Americans, for all their ruggedness, are a little behind the curve when it comes to camping. We seem to believe that camping can only be done in the traditional style: With a tent, a sleeping bag, a camping stove, a lantern, and probably an air mattress. Either that, or we tote around a whole house on wheels and try to call it camping. The truth is that is way more work and hassle than roughin’ it needs to be. Car camping is huge in most parts of the world, and easy to accomplish with just a rooftop camping tent.
Originally made popular for safaris in Africa or walkabouts in the Australian outback, rooftop tents (RTT’s), aka, cartop campers, are simple, space-saving devices that fit snugly onto the roof of your car. The intent here is to keep you safer and drier than you would be sleeping on the ground. Insects and snakes won’t try to sneak in for warmth. Bears can’t stumble into you on a search for food; and you’ll never end up sitting in a huge puddle after a rainstorm. When you’re ready for a new way to explore, take a gander at the 7 best rooftop camping tents.
Tepui Tents Ayer
Con: Not very tall when deployed
Entry Level: By and large you want to avoid rooftop tents that come in under the $1,000 mark, because the manufacturer has probably scrimped on something important. That is not the case with Tepui Tents whose entire line is without flaw. The two-person Ayer is the way to go if you want to keep costs low. You’ll find the same 600D rip-stop poly/cotton blend that they use in their higher-end items. It is treated to resist UV fading, mold, and water for a comfortable 4-season camping experience. The exterior is true heavy duty PVC. When buttoned up it is only 95 lbs., but expands to 84″ in length, 48″ in width, and a spartan 39″ in height. Certainly not large, this is best for car campers or anyone looking to keep weight – or expenses – low.
ARB Simpson III
Pro: Highly breathable fabric
Con: Can be difficult to mount on vehicle
Switcheroo: You can’t always park where you want, which means how your tent deploys can be a huge issue. Thanks to the way the Simpson III is made, it can go to the left, to the right, or to the back of your vehicle depending on your needs. Constructed with poly/cotton fabric, it’s able to breathe and resist some weather, though most moisture resistances is handled by the Oxford polyester rain fly. Once unfolded you get 94.5″ length, 55″ width, and 51″ height. Made by the leading overland accessory manufacturer in Australia, you’ll get plenty of quality for the price. You’ll mostly want to use this in hot weather, since the cotton in the fabric makes it a little light for autumn/winter trips.
Pro: Single-person deployment
Con: Annex room doesn’t have a floor
Room to Spare: One of the biggest issues with using these tents is that it lacks a guest house, changing room, or foyer for entertaining. The Basecamp is a way to extend and expand the utility of your RTT without degrading the comfort. Starting off with a 126″ by 55″ by 51″ upper deck, you’ll also have a “ground floor” annex room that is 108″ by 84″. This doesn’t have a base, but is handy for adding cots, camp chairs, or allowing your pets a more comfortable outdoor experience. The tent body and annex room are poly-cotton ripstop canvas and both are covered against inclement weather by the 420D Oxford flysheet. Anodized aluminum tent poles provide the frame and a 2.5″ high density foam mattress provides the comfort.
CVT Mt. McKinley Rooftop Tent
Pro: Privacy divider
Go Big: Have a big family who just can’t be apart, even for a night of camping? Then snap up the Mt. McKinley. For the basic sleeping area you have a spacious 132″ by 87″ by 50″ interior with dual entrances. A privacy wall and dual mattresses gives you the option of separating from children or another couple. The bottom has an annex room complete with its own removable PVC floor for more storage and/or sleeping space as required. Still not enough? You can couple this with an awning or secondary annex room to turn this into a full canvas mansion. As with nearly every other rooftop camping tent, the body is poly/cotton rip-stop and resists UV light, water, and mold. A 1000D waterproof polyester rain fly completes the package.
Treeline Outdoors Tamarack Constellation
Pro: Strong and lightweight
Con: Non-aerodynamic build when collapsed
Built to Last: If your intent is to get many years of use out of your tent, then spend a little extra and get the Constellation. Made from a honeycombed base of aluminum it is both light and sturdy. The camping tent is made with flame-retardant poly-cotton that breathes well. It includes skylights and plenty of windows for ventilation and light permeation. To cover the top, the rain fly is Diamond Ripstop polyester that is 420D worth of waterproofing. Unfolded, you get lots of square footage with 122″ length, 56″ width, and 49″ height. Considering it is only 97 lbs., you’ll have tons of space to put your gear and a few very close friends. The high-density, 2″ foam mattress is nice enough, but not mind-blowing. Resists frost, mildew, mold, UV, and fire. For a similar, albeit smaller (and more affordable) option, consider the Poler Le Tent. Nearly as good at a portion of the size.
AutoHomeUSA Maggiolina Grand Tour
Pro: Easy set-up
Con: Requires larger vehicles
Pop the Top: The Grand Tour is built in the classic style of a van sleeper with its simple pop-up design. Made from marine-grade fiberglass, the exterior is impermeable to dust and moisture for easy travel in all conditions. When deployed, the water-resistant Acrylic Dralon fabric sheds snow and rain equally well while retaining heat on the inside for those winter jaunts. For comfort, the Grand Tour has a 3.5″ closed cell foam mattress that is cushy. It comes in three sizes for couples, families, or the gentle ménage à trois. Easily put up with just a few cranks, you can add a secondary rack to the top for your surfboards and other lengthy gear.
Pro: Fast deployment
Con: Limited storage space
Minimalist: From cars to SUV’s the Roost line of products are made with quick set-up and teardown in mind. Both the Explorer and the Sport varieties go up in about 30 seconds and give you a simple rooftop tent sans frills. They’re 90.5″ long, 57″ wide, and 59″ tall at their highest point, which is plenty of room for sleeping, but little else. You can choose either the standard 2″ foam mattress, or opt for a bigger 3″ model. Anything larger or aftermarket is unlikely to fit the strict dimensions, but the standards are dense and don’t shirk comfort. Three doors offer lots of ventilation as well as egress without crawling over your tent partner. Made with 600 Denier rip-stop polyester and treated with a water-resistant coating the tent itself keeps you dry while the fiberglass ceiling shrugs everything off.
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