Are Rooftop Tents Worth It?
If you’re an American, this may be the first time you’ve heard of a rooftop tent. This is understandable since they first became popular in Australia.
The Land Down Under is famous for its large array of creepy crawlies, and a rooftop tent gets you off of the ground, well away from any multi-legged visitors. Over the past couple of decades, they’ve grown in popularity in other countries with large insect populations, and they’re finally starting to appear in the US.
So why would you want to camp on top of your vehicle, instead of just using a standard tent? We’re about to talk about the benefits of owning a rooftop tent. Of course, no product design is perfect, so we’ll also talk about some of the drawbacks as well, so you can find out – are rooftop tents worth it?
Where Are You Camping?
A rooftop tent provides you with different location options than a traditional tent. Because it mounts on your car, you can use it in locations where a traditional set would be impractical or outright forbidden. For example, a Walmart parking lot, an RV lot, or a highway rest stop. Why pay for a campsite when you can sleep wherever and wherever you want, for free?
On the other hand, rooftop tents are heavy. Even the lightest options weigh in at around 100 pounds, which is about 90 pounds heavier than even the bulkiest backpacking tents. Needless to say, you’re not going to be hiking the Appalachian Trail – or even walking a mile – with one of these monsters on your back.
What Kind of Camping Are You Doing?
Depending on what you’re doing, a rooftop tent can be a wonderful convenience or a horrendous pain in the neck. The reason is the way they’re assembled.
A rooftop tent requires a roof rack to support it. Once the roof rack is installed, the tent is mounted on top and remains there while you’re driving to your destination. During travel, the tent is collapsed, and you pop it open when you get to your destination.
So you’ve got a tent that requires significant effort to mount on your vehicle but can be popped open in less than a minute. If you’re not going to be driving much during your camping trip, or if you’re sleeping in a different place every night, this makes a rooftop tent more convenient than a traditional tent.
On the other hand, if you’re sleeping at the same campground for several nights, you may want to do some driving. In that case, you’ll have to collapse the tent. You’ll also need to leave something — or someone – behind to make sure no-one takes your campsite.
What Kind of Vehicle Do You Own?
Different vehicles are going to accept different types of rooftop tents. For example, a large SUV or a pickup with a bed cap can accommodate a very large tent. A car is going to have a smaller capacity, although even a small car can typically support a two-person tent. There are also some cool options available for pickup truck beds, which can even utilize the top of your cab as a loft.
Another important consideration is your vehicle roof’s weight capacity. Modern cars are designed to support the weight of the vehicle in the event of a rollover, which theoretically means that you should be able to mount a roof rack kit and a tent on any compatible vehicle.
That said, it’s important to be safe, so check your car’s payload, and make sure it’s enough to support the rack system, the tent, however, many people are going to be inside, and all your camping supplies.
What’s Your Budget?
Traditional tents are affordable. And yes, we know you can find some $700, $800, and even more on some models. There are plenty of options out there with lots of bells and whistles. But at the end of the day, you can get into a serviceable tent for less than $300.
Rooftop tents need stiff bottoms with plenty of support. They also include ladders and need to be collapsible and safe for driving. As a result, they’re are a bit pricey. Even for a basic, budget model, you’ll pay somewhere in the neighborhood of $1,000. That’s enough to buy some of the most luxurious backpacking tents on the planet.
So, are rooftop tents worth it? It all depends on what you’re looking for.
If you want to camp in the deep woods or leave your tent set up while you drive your car around for excursions, there are better options available. They’re also not well-suited for vehicles that won’t support a roof rack.
On the other hand, rooftop tents are easier to set up than traditional tents. They keep you off the ground, away from bugs, and they allow you to camp in unconventional locations. If these features appeal to you, a rooftop tent could be a good investment. We threw one in our gift guide a few years ago, and we have to say…people loved it.