Pajero with rooftop tent

QUICK GUIDE TO ROOFTOP TENTS

Rooftop tents (RTTs) are becoming increasingly popular amongst Aussie campers. The convenience and ease of use they offer are a huge draw. In no more than a couple of minutes, you have the tent up and can grab some well-earned shut-eye.

The elevated shelter provides a drier, safer sleeping environment, away from the critters of the Australian bush. The whole thing tucks neatly away into a box on the roof of your car, leaving you free to explore without having to lug your sleeping arrangement around.

However, there is one drawback. The price tag. A decent entry level rooftop tent will set you back around $1000. If you are going to part with such a lot of money, it’s best to get clued up on what rooftop tents are available.

TYPES OF RTTS

There are two main categories of rooftop tents, soft shell and hard shell. Soft shell tents are made from light canvas material and are usually the more economical option. The design folds out, giving you much more space than a traditional family tent. A good family soft shell RTT can give the same amount of space as a motorhome, for a fraction of the price.

The hard shell models are incorporated into the car’s roof. The sturdy metal roof is quickly lifted by a series of gas rams, meaning you don’t have to do the lifting and giving you a ready-made shelter in seconds. These models offer more protection from the elements because of their sturdier materials. As the materials become heavier, so does the price tag. Even second hand, it is hard to find a good hard-shell model under $2,000.

THE MATERIAL

The entry level canvas models are usually made from polyester. It is light, but isn’t breathable and doesn’t provide much ventilation. As a result, using a polyester rooftop tent in the height of Australian summer can be like sitting in a sauna.

At the other end of the scale, many manufacturers are selling heavy RTT made from thick canvas material based on the idea that it is water resistant. The thickness of the canvas has nothing to do with its waterproof capabilities. These models often just add a lot of extra weight to your vehicle, which drives up fuel consumption and decreases the vehicles handling performance. When they do get wet they take longer to dry because of the heavy material.

I would always recommend opting for light, robust canvas. It offers more breathability than the polyester versions but retains its water resistance. When it’s stowed on the roof you can drive freely without feeling like you a baby elephant has sat on your roof.

If you are looking at secondhand products, make sure the canvas material hasn’t been treated with a waterproof coating. Good materials undergo an impregnation process in the factory to ensure the material absorbs the waterproof sealant. If the previous owner has had to coat the tent in a waterproof coating, then the tent is clearly no longer waterproof itself. The coating will wear off before too long and you will be left with a tent without waterproof capabilities.

THE STRUCTURE

Look out for the pole structure in the entrance area of the roof top tent. Horizontal supports under this area will easily bend after years of heavy use. The better models have a diagonal support pole which runs under the entrance area, distributing the weight better which tends to give them a few more years of use.

STORING YOUR RTT

When buying your RTT it is essential to invest in a good travel cover. Exposing your tent to the sun day in and day out will compromise the integrity of the material.

 


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Martin White
martinw@dinga.com.au

Martin is huge on everything outdoors and is even bigger on driving and technology. He loves boats, new stuff and writing about it.