During the pandemic, the roof-top tent became very popular as a form of accommodation. We pack the necessary things in the car, look for a camping spot in the wild, set up the tent in a few minutes, and enjoy the freedom. Sounds great, right? In this post, we will share with you our thoughts on roof-top tents.
How it all began
How was it with us? It’s hard to say when we caught the bug. It was definitely before the pandemic when we started modifying Suzuki and we were slowly getting to know the world of off-road tourism. Mainly, the foreign ones – the United States, Australia, South Africa and many Central European countries. It was 60 years ago in Italy that the first mass-produced roof tents were built under the names “Maggiolina” and “Air-Camping”. We must admit that the creators of social media, mostly from outside Poland, had the greatest influence on our decision. How is it then? Is it worth buying a roof tent or not? The classic answer is “it depends.” It is quite an extensive topic, depending on our expectations, experiences, possibilities, and budget.
Our adventure began when we established cooperation with Front Runner Outfitters. We already had a roof rack*, and since we like to modify the car consistently, the choice was obvious – Front Runner Feather-Lite*. The model we chose is tempting in many respects. Affordable price is very lightweight and has the lowest tent height with a soft cover on the market. You can read more about our tent in the dedicated entry, here.
In the first season, it was still new to us. Each trip was a challenge as learning how to use a roof tent. What do we mean? Where, in what direction to put the tent up, how to quickly set up and fold it up, and how to deal with various weather conditions.
In 2021, we had the pleasure of making over 5,000 kilometers during our trip to Albania. We visited, among others, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Albania. All our nights were in a roof tent on our Grand Vitara.
More about our Balkans trip in a dedicated blog post, here.
Roof-top tent vs. nature elements
It is the weather that is the roof-top tent’s worst enemy. During the two years of using our roof-top tent, we had various situations related to weather conditions.
For example, there was a situation when we spent the night at a campsite in Croatia located right on the Adriatic coast. The perfect location. There was no wind in the evening. As we were relaxing in the sun, a Polish couple who passed by warned us that it could blow a lot at night. We didn’t take it seriously, after all, we slept in the wind and it wasn’t too bad. And so after a few hours, we woke up in the middle of the night to the noise of flying material. It was unbearable so we decided to sleep in the front seats of the car. Shortly after we left the tent in the middle of the night, the structure was assembled by a strong gust of wind. It was a terrifying experience.
So what can you do? The first thing is to analyze the weather on an ongoing basis, tracking the weather conditions on a given day in the applications on the phone. Another tip is to pay attention to where you stay overnight. Remember that in a spontaneous journey, when you spot camping or a place to sleep in the wild, it is worth getting out of the car and checking the strength of the wind, the number of trees and whether we are in a place that will help us spend the night more calmly or cause additional worries.
In addition to another place to stay, the solution would be a roof-top tent with a hard shell on one side, which is positioned at an angle. It is a very common solution in so-called hard-shell roof-top tents. Unfortunately, such roof-top tents often cost more than twice as much as those in a soft shell.
The sun must also be taken into account. We felt it quite strongly during this year’s trip to the Balkans. After a few hours of driving at temperatures above 30 degrees Celsius and the late-setting sun, the roof-top tent warmed up very quickly. Getting to the place of accommodation, it was not possible to set it up right away .. Okay, we did it, but the temperature was so high that we felt like in a sauna! It is not a pleasant feeling.
In addition, when we stood in a given place for a long time, the roof-top tent would heat up and we did not use it all day. Of course, it is possible to put the car under a tree, but we didn’t have a pleasant experience with that either. The tree-bathing juices destroyed the outer layer of the tent.
In this regard, we see the advantage of a classic tent on the ground. The tent, which is transported inside the car, does not heat up, and when placed in the shade of the car or under the awning, it can be used all day long. Such a tent also has its drawbacks, such as dependence on the appropriate ground, but we will tell you about it another time.
Structure of a Roof-top tent
We do not hide that the price was the main reason why we decided to buy a soft-shell roof-top tent. The tent consists of two-floor plates that can be folded into a sandwich, a light metal structure, a mattress, an inner layer with windows, an outer waterproof layer, a ladder, and a sheet. There is nothing extraordinary about it. And that’s the point.
The quality of the roof-top tent materials and the way of opening it defines the price. This results in a huge price difference. The cheapest roof-top tents can be bought for less than a thousand euros and the more expensive ones for a multiple of the price.
So what next?
Summarizing all the experiences we have written about, there are three options that we can decide on.
The first is related to the fact that we want to change the car to a bigger one. We automatically think of the option of sleeping inside the car. As long as the car has the right dimensions, this seems to us to be the most convenient and cheapest option.
The second option is a new roof-top tent. We would definitely opt for a hard case, with actuators for easy opening, a sloped roof on one side, and enough space inside to easily transport sleeping bags with pillows.
The third option is the most expensive, but we see no downside to it. Namely, we are talking about the lifting roof of the car. Compared with the previous option, we gain space inside the car. In case of bad weather, we can use the space inside, which we can adapt to our needs.
Roof-top tent – tips for you
When deciding on a rooftop tent, you have to think about some quite important issues. To make your decision easier, we present a list of tips to help you buy a roof tent:
- Use a rooftop tent rental to see if this style of travel suits you. What you see on the internet shows an idealized picture of the journey.
- Find out how a roof tent can support the roof of your car. You will pay attention to the limit of the dynamic load on the roof. It is while driving that the roof is loaded the most.
- Think about whether you really need a roof tent. Classic tents are much cheaper and have much more space inside.
- We believe that a roof-top tent with a soft shell is better suited if you want to stay at one location for more than 2 nights. With frequent changes of location, unfolding and folding the roof-top tent spoils the fun of using this equipment, because it takes time and costs a little effort.