Setting up a Tepui rooftop tent video

Plus the pros and cons of sleeping on top of your car

Gear How To Video
Tepui Kukenam SKY

Tepui Kukenam SKY is set up with an Evil The Wreckoning and Norco Sight ready for adventure.

There are many ways to pursue our trail adventures aside from sleeping in hotels. The tried and true method is car camping and sleeping on the ground in a tent. Then there’s the RV life which has captured the imagination and sense of adventure of many mountain bikers. What has really caught on is van life, which typically involves a vehicle conversion, usually of a Sprinter type van.

Something looming in the horizon is the old concept of rooftop tent, which has been used for over 50 years in one form or another, and recently caught fire with the 4-wheelin crowd. Will it catch on with mountain bikers? It’s not for everyone, but here’s a breakdown of some of its merits and minus.

  1. Speed: Once proficient, folks can set up and pack up in 3-5 minutes. It’s quicker when you don’t put up the rods to prop up the rain fly.
  2. Essentials stay in the tent: Leave sleeping bags and pillows in the tent. They just stay in there, and like the tent, they don’t pick up dirt from the ground.
  3. Weight limits: The stated weight limits of racks are for dynamic weight. It has to account for cornering, speed bumps, dirt roads that can triple the forces on a rack for an instant while the car is moving. There is no standard conversion of dynamic limit to static but some rack makers are stating 200-pound limits (dynamic). But in tests, the racks hold up to 800 pounds with no damage whatsoever.
  4. Ladder takes the load: The ladder takes up to 40-60% of the load of a tent since it is a key support beam. Thus, if a tent is fully loaded with people at a total of 500 pounds, the car roof rack is only supporting about half that. The ladder is the heaviest part of the system, too, as it is the most mechanically intensive device on the tent. It is also used as a lever to pull the tent open. And it has to account for the highest possible roof the tent might be installed on.
  5. Fun: Perhaps the most alluring aspect of rooftop tents is they are a gateway to adventure. For dudes, it is a new gadget that opens up possibilities. For kids, it’s an awesome treehouse. For non-camper spouses, it is worth the adventure to try.
  6. Away from the ground, attached to the car: There is a certain sense of comfort and convenience with this.
  1. Where to park: This is open for discussion and will be sorted out over the next few years as these gain popularity. In California, it’s fairly strict and one can’t park near the coast highway.
  2. Using the vehicle during camping: It’s not so simple to drive away and leave the tent behind with this setup. This is more suited when one doesn’t use the car while at an established base camp.
  3. Fear of heights: You can be up there pretty high and if you fear heights or are not physically fit, it’s not as safe. Night restroom breaks, going down a wet ladder, buffeting wind are concerns as well.
  4. Cost: It’s not cheap, with an average price of $1200. Rack system can be $500 as well if that doesn’t exist yet.

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About the author: Francis Cebedo

The founder of mtbr and roadbikereview, Francis Cebedo believes that every cyclist has a lot to teach and a lot to learn. "Our websites are communal hubs for sharing cycling experiences, trading adventure stories, and passing along product information and opinions." Francis' favorite bike is the last bike he rode, whether it's a dirt jumper, singlespeed, trail bike, lugged commuter or ultralight carbon road steed. Indeed, Francis loves cycling in all its forms and is happiest when infecting others with that same passion. Francis also believes that IPA will save America.

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  • Raymo853 says:

    How about a cheap cargo trailer with a plywood base? You could drill holes for your tent poles to fit right into. Then maybe have some sort of retractable heavy duty tarp cover so instead of packing the tent you could just fold it down, leaving the bags and stuff and then cover it for transport. You could pull it with any mid sized car or larger. You could leave it behind and use the vehicle.

  • Doug M. says:

    Maybe it’s because I come from UL backpacking background, but I just can’t find a way to justify rooftop tents. Between the up-front costs and additional costs and equipment considerations for your vehicle (racks, suspension, etc) and the cargo capacity you lose… just spend $200-400 on a decent tent or hammock setup and be done with it.

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