How to Fit a Rooftop Tent

In order to fit a rooftop tent to your car, you’ll need a rooftop rack. How do you find the best rooktop rack for your car? Two ways:

  1. Check out what are other people are using.
  2. Use a “Fit My Car” guide from one or more of the major rack companies.

I’m going to walk through selecting rooftop racks for four popular vehicles for rooftop tents: Jeep Wrangler, Subaru Forester, 4Runner and RAV4. What are other people using? For rooftop tents, I’m trying to look at tents around 120lbs. That would include the Smittybilt Overlander which is one of the most popular tents, and comparable tents including Yakima Skyrise 3 and Kukenam 3. Here’s a short overview:

SpecOverlanderGen2 OverlanderKukenam 3SkyRise 3
Sleep Capacity3333
Sleep Footprint56 x 95in56 x 96in56 x 96in56 x 96in
Load Capacity661lbs661lbs661lbs606lbs
Fabric600-denier poly/cot600-denier poly/cot600-denier poly/cot210-denier nylon
Peak Height51in51in52in48in

Note that the Overlander price recently increased from $930 to $1035 at Amazon.Com and is now only sold by 3rd parties. Now Smittybilt has just come out with another model: Smittybilt GEN2 Overlander Tent – 2583. Check out the video. This tent is available at 4WheelParts.Com for $1,150.

The biggest problem with rooftop racks appropriate for rooftop tents is that they are so damn expensive. Here I’m trying to give you a range of options. You’re looking for a dynamic weight limit for crossbars of 165lbs or more, and a static weight limit of 600lbs or more. Most of time we aren’t given the static weight limit but we can estimate it to be 4x dynamic weight limit (4×165=660lbs).  Factory rails are a separate issue. Typically they don’t have a problem holding 600lbs or more.

Whatever rack and tent you get make sure to test before you head out camping. And by test I mean to note the deflection of the crossbars and rails as you add weight. Add one person at a time to the tent. Obviously don’t add more weight if you’re noting substantial deflection.

Make sure you are aware of the factory dynamic weight limit. Try to observe that limit while driving because the issue is about center of gravity too, not just the rooftop rack limit. Observe the lower of the vehicle and rack static weight limits while parked. Should you ever be adding more than about 600lbs to the roof of your vehicle while parked? Make sure you know the limit before you do it.

What if the factory won’t tell you the rooftop weight limits, but you really want a rooftop tent? What are other people doing? What are the limits for other similar vehicles? Ultimately the risk lies with you. If you screw up then it’s your fault.

Finding reasonably priced racks for the Jeep Wrangler is difficult. Rain gutter crossbars are one option but you’re asking for trouble here. So beware or that rooftop tent could be launched in an accident! If you really want budget then you’ll have to use Craigslist or the junkyard.

Jeep Wrangler + Smittybilt Overlander + ACE Roof Rack

Mounting Our [Smittybilt Overlander] Rooftop Tent to our ACE Roof Rack for the First Time [on a Jeep Wrangler]! + Rooftop Tent Tip – YouTube

How to Install the ACE JK Hard Top Roof Rack – YouTube
ACE JK 4-Door Hard Top Roof Rack – Ace Engineering & Fab –  (price: $785)

Prior to the ACE roof rack he had Thule crossbars mounted to the rain gutters as a temporary solution. He said the Thule crossbars performed well over about a year and a half, but it was always just a temporary solution. But a lot of people had concerns about the rain gutter mounts. I also have concerns about the rain gutter mounts. I wouldn’t drive off-road with a rooftop tent on rain gutter mounts.

I cannot recommend Yakima racks because of the same gutter mounts issue. Yakima also has the SkyLine System which mounts into pads called “landing pads.” You have to drill into the roof in order to mount the landing pads. The instruction manual warns against driving off-road with this rack. Also, the weight limit is 165lbs but the instruction manual seems to imply that weight is the total weight, not just dynamic weight.

In researching the Rhino Rack weight limits I found everything to be very confusing. I had to make a spreadsheet and work out the calculations for the various load weight limits. I ended up spending a few weeks just on Rhino Rack weight limits.

Jeep Wrangler + Tuff Stuff 3-Person RTT + Maximus-3 Rhino Rack

In the following video, the guy is living out of this Jeep Wrangler. He’s got an interesting equipment list in his video description that you might want to check out. It looks like Rhino Rack no longer sells the Maximus-3 but it may still be sold by some rack dealers. Also, his Tuff Stuff RTT link is to a 5-person RTT which is incorrect. I believe my link above is correct.

Jeep Wrangler Wilys + Tuff Stuff Ranger RTT + Gobi Rack

He’s got his Tuff Stuff Ranger Roof Top Tent mounted on a Jeep Wrangler Willys. The owner says it’s a Gobi Rack.

Subaru Forester + Yakima SkyRise 3 + Yakima Rack

Setting Up Yakima Skyrise Rooftop Tent on 2019 Subaru Forester Sport – YouTube

I tracked down the rack he is using:

1. Installing the Yakima Rack on a 2019 Subaru Forester – YouTube
2. TimberLine System – Tower System – Product Class

The Yakima Timberline System has a maximum dynamic load capacity of 220lbs. In a Subaru Forester you’re maxed out at 176lbs due to the vehicle dynamic load limit.

4Runner + Smittybilt Overlander + Factory Rails

Smittybilt says it’s tents work with most factory rails but to check with the manufacturer. Toyota will only give us the dynamic load limit of 120lbs for the 4Runner. I’m guessing that’s the off road dynamic load limit. It won’t say anything about the static load (parking) weight. One guy e-mailed Toyota about the static load weight. Here’s the response:

“We apologize as we do not recommend or assist with modifying our vehicles from the original factory specifications. The maximum roof capacity listed is 120 Lbs.” – Source.

We can estimate the on road dynamic load limit and static load limit:

On road dynamic load limit = 1.5x120lbs = 180lbs

Off road dynamic load limit = 120lbs (given)

Static load limit = 4×180 = 720lbs

These estimates suggest that a rooftop tent weighing no more than 120lbs could work for the 4Runner, but you will want to do some testing before adding a lot of weight. By testing I mean gradually add weight and note deflections in your crossbars or rails. Also, I wouldn’t add more than 600lbs on the roof while parked.

The 4Runner Sport factory rails worked for this guy. Apparently, the factory rails are a c-channel design which are very tough. It’s the crossbars (mounted to the factory rails) that are the weak link.

So tired of guys saying you cannot mount on factory rails–like they are engineers. I just had my Tepui on 4Runner rails(not cross bars) and went 16K thru 20 states with no problem. Offroad, on sand, up hill etc. – Source.

On the same page Doubleroses mentions a little disaster that hit him:

Looks good man! I rock my Tepui Grand Sabana on my stock roof rack for my 100 Series as well.

Unfortunately I made the huge mistake and did this with my 80 Series roof rack this weekend. After 3 days and almost 200 miles off road in Moab I noticed that I completely destroyed the factory roof rack. Luckly I made it home with no series issues.

It’s fine on the 100 Series factory roof rack. My tent weights somewhere around 200 lbs and I didn’t have a single issue with it on the 100.

So what happened with his 80 Series rack? I’m thinking he scratched up the factory rails a lot. Probably came loose a little bit. You may want to check out that entire page.

It appears the factory rails are fine but the crossbars might be an issue.

4Runner + Tepui Kukenam 3 + Factory Rails

Here’s a picture of a Tepui Kukenam 3 rooftop tent (weight 125lbs) mounted on 4Runner factory rails:

Video is here.

Those bolts look pretty close to the roof. I’d be looking for some protection:

4Runner + iKamper SkyCamp 2.0 + Factory Rails + Thule Crossbars

Here’s an iKamper SkyCamp 2.0 rooftop tent (weight 155lbs) mounted on Thule crossbars with factory rails on a 4Runner. The maximum dynamic weight for a 4Runner is 120lbs. So he’s well over the factory weight limit.

4Runner factory rails with aftermarket crossbars is a good strategy but your tent shouldn’t weigh more than around 120lbs.

People often ignore the roof weight limits. That’s going to affect vehicle handling so beware.

RAV4 + Yakima SkyRise 3 + Factory Rails + Malone AirFlow2 Crossbars

Here’s a RAV4 with Yakima Skyrise rooftop tent and Malone AirFlow2 crossbars:

Outfitting A Toyota Rav4 Yakima Skyrise Roof Top Tent + HD Cross Bars. – YouTube

What I really wanted to know was how much the crossbars deflected when the two people were in the tent. In this case, only the woman entered the tent with no observable deflection in the Malone AirFlow2 crossbars. I was hoping the YouTube post description would give me the static weight limit. No way.

I started searching the internet for information about the static load limit for Malone AirFlow2 crossbars. Nothing. Then I guessed at various static weights and searched for that. Nothing. Finally, this is what I got out of the manual:

“The load you are carrying plus the weight of the rack must not exceed the maximum weight limitation of the vehicle’s factory raised side rails. Before installing, confirm your vehicle’s factory specifications.” – Source.

“Before installing, confirm your vehicle’s factory specifications.”

You know we can’t get information out of the factory, right? It won’t tell us.

If the Malone AirFlow2 can match the factory rails then it’s safe to assume a static load limit of 650lbs.
Here is the factory rooftop load for various Toyota vehicles:

Tacoma2019440lbsManualPer deck rail
FJ Cruiser2014165lbsManualLetter
Land Cruiser2019154lbsManual

The RAV4 (2019) load is 176lbs. We can estimate the static load: 4x176lbs = 704lbs.

Malone AirFlow2 dynamic load capacity is 165lbs. The estimated static load: 4x165lbs = 660lbs.

A rooftop tent should work on a RAV4 with Malone AirFlow2 crossbars but it’s impossible to confirm. You’ll have to do some testing on your own. The Malone warranty doesn’t cover vehicle damage.

“Fit My Car” guides from the major rack companies

More information:
Best Rooftop Tents as of 2020 [And Probably a Lot Longer]
How to Mount a Rooftop Tent
How to Remove a Rooftop Tent by Yourself