Roof top tents (RTTs) have been exploding in popularity recently since they allow you to camp anywhere that your vehicle can go while keeping you cozy and safely off the ground.
However, you can’t just purchase a RTT and throw it on your sedan and hope for the best – there are considerations to take into account about the type of vehicle that’s best suited for an RTT and the type of roof rack that will safely hold your tent.
So, do you need a roof rack for a roof top tent? Yes, a roof rack is required to affix your roof top tent to your vehicle. This can be as simple as aftermarket cross bars mounted on factory roof rails, or as involved as a heavy duty, permanently mounted custom rack.
What Kind of Roof Rack Do You Need For a Roof Top Tent?
The paramount requirement of a roof rack is that it has a Dynamic Weight Capacity (DWC) of at least the tent’s weight. The DWC refers to the amount of weight that the rack can physically support while the vehicle is in motion, without damage to either the rack or your vehicle’s roof.
So, it’s often best to purchase your RTT first so you know without doubt how much it weighs, and then select a roof rack that has a DWC of at least that weight plus the weight of anything that you plan to add on to the tent (solar panels, storage boxes, etc.).
Additionally, you will need to take into account the Static Weight Capacity (SWC), which tells you how much weight the rack can handle while the vehicle is parked. To ensure that your roof rack is strong enough to hold your tent, add up the weight of the tent, the weight of you and whoever else will be sleeping in the tent, and the weight of any gear that you plan to have in or on the tent.
Most vehicles can handle the weight of an RTT since roof racks are designed to spread the weight evenly over the vehicle’s entire frame.
Beyond that, the details and style of the rack are completely up to you. Some people prefer crossbars while others prefer platforms or basket-style racks. There are some racks that are easily removable and don’t require any drilling into your vehicle and some racks that are meant to be more permanent, which are more difficult and impractical to remove on a regular basis.
If you plan to store your vehicle in your garage while it’s not in use, take into account the height of your roof rack – you may want to go with a removable option if your vehicle is already on the taller side.
5 Popular Roof Racks for Roof Top Tents
There are many different types, sizes, and weights of RTTs (generally ranging from about 100-200 pounds), which means that not every roof rack is going to be well-suited to your specific tent and vehicle. However, there are some types of racks that are quite popular, so we’ll share five of the most popular options below.
1. Yakima SkyLine System
Price: Starts at $486
The Yakima SkyLine System is designed for vehicles that have fixed points or tracks on the roof, and it features vehicle-specific landing pads and a variety of cross bar options. This is one of the easiest roof rack systems to use and install with the included tool. It has a maximum load rating of 165 pounds which makes it a great option if you have a lighter RTT.
The system allows you to adjust the pitch of the bars by 12 degrees to flatten them even on curved roof surfaces. Yakima also offers a separately sold locking system so you can confidently leave your rack on your vehicle in any situation.
However, since this is a cross bar kit rather than a permanently mounted roof rack system, it is going to be less secure. But if you casually use your RTT and don’t want to have a permanent rack on your vehicle, this can be a great option.
2. Thule TracRac SR System
Price: Starts at $1,099.90
Many people prefer to mount RTTs on a truck bed rack, leaving the space underneath free to store gear. The Thule TracRac SR System allows you to do just that. It offers quick installation that does not require drilling into the truck, so the adjustable racks can easily be removed or reconfigured to carry other cargo besides an RTT if you wish.
This rack can hold up to 1,250 pounds, making it more than capable of carrying any RTT you select plus much more. Some RTTs are able to handle gear racks on top of them with pretty significant weight limits (less when they opened), but you will need to keep in mind the total weight of the tent plus the gear on top – unless you opt for this rack with an insane weight rating.
Additionally, this rack can be used for other applications besides carrying your RTT, so if you use your truck for work, this can be an excellent dual-use rack.
3. Front Runner Outfitters Slimline II Roof Rack
Price: Starts at $1,465
The Slimline II Roof Rack is available for many different vehicles and is one of the most popular permanently installed roof racks. For the Toyota 4Runner, it can be installed using 8 factory mounting points, although drilling is required to secure the foot rails.
Front Runner Outfitters have listed the SWC as 660 pounds although they do not provide a DWC, citing that there are many factors in play such as load placement, road conditions, and so forth. However, they say that it can without doubt accommodate a roof top tent.
This rack comes with a wind deflector to ensure a quiet ride and a set of foot rails for easy mounting. The Slimline II is designed to have a low profile, with the top of the rack sitting only about 5 inches above the roof of a 4Runner. However, it still provides enough clearance to accommodate 4Runners with sunroofs.
The rack even has openings on the sides to allow for storage of compatible gear like Front Runner tables – you can store a small prep table as well as a large camp table if you wish. Finally, all Front Runner racks are backed by a lifetime warranty, which provides peace of mind when making such an investment.
4. Gobi Stealth Rack
Price: Starts at $1,595
The Stealth Rack from Gobi is another very popular option to carry an RTT. It features a black powder coating with anti-rust base layer and has a DWC of 300 pounds and a SWC of 800 pounds. It also includes a rear ladder for easy access, and neither the ladder nor the rack require drilling into your vehicle.
This rack is available in both a sunroof option (with an open space so you can easily see out) or a non-sunroof option with a larger rack surface area. Stainless steel hardware and an installation guide are also included with a purchase.
These racks are completely welded together, and the only screws involved are to secure the rack to the vehicle’s existing mounting points. This makes the rack very quiet, even at high speeds or on the gnarliest off road trails.
The rack bed is strong enough that you can walk on it without worrying about it bending, and the basket construction makes it perfect for carrying an RTT as well as hauling other cargo. It also conveniently works with Yakima and Thule attachments as well as Gobi’s own line of attachments.
5. Rhino-Rack Pioneer SX Platform
Price: Starts at $1,147
This platform from Rhino-Rack has a maximum weight limit of 175 pounds, which makes it suitable for all but the heaviest of RTTs. It features four extremely strong slats that allow you to easily tie down gear or affix your RTT. The platform is made from lightweight reinforced nylon and aluminum and will not corrode in the elements.
The flat design allows you to easily slide your RTT onto it or load other gear. The entire rack is easily removable in case you wish to thoroughly wash your vehicle. The platform is designed to minimize wind drag and noise while you are driving and it comes with bars included. The system is compatible with many Rhino-Rack accessories and there are additional rail kits available.
Q&A With Roof Top Tent Owner Tiffany
I spoke with Tiffany (@4xploration) about her roof rack setup for her RTT and here’s what she had to share:
What type of roof rack do you have to hold your RTT?
“I have Gobi’s Ranger rack. This is the only rack that I’ve had besides the stock rack.”
How did you choose it?
“We went with Gobi because we like the basket style rather than the flat slats. We went with the Ranger over the Stealth because the basket is deeper.”
What are some pros and cons?
“With the deeper basket, it gives us a better sense of security when we have items strapped to our roof rack. We also got the deeper basket because we remove our RTT when we are home. The space beneath the RTT and in the basket enables us to reach the bolts with ease. The only con is it raises our profile quite a bit. And after the lift and new tires, even without the RTT we do not fit in the garage.”
What vehicle and RTT do you have?
“I have a 2016 Toyota 4Runner with the CVT Mt Shasta extended RTT.”
Any tips for someone shopping for a roof rack to carry an RTT or is there anything else you’d like to share?
“I would recommend taking a few things into consideration before making a purchase. Consider the maximum height of your vehicle with and without the roof top tent, and if the tent will stay on the vehicle or be removed. Gobi racks’ cross bars are easily removable. One thing to keep in mind is there’s quite a long lead time for racks and Gobi is possibly the longest because they are made to order.”
(featured image top of article – credit: @4xploration)
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Cat is originally from Seattle, WA but has traveled around the US and Canada full-time in a self-converted school bus with her boyfriend Aaron since April of 2018. She enjoys rock climbing, paddleboarding, hiking, and generally being outdoors!