Let’s be honest; Roof Top Tent- Yay or Nay?

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Wanderlost

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Have you switched from a RTT to a ground tent? Started out with a ground tent, went to a RTT, found out you didn’t like it and went back to the ground? Or, the other way around? Do you regret buying one? Are they mostly just a gimmicky thing? It’s okay, you can tell us the truth.


Sometimes after spending a lot of money on something we’re reluctant to confess to making a mistake. We’ve heard some RTT owners, in private, tell us it’s like being a boat owner; the two best days are the day they buy it and the day they sell it.

We’re currently working on a video project that will be a comprehensive guide to choosing the “correct for you” Roof Top Tent. Since quality ones aren’t cheap, our goal is to have an honest discussion on their practicality and convenience.


Throughout the next six months we’ll be talking to fellow Overlanders at events across the country about their tents, why they picked the ones they did, pros & cons, etc. We would very much like to hear from you too, our OB Forum Friends!


What brought on the idea is our inability to make up our own minds if a RTT is right for us. So, we’d like to take our viewers along on our quest to find the answer. We’re sure we’re not alone in making this decision. Our hope is our video will help others too.


In the video we could have a segment where we would read some of your responses and opinions. Yes, you can remain anonymous. If you do have helpful opinions and experiences and are willing to be a small part of the video we’d love to hear from you. We could maybe do a video chat or phone call or even better, maybe our paths may cross someplace in the next six months or so.


So, let’s talk about it………………….
 

Eric Neal

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Have you switched from a RTT to a ground tent? Started out with a ground tent, went to a RTT, found out you didn’t like it and went back to the ground? Or, the other way around? Do you regret buying one? Are they mostly just a gimmicky thing? It’s okay, you can tell us the truth.


Sometimes after spending a lot of money on something we’re reluctant to confess to making a mistake. We’ve heard some RTT owners, in private, tell us it’s like being a boat owner; the two best days are the day they buy it and the day they sell it.

We’re currently working on a video project that will be a comprehensive guide to choosing the “correct for you” Roof Top Tent. Since quality ones aren’t cheap, our goal is to have an honest discussion on their practicality and convenience.


Throughout the next six months we’ll be talking to fellow Overlanders at events across the country about their tents, why they picked the ones they did, pros & cons, etc. We would very much like to hear from you too, our OB Forum Friends!


What brought on the idea is our inability to make up our own minds if a RTT is right for us. So, we’d like to take our viewers along on our quest to find the answer. We’re sure we’re not alone in making this decision. Our hope is our video will help others too.


In the video we could have a segment where we would read some of your responses and opinions. Yes, you can remain anonymous. If you do have helpful opinions and experiences and are willing to be a small part of the video we’d love to hear from you. We could maybe do a video chat or phone call or even better, maybe our paths may cross someplace in the next six months or so.


So, let’s talk about it………………….
I've spent just around 50 years camping with ground tents (from big cabin tents in campgrounds in family mode, to 2-3 person backpacking tents, even single bivy bags when I go solo) and also quite a bit of hammock camping (again while hiking & backpacking). My wife and I have used our vehicle, 4x4 pickup or Ford Explorer) for about the last 10 years to facilitate camping trips on our pretty regular outdoor excursions. We both are birders, wildflower fans, fishers, and just love being away from city life and other people.

Last year (2017) we started looking at RTTs and after a lot of looking and listening we opted for one to fit our most common situation, in that, camping in the damp/rainy mountains of N. GA, TN, AL, NC & SC. Many times while camping with/near our vehicle we found ourselves in an areas that weren't "friendly" for setting up a conventional tent on a flat spot that also avoided run-off rain, or puddles, and/or rocks, roots, etc. Note we are now very active but retired from the work world and at or over 60 yoa... so a bit more comfort is a much welcome benefit with an RTT.

- RTT of choice (again for MY needs) - Yakima Skyrise 3
- Primary reasons for this choice: Rain fly extends out on all sides not merely the two ends. This important feature in "rain country" is critical to divert water away from tent walls and avoid dampness.

Features we like:
- 2 inch memory foam mattress
- Ease of set up and take down
- Even if damp, can be dried quickly by setting up an hour or two early (on a dry breezy day)
- Never wake up with a damp sleeping bag, never go to bed in a damp sleeping bag!
- Plenty of room for jackets and other misc gear inside the tent while sleeping

Mounting system: (as important a consideration for RTT use as which RTT to buy)
- Yakima BedRock system (short clamps which mount onto the pickup bed and just higher than bed sides)

Why the BedRock?
- Low profile so the closed RTT is just below the height of the PU cab
- Lower height allows us to reach into the RTT through the windows and/or doors WHILE STANDING ON THE GROUND vs. a Roof-Top mount that requires climbing up a ladder to retrieve or store such items as a jackets, flashlights, hats, gloves, sleeping bags, etc. everytime we need to put in or take out our "stuff"
- Storage of 0ur gear bins for kitchen, pantry, general camp gear, and our cooler are all kept under the RTT inside the pickup bed and it is VERY easy to use cable locks to secure our bins from meddlesome idiots and/or thieves.

Issues of dissatisfaction?
- Setting up a "base camp" is fine if we're just going to hike away from camp BUT if we want to go for a drive for the day or part of... we've virtually got to break camp completely and have frequently lost our campsite to others upon return. Resolution? We frequently carry one of our older backpacking tents and set it up (staked down} so it appears the site is "in use"... of course that requires leaving chairs, tables, etc. to make the site look actively used - an act of faith that no one with rummage through or steal our gear. But that is a risk we all take regardless of tent or site.

Would I go back to ground tent camping...? I do like to put in some time on remote hiking trails so I still keep a few backpacks and ground tents for that purpose but my wife isn't as keen on that activity now (knee surgeries from martial arts practice) so I'm now generally a solo hiker. For our longer (regional and cross country) adventure travels and camping I would NOT remove the RTT set-up. I love it and am so very pleased with the addition. BTW we've put in well over 100 nights in our RTT rig since purchase in August 2017.

ONE QUESTION BACK TO YOU...Why did you feel the need to start this thread with "Let's be honest..."??? I'm not certain why you would think that others on this forum would be anything other than candid. I guess it's an easy "jump to conclusion" approach that most of us have an ego are so large that we'd have to lie to others, and to ourselves, about the decisions we've made and the money we've invested/wasted... :(

Here's one for you. I was invited to go trap shooting with a friend. I went, and had a great time knocking down clay pigeons. I liked it so much in the beginning that I went out and bought a $2000 Beretta over and under shotgun so that I could "blend in" with the other shooters. Then after a few months I realized that I didn't really care for the people, the elitist attitude, waiting in line, and having to spend about $60-$100 everytime I went to the range. I'm now stuck with a really fine shotgun which I don't use and in retrospect wish I hadn't bought. Lesson learned.

So, lets be honest... are you just having a difficult time making a decision about coughing up $2000-$3000 for a tent you may not use more than half a dozen time a year? Ground tents are wonderful and have a great, long traditional history. There is nothing wrong with them for most folks however many people (IMHO) end up buying "stuff" cause it looks cool and everyone else seems to have one. But it may not be practical even though it looks fabulous on the youtube videos!

Good luck with your decision and just go out and have a good time.
 

AZBubs

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I originally wanted a RTT but my rig is my dd and having the tent on top all the time in AZ sun would probably shorten the life of it. I like the rather quick set up of them and not really having to worry about clear ground. In the end I went OzTent cause I 1) didn’t want that weight up there if I go exploring difficult trails 2) base camp 3) no matter what i’ve read it personally concerns me about being in a RTT in severe/strong winds. 4) dealing with a ladder in the middle of the night if you have to peepee and/or poopoo.

In the end it’s your choice.


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Andy G

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For me, it comes down to being mobil. I usually setup camp and then go exploring. A rtt would tie me down, but I'm a Basecamp kinda guy, establish a nest and work the area until ready to move on.

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That's how I see it as well. I like discovering and exploring in the same areas for a night or three, and then moving on to the next stop. As "InstaCool" as RTT's look, they wouldn't be practical for me.

Now...if I had one mounted on a trailer...that would significantly change that dynamic. But still, there's the fact that I am rarely alone - and usually have at least my 2 boys with me, if not my step daughter and my wife, too...so, back to the monster size ground tent!
 

Tim

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We really like our roof top tent. It’s quick to setup, comfortable and it’s nice to be up away from the ground and make the best of any breeze when it’s hot. We’ve used it in storms and yes we didn’t sleep much but neither did those in ground tents on the same trip. The annexe is a quick addition givOMG extra space when staying put for a few days. The overhang of the tent also gives an area of shelter. That said, on the roof of the Cruiser it’s a bit high for ease of putting up or down and usually means clambering around on the rack to pack away neatly.
Do I like ground tents? Yes, I have a couple. One that uses the side of the 4x4 to support it and a pop up tent. If I have space in a ground tent I bring a stretcher/camp bed to sleep on for comfort so I’m off the ground, not something I need to bring when using the RTT. My ideal setup? Maybe a RTT on a camper trailer. That way it’s lower and easier to setup and can be separated from the vehicle and left setup. There again I’d have to tow it and pay extra for things like ferries and I’ve never had one so who know whether I’d really like it


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Etoimos

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I love my RTT and would not go back to a ground tent unless I absolutely need the extra space of say a 8+ man tent. For me the ease of setup and not having to find "comfortable" ground to pitch a ground tent in is worth the few hassles I've ran into with my RTT. The two primary being no base camp and the weight up top. Both of those I plan on addressing with a trail.

Simply driving up on some shop ramps to have a nice level camping spot is super nice...








Note: Those photos are from our recent Death Valley trip and the trailer and second tent on it do not belong to me.
 

Road

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I have a wonderful ground tent, a great hard-shell RTT, a hammock, and a van, all set up for sleeping.

Everything but the hammock was purchased used and at a considerably reduced price over new. So, I don't particularly have a loyalty to any of it just because it was bought new and would rather not admit I don't like it. Ha, on the contrary, I can and do use them all, like them all for different reasons and at different times, and though I originally thought I might sell what I didn't like or didn't use much, I now intend to keep it all.

I gathered different ways of easy-to-use sleeping quarters primarily so I could accommodate more people in small group workshops. A "just bring your vehicle and a sleeping bag!" type thing. I also wanted family and friends to be able to come camp and have a variety of shelter types to choose from.

Mainly though, to be honest, I gathered it all because I'm intrigued by the possibilities and level of comfort they each provide and wanted to explore it for myself.

I'm doing all this instead of owning a house or having an apartment, so it's really inexpensive in comparison, especially when you find such good deals on barely-used stuff. A lot of folks get into 'overlanding' then find out it's not what they thought, they don't like the gear they first chose, simply want the new 'in' thing, or need something different to accommodate partner or offspring, so often sell it quite cheap, even in like-new condition.

In order of preference when camping and traveling solo:

I always go for the van first:

Savana-Int-late2017trip.png

It's what I am most used to now after decades of camping and long-distance traveling. It is also the most flexible in arrangement and always has my gear, clothing, reading material, and pretty much everything else where I want it, when I want it, already close at hand. I can leave it set up for sleeping in the front and still carry eight feet of cargo, photography gear, camping supplies, etc. It's set up and ready to go out there right now, matter of fact. I could take off for a week or two and leave ground tent, trailer and RTT, and hammock all behind and still be wicked comfortable overnight, even in freezing temps.

Second would be the ground tent, my wonderful OZTent RV-5, at right below:

roaddude_cadescove_frmabove_3209-700.jpg

I love it; it's simply the best ground tent I've ever used. I usually set it up with two OZTent stretcher cots, which are padded, very comfortable and roomy, and provide an excellent night's sleep. Put a little table between, your storage containers underneath, and you really do have an expedition quality tent; very comfortable, super quick to set up and take down, and extremely durable and tight to the weather. Even have a little covered patio area out front if you want. The rear half in the image above is living space, the front half is covered and open to underneath the awning, and there is a durable groundcloth under the entire thing. This tent and my trailer and it's expansive awning are the foundation of my extended base camp set up.

Third would be my hard-shell roof top tent, a RoofNest Eagle:

roaddude_xv2camp-2-700.jpeg

If I were traveling in a smaller vehicle that were not as comfortable to sleep in as my van is, and did not have enough space to carry a good ground tent like the OZTent, my hard-shell RTT would be my number one choice for comfortable, easy to use sleeping area. SO self-contained and super easy to deploy; literally undo four straps and give it a shove up. Just about as easy to close back up, too. Much easier to open and close than the many fold-open rooftop tents I researched. They fit easily on any number of different sized vehicles.

It is not as roomy as the ground tent or my van, and is pretty much the size of the mattress, which is pretty damned big, to be honest; queen-sized they say. Just not as much room for storage, as it is mattress wall to wall. Though you can keep your bedding and ladder and other small gear like folding solar panels, etc in there when closed and traveling. That's a nice little plus. I just don't like having to haul all my clothes and books and devices up and down the ladder every time I want to sleep in it for a night or two, nor enjoy climbing up and down in the middle of the night if I have to use the bathroom. You inevitably bring dirt and debris into the roof top tent. Hard-shells do not have annexes, either, that go to the ground like some fold-open RTTs do. Though I'm toying with ideas of sewing my own annex with floor that will attach on the entrance side, which will make nighttime up and downs a lot easier, and keep the tent and mattress a lot cleaner.

Last would be the hammock:

theMan-hammocknap.png

Though it is the first choice on sunny afternoons with slight breezes wafting through camp. Also the first choice for short overnight hiking/biking away from van and camp. Packs up the size of a baking potato.

Let me know if there is any other info I can provide on any of the options I use, and feel free to use my comments and name. Pics can only be used with permission and proper credit; please ask first and I'll let you know how I prefer they be credited.

roaddude-cadescove_3506-700.jpg


.
 
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Steve

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Here are a couple of quite lengthy discussions on RTT vs Ground Tend:
Roof Top Tent or Ground Tent?
Roof top tent vs ground tent

As an aside, lime green text on a white background (one of the forum's theme options) is very difficult to read for my old eyes. The default text color might be easier for everyone to read. Thanks.
 

Steve

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For us, and possibly other's approaching late middle age, there comes a time when nature calls during the night. Not much of a problem for me; that's what Gatorade bottles are for. Deb, on the other hand, had no interest in climbing down a ladder once or twice in the middle of the night. And those devices to accommodate a Gatorade bottle don't work as advertised.

So we got a square teardrop trailer, instead.
 

TreXTerra

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While I like the idea of a RTT, I think there are enough drawbacks that I have not purchased one yet. The big thing standing in my way is convenience. My vehicle is also my daily driver and I have to take everything off (including CB and ham antennas) to fit in a garage. I have limited storage space and my overland vehicle lives outside all year as it is (three motorcycles and my wife's car fill our small garage). That means I have to heft a RTT up and down off the roof for every trip; it just isn't practical. If I had a dedicated overlander that I could park inside with the tent on, I might change my tune.

The other reason I have not gone with a RTT is space. I currently have my OEM rack with a cargo tray made by MaxTerra, it's fantastic for lightweight gear like folding tables, chairs, etc. I also have an insert to carry four fuel cans for extended trips. With a RTT, none of that is available and the fuel is the biggest loss.

Another option is doing a small off road trailer with a RTT mounted on it at about mid-chest height. This would get me a modular solution that could move from my current vehicle to another if I ever upgrade without having to buy a new rack. I like the idea of sleeping off the ground, but I've always been fine with ground tents before or sleeping in the back of the vehicle.
 

Billy "Poserlander" Badly

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I've been chewing on this issue recently, as I'm trying to figure out ways to make "going camping" quicker and easier (for the wife and 18 month old). Unfortunately though, a RTT on my rig (Xterra) won't work, for reasons similar to what @TreXTerra stated. It's my DD, and I wouldn't want to leave it on the rig at all times in downtown Portland. I use a Hep's rack up there, and I need that space for other items, since I can't fit it all inside the rig. Plus, my garage is too short for X as is, let alone w/ an RTT, so short of taking it off, it'd be outside at all times. In addition, I don't want to struggle with getting my dogs in and out. I'm also a fan of exploring from basecamp, without having to set and strike the tent every time we drive somewhere. Finally, I prefer a tent I can move around in, for changing clothes and whatnot (or inclement weather). For all of those reasons, we're still ground tent people.

But, that may change, if we pull the trigger on a trailer (CVT or Freespirit). They offer trailer tents that fold out and include an external room...

...which would theoretically solve all of our problems. It could live in the garage, mostly loaded at all times, and I could hook up and go quickly and easily. Plus, I could leave it set up at camp and explore w/ the rig. Set up of this tent isn't as quick as a standard RTT, but there's a lot of other benefits I can see. Anyone here use one?
 

Winterpeg

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".... being like a boat owner.... "

I wonder if there are products that could attach to rock sliders and use as stabilizer jacks for people with RTT's on their rigs? I think there are some for hitches... but for the side to side stuff the rock sliders would be a great spot.... maybe even simply a bottle jack on each side? Hmmmmm.....
 
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Road

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".... being like a boat owner.... "

I wonder if there are products that could attach to rock sliders and use as stabilizer jacks for people with RTT's on their rigs? I think there are some for hitches... but for the side to side stuff the rock sliders would be a great spot.... maybe even simply a bottle jack on each side? Hmmmmm.....
Oh heck yeah, I'd just have a couple of 2x's custom notched or rounded at the top to fit the underside of your sliders, with a small selection of 1x's or plywood pieces and wooden shingles to slip under for final height adjustment. I've found with my trailer and hard-shell tent I haven't needed to put the stabilizers out in back and have just depended on the tongue jack. Trailer is heavy enough. Haven't had any stability issues when I'm in the tent, but I haven't exactly been rockin' it out up there, either.
 

theMightyGoose

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This is my new ground tent. It’s 8’4”x8’4” and I can stand upright (I’m 6’1”). Can set up a table and chairs to play games or whatever in bad weather. Try that in a RTT. First time I set it up, it took me 7min;4sec. And 5min;15seconds to completely pack it up. And it only weighs 18 lbs. RTT’s are good for foul weather. For everything else, I’ll keep my ground tents.



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theMightyGoose

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I've been chewing on this issue recently, as I'm trying to figure out ways to make "going camping" quicker and easier (for the wife and 18 month old). Unfortunately though, a RTT on my rig (Xterra) won't work, for reasons similar to what @TreXTerra stated. It's my DD, and I wouldn't want to leave it on the rig at all times in downtown Portland. I use a Hep's rack up there, and I need that space for other items, since I can't fit it all inside the rig. Plus, my garage is too short for X as is, let alone w/ an RTT, so short of taking it off, it'd be outside at all times. In addition, I don't want to struggle with getting my dogs in and out. I'm also a fan of exploring from basecamp, without having to set and strike the tent every time we drive somewhere. Finally, I prefer a tent I can move around in, for changing clothes and whatnot (or inclement weather). For all of those reasons, we're still ground tent people.

But, that may change, if we pull the trigger on a trailer (CVT or Freespirit). They offer trailer tents that fold out and include an external room...

...which would theoretically solve all of our problems. It could live in the garage, mostly loaded at all times, and I could hook up and go quickly and easily. Plus, I could leave it set up at camp and explore w/ the rig. Set up of this tent isn't as quick as a standard RTT, but there's a lot of other benefits I can see. Anyone here use one?
Trailers are a great solution. But they do introduce some issues and concerns. Here in CA, you can only go 55 with a trailer, and they become a slight liability off road. But I think they solve more problems than they bring. I want one. But probably won’t ever have one.


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Kevin108

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I have slept on the bench seat in my truck, slept in nothing but a sleeping bag on a tent floor, slept in a sleeping bag on a yoga pad, on a big fluffy comforter, on a cheap air mattress, on some high-dollar sleeping pads, and on a folding cot. For the last 3 years, I've been sleeping in a RTT. This is by far the best setup for me and what I do with my rig. I'd be more than happy to answer some more questions about it. I have kind of an interesting story about the initial install.

 
I started out with a canvas tent for years, then moved in with a Lance Truck Camper for several more years then to a Nash 5th Wheel Trailer & now a Overland Trailer w\RTT. They all have their pro's & con's. My only complaint with my RTT is the mattress, it stinks as of very uncomfortable. I solved that problem with a new mattress, Exped MegaMat Duo 10 Long/Wide (77.6" x 52"). The ground tent you had to find level ground. Set up time was long as well as tearing down to leave, truck camper was limited areas you could go as well as being trapped in one spot if you wanted to explore on foot only. I hauled a jeep with me (shown in a photo). The 5th wheel you were limited on were you could go with the size of length, height was another issue as well as weight.

My overland trailer like I said the "only" draw back was the mattress which we solved that issue. My wife is 66yrs old I'm 58yrs old we have NO issues climbing a ladder going in or out with the RTT at our age. I find the overland trailer w\RTT to be more of a positive advantage than any other rig I've owned. We both, the wife & I love to hunt & we can get further in the back country than ever before.
12645004_970027973046077_5227353914075317890_n.jpg 12924405_1005210106194530_1200474700446733748_n.jpg 01-21-2018 07;39;12AM.jpg 060.JPG
 
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TreXTerra

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".... being like a boat owner.... "

I wonder if there are products that could attach to rock sliders and use as stabilizer jacks for people with RTT's on their rigs? I think there are some for hitches... but for the side to side stuff the rock sliders would be a great spot.... maybe even simply a bottle jack on each side? Hmmmmm.....
When I sleep inside my vehicle, I just grab some rocks to place in front of the tires then crawl up on them. Pick the right rocks and the right tires and you have a cheap, eco-friendly, 100% gluten-free leveling surface that you don't have to carry around with you. Leave the vehicle in 1st gear low-range for a manual or low-range park for an automatic, set the brake - it won't go anywhere.