Roof top tents are extremely convenient but inconveniently priced. A DIY roof top tent will give you all of the pluses of the design without draining your wallet. If you’re an outdoorsman/woman with a knack for adventure, this DIY roof top tent guide is for you.
Roof top tents are often easier to mount than their traditional tent counterparts. Not only are they easier, but they keep you protected from the elements – bugs and animals included – with the freedom to camp in a wide array of locations. Freedom and fun; what’s not to love?
- Roof rack (if not purchased previously)
- Two particle boards AKA chipboards, size depending on vehicle
- Two 1×1 inch boards
- Two 2×6 inch boards
- Two metal clasps
- Screws and drill
- Wood saw or handsaw
- Staple Gun
- A pair of door hinges, barn door hinges preferred
- ¼ inch tube (length depends on your design) and 2 inner fender wire clamps
- A set of old blankets
- 2-person tent (4-person tent if you are using a truck)
- Ladder (optional)
- Two support beams, plus respective hinges installed on rear car door**
- Two gas struts and 10 mm brackets**
**Only necessary if you plan to use the cover as additional base space.
Step 1: Preparing Your Vehicle
Before planning your roof top tent, you must first prepare your car for the job. A truck, van, or 4×4 is the optimal vehicle for this project. You can decide whether you prefer to have a roof top tent cover that opens upward to provide shelter or one that opens flat to provide extra-base space.
To prepare your vehicle, you’ll need to set up the platform on the roof of your vehicle. Ensure that your previously installed roof rack is strong and sturdy. Measure your roof rack and note the size.
Step 2: Create the Base
Gather your 2 large pieces of particle board, also called chipboard. Before cutting, we recommend using a waterproof oil or wood paint to coat both boards. This will ensure that your particleboard protects not only what’s under or on it, but itself for longer use.
Using a wood saw or handsaw, cut one board to measure 2 inches smaller than the measurements of your roof rack. Lay the cut particle board on the roof rack and ensure the particleboard fits snugly.
Align the 1×1 boards on the sides of the particleboard, making sure they lay on the particleboard. Insert screws between the particleboard and the 1x1s.
Align the 2x6s to the sides of the particleboards. The 2x6s should be touching the sides of both the particleboard and the 1x1s. Secure the 2x6s to the 1x1s with screws.
Important: The 2x6s should fit tightly between the particleboard and your roof rack. This is the system that will hold your base onto the roof rack, so the fit must be snug.
If you plan to use your cover for additional base space in the next step, we recommend adding one hook screw to each inside corner of your base. This will provide a place to hook your tent corners in the final step.
Step 3: Creating the Cover
The next step is to ensure that your roof top tent cover will fold closed when not in use. To do this we will need to make a cover with the second particleboard.
Once dried and waterproofed, use your saw to cut the second piece of particle board into the same measurements as the first board (2 cm shorter than the measurements of your roof rack).
Make sure your base is placed on your roof rack. Then, place the particle board on top of your base.
To Use the Cover for Shelter
If you are using the cover for shelter, screw the door hinges on the front side (nearest the headlights), connecting the cover with the roof top base. Then, screw the clasps on the rear side (nearest the taillights), on both the cover and the base. These clasps will be used to secure the cover so that it does not accidentally open while the car is in motion.
When you climb the rear of your vehicle to reach your roof top tent, you should be able to unclasp and easily push up the roof top cover. For reference, it should resemble the way a toilet seat cover attaches to a toilet.
To Use the Cover as Additional Base Space
If you plan to use the cover as an extension of your base, you will need to screw the door hinges to either the right or left side of the base.
The clasps will then be screwed to the opposite side of the hinges. Once again, the clasps should be screwed to both the base and the cover, ensuring that the cover does not open while in motion. For reference, the cover should open and close the same way a book does (side to side).
If utilizing the cover as additional base space, please note that you will need to complete the additional step listed at the end of Step 4.
Step 4: Raising the Cover
Now that your cover is set, you need a system to keep it upright while you are inside. If you are using the cover as shelter, you have two options for this: ¼-inch tubes or gas struts.
Bend the tubes to make an upside-down U-shape that will prop up your roof top cover. The ends of your tubes should also be bent into small L-shapes so that you can move them without scraping the base particleboard.
You may bend the tubes using a pipe bender, clamps, or a torch. Some home improvement stores will offer this service.
Ensure your tube is bent to the appropriate shape and size to fit you and your tent underneath the roof top cover. Then, attach the tube to the interior end of the roof top cover using the two inner fender wire clamps. Connect these clamps to the interior part of the roof top cover with screws.
The ends of the tube should wedge against the backside of your roof rack, holding the roof top cover-up. When you want to lower the roof top cover, simply push the tube ends inward, which will cause the cover to collapse in a controlled motion.
Gas struts are a more luxurious, yet complicated alternative to the 1/4-inch tubes. First, you will need to determine which gas struts are needed for your cover by completing a mathematical formula you can find online.
Once your struts are ordered and in hand, you will need to follow their specific directions for placement. If you are using the cover as shelter, the struts will be screwed in on the interiors of the roof top base and cover.
To Use the Cover for Base Space
If you are using the cover as additional base space, you will not need tubes nor gas struts. Instead, you will utilize support beams that connect to their respective hinges. These hinges should be placed on the side of the cover which has the clasps, as well as be installed professionally on the side of the vehicle.
When the cover is opened, the clasp side will be the side farthest from the vehicle. The beam will support this side by balancing the pressure onto the side of the vehicle.
Step 5: Preparing for Your Tent
If you are using your cover for additional base space, skip this step.
While your tent may protect you from general winds and chills, having a roof top tent does bring stronger currents of wind. To best protect yourself from the elements, your best addition to this DIY roof top tent is the second layer of cloth to battle against the winds.
Open your roof top cover. Grab your old, large blankets and staple them to the interior part of the cover, with extra cloth hanging off of the sides. Then, staple the ends of the sides to the bottom base. The end result should look like a makeshift tent.
Step 6: Setting Up Your Roof Top Tent
Now it’s time to finalize your roof top tent. You have two options for your tent, depending on your vehicle.
Truck Roof Top Tent
For this vehicle, you can purchase a larger tent for up to 4 people. Cut out the bottom of the tent. Place the tent, without poles, over your truck bed and extended roof top cover.
Then, insert the poles so that the entrance to the tent is at the truck bed door and the back is towards the front of the vehicle. After stabilizing the tent with its poles in the corners of the truck bed, your spacious roof top tent is good to go!
4×4 or Other Vehicle Roof Top Tent
Set up your 2-person tent on the ground near your vehicle, or directly on your roof top base. If you are using your roof top tent for cover, extend the cover and insert the tent under it.
If using the cover as additional space, open the cover fully and lift the tent onto the base. Hook your tent corners into each hook screw. You’re ready to camp!
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