3 Problems with Roof Top Tents and How To Fix Them

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hannibal roof tent with jumbo kit lower room

Oh, come on now, it looks much more complicated than it really is. Though they're atypical, roof top tents could very well be the answer to the comfort woes of those who don't approve of sleeping on the ground. Inside (and up top) is a pleasant foam mattress the size of a queen bed. Plus you'll appreciate that private stand-up space within the walls of the lower room when it comes time to change your underwear, take a shower, or bail out of the rain. As you can see, one entire side of that lower portion also detaches and rolls up; it could also be staked outward in awning fashion giving you a lovely veranda under which to sip morning coffee, listen to songbirds, and get amped up for a bike ride in the pines. Or whatever.

Like all things in life, this comfort comes with a trade off or two. After owning this tent or one like it for the past six years, I've sorted out some downsides, lived with them, and found a few answers to them. Here goes.

1. Taking it on and off the roof is a pain

My answer:

A roof tent weighs between 100 lbs and 175 lbs, and their size and shape add to the challenge. But I've found a way to put it on and take it off without a helper - it's now a one person job. And I'm serious when I say it's pretty easy, too. There are two parts to this.

  1. Make a cart/skateboard for your tent. You'll spend about $30 in strong caster wheels, and maybe $30 in a sheet of 3/4" plywood. See it in this video.
  2. Use a tip and roll onto the tail gate. Or if you don't have a tail gate, a table or chair would work. Watch the video.

The cart not only lets you maneuver the tent around your garage but it makes a dandy place to store the tent.  When it's time to get this thing on your vehicle, roll it on out and position it. Keep the tent on end, tip it toward the tail gate and keep going. Lift up on the ground end until it's standing on the tail gate.  Wah-la. Tip it onto the roof bars and slide the tent into place.

2. The rain fly collects rain water

My answer:

Not all roof top tents suffer this fate, but, dammit, mine does and here's what I've done about it. While the bed portion of the tent is on top of the truck, there's a lower room. As you can see, it sure is awfully rectangular. The roof may slope down, yes, but it's flat and when it rains (ugh, or snows) that roof over the lower room pools up with water. What's bad about that is all that weight residing on the top of your tent and wearing things out or the water leaking through.

Your nearest gear shop probably sells an extendible tarp pole. Get one or two. They're handy for a hundred different scenarios. In this instance, you use the pole to hold the center of the rain fly up so the water just runs off.

  • REI.com sells this beauty: LINK
  • Backcountry.com sells a more collapsible version: LINK (I like this one better — just FYI)

3. They're dark inside

My answer:
Roof top tent lights

Depending on your perspective, a dark tent might be just fine. Sure, you can fix that with a battery operated lantern or flashlight strapped to your noggin. But there's a slightly better way. A roof top tent is attached to your vehicle, which means with a little bit of thinking you can fashion a more sophisticated form of lighting into your tent. LED strips are a nice choice because they're small and require such an insignificant amount of battery juice to operate. More details on how to install >>> (this site)

I know you might be wondering what could be so wrong with just using flashlights or headlamps. Well, nothing. But let me tell you, installing some lights inside is just nicer. Especially in wonky weather when you're hunkered down in the tent. For those with babies who wake up and need some attention in the night, or who have bigger kids with tiny bladders that need to be drained around midnight, we know how much of a drag it is to hunt for a flashlight in the dark. There's an element of home comfort that comes with lights attached to a ceiling.

Comments   

 
Lia Keller
+3 / -1
# Lia Keller 2011-09-21 06:06
The picture of it lit up in the darkness alone has me yearning for one!
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J.D.
+2 / -1
# J.D. 2011-09-21 09:01
I don't know still not crazy about putting a big brick on top of my jeep.
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dave
+1 / -1
# dave 2011-09-21 09:27
Pretty good desription of the cons to a RTT. I have a camping lab and it's a PITA to take on and off. I gotta try your advice!! Never thought of that one!!! Thanks for posting these tips!
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Amanda
0 / -1
# Amanda 2011-09-21 10:38
Where did you get the Hannibal Tent? I found one US dealer for the tent only, but can not seem to find it with the annex.
We were looking into the Howling Moon, but the Hannibal has a higher quality fabric.
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Mark
0 / -1
# Mark 2011-09-21 12:38
Go direct to Hannibal USA, which is owned by Sierra 4x4 Trailers in Nevada.

www.hannibalusa.com

I just got off the phone with 'em, and they have several sizes on hand now. Obviously, they tell me they can get what ever you need. Or want.
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Amanda
0 / -1
# Amanda 2011-09-21 12:43
Excellent thank you! I just need to convice my other half. He keeps leaning towards Tepui or Howling Moon.
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Amanda
+2 / 0
# Amanda 2012-01-28 00:20
Quoting Mark:
Go direct to Hannibal USA, which is owned by Sierra 4x4 Trailers in Nevada.

www.hannibalusa.com

I just got off the phone with 'em, and they have several sizes on hand now. Obviously, they tell me they can get what ever you need. Or want.


We actually settled on a Howling Moon Stargazer tent. My next question for you is how do you like the tent mounted to roof racks? We have it mounted to a Thule rack system on the roof of the cap. My husband is a bit nervous that the Thule system isn't stable enough and will falter in off road conditions? He is considering canning the Thule and mounting it directly to the cap.
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Mark Stephens
0 / -1
# Mark Stephens 2012-01-30 17:53
I love the Howling Moon, nice choice. I had the same reservations about the rack on the cap thing. I'm always inspecting the mounts, and it's been almost two years now, a decent number of trips and I don't see any bad news going on. I like to take the tent off between trips, and the rack bars do make it pretty easy to slide on and off. That's worth something.
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Amanda
+1 / 0
# Amanda 2012-01-30 22:49
Thanks. He went ahead and mounted it directly to the cap. I couldn't convince him to try the Thule bars for at least a little while.
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Michael
0 / -1
# Michael 2011-09-21 16:31
How does the lower room attach to the upper tent. More specifically it looks like the lower part attaches to the rain fly, is the lower room sealed from bugs? And can the lower room be installed without the rain fly?
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Mark
0 / 0
# Mark 2011-09-22 08:17
Okay, where to begin? The room attaches to both the tent base and the fly, so, no, the room can not be set up without the fly.

However, there's virtually no reason at all why you would have the fly off. The tent stows with the fly attached to it. While it can be detached, I don't know why you would under normal conditions.
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Michael
0 / 0
# Michael 2011-09-22 22:53
Thanks, I was trying to see how it all goes together. But being attached to the fly and not the tent, doesn't that allow bugs into the lower room?
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Mark
0 / 0
# Mark 2011-09-23 12:46
Yes, I suppose that's true. Good point. Bugs, no fun. That hasn't been an unreasonable problem for us, but then again location has a lot to do with it.

If I was concerned about it, I'd either seal off the inside with a mosquito net (which sounds like a lot of work...), or light a mosquito repellant coil inside.
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Loren
+3 / -1
# Loren 2011-09-21 18:31
We love our RTT except the zipper on the cover. Nothing takes longer than getting it opened/closed. Add cold/rain/wind/ darkeness and its a royal pain. In the summer edition of Overland Journal, the highest ranked RTT had gotten away from a zipper, and its on our list of soon-to-upgrade items.
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Mark
+1 / 0
# Mark 2011-09-22 08:20
So true about the zipper. You have to keep that thing clean with a little water from time to time. And with it being up high on a vehicle makes it a rather unfun part of the job. Not a deal-breaker, just unfun.
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Ben lannoy
0 / 0
# Ben lannoy 2012-02-10 00:57
I feel your pain with the flat roof! We use a tarp pole or an extendable ladder with an angled piece of wood to give it a flat surface. Great post!
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Keith Brenner
0 / 0
# Keith Brenner 2012-05-09 12:48
Hi everyone I found a new rooftop tent that may solve some of the issues that you have been talking about.

Check it out the tent company is called Roost USA or Roost Tents. I like the fact that it pops up with out any use of pools and also converts to a cargo carrier by removing the tent. So Cool!

www.roosttents.com
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Rebecca Jones
0 / 0
# Rebecca Jones 2012-09-19 19:28
Thank you for sharing us this knowledgeable article. These tips are very helpful for us campers. Keep up the good work on your TepuiTents.com
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Andy Crole
0 / -1
# Andy Crole 2013-01-06 02:24
After 2 years of use of our rtt.the metal zipper has given up , and will no longer close the zip together,can we fit a new zipper without having to replace the whole thing on the base and cover.
I 100% agree with every one that the zip system is a real pain in the ... hpe someone can help. thanks Andy
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Bill Huber
0 / 0
# Bill Huber 2013-01-21 10:29
Love Roost tents, easy to open, close and will last a lifetime of rugged use.

Lots of color choice to match my SUV
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Gerald
0 / -3
# Gerald 2013-01-30 15:03
Not all Roof Top Tents are this easy!www.3dogcampingusa.com/.../

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Amanda Fleming
0 / 0
# Amanda Fleming 2013-04-18 17:43
These are indeed great tips! Sometimes, putting up a roof top tent could be so complicated but if fixed properly, then everthing will turn out fine. These tips really help so much. So perfect for the coming outdoor adventures this summer. Thanks for sharing!
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Gerald
0 / 0
# Gerald 2013-04-18 19:29
Thanks for sharing![youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=By9rKBJYESQ[/youtube]



www.facebook.com/.../
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Carmelo
0 / 0
# Carmelo 2013-06-09 20:42
You dont know how many things I have tried to get our RTT easily on top of my Jeep!!! I love your video and advices. But I have one question, from where you got that crossbar attachment with only one bolt? Mine have two bolts with a connection plate between the two bolts, and it is a PITA to bolt them because of the low clearance between the crossbars and the roof.
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Mark Stephens
0 / -1
# Mark Stephens 2013-06-20 19:08
They're made by Yakima, called Snaparounds. Get them at REI or a gear shop. Here's the page at the Yakima website.
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Ken and Kay Wright
0 / 0
# Ken and Kay Wright 2013-08-15 18:48
We need to replace our ladder, I can't believe how hard it is to find a new one!
The size is 115cm folded and has 8 rungs
Can anyone help!!
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mark
0 / 0
# mark 2013-09-18 06:54
My family is seriously looking at roof top tents. It seems like most of the US distributors have very similar products.

I like the hard shell tents because of their sleek design. But I also like the soft shell design and the annex that can be deployed next your vehicle. Talk about efficient use of real estate space.
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Jerome Tucker
0 / 0
# Jerome Tucker 2013-09-26 17:44
Thanks for sharing all these tips on how to fix possible problems with rooftop tents. This post is indeed a great help especially to campers who are fond of using this kind of tent. For me, rooftop tent is cool. I really love this one. This is indeed great for road trips and camping adventures. It is an advantage I guess to use rooftop tents so as not to have tent pitching hassles.
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Poppa-Madison-Music
0 / -1
# Poppa-Madison-Music 2014-02-09 02:01
I have mounted one on my WJ JEEP. It has a factory roof-rack which made for one heck of a challenge in working out how to mount it. I added a pair of Rhinoracks, then put four long stainless steel bolts through the tent floor and through the aluminium crossbars I also added. This enabled me to fit a "U" clamp setup under the floor to hold it to the Rhinoracks. Important to use ALL stainless steel bolts and Nyloc nuts for strength, durability and safety. I will be adding the LED lamps soon. It's a nice strong setup all round.

Poppa www/cdbaby.com/cd/poppamadison
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Poppa-Madison-Music
0 / -1
# Poppa-Madison-Music 2014-02-09 02:05
Sorry....wrong web address !

www.cdbaby.com/cd/poppamadison

Cheers!

Poppa
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mark
+1 / 0
# mark 2014-02-09 18:39
We are seriously looking at RTTs. I want the RTT clam shell design.

We camp in a large Ford E150 van. The RTT clam shell tent will make it the ultimate sleeping cabin. 2 kids below and the parents in the bottom.
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# Guest 2014-02-21 00:48
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# Guest 2014-02-21 01:26
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jeff oliver
0 / 0
# jeff oliver 2015-01-13 14:03
Issue number 3-camping requires portable lighting-enough said
Issue number 2-not all tents are created equal, our CVT has excellent rain run-off.
Issue number 1-Check out www.ecotrekcamper.com
These have many advantages over mounting the tent to the top of your vehicle.
Enjoy
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jeff oliver
0 / 0
# jeff oliver 2015-01-23 06:07
censorship at it's finest
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