Do You Need A Roof Rack For A Roof Top Tent?

If you’ve been tent searching lately, you might be considering a roof top tent. A roof top tent can completely change your camping experience and now allow you to go on a wide array of camping adventures. If you decide to go for it, you’ll also find that the roof rack you use makes all the difference. 

Do you need a roof rack for a roof top tent? Yes, you need a roof rack for a roof top tent for the best camping results. A roof rack will provide the proper platform and support for your tent, allowing the best camping experience. Having a roof rack will also prevent your tent from falling off your car, both at the campsite and in transit.

You might be wondering how to set up a roof rack and what type of support your tent needs. Throughout this article, we’ll explore everything you need to know about roof top tents and their corresponding roof racks so you’re ready to hit the road.

Do You Need a Roof Rack for a Roof Top Tent? 

Roof top tents need to be used with roof racks to ensure comfort and safety. 

There are many different sizes of roof top tents, which can allow anywhere from one to three people to sleep at once. However, it’s important to recognize the weight limit of both your roof rack and car so you don’t exceed it by installing a tent that is too big. Going over the weight limit could cause serious damage to your car.

Some of the leading roof rack brands for roof top tents  include Rhino Rack, Thule, and Yakima. Price can vary greatly depending on make and model, but most are generally pretty expensive falling somewhere between $400 and $1100. There are different models suited for different vehicles and desired camping experiences. 

How to Mount a Roof Top Tent Without a Roof Rack

Of course, it is possible to mount a roof top tent without a rack (even if it’s not recommended). Outlined below is the general process of setting up your very own roof top tent. 

In most cases, the roof top tent will come with the mounting rack. You should be able to find the following parts in the package: 

  • Ladder and ladder brackets
  • Tent cover
  • Bolts, nut, and washers
  • Channel slides
  • Steel mounting plates
  • And the wrench needed to assemble it all (not always included) 

Step 1: The first step in assembling the roof top tent and rack is to assess what type of roof your car has. The mounting racks will go perpendicular to the mounting channels on your roof, whether that be side rails or side rails plus cross bars. 

Step 2: Next, attach the mounting tracks and align them with the holes in the bottom of the tent base. Secure this with the respective nuts and bolts. Continue by securing the ladder to the side of the roof to allow for easy access into the tent. 

Step 3: Finally, place the tent cover onto the tent and move the whole tent onto the roof of your car. Secure it by adding the channel sliders and steel mounting plate to the sides of your tent (aligned with the mounting tracks). Use the wrench and bolts to secure in place.

If you’re more of a visual learner, here is a great video to help show you the process of setting up your roof top tent.

You can either buy a set where all of the aspects of roof top camping are included, or you can buy pieces separately, like a separate crossbar set. 

How Many Crossbars Are Needed for a Roof Top Tent

When considering crossbars for your tent, there are many options, combinations, and brands. For best results, stick with proven brands such as Rhino-Rack, Yakima, and Thule.

There’s no set number of crossbars or racks you should have. It all depends on your vehicle, your tent, and your preferences.

  • Look into crossbar sets based off of your car’s model and weight capacity. 
  • Consider the tent size and the number of people staying in the tent. 
  • Avoid any crossbars that clamps or clips to the door frame. These aren’t as sturdy or reliable compared to permanent crossbars attached to your roof.
  • Crossbars that attach directly to your roof will give you the best results.

Consider a Crossbar Kit

For overlanders running pickup trucks, the Slimline II Load Bed Rack Kit is one of the best crossbar kits available. It provides a solid crossbar base that fits directly into the bed of the truck and offers multiple functions beyond just a base for your rooftop tent. 

For overlanders with jeeps or other SUVs, the Smittybilt SRC Roof Rack is great option for similar reasons.

A Word About Weight

Before installing crossbars and a tent, it’s crucial to keep in mind how much your car can carry on the roof while in motion. People generally base the load weight off the crossbar or rack max weight. To avoid damage to your car, check the weight that can safely be carried while in motion. It’s generally much lower than the static weight capacity.

Other Tips For Using a Roof Top Tent 

Now that we’ve covered the roof rack basics, let’s review some helpful hints that will improve your roof top tent experience.

  • Never use a rooftop tent with any vehicle whose rooftop load limit is under 165 pounds. You don’t want a cave-in in the middle of the night!
  • When using roof racks, the weight capacity greatly increases while parked. Static weight limits are much greater than dynamic (moving) weight capacity.
  • Generally, trucks and SUVs make better platforms for rooftop tents. Most smaller cars won’t have enough space or support the weight.
  • The average weight of a roof top tent varies between 100 to 175 pounds
  • It’s always best to have someone help you install your roof rack and tent. Some of the components can be heavy.
  • Most roof top tents have built-in mattresses, so you won’t have to carry as much bedding on your camping excursions.
  • Rainfys tend to leak, so make sure you waterproof your rooftop tent before you go on your camping adventure!


A roof rack is a worthwhile investment and can greatly enhance your adventure—especially if you plan on using a roof top tent. The main takeaway is to research the best set up for your specific car and desired camping experience.

James with daughter on the trails

About James...

Hi, I’m James. If I’m not working on this site, you can often find me outdoors roaming the trails. I’m an avid hiker, mountain biker, and overlander. I’m excited to share my passion for the outdoors with you.