We 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.
- You’re off the ground, out of the wet and dirt (consider a bivvy hammock-tent instead. 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
- Getting shelter is harder
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).
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.
These are probably the most suitable for ‘normal’ cars, rather than just safari trucks, and there are lots of different sizes and styles to choose from. Hard-top and interesting styling.
Literally a box. Perhaps the most untentlike model we’ve found, but claimed to be superstrong and has some nice features. Not cheap at more than £1,500, though.
For large estate cars upwards. With a remote control for automatic opening. It can work from the 12V in the car, or be wound up manually. Around £1,600.
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.
A Kickstarter innovation that’s ready to buy – from $1900. It’s a more 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 smaller cars too.
Tips from a roof-tent owner
Liss 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!
The 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!
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.