in Roofnest Tips & Features / by Nick Jaynes

Let’s face it, buying a rooftop tent isn’t the same thing as buying a carton of milk or a new pair of shoes. It’s not only a bigger financial investment, but an investment in your quality of life that requires due consideration. 

For instance, you should consider budget, lifestyle, and climate — among many other factors — before making a purchase decision.

In this piece, I’ll lay out the steps you should take and factors you should consider before you take the proverbial plunge, plunk down thousands of your hard-earned dollars, and buy a rooftop tent of your own.

Vehicle and mounting options

The first thing you should consider before buying a rooftop tent, above all else, is your vehicle. After all, this is where your rooftop tent will spend 100% of its time. If the tent doesn’t fit your vehicle, in terms of dimensions or weight, you will be sorely disappointed and faced with some hard decisions.

Let’s head those mistakes off at the pass, and detail the parameters and considerations you should go through before picking your perfect tent.

Overall size

Before deciding on a tent, measure your roof first.

Size is the first thing to consider when whittling down your choices of roof top tents. Let’s say you have a vehicle with a short roof, like a MINI Countryman, but you’re keen on the Sparrow Adventure. The Countryman has a usable roof space that is roughly 46 inches long. However, the Sparrow Adventure is 85 inches long, which makes it an imperfect partner for the Countryman. Instead, you’d be wise to consider the 60-inch-long Condor, which would only overhang your roof slightly on the front and rear.

This same sort of consideration goes for any size of vehicle, not just small ones. A large Jeep Gladiator, too, is nicely suited to a Condor. That’s because the Gladiator’s truck bed is a perfect 60 inches long. All you’d need to mount it over the bed is a simple pair of crossbars. If you wanted to mount a Falcon to the Gladiator, however, you’d need a bed rack that sits above the height of the cab, enabling the Falcon to jutt over the cab slightly.

Mounting options

This brings us to my second point, mounting options. Like in the last example, the size of the rooftop tent can affect the mounting solution you pick. Broadly speaking, most vehicles only need a pair of crossbars to mount a rooftop tent to. But I’ll discuss all the mounting options here.

Crossbars

Not all crossbars are made equally. Most every modern vehicle’s roof structure is sturdy enough to handle a rooftop tent. Their factory crossbars might not be, though.

Just because a set of crossbars is rated to hold several hundred pounds doesn’t mean they’re shaped to safely do so. Some crossbars are curved for stylistic and aerodynamic reasons. This makes them imperfect mounting points for a large, flat-bottomed rooftop tent. Makes sense, right?

What’s more, some stock roof rack crossbars are fixed in a certain position on the roof and cannot be adjusted forward or backward. Rooftop tents require a minimum of 30 inches, front to rear, between crossbars to be mounted safely. If your factory crossbars are 24 inches apart, they won’t be suitable for mounting a rooftop tent. Ditto if they’re exceedingly curved.

Roof Shape

Another issue we’ve seen with customers’ vehicles that is related to crossbar placement — the curve of the roof. You might not notice it looking at the vehicle, but most modern vehicles have curved roofs, not flat. Even if your stock crossbars can be positioned more than 30 inches apart front to rear, you may find that, depending on the position of the crossbars along the curved roof, your tent doesn’t sit parallel to the ground. Rather, it may be canted upward toward the front of the vehicle.

Rather than selecting a shorter tent (the shorter Condor will be less affected by a curved roof than the longer Falcon), you can solve this problem by spacing the crossbars further apart, bringing down the angle of the roof compared to the tent.

If this is the case with your vehicle, consider a pair of aftermarket crossbars, like those from Rhino Rack, Thule, or Yakima, among others, that can be adjusted to suit your tent and vehicle roofline.

Platform racks

We’ve touched on this before in other posts, but it’s worth reiterating: You don’t need a platform rack for your rooftop tent.

Some folks, specifically overlanders, outfit their vehicles with platform racks to which they mount a rooftop tent. As Roofnest founder Tim Nickles has put it, “That’s mounting a platform to a platform.” Essentially, it’s overkill.

Your rooftop tent already has a corrugated aluminum floor that’s sturdy enough to support 600 pounds or more of weight atop a couple crossbars. You don’t need to put it on another $1,400 aluminum platform beneath it. So, save yourself a lot of extra money and hassle and stick with crossbars.

Some might argue that a platform rack does more than hold a tent; it offers a spot to mount other accessories, like traction boards, shovels, and axes. This is true. However, Roofnest tents like the Falcon and Falcon Pro have accessory channels along their outside perimeters to which you can bolt accessories like auxiliary lights, shovels, and axes, etc. These tents are also available with crossbars to which you can mount gear atop them as well.

So, if you really want to bring extra off-road gear, skip the platform rack and get a Falcon, Falcon XL, or Falcon Pro.

Weight capacities

Owner’s manuals of many vehicles list the minimum weight capacity rating of the roof structure or stock crossbars. For example, your manual may say your vehicle’s maximum roof rack load capacity is 150 pounds. However, that is a dynamic (while driving) load figure for each crossbar. That means each factory crossbar can hold 150 pounds at 75 miles per hour, for example.

The static (parked) load rating is often seven to ten times higher than the dynamic load rating. That means it can easily hold 1,050 pounds — more than enough to support a 170-pound tent, two people, and some gear.

If you’re still not convinced your stock crossbars are right for the job, spend a couple hundred bucks extra for some heavy-duty aftermarket crossbars. That way you can rest — and drive — easy.

Roofnest created a handy guide for understanding roof racks, crossbars, and static and dynamic loads. You can find it here.

Family and friends

Family Roof Top Tent Car Camping

Speaking of weight capacities, the next thing you’ll want to consider is how many members of your family you’ll want to have in your tent while camping. This is less for considering roof-mounting options than it is the size of the tent you’ll want to pick.

Roofnest offers tents that can comfortably sleep anywhere from two to four adults. From the Sparrow Eye to the Condor XL, there are various sizes to suit your sleeping needs.

Let’s say you’re honing in on the Sparrow for the ability to store bedding inside the tent when it’s closed — a super-helpful feature. However, you may be considering adopting a new dog or you might grow your family in the next few years, adding a baby or two.

Rooftop tents are an investment in the future and should be considered as such. Before you pick a tent based upon your current needs, think seriously about what your life may look like in the next five to ten years — a realistic lifetime of a rooftop tent — and make your purchase decision with that lifestyle in mind.

Camping frequency and length of stay

Along with how many people you want to comfortably accommodate in your rooftop tent, it’s smart to think about camping frequency. Are you the kind of person who only camps four times a year? Or are you a more avid camper, getting out two times a month? Perhaps you’re somewhere in between. When you camp, do you stay for a single night or do you set up camp for longer periods of time?

These are some things to consider before buying a rooftop tent. That’s because the features of the Roofnest line of tents varies greatly from one to the next. Each model addresses the needs of different camping styles.

Take for example the Sparrow Adventure versus the Falcon, two tents that share many of the same features, in terms of durability and interior space, but achieve these goals in distinct ways. These ways will serve different campers in distinct ways.

Take for example the Sparrow Adventure versus the Falcon, two tents that share many of the same features in terms of durability and interior space, but their differences provide an important distinction for campers to consider. 

The Sparrow Adventure is a pop-up clamshell-style rooftop tent that has built-in crossbars on its roof that can hold 100 pounds when it’s closed and 40 pounds when it’s open. That’s enough to hold a standard kayak when open or a pair of hefty mountain bikes when closed. Plus, the Sparrow Adventure is roomy enough inside its top and bottom shells to enable campers to leave their bedding inside the tent when it’s closed.

These features make the Sparrow Adventure a great option for active campers who hit the road at a moment’s notice and remain active at camp once they get there. However, it’s a bulkier tent. When it’s closed, the Sparrow Adventure is 12 inches tall.

In contrast, the Falcon is a low-profile roof top tent, just 6.5 inches tall when it’s closed. That makes it more streamline. However, you cannot store your bedding inside the Falcon. You’ll have to store bedding in your vehicle and lay it out every time you open the tent. Then you’ll need to pack bedding away when you’re ready to close the tent back down.

If you camp less frequently or if you stay at a single campsite for more than one night at a time, having to lay out your bedding for a four-night stay isn’t a significant inconvenience. If this you, the Falcon is a great choice for you.

This is all to say that visual aesthetics shouldn’t be your only consideration when comparing Roofnest rooftop tents. You should also consider how you use it and the frequency.

Regional climate

Insulation for a roof top tent

One of the benefits of rooftop tents is that it expands the seasons during which camping remains comfortable. You can easily camp in a rooftop tent year round. But some rooftop tents are easier or more comfortable to camp in during the colder months than others.

Let’s keep using Sparrow Adventure as an example. Roofnest offers an optional insulation system for Sparrow, Sparrow XL, Sparrow Adventure, and Sparrow Adventure XL.

This system is a synthetic polyester-based insulation with a polyester-based covering that is mildew and stain-resistant. Without adding an auxiliary heating element, this insulation makes camping in the winter much more comfortable.

I point this out to do more than beat our chest about the availability of an insulation option. It’s to highlight that not all rooftop tents have such an insulation option. That’s not to say not all Roofnest rooftop tents are comfortable year round — quite the contrary. But if you like to camp throughout the year and desire an auxiliary insulation system, it should factor into your consideration. 

Financing

Like with any significant investment, your budget will surely be a guiding factor in making your final decision. Just because the all-new Falcon Pro is appealing, doesn’t mean you can afford the $3,995 price tag. This is where financing a roof top tent can be a great option to explore. While budget can surely be a limiting factor, our financing options help you get exactly what you want without the wait.

Lifestyle and gear

Roof rack mounted tent

What do you like to do when camping or otherwise? What are your other hobbies? I ask this because if your free time includes skiing, biking, kayaking, or another outdoor activity requiring a large piece of equipment, this should influence your rooftop tent choice.

For active folks who don’t want to dedicate their vehicle’s roof simply to rooftop tent-carrying duty, Roofnest offers Sparrow Adventure, Sparrow Adventure XL, and Falcon Pro that all come standard with crossbars that enable owners to attach gear to the top of the tent. Falcon and Falcon XL can also be optioned with crossbars that mount to their top shells.

Again, a rooftop tent is a long-term investment. Imagine what your life may be like in five to ten years. Might you pick up a canoe in the next three-quarters of a decade? If so, you’ll want to consider a rooftop tent model that can accommodate crossbars rather than one that cannot.

Accessibility (i.e. garage space)

Lastly, we come to accessibility. Specifically, what sort of spaces your daily commute requires you to drive to, in, or through. I am talking mostly about garages. This is a subject I can speak to with authority. That’s because my absolutely huge Jeep Gladiator prevents me from parking in modestly sized parking garages.

I don’t want to dissuade you from considering a rooftop tent with this section. Rather, I want you to think critically about accessibility. To be fair, this consideration isn’t unique to rooftop tents. You’d be wise to consider this before purchasing any roof-mounted bike rack or roof box for your vehicle. I’ve personally watched a couple guys drive their $5,000 bike mounted atop their car into the ceiling of a garage. You don’t want to be like those guys.

Think about it. Does your SUV just have enough space to fit into the garage at work? Then the taller Condor or Sparrow tents might not be a good fit for you. You’d be better served picking a low profile roof top tent like the ultra-slim Falcon.

Beyond your daily commute, think about other parking options you encounter in your life. I, for one, can’t fit my Jeep in the structure at my doctor’s office. So, I have to park in a surface lot and walk several hundred yards extra to get to their office. This isn’t a big deal nor would it have stopped me from lifting my Jeep or bolting a Condor to it. But it’s something you should spend time thinking about.

Conclusion

A final consideration that will inevitably be made is which brand to choose from. Obviously this is not where you will receive an unbiased opinion, so do your homework, but also consider this: out of the several options to choose from, which tent has the features you want, and which brand is most specialized in their category? Roofnest specializes in roof top tents and accessories exclusively. Our company was founded by an Alaskan turned longtime Colorado native who has travelled the States and overseas extensively in pursuit of outdoor adventure. We live it, love it, and know it.

Carefully considering these things before purchasing a tent will help make your final decision the right one. If you have any additional questions, please reach out to Roofnest’s knowledgeable and friendly customer service and sales teams.

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