If you’re going on an extended overlanding trip you’re going to need to take a bunch of gear. If you’re overlanding in a truck having a camper shell is a great way to store all of your supplies and protected from the elements—nobody wants a bunch of wet gear while overlanding! If you’re a fan of the Roof Top Tent, the biggest dilemma is going to be if the Camper Shell will hold the Roof Top Tent weight.
While it seems like a good idea on paper, you need to be careful; most camper shells aren’t designed to hold that much weight because, well, they’re just shells.
As a general rule, the average fiberglass camper shell won’t be able to support the weight of a roof top tent and a person sleeping in it. There are heavy duty aluminum and steel camper shells, such as the RSi SmartCap, that will be more than enough to hold a roof top tent.
Before you buy a roof top tent for your camper shell (or vice-versa) it’s important to understand all the size and weight dimensions and restrictions for both. We’ll walk you through the basic things you need to look for to turn your truck into the ultimate overland rig.
Table of Contents
Your Camper Shell Determines Which Tent You Can Use
Most camper shells are made of a flexible fiberglass that maintains the aerodynamic shape of your truck. They’re great for protecting your gear and can even make a decent place to sleep. Some come with large, openable windows for light and ventilation. You can also find camper shells made made of metal or canvas.
The typical roof top tent weighs about 225lbs without anyone inside. Depending on how many people you travel with, there could be as much as 500 extra pounds in the tent. That amount of weight will easily collapse the camper shell like an old soda can. That’s why it’s important to choose both a camper shell that can support the weight and a lightweight rooftop tent to go on top.
Go Fast Campers (G.F.C.) makes a series of rooftop tents specifically made for camper shell roof camping. They have some great open, airy designs to fit on just about any vehicle, even camper shells. Models start at just 80lbs, perfect for camper shell tenting.
The company A.R.E. produces a series of camper shells designed to support excess weight. They’re made of varying widths of aluminum that are rated at 550lbs. If you’re set on adding a tent to your overland truck, an A.R.E. camper shell is a good place to start.
How Roof Top Tents Work
If you’re new to the rooftop tent game, you should know a few things before running out and slapping money down on something that won’t work for you. The main things to consider are:
- Set-up/Take Down
The biggest difference between the tents you see in the camping aisle at Wal-Mart and those designed for your roof will be price. A rooftop tent uses a metal frame and floor that can be attached to a roof rack. As you probably can guess, metal costs much more than plastic and fiberglass.
Plus, it’s always a good idea to get a professional to install your rooftop tent, so be sure to include that in the overall price. If you want to save some money and install your roof top tent yourself, check out our handy roof top tent installation guide.
For around 600 dollars, you can get a small single or double person tent that will fit most of your small camp needs. Other models can hit over $1,200, with add on ladders and other accessories.
The size of your tent should meet your camping needs. You need to have enough room for all people and gear in your party. But remember, the larger the tent, the larger the drop off in gas mileage. The excess weight makes the engine work harder to keep up its routine. Size is one of those double-edged swords for overlanders. More space is nice but comes with drawbacks.
The size of your vehicle is just as important as tent size. The bigger your vehicle, the bigger the tent it will support. If you have a giant truck, it’ll accommodate the more massive tent.
What do you need your tent to do? Are you solo camping in the wilderness during winter, or is it an extra sleeping space for your kids in the campground?
The function of the tent will dictate your choice on many tent features like the structure, building materials, and ventilation/insulation. Some tents come with solid plastic walls, while others have a raising feature that allows you to drop canvas or netting around the sleeping area. Choose a tent that’s suited for the type of camping you intend to do.
4. Set-up/Take Down
Believe it or not, the rooftop tent is going to be a summer breeze compared to the old fashioned stakes-and-poles system. Some models open like a clamshell, while others unfold into elaborate enclosures that surround your vehicle’s entire footprint. If you overland solo, make sure you can perform all the set-up and takedown by yourself.
There’s nothing more frustrating than fighting with a tent that doesn’t want to be put back in the bag. With roof top tents, this isn’t a problem. Tents are designed to fold right back up into their case on top of your rig—no cursing required.
Installing a roof rack tent system can be a daunting task for those who are’t mechanically inclined. Asking a body shop to install the tent isn’t expensive, but finding someone handy and willing to help you is going to be the best bet. Luckily, once your tent is installed, you rarely (if ever) need to take it off.
Camper Shell Options For Rooftop Tents
Because of their enhanced ability to handle much more weight, only a few companies provide a suitable base for a rooftop tent with no alterations:
Mentioned earlier, A.R.E. is a company that makes high-end truck covers and end caps for industry professionals. Their toolbox line can handle 500lbs on the roof and 250lbs in each of the boxes. Another snappy add on is the shelving that can be layered into the bed.
What makes them so strong is the .050 inch airplane grade aluminum that comprises the backbone and ribs of the structure. Aluminum is light and strong, which means it provides more protection with less weight.
Go Fast Campers
The other big dog in the market of super-strong camper shells is Go Fast Campers. They’re a smaller company located in Montana but have an excellent product that they ship and sell all across the globe.
Their Platform camper is quickly becoming one of the most popular truck-based camping systems in North America. It’s an all-in-one camper shell/roof top tent system. G.F.C prides itself on taking the confined spaces of the tent and bed to create a seamless home that fits into an environment.
Another upside of the Go Fast is that it is one of the safest models to hunker down in. If there’s bad weather, the enclosed version of the camper makes an excellent spot for cover.
Being able to make it to your desired spot is of utmost importance. G.F.C. designs their covers and shells so there won’t be any drop-off in your vehicle’s performance. They use composite materials and differently structured layouts to achieve a higher level of weight distribution and aerodynamics.
Can You Add a Roof Top Tent to a Camper Shell?
The answer is yes; you can add a roof top tent to a camper shell, but there are some major restrictions. The average camper shell isn’t designed to hold that much weight. It’s crucial that you do your research to find a camper shell strong enough to support the weight of the tent and all the campers inside. Otherwise, you could experience a pretty expensive cave-in in the middle of the night.
We suggest you check out A.R.E. camper shells and Go Fast Campers (G.F.C.) roof top tents. G.F.C. also produces a line of all-in-one camper shell/roof top tent solutions that solve all your problems at once. Happy trails!