How Safe Are Rooftop Tents? | Everything You Need To Know


Rooftop tents started in areas of the world commonly infested with giant insects, snakes, and other animals that love to play havoc on your camping trip. Rooftop Tents are designed to keep you off the ground while you sleep. A common question many camping enthusiasts ask themselves is, how safe are rooftop tents?

Rooftop tents are safe if used correctly. Follow the safety instructions on using the rooftop tent, mount the rooftop tent on the roof rack, and unfold it to create a safe and steady sleeping platform. Don’t overload your car’s weight limit with a rooftop tent; this can damage the car and is unsafe.

Some argue that rooftop tents are unsafe. However, if the proper precautions are taken, rooftop tents are very safe. A rooftop tent is one of the best choices for your outdoor adventure. Let’s take a deeper look at the safety of rooftop tents and how to use them correctly. 

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EUROPE ROAD TRIP | ROOF TOP TENT ON SMALL CAR

EUROPE ROAD TRIP | ROOF TOP TENT ON...
EUROPE ROAD TRIP | ROOF TOP TENT ON SMALL CAR

How Safe Are Rooftop Tents

The safety of the rooftop tents is under question by companies such as MotorBiscuit, but the facts speak for themselves. Yes, a few aspects of the tent could cause some safety issues for the vehicle and the person, but only if you ignore the warnings and do not follow the user manual. 

I’ll describe the most important facts regarding safety for using your rooftop tent. You can see it as a checklist that you can use when looking for a new rooftop tent. 

Weight Limits

Each car has a weight limit for its roof. Most regular vehicles generally have a roof weight limit of 75 kilograms. However, this is the dynamic weight limit. Two types of weight limits are essential when figuring out if a rooftop tent can fit on your car; Dynamic weight limit and Static weight limit. 

The dynamic weight limit is the maximum weight you can put on your car’s roof while driving. The static weight limit is the maximum weight limit you can put on your car’s roof when not driving (i.e., camping with your rooftop tent).

Roof racks are necessary to mount your rooftop tent correctly and safely to your roof. Depending on which you can use on your car, Roof racks or crossbars also have weight limits you must adhere to. 

Many rooftop tents allow you to leave some stuff inside the tent when you fold it. Think of things like bedding, pillows, and foldable camping table and chairs. For example, we use a soft-shell rooftop tent (Sheepie Yuna 160) with a thick, sturdy rain cover for traveling. Under this rain cover, we can leave our duvet and pillows, so we don’t have to store this in our small car (we travel around with a Toyota Yaris from 2005!). 

Adhering to the weight limits is much more than just knowing the maximum weight limit of your car’s roof and the weight of your rooftop tent. A simple calculation you can use is; 

Weight of Rooftop Tent + Weight Of Roof Racks/ Crossbars + Weight of baggage in the Rooftop Tent = Total weight. 

The total weight can never exceed the car’s roof maximum dynamic weight limit. 

I explain this more in-depth in my article Can A Rooftop Tent Go On Any Car?

How To Safely Mount The Rooftop Tent

When it comes to the safety of the rooftop tent, you must pay attention to mounting the rooftop tent correctly on your vehicle. Generally, three factors are essential when it comes to mounting the rooftop tent; mounting the roof rack or crossbars safely, lifting the rooftop tent high enough to put on your car’s roof, and anchoring the rooftop tent on the roof rack or crossbars. 

Mounting Roof Rack or Crossbars

Almost every car can have a crossbar or roof rack on top of the roof. Traditionally these crossbars are used to create extra room for luggage while being on the road. But you can also mount a rooftop tent on top of those crossbars as long as you stay within the weight limit. 

Each car has a different type of crossbar or roof rack that can fit on the roof, so it’s essential to find out which type you can have on your car before buying one. Then there are also different brands of crossbars and roof racks. When people ask us, we always say to go for a trusted brand like Thule. Simply because you want to ensure that the crossbars or roof rack is good (and safe) quality. 

Crossbars always come with a specific installation manual. You must follow these precisely for safety reasons. The most important thing is to install the crossbars on the right side (front in the front, the back in at the back of the roof). And adhering to the prescribed distance between the crossbars. It’s just that simple! 

Our favorite brand for crossbars is Thule because they have proved to be trustworthy and safe over the last years. I also like their easy buyers’ guide to see which roof rack or crossbar you can put on top of your car.

Lifting The Rooftop Tent On Your Car’s Roof

Some people will argue that lifting your rooftop tent on the roof of your car is dangerous and can really damage your vehicle. Of course, you need to do it correctly to avoid ending up with some damage. However, lifting the rooftop tent on your car’s roof is straightforward. There are two ways to do this. Lifting the rooftop tent by hand, which is a 2 man’s job, or using a hoist or pulley. 

A hoist is the safest way to lift your rooftop tent on your car’s roof. Because then you can easily secure your rooftop tent during the process, minimizing the chance of damaging anything. 

However, our rooftop tent only weighs 61 kilograms, and our car (a Toyota Yaris) is around 1.56 meters high, including the crossbars! So, the guys of Outback Experience Center in Friesland (NL), where we bought our rooftop tent, placed the rooftop tent on our car by hand. Just easily lift it and let it rest on the crossbars. It was very straightforward, but if your rooftop tent weighs much more, I recommend using a hoist. 

Anchoring The Rooftop Tent 

Anchoring the rooftop tent onto the crossbars or roof rack is straightforward but one of the most important things about safety. However, you must make sure to do it correctly so that the rooftop tent will stay put while driving. 

You must tighten the screws on the roof rack or crossbars and ensure that everything is firmly attached. 

We attached some extra bolts to make sure it stays well connected. We did this because we found that after every long drive, their screws loosened just a tiny bit. So for extra safety reasons, we decided to attach the extra bolts. This is something we feel good about, not something that was recommended by the manufacturer. 

After camping and before we leave for our next trip, we always check if everything is still securely fastened. 

Why Rooftop Tents Are Safer Then Ground Tents

In general, rooftop tents are safer than tents designed to go on the ground but less safe than a camper or motorhome. However, a tent leaves a much smaller footprint on the Earth, which is one of the most significant issues being addressed today. Some of the most important factors why a rooftop tent is safer than a ground tent are; 

  • Height
    You are positioned safely above the ground, away from night predators, insects, and snakes. This is why they were designed in the first place; these tents do that job exceptionally well. This provides more safety than a ground tent.
  • Weatherproof
    One of the biggest problems you will discover with a ground tent is water seeping in from the ground when it rains. This will never happen with a tent perched on top of the car. Plus, the canopies or annexes designed for use with a rooftop tent will keep the water rolling off the sides, away from the tent and the vehicle. Rooftop tents are designed to be waterproof. Read more about it in my article, Are Rooftop Tents Waterproof?
  • Ladders
    The ladders that come with the tent are designed to fold up to help with transportation, but when extended, they make it easy to enter the tent. No need to climb up the side of the car or into the truck bed, making it safer than you would think.
  • Animal Proof 
    The average predator, snake, or spider, will prefer to take refuge in the warm interiors of tents that they can easily reach. Ground tents are their preferred targets, making you safer from harm and annoyance than if you were still using the old ground version.

Are Rooftop Tents Safe From Bears?

The places where we camp in Europe don’t have wild bears wandering around. So, I researched online to find out if rooftop tents are safe from bears. 

Fun fact, rooftop tents were initially created to protect from animals getting into the tent at night. Bears probably don’t climb the ladder to get in the rooftop tent. However, if you leave food inside your rooftop tent, they can easily reach the height when they’re hungry. 

So, if you follow the general safety guidelines recommended by the park rangers or authorities, a rooftop tent is just as safe from bears as a regular tent. 

Are Rooftop Tents Safe in Severe Weather

Sheepie Raincover keeps the tent dry while driving

Depending on the weather you are talking about, the rooftop tents are designed to withstand most weather conditions. You would think that since it is on top of a vehicle, it would be less durable, but that was thought about when they were designed.

  • Safe for wind storms
  • Safe for rain storms
  • Safe for downpours
  • Safe from snow storms
  • Rooftop Tents are not safe from lightning or thunderstorms
  • Not save from hurricanes
  • Not safe from tornadoes
  • Not safe from hail
  • Not safe from severe wind storms

The statistics show that a tent on the roof of your vehicle is safe against common weather conditions, but just like ground tents, RVs, and motorhomes, they will not hold up to severe storms. It would not be a good idea to be camping in the path of a massive storm front anyway. But if you must leave the tent folded and sleep in the car, hoping you do not get carried away with the rest of the loose debris. But seriously, when there’s a massive storm or even a hurricane or something, always make sure to find safe shelter. Don’t go camping. And follow the local guidelines. 

Are Rooftop Tents Safe In Cold Weather?

Cold weather camping may not be up your alley, but many outdoor enthusiasts prefer to stay out in their favorite spots to get up early. A rooftop tent will allow you to do just that. They are safe and fast to set up and take down, decreasing the time you spend in the cold. 

Obviously, you will need the extra equipment and clothes to keep yourself warm, but if you are out wandering in the woods during the day, you should be set to handle the long, cold nights of the great outdoors. 

Most brands offer accessories to make a rooftop tent more comfortable, like an annex or awning to extend a living area. Or a Thermo tent you can install inside to keep warm on cold nights. 

We use a Thermo tent in our Sheepie Yuna, creating a comfortable temperature to sleep in during cold nights. Even our two-year-old son loves to sleep in the rooftop tent without getting cold! 

Are Rooftop Tents Safe For Families? 

So, we travel around as a family of three. Me, my wife Kirsten, and our two-year-old son. He was actually made in our first rooftop tent, but that’s a whole different story. That may be why he loves camping with the rooftop tent so much. I digress. 

In general, rooftop tents are safe for families. It’s important to use a rooftop tent where the sleeping print is big enough to sleep in with your family. For us, that means three people, but maybe you have a bigger family, and thus a bigger rooftop tent. 

During our research on rooftop tents, we found that when you want a larger sleeping footprint, you almost always have to go for a soft-shell rooftop tent because these can easily fold sideways, which creates a larger sleeping footprint. 

As I mentioned, we use the Sheepie Yuna 160, which means the sleeping footprint is 160×250 centimeters. But there are even larger tents available, like the Sheepie Yuna Family, that measure 250×250 centimeters. 

The only thing that’s difficult for our son is getting out of the rooftop tent. But we just help him with this. He quickly climbs up the ladder to get into the rooftop tent. And when he grows older, he will have no problem getting out on his own. 

Our son loves to be outdoors with us. We experienced that camping is like the biggest play garden kids can have. There’s so much to discover! 

Conclusion

Rooftop tents are very safe to travel with if you install them correctly. When you compare them to ground tents, they are safer and more convenient. Rooftop Tents are almost the same as tent trailers, except they do not slow you down when traveling. As for motorhomes and campers, the rooftop tent gives the freedom of location because there are no stipulations on where they can be parked.

Regardless of what some critics say, it is a great way to reduce your footprints, allowing you to go anywhere your vehicle can and have a safe place to sleep. They are designed to be as safe as possible, leaving little chance when producing them. So, to make a long story short, rooftop tents are safe in almost every situation.

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Léon Kopijn

Léon Kopijn works and lives as a Digital Nomad. He travels the world with the love of his life and writes about inspiring cultures and practical travel tips. Find out more about Léon on his about page!

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