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5 Requirements You Need to Have Before Buying a Car Top Tent

You’ve got your eye on a certain car top tent. Before you invest, there are a few requirements to keep in mind.

Understanding these requirements means you can rest assured that you get the right tent. When your shiny new tent arrives, you’ll have everything you need. Then you can set up straight away and get going with your next adventure.

Read on to learn the essential rooftop tent requirements.

Car Top Tent Requirements

1. A Suitable Vehicle

SUVs, trucks, and off-roaders are the most suitable vehicles for a rooftop tent. Smaller cars like sedans and hatchbacks might not fit the bill. It depends on how much weight your car roof can hold.

Some smaller cars might be able to support a lightweight, two-person tent-like The Eezi Awn Fun Roof Top Tent. It’s 110 pounds and with the optional annex, 126 pounds.  

There are two types of car roof weight capacity to consider – static and dynamic. 

Static Weight Capacity

  • The static weight capacity is the maximum weight your vehicle can support when it’s still. 
  • The static load includes the weight of the tent’s occupants.
  • Static capacities are usually much more generous than dynamic. This is because, while driving, any load on the roof exerts force in different directions. This affects the vehicle’s stability. When your car is not moving, the weight exerts a downward force only, which the vehicle’s frame can withstand.   

Dynamic Weight Capacity

  • The dynamic weight capacity is the maximum weight it can support in-motion.
  • The dynamic load is the weight of your roof rack itself, plus your tent and anything else stored on the roof. 

For many cars, the dynamic weight capacity is around the 165-pound mark. With 4x4s, it’s often between 110-120 pounds. Here are some examples of dynamic loads for a few types of vehicle:

  • Nissan Leaf: 77 lbs. (35 kg)
  • Ford EcoSport: 80 lbs. (40 kg)
  • Toyota RAV4: 100 lbs. (45 kg)
  • Fiat Panda, Ford Fiesta: 110 lbs. (50 kg)
  • Jeep Wrangler hardtop: 150 lbs. (68 kg)
  • Audi A1, Land Rover Discovery, VW Golf: 165 lbs. (75 kg)
  • Honda CR-V, Toyota Landcruiser: 176 lbs. (80 kg)
  • Audi A7: 220 lbs. (100 kg)
  • Ford Tourneo Custom l2: 330 lbs. (150 kg)

Always check because sometimes, the rating is quite different to what you might expect and it may vary depending on the vehicle’s year of manufacture.

Off-Road Weight Capacity

The dynamic weight capacity is based on driving on normal roads. For more difficult terrain, the capacity reduces. According to Yakima, you need to reduce the maximum weight by 50% for clamp mount fittings and 30% for fixed point, tracks and other mounts.

Before you buy a tent, check your car roof weight capacity – static and dynamic (and off-road, if needed). See if you can find it in your vehicle’s documentation. Otherwise, ask the manufacturer.

Once you know how much weight your car can support, you have your rooftop tent weight limit. You can now get a more specific idea about which tents will work for you. If your car can’t support much weight but you have a trailer, you can set up your tent on the trailer instead.

If in doubt, get some advice from the manufacturers about your vehicle and the types of terrain you’ll be driving on with your tent.  

 You mustn’t overload your vehicle. Staying within the weight limits keeps you safe, and any accidents that happen due to overloading could prevent you from making claims on your insurance. Overloading can also damage the vehicle’s suspension over time.

2. A Roof Rack

You need a roof rack for a rooftop tent because you secure the base of the tent to it. Before we get into more detail about roof racks, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • The rack must be compatible with your vehicle.
  • The rack must be able to support the total load, including the weight of all people sleeping in the tent.
  • The rack must have a dynamic weight capacity that can support your chosen tent.
  • The rack must be suitable for rooftop tents.

Not all roof racks can support a tent - ask your manufacturer if yours can. If you don’t have a roof rack, there are many options - you can find something that works for you. 

Many vehicles come with side rails to which you can attach crossbars. (To be clear, crossbars are the bars which run laterally, across your roof from left to right. Rails run from front to back on each side of your vehicle).

Your vehicle may come with factory crossbars. The problem is, they’re often not as strong as crossbars that are purpose-built for specific applications.

If you need to upgrade, Yakima’s roof rack systems are versatile and worth considering. The systems consist of crossbars of your choice, towers (the part that mounts to your roof and holds the crossbars), and other optional components. So, you need to know what type of roof you have so you can choose the right components.

Roof Types

a. Naked

A naked, or bare roof, has no in-built rails or fittings for attaching a tower, so you need extra fittings to mount them. The installation requirements vary by vehicle. Truck cabs and smaller cars often have naked roofs. 

b. Fixed point 

This can be mistaken for a naked roof because in some cases, the attachment points are covered. The points are usually on the outer sides of the roof, under a panel which you flip open. It’s a very secure mounting system. Sedans often have fixed point roofs. 

c. Raised side rails 

These rails run along the outer edges of the vehicle from front to back, with space between the rails and the roof. They have attachment points for building a roof rack system. They’re common on SUVs and vans. 

d. Flush side rails

Like raised side rails, they run from front to back, but there’s no space between the rails and the roof. They have ridges or pinholes for installing towers. Flush side rails are widespread among many vehicle types. 

e. Tracks

Tracks are channels you slot parts into. Like rails, they run from front to back. They’re common on older vehicles and truck canopies, but can be installed aftermarket. 

f. Rain gutters

Rain gutters prevent rain and snow from spilling when you open the doors. Made from metal, they provide a sturdy foundation for a roof rack system. You can find them on vans, some Jeeps, and other large vehicles made in the 90s or earlier. 

3. Mounting Brackets

Next on our list of rooftop tent requirements are mounting brackets for attaching your tent to the roof rack. More often than not, rooftop tents come with the parts you need to mount them.  But in some instances, you may need to get the mounting brackets separately so be sure to check in advance.

4. People to Lift the Tent

You’ve checked your vehicle specifications and bought your tent. Next, you need some heavy lifters to get it onto the roof. Some of the heavier models might require two people to lift them.

There are other strategies for lifting your car top tent, like using a hoist, Unless you’re going to take the tent on and off regularly (or your vehicle is tall), it makes more sense to lift it manually.  

5. Shipping Requirements

Finally, check the shipping process. Some large tents have to be sent to a commercial address. If this is the case, there may need to be a loading dock and forklift available at the address you provide. Check these details in advance and plan accordingly.


To sum up, you need to know your vehicle’s static and dynamic weight capacity, roof type, and roof rack load capacity. Check if mounting brackets come with the tent, check the shipping instructions, and have someone help you lift it onto the roof.

With some basic research into your vehicle specifications, you’ll have all the information you need to narrow down your search and find the perfect tent.