Roof tents – camping kit for masochists, or a perfect penthouse?

Roof tentWe camped alongside a couple of car-campers recently – at a respectful distance, of course. They had a great set-up, involving roof-tents and awnings. It looked cool, but does a roof-tent give you any advantage over a normal tent or a small campervan?

 

“I’ve spent some time living out of my van,” says one camper who got in touch with us. “It’s often involved stopping overnight in places like laybys and car parks. A roof tent would be a bit of a giveaway – plus a parasitic drag while driving. I’ve intentionally selected and adapted my vehicle so I can sleep inside in the warm, and get from bed to driving seat without unlocking the doors or exposing myself to rain. Roof-tents are for masochist freaks with old Land Rovers.”

At the opposite end of the argument, a roof-tent has turned out to be the perfect option for Liss Fenton and family, and there’s more from them later in this article.

Roof-tent advantages

bivvy hammock

If your only criterion is being off the ground, there’s nothing as lovely as a bivvy hammock, especially if it’s flat-bed with a mosquito net

  • You’re off the ground, out of the wet and dirt. Though a MUCH cheaper option is a bivvy hammock-tent. We love ours.
  • Modern roof-tents are super-fast to put up
  • Wild camping is easier, in that you only need space for the car (though see below)
  • Many let you pack up with the bedding still inside so there’s more space in the car for other kit

And the drawbacks

  • They’re pretty expensive compared to a normal tent
  • You wouldn’t want to live/eat in them – more of a sleeping pod
  • You’re a bit obvious if trying to wild camp
  • You’ll have something strapped to the top of your vehicle, which could limit what else you take and affect fuel economy

The best roof-tents

They need to be lightweight, streamlined, easy to fold out and pack away, and preferably have space to leave the bedding inside. Expect to pay upwards of £1,000 and at least double that for a top-quality model that will withstand severe weather. Having said that, the most affordable one we found was under £800 and offered a 24-month warranty. It will fit a saloon car (with roof bars). Read on for a guide to the best roof-tents.

If you’re not convinced….alternatives to roof-tents

Have a look at these quick-pitch tents. In some situations, a fast-to-put-up tent will give you a lot more flexibility than a roof-tent.

Berlingo mini campervan

The ‘bed base’ ready to be filled. The mattresses then sit neatly on top.

Another serious option to consider is to turn your car into a campervan. This is how we turned our Citroen Berlingo into a part-time campervan.

backseat bed

Got an ordinary car? Well, this backseat bed might be all you need because, after all, a roof-tent is really only a place to sleep.


Tentbox

Tentbox

Literally a box! Perhaps the most untentlike model we’ve found. Superstrong, designed in the UK and will fit on most cars, including hatchbacks. It has some nice features, such as a memory foam mattress. Very simple and streamlined, and costs around £1500.


Ventura Deluxe 1.4

Ventura

The Deluxe 1.4 is VERY cheap. The question is whether it’s too cheap to be any good. The makers claim it’s perfect for both cold and super-hot weather and it does have four good-sized windows and decent head height.

It has an aluminium frame for lightness and stability  and a waterproof canvas fabric that’s anti-tera and solar-reflective. The tents are tested in winds up to 120km/hr (74mph). All fixings are included and so is a mattress and ladder. It can be fitted to most vehicles with roof rails, roof bars or roof racks and unfolds to 240×143x126cm.

Around £800. 


Howling Moon

Roof tent

Howling Moon

Roof tent

Howling Moon

Claiming to be the best tents in Africa, and available in the UK, these are serious-looking safari tents, all muddy khaki in colour and made out of durable materials. There are Deluxe, Tourer and Stargazer models, plus awnings and accessories. One for the Land Rover lot, possibly.

Another affordable one, and again more of a Land Rover safari option is the roof-tent from West Coast. Under £1,000, including an annexe kit.


Autohome

Autohome

A sort of caravan-style rooftent. Different sizes and styles to choose from to suit different vehicles and space needs. From around £2500.


Outour

Outour

One of the cheapest we’ve found and not bad-looking, plus it will fit on the roofrack of a normal-sized car. It weighs around 50kg, comes with a mattress and aluminium ladder, and has two size options.

Costs around £900 (minus roof rack).


Smittybit

Smittybit Overlander

This one is a star. It’s a waterproof wonder that folds out in seconds and comes with a complete fixing kit. It has some nice touches, such as stainless steel hinges and anodised aluminium frame poles. There’s an interior LED light, a high density foam mattress with removable cover, mosquito nets, sunroof, telescopic aluminium ladder and a UV-resistant travel bag. It costs just under £2,000.


Pathfinder Wireless

Pathfinder

For large estate cars upwards. With a remote control for automatic opening and a solar panel. It can work from the 12V in the car, or be wound up manually. Around £2,800.

 


Mag-Tower

Mag-Tower

Another box-shaped design that opens to 215cm x 145cm x 100cm and should sleep two adults comfortably. They say there’s room for a third, but would you…really? It’s hand-cranked rather than hydraulic or electric opening, which the manufacturers say is less likely to fail on you.

The fabric is waterproof polyester and the top is fibreglass. Roofbars need to be at least 120cm apart to support the tent. Costs around £1900.

 


Tuff-Trek

Roof tent

BunduTop

Lots of options here in both soft and hard top. Specifically stated to fit almost any car with roofbars, not just 4x4s. Prices range from around £1,000 to £2,500, but you’ll want the accessories too. Tuff-Trek also sell the BunduTop, electric opening roof tent for around £2,500. There are LED lights and a power point inside that one.


Skycamp

Roof tent

Skycamp

A Kickstarter innovation from $1900. It’s a modern-looking design, using strong and light materials and there are plenty of accessories, such as awnings and an annexe. While it’s definitely still aimed at an off-road vehicle, it will fit on some ordinary cars too.


Frontunner

Frontunner

The lowest profile on the market? So they say, anyway – just 200mm high (excluding ladder). Still, it opens up to a comfortable two-person tent and weighs only 40kg. You’ll need the tent mounting kit to fit this to your roofrack. Costs around £1400.


Tips from a roof-tent owner

Roof tentLiss Fenton isn’t a tent camper. In fact, before buying her roof-tent, she’d only been in a tent once and swore never again.

“We sleep in our VW camper now, but we have the roof-tent as a perfect sleeping space for our 15-year-old. Teenage boys and all the associated smells – no thanks!,” she says. “We wild camp and book onto sites as wild camping is getting harder to do these days.”

How did you choose your tent?

We chose the tent through word of mouth and after doing a lot of research on the internet and YouTube. We wanted quality, but at a decent price too. It’s big enough so that three extra people can come camping with us, and it certainly has the wow factor for our son. We hope we might get a few more years’ camping with him because he loves his ‘penthouse’ so much!

Roof tentThe drawbacks are that it isn’t easy to put up in a high wind. Perhaps the main disadvantage is that to put it away properly, everything needs to be folded in neatly. When one of you is just over 5′ and the tent is on top of a T4 with a roof rack, it can be quite challenging!

Any advice?

We have an extra large one that, to be honest, is bigger than we need. Don’t necessarily choose the biggest, if you don’t need the size. We had an issue with the ladder being wonky. It was replaced, but that was wonky too. Ours is covered by a bag, which is hard to take off and needs drying out, so we’d probably look for an alternative if we were buying again. Also check zips, because these take a lot of abuse.


Are you a roof-tenter? How did you choose it and how do you use it? Share your tips in the comments below.

And for some inspiration, have a look at this book all about using a rooftent in the Kruger National Park.

 

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2 Comments

  1. After loads of research I bought a Tuff-Trek Canvas Roof Tent. So glad we did! 2 years of trips and it’s like new. Their help and advice throughout the process was just so much better than any else. They use their products themselves and invited us down for a full demo and explained how to use the tent etc. Highly recommended Amy and Mikey

  2. Matteo Cresti wrote to say:
    “When I was a kid, I’ve travelled several years with a Gabbiano roof tent around Italy with my parents and that was my very first camping experience. We moved to a motorvan only after a long night in the car on the Pirenees: it was raining and we didn’t want to open it as we’ve always been moving around every day and we were afraid that the tent would have get too humid for the remaining of the holiday. Apart from that, those were lovely summers!”

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