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What Kind of Roof Rack Do I Need for a Hard Shell Roof Top Tent?

Nick Jaynes

Feb 22, 2024

So you’ve decided to get a hard shell roof top tent. Now you need to know what kind of roof rack to get to support your snazzy new setup. While this may seem daunting because there are more than a handful of styles, designs, and brands out there on the market, we've put together a quick guide to help make the choice a simple one. Depending on what kind of vehicle you have, it’s not always clear which is the best roof rack for your roof top tent set up. And you need to make sure you’ve got the right cross bars to bear the weight of your RTT — both with campers inside (static load) and when closed and speeding down the highway (dynamic load).

Do I Need a Platform Rack for My Roof Top Tent?

Based upon the example set by overlanders, many people think that they need to buy a large and expensive platform roof rack to install their roof top tent. But that isn’t the case. Although slatted roof platforms have many advantages for carrying large and bulky gear — like water cans, fuel cans, firewood, you name it — they’re not necessary for a roof top tent. That’s because the roof top tent is in and of itself a platform already. The base of a Roofnest roof top tent is either honeycomb aluminum itself or has a strong aluminum frame built in. It’s strong enough to support itself, as well as a couple of occupants without additional platform support beneath it. All a RTT tent requires to mount safely to a vehicle is a pair of crossbars. That said, if you do want to mount a roof top tent and a handful of extra gear to your roof, a platform rack might be a good option. Or you could opt for one of the Roofnest tent models that are designed to accommodate accessories. The Falcon and Falcon XL, for example, have an exterior channel system that can accept lighter weight accessories, as well as optional crossbars to which you can mount your favorite gear.

Choosing the Right Crossbars for a Roof Top Tent

If you’re not planning on carrying a bunch of extra gear then all you need is a good pair of crossbars - and the ones you already have may just work! However, there are a few things to consider before using your vehicle's stock crossbars. For starters, many of these are thin and arched across the roof of the vehicle due to aerodynamic design concerns. As you can imagine, an arched surface (though relatively sturdy and certainly aerodynamic) is not a level mounting surface for a flat-bottomed rooftop tent. Plus, many stock crossbars are mounted too close together to safely hold an RTT.

Crossbars must be at least 30 inches apart, longitudinally, to support a hard shell roof top tent.

The final nail in the stock-crossbar-coffin is weight capacity. Many stock crossbars aren’t designed for load weights above 100 pounds — which is far from what a roof top tent and a pair of adults weigh. In short: Stock crossbars, though adequate for a pair of skis, are not always ideal for a hard shell roof top tent like a Roofnest. So if an overlanding-style platform rack is overkill, and stock crossbars can be inadequate, what do you need to mount an RTT to your vehicle? A simple pair of aftermarket crossbars should do the trick. We like Malone bars because they’re just as sturdy as those from Thule or Yakima — for a fraction of the price - and they work with the widest range of vehicles without any specialized hardware. If you’d rather go with another set of crossbars from established roof rack accessories manufacturers, the more power to you. But we recommend going with a Malone, or another well-known brand, instead of just buying a cheap set off eBay or Amazon. Established brands’ websites can help you determine if your vehicle can accept crossbars sufficient for safely mounting a roof top tent and all the other pieces required.

Compatibility with Your RTT Rig

The sad fact of the matter is, some vehicles simply aren’t designed for crossbars. The last-gen Chevrolet Cruze is a perfect example. There are simply no safe roof rack crossbar options available for the Cruze because its roof structure wasn’t designed to support roof top weight of any kind. Good luck finding that out from a random eBay auction! To harp on the point above, established roof rack accessory brands will help you understand if your vehicle has raised side rails to which crossbars like those from Malone can quickly mount — or whether you’ll have to instead utilize often-hidden threaded holes buried in the roof of your car. Determining how intensive it will be to add crossbars to your roof could help you decide whether you want to do the installation yourself, or shop it out to a nearby installer. No matter which brand of crossbars you go for, they must have a dynamic load rating of at least the weight of your Roofnest (dynamic refers to "moving" weight). Luckily, any crossbar set up that can bear the weight of your Roofnest dynamically has more than enough strength and support to bear the weight of you and your friends or pets sleeping inside the Roofnest when parked (just don't go driving around with your friends in your Roofnest!).

Still Got Questions? Talk to an Expert

Although it can be a bit more daunting to pick out sturdy aftermarket crossbars than simply throwing your roof top tent on top of whatever factory crossbars came with your vehicle, spending a little extra time to ensure you have a sturdy, safe crossbar setup will pay dividends in the long run. You wouldn’t throw a $3,500 mountain bike up on just any old roof rack. You’d want to make sure it could reliably carry your investment. The same goes for your Roofnest. Get the right crossbar set up first, and you won’t have to worry about it later. Still have questions about the best roof rack setup for your specific vehicle and hard shell roof top tent type? We’d love to chat. Contact a Roofnest expert today >