roof top tent to set up

How Does A Roof Top Tent Work? Explanation With Pictures

Are you wondering how a roof top tent works? In this article we will examine all aspects together so that after reading this article you will know exactly how a roof tent works.

How does a roof top tent work? Short answer: A roof tent works like a conventional ground tent, with the difference that a roof tent has a solid tent floor, which allows it to be attached to the roof rack of a car.

Just read on here if the long answer interests you too. Because we will now go into a little more detail about how a roof tent works.

How all types of roof top tents work

Understanding how a roof top tent works also includes knowledge of the mechanics.

A roof tent is not a highly complex structure.

However, there are a few basic elements that all roof tent types have in common.

There are several roof tent categories, namely:

  • Folding roof top tents
  • Hard shell roof top tents
  • Inflatable roof top tents
How To Maintain A Roof Top Tent

To put these roof top tents into operation, you have to unfold the two halves.


With a hardshell roof top tent, the “lid” opens pneumatically.


In the case of an inflatable roof tent, the chambers are filled with air and this is how the roof tent opens.

All roof tents have the following construction elements in common:


The main difference to a traditional tent is the floor.

The floor of the roof tent is constructed in such a way that, on the one hand, it enables the tent to be attached to the roof racks of the car and, on the other hand, it can also support the tent frame and keep it stable.

The floor is mostly made of either wood, plastic or aluminum. It all depends on the manufacturer which materials he uses.




Plastic sandwich floor


Aluminum sandwich floor

Furthermore, there are all possible variations in the use of the different materials.

The floor of a roof top tent should definitely:

  • Be pressure-resistant so that it doesn’t give way under your knees and get dents.
  • Have good thermal insulation properties.
  • Be light so that the total weight of the load (roof tent) on the roof of the vehicle remains low.
  • Be stable so that the roof tent can also be securely attached to the roof rack.
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We have now briefly explained the floor of the roof tent and now we come to the scaffolding that supports the tent fabric.

Depending on the type of roof tent, the structure of the roof tent consists partly of aluminum and partly of stainless steel in combination with plastic.

The frame of a folding roof tent is usually made of aluminum, whereas the frame of a hard shell roof tent consists of two plastic shells which are connected by a stainless steel rod.


Hardshell roof top tent with gas pressure springs


Aluminum frame

With folding roof top tents, the floor consists of two equally large parts, which are unfolded to set up the tent. The framework of the roof top tent also opens, with the tent fabric stretching evenly over it and creating the bedroom.

The pack size of a folding roof tent is half as large as the lying area of the tent.

An example of a good folding roof top tent is: Thule Tepui Explorer Kukenam 3 Tent


>> Click here for more infos about this roof top tent <<

Packed SizeFloor Dimensions
Folding Roof Top Tent56 x 48 x 12 inches96 x 56 inches
Example pack size and lying area of a folding roof tent

In hard-shell roof top tents, the floor consists of a single plastic shell. And the roof also consists of a plastic shell. Actually just like a car roof box.

Between the upper roof tent shell (the “roof”) and the lower roof tent shell there is either a metal rod or gas pressure spring or a combination thereof.

The tent fabric is attached to both the lower and the upper roof tent shell and is stretched when the upper roof tent shell is pushed upwards.

The “upward pushing” of the upper roof tent shell is accomplished with gas pressure springs on some models and with a crank on other models.

The pack size of a hard shell roof tent is therefore the same size as the lying area of the tent.

An example of a good hardshell roof top tent is: iKamper Skycamp 2.0 Tent


>> Click here to get more infos about this hardshell roof top tent <<

Packed SizeFloor Dimensions
Hardshell Roof Top Tent85.8 x 54.3 x 12.5 inches85.8 x 82.6 inches
Example pack size and lying area of a hardshell roof top tent

Tent fabric

The tent fabric of a roof top tent is slightly different than that of normal ground tents. Most of the time, it is a firmer fabric from 180g/sm to 400g/sm.

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Depending on the manufacturer, it consists of cotton, polyester or a mixture thereof.

Mostly, the roof top tent manufacturers use a mixture with a higher polyester content in the form of a rip-stop fabric as tent material. For example 70% polyester and 30% cotton.

The polyester content makes the roof tent lighter and the rip-stop fabric prevents any holes in the tent skin from tearing open any further.

How does a folding roof top tent work?

As already indicated, there are a few small differences between the different types of roof top tents.

The pop-top tent works like this:

The first step is to pull the ladder. As a result, the aluminum frame folds up and the movable half of the roof top tent floor is placed on the ladder.


Most of the roof tent is now set up. With the roof tent in the pictures above, only the tent fabric at the entrance is rolled up and the sleeping area is ready to be covered.

Pillows, blankets, sleeping bags and some clothes have room in most folding roof tents even when they are closed.

If the roof tent still has windows and canopies, you can either set them up or leave them closed.

What you don’t need with a folding roof tent are pegs to attach the roof tent to the ground, because the frame is already so stable that it can withstand strong storms.

The folding of the roof tent camp is very easy. You just do all the building steps backwards. You should make sure that the tent fabric is folded up nicely again and that it is not unnecessarily jammed between the poles. Then just put the truck tarpaulin back on and fasten it and it goes on to the next standing room.

The erection and dismantling of a folding roof top tent usually takes around 15 to 20 minutes.

How does a hard shell roof top tent work?

The hard shell roof tent is the easiest roof tent in terms of its functionality for the user, because it is very quick to assemble and dismantle (approx. 1-3 min).

Due to the construction with two hard shells, one for the floor and one for the roof, the construction is very easy.

Regardless of whether it is a rectangle, shell or mixed breed hard shell roof top tent, the following principle always applies: The upper roof tent shell is mechanically pushed upwards and thus forms the bedroom.

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There are two ways the mechanics of a hard shell roof tent work.

Few roof top tents use a crank mechanism which actuates the stainless steel struts on the head and foot sections of the roof top tent and thus pushes the roof top tent shell upwards. This also tensions the tent fabric.

In most roof top tents, gas pressure springs are installed, which replace the stainless steel struts. These are the same gas pressure springs that are used to open the trunk door on somewhat older car models.

With the hard shell roof top tent, it is sufficient to open the locks of the hard shell and to push the roof tent shell a little and the rest of the work is then done by the gas pressure springs.

How do the subcategories of hard shell roof tents differ?

In the case of the rectangular hard shell roof top tent, the roof top tent shell opens in parallel. The interior height is therefore the same everywhere in the tent (around 35 inches).

With the shell roof tent, only one side of the roof tent shell opens and the other side remains connected to the floor roof tent shell. The advantage of this type is that you can enjoy a higher interior height. At least on one side.


The mixed-breed hard-shell roof tent is a hard-shell roof tent whose floor can be folded out like a folding roof tent.

The big advantage of this “hybrid” is the quick assembly, the small pack size and the large lying area.

How does an inflatable roof top tent work?

The newest and most innovative form of roof top tent is the inflatable roof top tent.

The inflatable roof top tent differs from the other roof top tents in that the floor and the frame of the roof top tent are made of inflatable parts.

In these roof top tents, an air compressor, which can be plugged into the car’s cigarette lighter, is of course used to inflate the individual parts.

The biggest advantages of this type of roof tent are the low weight, the extremely small pack size and a large lying area.

Other related questions

How is a roof top tent attached to the vehicle? A roof top tent is attached to the roof rack of the car by a specialist using screws and metal clips.

How fast can you go with the roof top tent? With the roof top tent you can drive as fast as the road traffic regulations allow. Most roof tent manufacturers specify the maximum speed (e.g. 80 mph).

What does a roof top tent weigh? Roof top tents weigh between 220 and 400 lbs, depending on the construction.

Where is the best place to buy a roof top tent? We recommend the online shop from offers a very good service and low prices.