One of the biggest and most important decisions in building your overlanding rig is the choice of your rooftop tent. There are a wide variety of models and options available, i’m not going to dig in that pile. I’ve done it once when I was out looking for my exact match and it took me quite a while. To write out a guide for every situation and everybody’s needs would take me forever.
(We went for the iKamper SkyCamp: A hardshell 4-person sleeper. )
But what I do want to point out here is what the pro’s and con’s are related to traveling with a rooftop tent.
We all have that romantic idea of traveling with a rooftop tent: stopping wherever and whenever you want, near lakes or at stunning panoramic views just you and your family and mother nature. To be honest, it just like that!
And we all love the fact that most of those tents are set up in a matter of minutes. To be honest, it just like that!
But what most people forget is the kind of organisation that comes with flexible traveling with a tent on your roof. It’s the organisation that makes if you are a flexible traveller or just an unwieldy slow pile of camping gear. Well organised you can make impulsive quick decisions like stopping for the night because you are tired, spotted a stunning spot to camp, leave quickly in the morning because there is rain coming or the spot was not what you expected. I can (proudly) say that we are organised in a way that we can stop and be sleep and eat ready in about 30 minutes. Leaving in the morning takes us 45 min: breakfast, a good cup of coffee and the dishes done included.
The secret to that is organise your gear in a way that you don’t have to unpack anything. I’ve explained this in detail in my Overlanding Essentials chapter.
In short setting up your tent might take a few minutes but if you have to unload your whole trunk to get your table, find swimming pants or get the pans to cook… You’re well on your way for at least an hour unloading and loading and hopefully it stays dry in the mean time.
That’s no fun. You want to stop the car and be enjoying the outdoors within the hour.
This kind of travelling is team work!
Another important aspect of travelling with a rooftop tent is the flexibility once you are all set up for a longer stay.
We all love to wander around and jump from one unique spot to another, adventure and explore. But when out on longer trips, like a month or two you kinda need a break sometimes and just settle down for a couple of days. We often do that on small cozy campings without too much of facilities. Good showers, a washing machine and a river or lake to swim in is more than enough, otherwise you’re stuck in between the campers and caravan people. Those longer stops are ideal to fix and maintain your gear, do the laundry, take a hot shower, explore the surroundings, visit national parks, go hiking, maybe visit a little piece of civilisation, do some food shopping, … And that’s where we sometimes encountered the limits of a rooftop tent. When setting up for a few days you pull out a bit more gear to make the stay a bit more comfortable, extra chairs, awnings, laundry lines and so on …
That also means that when you want to explore the neighbourhood you have to pack it all up and drive 50km to a national park, town or shoppingmall, … do your thing en return to the camp space to unpack it all. Your car is your house, it goes everywhere with you… And especially when your are on a small break in your trip, that is the last thing you want to do, some extra pack and unpacking chores.
That is one of the main reasons why we opted for a trailer with a rooftop tent on it. Not for the extra space, we actually don’t really need that. But just to have the option to leave the trailer and tent somewhere and go out and explore. You leave in the morning and when you come back in the evening everything is just how you left it. Jump from the car seat in your comfy chair and your set for a campfire night! I got my trailer at Campwerk and fitted my own rooftop tent on it with some minor modifications based on my needs. We also fitted a kitchen, what makes it a bit more easier to fix food for 4 people 2 or 3 times a day!
You do loose a little flexibility in choosing those dodgy back country muddy roads for some instant off roading. But we gain a lot more off road fun when leaving the trails at basecamp and go out explore all the backroads nearby!
And last but not least, a rooftop tent is not a full size tent, that means when you’re out and about and the rain is pouring down for several days you’re stuck in a small, low ceiling 2 by 2 square meter space. In our case with 4 people. You can manage for one or two days playing games with the kids, reading, sleeping but after a while that just sucks… you can either leave and find sunnier areas or set up a front tent or extra tent to live in. I’ve got 2 awnings installed on the car that give perfect shelter for rainy days but it doesn’t get you out of the wind and cold. I also got a front tent for my iKamper but i’m nog very fond of that one.
So have a rain plan in mind! It’s on the rainy days that your mostly want to go out and find a beter pass time then staring at the ceiling of your tent, especially with kids. Museums or even a good restaurant to have it all served up and no dishes to be done.
Extra gear like awnings or even small tents might be a life saver. Or find a camping spot with some kind of shelter…