How To Set Up A Rooftop Tent


Rooftop Tents are becoming the rage in camping circles. They keep you off the ground, so you have no concern about waking up in the middle of the night and finding some unexpected bug has crawled into your tent. 

A Rooftop Tent can be mount onto the top of your vehicle in two ways and are accessible via the provided ladder. They are simple to set up, however, there are some things you need to consider such as which way you want your tent mounted and the weight of the tent.  

Setting up your rooftop tent

For those keen on getting a Rooftop tent, we will tell you the benefits of this type of camping, what to think about when considering this style of the tent and how to mount and set up your tent as well as issues with the tents and how to overcome them.  So, pitch camp, light the fire, sit down and let’s go! 

Why should I get a Rooftop Tent?

As we mentioned in the introduction, Rooftop Tents allow you to be elevated off the ground which means no bugs nor bumpy, uncomfortable ground beneath the tent making your good night sleep turn into a nightmare. They also offer more freedom when selecting where to set up camp. You might have found an ideal spot to rest for the night. Pop open your tent and your good to go. However, as you will find out later, there are some restrictions that come into play when choosing your camping site. Additionally, Rooftop Tents are quicker and simpler to set up than the more conventional camping tents. You don’t have to be concerned about setting up poles. Just zip open the tent cover and pull out your tent. Hey, presto! You’re ready for camping.

Mounting the Tent

Rooftop Tents attach to your vehicle’s roof rack and you have two different ways of mounting the tent: sideways opening (from the passenger side of your vehicle) or back opening. Which way you decide is up to you, but here are the pros and cons of each way.

Sideways opening tent

The advantage of having your Rooftop Tent positioned so that it opens sideways is that it causes less wind drag when you are travelling and won’t interfere with your tailgate if you have a gate that swings open. This is also the case if the back of your vehicle has doors that need to be opened. The problem with sideways opening tents is that it means you have to make extra space for the tent when you want to use it. To find the perfect camping spot requires you to calculate the width of your car and the width of your tent. That can make finding a spot that wee bit trickier.

Back opening tent

Back opening tents give you better access to the inside of your vehicle through the annexe of the tent. However, because they create a bigger surface area than if the tent was mounted for sideways opening, it catches more airflow which can affect your driving and with the more wind resistance, costs you more in petrol. However, because they open behind the vehicle, you don’t have to be concerned too much about obstructions on the side of your vehicle, such as trees, when camping. 

How to attach your Rooftop Tent to your vehicle

Whichever way you decide to open your tent is up to you, sideways or rear opening. It’s simply whatever you see as most practical for your camping needs. But how do you actually install and set up your tent once you have bought it? Here we walk you through step-by-step on how to get your tent up and running. The great thing is that setting them up is easier than you think. 

Check everything first!

Once you have your tent, check the packaging and items inside for any damage or missing parts. If there is a problem, contact the tent’s manufacturer to let them know.

Attaching the mounting rails

You will find that Rooftop Tent manufacturers provide all the tools that you need in a pack that comes with your tent, so you are all ready to go to install your tent. The first step is to attach the mounting rails to your tent and the way you attach them depends on if you want your tent opening to the rear or to the side of your vehicle. Also, you need to see if your vehicle has side rails or cross bars on its roof. Please read your manufacturer’s instructions carefully. For example, ARB Touring has you cut the mounting extrusions to the second pre-drilled hole if you are wanting to have a rear opening tent.

The first step in setting up your tent is to attach the mounting rails to the base of the tent with the supplied bolts. Place the tent onto a clean surface and then slip the bolts into the pre-drilled holes. Position the mounting rails over the bolts and then place the nuts over the bolt and tighten them. Voila! You have your mounting brackets in place. Great start!

Fixing the ladder to the tent

Your next mission is to attach the ladder to your tent. Get your ladder mounting brackets and bolts, (washers too, depending on the brand) and nuts and place the brackets over the appropriate mounting holes. Bolt the brackets into place and then bolt the ladder to the brackets. Now, stand back and admire your handiwork! You’re almost there!

Attaching the tent cover

Attaching your tent cover can vary from one brand to another, so please look at the setup instructions that came with your tent. For example, the Rooftop Tents from Tenpui Tents have you slide the edge of your tent cover into the C channel

Securing your ladder to your roof rack

It’s time to get your tent onto the roof of your car. Unless you are blessed with superhuman strength, you will have to ask for some assistance to lift the tent onto the top of your vehicle. Once you have the tent in place, it’s time to get the remaining bolts and slip them into the slide plates. With the bolts all in position, you need to put the base plates under the bolts and then bolt the plates into place. There will be four base plates, one for each corner of the tent. Before you tighten the base plate bolts, double-check the position of your tent to ensure that it is centred on your roof. 

Congratulations your tent is now fixed to the top of your vehicle! Time to give the tent a test run. 

How to set up your Rooftop Tent

Setting up your tent is pretty straight forward but check your manufacturer’s instructions on how to open your tent. But, in saying that, the following steps are pretty common across all brands. Here is how you open your tent and get it set up so you can become a happy camper.

Rooftop tent setting up

Opening your tent

Unzip the tent cover and then release the velcro straps that are holding the tent down. Slide out the ladder until it locks into place. Once the ladder is fully extended you can use it as a lever to open your tent and then allow the ladder to rest on the ground. If you find that your ladder is too short, you may need to use a ladder extension. 

Use the steel rods that come with your tent to add the required tension to your awning and windows. This is done by inserting the rods in the pre-drilled holes and then attaching them to the ring eyelets of your awning. 

Attaching the annexe

Now you have your tent open, you’re just about ready to go. There is one final thing to do before you can put your feet up and that’s getting your annexe up. 

Take your annexe out of the bag (this option could vary depending on model) and unzip the back panel, this will allow access to your vehicle. Peg it into the ground. Zip the annexe to your tent and then peg the mud flaps into the ground. 

Even out the floor of the annexe, peg it into the ground and then use the adjusters to tension the annexe (read the instruction manual for your tent on how to do this as there could be a slight variation on how to tension the annexe).

Guess what? You’re finished! Look at the amazing tent you just set up and go inside it. Imagine what it would be like when you actually take the tent out for its first trip. Exciting times ahead!

Looking after your tent

You want years of enjoyment from your tent and the best way to extend the life of it is by proper care and maintenance. Here are things you can do to show your tent some TLC.

Looking after your rooftop tent

Air out your tent

If you intend to keep your tent fixed to the roof of your car for a long period of time, then it will be exposed to rain. That means that the fabric can become moist and deteriorate. When not using the tent, set it up every now and then to allow it to breathe and dry out. In the winter. remove the tent from your vehicle and store it somewhere that is warm and dry. 

Also, don’t drag your tent across the ground as this can cause damage to the outer cover sheet of the tent, which means less protection of your tent against the elements. 

Don’t use soapy water

When cleaning your tent, use cold water only and a soft brush. Soapy water can cause damage to the fabric of your tent as well as cause corrosion to the metallic parts. Give your tent a regular clean. Look out for any bird droppings, or debris on or in your tent and remove it as these can cause your tent to rot if left. 

Clean your zippers 

Sometimes zippers can be thought of as an unnecessary thing to take care of, but they are an integral part of your tent and need to be maintained. Clean your zippers with a soft brush and treat any stiff zippers with the appropriate lubricant or wax. 

Looking after the tent cover

Your tent cover is going to be exposed to heat, wind, rain and snow so it’s crucial that you keep it in top condition. A poorly looked after tent cover can start to leak which means trouble for your tent. Periodically give the cover a fresh protective UV coating. 

Stopping mould and mildew

As they say, prevention is better than cure, so to minimise the chance of mould or mildew forming in or on your tent, allow the tent to properly dry out before packing it up. If you do notice a growth of mould or mildew, you can use a soft brush to remove it or use a mould cleaner solution. Just make sure to test the solution on an obscure part of your tent. Don’t use bleach as this can cause discolouration of the material as well as damage the protective coating of your tent.

Reproofing your tent

Let’s be honest, things get old and worn. That doesn’t mean you can’t revive those things. When you find that the fabric of your tent is looking a bit tired, you can give it a new lease on life by reproofing it with a protective solution. Just ask your tent’s manufacturer what they recommend you use to give your tent a refresh. 

Issues with rooftop tents

Though rooftop tents are seen as a convenient and increasingly popular option for camping, there are things you need to be aware of if you decide to get a rooftop tent.

Placing a tent on your roof rack heightens the top of your car which can be an issue if you are entering a car park or garage with a height restriction. It pays to check how much additional height to the top of your car the tent adds. 

What weight can the roof of your car support? A typical rooftop tent weighs at least 100 pounds (that’s before you even crawl into it for a good night sleep). Other tents are heavier. Check the brand of the tent you want to purchase and see what the weight is. Then, add your weight and the weight of anyone else who may be sharing the tent with you and you’ll have a good idea as to how much weight your vehicle’s roof needs to support.

Another slight issue and one that needs some practice in packing your tent up.  You may find some flaps poking out after you have folded up your tent and that will make you frustrated and you probably have to pull the tent out again, fold in the flaps and put the tent away again.  It will take a couple of times before you become proficient at ensuring the tent is packed away nearly. 

When parking up for the night you should make sure that is on a flat even surface as anything other than that can cause you to have a less than desirable night’s sleep in your tent.

A final point to be aware of is that rooftop tents tend to be darker inside than their conventional counterparts.  It’s not a major issue, but something that you should be aware of. You can add additional lighting to your tent via torches or a camping lamp.  

Making the tent more comfortable

You have your rooftop tent setup and you wonder if you could make it more comfortable. Not that sleeping in it is something you dread, but you want to add a little more of the “mmmm, this is nice” factor.  So how can you enhance the sleeping space of your tent? 

A major complaint is that the memory foam mattress in the tent isn’t thick enough to give you a good rest. You can add thickness to the mattress by placing an additional mattress underneath. A great option is “self-inflating” mattresses that you can slip beneath your memory foam one.  

Enjoy your adventure!

We have come to the end of this particular journey on how to set up your rooftop tent and seen that this style of camping is becoming increasingly popular. Rooftop tents are convenient as they are always with you,  fixed to the top of your vehicle. In around 10 minutes you are set up and ready for camping.  

But the tents aren’t without their issues such as the additional height and weight they add to your vehicle. Also, you have to be more picky on which campsite you will use depending on if you have a side opening or back opening mounted tent. 

If you love always going on adventures and exploring the wide-open spaces,  then you may find that rooftop tents are ideal for you. Just unlatch the velcro, pull the ladder and your tent is up!

Have a great time.   



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