Do You Need A Roof Rack To Mount A Roof Top Tent? (Solved)

Considering a roof top tent for your ride? Wondering if you need a roof rack to carry your roof top tent? We’re here to help you sort that out. However, before purchasing a roof top tent, you ought to think about whether you have the equipment to own one. And one of those key things is a roof rack. So, do you need a roof rack for a roof top tent? Simply put, yes. But we’ll provide you with a few detailed reasons why you need one as you read on.

Roof top tents are becoming more and more popular with campers as they start to realize the benefits of having a tent that isn’t pitched on the ground. Being away from insects, animals, and other creepy crawlies on the ground is an enormous benefit to many people, especially if they’re new to the world of camping. 

Storage of Your Roof Top Tent

First, you need to think about how you’re going to transport your roof top tent (RTT) to the campsite. Well, roof racks are the perfect way to do it. All roof top tents come with the ability to mount them to a roof rack crossbars. Manufacturers have literally designed them that way to make it easier for you, so owning a roof rack is sort of a precursor to owning a RTT. See below in the picture, my trucks Yakima Round bars supporting my mounted Thule Tepui RTT:

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Roof Top Tent Mounts Made For Crossbars

You might argue that you would just throw it in the back of your truck, or attach it to the roof yourself without the unnecessary expense of purchasing a roof rack too. Well, to that we’d have to say good luck. Roof top tents are large, they aren’t easily folded away into a neat little package like ground tents are. 

Simply having the space to store one is difficult, and that’s exactly why manufacturers have designed them to be stored on a roof rack specifically when taking them anywhere. If you’re thinking of attaching it to the roof yourself with no roof rack, then we’d like to refer you to our third section below. We’ll cover it fully there, but in short, you’ll probably need a new paint job on the roof of your car by the time you’re done.

The best thing to do is simply fasten the roof top tent to the roof rack as intended, and you’ll be able to head off quickly to the campsite. But the usefulness of a roof rack doesn’t stop there, especially when it comes to set up at the campsite itself. You do have the option of using the bed of a truck BUT with the help of a bed rack system that also has, you guessed it, cross bars to mount it!

Setting Up Your RTT Needs Space

We’ve already spoken a little about the sheer size of a roof top tent compared to a ground one. They are huge, because they aren’t designed to be folded away like ground tents are. The reason for this is actually to make set up easy for you at the other end.

After attaching the roof top tent to the roof rack using the fastenings provided, your tent is already where it needs to be when you arrive at the campsite. Think of it as you picking your spot with a ground tent and rolling it out into its space, but doing it before you’ve even made it to the campsite. That’s the convenience of a roof top tent.

From that point on, all you need to do is actually erect it. Whilst yes, we agree that this can be a little more time-consuming than regular ground tents; it is pretty straightforward once you’ve gotten the hang of it. Each roof top tent differs slightly, so we won’t bore you with the details of how exactly having the roof rack helps make this a lot easier, but just know that having a roof rack really does. 

To give you a general idea though, it basically creates the stable base on which you’ll be sleeping for the next few nights, so a roof rack isn’t only recommended, but essential. It’s like we said earlier, manufacturers design their roof top tents with the idea that you must already have a roof rack, so not having one isn’t going to work well for you.

Can You Mount The Roof Top Tent Directly To Your Roof?

If you need a reason to own a roof rack for your roof top tent that isn’t simply ‘the manufacturers say you need one, so you need one then maybe this section will convince you because honestly, it’s in your best interests to own a roof rack for your roof top tent.

You could, in theory, attach a roof top tent to the roof of your car using fastenings that you have yourself. But this won’t end well for the roof of your car or truck. As you go around corners, roof racks allow your roof top tent to move with it, in a much more flexible way than if you attach it firmly to the roof yourself using ropes and ties, for example. 

However, this would be a terrible idea. First, you will be drilling holes through the roof of your vehicle and need to remove the internal headliner. A modification like this would a huge potential for leaks from water and damage to your vehicle, in addition to this not being approved by the tent manufacturer and voiding the warranty.

This flexibility allows it to move with the movement of your car or any wind, etc that might affect it. This means two things. First, it won’t become damaged by being too rigidly set in place, as you need some flexibility to prevent pressure from simply snapping an integral part of the tent itself. Second, you won’t damage your car roof from rubbing and friction.

A roof rack creates a space between the roof top tent and the roof of your car. Without the roof rack, your tent would be shifting around on top of your car and potentially scratching and scraping it until there is visible damage. Ultimately, a roof rack will prevent damage to your car, and damage to the tent itself. Given that failing to purchase a roof rack beforehand could mean you need to pay for a new tent if yours breaks, and even pay for fixing the damage to the roof of your car, purchasing a roof rack seems like the more sensible option.

Can You Mount A Roof Top Tent on A Camper Shell or Truck Topper?

Yes, you can mount the roof top tent to your camper shell, as I am personally doing this now on my Toyota Tundra with the Snugtop topper. I would caution you to now do this on a topper that is older or has any support or structural issues. After all, most toppers are fiberglass and now manufactured with the idea that there would be a 200lb weight on top and 300-600lbs worth of people sleeping on it each night. Here is my Thule Tepui Kukenam 3 RTT mounted on my truck topper. 

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My Tepui Kukenam 3 RTT on a Camper Shell

I reached out to Snugtop customer care and asked before I did so and was told that I could mount what ever I wanted to the camper shell so long as it was on a topper roof rack crossbar and those crossbars rated for the dynamic weight of the Roof Top Tent. What is ‘Dynamic Weight”? Im glad you asked!

Know your Roof Rack Crossbar Weight Rating

Each manufacturer of roof rack systems (including factory roof racks) has a weight rating that is categorized by both the “dynamic” and “static” weight ratings. Each weight is different and has a different meaning we will clarify below. However, the first step is to make sure your roof rack crossbar weight ratings fall within the weight of your roof top tent and the weight of the people sleeping inside. 

Dynamic Weight: Dynamic weight is the weight capacity for your roof rack system when the vehicle is in motion. Think about when you are driving down the road, heading down a bumpy dirt road, etc. That “movement” is incorporated into the Dynamic Weight Rating. 

Static Weight: Static weight is the weight capacity for your roof rack system when the vehicle is parked or stationary, like when you are sleeping. So you park at camp,  break out the tent, and now whatever weight goes inside the tent (people, gear, etc) make up the Static weight load of what is on the rack crossbars. 

The Verdict

If you are still shopping and haven’t made up your mind yet, check out our Guide To the Top Roof Tops Tents. If you don’t want to buy a roof rack for your roof top tent just because the manufacturers tell you to (and since they designed the product, they know what you need to make the most out of it) then purchase one to prevent extra expenses in the future. No matter which way you slice it though, a roof rack is an essential purchase if you’re thinking about buying a roof top tent for your next camping adventure!