in Roofnest Tips & Features / by Nick Jaynes

What’s the best solution for mounting your roof top tent to your car, a set of crossbars or a platform rack? For most buyers, we’d recommend crossbars.

Below, we’ll explain why crossbars — especially for Roofnest tents — are the ideal mounting choice compared to a platform rack.

Crossbars

Let’s draw a line in the proverbial sand: Not all crossbars are made the same.

Many new vehicles, especially those with outdoorsy aspirations, can be optioned from the dealership with a set of factory-designed crossbars. Although a set of crossbars may be offered from the carmaker and ostensibly designed for your specific vehicle doesn’t mean they’re the ultimate or best solution for mounting a rooftop tent.

The load rating of your crossbars should be the first consideration you should take into account when evaluating your crossbars for your needs. Many owner’s manuals will list the weight capacity of the bars. Most list the rating at or around 150 pounds, which is nearly the weight of a roof top tent. Don’t let this figure confuse you or dissuade you.

This is the dynamic load rating per bar at freeway speed — say, 75 miles per hour. Spread that weight across two bars, which you will, and you’re more than safe. What your owner’s manual doesn’t tell you is the static load rating — the weight the crossbars can hold when parked — is often seven to ten times the dynamic load rating.

Essentially, most every set of factory crossbars can handle a 175-pound roof top tent at freeway speeds without issue.

But we’re not in the clear yet. Just because a set of crossbars is rated to hold several hundred pounds doesn’t mean they’re shaped to safely do so. Many crossbars that come standard on vehicles from the factory have a very strong arch from one side to the other. This is to aid aerodynamics or at least limit the aerodynamic drag or wind resistance caused by the crossbars.

Essentially, automakers seek to make their vehicles as aerodynamic and quiet at highway speed as possible. Crossbars can get in the way of both goals, as they disrupt the clean flow of air over the vehicle’s roof. So, designers make them thin and arched in order to limit wind resistance. 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 roof top tent. Ditto if they’re exceedingly curved.

Don’t let all of these factors get you down or talk you into buying an expensive and heavy platform rack. Rather, we establish this understanding of the benefits and detractions of factory crossbars for our ultimate point: Roofnest recommends you buy a nice pair of aftermarket crossbars.

Although they may be noisier in the wind than the slim, curved bars, a nice set of heavy-duty bars from Yakima, Thule, Rhino Rack, or any other reputable crossbar manufacturer should be a strong solution for mounting your roof top tent.

Aftermarket bars can be positioned to a perfect spot, to enable a great fit on top of your vehicle while providing the highest possible strength. They may be expensive, but they’re worth the investment.

Platform racks

Simply put, 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 honeycomb aluminum floor sturdy enough to support 600 pounds of weight or more. 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.

Platform racks often run the full length and width of the vehicle’s roof and then sit very close to the roof itself. This can make installing a rooftop tent on a platform rack incredibly difficult and time consuming.

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 Condor Overland, Falcon 2, 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 purchase a Roofnest roof top tent that can play the dual role of tent and accessory carrier.

Some folks may still want a platform rack on their rig. For example, if you have a longer SUV, there may be room for a Condor mounted toward the rear of the rack with space up front for jerry cans or other gear like traction boards. This is a totally reasonable decision to make.

We only point out the detractions of platform racks because we want the typical roof top tent camper to know they don’t have to buy one — crossbars are a great, easy, and affordable solution. If you want or need to step up to a platform rack, by all means do so, but just know it is not a requirement and in most cases not the ideal way to mount a rooftop tent. 

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