Rooftop tents are making a splash in the camping world and Tepui Tents is leading the pack.
Roof-rack tents were first made popular in the 1950s with safari camping. Being up on top of the cars kept safari-goers safe from creepy crawlies that nobody wants in their sleeping bags.
Being elevated provided better views of the wildlife, less chance of lions getting into the tent, and kept the tent free of tracked-in mud and dust.
Now rooftop tents are making a bit of a comeback in the camping world. Tepui Tents is a rooftop tent company based in Santa Cruz, California that makes high-quality tents that are installed up on top of your car on any cross-bar roof rack.
They sent the Kukenam Sky model for us to try out so we took it down to the desert to test it in the elements it was made for.
General consensus: damn sweet.
Setup wasn't complicated; the tent slides onto any roof rack crossbars by mounting brackets and the tracking system—all included. Sorry about the vertical filming...
Once the tent was secured, we made our way down to Big Bend National Park on the Texas/Mexico border.
We then set up the tent, and made sure to read the directions.
The simplicity of the tent setup by pulling the ladder was much easier than putting together 15 different tent poles and trying to figure out which sleeve of the tent they belong in.
The Tepui tents come with a thick foam mattress built into the tent so there was no need for thin camping pads that lose air through the night. There is also plenty of room to sit up and play games or change your clothes.
We were pretty decked out.
When it came time for bed we were a bit concerned with how our 75-pound dog would fit in the tent but it worked out. And we were all cozy.
It was close to being our most comfortable camping trip ever.
We did come away with some pros and cons about rooftop tents, though.
Our first qualm was the dog. Luckily ours let us lift him into the tent, with the help of lots of treats. Many campers bring along their four-legged companions and while some usually sleep outside of the tent, the ladder poses a bit of a problem for the ones that sleep inside.
Next was the noise. The few nights we were in the desert got super windy and there were a few times I thought we were going to get blown over. I knew that we were safe but because the tent is up on top of the car, it is not protected from the wind and everything blowing around gets really loud. The second night I secured the rain fly tighter to the tent and that helped the flapping noises slightly.
Another issue was having to relieve myself in the middle of the night. Climbing over the dog and then sleepily trying to climb down the ladder wasn't that fun.
The final hesitation about rooftop tents would be the price. This particular model from Tepui is $1,350 retail.
Despite that, you really do get what you pay for. The tent is arguably just as valuable as a camper, which would run you much more than a grand. A rooftop tent is an addition to really any car with a roof rack so you aren't buying another vehicle specifically for camping. Plus, all the space taken up with a tent and camping pads is now free for other gear.
The pros of this tent also included, since it was elevated, the fact that virtually no dirt came into the sleeping space. Although there aren't any lions or grizzlies to worry about in Texas, there were a myriad of centipedes and being elevated made me check my sleeping bag only once.
Another benefit to sleeping in the Kukenam Sky was that we didn't need level camping ground to pitch our tent on. The roof rack tent has a flat bottom. Combined with the mattress, we were much more comfortable in the Tepui than on the dirt.
Another reason for a rooftop tent is the easy cleanup and transport. Instead of taking tent poles out of sleeves, collapsing them, and folding up huge swaths of dirty tent material, all you have to do with a Tepui is lift up the ladder and it collapses into itself.
Who knew camping could be so easy.
The final reason is a petty one but makes me smile none the less. The last night we stayed at the hippest campground in the desert: El Cosmico in Marfa, Texas. When I was hanging out in the hammock garden I heard some campers talking about my decked-out camping mobile.
"Man, that thing is so rad."
We were the talk of the campground.
Roof rack tents definitely have the "cool" factor. And don't we always strive to have the hottest new outdoor gear?
All images via Mateja Lane