How To Size And Install A Roof-top Tent [Guide]

Although camping has been around for quite some time—like the beginning—roof-top tents are the latest and greatest addition to the camping market. But it’s important to note that one size does not fit all. If you want to add a roof-top tent to your overland rig, you’ll need to know how to size it. 

Here’s how you size a roof-top tent:

  • Ensuring that your vehicle’s roof racks will fit your roof-top tent.
  • Understanding the weight capacity of your vehicle.
  • Understanding static weight capacity.
  • Knowing the total weight of your tent. 
how to size a roof top tent

Below, we’ll discuss how to size your roof-top tent and what you need to know for proper installation onto your vehicle. 

Can You Put a Roof-Top Tent on Any Car?

The short answer is yes, but not every tent will fit every car. For example, if you own a sedan or something more compact, a large roof-top tent won’t work well with your vehicle. 

Roof-top tents add weight to your car’s roof, which many smaller cars aren’t set up to handle.The lightest standard roof-top tent you can purchase weighs about 120 pounds. You’ll also need a roof rack on your car before you can add a roof-top tent, which adds even more weight. Plus, having a tent on your roof doesn’t help with aerodynamics. 

The extra weight and air resistance will have an affect on how your car drives:

  • Decreased Power
  • Less Speed
  • Slower Acceleration
  • Reduced Gas Mileage

In general, roof-top tents are mainly installed on SUVs and larger vehicles that have a bit more roof space and can handle the additional weight. There are some roof-top tent options available for sedans, but they aren’t common. One of the most popular is the Baja Series roof-top tent designed by Tepui. 

The Rising Appeal of Roof-top Tents

Roof-top tents have been around for a long time in Australia but have only recently become popular in the United States. Australians love roof-top tents because they allow people to camp off the ground and away from insects and snakes. The trend spread to the United States where roof-top tents became popular with off-road enthusiasts and overlanders.

Most people who use roof-top tents admit they feel safer from the elements when they sleep off the ground. Plus, the high vantage point is reminiscent of a childhood treehouse.

Pros of Roof-top Tents 

Roof-top tents are gaining popularity for good reason; they offer plenty of benefits over standard ground tents. Here are just a few of the benefits you can enjoy in a roof-top tent:

1. Robust Design

Roof-top tent features are made to be extremely durable so they can hold up against adverse weather. That means all parts of the tent are made to last, including:

  • The floor
  • The pole materials
  • The tent fabric

In general, roof top tents are more sturdily built compared to traditional tents.

2. Comfort

Roof-top tents are designed with comfort in mind. Most people find roof-top tents far more comfortable than standard tents because they come with soft, plush foam mattresses. You might not even realize you’re away from home!

3. Easy-to-Pitch

Roof-top tents are also designed to be set up quickly and easily. As soon as you get to the campsite, all you need to do is unhook a few straps, pop your tent open, and then use the poles and ladder to finish the set-up process. 

4. Camp Wherever You’d Like

With a roof-top tent, you’ll be able to set your tent up wherever you want because you won’t need a clean tent pad. You can set your tent up in places like:

  • Remote dirt tracks
  • Parking lots
  • Campgrounds
  • Or anywhere else!

When your overland rig is equipped with a roof-top tent, the whole world becomes your campground.

Cons of Roof-top Tents

While roof-top tents offer several advantages, not everything can be rainbows and puppy dogs. They do have some drawbacks as well:

1. Price

Roof-top tents aren’t cheap and cost a lot more than a regular camping tent. At minimum you’ll spend around $700. However, roof-top tents cost less than an RV, so pick your battle.

2. Attached to Your Vehicle’s Roof

While keeping your roof-top tent on your vehicle’s roof is helpful when you want to quickly set-up your tent, you will run into some drag on the highway, hurting your fuel economy. And taking it off between camping trips can be a pain.

You also won’t be able drive anywhere after you’ve set up camp, so make sure you don’t forget the hotdogs!

Check If Your Roof Rack Will Support a Tent

Many people wonder if their racks will work with a roof-top tent. Typically, all racks work with roof-top tents. However, there are particular brands of racks that handle roof-top tents better than others. These are some of the most popular:

  • Yakima
  • RhinoRack
  • Thule

If you can’t afford a name brand roof-top tent, other brands will work just fine. Just make sure you check the rack’s Dynamic Weight Capacity (DWC) and Static Weight Capacity (SWC). 

Dynamic Weight Capacity is the weight your rack can handle while the car is in motion. If a rack has a DWC greater than the weight of your tent, you’re good to go! If you aren’t sure about your rack’s DWC, call your manufacturer to find out. Better to be safe than sorry.

Static Weight Capacity is how much weight your car can hold when it isn’t moving. It’s basically the weight of your tent plus you and all other occupants. Your SWC will be a much greater capacity than your DWC. 

Before you purchase a roof-top tent, make sure you have the right rack system in place to carry your tent’s DWC effectively. While all racks work for roof-top tents, some racks work better than others. For example, several RhinoRack products work very well with roof-top tents:

  • Backbones
  • Gutter Mount
  • Fixed Mounting Point
  • Track mount

Other systems, like RhinoRack’s 2500 systems, won’t hold up well with roof-top tents because of the extreme weight of the product. While they’ll still work, they won’t balance as well or last as long as some other systems. You should consider purchasing a good roof rack for your car before buying a roof-top tent. 

How Much Weight Can a Roof Rack Handle?

How much weight a roof rack can handle depends on the roof rack itself and the type of vehicle you own. In general, most roof racks can carry an excess of 150 pounds when a car is in motion and even more when the vehicle’s not in motion.

Some aftermarket racks from manufacturers like Yakima and Thule are made to fit specific vehicles. These types of roof racks tend to be a lot stronger than your typical roof rack. If you’re worried about how your tent’s weight might affect your car or roof rack, consider upgrading your roof rack. 

You also need to consider how much weight your car can handle. Most trucks, cars, and SUVs can carry around 165 pounds on the roof while in motion. The static rating, or the amount of weight the vehicle can hold while not moving, is usually about triple the dynamic weight limit. If you’re not sure how much weight your vehicle can carry, check your car’s owner’s manual. 

If you put too much weight on your car’s roof or rack, it could damage your vehicle’s roof. Always check your weight limits before purchasing a roof-top tent.

How Heavy are Roof Top Tents?

Roof-top tents typically weigh anywhere between 100-200 pounds. The overall weight of your roof-top tent will depend on the size and design of the tent you purchase. Make sure you analyze the dynamic weight capacity of your roof rack and how much weight your vehicle can carry to make sure you purchase a roof-top tent that’ll work for your car. 

The average roof-top tent can support around 200 pounds per person. So, if you’re looking at a two-person roof-top tent, your tent’s weight capacity would be about 400 pounds. Ladders have a standard weight capacity of about 320 pounds. 

Fitting Your Roof-top Tent

Since your average roof-top tent will weigh more than a hundred pounds, it’s going to be a bit of a project. Before you get started, make sure you make sure your roof rack is properly installed on your overland rig and you’ve addressed the following items: 

1. Total Weight of the Tent

You’ll need to know the total weight of your roof-top tent, and you’ll also want to make sure you have the tent’s product specs. Knowing the roof-top tent’s weight and specs will help you assess whether your roof-top tent will fit both your rack and your car. 

2. Car and Rack Dynamic Weight Capacity

We already mentioned the dynamic weight capacity above. You’ll need to verify this spec for both your car and roof rack to make sure they’re compatible. You don’t want to damage your car or rip the tent off your roof while driving.

3. Static Weight Capacity

While most car roofs are designed to hold heavy loads in case of a rollover, you still need to ensure the static weight capacity of your car and your rack is enough to support your tent and the people inside. You don’t want a cave-in in the middle of the night.

4. Rack Compatibility

You’ll also need to make sure your rack will work with a roof-top tent. Although most racks are suitable for a roof-top tent, make sure your rack is compatible with your brand and model. They don’t always like to play nice. To make sure that your rack can handle a roof-top tent, check your owner’s manual. 

After you assess these items, you should be able to tell whether your roof-top tent will fit both your rack and your car. 

Now that you understand how to fit your roof-top tent onto your car and rack, we’ll cover the necessary steps to help you mount a roof-top tent.

Mounting a Roof Top Tent

When you first start bolting your tent and setting up your roof rack, you’ll need to make sure you read the installation instructions that come with the tent. You should also find a strong friend to help you lift the tent onto your roof rack. 

Here’s a great video that will give you an idea of what it’s like to install a roof top tent.

Roof-top tents aren’t challenging to mount. To get started, you’ll need to make sure you have the following tools:

  • A box cutter
  • A 13 mm ratcheting wrench
  • A 19 mm ratcheting wrench
  • A friend to help you with the lifting
  • A hacksaw(may or may not be needed)

Once you have your tools, it’s time to get started.

Step 1 – Lay Out Your Parts

First, take the tent out of the box and set it on a working surface. Inside the tent, you’ll discover your mounting hardware:

  • The ladder
  • Ladder brackets
  • A tent cover
  • Bolts and washers
  • Wrenches
  • Channel Slides including bolts and nuts
  • Steel mounting plates

Pull out all the pieces and lay them out. Check with the instructions to make sure you have everything. You don’t want to get halfway through to realize you’re missing a bolt or two.

Step 2 – Line Up the Mounting Holes

Attach the mounting tracks to the tent hinges and make sure they line up with the mounting holes at the bottom of the tent. Slide the nuts into the mounting channels and make sure they’re even with the base of your tent. 

Step 3 – Insert Bolts

Put two washers on each bolt and move them until they’re beneath the tent’s base and between your tent’s mattress. You need to work with the bolt until it pops into the hole. Repeat this process for each hole you see in your mounting track. 

Step 4 – Attach the Ladder

Flip your tent over and attach the ladder. To do that, grab your ladder brackets and make sure they fill each pre-drilled hole to connect the ladder to your tent’s edge. Slide the most extended bolt through the tent base and the ladder’s bracket. Then, cover the other end with a nut. 

Attach the ladder to your tent base and make sure it’s secure. You need to use each ladder bracket and connect it with the nuts and bolts that came with the tent. Once you’ve attached it, rotate it a few times to make sure it works. 

Step 5 – Put on the Sides and Cover

Secure your tent’s side straps and put on the tent’s cover using the C channel you’ll find on your tent’s side. 

Step 6 – Lift the Tent onto Your Vehicle’s Roof

For this step, you’ll need a friend. With your friend, lift the roof-top tent and get it on top of your car. While you do that, ensure the mounting tracks on your tent’s base sit perpendicular to your roof rack’s cross bars. 

Step 7 – Attach Tent to the Roof Rack

Put your channel sliders and provided bolts into the ends of your mounting tracks. Make sure you attach each side to the crossbar.


Owning a Roof Top Tent can open up a lot of possibilities for your overlanding or camping adventures. In order to ensure that you have the right tent you need to make sure you have right measurements and roof rack for your vehicle.

Installation won’t be as difficult as you think, but you may need a friend to help you out. We provided a brief guide to installing your roof top tent, but you’ll want to follow your manufacturers instructions. Then get out there and enjoy the outdoors!

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.