There’s no doubt about it: rooftop tents are cool. These mobile, go-anywhere tents quickly and easily convert your car or truck into a luxurious outdoor retreat, wherever the open road might take you.
Unfortunately, rooftop tents are expensive, so they’re not exactly practical for the vast majority of us. Plus, just because you spend a significant chunk of change on a rooftop tent doesn’t mean it’s going to have all the features that you want.
The solution? Make your own rooftop tent. Not only can you potentially save a whole lot of money that you can then spend on future trips, a DIY rooftop tent is the ultimate way to customize your adventure rig to be exactly what you’ve always dreamed of.
Not sure how to make your own rooftop tent? Worry not. We’ll walk you through the pros and cons of a DIY rooftop tent and show you 9 great models that you can use for inspiration as you make your own.
9 ways to make a roof top tent:
Interested in making your own rooftop tent, but not sure where to start? Here are some of the best DIY rooftop tent videos and methods around:
1. Patrick Remmington Method
Patrick Remmington’s method for making a DIY rooftop tent gives you the chance to make your own hard-shell shelter for the top of your car. This method uses plywood to create the hard, protective surfaces for both the bottom and the top of the tent.
Then, you attach gas springs that allow the tent to automatically open and close for a quick and easy tent deployment when you get to camp. The sides of the tent are then made out of whatever fabric you choose, though a waterproof, durable canvas is preferred.
While Patrick doesn’t give us a step by step method for making a tent, the basic concepts in his methods can be used to make your own shelter. You simply need to find plywood for the frame, gas springs for the supports, and fabric for the tent walls. It’s as easy as that.
2. 410 Expeditions Method
In this video, 410 Expeditions shows us “Project Pytheas,” a homemade hard-shell rooftop tent. 410 Expeditions started by contracting a local fabricator to pre-cut and bend aluminum for both the top and bottom of the tent. Then, he got a friend to weld the hinges and gas springs onto the tent.
Once the basic shell was complete, he created the tent walls by re-purposing a bug net from a regular tent. Doing so allowed 410 Expeditions to save time with sewing as it’s easy to simply find a cheap tent that can be taken apart and added to your rooftop tent shell. Finally, 410 Expeditions placed a large Ikea mattress inside to complete the project.
Although 410 Expeditions doesn’t really show us how to build our own rooftop tent, this sleek design is a great starting point for coming up with your own ideas for your future project.
3. Nick K’s Method
In his video, Nick K gives us a guide to how to build a hard-shell rooftop tent from scratch in your own home. He includes a full materials list, so this is really a great guide for people who don’t know where to start.
Nick K’s method uses 3/4″ plywood and corrugated plastic to create the top and bottom of the tent and gas struts to make it easy to open and close the tent when you arrive at camp each night. Finally, the tent body is made from 600 denier waterproof canvas, which has been mounted to the tent frame.
The best part? Nearly all of these materials can be purchased on Amazon or at your local hardware store, so this is a fantastic option for people who don’t have a lot of time to go out and source hard-to-find materials at specialty shops.
Plus, all you need are tools that most DIYers would have kicking around at home, so you don’t need to get outside help unless you want to upgrade the shell to aluminum or something that needs to be welded.
4. Tagayak TV Method
If you want a step-by-step walk-through of how to make a rooftop tent at home, this is the video for you. Interestingly enough, Tagayak TV’s method is based on Patrick Remmington’s design but gives you more information about how to go from start to finish.
This design starts with constructing both the top and bottom frames out of plywood and 2×4 planks. Then, the top and bottom frames get connected through a hinge at the back. Finally, to complete the frame, you simply need to install the gas struts and then coat the frames with polyester resin and polyurethane for weather-resistance.
Once the frame is done, it’s time to start sewing the tent body together. For many, this is the most difficult part, especially if you’re not very comfortable with your DIY sewing skills, but Tagayak TV suggests practicing on scrap material before you start working with the canvas you want to use on your tent.
This video also makes some good suggestions for other ways to customize your DIY rooftop tent, including adding reflective material for insulation and installing vents in the frame for breathability in the summer months, so it’s a good reference video if you need more ideas.
5. Camping Colorado Method
If you’re looking to make a rooftop tent on a budget, this video from Camping Colorado is a good guide. In this video, Dylan shows us how to make a clamshell hardtop rooftop tent out of just $150 worth of materials.
He created the base and top of the rooftop tent with plywood and gas struts and then mounted the whole rig to the top of his Jeep Compass. Then, he cut and mounted a regular tarp that you can find in a hardware store to the top of the clamshell and draped it over either side. This provides full waterproof protection on a budget.
While Dylan’s tent isn’t exactly the most attractive-looking tent, it certainly gets the job done and is an affordable way to get out and enjoy the great outdoors from a rooftop tent.
6. Raise Them Wild Method
In their video, Raise Them Wild walks us through their rooftop camping method for their Jeep Cherokee. The duo from Raise Them Wild made a tent platform out of 3/4″ plywood, 1/16″ aluminum sheeting, and scrap steel from an old bed frame.
Then, they installed hinges on the side of their truck, which are used to deploy support beams for the underside of the platform.
What’s unique about Raise Them Wild’s set-up is that they haven’t actually made a rooftop tent. Instead, they’ve created a super-strong platform for the top of their Jeep that can be used to pitch a regular tent. Thus, this is an ideal method for people who don’t want to spend their time sewing a tent body, though it’s not an all-in-one DIY clamshell rooftop tent.
7. Jeremy Adventures Method
Jeremey Adventures’ method for making a DIY rooftop tent is pretty darn simple, especially if you already have a roof rack mounted to your truck or SUV. Basically, Jeremy just gets a Kamp-Rite Overside Tent Cot with a Rainfly and then mounts the whole system to the top of his Land Cruiser.
At the end of the day, this is a very quick and easy way to make a rooftop tent without having to spend a lot of time constructing one from scratch. With Jeremy’s method, you simply need to find a way to mount the tent to the top of your vehicle using simple clamps that you can fabricate out of easy-to-find materials at a hardware store.
8. Apocalypse Auto Method
This video from Apocalypse Auto gives you a quick look at all the steps you need to follow to make your own rooftop tent. First, you need to create a larger platform at the top of your vehicle using particle board and 2x4s and then mount this to the roof rack. Next, you create a solid frame for the tent using a combination of 2x6s and 1x1s to customize the platform to your vehicle’s roof rack.
The next step is to make a lid for the tent using another piece of particle board and barn door hinges. Unlike other popular methods, Apocalypse Auto uses metal bars for supports to keep the top of the tent upright instead of gas struts.
However, it would be easy to substitute gas struts into this design if you wanted to do so. Next, he attached canvas and old blankets to the edges of the tent frame to create a small shelter.
To finish it all off, he covered the whole thing with a regular large camping tent that drapes down to the tailgate of a truck for easy access to the rooftop tent. While this also isn’t the prettiest set-up, Apocalypse Auto’s design makes it easy to customize your rooftop tent to meet your needs, where that’s by adding better tent walls or by using gas struts for your supports.
9. Nomad Design House Method
Nomad Design House created this video to show us how they extended a roof rack and created a rooftop tent for the top of their truck. They designed a simple extendable roof rack for the top of their truck and then hired a local welder to put it all together.
Then, they simply mounted two pieces of plywood and a simple pop-up tent to the rack before hitting the road.
While there’s really not much DIY involved in this method, with the exception of designing your own extendable roof rack, this is a simple way to create a multipurpose platform at the top of your vehicle that can be used with a multitude of different tents.
Why make a DIY rooftop tent?
Okay, before we get too far ahead of ourselves, why would someone choose to make their own rooftop tent instead of just buying one off the internet? Here are some of the top advantages of making your own rooftop tent:
Potential cost savings
As we’ve mentioned, rooftop tents are expensive. Some of the priciest hardtop models can easily cost you $4,000, while an “affordable” soft top will run you at least a few hundred dollars.
While you’ll certainly have to spend some money to make a DIY rooftop tent, $100-400 of materials is certainly going to be a lot less than what you’d spend to just buy one from a manufacturer.
When you buy a rooftop tent online, you’re stuck with whatever the manufacturer chooses to produce. Although you can certainly try to make some modifications to your tent after you receive it, you can’t choose every single feature of a rooftop tent when you buy it commercially.
Alternatively, if you make your own rooftop tent, you can completely customize it to meet your needs. This includes adding extra storage, choosing the mattress you want to use, and other important features of your home away from home.
Disadvantages of a DIY rooftop tent
While making your own DIY rooftop tent might sound ideal, it’s important to keep in mind that it’s not all rainbows and flowers. Here are some of the disadvantages of a DIY rooftop tent.
Time and effort
Although you might save money by making your own rooftop tent, since all you have to buy is the materials, you do have to remember that you’re making up for those savings by spending your valuable time on construction.
If you’re a busy person with limited free time, building a rooftop tent might not be the most valuable use of that availability. Instead, it might be worth the money to just buy one instead.
Unless you’re pretty skilled at building things, or you like a challenge, it’s easy to get frustrated with building your own rooftop tent. If assembling something from Ikea makes you so frustrated that you want to pull your own hair out, then it might be best if you just buy a commercial rooftop tent because there are no pictogram-type instructions available for making a DIY rooftop tent.
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David is an accomplished mountain endurance athlete who has completed over 25 ultra marathon races (follow on Strava). He is most proud of his finish at The Drift 100 – a high elevation, 100 mile winter foot race that zigzags along the Continental Divide in Wyoming. In the future he hopes to compete in the ITI 350 and ultimately the full 1,000 mile Iditarod Trail Invitational that follows the same path as the historic dog sled race.