Many campers and outdoor enthusiasts dream of having their own rooftop tent. This cabin-like comfort fits right on top of your vehicle so you can camp anywhere your heart desires. Plus, they’re perched up high to protect you from animals while giving you the best view of the sunset. All you need is a roof rack and a tent! Genius!
Yet, as innovative as a rooftop tent might sound, they’re often quite expensive and tend to weigh at least 100 pounds. Luckily, there are DIY solutions if you’re willing to put in the work. If you want to give it a shot, here’s how to build a rooftop tent all by yourself. It’s easier than you might think.
1. Gather Your Materials
As with any DIY project, the first step to building your own rooftop tent entails gathering all the necessary materials. For this project, you’ll need basic tools like a drill, hammer and saw. However, you may also need some duct tape, glue and a few other items as you begin building.
You’ll also need a sewing machine, plywood, corrugated plastic, gas struts, a waterproof canvas, hardware, reflective material and memory foam for the mattress. You can find most — if not all — of these materials at your local home improvement store or on Amazon.
2. Build the Frames
Once you’ve gathered your tools and building materials, you may begin constructing the top and bottom frames. Cut your plywood to the size you would like, then nail or screw the wood together to create the base and the top of your tent. Next, connect the two identical frames through a hinge at the back and install the gas struts so you can easily open and close the tent when construction is done.
Coat the frame with polyester resin and polyurethane to seal and weatherproof the exterior and keep you dry while camping. You might also paint the frame before sealing it so it matches the color of your car or blends in with your natural surroundings.
3. Make the Tent
For many DIYers, making the tent is the most difficult part of building their rooftop setup. Of course, learning how to use a sewing machine may take a few days, but hand-sewing a tent would require even more time. Luckily, since the top and bottom of the tent will be plywood, you’ll only have to sew together three sides. So, once you get the hang of sewing, the project is fairly simple.
It’s also crucial that you choose a tent material that is durable and fairly weather-resistant. Usually, you’ll want to work with nylon because it’s lightweight and long-lasting. Plus, it will dry quickly if it gets wet and you can easily add a waterproof coating.
4. Insulate, Insulate, Insulate
Good insulation is a basic need for any camper or backpacker. Unfortunately, nylon doesn’t offer much insulation since it’s relatively thin. Therefore, you’ll have to install your own if you want to stay cool in the summer and warm in the winter.
Insulate the top and bottom of your tent using heavy-duty reflective foam. This material consists of aluminum and creates a barrier between you and the tent exterior and helps reflect your own heat back onto you. You’ll also secure a foam mattress pad to the bottom of the rooftop tent, which will also aid in interior temperature regulation.
5. Add the Finishing Touches
Your rooftop tent is almost complete, but before sticking it on top of your vehicle, you may want to test it out and add some finishing touches. For instance, if you didn’t waterproof the canvas, you may want to add a rain cover to the setup. You can easily sew this onto the main tent and add wooden poles to support it. Additionally, you might install light strips inside around the perimeter of the tent.
Don’t forget to bring a ladder on your first trip so you can easily climb in and out of your home away from home. Pack extra pillows and blankets, too, so it feels as if you’re sleeping on a cloud at night.
Pitch and Enjoy!
Now that you’ve completed your rooftop tent, all that’s left to do is venture out into the wilderness and put it to good use. Find the perfect location, pitch your tent in a minute flat and enjoy!
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