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Overlanding Accommodations With more new models and designs, rooftop tents are everywhere in the backcountry By Larry Saavedra Photography courtesy of the manufacturers Rooftop tents date back to the 1950s when adventurers, searching for the road less traveled, came up with the idea of sleeping off the ground and in their vehicles. It was an ingenious idea, which took many decades to appeal to everyday campers. Fast forward to today, where rooftop tents have evolved into a global industry, there are many reasons why these types of accommodations are a big hit with outdoor and off-road enthusiasts. Convenience and comfort are at the top of the list of what enthusiasts want in a roof-top tent, as since most can mount to practically any truck or SUV, sales and manufacturers of these tents have boosted tremendously. Ease of Setup Everyone likes to camp. But not everyone enjoys setting up a traditional tent on the ground or staking it down during high winds and rain. Rooftop tents set up quickly and put you under the stars, away from crawling, creeping insects and animals, as well as rocks, and mud. Access to your home on wheels is gained with a ladder (or multiple ladders) that are typically integrated into the tent design itself, making living inside about as simple as it gets. Rooftop tents pop-up quickly, although it takes practice for the beginner. The fastest to open and set-up are the hard-shell models. Some can be set up in under a minute. Softtop models are also just as easy to set-up but some have additional vestibules and poles to set in place. When it comes to sizes, rooftop tents can sleep from 1 to 6 people comfortably and offer loads of options that can increase the living space — from annex rooms to awnings and more. These space options are only limited by your imagination and budget. How to Select One Think of rooftop tents like you would purchasing a new car. There are the standard models at affordable prices, and luxury models costing much more. Build quality and functionality often dictate pricing. Industry experts say that if you are unsure about rooftop tents, don’t rush to buy the most expensive unit. “I always start by asking what it is they want to do while camping,” said Nate Day, brand communications manager at CVT. “Who do you want to travel with and how do you want to travel? While our new CVT Hybrid Tents can get 2 to 6 people anywhere comfortably, our CVT hardshell line (good for 2 adults and/or one parent and 3 small children) is built for speed and has a lower profile.” Long-term value often crops up in the conversation as these tents can be expensive. So can you go wrong buying one? Not really, say experts. Rooftop tents have good resale values, so if you find out later that Overlanding is not for you, there are many websites that specialize in re-selling used rooftop tents. But if you buy a cheaper, lighter-weight tent you might be sacrificing long-term durability. For example, heavy cotton-canvas tents are more expensive but extremely popular as they are more durable than those made from nylon. Cotton-canvas tents also insulate better and are less prone to tearing. Nylon tents are less expensive and according to feedback from experienced users, the nylon material tends to develop condensation at night (especially in humidity), as opposed to thicker cotton-canvas tents. By keeping mesh windows and entry doors zipped shut, however, nylon tent owner claim it can reduce the chances of the excess moisture inside the tent. Create a Budget Most tent manufacturers agree that you should treat rooftop tent purchases as an investment. A good quality rooftop tent will last you many years if properly maintained. Create a budget for the proper roof-rack crossbars, bed racks, that you will also need, as well as any upgrades like annex rooms and others you think you’d like as you shop around. Once you create a budget, stick to it. Tent owners agree it was easy for them to get lured into buying more than you will ever use. If you shop online, during the off-season some retailers offer tents as discounted rates. In most cases, these tents start at $900 and go up from there. The spring and summer seasons are high-volume sales months for manufacturers. Tents are in demand when kids are out of school so it’s best to shop for a tent in the late fall or winter for the best deals. Since many rooftop tents are made to order, be sure to plan ahead because it can take weeks before it arrives. While rooftop tents start at $900, paying upwards of $2,000 or more is not unusual during peak production periods. But the average price is about $1,600, not including mounting hardware. Rooftop tents will often be shipped with the slide rails and any hardware to mount it to a truck bed rack, or a platform system. But contact the rack manufacturer to ensure that the tent you want will work. The good news is that any DIYer can install a rooftop tent with the help of a friend. It’s a simple one day job using common hand tools. Buy for Lifestyle Determining how you are going to use the tent, and how often, is the smartest way of making a decision. Remember the center of gravity of a vehicle will change with a 200-pound rooftop tent even if it is installed below the roofline. The best rooftop tents are designed for traveling overland for extended treks. These tents offer top-of-line materials and workmanship, but that kind of reliability comes at a price. A modest traveler that heads to the local mountains a few weekends a year probably doesn’t need a $2,000 rooftop tent, rather a $1,200 tent might better fit the bill. Many of the better models from Tepui, Yakima, iKamper, Cascadia, Smittybilt, and others are three- and four-season design that are well-suited for snow and rain. If you plan to be in areas of heavy moisture, definitely go with an all-season design. Lesser priced models are good enough for occasional summer camping, but if you’re traveling North you’ll need something that’s totally waterproof. Some manufacturers offer a rain fly as standard equipment as well as a tent cover bag. Hardshell vs. Softshell Both hardshell or softshell models provide different benefits. Softshell models are the most common seen on the road. Hardshell models are becoming more popular and are easier (and faster) to open and close. Their clamshell design also offers slight protection from wind when the tent is fully extended. They are more aerodynamic than softshell models which can reduce road noise when traveling. “The difference between a hardshell and softshell comes down to convenience,” said Amador Santoyo of Tuff Stuff Overland in Santa Ana, California. “You’ll pay a lot more for a hardshell, but you’re paying for the convenience of allowing the shell’s shocks to pull everything up for you and doing some of the heavy lifting work. You don’t have to unzip the cover, pull anything out and there’s no setting up the guidelines at midnight when you pull into your campsite.” Santoyo added that when it comes to breaking down a softshell model you have to ensure that the fabric is carefully packed, and you’ll need to put weight on the tent in order to strap it down. Sizes and Styles As the experts acknowledged, the size and shape you buy should have more to do with your lifestyle than anything else. A lone camper might want something simple, whereas a family might want the largest tent possible with maximum privacy. Most full-size trucks and SUVs can accommodate the largest tents. Passenger cars with a smaller roof, are limited to the smallest sized tents. It used to be that only 1 to 2 person tents were available, but more manufacturers are making tents that can handle up to six. Experts also recommend to consider how the mesh windows are situated, and where the access points are positioned. Look for maximum ventilation points with good privacy options. Entry and exit points are also important. Think about how you are going to exit the tent in the middle of the night when nature calls. Also consider if the access points are sheltered from the rain and moisture? Are the ladders positioned so that your family is safe getting in and out during various times of the day? These are questions you need to get answers to, as each rooftop tent design is different. Some models have entry points through a special enclosed canopy, while others are fully exposed to the elements. Buying the one that is best for you and your vehicle, comes down to lifestyle, and what works for you. As far as comfort is concerned, rooftop tents come standard with a mattress, and for most people that will get you a good night’s rest. But for some of us, adding a memory foam mattress might be more comfortable. There are multitudes of add-ons and accessories on the market for this area alone so shop around and find out what works with the models you are considering. Accessories Upgrades like LED lighting, pillows, heat insulators, anti-condensation mattresses, shoe pockets, fitted sheets, and storage bags are readily available from most tent manufacturers. Even dog ramps are available. Contact the manufacturers to ensure that they offer the upgrades you want, or if upgrades can be installed at a later date. Maintenance Tips If you are going to live with a rooftop tent plan to do regular maintenance on it every season before camping. As mentioned, nylon tends to collect moisture more than a heavy canvas. But with that said, even the best tents need a thorough cleaning occasionally. Cleaning will help reduce the risk of mold and keeps the mechanisms free of dirt and grime. Clean the inside and outside. Make sure it is completely dry before storing it. There are lots of products on the market that tackle any signs of mold, or stubborn stains, but be sure to test a small area of the fabric before applying it to the entire tent. Some manufacturers recommend that you use a garden hose to wash down your new tent to eliminate road dirt and dust, but allow it to dry thoroughly before folding it back in its traveling position. If you are concerned about moisture inside the tent you can also place a dehumidifier bag inside. If you discover that your stock ladder is not secure enough for you, or you need something longer, there are many replacement telescoping ladders that can be retrofitted to most models. Search Amazon after taking a measurement of the required width and possible attachment points. Sometimes the factory hardware will adapt to a different ladder. Those that own hardshell tents might be able to store items like blankets inside. But whatever you store inside the tent should not interfere with the internal opening and closing mechanisms. Check with the tent manufacturer before you buy to ensure that there is room for storage. Not all hardshell tents allow for extra thickness. Since most of these tents are used in Overlading and primitive campsites that are away from crowds and more in nature, experienced campers agree it’s good to have a high-quality battery-powered lantern, bear spray, a small medical kit with aspirin and medicines, an extra pair of cotton underwear, socks, a T-shirt, and light-weight cotton bottoms, or sweats. A spare fleece pull-over is also a good thing to bring along. Placing a cheap cotton-covered sleeping bag over the standard mattress will help soften the sleeping area. A section of memory foam cut to shape may also help relieve stiffness in some areas. Down-feather pillows are also a good addition. Ask the rooftop tent manufacturer if there is a warranty. It should cover at minimum, normal wear and tear for a period of time, as well as any sudden rips that appear in the material from normal opening and closing. Leaking seams is not unheard of, so ask about that as part of the warranty. If you need to repair the fabric that’s not covered by the factory warranty, it’s fairly easy to do yourself. There are plenty of DIY kits that can be found online. Rooftop tents are not only convenient, but they can save you lots of money on hotel rooms. Shop around, do your research and buy one that matches your lifestyle. If you check all the boxes, prepare the best outdoor experience you’ve had in years SJ

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