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Things to Consider When Choosing a Roof Top Tent (RTT)

Being a heavy user of my Cascadia Tents (CVT) Mt. Shasta roof top tent (RTT), I get asked - somewhat infrequently - what I think about it after all those nights on the trail. And, I often find myself evaluating it against other RTT offerings that I see on other rigs.

So, rather than keep all that bottled up in my tiny little skull, I figured I'd share my thoughts with everyone - after 3 years and some 250 nights on the trail and in the tent.

Brands (and durability/longevity)

From what I can tell, they are all pretty much the same. I've got a CVT and love it. Tepui owners seem to love theirs. Same with Smittybuilt. It's the kind of thing where they all come out of different doors at the same factory, if you get my drift.

The bigger decision IMO is really whether you're going to go with a "traditional" soft RTT, or a hardshell pop-up style, a wedge-style, or one of the hard-side opening style. I don't really have experience with anything but the soft "traditional" style from CVT (but I do have some opinions, below :)).

As far as longevity - that's 100% based on how well you take care of it. My "Pioneer Series" CVT is ~3 years old now and still looks and works like new, with over 250 tent-nights in that time. Other folks spend a couple nights a year in theirs, bring their dog inside, put the tent away wet, and get only a handful of uses out of it.

Style (soft vs. hard vs. wedge)

This one - for me - is pretty simple and comes down to two factors: (1) - price you're willing to pay, (2) - number of people you need to sleep in the tent.

If you have 2 people or fewer, and can afford it, I think the GFC wedge-style tent is head and shoulders above all the rest (at least as of right now). GFC didn't exist when I bought my CVT, but if they had, I'd have gone that route.  If you have more than two people, no wedge or hard shell is going to work - they will all be too narrow, so you have to go soft-shell, fold out.

If it's about tradeoffs, the tradeoff between soft vs. wedge is really one of cost. You have to decide if it's worth 3x as much for a wedge-style tent that will deploy and stow more quickly, and be significantly less affected by wind and rain, and will also provide sealed, dry storage of everything in the bed area of the pickup. That dry storage alone can be a valuable thing in muddy conditions, so be sure to consider it. This sucks:

Lastly, a word about hard-shell, non-wedge, tents - in my opinion, they aren't worth the premium price over soft shell, because they don't have the benefits (at least on a pickup) of a wedge-style tent. Or rather, the price difference between a hard shell pop-up and wedge style isn't large enough to offset the extra value of a wedge.

Comfort

The comfort of any sleeping situation comes down to whatever you've got below and above you as you sleep. Personally, I've never heard of a long-term comfortable mattress from any RTT vendor, so I recommend - highly - that everyone replace what comes in the tent with an appropriately sized Exped MegaMat (small | medium | large). The extra padding, as well as the extra insulation provided by the layer of air, makes for a great night sleep. I've been so happy with my Exped that I wrote up a Exped Megamat Review - 1 Year Later that I recommend reading.

For "the top layer," I'm a fan of using down comforters with flannel duvet covers - primarily because they are extremely warm, can be layered, and are easily compacted when the tent is closed. But, a warm sleeping bag or blankets would likely work just as well - it's a personal preference at that point.

Specifics on Soft Shell Tents

Having only owned a soft-shell CVT, I do have some opinions about its various features.

  • Stargazer (roof) windows. Dislike. If you can get a tent without these, do. The plastic used for the windows is not transparent enough to really see the stars, and it attracts and holds water much more than the fabric rain fly material, which dries out much more quickly under morning sun.
  • Sliding ladder (vs. telescoping). Like. This is a personal preference I think, but I like the 2-piece ladder that slides to the correct length. It seems easier to keep clean, and is less bulky than the telescoping variants.
  • Wind noise. Dislike. In windy conditions, it's hard to sleep with the fabric flapping around. Earplugs are usually enough for me, but a wedge-style tent would make things a lot better.
  • Putting away wet. Dislike. Obviously there's not a lot you can do about this if it's raining out, but putting the tent away really wet means you should be ready for the corners of your mattress to be wet when you open the tent. Assuming of course that you zipped all the windows and doors fully before putting it away, otherwise everything will be wet.
  • Zipper for the cover. Dislike. The zipper is hard to close when it gets dusty or dirty. Do your darndest to keep it clean, and if you can clean it after really dusty trips, you'll love yourself for it later.
  • Heavy duty exterior straps (vs. light duty velcro). Like. My tent originally came with straps to hold the cover on that were velcro. They worked fine for the first year but then the velcro came out. Now I have straps that use some cam fasteners (mechanical). They work much better and won't wear out.
  • Interior space. Like. The inside of the tent is plenty roomy for two people.
  • Anti-condensation matt. Like. Moisture is the enemy of longevity since it can lead to mildew and mold - and no one wants a moldy tent that smells like mildew. The anti-condensation matt keeps everything up off of the coldest, most moisture-attracting surface of the entire tent - the inside of the metal floor. I wouldn't use an RTT without the anti-condensation matt.

But that's not all!

What do you think about various RTT styles? What have I missed or gotten wrong? Let me know in the comments!

2 Comments

  1. Michael Meyer
    Michael Meyer May 12, 2020

    What brand of anti condensation mat do you use or recommend? I’m looking for one that would fit my queen size bunk in my teardropsNW trailer.

    • turbodb
      turbodb May 12, 2020

      Hi Michael,

      The matt I have is from CVT, but they no longer sell the style I like. Tepui still sells the good style (at least through Amazon) so I recommend getting this anti-condensation mat, in the correct size for your sleeping area.

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