Should I Mount My Car Top Tent on Roof or Trailer?

Yakima Skyrise 3 Mounted on Factory Rails and Crossbars

On my home page, I talked about the inconvenience of putting a rooftop tent on top of the car and taking it off after each trip. Once it is on the car, it is super easy popping it up and down while you are camping.  The alternative is to mount it on an adventure trailer with crossbars designed for rooftop mounting systems and then leaving the tent attached while in storage.

In this blog, I’ll talk about my considerations to mount the tent on my car, and our considerations to transition to our Yakima Easy Rider Adventure Trailer.

In order to use my Yakima Skyrise 3 rooftop tent on my Volkswagen Touareg, I first had to determine how I could safely mount it on this medium to large SUV.  I had to find the weight rating for my factory roof rails which I was able to find from the manufacturer.

I knew my rooftop tent weighed about 110 pounds with mounting hardware. What I didn’t know was how much weight the roof could hold and how to figure that out. It turns out that when you are considering how much weight you can have on your roof while driving down the road, that is called the dynamic maximum driving weight. Most manufacturers of rooftop tents recommend at least 165 pound capacity of your roof rails. Many small SUVs manufactured today do not have factory rails that can support that amount of weight. There are aftermarket systems that can beef up or be used in place of the factory rails to support something that heavy.  Some cars simply cannot accommodate a system involving that much weight on the factory roof, so a small trailer may be your only other option.  Also, many current SUV’s do not come with factory crossbars, which have to be purchased as an accessory or from another manufacturer after market.

After learning about stationary versus dynamic weight limits, I learned that my factory rails and Volkswagen OEM crossbars (purchased from the dealership) were adequate to support the weight of the tent.  As shown by this Thule Help FAQ, the acceptable stationary weight when camping and the tent open with the ladder extended is about three times the weight limitations of the dynamic weight.  

Because weight of the open tent is spread out and also partially supported by the ladder, There really were no issues to worry about with two people and equipment in the tent on top of the car.

If you are considering the tent for the top of your car, and your vehicle and rack system can support the weight, this can be a good option for you. When I first bought this system and mounted it on top of the Volkswagen, I developed a pulley system mounted in my garage to hoist the tent to the ceiling where I could back under it and lower it onto the roof rack. With two adults, we could have possibly lifted it on, but given the height of the roof and the short stature of my wife, this really wasn’t an option for us.  For two people, it isn’t that heavy, but it is very bulky.  I left it on for the duration of our camping trips then took it off using the same process in reverse after returning home. Once off the car I was able to store it in the garage leaned up against the wall.

Using the hoist to put the tent on and off the car was time consuming and a little scary at times. It generally took me about 45 minutes to put on and take off before and after each trip.

While camping, I could easily pop the tent open in about 5 minutes and close it up and get the cover cinched down in about 10 minutes. Working with the top on the roof of the car was a little bit difficult, opening and closing it while standing in the door wells and sometimes needing to use a short stool or step to be able to reach the attachment points straps, etc.  We would transfer our sleeping bags pillows, etc. into the tent for the evening.  Keep in mind, once you open the tent and the ladder is sitting on the ground you cannot move your vehicle until you close the tent up again. That involves taking the things out of it and storing them in the car. You have to decide, therefore, how late you need to use your car during the day while still having time to set the tent up before it gets dark.

We successfully used the tent on the roof for a few years before buying the Easy Rider Trailer.

Yakima Skyrise 3 Tent Mounted on Yakima Easy Rider Trailer

So why did I decide to get a trailer for my tent? While we have been very happy with the rooftop tent, there are some downsides that a trailer would resolve. First downside was putting the tent on the roof of the car before each trip and taking it off after returning. As mentioned earlier, I made a pulley system that I used to lift the tent in the garage and drive under it to mount the tent. Some people are able to lift the tent in place with two people, however, my wife is short and the car roof is high. Using the pulley system, I was able to take the tent on and off in about 45 minutes.

The second major factor was having to open and close the tent and remove all the gear in order to drive each day.   This meant that we were not able to set up a campsite and leave it in place. There were other smaller annoyances that contributed to the decision as well; wind noise while driving, reduced gas mileage, and negotiating a six foot ladder in the middle of the night.

I decided to buy the Yakima Easy Rider adventure trailer which includes a rail system just like one you would have on your car or SUV specifically to mount rooftop items. This is designed as a two teir trailer where canoes and kayaks can be mounted below. This major advantage allows us to carry both the rooftop tent and our tandem kayak at the same time (which I was unable to do when the tent was mounted on top of the car).  You can see from the photo above how much closer to the ground it is when open. This lower height also makes it easier to reach when opening and closing the tent, working with the built-in cover, and putting the poles in to erect the rain fly. I will go into more details about this trailer and how I modified it in a future post.

I also considered storage. I had room in our garage to store this trailer where I couldn’t store something bigger. Because of the low ceiling height, a hard side trailer or RV would not fit.  This photo shows what it looks like stowed for travel. Also, the hitch bar comes standard with a hinge that allows it to be folded for storage. I am able to leave the tent on the trailer during storage and keep my bins packed for the next trip. It is very easy to hook up and go!  I can put everything needed for camping on the trailer, with the inside of the car dedicated to my refrigerator, food, and clothes.

There are a few downsides to the trailer. It is expensive, more now than when I bought mine, and it needs to be registered and licensed. You need a hitch on your car and wiring for lighting. When you drive on toll roads, you’ll have to pay a small additional fee for your trailer. It is really small, but still a trailer. Lastly, you need to consider your experience and comfort level of driving with it, speed limitations, backing, etc. All things to consider with any trailer purchase. I will do a future review of the trailer and will describe my project to modify it for camping and storing hard boxes on the lower tier.

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