Can You Put A Roof Top Tent On Any Car? | Step-by-Step Guide


If you want to go on an adventure with a rooftop tent on top of your car, you might wonder, can you put a rooftop tent on any car?

As a general rule, you can put a rooftop tent on most cars. Still, you can’t put every rooftop tent on every car because cars have different maximum roof weight limits and rooftop tents differ in weight and size. A rooftop tent can’t exceed the car’s maximum roof weight limit.

When putting a rooftop tent on top of a car, you need to know a few technical specifications first. And in this step-by-step guide, I share everything you need to know.

We are experts when it comes to rooftop tents because we travel around Europe with a small Toyota Yaris with a rooftop tent on top. We even visited the Sahara desert in Morrocco! So, let’s start unpacking.

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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

Step 1: Know The Technical Measurements

Before you start looking for a new rooftop tent, it is important to know what you can put on top of your car. The two factors that you need to find out are the car measurements and the maximum weight limit.

Know Your Car’s Length and Wide

You don’t want to buy a rooftop tent that is much larger than your car because it will affect the driving experience and safety. When a rooftop tent is much larger than a car, you will also have issues mounting the tent correctly.

Therefore make sure that you know the measurement of your car. Most of the time, a rooftop tent is a bit larger than the roof of a regular car, which doesn’t matter that much. But there are also foldable rooftop tents that are maybe higher and more compact but have a smaller surface.

For example, we’re driving a Toyota Yaris, and our first rooftop tent (see image above) is a bit longer than the roof. However, it isn’t longer than the total length of our car. So with those measurements, it doesn’t influence our driving that much (except for strong stormy winds).

Know The Roof Rack / Roof Rails Weight Limits

It is important to know what the maximum weight limit is of your roof rack before you continue to purchase a rooftop tent. Let’s say that the maximum weight limit of your roof rack is 80 kilograms. You don’t want to exceed that weight limit with a much heavier rooftop tent. 

Also, you must know the weight of your roof rack or roof rails because you need this to calculate the total weight you put on your car. 

Know The Car’s Maximum Roof Weight Limit

What’s even more important is the maximum weight limit of the roof of your car. This weight limit is different for each car. You can find the maximum weight limit in the driver’s manual of your car. 

However, most manuals only show a dynamic weight limit, which is the maximum weight limit while driving.

Most standard cars have a dynamic weight limit between 100lbs – 165lbs (50 and 75 kilograms.) 

You might think. If my rooftop tent weighs 100lbs and my roof’s car’s maximum weight limit is 165lbs, how am I able to sleep in it?

The dynamic weight limit is different and lower than your car’s static weight limit (when parked). It can be a bit confusing, dynamic, and static weight limit. But to keep it simple;

The dynamic weight limit is while in motion/ driving. The static weight limit is while standing still/ not driving. 

This significant difference is when the car is standing still, the weight you put on top of the car is evenly distributed over the entire frame. This way, the car can hold more weight. 

The dynamic weight limit is always lower for safety reasons. On average, the static weight limit is 4 to 5 times and sometimes 10x times the dynamic weight limit of your car. The information about your car’s static weight limit is normally not provided. But you can use a calculating formula provided in this article.

Dynamic Weight And Static Weight Video Tutorial:

Step 2: Calculate The Maximum Weight Limit

When you know your car’s maximum dynamic weight limit, it’s easier to choose the right rooftop tent to put on your car. 

However, you also need crossbars or a roof rack to mount the rooftop tent correctly. So, the weight of the rooftop tent must be lower than the dynamic weight limit of your car. Simply because the crossbars or roof rack also carry weight. Calculating if you’re not exceeding the maximum dynamic weight limit is quite simple. You just need to calculate the weight of everything you put on top of your car. Let’s call that the total weight. 

Always make sure that the total weight is not higher than the dynamic weight limit. But remember that car brands have a safety buffer between the maximum weight limit written in the car’s manual and the actual maximum limit. 

To measure the total weight, you can use this ‘formula’; 

Weight of Roof Top Tent + Weight Of Crossbars or Roof Rack + Extra luggage in Roof Top Tent = The total weight.

The total weight can never exceed your car’s roof’s maximum (dynamic) weight limit.

Step 3: Choose The Right Roof Top Tent For Your Car

Picking the right rooftop tent for your travel adventures can be overwhelming. After you finally know more about all the technical requirements, it’s time to select between all those different rooftop tents available on the market. And that’s a long list! So there’s a lot to choose from! 

To help you niche down on the rooftop tent that fits you the most, we made this list of things you need to consider when buying a rooftop tent. And then, you can go to a retailer near you and test out a couple of different rooftop tents to get a better feel.

Choose The Right Weight

As we discussed earlier, the weight of your rooftop tent is one of the most important factors when looking for a new rooftop tent. Make a list of your favorite rooftop tents and see if any rooftop tents exceed the maximum dynamic weight limit (taking the weight of roof rack bars into account). Cross off all tents that are too heavy. 

Choose The Right Size

Are you a solo traveler or a couple? Or maybe a family? Depending on how many people need to sleep in the tent, you can niche down even more. 

There is a wide selection of small rooftop tents that are 120-140 cm wide, which is perfect for two people. But when you are a family of 3 (two adults and a child), you might want to look into rooftop tents that are 160cm wide or more.

Now that we are a family, we invested in a bigger rooftop tent (Sheepie Yuna 160cm x 250cm) that is even lighter than the one in the video and perfect for a family of three. See the image below.

Choose Hard Top or Soft Shell

There are many rooftop tents available in many variations. Deciding on a hard top or soft shell is also important before buying a new rooftop tent. 

Hard-top rooftop tents are often easier to set up. Many tents are set up in seconds, which can be very convenient. But these tents are often also heavier. This is not a problem with a bigger car or SUV but can be of influence when you have a smaller car like us.

Soft shell tents are often much lighter, but setting up the tent can take longer. But from our experience, this is not half an hour longer. Our first rooftop tent was a hard top, and it took us less than a minute to set up. Now that we have a soft shell, it will take us maybe a maximum of 5 minutes to set up.

Also, you cannot store your sheets, blankets, and pillows in most hard-top and thin rooftop tents. This means that you need to pack these in your car, which can take up a lot of space. When we selected our rooftop tents, we made sure our blankets and pillows could be packed in the tent while driving.

Choose The Kind Of Mattress

Here comes the good part, you don’t want to save on this item. Especially when you’re traveling for a bit longer like we are doing. A good mattress in your rooftop tent is so important. Many tents come with very thin matrasses, or even without a mattress! 

I would recommend choosing a rooftop tent with a thicker mattress, which is much more comfortable. Maybe a bit more expensive, but a good night’s sleep is worth the extra money! 

The Ikamper Rooftop Tents are known for having thicker and more comfortable mattresses. Definitely, an interesting tent to check out. 

We also highly recommend investing in anti-condensation mats underneath your normal mattress. This helps distribute moisture underneath your mattress (good for the longevity of your rooftop tent) and provides an extra couple of centimeters of comfort.

Some people even put an extra inflatable mattress underneath or on top of the tent’s mattress for extra comfort.

Choose The Right Setup

There are rooftop tents that are as big as the size of the bed (see our first rooftop tent below). Easy when you’re alone to set up and smaller in height. We were even able to park our car with this rooftop tent in most covered parking lots.

And there are also rooftop tents with a folding mechanism. This means you need to fold out your bed when you arrive at a campsite. In most cases, these are family-sized rooftop tents.

This sep up often means that you need an extra pair of hands to set up and fold back up. And the total height of your car becomes higher, which means that you maybe can’t park in smaller parking lots.

Step 4: Choose The Right Roof Racks

The safety of the construction depends on the quality of the roof racks.

We recommend investing in top-branded roof racks, such as Thule, to ensure you have the safest and most fun experience.

The most important thing to know is that the roof racks can hold the maximum weight of the rooftop tent, also called dynamic weight. 

For example, we’re using crossbars from Thule, which are especially for our Toyota Yaris. These crossbars have a maximum dynamic weight of 165lbs (75 kilograms). Our rooftop tent weighs 143lbs (65 kilograms), so we have a 22lbs (10 kilograms) margin. 

This margin is great for us because we can leave our bedding and some other stuff inside the tent while driving. It creates a lot of free space inside the car, which is a great advantage of using a rooftop tent.

Choosing the right crossbars or roof rack depends on what car you’re having. For us, Thule is the most trusted brand when it comes to crossbars. They are known as the most solid and safe. You can use this guide on Thule’s website to find out which roof rack or crossbars fit best on top of your car. 

Step 5: Choose The Right Accessories

Awning

An awning or an extra tent that you can attach to your rooftop tent can be very valuable, especially on rainy days. You want to create an extra dry space to cook your meals, sit during the evening, and can use to get changed.

Thermo Tent

Some rooftop tents have the option of a Thermo tent which you can hang up inside your rooftop tent for extra warmth during cold nights. Our rooftop tent Sheepie Yuna has this option, and we’re glad we bought this extra tent.

Step 6: Choose Camping Gear

When you go camping, you need camping gear such as a table, chairs, a portable camping stove, etc. And depending on your size car, these items can be big or small, so you need to get creative with space. And that is where we are great at. Below is a list of some of our favorite camping gear items that are small, portable, and perfect for packing in your rooftop tent or car.

Our Favorite Camping Accessories

Portable Camping Stove

Travel Hammock

Foldable Camping Chairs

Our Experience With A Small Car & Rooftop Tent

We traveled through Australia in 2018 with a car and a rooftop tent on top, and we thought it was the most amazing way to travel around. And that is when we started researching rooftop tents. But we had a problem (we thought at first): we have a very small car, and we didn’t want to buy a new car. 

So, we researched if it was possible to put a rooftop tent on our Toyata Yaris. We found a Dutch company producing pop-up rooftop tents with a photo of a 3-door Toyota Yaris and a rooftop tent on top.

We contacted them and visited them once we got back from our Australia trip. They convinced us that it was possible with our car too. 

But we wanted to know for sure, so we also stopped by a Toyota car dealer and asked if it was possible and asked many other people (including my brother, who is an engineer and car mechanic), and the answers were different. Not everyone was convinced it was possible with our car. But we took the leap of faith, and it turns out we had no problem at all. We invested in a well-known roof rack brand Thule, and we hit the road and had the time of our lives.

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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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