3 Problems with Roof Top Tents and How To Fix Them
- Category: Dad's Dirt Roads: A Blog
- on Wed Sep 21, 2011
- by Mark Stephens on Wed Sep 21, 2011 - (36) Comments
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
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.
- 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.
- 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
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
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.