Monday, May 14, 2018

Roof Top Tent: My Thoughts

1.5 yrs ago, when I put a down payment on a new used truck,  I came home excited about researching slide in campers so that we could go camping/exploring in comfort.  After some extensive research, I was disappointed to find out that this truck and similar ones, are not built to carry the load of a typical slide in camper.

Not to be deterred, I set about designing and building my own.  I created a monster, redneck version of a slide in, that met the bunk requirements for a family of 3, and it came in under the weight restrictions of the truck, and was supported by camper jacks for easy removal.  There was nothing easy about it.

I used it successfully at the Pisgah Stage Race 2017 and was pretty excited about it.

A couple of weeks later, I loaded the family up and headed 8 miles down the road to Lake Powhatan Campground in the Pisgah National Forest.  For some reason,  something wierd always seems to  happen when I take road trips.  This time, we were in the middle of the first heat of spring, and it was hot!  It stayed hot all night and without a power source, the inside of the camper was pretty warm.  None of us slept well.

 I worked on the camper a little more over the course of the year, but we never used it.  I was sure that someone could put some time and money into it and make it really cool and functional, so I listed it on Craigslist.  I lost money on it, but learned a lot through the building journey.

One lesson learned: I don't want to do that again!  
Now what?  I started looking around.  Some late nights on the internet after the family went to bed,  searching for that perfect camping set up.  What I found was that there is no perfect set up.  So many different options: traditional ground tent, roof top tent, pop up camper, camper van, sprinter type van, rv, pop up camper trailer, tear drop trailer.

Trailers were almost immediately crossed off the list.  I need the hitch to haul bikes or a boat.  I also need lightweight and wanted something that mounts on the truck.  I have a camper shell that can be used to convert the truck bed to a sleeping space with a simple foam mattress. It seemed like a roof top tent was the way to go.

Some more research, talking to a couple of people and then a demo from Joe at REI and I was almost sold. 

I took my search to Facebook to see if any of my friends had experience with one. I got varied responses.  Sprinter owners told me to get a sprinter.  Others told me to stick with the old tried and true ground tent.  Several people told me that I didn't want a roof top tent (RTT).  ( most of the time, when naysayers tell me I don't want something, I can be sure I am on the right track!)

With a little more research and a lot of help from REI,  I wound up getting an amazing deal on the Tepui Autana w/ annex.

Lightweight and can be set up almost anywhere.  The annex, when properly staked out, has enough room for a queen sized bed behind the ladder.  Combined with the camper shell, we technically have enough room for 6 people and a dog. 

We headed back out to Lake Powhatan for our first test run.  The kid slept upstairs while the wife and I occupied the truck bed suite.  The dog took the space on ground floor.  We all slept amazingly well and had a great time, excited to get back out again.


A couple of thoughts:
-One of the cons to this set up is that once set up, you can't drive anywhere.  Good point.  That is the ONLY issue I have with this tent set up.  But,definitely not a deal breaker.  At this point, with our schedules, we rarely have time for a multi day trip.  I'm looking into a solution for that.  Stay Tuned.
-Actual tent takes about 5 minutes to set up or tear down.  Annex takes another 10-15.  I'm sure it will get faster as we learn.  About the same time and effort as a ground tent.  But for the stoke level of the family.... this is the way to go.
-I bought a set of leveling blocks from Tractor Supply for easy leveling.
- I also bought a scissor jack from Camping World.  I placed this under the rear of the truck  and raised it about 1-2 inches.  Just enough to take the bounce out of the suspension.  (the kid tosses quite a bit in his sleep.)  This made the set up firm.

More adventures await.  Can't wait to get out and explore some more!