Tepui Baja Series Kukenam 3 tent review

It’s like camping in a treehouse, except it's a mobile tree

Gear
Camping at CES Mendocino

The Tepui Kukenam 3 Baja Series was our lodging of choice at the 2017 California Enduro Series in Mendocino, CA.

What is it

A roof top tent (RTT) is simply a tent that mounts to the roof of a vehicle or bed rack of a truck. The concept is simple and the first examples of RTTs appeared in Western Europe in the 1930’s. The designs were based on a rigid-pole tent concept, which was common for the era and was sandwiched between two layers of marine plywood. The first modern style RTT’s appeared in 1958 and utilized a waterproof housing made of fiberglass.

Rooftop Ten Design from 1937

A roof top tent featured in Popular Science in 1937. Photo courtesy of Popular Science

The RTT has made a resurgence in the U.S. in recent years and with the growing popularity of overlanding, traveling to remote destinations where the journey is the ultimate goal. It’s hard to visit a national park or other outdoor recreation venue without seeing at least one of these curious contraptions. If you’re in California then the majority of these tents will have the Tepui logo on them.

The word tepui (pronounced Te-POO-e) translates to “House of the gods” in the native language of the Pemon, an indigenous tribe of southeastern Venezuela. It is also the name of a very popular RTT manufacturer based in Soquel, California, which turned out to be very fortunate for us because we were out of options for lodging at the California Enduro Series race near Monterey. So we swung by the Tepui headquarters and snapped up a Baja Series Kukenam 3. Lodging problems solved!

Picking up Tepui Tent

Picking up our new Baja Series Kukenam 3 at the Tepiu headquarters.

Baja Series Kukenam 3 Features
  • Sleeping Capacity: 3
  • Size (Closed): 56″ x 48″ x 12″ (WxLxH)
  • Size (Open): 56″ x 96″ x 50″ (WxLxH)
  • Sleeping Footprint: 56″ x 96″ (WxL)
  • Canopy Fabric: Lightweight 70D Nylon with Nanotex water-resistant coating
  • Mosquito screens: no-see-um mesh
  • Rainfly Fabric: 70 D RS nylon 3000WP, FR, UV. Same fabric as canopy.
  • Mattress: High Density 2-1/2″ foam with cotton cover
  • Travel Cover Material: 1000g Heavy Duty PVC
  • Weight: 108 pounds
  • Internal Frame: 5/8″ aluminum tube
  • Base Construction: Welded aluminum tube with insulation and aluminum cap sheet
  • Ladder Construction: 8ft-6in Telescoping Aluminum Ladder
Pros
  • Quick and easy to setup
  • Elevates you above snakes, wolves and chupacabras
  • Built in memory foam mattress
  • Bedding stays in the tent saving precious cargo room
  • Better ventilation and better view
  • Easier to keep clean
  • No need to search for a flat dry surface to pitch a tent
  • It’s fun and it’s a treehouse for kids of all ages
Cons
  • Attached to your car making base camp mobility an issue
  • Heavy and difficult to remove from the vehicle without help
  • May reduce fuel economy and negatively affect vehicle handling
  • Getting in and out of the tent can be difficult for the less able-bodied (or intoxicated)
  • May require additional purchases to properly mount (roof rails, bed rack etc.)
  • Limited room for larger families
  • Easy to get main zipper stuck if not careful moving inner tent out
  • Mounting hardware to vehicle is done by simple nuts and bolts
Mtbr’s Take

We took delivery of our Baja Series Kukenam 3 RTT in May of 2017 just in time for the California Enduro Series at Toro Park near Monterey. Being Memorial Day weekend we couldn’t find lodging so it was the perfect time to purchase the tent and give it a try. We stopped by the Tepui headquarters and they installed the tent on our truck’s bed rack in less than 10 minutes.

Setup

Pealing the heavy-duty waterproof PVC cover off the mystery box attached to my bed rack revealed another box, this one made of aluminum and coated with white paint. At this point I realized I had not been given an instruction manual so I did what any other guy would do in this situation and I just started unstrapping, pulling and tugging at anything that would move.

Within a few minutes I had the tent open and the ladder secure. It took a few more minutes to figure out what to do with the pieces of spring steel and the window/door canopies. I’d say that first setup took me a little over 15 minutes but now I can have the tent set up in 2-3 minutes.

Size

Our particular model, the Baja Series Kukenam 3, claims to fit 3 people but as with most tent sizing claims I find this to be off by a factor of one. Closed for travel the base of the tent measures 56″ x 48″ x 12″ (WxLxH). When open it measures 56″ x 96″ x 50″ (WxLxH) which is ample room for 2 adults and maybe one small child. For a third adult or a larger child I would opt for the Kukenam 4 or one of Tepui’s larger tents like the Autana 4.

Tepui Kukenam 3

The Kukenam 3 offers plenty of room for two adults and a small child.

The addition of an annex can expand the room and functionality of the tent by providing a second sleeping area under the tent or it can be used as a gear room, weather shelter or even a toilet area with appropriate accessories. The annex can be purchased separately and is easy to install. It zips to the bottom of the tent and features an entry door and two windows, all with no-see-um mosquito netting. There’s even a zippered panel that allows access to your vehicle. It’s a $265 option for the Kukenam and Ayer Baja series tents.

Annex Option

An annex can expand the capability and functionality of your tent. The Kukenam Ruggedized model is shown here. Photo courtesy of Tepui

Comfort

Our first night sleeping in the tent was extremely uncomfortable for me. While the tent comes equipped with a 2.5” high density foam mattress I found it wasn’t thick enough to keep my hips from bottoming out on the hard bottom of the tent base. As a side sleeper this is a huge problem for me. I didn’t sleep well at all and had to take ibuprofen in the middle of the night and my legs were sore the rest of the day. Tepui does offer a more luxury oriented mattress upgrade, but after talking to Tepui staff they were not sure the upgrade would fix my particular problem.

Once home I did some research and found a 2” queen-sized memory foam mattress that would fit in the original Tepui mattress sleeve on top of the Tepui mattress with a little trimming. The length of the new foam mattress is shorter than the length of the tent so I ended up with about 16” of area at the entrance of the tent that had less padding but it is not noticeable when lying down. With the additional padding the tent has become extremely comfortable.

Foam Mattress Padding

With the addition of another 2” memory foam mattress on top of the original mattress ultimate comfort was achieved. My hand indicates the area where the add-on foam mattress stops.

The extra padding means we cannot store as many blankets and pillows inside the tent during travel, but I find it a small price to pay for comfort. Our typical bedding consists of two sheets (1 fitted and 1 flat), 2-4 pillows, 1 fleece blanket and 1 thick comforter. All but 2 of the pillows will fit inside the tent even when collapsed and covered for travel. When temps drop below freezing I would suggest using appropriately rated sleeping bags instead of the comforter.

During the heat of summer we use a battery operated fan that clips onto the support bars on the roof of the tent for cooling. The “Sky” series tents have mesh covered roof panels that can be unzipped to provide extra airflow. All 2018 tents have this feature standard.

Durability

After countless setups over the course of a year we have observed no abnormal wear and tear and nothing has failed. There are dents in the aluminum base where the ladder rests while stowed away and the paint has rubbed off in that spot but I would expect that. I generally stick to mild off-roading and I never speed along bumpy dirt roads Baja style so this tent build suits us.

If you are the type of person who is hard on equipment and enjoys driving fast and hard off-road then the Ruggedized version Tepui offers is the way to go. The Ruggedized tents feature a heavy duty 360g dual stitched fabric (40% heavier than standard models), diamond plate base (standard tents use aluminum) and heavy duty hinges.

Dented Base

The bottom of the base of the tent is dented and the paint has worn through from contact with the ladder while stowed and driving. No real damage has been observed however.

What could be improved?

We don’t have many complaints and overall the quality is very high, however, there is always room for improvement. Upon first deploying the tent I noticed a lot of tiny aluminum shavings scattered around the inside of the tent. Most of the shavings are too small to pick up by hand and aluminum isn’t magnetic so using a magnet to clean them up won’t work. I tried removing the mattress and sweeping out the shavings and even tried blowing them out with a leaf blower yet a year later I’m still find shavings.

This is very bothersome and frankly a safety issue should one of those shavings get in your eye. I’ve scoured overlanding forums for info on RTT designs and opinions and it seems most of the popular high end tents have this same problem. A little better quality control at the manufacturing level could easily correct this problem.

Aluminum Shavings

Metal shavings are still present after a year of use and repeated attempts to clean them out. Most major brands appear to have this problem.

The spring steel bars that hold open the window and door canopies have little black rubber caps on the end to help protect the tent and your hands, but the caps readily pop off and disappear from sight much like socks in the laundry. A little glue could help keep the caps in place.

Spring Steel Rubber Caps

Spring steel rods with rubber caps. The caps readily fall off and are easily lost.

Tent Models and Options

All Tepui Baja Series tents feature Tepui’s patented Zipper Gimp technology that allows you to switch between three different canopy styles. 1. A mesh canopy which is great for hot and humid weather. 2. An ultralight 70D nylon ripstop fabric canopy for mild weather conditions and 3. A heavy duty aluminized canopy for maximum protection during bad weather. The tent comes with 1 canopy of your choice. Other canopies can be purchased separately.

Tepui tents can be broken down into three main models:

  • Ayer 2 – 2 person tent
  • Kukenam – 3 and 4 person tents
  • Autana – 3 and 4 person tents

The main difference between the Kukenam and the Autana is the overall length of the tent and the location of the ladder. The Autana is the longest tent Tepui offers at a whopping 122” unfolded. But the ladder and tent entrance are located under the tent which makes some of that extra length unusable. The Kukenam series tent locates the entrance and ladder to the very end (side) of the tent and the entire 96” of length is usable.

So why get the Autana over the Kukenam? If you plan on purchasing the annex version or adding an annex in the future then the Autana located the ladder inside the annex as opposed to outside like with the Kukenam. This means you can enter or exit the tent in the privacy of the annex and be protected from weather. Gear, shoes, clothing, food etc. can be stored in the annex and be retrieved without the need to get dressed or be exposed to inclement weather.

Autana with Annex

Autana 4-person tent with entrance and ladder located under the end of the tent. Notice the ladder is located inside the annex. Photo courtesy of Tepui

From there you have a choice in tent material.

Baja Series – Lightweight and great for springtime or summer conditions. The 70D nylon tent material is very similar to a standard ground tent.

Explorer Series – A medium weight tent featuring high quality coated 600 denier ripstop 260G poly cotton blend fabric. This is a good all-round option for a variety of weather conditions and high durability.

Ruggedized Series – A heavyweight tent featuring high quality coated 600 denier ripstop and 360g poly cotton blend fabric (40% heavier than the Explorer Series). The base of the tent uses diamond plating vs. aluminum, heavy-duty hinges and a heavier gauge internal frame. This is tent of choice for off-road trailers and hardcore 4×4 enthusiasts.

Tepui offers a slew of additional accessories that can be added to increase the comfort and utility of their tents. If you currently have problems with condensation in your regular tent then you’ll want to spring for the anti-condensation mat. This mat helps reduce condensation that may accumulate under the tent mattress. We have not had a problem with condensation in general, but there was one extremely cold night spent at Mammoth Lakes for the Kamikaze Bike Games event where condensation was a problem.

Bottom line, we love our Tepui tent, and short of a dedicated camping vehicle like and RV or Sprinter Van, we find this to be the easiest option to live with. We would buy again.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 4.5 Flamin' Chili Peppers
Price: $1325
More Info: tepui.com


About the author: Justin Wages

As a stage 4 colon cancer survivor, Justin Wages got into the cycling world in an effort to increase his endurance after losing his left lung. As a California native and growing up with a skateboard and snowboard beneath his feet it wasn’t long before the thrill of mountain biking gripped him. Justin’s day job as a Land & Recreation Manager helps him understand the balance between conservation and trail use. He also works with his fiancé, Jeni, to bring more women into the mountain bike world with certified skills clinics and education. “My goal is to get more people on trails for health and enjoyment,” he says. “I want to help them overcome their mental or physical limitations and be the best person they can be, while expanding their appreciation for our natural world.”


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