vehicle and not die trying! My sister and I want to take our families on a camping trip next month. We’ve heard a little about rooftop tents and how they’d be easy to install, so before we buy ones, we’ll be sure to read your tips carefully. Thanks for helping us understand which tools are necessary to install a rooftop tent.

  2. rooftop tents are so popular these days. thanks for the great break down and info.

  3. […] It is well known that rooftop tents don't take a long time to set up. Once you get to where you are going, setting up the tent should only take between 6 and 10 minutes. Getting it on your car should only take you an hour or two if you have the right tools and assistance. via […]

  4. […] car’s roof, which is very expensive to fix. It’s also worth noting that your car has different weight limits depending on whether it’s stopped or in motion on the road, so find out the information and […]

  5. thanks for this guide, the best completed guide, my question how heavy is a roof top tent ?


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