top of page
  • JP

Are Rooftop Tents safe and how should I go about buying one?

In short, yes they are. But keep reading for more info about how to evaluate what's best for you and ensure they're safely fitted, used and stored for travel! We hope this post helps you start the process of matching what's right for you and your vehicle before buying - every nuance and change to your set-up will affect ease of use, comfort and the eventual weight (and therefore safety or insurability of your vehicle).

Our company - ROOZE - rents (and sells some) rooftop tents. We've purchased our inventory through retail channels so we're completely unbiased. Excuse the few plugs throughout, but our service has helped many prospective buyers consider different rooftop tents for different trips or as a way to try before they buy. We've bought from stores, shows and online from both retailers and manufacturers. We've imported from factories in China. We've done it all without being influenced by product or money. We've sold off the junk - learning along the way - we know what works, what breaks, what's worth investing in immediately and maybe further down the road. We've fitted a ton of different tents to many different vehicles (mostly family/SUV and small cars where a lot of the discipline in buying is important v's more capable off-road vehicles that have higher weight ratings, larger roofs, higher GVM ratings, etc). Alright, back to the fun...

Rooftop camping is a ton of fun and easy. Kids love them, adults love them. People who don't camp love the idea of them - when they get inside one, they love them. It feels more free than a caravan. More nomadic than ground camping. For those doing it months on end, it's touring and provides great convenience and comfort for those getting off road - but for those wanting to try it out for a weekend even at a flat grassy campground, it's also very achievable!!

Let's break this down into a few things to consider when buying, installing, using and storing a rooftop tent...

Buying a rooftop tent

When buying a new rooftop tent you might be met by people at retail stores who know nothing about the subject. So you'll likely head to Google (and hopefully this is what led you here). There's a lot of people in the supply chain and it's a mysterious one - This industry has been on a tear since 2020 and every man, woman and their dogs have imported tents and whacked their brand on it - mainly due to factories in China scouring Australian (and other countries) company directories, instagram and facebook then sending their catalogue via a whatsapp message or email. It happens to us every day! We've done it - then we've undone it. We've learned a lot.

If you want to be truly informed, speak to the manufacturers at the camping shows that tour cities and towns in Australia throughout the year. Make sure you ask for a senior sales rep (or the owner). Or come and talk to us here at ROOZE where we are totally unbiased to one brand or another, the styles or your budget levels. But like all things that you attach to your car, you take on great responsibility for others' safety so DON'T GO CHEAP!! If budget doesn't allow purchase and maintenance just rent a good one and be confident and comfortable on your travels!

First and foremost, you need to understand weights, ratings and limitations in order to actually buy and install a rooftop tent with a specified weight. And remember to study (or ask) for what's included in that specific weight (does it include the weight of the mattress and ladder or maybe the racks on top of it because they can add another 10-15kg). We go further into depth on this subject in another post, but here are a few headlines to consider:

Your vehicle roof load rating

Manufacturers usually state these - they're a guide (we consider them a hard limit for insurance reasons) for how much weight you can carry on a vehicle's roof - over load it and you risk lives, vehicle performance (think braking, accelerating, handling, cornering, possibly tipping) and your car insurance policy (or payout if the worst happened). Ratings are often referred to as a "Dynamic" rating which means when the car is driving and a "Static" rating which means when the car is stationary (you're camping). The latter is usually not stated but is generally considered to be 3-4x that of Dynamic. We get a lot of questions about how it's possible for multiple people to sleep on a roof when it's only rated to 80kg. It goes to show that the forces that are applied to accessories on your roof and the fitment to a vehicle (directly bolted or via roof racks) are much greater when moving versus sitting idle at a campground. Remember too - your roof rack weights need to be accounted for in your total roof load capacity (most pairs of racks that support a rooftop tent weight around 5-7kg. Heavier duty racks can be 6-10kg and then you have other systems and platforms that weigh 30kg or more consuming a large amount of the allowance before you even lift your rooftop tent up there.

Your roof rack load rating

Same concept here - there are dynamic ratings and static ones. Dynamic is usually printed on the box, stickers on the bars themselves, installation guides and published on websites. We double and triple check - especially when our clients supply their own racks. If we can't understand the brand of bars or fitting kit (and therefore determine the ratings) we encourage they swap for a set of ours (Yakima/Prorack, Rhino). We imported generic racks from China to start up our business and quickly moved on to reputable brands. The cross bars were ok - the fitting kits, plastics, bolts, nuts were not. These are the unbranded racks you'll find on marketplace for only a few dollars - don't do it unless you're just transporting surfboards or a light bike!

Your roof rack fitting to vehicle

Ok, so we've covered the cross-bars (and if bought new, they'll come with a generic fitting kit that also carries that same load rating (if installed correctly). But there are many different options for fitment - your vehicle will have a specific kit the connects your specific make/model/year to the feet and racks. This can be different for different roof styles - flat (or naked) roofs, fixed points (often hidden under a little latch there will be points to directly bolt into the car frame), raised rails (along the top edge of each side of your vehicle - you can fit your hand between the rail and the car) and flush rails (similar, but you can't fit your hand between them). Then you have tub, tray, canopy and other custom installations that we won't cover here.

Note that some fittings (like the clamp style will reduce your roof load rating, especially for rooftop tents). It's worthwhile having a chat with someone who knows your vehicle, what tent you're looking to buy (or rent), how you're going to drive (ie if you're intending to go off-road, you'll need to reduce your limits again by 33% - rough guide).

Your vehicle size/shape/style

This is primarily to do with functionality of your boot (which is important when road-tripping and camping!) Also, aesthetics - and to a certain degree aerodynamics - which can affect handling, fuel efficiency, noise and bumping your head on the tent when getting into the car. If you drive a hatch (say a Mazda CX-something or a VW golf) you're best to select a rooftop tent that opens out to the side of your vehicle v's a rooftop tent that has it's entire bed base along the length of your roofline - at the front end, you'll have overhang and at the back end you'll limit the opening and access to your boot. Worse still, we see people installing long base tents disproportionately to the front which puts a huge amount of strain on the roof racks and fitting to vehicles.

Same same but different - If you have a canopy with gull wing doors that open to the sides, you'll want the opposite - a rooftop tent that has the entire bed base on the canopy (not open to the side where your gull wing doors would open up.

If your vehicle is wide and square (Wranglers, Defenders, etc) aesthetically a larger rooftop tent will look better. If the top of your vehicle tapers in which is mostly the case with smaller SUVs and sedans, a wide rooftop tent will look like a mushroom - if the math on the weight load limits check out, there's isn't a real issue but some vehicles (like a Ford Mondeo) also come with a very narrow stock roof rack system - the length of the bars (which is the width across your roof) don't accommodate the width of most of the rooftop tent rails (the rails underneath the tent that sit on the bars and carry the fitting kit). So always bring a measuring tape or ask for these dimensions. A good rule of thumb is any flush bar system that is 120cm or more wide will accommodate most tent rails (the spacing is generally between 60-90cm).

Your sleeping arrangement (number of people and height)

Singles and couples have it easy - most tents will come as a king single to double size (about 120-140cm wide). You can get queen beds (about 160cm wide) that might fit a couple and a kid. You can also get king and king+ sizes that range 200-220cm wide that will fit a couple and 2-3 kids depending on how big they are. Again, regarding weights - don't be too concerned about the static weight limit - the bed sizes of these rooftop tents almost self-determine how many people of different sizes and weights can fit (ie two adults who weigh 160kg total or 4 kids who also weigh 160kg total). We started our business because of a desire to use different tents for different trips - eg when I would go on off-road trips solo I'd want to use a smaller/lighter tent than when we would go on longer tours with the entire family (of 5) - summer v's winter also - you too will likely evolve in your adventures or with a family - if money is a consideration buy a rooftop tent with a 2-3 year horizon, or pay more upfront and retain some resale value (hardshell rooftop tents and brands like iKamper certainly retain more value because they have a reputation for being well-made with great components).

So what if you're tall? Big consideration here. Most rooftop tents that fit the entire bed on the roof (without folding out) will be big enough to sleep someone 6'1". Maybe up to 6'3" if you're sleeping corner to corner, but then you're tangling feet and legs if there's two or more of you. If you're a tall specimen, consider the tents that fold out to the side. They'll usually offer you an extra 20cm of body length.

Your budget

The biggest mistakes most buyers make is being limited by budget. Sure we all have a limit, but it's worth going through the process of stretching it and with some forethought as to what you might need to upgrade, change or swap entirely after a few trips. The old saying of "a poor man pays twice" certainly applies here (and with ALL outdoor gear).

Check off these points above regarding weights first, and you'll save yourself even more money and time (and angst) in the long run. I recently ran into someone who was trying desperately to sell a brand new rooftop tent that weighed 95kg!! It was on a family car that had a roof load limit of 80kg. Worse, it was on racks that had a 50kg limit. The outlet wouldn't take the tent back unfortunately. Everyone has to accept blame in this case.

You'll be paying (or not be paying) for: design, research/development, testing (Australian conditions are a real thing), quality control, materials, fittings, technologies, accessories and of course brand. It doesn't matter where a rooftop tent is made, but of course Aussie made is always best in my opinion! Even Aussie brands though will launch sub brands to import Chinese products. There's nothing wrong with that so long as the Aussies have done some thorough testing and have exceptional quality control measures in place. Think stitching, UV-tolerant materials, welds, riveting, glues, bolts/nuts. Until you reach the $1.7-2.5k price range, quality is a big issue.

From our experience, we think there are three types of rooftop tents - straight from factory (steer clear unless you plan to make the enhancements locally); factory + customisations (be diligent here - they're Aussie owned/branded but rarely QA'd); factory of choice (best) - the latter is a well-designed, well-engineered and well assured re: quality testing - the company/brand designed these rooftop tents from the base up and carefully chose their suppliers, assembly and distributers.

For safety, you want to ensure your fittings are the best (replace them if need be). Use nyloc (locking) nuts for long term installs or use spring washers for short term usage. Make sure the supporting infrastructure on the base of the tent is not damaged and that the rails are in fact bolted through the base. Ensure that there are big enough washers used on these connections so over tightening the bolts doesn't lead to them popping through the base when you hit a bump in the road. Remember... the car connects to the rack fitting. The fitting connects to the cross bars/platform. The cross bars connect to a set of rails on the rooftop tent. The rails are bolted (well or badly) to the base of the tent. The top of the tent is hinged to the base. Whatever you have on top of the tent is connected via various fittings again. There's a lot going on here and alot travelling down a motorway at 110km/h!

Early on, I bought a pack of fittings from a well-known and cheap brand in Australia. The head and shaft of the bolt sheared off in no time. The weld was painted on it seemed. Don't do cheap!

Your need for comfort

Ok, this is where it can get tricky, but a little forethought will save you money on bad decisions. At the end of the day a rooftop tent is a bed. Mainly for sleeping, but also to sit out some bad weather and relax. If you don't get a good night sleep when you're touring, camping or hiking then you're toast for the rest of the trip.

No brand on the market has mastered a stock mattress. Mainly because mattresses weigh more with increased comfort (springs, insulation, padding etc). The best I've come across is James Baroud - their mattresses that come with the rooftop tent (albeit expensive) are the comfiest. 23Zero offer options in their Saber product to add spring mattresses. And iKamper offer accessories like self-inflating mats that replace those that you bought with the rooftop tent in the first place. All worth looking into!

You can also swap mats out for other brands including Exped Megamats which I'm a big fan of - incredible comfort and R-values of around 8 which means they're super insulated and warm. We offer a service where you can bring your rooftop tent in and have a play with some of our Exped Megamats and Deepsleep mats (different sizing) to determine what's best for you. You can then rent one to try, or buy if it's the right one for you, your rooftop tent and other gear.

I'm 6'1" and my weight fluctuates between 95-100kg depending on how many pies I eat. I am a side-sleeper with broad shoulders so i want some good padding and I definitely need a good sleep. In order to keep my rooftop camping simple, I like to keep my bedding in the tent. That includes the mattress obviously, plus a couple of pillows, a great sleeping bag and a couple of lightweight throws for extra warmth. If the kids come, they get zip - they'll sleep on or in anything plus they're warm little buggers so they help out in that regard. Seriously, I'm not worried about their comfort level at their age and weight - only concern is their warmth obviously. So in order to stow as much stuff up there I go for ultralight sleep systems (most warmth for weight/size ratios) that also compress easily (when you shut the rooftop tent). For the mat, I either add a Exped Deepsleep (+7cm) to the stock mattress or replace with a Exped Megamat (10cm). For pillows I use Exped Mega Pillows - they're the most realistic (comfortable/silent) inflatable pillows we've come across - worth every dollar. In total, it's about 2-3minutes of extra set up time but it means we have more space in the car, less rain, dust or dirt on our sleep gear from moving between the car and rooftop tent.

So with all this in mind, if you intend to stow gear up in your rooftop tent the mechanics of the tent need to accommodate the extra gear. Or the gear needs to shrink in size to fit in the limited space (and weight allowance) up top. Remember a dooner, pillows, sheets, etc can add another 10-15kg of weight up top. If you're buying a softop tent make sure the PVC cover has a bit of give in it so you can fit more in. If you're buying a hardshell (like iKamper Skycamp or James Baroud) there will be areas that are more cavernous where you position your gear to maximise space but still make it easy to close the lid. With the clamshell style there are many different depths (and therefore weights) so you can fit more in. No dramas for large vehicles with GVM upgrades or strong roof/canopy ratings - but for your average SUV or small 4X4, it's definitely something to consider.

If you're budgeting - consider a cheaper rooftop tent and spend more on replacing the mattress to your requirements!

Technologies, accessories and other add-ons

This is where the addiction can kick in and you can start spending more dough. They're pretty simple things at the end of the day - a bed/mat with some kind of shelter and casing. There aren't really that many technologies if you consider that term in its broadest sense. But there are some that matter to some people for a variety of different reasons. Here's a list of them from across our fleet of rooftop tents for rent - starting from the underside of the tents:

  1. Fitting kits - we love iKamper and Yakima fitting kits because they're easy on and off - they grip the cross bars/panels like a hawk's foot rather than having to manage 8x bolts and the lack of space between car and tent. If your tent will remain on your roof 24/7 then this doesn't matter all that much

  2. Bases - some are fully enclosed some utilise just the support beams (like an ikea bed frame). The Wildland tent does a cheap version of this. The iKamper BDV Duo does a terrific job. Lowers weight while still being structurally strong. But you do lose some heat retention, so back to looking at mattresses that have a high R-value

  3. Base rails - some, like the James Barouds have recessed rails (the bottom of the rail is flush with the bottom of the tent). This makes it tough to add awning brackets to roof racks because there isn't a gap created - not as much problem if you're running a platform mount where you can reposition those L-brackets. Most have exposed rails that are basically strips of extruded aluminium. They create a little more noise but do give you a buffer between racks and tent to add more accessories and fittings (like the L bracket for an awning)

  4. Internal or external poles / gas struts - inside means less space but more protection from the elements. Outside means more space and easier replacement or upgrading them for strength (especially if carrying stuff on top of your tent)

  5. Accessory tracks - the edges of some tents allow for bolting on all your accessories - awnings, shovel holders, recovery board holders, eye-bolts, ladder grips, etc. Again, the BDV tents from iKamper do this really nicely but so do all the bigger heavier rooftop tents like the Bush Company

  6. Hinges - all a bit different but pretty straightforward - if you're packing more in to your rooftop tent, consider it like a book - if you're trying to tuck something into a book it'll be tighter fit the closer you are to the spine of the book (which is the hinge). The 23Zero X-frame is a great idea where it elevates the hinge side of the tent creating more room and airflow, but it does add weight (more steel components and heavier base boards)

  7. Fabrics and awnings - most are a poly cotton - some will have 2 layers which is great for retaining or blocking heat (depending on the seasons) and for waterproofing, but back to weight again, it's an addition. Some like 23Zero introduce LST (Light Suppression Tech) which is a film on the inside of the fabric that blocks more light and UV. A little smelly at first, this stuff works really well. But i have to admit in winter it becomes a little too claustrophobic for me - I like to wake up early and don't mind some light coming through in the mornings. If you had an endless supply of different tents I'd use the LST or darker tents in a QLD summer (to block heat) or a VIC summer (to suppress light at 9pm)

  8. Mesh - when products tout "Australian conditions" this is one of them - our midges and other fliers can be tiny, so the mesh needs to be as fine as possible but retain strength. You don't want to be replacing mesh or fabrics on your rooftop tent! James Baroud and Yakima do a great job with the strength of mesh. iKamper is fine, but I worry about the strength of it sometimes. Remember too, if you're using any mesh camping product, be good at trimming and filing your nails - hikers know this - long nails, breakage (due to dry weather) or sharp/rough nail edges not only become unhygienic but they also tear through tent mesh really quickly.

  9. Zippers - always look for an SBS zipper at a minimum - YKK even better. It'll be the first thing to fail otherwise. Rooftop tents without SBS/YKK labelled zips should be avoided (you'll see these letters embossed on the zip tag). When you buy off the shelf from a factory, their zips will be unbranded and break quickly (it's the first thing they cut corners on when they copy the manufacturing - as an importer you would list this as a customised enhancement). SBS/YKK are heavier duty and well constructed - they'll require better mesh, canvas and stitching too - so you can see where quality takes a deep dive when there isn't a reputable design team or QA process in place. TIP: zips tinker in the wind too - just buy some pvc tubing, cut sections and place over the zip handles, prob solved.

  10. Condensation - most new rooftop tents now have vents (most of them don't work). The James Baroud rooftop tents usually have a solar-powered fan built in which is a simple game-changer. You can buy a solar/USB-powered fan for $20 to add to your set up when the need arises. The more exposed metal, the more you will feel the effects of pooling water caused by condensation and droplets. It's easily managed, but a big topic of conversation on rooftop tents nonetheless. Look for a tent that has a condensation mat included or add one after for $100-$150. These are the little things that can add (or be included in) higher costs. Even in winter, you'll be surprised how warm you'll remain if you have a good sleep system - crack the windows, create airflow.

  11. Lighting & Power - some rooftop tents have 12V power outlets and anderson plug connections built in (and sealed) so you can run power from your vehicle or solar into the rooftop tent. Some have built in light strips. James Baroud provide a neat little torch/lamp that straps to the roof or taken with you outside the tent. LED light strips are aplenty - you can pick these up anywhere and strap them where you need them. The 23Zero Yowie has a couple of them (one inside and one outside the tent) which was good thinking. But you could solve two problems with one unit - just find a portable light/fan but make sure it has an amber setting to minimise the bugs attracted to it. I always leave a small power bank and a USB flat light up in a tent - nothing worse than having to go back down to the car to get something.

  12. Covers/shells - this is where it is worth considering your budget - there's usually a substantial leap in pricing between these two types of containment. PVC covers are light and removable! But they can fail easily - stone chips (even large bugs), UV and wear/tear every time you put it on/off will degrade the cover quickly - then you get moisture inside and then you have to manage drying and risk of mould more frequently. Hard shells come in a few different materials - ABS plastic (of varying thickness/strength), Fibreglass and Aluminium - then there are finishes like plastic paint coating, raptor coatings and other things like that - offering another degree of protection and look great. If you want to be mounting stuff (like bikes, kayaks, boards, luggage) to the top of your rooftop tent search for the aluminium tents with racks or the tracks that will support racks. Some rooftop tents like James Baroud will actually market a style that has a section of the roof made to support luggage. Again, if I had a range of tents to use for different trips, I'd use hardshell tents for coastal trip or high ranges where there's wind (you position the 45 degree angle of the roof to create a wind break) and for other trips I love the aesthetics and simplicity of a traditional soft top rooftop tent with peaked roof

  13. Storage - this is a big consideration too (depending on how you want to travel). If you're on the road continuously stopping at different locations every couple of days, you'll want to keep a majority of your bedding in the rooftop tent. For weekenders, it's not that big of a deal. This is one of those many pro/con considerations you need to make when buying or trying out rooftop tents. There's limited storage up there. Some have no room beyond the mattress. Some have cavernous areas in the shell to store some gear. It comes back to weight, having a good seal on hardshell tents (think rain/dust and wind drag/strain if it's not sealed properly). Adding a heavy sleeping bag or dooner from home can add another 10kg without much thought. We like to use good quality ultralight sleeping gear (the stuff you'd take hiking). It compresses to nothing and keeps you warmer than some of the big heavy stuff (but you'll pay 2-5 times the price - i think it's worth it). Also expensive replacements are self inflating mats and pillows. Another steep investment, but well-worth it if using your rooftop tent frequently.

  14. Ladders - last but not least, there are a variety of ladders (99% of rooftop tents will be sold with a ladder when buying new). Again, ask if the ladder is included in the overall weight of the tent. Some are bolted to the tent (such as soft top tents). Others detach in various ways and you can store inside the tent or in your vehicle. Others are free standing and just lean against your rooftop tent - a little dodgy. Some are in two sections that slide apart to full length - most are telescopic. With the telescopic ladders, note that they will harbour a lot of moisture from rain/condensation so store them separately from your tent for longer periods of time (more than a week). Good quality brands have realised that the angle of the rungs (where you place your feet) can create an uncomfortable entry and exit to the tent with bare feet. They've solved it with a slightly angled rung which is a great option or upgrade if needed. Some after-market accessories like rung covers/pads are available too. But look, the more stuff you keep adding, the more you need to clean, store. Simplicity is golden in this whole adventure thing.

  15. Accessories - there are tons! From shoe bags to other gear holders, lighting as mentioned, phone/ipad holders and trays. A lot of this great gear requires ways to attach to the rooftop tent (either inside, outside or to the top, side or bottom of your tent). You can use tracks with various square or hex heads/washers. You can utilise the sail tracks that are often used to connect the fabrics to the shell/flooring. You can drill and bolt stuff as you please (at risk to your own equipment/waterproofing). You can add eyebolts to the underside rails (just like the fitting kits) - we've had fun trying different ways to attach light weight tarps with these - a great alternative to the side/270 awnings albeit less convenient. Lighting and solar can be attached in various ways (mounted or flexible panels glued to rooftops). And why not attach an Aussie flag to your rooftop tent once in a while?

  16. Gross Vehicle Mass (GVM) - and in a sharp change of tone, we're back to weight again for one last reminder and something many of us forget about - there is a safety issue with overloading your vehicle in total (stuff on and inside). It will have a huge affect on your vehicle's handling and overall performance. Everything from braking and accelerating to breakage of your suspension systems, and other aspects of your vehicle. It's difficult to watch holiday makers fly down the motorways with obviously overloaded vehicles - there's so much danger in and around those vehicles. Do the math on your rooftop loading for sure before you buy a rooftop tent. But also consider the weight of humans, pets, other camping gear, food, drinks, ice, firewood, modifications to your vehicle (mostly 4X4) and tow ball weights if towing. It can add up quick!

As you can see, there's lots to consider! A lot for safety, a lot for comfort and even more for convenience. Because we fit rooftop tents to many different types of vehicles (and most are family vehicles, not so much full-time touring and off-road vehicles), we certainly overthink everything - but for good reason. The rooftop tent (and other gear) needs to be appropriate for the crew traveling - it needs to be comfortable and convenient - it needs to be safe. And it needs to be insurable so if someone hits your vehicle in a McDonalds parking lot, and takes pictures for an insurance claim you're going to make - you're not giving the insurance company reasons to void your policy (they'll find any loophole).

A lot of campers and experienced drivers know what they're doing here - a huge number of people don't which is why we take the guess work out and help make some recommendations. Many of the rooftop tent manufacturers and retailers won't take responsibility here - their main objective is to sell you a tent. That's fine - the responsibility should always be on the owner/driver of a vehicle.

Try before you buy! Partly because it drives our business, but mostly because we love helping you. Try different tents on different trips. If you're changing your vehicle, consider if camping and travel will influence your next purchase or vice versa, your next vehicle will determine what you can or can't take on your adventures.

If you're in Melbourne, come and see us. If you're in Brisbane, Sydney, Adelaide - it won't be long before we're there too - feel free to get in touch in the meantime. Or simply do more research before you pick up a bargain at a sale or buy privately on marketplace. We'll post more info on how to buy a second hand rooftop tent and what to do immediately after buying one!

14 views0 comments


bottom of page