Rooftops tents, or RTTs as they are known, have been around for a long time – mainly because they are very necessary in certain parts of the world, where if you slept in a normal tent on the ground you were likely to have predators sniffing your toes. Up in the air in the RTT was definitely safer.
Then rooftop tents took off all over the world for anyone who had wanderlust, for a number of very good reasons, which I’ll discuss shortly.
So, is it worth buying a rooftop tent? The answer is a resounding, Yes! Provided you have a suitable vehicle on which to mount your tent, and choose your RTT with care to suit your needs, they are worth the spend. Manufacturers are developing better and better models each season that address some of the issues of earlier models.
Before you rush out to choose one, however, it’s worth considering all the pro and cons.
10 Reasons Why You Should Buy a Rooftop Tent
Reason #1. It allows you to make campsite anywhere you choose to stop.
Aside from local bylaws which may prevent you staying at a particular spot overnight, the RTT, since it’s attached to your vehicle, means wherever you stop you can fold out your home, step up and use it. This gives a greater range of places where you can stop over.
Reason #2. Choosing a level campsite isn’t absolutely necessary.
I have spent many hours scouting an area for the ‘best’ site for a ground tent – one that is level, in close proximity to ablution facilities, with the best view, protected from strong wind – you know, all the demands made by family members.
With the rooftop tent, it doesn’t matter if your campsite isn’t level, as long as the far smaller area for the vehicle is level, you will sleep fine. Maybe take along some levelling blocks just to help make getting the vehicle level a bit easier. It’s important for a good night’s sleep.
Reason #3. It’s quick and easy to set up.
The newest ground tents that kind of pop up and lock into position certainly are an improvement on the tents where fitting all the poles together was a puzzle to be solved – and needed at least two people or more if it was a larger tent.
The rooftop tent is even easier than the new type tents, needing just one person to get it popped open. Of course, you do have to remember to loosen the straps first! This seems a common problem for new users of RTTs.
The hard shell RTTs can be up in under a minute, and the others that fold out may take around five minutes max – this sure beats the half hour or more taken with a ground tent, then lugging in the camp cots, mattresses and bedding, which brings me to my next point.
Reason #4. It comes with a built-in mattress.
Most RTTs come with a built in mattress that is fairly good quality, and you can leave your bedding and pillows in there, so they won’t be forgotten. It’s amazing how often the pillows get left at home – rolled up towels and clothing do not make for a good substitute. Been there, done that.
Also, camping pads are not as comfy as a decent mattress. After your trip (particularly if it’s been raining and the RTT is a bit damp) make sure:
- that the tent itself is thoroughly dried out,
- that the bedding is washed and dried at home with some desiccant in it, before closing and leaving the RTT ready for your next adventure. You want fresh smelling bedding when you pop up the RTT.
Reason #5: Camping in the rain is less messy.
Rain on a camping trip is never welcome, but it’s inevitable. Instead of contending with keeping rainwater and mud out of a ground tent, the RTT is above the ground.
Just have a waterproof bag ready at the top of the ladder into which you can dump your muddy shoes before crawling into the roof top tent. The good part is you have no mud splashes to brush off the walls of the RTT before folding up to head home
Raeson #6. Your vehicle is basecamp.
Everything you need is with you. We’ve all experienced heading out for the day with the vehicle and someone in the group pleading for you to turn back because they forgot a hat, sunscreen, sunglasses, water bottle, wallet etc. That happens when your ground tent is your basecamp.
The only thing you want to be careful of before folding up the rooftop tent and heading out for the day is that you haven’t left important items like your wallet, or sunglasses in one of the pockets!
Yes, it will take minutes to fold out and retrieve the items, but it’s critical, so ensure a check of the RTT pocket storage is made before folding up.
Reason #7. It is out of reach of snakes, spiders, scorpions, and other crawling bugs.
Rooftop tents are built with fly screens, and zip up securely like most ground tents, but the advantage is they are above the ground, making it a lot more difficult for these creatures to sneak in.
If you are seriously concerned about ants and other creepy crawlies, then spray the base of the ladder and the points of contact with the ground, like poles for the annex, as well the car tyres, to discourage insects and reptiles.
Reason #8: You’ll be above predators.
A determined animal could theoretically get up and into the tent but most of the time they mind their own business.
It’s just that it’s much more reassuring to know that you are looking down from above at any bear, mountain lion, coyote or wolf that happens to stroll into your campsite.
Reason #9: You’ll enjoy a better view.
With the elevated rooftop tent, your views are extended. Sitting watching the sunset/sunrise over the mountains or water and the stars at night is just so much better when you are six foot or more off the ground.
Reason #10: Additions are possible.
If you need more room you can purchase an annex. Some RTTs come with one which facilitates changing, and provides place for storage. You are not limited – if you need more space you can add on with a second annex.
In fact, you can also have an awning that pulls out to extend your undercover area for cooking or just chilling out in camp chairs during the day.
5 Reasons Not to Buy a Roof Top Tent
The list is much shorter than the pros list, but for some people are valid reasons not put a rooftop tent on their wish list.
Reason #1: You have a large family.
RTTs come in various models, and you can get ones that will sleep two adults and two young children, but once you have three or four children, or older children (keeping in mind that kids often like to invite their friends along on trips), then you are probably better off with a ground tent.
Reason #2: RTTs are generally more expensive than ground tents
While rooftop tents cost more than the average ground tent, they are certainly cheaper than buying an RV.
They are definitely worthwhile if you intend touring for a few months, or even years, overland, but if you are going to use it once a year then it won’t be a very good return on investment.
Reason #3: Racking system needs to be well designed.
Make sure a professional fits the racking system for your new RTT. There are certain loads your vehicle can carry but you need to be aware that if going off road on harsh terrain more strain can be imposed on the racking system.
Make sure you tell the company fitting your racking and supports for the RTT, what sort of terrain you intend travelling. This article will help with dynamic and static weight.
Reason #4: Storage.
If you don’t intend driving everywhere with the RTT bolted to your vehicle, then you’ll need to have a decent size space to store it, and may need a person to assist in helping bolt it back onto your vehicle.
If you intend driving around with it permanently on the roof, just be aware of clearances when entering shopping malls, and that the vehicle’s fuel efficiency will be affected, as well as its performance.
Reason #5: Your mobility
Since you need to climb a ladder and can only kneel in the tent, it may not suit older people with back and knee issues.
Climbing up and down to get to a toilet in the night could be problematic too, although some ingenious folks have fixed up a system with a funnel and pipe leading to a container below in case they need to relieve themselves at night.
See why this guy dislikes his rooftop tent. A couple of his reasons line up with the ones given here, but he makes some other very good points about the drawbacks of RTTs:
As you have seen, there are plenty of reasons why it is worth buying a roof top tent. The RTT industry may have been around for fifty years, but has exploded in the last ten years or so, as people catch on to the convenience of this type of camping.
Traveler, photographer, writer. I’m eternally curious, in love with the natural world. How people can survive in harmony with nature has fueled my food safety and survival gardening practices.
At the age of 12, I found a newspaper advertisement for a 155-acre farm at a really good price and showed my parents one Sunday morning. They bought it and I happily started planting vegetables, peanuts, maize and keeping bees with the help of the local labor.
Once I married wherever we moved it was all about planting food, keeping chickens and ducks, permaculture and creating micro-climates. I learned how to build wooden cabins and outdoor furniture from pallets, and baked and cooked home-grown produce, developing recipes as I went along.