For those who have never used a rooftop tent in your life and are thinking of getting one, you’re probably wondering about the pros and cons. Maybe you’re wondering if it’s going to take a long time to get your tent set up. Will it be awkward and clunky because you can’t see exactly how you need to set it up?
Setting up your rooftop tent can take anywhere from less than 1 minute for a hard shell model to approximately 10 minutes for a soft shell model.
If you’re wondering about the logistics of setting up your tent and whether making such an expensive investment is worth it, keep reading for more information.
How a Rooftop Tent Works
A rooftop tent refers to a tent that can be mounted on your vehicle’s rack system. These tents are elevated, requiring a ladder to gain access. Despite this, they’re typically more comfortable than regular tents located on the ground due to the in-built mattresses.
These tents are popular because they’re elevated. Setting up tents on the ground can be a real feat, especially if you’re dealing with freshly melted snow or mud. You need to perform several additional steps like finding a nice, clean spot to perch your ground tent in and clearing the area. This footwork is made unnecessary with a rooftop tent.
All you need is a place to park and your tent mounted on top of your roof rack. Besides this, cleaning your tent is also made much easier because you won’t have to deal with external elements like mud falling on your tent.
A rooftop tent also offers protection from critters like snakes or scorpions, along with a small amount of protection against bigger animals like bears. You will be safer with a rooftop tent. It’s like having a treehouse, but for adults. The quibbles you hear about poor air circulation and tents won’t apply anymore because you’ll be very well-ventilated from the top of your car!
If you’re worried about whether your car can support the weight of a roof tent and the people in it – don’t be! Although larger vehicles like SUVs or trucks are preferable for rooftop tent camping, as long as your car is rated for the load of your tent, it should be able to support your load and the tent’s load with no problem.
For example, if your tent is 150 lbs (68.03 kg) and your car is rated for 200 lbs (90.71 kg), it doesn’t mean that you can only fit a fifty-pound person up there with your tent. Rack manufacturers differentiate between static and dynamic weight.
Static weight refers to the weight when the car is not in motion, so your rack can probably hold at least 100 lbs (45.36 kg) more in terms of static weight. This does not mean you should buy a 250 lb (113.4 kg) tent for your 200 lb (90.72 kg) rack – you’re going to be driving to your campsite with the tent mounted on your rack.
As your car is in motion, your weight exceeds the dynamic weight category, and your rack will likely break.
The Two Types of Rooftop Tents
Rooftop tents can be split into two broad categories – hardshell and softshell tents. Here are the properties that these two types of tents possess so you can judge which tent would be the most beneficial for you to buy.
Hard shell tents have two outer shells made of aluminum or fiberglass, with fabric joining these shells to give them a cohesive shape. These tents usually have mouth-like or box shapes, making them more aerodynamic than their soft shell counterparts due to their slimmer shapes.
However, they are also heavier and more expensive than softshells. They consume more gas, and the initial cost can differ by a few thousand compared to softshells.
Certain hard shells even come with roof racks installed on the top of the tent, which gives you extra space. You can put your bicycles or kayaks on the top if you need to.
Softshell tents are made from the same fabric that ground tents are – polyester or nylon. Unlike hard shell tents, which are associated with the iKamper brand, there are a variety of manufacturers that produce soft shell tents.
Softshell tents can be entry-level or expedition tents. Entry-level tents are cheaper, relatively lightweight, but made from materials that are usually not appropriate for seasonal use. These tents are also not suitable for a capacity exceeding four most of the time. As the material used is slightly cheaper, like ground tents, you might run into minor interior defects like a zipper that needs some resistance to be opened.
On the other hand, expedition tents are made of professional-grade materials and can be used seasonally, just like hard shell tents. These tents tend to be heavier and also more expensive than entry-level tents.
Instructions for Setting Up a Rooftop Tent
So, how long will it actually take to setup your rooftop tent? The answer to that is that it depends on the type of tent that you buy. Generally, hard shell tents take less than a minute to get set up, while softshell tents can take up to five minutes to put together.
Here are the steps you need to perform to open a hardshell:
- Set up the telescoping ladder.
- Unlock the latches that keep the two shells clamped together.
- Lift the top section. The rest of the tent will be opened by a gas strut.
- Open the windows and add awning struts to the entryways.
If you’re wondering how to open a softshell, here’s what you need to do:
- Remove the cover from the tent.
- Extend your telescoping ladder.
- Unfold the main structure of the tent.
- Open the windows and add awning struts.
- Rope out tie downs so that the flap doesn’t swing around.
- Set up the annex if you’re planning a long stay.
It is evident from the number of steps alone that most softshells take longer than hard shells. Some softshells out in the market have a quick setup, but this is a rarity.
Next, we’ll look at a couple rooftop tents that are the easiest to set up.
FSR High Country 80 RTT (Under 1 Minute Set Up Time)
This 178 lb (80.74 kg) 4-person soft shell tent can be set up in less than a minute, as is shown in this video:
It’s specially designed with three layers for protection against harsh rain or those especially snowy nights. As a happy bonus, the layers also trap more air, increasing insulation and keeping the tent warm and toasty.
Featuring a large living area and little pockets of space to store all your items, with its dimensions of 80″ L X 98″ W X 50″ H (203.2cm L X 248.92cm W X 127cm H), you will not be disappointed with this tent.
James Baroud Rooftop Tents (10 Second Set Up Time)
These hard shell tents are very low profile, taking only 10 seconds to get fully set up. All you have to do is unlatch the tent and set the arms, and you have a tent ready to go. It takes the same amount of time to unpack, a rarity that most other tents lack.
Unlike the previous softshell tent, these tents don’t flip out, resulting in a smaller amount of rooftop space being taken up. Small doesn’t mean uncomfortable, though – you’ll have enough place to sleep, enough room to store your gear, and nets around the tent so that you can peer out from within.
You also don’t have to fret about the rain; they have waterproof flaps and zippers that you can pull up if it starts to pour. This tent is a bit more on the expensive side, though, ranging from three to four thousand.
If you’re looking for a tent that’s easy to set up and unpack, a hard shell rooftop tent would be the tent for you! Although it’s a pricey investment, it will come in handy if you’re going to be using your tent frequently.
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Erick is a freelance writer and outdoor enthusiast. Growing up in Nairobi Kenya and now calling Glasgow, United Kingdom home. Sipping on homemade spiced swahili tea and enjoying a good book is his idea of bliss.