Rooftops tents have become very popular for a few simple reasons: they are very quick to set up; keep you above damp ground; and obviate the need to find a level space to set up camp – although you do have to make sure your vehicle is level.
However, before getting excited about fitting a rooftop tent, you need to check what the tent weighs and what weight your vehicle can support.
The weight of the rooftop tent is not major at around 100 lbs. This will vary a bit depending on the style you choose, extra additions like an awning, and from which manufacturer you buy. However, once you have two people inside the tent, plus gear and bedding, you need to know whether your vehicle will be able to support that weight safely.
There are a few factors to be taken into account to establish if your vehicle and the roof-racks you fit will be adequate.
Check what your vehicle’s roof can support
There are glib statements out there like – “You can fit a rooftop tent onto any vehicle.” Sure you can, but will your vehicle perform adequately and will it support the weight of an extra 400lbs or more when people are inside the tent?
The shape of roof on a sedan car will also affect how the roof racks can be fitted. Generally sedans and hatchbacks are not ideal candidates for a roof-top tent, but it is possible.
The roof-rack manufacturers allow 200lbs per person, and then there is your bedding and gear to consider, plus the actual weight of the roof top tent of around 100lbs or more – it all adds up and can be over half a ton!
Check the specifications in your vehicle manual, to find out what weight your vehicle can support before outlaying cash on a rooftop tent.
Dynamic versus static load rating
Every vehicle will have a dynamic load and a static load rating. The dynamic load refers to the load the vehicle can carry safely when it is in motion and is usually up to 165lbs for SUVs.
For sedan cars it should be around 100 to 125lbs. The dynamic weight load is worked out on the speed the car is going and what happens when you have to brake suddenly – as you can imagine the forces are pretty strong.
Now, the static weight the vehicle can carry is a lot more – approximately seven times more – so when the vehicle is parked with your rooftop tent open the vehicle should safely support two people, and all their gear without the roof-racks buckling or the car top caving in.
The weight can affect the vehicle’s performance
It’s not going to affect performance much if you have a sturdy SUV or truck, but if you are going to try fit a rooftop tent and carrier on top of a sedan then you may experience some drag.
Try to aim for a rooftop tent that has the most aerodynamic shape when closed and make sure the total load is within the load ratings – every extra item you add to your roof-top tent will affect the weight – like clothing, sleeping bags, and some of your surf/fishing/hiking gear, which may take it over the dynamic load rating.
Rather, pack the extra stuff inside the vehicle so that you know you can brake safely should the need arise.
Take into account load ratings of roof-racks
Check the load rating of the roof-racks being fitted in relation to the weight of your tent and whatever you will be packing inside it. When you have the roof-racks to support your rooftop tent fitted they will be placed around 30 inches apart.
Check the racks have a weight rating of 125 lbs or more as their dynamic load, which will then be at least be equal to or greater than the weight of the rooftop tent. Driving either on highways or around town will be fine with this type of dynamic load.
Once the vehicle is parked the load is static, and the roof-racks can support a great deal more lbs of static load. The static load on the racks needs to be able to support the two adults in the tent (usually 200 lbs per person is allowed for this) plus bedding and extra gear like cameras etc.
When choosing roof-racks the aero-style crossbars do provide a wider platform for the tent but the round, or square bars are fine too.
Calculating the weights
You do have to remember to take the weight of the roof-rack into consideration when calculating the dynamic weight you have on the vehicle – so a 100 lb tent, 20 lbs of gear and a roof-rack weighing 25 lbs will add up to 145lbs – safely within the 165 lb dynamic rating for the bigger vehicles.
If you have a smaller vehicle with a 125lb dynamic rating you are going to have to look at installing lighter roof racks, choosing a lighter style of roof-tent and to stow gear in the vehicle itself instead of inside the tent when travelling, to fit within the 125lb rating.
This Roofnest roof-rack guide provides some handy figures and information on vehicle roof styles.
Traveler, photographer, writer. I’m eternally curious, in love with the natural world. How people can survive in harmony with nature has fueled my food safety and survival gardening practices.
At the age of 12, I found a newspaper advertisement for a 155-acre farm at a really good price and showed my parents one Sunday morning. They bought it and I happily started planting vegetables, peanuts, maize and keeping bees with the help of the local labor. Once I married wherever we moved it was all about planting food, keeping chickens and ducks, permaculture and creating micro-climates. I learned how to build wooden cabins and outdoor furniture from pallets, and baked and cooked home-grown produce, developing recipes as I went along.
Over the years on numerous trips to wild places and cities I’ve learned all sorts of survival hacks, but there is always someone out there who can teach you a new trick so I remain an eternal student and forever humble.