Home made rooftop tent for XJ



Here's a home made roof top tent for XJ.

My basic objective is to carry 4 people over dirt tracks and modest rocks thru 3 days with all food, water, shelter, etc. I'm located in San Diego and enjoy California's deserts to the east.

The pics below show the in-work vehicle. I chose XJ due to its relatively small size, reputation for toughness, availability of after-market parts, and really low value as a used vehicle. Mine is a '92 4.0 auto tanny with 216K.

Mods on this vehicle that aren't apparent in the pics are drivetrain. Truetrack posi in the front, Tracklock (crummy but cheap) in the D44 in the back. Ratios changed appropriate to the 30" tires. Undercarriage armor. only 1" of lift. Heavy duty leafs.

Tent takes advantage of a Conferr roof rack. A strong rack to begin with but modified with a couple of extra transverse steel tubes to provide support for the 1/4" abs plastic deck added to the rack. Access via steps welded into the stock Jeep external tire carrier.

Tent is designed to place roof rack deck up into the arc so tent supports actually are slid into tubes on a rail attached to, and below, Conferr rack attachment. Sorry you can't see this in the pics. Supports are 1/4" fiberglass rods, continuous 10 feet length. Main tent is simply a 10' X 7' square of boat awning material with sleeves sewn on to hold rods. There are 4 transverse rods supporting the arch and 3 lengthwise rods, one centered at the top and two symmetric on sides. Ends are semi-circles and zip to the arc material. Forward has two zippers and so a port can be opened for vent. Rear is one continuous for doorway. Fiberglass rods have lots of give and so allow tent to change shape in response to very strong winds without breaking. Survived 50 m/hr gusts once so far. Mosquito net (not shown)velcros to inside of tent when in bug country.

Packup is easy. No packing the bedding material or pads saves effort. I hate setting/clearing camp everyday. Unzip ends out and lay on bedding. Pull rods collapsing tent onto bedding. Fold to within rack. Camp picture shows table under awning. This is actually two aluminum tables made specially to fit within roof rack. Tables lay face down on top of tent. This provides a deck so that cargo can be loaded above.

Within XJ rear cavity is a special made aluminum rack. This has two drawers containing spoons, pans, various kitchen. There's a pull out counter top for sandwich making at noon stops. Right side has heavy duty sliders and platform and allows ice chest to be slid in and out like a drawer. Central cavity holds 2 tanks (blue cubes) of 14 gal total water. Outermost of these can be tilted over providing a spigot off the rear bumper. Middle zone has three plastic tubs which hold dry goods. Top is shelf which is dedicated to hats, coats, and similar cargo needed at hand by passengers.

Tools, spare parts, recovery, go into special aluminum boxes located in triangular cavity just forward of rack and aft of rear seat back. Accessable by folding seat back forward.

Unfortunately 2 of 4 must sleep in tents in the traditional way. Tent, bedding are packed and carried on top as cargo.

There are various electronics for navigation.

All that is shown in pictures was carried by Jeep, plus tent, and three persons besides the blonde...

Hope something here can give ideas for mods of your own Jeep!
Last edited:


Wow. :bowdown:

Wonderful innovation and ingenuity! I really like how well thought-out and well-built the tent is. How waterproof is the material?


Expedition Leader

Very creative...hats off to ya. Welcome to ExPo!

Does the sign in window say..."Jeep..astoga"?! Clever as well.


Answers to questions above

Hood purchased from Quadratec


This hood has a very nice vent at rear just in front of windshield. Often Jeep is driven over soft ground at low speeds. Stock hood traps warm air, retains heat, and stalls air passing thru the radiator in spite of the radiator fan. This replacement hood vents and keeps engine compartment cool and air flowing thru radiator. Some owners use the extra room above engine to plumb and mount a conical K&R air filter for manifold intake. This draws at engine top and avoids sucking in 'bow wave' water as stock XJs are prone to do.

Suggest you see


for a write-up on hood and many other mods and cool ideas for XJ. This from Oz. They have the best vehicles down under due to the lack of pavement.

Yes, Jeep-istoga. Tent was patterned on covered wagons used by pioneers in roughly the 1850's. It also turned out to be an easy design to sew, being essentially flat. Guess they knew what they were doing. If you look closely at the pics you'll see a flap at each end that can be pulled closed via a draw string to cover zippers from rain. Haven't had to do this as yet. They used this approach as a simple doorway.

Tent material is heavy and water proof. Sorry I don't have a source or brand name. I hunted my records but haven't been able to find the receipt. Bought off the internet. I want to say Sunbrella since that is the common material, and the weight is about right for Sunbrella, but this material is polyurethane coated while Sunbrella is designed to breathe. This makes the inside collect moisture somewhat in wet weather, but not in a dry situation such as shown in the pics.

The tent vents in an ususual way compared to a ground tent since this tent is built on top there is no need to keep ground surface water from entry. So no fabric bottom is necessary unlike a ground tent. This tent is actually open downwards along the sides of the rack. With the front vent open, heated air can rise out and be replaced by air drawn in at the bottom. So body warmth keeps a little circulation going and keeps the inside tent dry...er. Have only had it in light rain but was really happy with performance. By the way, the ungly yellowish lines are sealer applied to the sewn thread perforations. On sunny days in direct sun the tent surface heats dramatically but the tent stays relatively cool since the hot air rises out the forward vent. It's not stuffy but rather airy.

One unmentioned thing from first post: fiberglass rods are 10' continuous length. No joints. I hate joints because these are always what hang up on insertion into fabric sleeves. These long rods are transported attached to XJ by inserting into a special holder then wrapping around rack to the rear and up the other side. You can see white rods at rack bottom in the first picture. Also visible at the same location is the mount into which they slide when tent is erected.

Also for XJ owners try www.naxja.org as a resource for nearly everything XJ.

Thanks for kind words from all the posters!
Last edited:


Well Done!

Great looking job Mike :clapsmile

Have some setup questions:

At what point are the transverse rods placed into the sleeves?

Do the lengthwise rods attach to the transverse rods in any way?

I guess I'm asking you to describe the setup process a little more....:confused:

Thanks for the link for the Top Gun material.

And by the way, how well/easy was sewing that material? It looks like you used a basic/domestic (non-commercial) sewing machine.

Last edited:


Answers to setup Qs

Have some setup questions:

At what point are the transverse rods placed into the sleeves?

Cargo is removed, then aluminum tables come off. This exposes tent. Fiberglass poles are removed from rack wrap-around. Tent folded open but at this time it simply hangs over rack sides. Transverse (4) fiberglass poles are inserted into sleeves making the tent a flat 10' X 7' laying on rack. 1 person on each side of vehicle grabs two poles and lifts while bending, finally inserting poles into holders at rack edge below rack. The second two are done in the same way. Now tent is cylinderical and supported by poles and holders below rack. Lengthwise rods are inserted into sleeves at this time. The tent semi-circle end pieces are now laying on bedding and are zipped in by person climbing inside. Bed is ready. Not counting off-loading of cargo, setup takes only about 4 minutes of two person time.

Do the lengthwise rods attach to the transverse rods in any way?

No, they simply slide into sleeves in the fabric and cross underneath (inside of tent) of the transverse poles.

I guess I'm asking you to describe the setup process a little more....:confused:

I'll take setup pictures on the up-comming Canyonlands trip. Should have some nice backgrounds!

Thanks for the link for the Top Gun material.

Top Gun is completely waterproof and relatively heavy.

And by the way, how well/easy was sewing that material? It looks like you used a basic/domestic (non-commercial) sewing machine.

We had the non-commercial sewing machine shown. No real problems with the machine itself, but the fabric is quite heavy and somewhat difficult to get under the small neck of the machine. It took two persons more than a day to sew the material. But there was fitting time involved since we designed some as we went along.

Worth mentioning is that we had an unplanned wind test of the structure out in the Mojave National Preserve last fall. We experienced 50 m/hr gusts and as you might imagine with the tent so high off the ground, there was substantial forces applied. I was very concerned that the wind would suck the tent and poles right up and out of the holders. We hadn't foreseen this problem until too late and in the middle of a major blow after dark. It is certain that had the tent come off we would have lost it to the wind as well as every other bit of cloth, blanket, or clothes on top with us. All would have gone down wind in the dark.

The lengthwise poles are exposed from the sleeves at the points where they corss the transverse poles. I secured each point to the rack with a strong nylon line and in this way prevented the loss of the tent. None the less during the most intense gusts the tent mostly collapsed, bending into an 's' shape with the up-wind side crushed in. We got dirt entry from below even though we were 6 feet off the ground. By collapsing the stresses on the tent were reduced and nothing damaged. It was a wild night but after tieing I managed to sleep well. The Jeep rocking in the wind...

Subsequently we added velcro flaps at the bottom of the tent that wrap around the lower holders. There's no possibility of loss now. I'll post pictures of how the camp looked when the sun came up next day.

I'll also take some more of the rack built in the aft cargo space.

This will take a little time since I'm gone to Utah next week!

I attached three pictures as an edit just now. These show the camp next morning. Jeep tent still standing! The ground tent also survived but only because it was tied in many spots to the lee side of the Jeep. We took all mobile heavy items (like the wood, water containers, canopy) and placed them inside the tent as well, and slid them from inside against the aluminum tables which you can see proped against the Jeep to keep the wind from blowing under. It worked mostly but we had to keep shoving the heavy items back against them them and them against the Jeep all night.

Last edited: