The first time I saw a rooftop tent in action was at Valley of Fire State Park near Las Vegas. A young, newly married couple (“Just Married” was marked in white on their vehicle) had set up camp near our site in their SUV/rooftop tent combo. The tent was deployed and they were outside enjoying the afternoon with drinks.
Rooftop tents are typical in places where it’s inconvenient or dangerous to sleep on the ground.
If you have ever been to the southern Nevada desert, you will know that freak thunderstorms will sometimes hit the area in the spring and summer. One of those storms (with lightning and sideways rain) hit the campground and my husband and I jumped into our teardrop trailer with some snacks and proceeded to watch several episodes of “The Handmaid’s Tale” on our iPad.
When the storm ended, we came out to make dinner and noticed the couple had completely collapsed their rooftop tent and were sitting in the front seat of their vehicle—not speaking to each other. I hope they stayed married.
The tents collapse into a small footprint on top of a vehicle.
Due to this incident, my idea of rooftop tents was not very high. Sure, you get a great bird’s eye view from the inside of one of these little shelters, but is it worth it? Even now, I see many variations of this camping option set up on top of various vehicles. I wanted to research if other people felt the same way I did.
Some experienced rooftop campers such as Dustin of Explore Southwest cover the cons of rooftop tents.
Some videos by Explore Southwest and Last Line of Defense have some great points on both the pros and cons of rooftop tents. They are both experienced rooftop tent campers and have owned several different versions.
However, sometimes you can’t beat the vantage point.
They are vulnerable to inclement weather.
Another time that I saw a rooftop tent in a precarious position was during a camping trip to Iceland. Many rental campervans in the land of ice and fire come with hard sided rooftop tents. However, the winds in Iceland are hardcore and if the van is not set up in a sheltered area, the wind will knock down or knock around the tent and anyone inside of it. Rain and lightning seems to be an issue as well judging from the just married couple and their hasty reaction to the weather.
You are off the ground, but you are off the ground.
If you are tired of sleeping in a tent on the ground, having a tent on top of a vehicle literally elevates the camping experience. They get you away from dirt, bugs, and critters and give you a nice view. However, being up high opens up more problems when it comes to access (especially for older folks), bathroom breaks, and gear access.
They never seem to be level.
With camping more popular than ever before, perfectly level sites are getting more difficult to find. I’ve seen some vehicles with unpacked rooftop tents parked on very angled sites. This can’t make for easy sleeping. Remembering to bring along levelers and chocks or blocks and parking your vehicle on them seems to be the key.
You are stuck where you park.
Once you are at your campsite and have your rooftop tent all set up, you have to stay where you are. That’s great if you have a great site and everything you need. However, what if you want to go exploring or need to run into a town for supplies? You have to pack up your entire tent and your camp to make the trip. At least when you have a ground tent, your campsite can stay put.
These tents are intriguing and may require some compromise.
I’ll admit I have not stayed in a rooftop tent. I’ll try it eventually. My dream is to sleep in one during an African safari trip while lions and hyenas wander around far below me. Maybe after that type of experience, I’ll change my mind about rooftop tents.