Rooftop Tent – A Modern Twist
So many things happened since the tents were some sticks, strings, and a sheet of fabric. Some of the more interesting ones are these hats for your car that call themselves tents.
Rooftop tents originate from South Africa where a lot of things like to crawl in and snuggle up with campers. Up until the turn of the century, their design was very basic. Since then, multiple innovations came to life.
In their most basic form, roof tents very much resemble the ones that you are used to, but with four major advantages. The first one, as mentioned is protection from bugs, spiders, and snakes.
The second is the construction of the tent itself. Because it is fastened to the roof of your vehicle, you don’t have to worry about the softness or the muddiness of the terrain. This allows you to set up almost anywhere you want, especially when you’re going off the grid.
Also, because the tent has to be secured to the roof of the car, the floor is solid and often padded – far more comfortable than sleeping on the ground.
Next is the setup time. Most of the work happens at home when you’re securing the tent to the vehicle. From there, it should take you very little time and effort to set up for the night or pack up to leave.
And finally, there is the view. Even those extra five or so feet will give you a better view of the scenery. It gets even better if you can park on any type of elevation.
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How do roof tents work?
For the most part, they are very similar to ground tents. At least the most basic models are.
They are installed onto the roof a car through a set or rails and connectors. Some models come with a gripping mechanism for a quick installation. The tent is supposed to get attached to the rails on the roof of the vehicle. And it can stay there until you need it.
Setting up is more or less the same, with the major difference of the floor of the tent already being secured. Depending on the type and size, some might be super easy and it would take barely a minute to set up.
What are the types of rooftop tents?
Two main types are hard shells and soft shells.
Hardshells are kinda like huge briefcases. They usually have a very thin profile, offer more weather protection, and open quickly into a fully set up tent. They tend to be a lot more expensive than soft shells.
Softshells are a lot lighter and often offer a lot more space. But that comes at the price of convenience and fuel efficiency.
How do I choose the right rooftop tent?
First, be honest with yourself about your budget. If you can’t afford to spend $3000 on it, there is no point in checking out a hardshell in the first place.
Second, figure out where the road usually takes you. Who keeps you company? What time of the year are you most active? How much cargo can your car handle? All of that will inform you on which size, materials and features are the right fit for you.
And finally, if possible, go to the store to check them out in person. You should inspect the stitching, fabric, hardware, etc. If it feels flimsy, it probably is not worth your hard-earned money.
What is the price range of rooftop tents?
Most tents are in the $1000 to $3000 range – significantly more expensive than their grounded counterparts. But if you search very hard, you’ll find ones that are even more expensive than that.
We can always count on a Sale to make a purchase like this one easier on the wallet.
How is the rooftop tent usually installed?
Most of the heavy lifting is in the heavy lifting.
Once you take your tent out of the box, there might be some assembly required. It will mostly be securing the hardware to the floor of the tent. Said hardware is the stuff that is supposed to secure the tent to your car. How exactly it might look like depends on the brand and model, but in most cases, it will be a set of rails with some type of connectors.
For the next step, you’ll have to phone a friend. Even if you can give the Governator a run for his money, don’t try to put it on the car by yourself. The size and shape of the cursed thing can easily translate into a back injury.
One the tent is on the roof of the car, you will have to secure it, and (quite probably) install the staircase.
It would not be a bad idea to check the connectors once a week or when the tent is not in use. It would be even a better idea to check them every morning once you go on your adventure.
Do I need special roof racks for a rooftop tent?
Yes. You will have to buy a set unless your car already has them, or (which is kinda rare) your tent comes with them.
Some of the most trusted brands are Rhino Rack, Thule, and Yakima.
Do I need a special model of a vehicle for rooftop tents?
Most of these guys are designed to go on trucks, vans, SUVs, and I’m-a-soccer-mom-with-11-kids-to-drop-off station wagon. Still, you can find ones that you can mount on a sedan if need be. You’ll just have to take into consideration that these tents can weight as much as another human, and might not be something your suspension might enjoy.
Even in that case, you will be limited to smaller and lighter tents.
What are some of the best brands of rooftop tents?
We are suffering the embarrassment of riches and there are a lot more amazing brands on the market now. These guys are currently ahead of the pack.
This Austrian brand has introduced the biggest innovation in the niche in the form of the inflatable tents. They are half as light as the competition and twice as easy to set up.
If it’s inflatable and meant for use outdoors, they are making it. And quite a few of their items can be combined and used together.
Quite a few reviewers noted that Tepui is the yardstick by which the quality of roof tents should be measured. We can’t help but agree.
They make products that are meant for those who are out and about all the time. Almost all of their offerings are suitable for year-round all-weather use.
Yakima is another innovator, but they have chosen to make the installation easier for an average user. They have created a set of clamps that secure the tent to the rails on the roof of the car. Of course, they also sell rails that would work best with their system.
They are a better option for a casual outdoors-person since their items can be a lot more affordable in comparison to the competition.
Another reason they are great for the n00bs – their website helps you figure out if their products are suitable for your car.
These guys are coming from South Africa, aka where the roof tents come from as well. They have some of the most durable items that can turn your pick-up or SUV into a luxury camping vehicle.
They are available in the US through a network of authorized distributors.
What are the best models for rooftop tents?
The lazy answer is “the one that is the best for you”. That being said, here are a few that caught our eye.
Top pick – GentleTent Inflatable Roof Top Tent
Weighing only 55 pounds, this guy is two times lighter than the next lightest models. Setting up is effortless with the included electric pump and, if you inflate it properly, you should be well-protected from the elements.
Even if it rains for 40 days and 40 nights, this tent’s got you covered because it floats on water.
It hails from Austria, a country that gave the world Beethoven, alkaline batteries, the Turk, Sachertorte, and now the GentleTent. That means that the only downside, at least for the US consumer, is the added shipping and import fees on top of the $2500 price tag.
There’s also the Sky Loft if you want to house 5-6 people.
Best buy – Smittybilt Overlander Tent
At $900, it’s one of the most affordable offerings on the market. It’s a very spacious softshell that offers amazing performance. Even though it’s on the lower end of the price spectrum, it doesn’t skimp on useful details – like the boot bag or the LED light strip.
You can add on annexes as you go for about $300 a pop.
The biggest downside is the velcro cover – it’s not the most efficient way to keep everything in place.
Second lightest, second-most affordable – Roof Top Tent by Front Runner
While it’s still heavier than our top pick, at 94 pounds, it will not send you to the hospital even if you look at it. It also has the smallest profile at 1.3 inches. And all that at $1100.
However, all this comes at the cost of durability.
Best value for money – Tuff Stuff Overland Roof Top Tent
The only one on this list that comes with a vestibule. It might be a bit boring and it lacks bells and whistles of other models, but it’s practical, sturdy, reliable, and can go the distance.
And all that happens at $1400, still making it on the affordable side.
For those who are always out and about – Tepui Ruggedized Series Kukenam 3
If you are a serious outdoorsy person, this one is worth the investment. It’s built to last through any time of use and abuse.
This guy is designed to stay on the roof of your car year-round. All the pieces are put together with the presumption that you will use it at the very least every weekend.
There’s also amazing attention to detail – sturdy hardware, high-quality fabric, telescopic ladder, etc. The only downside is that there are not available accessories – if you want to expand it in any way, shape, or form, you’ll either have to go for another model or figure out how to do it on your own.
Best box hard shell – Tepui HyBox
Tepui proves their status as the measurement for quality with the HyBox. It’s extremely durable, easy to install, set, and pack up.
It also doubles up as a cargo box – without fully opening it will protect your bags and other smaller important items from the elements, but if you set it up, it gives you 23 cubic feet of storage space.
Best clam hard shell – Alu-Cab Gen 3 Expedition Tent
Alu-Cab hails from South Africa, where they had 70 years to perfect the art of the roof tents.
This model is very lightweight with a pop-up design. You can mount a solar panel on it, but the internal USB power points can also be powered with the 12V plug point.
The entire structure can permanently stay on the top of your car and then used to mound bikes, kayaks, etc. There are also several accessories to further weather-proof your tent.
And not to worry, Alu-Cab has 15 authorized dealers in the US.
Easiest to mount – Yakima SkyRise Tent
If you have to install and remove your tent often, the SkyRise might be the best choice. It comes with the set of built-in clamps that grab onto the rails of your car and don’t let go. No need for tools or manual labor.
On top of it, it’s light but a well made and sturdy tent, at the more affordable side of the spectrum.
The only and the biggest downside is the limited vehicle compatibility. Luckily, the Yakima website will tell you if their products are compatible with the make, year, and model of your car.
Height of luxury – iKamper Skycamp Roof Top Tent
Yet another clam style hard shell tent, but with double the space. Unlike most of the similar models that can only fit two people, this guy easily houses 4 adults.
The floor is covered with a memory foam mattress, and it comes with numerous accessories like the mounting brackets, UV protective cover, locks, etc. There are also additional upgrades that you can purchase – like the inner insulation tent or the wind deflector.
However, be ready to spend almost $4000 on this guy.
How do I get my dog on the rooftop tent?
By asking nicely? Or the same way you got them used to their carrier or crate.
Start a couple of days, or maybe even two weeks before your trip. Set up the tent on the ground and let them sniff around and get the lay of the land. Leaving a treat or two will not hurt as all.
When you clear that level, put the tent on the car and let them get used to that setup. If you have a small dog, you will probably be the one to help them climb up and down. But, if you have a large pup, you’ll have to teach them how to climb a ladder.
What are the best ways to store a rooftop tent?
Most tents come with a protective case, so packing them up should not be a problem. Still, you’ll have to store them properly.
The best way to do so at home is to suspend it from the ceiling or the wall – just like a kayak. You’ll save space and prevent mold and other nasty things from developing.
If you have both the inclination and space to store it on a table or the ground, place some wooden slats underneath to elevate it.
What are the cons of a rooftop tent
The price is the first thing that comes to mind. If you are on a super tight budget, dishing out $1000+ might not be the easiest thing to do.
If your vehicle is not meant to carry a lot of cargo, one of these guys will have an impact on suspension and breaks.
As mentioned, the installation and removal can be tricky for a single person, especially if the said person has back or knee issues.
And if you are accident-prone or a very active sleeper… ahm, yeah.
Are rooftop tents really worth it?
The most important way rooftop tents pay for themselves is by allowing you to set camp in terrains you had to avoid until now. That means you can go off the grid with one less worry.
And let’s not talk about the medical bills in the case of creepy-crawly intruders that like to snuggle up with you during the night, and munch on you before they go about their day.
Also, depending on where you are stopping, those vistas might be a sight to behold.
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