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How to choose the right roof top tent

Posted by Allie McFadyen on

How do you choose a great roof top tent that’s going to be just right for you and your next adventure? Here’s 13 points to help you choose a roof top tent that is best for you.

You’ve probably already done a bit of research, had a look at roof top tents pros and cons, and pictured yourself kicking back up in your ‘room with a view’ on a beautiful beach watching the sunset, or waking up in front of a stunning snow-capped mountain.

At Intents Outdoors we’ve been designing, importing and working with roof top tents for years. So here’s some things to think about to narrow down the choices to find a roof top tent that will work for you. Catch our next blog for a list of exactly what to look for when checking out a rooftop tent in person.

But first here’s our list of things to consider beforehand to decide what kind of roof top tent will be best for you.

Budget

Like most things these days the sky’s the limit. See what's available your price range. High end tents have a lot of features and branding. And also be aware that really cheap roof top tents aren’t going to be great quality or last a long time.  

Design

Orson popup MS2 rooftop tent

There are lots of designs around. Lots of soft top styles and ‘clamshell’ hard tops mounted on roof racks. Some soft shells have an extended awning over the entrance, useful in the wet and some don’t with a clear view front and rear. Some open up by unfolding, some pop up, some are manual, some automatic, some are custom built into the roof, some open to the side or rear or both. Do some research, see what you like, know what you want. 


Use

What are you going to be using the tent for? Campsites or hardcore 4x4 offroad mud? How often are you going to be heading out? Summer camping or out in winter snow? Are you easy on your gear or give it hell? How are you going to get it on and off the roof? Have you got somewhere to store it? Will your vehicle with roof tent on top fit in the garage? Will you be leaving it up on the roof for the summer months or taking it off after every trip? Uses and needs are not the same for everyone – answers to these questions help you decide which tents are a good fit for you.  

Capacity

How many people will be using the tent? Most models are for 2 people, but 3 and 4 person ones are around. 

Weather

It hot and sunny, sometimes windy, and rains a fair bit in NZ. Is the tent weatherproof and waterproof? Make sure it has a decent rain fly over the top. If the main tent is a lighter polyester fabric, it should be PU coated and tape seamed or if a heavier canvas should be ‘weathered’ or ‘seasoned’ to become completely waterproof. Check that the internal ridge poles are sturdy or can be supported with stabiliser bars

Tent base

Orson roof top tent ruggedised aluminium tread plate base with shoe hammock from Intents Outdoors

The base of the soft shell tents is aluminium - thicknesses vary. To handle knocks and scrapes from putting it on and taking off the roof racks aluminium tread plate bases are sturdier and have a more rugged look. Make sure that the sandwich base of the tent is made of waterproof polyurethane materials and not of cheap MDF or wood which if wet will not last.

Packed Tent Profile

Roof top tents add extra height and weight to your vehicle.The bigger the profile the greater the drag and higher the centre of gravity when driving. Have a look at photos and the measurements of packed tents. Square slide ladders have a big profile, telescopic ladders a low profile. Some tents also have raised hinges to allow more bedding to be packed away, but this will also mean a higher profile. 

Fabric

The rain fly over the top of the tent is usually polyester and should be a good thickness and waterproof to keep rain off the main tent (PU1500mm is usually minimum to be considered waterproof). The main tent is usually a durable polycotton canvas - 280gsm to 380gsm is fine (too light is not great but heavy canvas can be overkill, too). Some tents are polyester so will be lighter and should have an adequate PU coating to be waterproof. 

Ladder

Check that ladders fit the height for your vehicle. Roof top tents usually have an aluminium two piece sliding ladder or a telescopic ladder. Sliding ladders come in 2 pieces and extend out before locking into place. One half sits on top of the other half, so the roof top tent has a bigger profile with a large rectangular ‘bump’ in the middle. Telescopic ladder heights can be more easily adjusted and the ladders have a much lower profile when packed away. 

Vehicle Heights

It’s important to work out the height of your vehicle set up - measure from the top of the roof racks to the ground. Make sure that any tent annex and ladder are ok for your set up. 

Annex (Annexe)

That room option under the tent - some people love them and some never use them. Annexes are useful but require a bit of effort to set up and pack away.  They can give you an extra room, a space to sleep, get changed or store extra gear. They come in different setups with doors, windows, awnings and back access to the vehicle, floors, no floors, detachable floors ... see which layout appeals to you. And again, make sure the height will suit your vehicle.

Travel covers

Orson Outdoors roof top tent PVC travel cover from Itents Outdoors

An important and often overlooked part of the tent that needs to be watertight and waterproof to keep the tent dry. Hardshells usually have popup fibreglass or aluminium covers which double as the tent roof. Softshell tents usually have heavy duty PVC covers secured with zips or Velcro – both have pros and cons. See how the cover hangs and is stored when the tent is open. Black covers may end up getting really hot in the summer sun, grey or khaki less so. 

Extra Features

Other things to look out for are … gear lofts to stow gear, shoe hammocks to keep your shoes dry and in reach under the tent base overnight, bungy cords to help pull the tent sides in to make pack up easier, comfy mattresses with washable covers, colour combos, LED lighting, even remote controls … and make sure that the supplier carries a range of accessories and spare parts just in case.

 

Now you know what to look for check out our range of great Orson roof top tents. Arrange a time to come out and view one. We’ve ticked off all the boxes to come up with some great roof top tents with some unique features to fit your needs and put you on the road trip(s!) of a lifetime!


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