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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hello, I just wanted to share how I installed a FreeSpirit Evolution RTT and ARB Awning on the factory roof rack.
I couldn't find a whole lot of info and pics when I did my research, but turns out it was pretty easy to do.

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I've had the tent installed on the truck full-time for 4 months without any issues and I think i'll just leave it on there since I'm working from home, so it's no longer a daily driver. I've used it for a few weekends, and recently a 2 week road trip across multiple states. I have yet to take her for real off roading/mild rock crawling with it installed. I randomly check the tent hardware's nuts and it's always stayed on tight, not much loosening from the drive. Fuel efficiency is reduced by pretty much 1mpg. I averaged about 14-15mpg on hwy without it, and now it's about 13-14mpg if I try to stay at or below 2000rpm on calm conditions. At times, I accidentally drove at 85-90mph and didn't feel there would be any problems, the tent feels solidly mounted and won't rip the stock rack off the roof. You do feel strong crosswinds. I went through drive-thrus and parking garages that had at least 8' clearance. Currently the highest point is at 7'3".

Parts Used:
  • Strut Channel, Low-Profile, Slotted, Black Powder-Coated Steel - McMaster-Carr P/N: 3310T791
  • Black-Oxide Steel U-Bolt with Mounting Plate, 5/16"-18 Thread Size, 2-1/2" ID - McMaster-Carr P/N: 3201T61
The following is to mount the awning brackets to the end of the strut channel and to raise the awning up for door clearance)
  • Superstrut, 1/4 in. Nylon Strut Cone Nut - Gold Galvanized (5-Pack) - Home Depot P/N: 202077349
  • SuperMag, 1/4 in. Square Strut Washer Silver Galvanized with Magnets (5-Pack) - Home Depot P/N: 305645478
  • Home Depot 1/4" hex bolts, 1 3/4", forgot what pitch, but just find something that screws into the strut channel nuts

For crossbars, I used low profile unistrut/channel struts from McMaster-Carr. I got the slotted ones, but I should've just gotten the plain ones and drilled holes myself, because the slots didn't line up to where I needed the u-bolts to go through, so I had to enlarge some holes to accommodate. I left the stock crossbars installed, but I'm thinking of removing them to open up the space between the tent and the roof for temporary firewood storage while gathering them, or tying up some mesh bags to dry clothes while driving.

To mount the crossbars to the stock rails, I used regular u-bolts with mounting plates. I wanted to use the u-bolts with the rubber vibration dampening, but it would interfere with the bottom aluminum rails of the tent because those u-bolts are thicker and wider. The tent mounts on the strut channel cross bars, and the cross bars are separately mounted to the roof rails.

For the awning, I purchased the ARB L-brackets from Amazon, but I had to raise them because the awning was in the way of the rear doors opening. After I raised it a little bit, the door weather strip was still rubbing on the awning's bottom zipper, so now it's raised up pretty high. I used magnetic channel strut spacers for that, stacked 3 high... This is the only way I could find at the time that would allow me to fit the awning underneath the tent. It was a temporary solution at first, but everything is mounted nicely so I'm just going to leave it as is. If I mount the awning to the side rails of the tent, then there will be a gap in between for water to slip through.

Here is a link to the pictures on my Google Drive:

===> Pic Dump <===

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This is the U-bolt with mounting plate used to install the strut channel to the stock rails. I used an extra nylon locking nut for additional safety. The blue thing is the nylon cone strut nut for the awning bracket. I couldn't use spring nuts due to the low profile struts.

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This is the hardware that came with the tent. Basically mount the tent to the strut channel cross bars and the cross bars to the stock rails.

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This is the awning bracket sitting on a stack of spacers.

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With the awning installed this way, there's no more space left beneath the tent. You can also see the U-bolt on this side is not perfectly straight.

Mini Tent Review:

The FreeSpirit Recreation's Evolution tent was released around Thanksgiving 2020. I made the purchase in May 2021 and installed it in June. Similar to the FSR Odyssey 55, but it opens straight up instead of clamp shell style with an extra flap to pull out. It's also a bit thicker due to it being able to store the ladder or bedding inside with the tent closed.

I'm glad I went with the hard shell, I don't have to deal with soft covers with velcro and zippers and having to store wet, dirty or dusty cover somewhere. I store the ladder inside the vehicle when not in use, because I keep a full set of queen sized bedding inside with an added 1.5inch memory foam mattress topper. I love the insulated walls, we were comfortable when everyone else was freezing at night. If you crack the windows open, you won't get condensation in the morning, or barely any. There are windows on all 4 sides, and we can see everyone around us in the campground from up high. The hard shell gave us good cover when in heavy rain, and packing it while still raining wasn't an issue. No water seeped in overnight, all the water ran out the sides and none could get pooled inside. Only a few drops of water was left on the outside fabric when reopening it the following night.

This tent has a built-in LED light strip, which was very bright (you can see it from the first pic above). You just need to connect the USB cord to a power bank or portable charger. We didn't use that light when there were mosquitoes, to prevent them come coming in through the door to get to the light. It also comes with 2 hanging shoe bags, so we climb up the ladder, sit on the edge, and take off our shoes there. Climbing the ladder barefoot is hard because the ladder rungs are straight and not angled, so when the ladder is at an angle, the rungs are pointy. This was one of the two cons for this tent.

This tent may not be as spacious as the other ones where you flip out another platform to create a king+ sized bed, but it does fit 2 adults just fine. The only thing you need to worry about is finding a flat surface, or at least make it so that the head is a bit on the higher side. One night I decided I needed to lift the rear tires by driving on those Lego style RV levelling blocks, and I was able to do that with the tent fully deployed, with the wife inside, minus the ladder.

Setting up the tent is very easy, but closing it with all the stuff inside takes some hand muscles. We both have firm memory foam pillows, so maybe that didn't help. The rubber latches were a bit difficult to operate when wet. They should make a hole or something and be able to put a rope through to help grip it better in the rain.

Mini Awning Review:

Having the ARB Touring Awning With Light 2000mm X 2500mm P/N: 814409 made a huge difference in the sun. The fabric offers UV protection and that reduced the heat tremendously. We used a regular tarp for additional shade on the side before sunset and that did nothing for the heat. I might just buy the ARB side/front panels that go with it. This awning comes with a built-in LED light strip, which was pretty cool. Just hook up the included cables to the 12V port. The light switch cycles through 3 modes: Cool White, Amber, and both at the same to create Warm White. We have not yet used the awning in windy or rainy conditions. We didn't deploy the awning at all during our 2 week road trip because we arrived after sunset on most nights and left early every morning to a different destination.

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On that day, it was 99 degF. We were comfortable under the awning, but the heat would hit our backs through the tarp due to lack of UV protection.

Rig Info:
In case you want to know, the truck is mostly stock with only a mild suspension lift at the rear and from the tires:
Bilstein 5100 front shocks from PRG Products with stock springs and set at stock ride height
OME Dakar Medium Duty leaf spring pack w/OME Bushing Kit from PRG Products
Bilstein 5125 shocks for 0-2inch lift from PRG Products
BFG KO2 E-Load 285/75 R16 on stock rims, with matching spare (yes it fits in the original spare tire spot).
Melt Mod

Thanks for reading and I hope this helps other folks who have not yet decided on getting a roof top tent because they think you absolutely need an after market roof rack :)

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2,076 Posts
Looks good!

For some more ideas, including adapting the ARB brackets work without spacers, you might check this out:

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