Before the big roof tent boom, we decided in 2012 on a hard-shell roof tent Explorer from James Baroud. Even in 2019, we were still an oddity at some campsites.
We didn’t want a roof tent with a crank, we could loose the crank handle and what if the crank mechanism gives up? Then we have to force the tent shut and possibly damage it. In 8 years of use, the struts and hinges have not let us down once. Even in strong winds on Iceland’s coasts it has always held securely, and has always been easy to put up and take down.
The spare tire/luggage tray in our Explorer roof tent is a nice idea. But when it rains, it turns into a swimming pool. The rain drains of the new roof tent generation are said to be better. Nevertheless, it is best to transport only waterproof items in it and nothing too heavy. A low weight will be better for the hard-shell material and also because of the lifting up and down. Pushing/pulling with 20 extra Kg on top is quite something and if you are on your own, it becomes even more interesting. You also have to consider that this also limits the height of the tent inside. Because a parallel lift roof tent is not even a meter high inside, every cm counts. In the end, we only transported a few folding tables on it and could have saved ourselves the spare tire/luggage tray „feature“.
Our roof tent has a width of 140cm. But we did not consider that the hinges at the head end of the tent limit the mattress at both ends to 117cm. Also that you might slide to the edge at home or have a knee hanging outside… with the roof tent you have the tent canvas right in front of your nose. Especially in cold and wet weather this can be very uncomfortable.
Lets keep on thinking about rainy days. After days of rain everything (clothes, pillows, sheets, etc.) gets clammy and damp at some point. It doesn’t matter how well you ventilate the roof-tent and no matter if a 3D mesh underlay provides for the ventilation of the mattress. The only thing that helps is to head for a sunny place or to go to a camping site with a tumble dryer. The less cotton material you have, the better. We have noticed a big difference between the cotton covers on the pillow and the material of the sleeping bag and fleece blankets.
During the night, ventilation of the roof tent is essential. The condensation caused by sweating and breathing is often underestimated. On a balmy summer night you like to leave all windows open. The fly screens ensure that you can sleep undisturbed. When it is cool and rainy, it takes some discipline to keep the windows open a crack. You must pay attention to the wind direction so that it does not rain into the tent. The one or other time I woke up at night from a light drizzle in my face. The wind had turned during the night, so close this window and open the other side a bit more.
In summer, the late risers avoid heat accumulation in the tent by leaving as many windows open as possible. If you also pay attention to where the sun will rise and shine into the tent in the morning and leave this window closed, you can sleep until about 8-9 o’clock. Provided the sleeper is not woken by the brightness in the tent. This is our experience with daytime temperatures of about 35 degrees Celsius.
Taking a nap or a retreat when insects are too much of a nuisance has always been very pleasant with open windows and closed mosquito screens. As our car is very high, I always had the feeling that there was more breeze „up there“ and a more pleasant climate than when you lay down on an air mattress on the ground. Not to mention avoiding crawling and flying creatures.
A roof tent has several entrances where you can hang the ladder, but generally only one can be used at a time. So if two people sleep in the tent one of them is always in the front and has to be crawled over when the person in the back wants to get out, unless you can put the ladder at the rear. Interesting for all who have to visit the bathroom at night. If you have an awning attached to your car, you should pay attention to which side you want to use for getting in and out of the tent.
Opening the tent is very quick and easy. Closing, on the other hand, can be difficult for a single person. Even sturdily built men can reach their limits here. Small hints: our sleeping bags were placed in the middle of the tent, pulled slightly upwards (away from the luggage tray) and folded over once. Pillows then arranged above (not on top) of them. Leave windows and fly screens open a hand’s breadth. If the upper shell comes too far forward when pulled down, it is best to start over again. If it is only a few centimeters, you can also press the upper shell back a little so that the tabs grip. Some innovative people have also made a belt and hang it in before pulling down the last few centimeters to close the roof-tent. The safety pins are sometimes hard to clip in. If you open the metal flap a little bit, it is easier and if you work with gloves, you won’t get so much pressure on your fingertips.
We could always transport our sleeping bags, 40×80cm pillows and a fleece blanket in the roof tent. The ladder, however, we usually kept in the vehicle. We did not want to have the eternal scraping on the bottom of the hard shell and also the dirt, mud and rainwater that sometimes hung on the rungs and feet of the ladder. The rungs of the ladder could be a bit narrow for barefoot walkers and press on the soles of the feet. So that the rungs are not so slippery when wet, we covered them with non-slip adhesive tape. But now it scratches your legs when you climb up and down, so don’t wrap the front of the rungs with the tape. Lesson learned.
The ladders are usually available in 2 lengths. Usually the short ladders are delivered for „normal“ cars. Because you always think your car is normal, just pay attention to the height, so you avoid an extra waiting time until the long ladder is delivered.
Further experiences I will share with you in part 2…