Car roof considerations

Your car roof can carry very large and bulky camping items like tents and bedding that can’t be accommodated within the confines of your car boot / trunk. Of course, there are safety considerations which we cover below, but done properly and you can really improve your camping experience. 

Roof load limit

Like the overall payload limit, each car will have its roof load limit and similarly this information is sometimes hard to find. In the absence of any reference to this figure in the car manual, you will need to make some further inquiries to the car dealer or manufacturer, especially if you will be transporting heavy items on the roof of your car.

As weight load limits of roof rails and racks will vary, you should choose roof racks that match your car roof load limit. If they don't match, the actual weight of the gear on your car roof will be the lower of the specified roof rack load limit and the roof load limit.

Roof racks

Roof racks are frames secured to the roof rails of a car and are used to carry bulky items such as tents, surf boards, bikes and bags. They come in various forms, most commonly cross bars, platforms and baskets.

Car cross bars
Car roof tray

Roof racks can be purchased as an accessory from the car dealer or at separate auto and roof rack stores. While cross bars are relatively lightweight, platforms and baskets can be particularly heavy and will eat into your roof as well as your overall car load limit.

For the purposes of our camping setup, items transported on your car roof racks can be carried in a roof pod or box, secured to a roof basket or tray or tied directly to your cross bars.

Securing roof racks to your car Car roof rails

Roof racks are generally fitted to the roof rails of your car which are most commonly factory fitted. They can also be fitted to some vehicles after market. Needless to say, roof racks and roof rails should always be professionally fitted to your car.

Roof height considerations

Cars come in all shapes and sizes and that includes height, with some of the SUV and four-wheel cars reaching up to 2 metres. This might be fine if you are fortunate enough to have a tall person in your party, or if you have invested in side steps and ladders, but not so if you do not.

Variation in height of cars

Your choice of car and the gear you will be transporting on your car roof will therefore need to take into account the ease (or lack of) with which you can lift sometimes heavy items up to that height. 

Most tents we suggest in our tent buying guide have weights of up to 26 kg to keep the overall gear weight down generally, and specifically due to the difficulties the average person might have in lifting anything heavier above shoulder height.

Side steps fitted to cars can assist in bridging the height difference, as can compact stools or foldable step ladders. Stools or step ladders can also come in handy for other purposes around the campsite, especially for shorter people. You may also consider reserving the roof storage for gear that is easier to lift onto the roof racks in something like a car roof box or bag, and storing the heavier tent in your car boot if possible.

Other important safety considerations

Loading a car roof with excessive weight can make the car dangerous to drive. You will need to ensure that your car is generally safe to drive once it has been loaded with camping equipment and other items. In determining whether your car is safe to drive, you will need to take into account all of the relevant circumstances such as the general condition of the car, the car roof rails, racks and fasteners and the road conditions.

Related articles

How to tie gear to the roof racks
Tips for securing gear to the roof racks