Overland Rooftop Camping Tent Guide for Beginners

The Ultimate Camping Guide for Rooftop Tent Beginners

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Update on Covid-19:
 just in case you were wondering if camping in a Rooftop tent or camping, in general, is safe, see this article elsewhere on our site. The short answer is: yes!

You have finally bought your rooftop tent and can’t wait to experience sleeping on top of your car.  Yes, you might have experienced other types of camping or maybe it’s your first time to camp, either way, a rooftop tent will give you a second home experience.

Apart from learning how to get the best rooftop tent, there are other things to consider before venturing out with your brand new rooftop tent.

You’ll need to ask yourself some questions such as which are the best places for rooftop camping?  What gear and equipment do I carry with me? What are the dos and don’ts of rooftop camping?  And so on. This way, you won’t get caught off guard when planning a camping trip.

Here is the ultimate guide on how to make your camping experience more comfortable.

Popular Places to Camp in Your Rooftop Tent

There are many places you can enjoy your outdoor activities.  However, some places don’t allow rooftop tent camping thus making it important to first check in advance which specific camping spots are ideal for you.  There are 4 main types of places where you can spend an overnight in your rooftop tent. These include:

  • Designated camp spots
  • Private camping sites
  • Dispersed camping areas
  • Alternative places

Designated Camp Spots

National parks and state parks are two great camping sites for beginners and frequent campers. Usually charging a small fee, these parks are perfect for first-time rooftop campers who aren’t ready to experience the wild part of camping. Though some of these spots are first-come, first-serve, others can be reserved in advance. For example, if you want to camp at a national park you can check under the  National Park Service website and just search for any park you are interested in visiting.

Similarly, most parks also have websites with readily available information for camping areas.  Additionally, you can also find spots intended for camper vans and RVs though they might be a bit expensive to rent out.  Nonetheless, if you prefer taking the open road we recommend using such websites as Allstays.com. This site has over 37, 000 camping sites including national and state parks, public lands, KOAs (Kampgrounds of America), and more.

Private Camping Sites 

Another great place to enjoy rooftop tent camping is in private camping sites. Offering adventure and security, you can find different camping sites on private land using a fantastic app known as Hipcamp. The app enables you to enjoy several benefits of private camping sites.

  • First of all, you get to have privacy which won’t be the case in designated spots like national and state parks thus making you miss out on enjoying a quiet time in nature.
  • It is easy to reserve in advance- Unlike designated areas which are high in demand and have limited space, the Hipcamp app offers you numerous options even while on the go.
  • Enables you to search by your current location- This simply means no matter where you are, it is easy to find a camping site near you in minutes.
  • The app is brilliant when you need a specific location- It filters by amenities such as proximity to a lake, whether the site is pet friendly, allows fire, and much more.
  • Enables you to filter the campsites price which is great for anyone camping within a budget.
  • Provides photos, description, and reviews making it easy for campers to choose the perfect spots.

Dispersed Camping Areas

Dispersed camping areas are ideal for rooftop tent campers who want to get out into the wild.  Mostly found near forests, the camping areas usually don’t have amenities like bathrooms, water, or even trash cans. However, these camping areas tend to offer its visitors beautiful sites of lakes, mountains, rivers, streams, or meadows.

Though the areas are great at offering solitude, it is important to check out restrictions and necessary permits needed to camp there. Just be sure to camp on the road or a clear area to avoid damaging the forest with your vehicle. Also, ensure you don’t leave any litter lying around before you head out. Keep in mind you can check out the Recreation. Gov for any dispersed camping site in the United States.

Alternative Places

Alternative places are meant for when you are traveling across the country and need to stop overnight. Mostly found in public places, these places include:

  • Walmart: Most locations allow car camping for a night, make sure you camp in the far corner of the parking lot to avoid hindering night shoppers.
  • Rest Areas:  When it comes to rest areas, overnight parking varies from state to state. Therefore, make sure you know beforehand which rest areas are ideal for you depending on the state you are in.
  • Truck Stops: Another great spot to spend a night is truck stops. Note that, you might spend a fee for the spot therefore ensure you go inside and ask before you settle in for the night.
  • Casinos: Last but not least, some casinos also offer overnight parking for car camping such as rooftop tent, RVs, and campers. If you aren’t sure which casinos near you offer overnight parking check out CasinoCamper.com  or just call ahead to make sure you can stay in a rooftop tent at such a facility.

What to Pack for Rooftop Tent Car Packing 

Rooftop tent car camping requires you to carry some gear. Here are a few essentials you can’t leave home without.

  • Head Lamp: Every camper’s best friend, a headlamp will come in handy at night when you are cooking, climbing down the ladder, or even setting up the tent at night. With adjustable straps that provide a comfortable fit, you won’t have to worry about the headlamp falling.
  • Carabiner Hooks: Both useful inside and outside the tent, Carabiner hooks are used to hang items inside the tent such as car keys, watch, and more. Moreover, you can hang things underneath the tent such as bottles, tools, etc.
  • A Tarp for the Ground: Placed near a ladder, a tarp prevents the wind from messing up your camp thus making things clean and tidy as you move up and down the ladder.
  • Shoe Bag: Another necessity for rooftop tent campers is a shoe bag. Since it is not ideal to keep your shoes inside your tent, a shoe bag will come in handy as you can hang the bag from the tent next to the ladder during the day or attach it to the tent just inside the opening at night.
  • Fire Starter: Camping requires fire for cooking and keeping warm. Therefore, you can’t leave home without a Firestarter. Just ensure it is waterproof and creates a spark rather than a flame.
  • Tool Kit:  You cannot leave home without a basic tool kit that has spare bolts and nuts, a pressure gauge, electric tape among other tools.  This tool kit is usually important in case something becomes loose while on the road. Also, carry a tent repair kit for easy handling in case your rooftop tent experiences any tear.
  • Cooler:  Though it is possible to survive on peanut butter and jellies for a few days, it doesn’t have to be like that.  You can carry a car cooler which will go a long way when storing your meat, dairy, vegetables, and beverages.
  • Large Water Jug:  You cannot leave home without a large water jug specially used for cooking or washing especially when camping in remote areas. As a safety precaution, carry portable water filler as an emergency backup.
  • Reusable Stasher Bags: Always pack a few empty reusable stasher bags for storing leftovers in the cooler. The bags can also be used to store camping toiletries, phone charging cords, and extra batteries for headlamps.
  • Ice Blocks: Instead of buying a big bag of ice cubes every time you go camping invest in gallon-sized containers, fill them with water and leave them in the freezer until the day you go camping. Place the ice blocks in the cooler and pack your food around them. Keep in mind; you can also drink the water from the cooler in case you run out of it.
  • Camping Stove and Cookware: For easy cooking, purchase a two-burner propane camp stove or a single-burner backpacking stove if you don’t have enough space in your car. Don’t forget to bring with you a couple of fuel canisters and a lighter, enough pots and pans, dishes, cups, spoons, among other essential utensils.
  • First Aid Kit: Camping is unpredictable, that’s why you can’t forget a First Aid Kit. Great for taking care of minor cuts, bruises, bumps, aches, and pains, the kit should always be with you in the car.

The Dos and Don’ts of Rooftop Tent Car Camping 

Just like other types of camping, rooftop tent car camping does its dos and don’ts. Here are the most essential ones.

The Dos

  • Ensure that your visibility while driving is clear from any part of the rooftop tent system.
  • Make sure you test your rooftop tent before leaving home
  • Do make sure to account for the number of  people sleeping in the tent
  • Always bring cash with you.  A lot of campgrounds require a fee therefore it is important to bring some cash, especially smaller domination bills. This way you will avoid running around looking for some spare change.
  • Prewash and dry your vegetables and fruits at home. This is a great way to save on time and water. For short 2-3 days trips, go further and cut the veggies for easy storage in stasher bags in the cooler and to save time when cooking.
  • Check the campsite’s policies and facilities beforehand to prevent carrying anything that is prohibited as well as having a clear idea of what to carry.
  • Always follow safety precautions when it comes to the outdoor activities offered in most campsites. Don’t ignore warning signs to enter restricted sites or prohibit you to dive or swim in specific areas.
  • Make sure you pack all your camping essentials. To remember everything come up with a camping checklist days before the trip.
  • Inform family members and friends about the trip; share where you are staying in case of emergency or accidents.
  • Stay updated with the weather condition by listening to weather forecasts on television or radio to know if it’s safe to camp in certain areas.  In case you happen to be in the campground in bad weather, never open your rooftop tent under or near any trees.
  • Take lots of pictures to share with family members and friends

The Dont’s

  • Do not install the rooftop tent inside your garage, as you will be unable to open once you are done. Since you need to test the height clearance before going camping, install the tent in your driveway.
  • Don’t park under trees that have low hanging branches to avoid scratching the tent when opening it.
  • Do not leave your trash all over the campsite. Ensure you carry garbage bags in case there is no designated dumpsite. Wash your dishes with bio-degradable soap. Before you leave make sure the campfire you had lit is completely out and cold.
  • Do not leave your food unattended because it might attract some animals such as rodents, squirrels, rats, and even bears.  Pack all leftovers and store them in a safe place.
  • Avoid making loud noises at night especially in shared camp areas. Be considerate of other people who are sleeping as well as animals too.
  • Do not panic when you come across a wild animal. However, to be more prepared conduct research beforehand on what animals roam around specific campsites.
  • Don’t wear 100% cotton clothing. Even though they are comfortable, this material stays damp once wet thus making it hard to dry,
  • Avoid getting drunk. It’s good to enjoy a can of beer or a bottle of wine when camping but it is risky to get drunk especially when sleeping in a rooftop tent. You might get hurt climbing up or down the ladder or not be in a position to defend yourself from any danger.
  • Don’t pack your car in an unclear area. Make sure you find a spot where people have camped before to avoid breaking branches or destroying plants.

Tips for Operating and Maintaining a Rooftop Tent 

  • When opening the tent always roll up the cover and wedge it under the base of the tent: This protects the cover from damage as well as enables you to access whichever door or window the cover may block.
  • Ensure your car is parked on a level surface to avoid a slow rollout of the tent at night: For safety carry either a couple of blocks of wood or plastic leveling blocks for this purpose.
  • Unfortunately, the rooftop tent may be disadvantageous for short people: Find a tall ladder to help you access the tent easily, a ladder comes usually with the tent though.
  • Visiting the toilet in the middle of the night can be difficult when sleeping in a Rooftop tentHave a designated pee bottle in the tent or attach a funnel to a length of hose that runs out of the tent into a bottle on the ground.
  • Have a manufacturer install large zips on the tent cover: The zips will come in handy when one of them breaks enabling you to use the other one.
  • Work as a team when closing the tent: One person should tuck the tent fabric while the other lifts and lowers the other half of the tent using the ladder for easy leverage.
  • Replace the Velcro straps: Attach a couple of ratchets with corresponding straps
  • Be cautious of the wind: When the wind becomes uncooperative move the vehicle while the tent is still opened to a calmer place.
  • Always count the tent pegs. This ensures you don’t miss some on your next camping trip.
  • Regularly lubricate the tent ladders and zips: To avoid them becoming rusty.
  • Deal with a damp tent immediately: When you get caught by bad weather and are unable to wait for the sun and wind to dry it out, simply use a dry towel to dry the tent as best as you can before closing it. Open it as soon as you reach your next destination or at home to dry completely.
  • Waterproof the rooftop tent once in a while:  This prevents leaking of water inside the tent through a tear or condensation.


Rooftop tent camping is truly one of the best ways to sleep while outdoors. But, just like it has its benefits there is still a lot to consider before taking your trip.  Hopefully, this ultimate camping guide for rooftop beginners will enable you to plan for the trip accordingly.

From in-depth information on where to stay to taking you through the essentials to pack you won’t have to worry about your trip. What about the do’s and don’ts of rooftop camping and even the important tips when it comes to operating and maintaining a rooftop tent? Well, I hope this information will help you have the best camping experience worth bragging about.

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