Would you believe that rooftop tents (RTTs) began appearing in Western Europe during the 1930s before advances in the 1950s improved the designs? It was in South Africa, however, that the biggest developments in rooftop tenting occurred — this isn’t surprising considering the places people camp and the wildlife they need protection from – lions, hippos, hyenas, leopards, cheetahs and elephants.
Having a tent that enables you to sleep high off the ground is a lifesaver. It’s also why some of the most sought-after RTTs come from companies with South African pedigrees, such as Quick Pitch, Howling Moon, Hannibal, Bush Company, Eezi Awn, Bushwakka and Alu Cab. The good thing is a few Aussie businesses are also big players in the RTT game, such as Darche, ARB, TJM, Ironman 4x4, 23 Zero and Camp King. We mustn’t forget a leader in the market from Europe who created one of the first hard-shell rooftop tents, James Baroud.
The RTT has given overlanders greater freedom when it comes to camping as the tent can be set up virtually anywhere. The set up is quick and simple, meaning you can get stuck into enjoying where you are, and the pack up is just as quick and easy, allowing you to spend more time relaxing or exploring. Just perfect.
The most common type of RTT, and the cheapest style, is the soft-top side-fold tent. These RTTs fold in half and can come in larger sizes due to their design. Half the tent is mounted to your vehicle or camper, but when opened, the other half is supported by the attached ladder. The cover on these tents is usually made from PVC that zips to the base of the rooftop tent, before being secured with tie-down straps. It takes longer to set up and pack up this style of RTT and often your pillows cannot be stored internally when closed.
Hardshell rooftop tents are gaining popularity due to the ease and speed with which they can be set up and packed up, the internal storage options and the possibility of mounting gear externally. The hardshells are most often constructed using aluminium, while others are fibreglass or ABS plastic. These types of tents either open like a clamshell with the use of hinges and gas struts to take the load and keep the lid open, or open vertically with cross hinges and gas struts raising the roof. This style of RTT is more expensive, heavier and has size restrictions.
The addition of extrusions to the sides and roof of some hardshell RTTs has enabled gear to be directly attached while also providing additional storage options. This includes things like awnings and annexes, ensuite tents, recovery tracks, bikes, canoes and surfboards. However, there are caveats. The first is the load rating on your vehicle roof, if that is where you are mounting the RTT, and the second is what weight the roof of the RTT can cope with. You’ll also need to consider what loads the gas struts are rated to, because you may not be able to open the RTT if the roof weight is excessive.
The roof of a hardtop RTT is also the perfect place to mount a solar panel. You will be able to charge your batteries when driving and when you are parked at camp. Offline Campers attaches flexible solar panels to the roof of its Raker, something that soft-top RTT manufacturers could consider.
CAMPER TRAILERS WITH RTTs
One of the downfalls of having your RTT installed on the roof of your 4WD is that having to pack it up may cost you the perfect campsite. A great solution is buying a compact camper trailer that already has an RTT installed or buy a trailer and relocate your RTT over to it. This will also get around any issues you may have with roof load limits on your vehicle. Some camper manufacturers will even allow you to select the brand of RTT that you prefer and then install it onto the camper trailer.
If installing an RTT onto a trailer that you’ve bought, it’s important that the roof or bar work can handle the mounting brackets as you’d hate to lose your bedroom on a rough outback track.
PROS OF A ROOFTOP TENT
- Safe and secure place to sleep as you’re up high
- Simple and quick to set up and pack down
- Removes sleeping gear from your 4WD as it can be stored in the RTT
- Being up high, you often catch cool breezes you miss when camped on the ground in a swag or tent
- A perfect addition to a compact camper trailer for sleeping solutions
- Provides a comfortable place to sleep
- No pegs or ropes required on hardtop models
- Wake to stunning views from your vantage point up high
- You can camp anywhere; the challenge is getting level
CONS OF A ROOFTOP TENT
- A weighty item to have sitting on your vehicle roof
- Your fuel economy will be affected
- Condensation can cause mould internally
- Have to pack it up every time you want to drive somewhere
- Higher centre of gravity
- Climbing up and down a ladder isn't for everyone