Ah yes, Overlanding. I remember when it was just called camping off-road, but hey, I guess it doesn’t hurt for it to have a slick and marketable new name. The rising Overlanding trend has given birth to a massive industry to support it, and at the forefront of it all is the rooftop tent.
I couldn’t think of any other single item to summarize the category better, because you know exactly what someone’s M.O. is when you see a lifted FJ Cruiser with a tent strapped to the top. Oh, and don’t get me wrong, it’s not like these a just frivolous accessory. I’m not going to say they’re the best choice for everyone, but they were pretty awesome.
If you’re offroading in true overland spirit, a rooftop tent is one of the handiest and quickest sleeping solutions to setup. Yes, you could set up a mattress in your truck bed or in the back of your SUV or wagon, but that means either carrying less gear/people, or having to move all those things out of the way in order for you to sleep anyway.
Setup for most rooftop tents just entails pulling off the cover, unfolding or popping the tent up, and then climbing in your sleeping bag. This will save you a ton of time and hassle over a traditional ground tent setup. The downside here being that anytime you want to take a drive, you will have to pack up the tent before heading out.
So all that being said, here are a few different categories to consider when shopping online for rooftop tent:
Lightweight Rooftop Tents
One of the great things about the overlanding scene is the diversity of vehicles you see. Next to the giant EarthRoamers and decked out Rams, it’s pretty common to see a little Subaru Crosstrek romping around just the same. If this is you, you’re probably not looking to through a huge tent on top that is half the size and weight as the car itself.
That’s where tents like the Tepui Low-Pro 2 come in. They can be had in formats to sleep two or three people, and come in as light as 105lbs installed, making it one of the lightest RTTs on the market (most come in at around 130-160lbs). Obviously, that does come at the cost of total floor area, but at 29.2 sq-ft for the 2-person model, you still have a decent amount to work with.
This isn’t the cheapest tent on the list, but it’s still more affordable than much of the market. Plus, Tepui and Thule (who own Tepui) both have very high reputations with enthusiasts.
Affordable Rooftop Tents
No matter what level of tent you’re shopping for, it becomes pretty clear that even the budget options in the category aren’t exactly cheap. So even if you’re making the “minimal” investment, any rooftop tent is still going to cost you a decent chunk of change. Luckily we’re at a point in the industry where most of the basic problem areas have more or less been sorted out.
Coming in at around $900 and $850 respectively we have the Body Armor SkyRidge Pike 2 and the Raptor Series Offgrid Voyager. These are smaller tents that sleep two people, might lack some features of others, and are a bit heavier than more expensive tents of the same size, but for the weekend warrior who isn’t spending all their time off the grid, this might be a worthy trade-off for saving as much as $1,000 compared to some others on the market.
Fitting Rooftop Tents to Your Vehicle
There are two things to keep in mind on fitment: The footprint and the weight. For that you can most likely get all the info you need from your owners manual, but it’s not a bad idea to break out the measuring tape to get an idea of sizes. You don’t want to have your tent sticking out wider than the width of the car. You’ll want to measure the distance between the roof rails as well as the total length.
Next, you’ll want to check the owner’s manual for the weight capacity of your roof rack. There are two weights to pay attention to here, and your manual might only list one: Static and dynamic weight limits. Static is for when the car is parked, and dynamic is the weight limit under normal driving. For static, you’ll want to add up the weight of the tent, the occupants, and a rough estimate of whatever other stuff have up there with you. Most people with 2-person tents won’t reach these limits on all but smaller cars.
Once you know what your car can hold, you’ll need to secure the tent. If you don’t already have roof rack cross bars, you’ll need to invest in a set. The same rules for static and dynamic weight apply here, the rack manufacturer should have those details available for you. Your specific rooftop tent will come with instructions on how to attach it to the roof rails.
Additional Parts and Accessories You Might Need (or Want)
Other than the roof rails, there isn’t much else essential to mounting your tent, but there are some quality of life accessories you might want to add. Of course, you will need a ladder to climb up into the tent, but most tents will come with one. For those with particularly tall rigs, you might need an extension ladder to help get up.
Many tent manufacturers also offer zip-on annexes that will extend from the tent entrance down to the ground. This will give you a little more space and some privacy where you can stand up and change. Add in an attachable floor and mosquito net walls, and you have a nice, shady, bug-free spot to kick back after a long day. Most of these are also available to attach to awnings, which are another handy accessory to add to the mix, especially anywhere that tends to be hot and sunny.
Have any questions on what to add to your rig? Drop a comment below!