Roof Top Tent Buyers Guide
A Roof Top Tent can come in many forms from the common sandwich style, where the bed base folds in half, to tents that are mounted along the full length of the roof. Like camper trailers, there are soft top and hard top options and a range of price points.
Why a Roof Top Tent?
A roof top tent is a cost effective way to go camping. There’s minimal impact to your vehicle, save for some additional wind drag and a higher centre of gravity. And with the tent, mattress and bedding stored in the tent on the roof, this frees up the space inside your vehicle for carrying other gear.
Sleeping off the ground has great appeal up north. From the elevated view across the campground in the morning, to the distance away from the wildlife (crocs, dingos, snakes), the benefits are obvious. And the investment is much less compared to a camper trailer.
The arguments against roof top tents are generally focused around the ladder. The older generation prefer to sleep closer to the ground for ease of setup, safety and the increasing frequency of toilet trips during the night. Then there’s the daily requirement of packing up and down every time you want to use the vehicle. All the more reason to buy something which is easy to setup (see the Backtrax Sports Utility Roof Tent for the ultimate ease of setup). With those things in mind, roof top tents generally appeal to the younger generation.
To mount a roof top tent on your vehicle, you’ll need a suitable roof rack. A range of racks are available but not all of them are suited to carrying loads in an off road environment. Corrugations will impart significant force on the mounting points, which could fail if not suited for the job. Suitable systems include Fixed Mounting Point, Track Mount, Backbones and Gutter Mount systems.
The best mounting bars are those with a square profile such as the Rhino Rack Heavy Duty Range which have a footprint of around 40mm.The smaller footprint makes it easier to mount the clamping system. And the flat mounting surface provides a better foundation for mounting the tent. Something like a Pioneer Platform will also do the job. Tents can be supported by two or three roof bars.
In addition to finding a roof bars suitable for the load and environment, you’ll need to determine the maximum roof loading of your vehicle. This is normally stated in the owner’s handbook. If you can’t find it, consult your local dealer.
Roof carrying limits are generally expressed as a dynamic load. This is a moving measurement which impacts your vehicle’s centre of gravity, braking and handling when on the road. It is not a measurement of the static load, such as two people sleeping at night. This is a different measurement and will be much higher, from 3-5 times of the dynamic load in a four wheel drive.
A Roof top tent can range in size from small to large. The most popular size is the sandwich style roof tent which measures 1200mm x 1400mm when packed on the roof top and opens to 2400mm x 1400mm. The bed base that extends off the roof is supported by the entry ladder. This width is similar to a double bed size. You can get wider variations of this style to accommodate larger families.
In addition to off ground accommodation, some manufacturers offer a wall kit, which clips onto the bottom of the bed base providing additional lodgings or at least a useful area to get changed or store gear.
There are other configurations of roof top tents, some of which are described further below.
Hannibal Safari Roof Top Tent
Hannibal is one of few manufacturers that make wider roof top tents to accommodate a whole family off the ground or at least some extra real estate to spread out in a warmer climate. The most popular bigger sizes are 1600, 1800 and 2000mm. Combined with the open length of 2400mm, it’s a good sized tent. Hannibal also do a Jumbo Fly with or without a wall kit and floor.
3 Dog Camping Top Dog Roof Top Tent
Another great Australian, 3 Dog Camping, manufacture a roof top tent called the Top Dog. This product is mounted along the full length of the vehicle or trailer top. As there’s no folding bed base, you can use a decent inner spring mattress for greater comfort.
The Top Dog has a wall kit which folds to the side and can be mounted on a vehicle, trailer or toy hauler. While it can be removed, most people leave it attached during setup and pack up, alleviating any additional effort. The Top Dog is available in a range of sizes with the floor tent area ranging from 2200 x 2100mm up to 2200mm x 3200mm with a couple of sizes in between. In addition to the floor area, the queen size bed measures 2200 x 1600mm.
Hard Shell Roof Tents
This style of roof top tent offers another barrier to the elements and a quick and simple setup. The hard roof is lined internally to stop condensation and reduce the sounds of rain. The greatest appeal though is the ease of setup. Some offer shock absorber style arms on each internal corner. Simply release the catches and the tent glides open. Closing is more difficult, as you’re pulling down against the pressure of the gas struts, often in an awkward position as it’s mounted on the vehicle.
A better opening system is a worm drive mechanism, driven by a crank handle. This ensures you can open and close in a controlled manner, regardless of the weather.
Other attributes to look for in a roof top tent include quality and thickness of the mattress, midge mesh screening, integrated technology, multiple access points, internal and external lighting and country of origin.
Backtrax Sports Utility Roof Tent
Backtrax is one company that uses the worm drive system. The Ascent Lite makes do with a manual crank handle, while the Ascent Pro is full remote control auto up and down. The Australian-made Backtrax is used by the All 4 Adventure duo Jase and Simon and has quickly built a reputation for durability and comfort.
To explore our full range of roof top tents see here.