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2020-08-16
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Mounting a Rooftop Tent on a Teraflex Nebo Rack

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Tagged As: Camping, DIY, How To, Jeep, and Overland

Mounting a rooftop tent to a Jeep Wrangler is pretty easy if you've chosen a more traditional "exoskeleton" type rack. Systems like Kargo Master are bolted onto the body and frame offering high static and dynamic loads along with easy to access bars. But what if you chose a sleeker model like the Teraflex Nebo that doesn't have bars wrapping all around the outside of your Jeep?

Tepui Kukenam 4 mounted to the Jeep Wrangler's Teraflex Nebo

A few years back, I was debating between the Teraflex Nebo and the Rhinorack until a guy sold me a brand new Nebo extremely cheap on Craigslist. I had all sorts of plans to get it mounted and then attach a rooftop tent and get to camping atop the Jeep.

Now, if you're getting a smaller tent, you can turn it sideways and have it flip open over the rear of the Jeep. In this case, the tent's mounting rails go perpendicular to the Jeep's roof and can attach to the Nebo's main rails. GRJ Offroad has an excellent video showing the Nebo's installation plus how to mount a tent in exactly that configuration.

But if you get a bigger tent, like the Tepui Kukenam 4, it's increased footprint will make it stick off each side of the Jeep by nearly a foot. Not only is that more aerodynamic drag to make your fuel economy even worse, but that lateral weight will have very negative effects on turning performance or balance while off-roading. Some of the big tents like the iKamper Sky Camp 2.0 can only be mounted in one direction. The bottom line for the larger rooftop tents is they have to mount traditionally.

Unfortunately, the Nebo's sleek design does not lend itself well towards this option. First of all, the horizontal slat kit is recessed which means when the tent is placed atop the Jeep, the mounting rail is about an inch shy of even touching the slats. Secondly, the slat design is nearly 5 inches wide which is great for carrying a load but awful for the traditional rooftop tent mount. Many tents have bolts that can slide along a track which expect to mount on a narrower roof rack rail like a traditional Thule or Yakima bar. Thus, they come with a metal plate to attach beneath the bar that usually maxes out at 3 inches. Up to this point, the Nebo has been awesome for all of my needs carrying stuff except for how to mount a rooftop tent.

There is a way! Front Runner makes a rooftop tent mounting kit which is essentially a riser bracket allowing the tent to be attached to a variety of surfaces - like getting bolted to a T-Slot. Bear in mind, Front Runner makes two kits, one is a 1.2" low profile kit and the other is a 2.4" tall kit. Unless you have tiny, Donald Trump, child-sized hands you need the tall kit. Even 2.4" was barely enough room to squeeze a wrench between the Nebo slats and the roof bottom. It was also challenging to blindly squeeze hands into for holding a washer and tightening a nut onto the tent's track bolt.

The Nebo's slats have a variety of grooved tracks allowing for a number of mounting options. The outer channels on the front and back edges are standard 10-series t-slots and Teraflex sells a drop in nut kit. You don't want that for a rooftop tent. The 10-series t-slots are too small and won't hold a bolt strong enough to handle 180 pound dynamic load. Plus, while you can roll them into the t-slots without removing the horizontal slats, you can't roll them back out which means they'll just rattle around if you remove the tent.

The middle channel on the Nebo slat is compatible with standard Thule and Yakima slots which is much wider. They are up to 1/2" thick at the slot's opening which accommodates a much sturdier bolt. There are two ways to bolt down the Front Runner brackets, either bolt from the top into a nut in the T-Slot or bolt from the bottom in the T-slot.

Bolting From the Top

The advantage of bolting down from the top is that you can source these parts cheaply and do not need to remove the slats. However, you need to find a short bolt otherwise you'll screw down and dig into the slat itself. For this option, buy:

The track nuts are oddly shaped (follow link for measurements) which allow going into the Thule T-Slot from the top (no removing the Nebo slat for side access) with the added bonus that they can also be removed. These little nuts accept an M6 bolt with 1.0 pitch threading.

Thule 853-2106 replacement nuts.

With the nuts placed into the Nebo slat's center channel, now align the Front Runner mounting brackets. To get roughly close to center, measure the width of the tents mounting track from bolt head to bolt head. Subtract that from the Nebo's width and divide by two. That distance is where you should align the hole at the top of the Front Runner bracket. You have a choice to mount the bracket parallel to the slat (two bolts in the same slat) or spanning two slats (one bolt in neighboring slats). It really doesn't matter and will probably be dictated by how far your existing slats are spaced.

Front Runner mounting brackets spread across Nebo slats.

The depth of the channel is about 7.45mm and the Front Runner bracket is 2mm thick steel requiring a bolt of 9.5mm to avoid bottoming out into the slat but it should be a little larger to accommodate at least one washer. The shortest M6 bolts I was able to get at the hardware store were 12mm so I had to use 3 washers each to avoid tightening the bolt into the slat itself.

Extra washers prevent the bolt from bottoming out into the slat.

At this point, thread the M6 bolt through the washers, bracket, and nut and loosely tighten. You will still want to be able to slide the brackets beneath the rooftop tent while aligning it. This is easily done by using a 2x4 board as a lever while getting the mounting track to align with the Front Runner bracket and the tent's bolt through the hole. Once everything is aligned, tighten it down.

The tent is now secured to the Nebo slats using the Front Runner brackets.

Bolting From the Bottom

Bolting from the top works, but a better solution is to bolt from the bottom. From the top, without removing the slats, you're really limited to those Thule 853-2106 nuts which only accept an M6 bolt. It's definitely possible to secure the tent with heftier bolts where the head lies in the T-Slot from the beginning.

Ignoring the options for going through the painful process of removing all the Nebo slats in order to slip bolts in from the side, I only found two viable options for inserting and removing the bolts.

Both of these two products are significantly thicker bolts than the little M6s used in the previous solution. They also feature the ability to be placed into the T-Channel sideways and then rotated to hold securely (much like the Thule nut only bigger and with a burly bolt attached). At the time, I was only able to find these products sold from one website in Australia - Rhinorack's STB16 and Rola RWSLA20 which will ship to the USA if you message them directly. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19 restrictions on flights in and out of Australia, my parts are still sitting in a backlog of shipments stuck at their airport.

Nevertheless, the difference in installation is simply starting with these beefier bolts in the tracks, placing the Front Runner bracket over them, and using a washer and nut to lock everything down. With this solution, the bolts are stouter and there is no worry of bottoming out into the slat when tightening.

Conclusion

I still like my Teraflex Nebo rack but it was definitely more of a pain in the ass to install a large rooftop tent like the Tepui Kukenam 4 on it. If you haven't selected a rack yet and want one of the sleek ones, I've seen rooftop tent installations that seemed to be a lot simpler on the Rhinorack. This experience definitely made me want to get a camping trailer to leave the tent permanently affixed to - with a more traditional rack bar to install it on.



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