Last Updated on September 30, 2021
How to make the most of your car top tent.
Ahhhhh... the great outdoors! In any season, getting out into the open and having adventures in the wilderness is one of the greatest pleasures in life.
Whether you are a seasoned minimalist hiker, or a weekend 4WD adventurer, a trip into the back country - or the beach, or even the back yard - gives you the opportunity to de-stress and re-orientate yourself.
But wherever you go in the outdoors, effective shelter is perhaps the most important factor in making an adventure comfortable. Nothing spoils a trip faster than a wet sleeping bag on hard, damp ground.
In the last few years, tent cots have become a popular way to ramp up the comfort level of a camping trip. And for most people, getting out into the countryside does require a certain degree of comfort. Your trip into the back country doesn’t have to be an ordeal; you don’t have to be the guy in The Revenant or the girl in Wild!
From tent cots on the ground, it’s a natural progression that tent cots should have also evolved into roof rack shelters that can elevate you out of the reach of ground-based critters, and lift you up from the cold cold Earth.
In a previous post, we covered the idea of having a tent cot in the back of your truck bed. So let’s take a look at roof tents now, their pros and cons, and how you can use a bit of backyard ingenuity to make your own tent-on-a-roof-rack.
The Pros and Cons of Rooftop Camping
OK...let’s get the bad news out of the way from the get-go. Roof rack tent cots are expensive. You’re looking at a minimum of around $1,400 for a new car top tent. From there, the prices climb like an extendable ladder into the realm of multi-person luxury.
But now that we’ve got that out in the open (pardon the pun), roof rack tents can be a really-really useful addition to the set of gear you take into the outdoors.
Quick and foldable
With a roof rack tent cot, you don’t have to spend ages clearing a spot on the ground of sticks and stones, or thwacking tent pegs into glass-hard dirt. You can simply unfold the unit, clamber in and go off to sleep. What could be simpler?
Six feet above worry level
Scared of spiders and snakes? Or foraging bears. Or skunks? The outdoors are full of critters going about their business, and a snuffling creature separated from you by a few microns of fabric can be an off-putting experience!
So by sleeping up high, you put yourself out of the way of marauding animals big and small, and shuffling creepy-crawlies intent on ruining your night’s slumber.
Park up anywhere
With a car top tent, you can pull up anywhere that takes your fancy, and set up camp in an instant. This is especially handy if you are in a wilderness environment where campsites are hard to find.
What is it about being in a tent that makes you want to pee? At home you don’t have to get up multiple times during the night to go to the bathroom. But when you’re camping...jeez!
So one of the main downsides of a tent cot on your roof rack is having to clamber down a ladder in the dark to answer the call of nature.
Of course, where there’s a will there’s a way...so we can leave it up to your imagination to find ways to overcome this particular con of owning a roof rack tent cot.
You’ll Need a Ladder
One bit of kit that you don’t need for an ordinary tent, but is vital for a tent cot on a roof rack, is a ladder. You can’t be clambering over the bonnet, or lowering yourself from a nearby tree, in order to get in and out of your roof-top abode.
Luckily, there are some excellent retractable and telescoping ladders on the market. One thing to consider, however, when using a ladder to access your roof-top tent, is that it needs to be securely attached to your vehicle to avoid it slipping from under you when you are ascending or descending.
Tent Cot on a Roof Rack - Do It Yourself
Finding backyard solutions to camping scenarios are part of the DNA of outdoors-people. So even though the cost of a tent cot on your roof rack may be outside of your budget, there are plenty of options for creating your own high-level sleeping space.
There are a multitude of online forums where people discuss the building of DIY car top tents. Lets take a look at a few of the better options.
The Basic Adaptation
This person simply attached a sheet of plywood to their vehicle’s roof rack, then mounted a modified tent cot directly to it.
It may be crude...but it is a very effective, not to mention economical, solution to the situation.
Neat and Compact
This fellow is on the right track. He’s simply got hold of a ground-based tent cot and shoved it up on the rook of his truck. Now why didn’t I think of that?!
He has used some u-bolts to attach the legs to his roof rack but other than that, its just a standard tent cot. Brilliant. And if you follow the comments thread, it leads to some pretty cool other options for just rigging up ground tent cots onto all kinds of racks. There’s so much ingenuity out there.
And you can’t fault the price. Seventy five bucks for a rooftop palace? JUST TAKE MY MONEY! (BTW...love the passive-aggressive “If you want shipped you will pay”!)
The One-person Option
In addition to covering the basic procedure for doing the conversion, they do, however, point out that converted tent cots suffer from a lack of space. So it would be a better choice to go with double tent cots with a rainfly for added measure.
The Full Monty
If your budget stretches a bit further than simply cobbling together something from bits and pieces, check out the set-up that this guy has built.
Admittedly, he doesn’t include a build video, but it gives you a good idea of how a well though-out DIY roof tent can be as good as an expensive pre-made one.
If you’re planning to make some extended forays out into the back country, this fully kitted-out expedition vehicle has all the mod cons, including an exceptionally well-built DIY roof top tent.
In our busy and crowded world, “lighting out for the territory” is a great way to reconnect with nature, and let your stressed mind and body relax. And with all of the equipment and gear available to today’s explorer, getting out into the great outdoors has never been easier.
With a bit of DIY enthusiasm, you too can take off into the wilderness, equipped with your own comfortable eerie atop your vehicle, where you can sleep soundly and contemplate the natural world from the vantage point of your vehicle’s roof.
The Persian poet Omar Kaayham once wrote: “wilderness is Paradise enough.” And for modern explorers, paradise might just be a car top tent. Happy camping!