REI Roof Top Tent (RTT) on Prinsu Designs Rack

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Questioning my life choices...
Sep 27, 2012
Sweetwater, TN (East of Knoxville)
EDIT: Not sure why the pics aren't showing up anymore. They are when I edit the post. Here's a link to all the pics from this thread: REI RTT Tie Down.jpg

I've come up with a highly functional roof top tent solution that fits my budget and my garage. I've mentioned to a few folks who wanted to see what all the hubub was about so here it is.



Why Do This?
My kids go out with me most every time now and sleeping in the truck and Hennessey hammocks has been working out well but lately we've been doing overnights without trees so that makes for a cramped truck and tents. I've looked at Tepui roof top tents but my budget and garage clearance (or garage storage for the tent when off the truck) is tight. I needed a better solution that would be as beneficial but not have any of the negatives (massive consumption of roof rack, high center of gravity, wind drag, off camber tipping, cost, storage, etc.) of a real RTT.

How Much?

I figure the total cost of the tent setup without the rack is about $450. Keep in mind, the beauty of this solution is it's portability and flexibility. Any RTT solution will need a rack so I figure that's an assumed expense.

I had an REI Half Dome tent which is a standard 2 person tent measuring 88x52 inches (these are the floor dimensions which is critical to note) that I've used for camping with Boy Scouts. I think I paid about $250 for it new.

I bought plywood, paint, hinges, a ladder, etc. for about $200

I have a Prinsu Designs flat roof rack that I paid about $1100 for when all was said and done. Awesome rack by the way, highly recommend one! The rack footprint across the load bar rails is 80x51 inches. There is about a 3/16 inch lip along each rail.

The Process
I had the tent out for some reason and decided it would fit on the top of my truck so I tossed it up there and it seemed like a good idea to keep going with it. I had a couple of warped sheets of 19/32 inch plywood cut to use as the base (it's all Home Depot had and I was in a rush for an upcoming run) which I laid up on the rack and moved around for a few hours to get the tent settled before I painted them, installed hinges and bolted them down.

Nothing was working and the tent was very floppy and messy.

I hadn't considered that the tent poles were protruding another 5" beyond the tent floor.


After a couple of more hours, I clamped a crescent wrench to the wood at a 45 degree angle on each corner and used the hole in the handle to wedge the mushroom shaped tent pole tip.


Eureka! This was the solution that I had been looking for! I clamped on 3 more wrenches and the tent came to life. It was taught, secure as heck and due to the mushroom shape, the poles wouldn't pull out of the wrenches.

I picked up some beefy 10" straps from Home Depot. They are about 1" wide and have a series of 1/4" holes staggered along them. These attach to the platform with a couple of thumb screws on each corner secured into "t-nuts" inserted in the plywood. When the brackets are screwed to the platform they are rock solid.

The platform fits the tent floor perfectly and the bathtub shape of the tent floor sweeps upward just as the edge wants to lay on the 3/16" lip of the rails. My daughter and I slept up there with a couple of Big Agnes air mattresses and the floor was perfectly flat and we fit very well.

I drilled holes and mounted "t-nuts" to reach up through the sun roof to secure the front of the platform to brackets on my crossbars but after deploying it, the platform is pretty heavy and the tent shape actually exerts pressure downward so it forces the wood down and negates me having to secure the front half of the folding platform. In extreme winds it may need to be secured but I doubt it.

Entry and exit is done using a Tepui tents telescoping ladder. This is the same type of telescoping ladder you can buy at Home Depot but it has the bolt on connection brackets at the top. I use a 1/4" clevis pin on one side and a TSA approved padlock on the other to keep honest people honest. The ladder is pinned to Tepui brackets that bolt on the Prinsu rack and live up there permanently. No holes had to be drilled thanks to the expansive slots on the rack. The ladder does block my rear driver's door but in a pinch I can remove it or just lift it up and hold it while the door is opened then it can be lowered. Not a big deal yet. The ladder leads perfectly to the large side entrance (there's an mirrored large entrance on each side) of the tent so the ladder could go on either side. One other great advantage of having a removable ladder is I can finally climb up those big trees to get the huge pinecones! :rolleyes:

Securing the tent was the most challenging in my mind but once I found the bracket trick, it's so much more solid than I had imagined. By inserting the tent pole into the bracket straight then letting it angle naturally to maintain the tent shape, it locks the mushroom tip in and will not come out unless brought straight up once more. It's easy to bend the flexible pole to insert each corner. I learned to be mindful of the wind and always secure the upwind side first to prevent the tent from blowing over and bending the tips. Once secured, I then pull the stake loop around the tip of the 10" bracket and secure with a carabiner. This adds some peace of mind should a tip break off or something, the tent is securely fastened to the truck.

The platform measures 88x51 inches. Each panel is 44x51 inches. I have a nickel plated 4" piano hinge from Home Depot securing the two pieces. I painted the piano hinge black to match.

The platform is painted with Acrylic Latex gloss paint which should weather the best. The underside is black and the sleeping surface is all white. When closed, the exposed surface is white. All white surfaces have a 2" black border to keep it invisible against the black Prinsu rack. I figure the white would be a better option to reflect the desert sun and heat. The black is to match the black truck.

Referencing the black panel pic below, the far left white holes by themselves are meant for the 2x rear pins to secure the 2 panels when stowed. The grouping of 3x angled holes at the upper and lower left corners are meant for the corner braces; 2x angled holes for deployment and a third which was meant to swing them in and secure with the thumb screws for stowage but they hit the rear cross bar and I was afraid they would rattle loose and I'd lose the screws. The additional white holes on the black panel inboard and on the right side are to secure the panel to the Prinsu cross bars.




This leaves me with a 4'x4' white background just begging for some sort of graphic that can only be seen from high rise buildings...TEQ logo, Punisher (my son), My Little Pony (my daughter). ;)

The black screws below are plugs to keep water out, the corner is for the brackets, the top ones are to secure the panel to the front cross bars when deployed if needed. The pins are the silver bolt/washer on the bottom.


The clevis pins that hold the two platforms shut stow nicely in the 1/4" holes in my quick fists and keeps them from getting misplaced.


The platform is bolted up through my Prinsu load bars into "t-nuts" that are sealed on the tent side, none of the bolts protrude through the "t-nuts" as I cut them all to length. This caused a small issue with the front mounts when stowed so I just plugged the bracket holes with extra black screws and neoprene washers. I can easily remove the 8x end screws from both Prinsu cross bars and remove them along with the folding platform for service. I'll need to do this to get to my plugged OEM roof rack foot holes to run new wiring for solar, lights, etc.



The flat profile of the wood platform only sticks up about 1" above the Prinsu rails so it's extremely low profile and I can still load up the entire roof rack for the trail run which is a big disadvantage for the real RTT.

I've been asked why I went with a folding platform that that is because the Prinsu rack only measures 80" long and my tent needed 88" inches. The platform extends rearward about 4" but since I have McMaster Carr struts and an extra 1" of lift on my rear hatch, I had to position the platform about 1/4" forward of the hatch spoiler.


This put the front of the platform extending about 7" beyond my Prinsu spoiler which won't work while I'm driving. The folding platform also helps keep the tent side cleaner during a dusty trail run which I had an opportunity to try out as the maiden voyage.

Setup, Tear Down and Storage
Setup takes about 6-8 minutes by myself, about 1/2 that time with a helper:
First I assemble the REI Half Dome on the ground without the footprint. The footprint is VERY loose on this tent and makes it impossible to get it on the truck. (3-5 minutes depending on rain fly usage)
Next I unpin and unfold the platform. (30 seconds)
Then I unscrew my waterproofing screws and attach the sturdy 10" brackets (3 minutes)
Then I lift the tent by grabbing the poles at one end and lifting it up onto the rack (5 seconds)
Then I insert each tent pole tip into the bracket and attach the safety lanyard (20 seconds)
Finally I pin on the ladder and extend it to the ground (30 seconds)

Tearing it down is about the same, two people can fold the tent and fly like a blanket. I have to unpin the ladder and replace the thumb screws with my waterproofing screws (screws with neoprene gaskets) to keep water out of the "t-nut" sockets. I keep the tent in the truck gear in the rear and my 10" brackets live in my air down bag kit along with a tiny tacklebox for the thumb screws, carabiners, and extra clevis pins and screws in case I drop one and lose it. The ladder stows in the rear of the truck with it's clevis pin and padlock attached. The clevis pins that hold the two platforms shut stow nicely in the 1/4" holes in my quick fists and keeps them from getting misplaced.

What I Would do Differently Next Time
It's been 3 months since I build this and to this day the paint is still tacky causing the two plywood panels to stick to one another when stowed. You can push on it with a finger and it feels sort of dry-sticky. An easy fix is to keep parchment paper between them where they contact. I will probably rebuild with 1/8" or 3/16" anodized aluminum or at least better wood and paint one day but the platform is only used a few times each year so it's no big deal right now. I've read that sticky Acrylic Latex is normal but usually clears up after a couple of months. It could also be bad paint. Not sure why it's still tacky.

I'd put more time into better plywood. I figured this was more of a proof of concept so I didn't sweat the materials but that warped wood is causing some grief. When I wash the truck, water tends to sit in the warped lower panel. No biggie but it makes a water stain there when you open it back up. It also causes some contact points along the rear edge where they pin together.

Ultimately, I'd go with aluminum drilled with 1" holes or long slots that would lighten it up, drain better and still provide a solid floor for the tent. From my research, since the Prinsu supports are 12" apart, I could do with an anodized 1/8" or 3/16" aluminum for less or the same weight as the 19/32" plywood. Aluminum is more expensive so I want to find a better way to integrate flat hinges (welded or riveted), some sort of slide out channels to hold the 10" brackets and tie down points for hauling gear. The aluminum would only be about 3/8" thick at most folded and would get me that little extra clearance for 35" tires. :cool:

I want to setup a solar panel on the roof for daily driving, storage and camping. I've selected one that will fit perfectly between two rails on my Prinsu rack but when the platform is opened for camping, it will block the solar panels. This will be alleviated by buying a second panel that will be portable for camping. I figure the rack mounted solar will work around town to keep up with the slow charging city driving and auxiliary electric fan as well as when the truck is sitting outside a long time without being driven and then the portable will work for camp as I would probably be parked in the shade anyway so I'll use an extension and stick the panel in the sun. Easy fix.

I'd use stainless steel screws on the piano hinges too, I just noticed they are already rusting.

Do you see any room for immediate improvement or something that would make this solution easier to manage?
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OMG!!! What a fantastic writeup. So well done. pat yourself on the back. Of the bazzillion mudders, that are ridiculously cheap, I am sure many will take advantage of this great thread. Congrats!
Thanks! I'm looking forward to building v2.0.
I came across a DIY Build Your Own tent pole site that sells all the tips, poles and cordage to make anything you need if there's a desire to incorporate these mushroom tips onto older poles.

tent poles

After I bent one of mine I found that REI doesn't sell replacement pole kits. I'm not sure if can (in good conscience) take a broken pole back but they do accept returns no questions asked. ;)
Dissent, if you need a rig to try out 2.0 ill always be happy to loan you mine, just need to get a rack for it first! Amazing job though! IMHO one of the best options for a DIY RTT
Zipper doors = roll proof

It's actually pretty cool without the rainfly, the kids love the added benefit of campsite overwatch and it keeps the critters away.

The only real problem is that the kids fight me to sleep up there. Nobody wants to sleep in truck or a hammock!
Great job on this. Need to bring it to the monthly meeting and demo it.
Definitely, maybe at the October one when it's not 115 outside. :)
Definitely, maybe at the October one when it's not 115 outside. :)
You gonna tease us amd make us wait that understand. Keep us posted on how its working out.
I've seen this first hand and it is a very cool set up, compact and efficient. Nice write up.
Thanks for the postive feedback guys, i may haul it out at this months meet when its nice and toasty.
Fantastic! I too am a bit worried about extra 100lbs on top of the roof.

Might have to think of something that's similar, but I would use sheets of cutting board material instead of plywood so they won't warp with time and weather.
I was considering cutting board material but the weight is a bit more than plywood for the same thickness. Could always add more crossbars with thinner platform.
Nice setup you mentioned about the paint being tacky. Paint generally isn't bad to cause it to be tacky it is usually the substrate that is painted or the area it was left to dry causing it not to dry properly. Sounds like the plywood you used was holding a lot of moisture and that would cause the paint to basically never dry properly. You mentioned it was warped which means it became very wet at some point. Plywood retains alot of moisture and is actually difficult to paint if not completely dried out and it will require some form of acrylic primer on it prior to applying paint to seal it as well.
Ah, that may be the problem. The Acrylic Latex was supposed to be an all in one primer and color. I hate painting wood anyway which is why was initially leaning towards cutting board material but it was too expensive to get the size I needed, had to use 2x 4x8 sheets to get 44x40 measurements per panel. For the weight and expense, anodized aluminum is where I'm headed next.
Forgive me for asking the obvious (an this is not intended to rain on your parade), but why not just set up the tent on the ground? What is the benefit of having a tent that has to be setup on the ground, and then put on the roof and climbed into?
Forgive me for asking the obvious (an this is not intended to rain on your parade), but why not just set up the tent on the ground? What is the benefit of having a tent that has to be setup on the ground, and then put on the roof and climbed into?
Are you crazy? This is 80 tech! You NEED cup holders. You NEED a snorkel. You NEED 37's and you NEED A RTT no matter what! The ground will NOT do. :doh:
Good question. The benefit is simple versatility. This idea was born from a run last May where our camp site was full of foot tall grasses, lots of ants and sparse trees that made it tricky to get two hammocks close together. That night we used the hammocks and my daughter used her tent because it was new and there was no way she wasn't going to use it. :p There is something to be said seeing your surroundings from 6 feet up that gives you a new perspective on the camping experience.

That's where I began thinking about a true RTT as 3-4 others had but after doing the math; money and weight, it just wasn't in the cards. I had to rig up a way to get it off and onto the truck, find a place to store it and the rig to mount it and I simply don't have that kind of room in the garage.

This took some work to design and build but my tent still works on the ground or I can plop it up on the truck. I always have a smooth flat surface and no stumps, pinecones, holes, water or rocks to deal with. I don't need any more real estate than what my truck takes up if the site is cramped. A huge benefit is that my tent stays so much cleaner. It's also a good ice breaker and I meet many curious people who never asked about my tent on the ground. There's little benefit to not doing it as the platform is out of the way and I don't even see it on a daily basis. The best reason is that it was a fun project to do.

A couple of guys at work are looking into Long Range Rifle shooting and we agreed this would make a heck of a platform for that as well.

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