Did Roof Top Tents Spark The Overlanding Craze?

Or was it the other way around?

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My first roof top tent sighting was at the 2008 SEMA show in Las Vegas, NV. Admittedly, car camping was the furthest from my mind at the time but I couldn’t help being drawn to those compelling contraptions. Perhaps it was the little kid in me that used to build forts out of couch pillows and bed sheets but I wanted to be up in that tent at some remote location. I didn’t know at the time but that RTT atop a Jeep Wrangler would help shape automotive and camping culture both.

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Roof top tents first emerged decades ago and became popular in Africa and Australia where Overlanding has been a way of life far before the term was coined. And even though people in North American have been utilizing roof top tents since the 1950s, they’ve haven’t picked up momentum until the last decade.

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RTT in Africa.

The serendipitous nature in which the camping and off-road truck worlds collided couldn’t have been predicted but now that Overlanding is in the forefront, it all makes so much sense. On top of upgraded aftermarket suspension systems and factory-equipped vehicles like the TRD Pro series rigs, another leading incubator in the car camping and Overlanding movement is the roof top tent. Was the RTT the catalyst that accelerated the Overlanding scene or was it sheer coincidence? We’ll never know and it doesn’t really matter because the fact that RTTs have given those who may have never considered exploring the outdoors a new avenue to do so. 

So what’s the big deal with RTTs anyway? Why not just drive your truck to a remote location and pitch a basic tent like the old days? Well, for starters being hoisted considerably off the ground is a major positive. The most obvious downside to a ground-based tent is that you’re among the critters and animals that may want to check out what’s behind that thin layer of polyester you call a tent. Ground-based tents are also not very comfortable and finding a flat plot of land that’s not covered with rocks, pine cones or divots can be harder than you think. And don’t get my started on assembly and disassembly!

The RTT solves all of these problems. It’s high off the ground away from the all the creatures, they set up quickly and most come with a very comfortable mattress. Also, being higher up allows for a nice breeze that you’d never catch on the ground and provides a better vantage point.

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All bundled up.

Robert Culpepper, of Cascadia Vehicle Tents (CVT) which is at the forefront of the RTT movement believes that our culture was primed for an outdoors renaissance of sorts. “Roof top tents are changing the way we camp and they’re getting families together again,” says Culpepper. “It’s the right generation for it.” Culpepper also stated that RTTs didn’t see true momentum until about two years ago and feels that most people in the U.S. still aren’t aware of their existence.

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When RTTs are life.

But can everyone truly enjoy these contraptions or are they just reserved for heavy-duty trucks with massive roof cages? The explanation on the CVT site says it best:

"Cascadia Vehicle Tents are designed to mount simply on your stock rack system or on a couple of Thule, Yakima and other aftermarket crossbars, the same as you would use to carry your bicycles, canoe or kayak.

The rack system transfers the weight to the structural parts of your car’s roof. All roof racks carry a dynamic weight rating, to provide guidance on the tested limitations of the rack system when the vehicle is in motion. Most racks carry a maximum 165-pound dynamic rating, which means the rack can support 165 pounds of weight while driving down the road. Cascadia Vehicle Tents weigh only 108 pounds, so the rack system can easily handle the weight on most vehicles. When you are occupying to tent, this is a “static load”, much more gentle and the racks can easily handle this weight. Always check with the manufacturer of your car and of your roof rack to determine the applicable weight limitations as they vary from vehicle to vehicle."

What if your vehicle doesn’t have a factory rack? Aftermarket companies are recognizing the trend and have come up with solutions for vehicles that do not have factory roof racks. And although most companies have focused on Toyota truck bed solutions only, there are multiple companies with plans to make bed racks for even more pickups in 2017. I for one am looking forward to this because I'd love to plop an RTT on the back of my Sierra!  

CVT

So are there any downsides to a RTT? Even though comparing a roof-mounted tent to a ground-based model isn’t apples-to-apples, there is one glaring difference: price. A ground tent can range from $20 to $500 (and higher) for a decent setup. A roof top tent averages around $1000 - $3000. However, like anything you get what you pay for as the materials, ingenuity and practicality of a RTT far outweigh any other option. And if an RTT will motivate you to get your butt off the couch and go explore doesn’t that justify the cost?