Using the Smittybilt Roof Top Tent on a my Jeep TJ

The Smitty built rooftop tent. There’s not a lot to say that hasn’t already been covered pretty well by various bloggers and vloggers. In fact, I didn’t even bother doing a write up on the install.      

Installation for me was quite painless. I rotated and re-drilled my crossbars so I didn’t have to buy any additional support brackets.  I was able to bolt the tent directly to the Congo cage using just the two lengthwise bars.

Cappy from 410 Overland has a fantastic installation video that pretty much covers everything. I will link his video below. What I can do, is emphasize the positive’s that you’ll hear everyone else talk about. 

Starting with the quality of construction. I was surprised at how durable the tent material was. This is also the first thing everyone seems to mention about the tent. This is definitely not your typical nylon pup tent material. The stitching is tight and backed with the sealing layer on the inside. All of the components, from framework to floor support and the letter are all well-built and assembled precisely. For the record I’m a very heavy guy. I never felt like I was going to fall through the floor. That was a concern.  I definitely didn’t feel like I was too big to be climbing up into the tent.

Attention to detail. Again I’m going to differ a lot of the demonstration of detail to Cappy at 410 expedition. He has done a great job of nailing all the finer points of this tent.  The first components that stood out to me the most were the LED light strip and included hardware. The placement of the LED strip is perfect for lighting up the entire tent.  There is more than enough light to read by or work by. The included power cables give you a couple of nice options. There is a USB cord that’s about 10 feet as well as a standard 12 V plug. I tried out both the first couple nights I stayed out.  Each option worked fine.  

Both nights that I stayed out where in the high 40s Fahrenheit. There was a slight breeze but I didn’t feel overly chilly even though I had a lite  sleeping bag.  The window flaps zip tight  and have extra material covering the zipper from the outside to help avoid leaks at the zipper. Each flap also has its own individual tiebacks. This includes both the screen as well as the cover. 

Comfort. Most review were’s will mention the mattress that it comes with it’s a little bit thin. It might be OK for a couple of nights but after a while it’s going to get crushed down and not really provide a lot of support. We added 2 inches of memory foam and that made a world of difference. We purchased a queen size topper and it fit inside the tent very well and we didn’t  have to cut anything down. The addition of the mattress did not impede folding and packing up the tent at all. I probably can’t keep my bedding on the tent but certainly don’t have a problem buckling down and putting on the cover. 

One thing I found that I didn’t really care for where the holes that come drilled in the frame that you place your window awning supports in. The holes were not all drilled at the right angle. This meant getting a little heavy handed installing the rods. Pulling the rods out is a little tricky as well. They required a little wiggling back-and-forth. Because the rods are steel I believe they will eventually wear these holes out.  For now they don’t seem to be a problem but I suspect they could later.

How does the TJ handle with the tent on the roof? I don’t feel like the Jeep is going to tip over. I do notice the added wind resistance both from head wind and cross wind.  It’s not terrible.  I can’t say I noticed any added noise either but keep in mind I’ve got a old worn out soft top as well. I’ve been driving now with it on for a week and often forget it’s up there. I’ll report back in fuel mileage but honestly if you care about that, buy a ground tent. 

Closing thoughts. This tent likely can be found with other brand names on it for a similar price point. I have found at least three other manufacturers with identical tents. There may be basic changes with things like ladder style or material color but it is fundamentally the same tent.  I would say it’s a fair assumption that these tents are all made by one company and simply packaged and branded for the purchaser.  You can find this same tent for half the price on Alibaba today.  They can even put your logo on it! (Subject to purchasing ten at a time.) I don’t think there’s any reason to be afraid of this at all. These tents have had plenty of nights out in the field. This is a quality product and I am confident it will provide years of reliable use.

Installing the Kargo Master Congo Cage was so easy I almost forgot to document it…

Seriously. This was such an easy project that I forgot to take photographs during the install. Truth be told, there wasn’t much to even see. The rear tail lights come of easily. Four Phillip’s screws followed by three 10mm bolts on the inside are all that keeps them in. Once the lights are off, use the rear bracket to mark off where the 4th hole needs to be drilled through the body. Once you have done that, a 5/16 bit will be all you need. The backside of your hole will be easily accessible from the inside of the jeep. Tip: Put a little paint or something where you have just drilled. You’ve just exposed some metal that will likely get damp. Your Jeep doesn’t need assistance rusting. It will do that on its own.  Installing the bracket and replacing the tail light are a snap from here.  Remember that you have new bolts to replace the old ones.  The new bolts are self drilling and will cut new threads.  They might take a little coaxing to make their way through the steel. Nothing you can’t accomplish with your ratchet.

I mentioned before that the tricky part would be taking the screws out of the windshield frame. This is still true! The T-25 (maybe 30) bit will likely strip. Have some other tools ready. Installing the Kargo Master Congo Cage will be much easier with the right tools. If you don’t have one of these impact drivers I highly recommend them.

When the front brackets are removed, the new brackets for the rack will slide right in.  The brackets lined up perfectly for me and I suspect they will for you as well. I suggest keeping your hardware loose while installing them.  Once each bolt is in, you can then start tightening them.

With both front and rear brackets installed its time to put the actual rack on.  This takes two people.  Bring the rack from the rear of the Jeep and have one person in the front guiding it up over the windshield.  It helps if the are standing in the Jeep. (with the top down or off.)   The rack will set right on the rear brackets and you slide the provided bolt through the hinge.  I had to nudge one of my bolts in with a small hammer but it went just fine.   After you tighten these rear hinges, move up to the front.

The front legs are positioned roughly over the bracket holes.  Make sure you look at your diagram.  There are two washers and two rubber pads that need to be inserted in the correct order.  These act as a cushion and likely keep a lot of vibration out of the vehicle / rack.  Also note that the instructions call for a thread locking product to be applied here but non is supplied.  Bring your own to this party!

That was pretty much it!   The only modification I’m going to make is to perhaps drill new holes for the very top bars.  The bend in the middle does not allow me to mount the Smittybilt tent on without adding a second set of cross bars.  I’m going to loosen the bars, turn them outward and see if I can negate the height that way.  If I gain the height, I’ll drill new holes to mount them.  If I can save 150.00 at this point in the build I will.

Un-boxing and partial set up of the Kargo Master Congo Cage

Stock photography…

Even before settling on the Smittybilt tent, I had decided the roof rack I wanted to go with was the Congo Cage from Kargo Master. I had a chance to see one up close, spotting it on a sweet Rubicon near where I live. For me the first draws were aesthetics. The bars are positioned more inboard than outboard of the jeep body. Rather than hug that outside line, they go over the top of the Jeep. The second factor was the load rating. Boasting a 500 pound rating, I had no worries this rack would be sufficient for the tent and occupants. I do suspect however that similar products with a 300 pound rating may be listing as such because liability and safety. The last thing that provided what I wanted were the mounting options. Forward mounds utilize the Frame pillar base while the rear mounts are a combination of existing mounting holes behind the tail lights and required only two new holes to be drilled in to the tub. This makes for setup that does not attach to the frame of the Jeep and won’t interfere with a body lift (If I ever chose to do so).

As with any package full of steel parts, its probably going to look a little rough when it arrives. This was the case with mine! Lucky for me, I was most interested in the contents of the box. On opening, each part was checked over and looked sufficient.  

As I pulled the parts out of the box it became clear that this simple design was great for just about anyone with a basic set of tools. The supplied hardware is SAE.

EZ Out extractor. The reverse cutting edges grab in while backing out a stuck fastener.

 

The biggest concern for most TJ owners that want to install this rack is going to be removing the mounting hardware around the windshield hinge. The Torx head bolts are notoriously difficult to get out. When assembled in the factory a threadlock was used and the fasteners painted over.  In my case, I ended up drilling out the heads and using an E-Z-Out extractor. It worked perfect and only took a few minutes. Another option would be an impact driver set. Harbor freight generally has one in the 10.00 range. Coupled with the right size Torx bit this tool should free the bolts with no problem either.

With installation of the front and rear mounts slated for this weekend, I took to assembling the main structure.The directions provided are clear with all components and quantity’s documented well. This portion of the build only requires 8 bolts to be put in. I left them a little lose and will tighten everything up when its on the vehicle.

With the overhead bars assembled I set my mind on the weekend and growing list of necessary work.  In addition to the Congo Cage brackets I also have a new upstream O2 sensor to install,  differential fluid to check and maybe a CB? We’ll see. I may be getting ahead of myself.  Oh… I also bought another XJ…

 

Un-boxing the Smittybilt Roof Top Tent

 As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog, the tent is shipping to you freight be prepared!  The same goes for unboxing the tent. Give your self plenty of space.  There isn’t an over abundance of packing material but the box alone is a beast.

Starting with the packaging you’ll find a pretty sturdy box that may be pretty worn looking. Its a long way from the manufacturing plant in China.  Who knows what kinds of adventures your tent has already been on.  The thick boxing material is both wrapped with 4 standard straps but also taped.  I did not notice any staples in the packaging.  I appreciated that as I would worry about the potential for tearing of the tent material.   With the cardboard pulled off you’ll find two sheets of thick packing material sandwiching the tent.   I actually kept them as they were pretty substantial and would be great for a project at a later date.

Once the packaging is pull off the tent and out of the way you’ll want to orient the tent with the bottom side down.  Remember, the tent is pretty big, make sure you’ve got the space to unfold!  

How to find the bottom?  Well, the first thing to note is that the bottom of the tent has a wide Velcro strip for the storage cover to attach to.  With that in mind, you know that’s your bottom.

Unstrapping!  The tent will be held in place with 6 nylon straps.  Two will cross the entire tent holding it down length wise.  Each side will have two straps on the sides.   They are easily pulled out and will hang loosely to the sides.

The moment you’ve been waiting for… Unfold your tent!    As the tent is unfolded, straps that run along the inside of the tent will pull the built in tent poles in to place.  Once the tent has been open for a few minutes all of its components will settle in to place.

Unpacking the tent contents! Your installation guide, rain fly poles, mounting hardware, electrical connections, ladder, shoe bag and frame rails are all packed on the tent floor.  Inside the tent the mattress is also already laid out and Velcro’d to the floor.

 

That’s it for un-boxing.  If you’re not immediately installing your tent, be sure to keep your parts in a safe place!

 

First off, Installing the Smittybilt Roof Top Tent on my 99 TJ

When something is shipped “freight” you better be ready for it!  The first adventure with the Smittybilt Roof Top Tent started just picking it up from the hauler.  Where I live is on a busy stretch of road with 0 parking.   Not knowing what type of hauler would be bringing the shipment I just provided the address.  If you should order this beast, be aware you might need to get creative in picking it up.  It wasn’t too much of a hassle for me as I received a call from the shipper and met them at a more truck friendly parking lot a few miles away.  If you lived in a densely populated area I could imagine this being a bit of a pain.  Plan on having help lifting as well as one person would find this quite tricky. I was lucky enough to be able to snug right up to the back of the trailer and we set it right down on top of the Cherokee. A couple of ratchet straps later and I was on my way.
The intended recipient of the tent is actually not the XJ.  We have a Kargo Master Congo rack that we will be installing on to my 99 TJ.

Jeep Wrangler
My 1999 TJ

SO what’s next? Time… All I need is time! We’ll be covering the next few steps with some more detail.  I did not find a lot of resources about combining the Congo Cage and Tent together so I want to make sure we do a good job covering that.  Until next time, Wave Dammit!