Roof Top Tents (RTT)

Wednesday, Feb 04, 2015 at 21:06

Idler Chris

This blog is about Roof Top Tents or RTT's. I get lots of questions about my RTT so I am writing this blog as to why I use one.

They are not for everyone and it is horses for courses. I hope the reader can relate their requirements to my experiences and gain some benefit.

A little bit about me first which half explains why I do what I do. Look at my profile for more info. I am retired with a Toyota 100 series TD auto fully kitted out for outback remote travel. Sometimes there are two of us and sometimes we travel with a 4WD Club and other times by ourselves. Our travel is usually for months as opposed to weeks. We prefer the remoter less travelled parts of this great Country and soaking up its beauty, its history,and being at one with nature. Here are a couple of photo's,

My RTT opens out over the back of the vehicle. This provides protection from the elements to the back of the vehicle. As I have a lift up tailgate I have had to extend the legs on the roof rack so that the lift up door will fully open. The RTT being that little bit higher you need more care getting under things and underground car parks are a usually a no no. On the plus side the extra room between the bottom of the RTT and the vehicle roof is a great place to cable tie the Maxtraxs, and the longer legs of the roof rack are also great place to attach a 90mm water pipe for fishing gear, poles, hoses etc. (It is not shown in the pictures)

I have had my RTT for over 8 years now, have had about 860 nights in it (2014 was a bigger than average with 175 nights), have had it up and down about 700 times. When I am base camping I will often pack it up in the morning thinking I will use the vehicle but not actually use it. The setting up and packing up is not that difficult.

I would recommend using a aluminium roof rack because they are lighter.They are more expensive but if you are planning to use it for a number of years it is worth the investment. My roof rack is a Tradesman and was custom made for me. The back area is flat for the RTT and the front bit has a rail around it with a mesh floor which can be used for storage. The roof rack and RTT weight about 85 kgs which is well within the allowable weight for my vehicle of 100kgs. Tradesman roof racks (and probaly most other as well) are made to order and having modifications to suit your application is not a lot extra. Out on the track I am not aware of the weight above my head only the height. When travelling on the bitumen I avoid using the roof rack for storage mainly for wind resistance reasons. However when remote and only travelling slowly and not many kilometres a day I will often put stuff up there that I do not need on a daily basis so as to give me more working room inside the vehicle.

These days I am on the plus side of seventy and personal safety has always been my number one consideration. IMHO you need to be fresh and alert to clearly recognise all the potential dangers that can arise when touring this great country and in particular in the more remote regions. A good nights sleep is a prerequisite for being fresh and alert and for me the RTT is the only arrangement I have found to ensure this. The bed is huge, I find very comfortable, and because it is off the ground it is away from anything that might want to get you. No crocs, snakes, mice, dingos, creepy crawlies etc. I rarely have to zip up the netting as being high I find few, if any, mossies, sand flies, etc. I even feel safe when camped overnight on the side of the road or in truck stops as any uninvited guests coming up the ladder will find my heel or a lump of iron in their face. In camper trailers, caravans, and on the ground tents if you hear noises (real or imaginary) in the night you cannot see around you, whereas with a RTT you have a panoramic view. Again IMHO, feeling safe while in bed makes for a good and relaxing nights sleep.

Being off the ground its easy to keep clean, I keep some wet ones at the top of the ladder to clean my feet. If your lucky, or you are a good planner, the views while in your RTT can be quite spectacular. When I go back over all my photo's there are many great shots from my RTT.

Making the bed in a RTT is not as easy as a bed on the ground, it mostly takes longer. At home I make the bed with three bottom sheets one on top of another. When I want to change a sheet I just take the top one off, it only takes a few seconds. When I get to a CP or other place with the facilities and I have time I will wash the sheets and remake the bed with all the sheets. For the top I use a blanket inside a doona cover and as required an opened out sleeping bag and blankets.

Some like to suggest that RTT's are for younger people. Do not quite agree but you must be careful. The mere fact that you are travelling to remote places!would indicate that you have some abilities, but its is inevitable that the day will come when you just are not able to climb a ladder. All I say is that the benefits of a RTT are significant and I am not about to throw them away lightly.

I see not towing as a huge benefit. Go anywhere, less cost don't need to chip the motor, less fuel (=greater range), easier on the vehicle, the safety factor of not towing, need less area to camp, can camp on uneven and/or rocky ground, don't have to put pegs in the ground, and the list goes on. If its hot and there is shade, I will setup in the shade and after the sun goes down drive to where I want to camp. As I usually!cook!using the campfire I can setup near the fire and later move to where I want to sleep.

The Ladder. Everybody mentions "the ladder". Firstly, you make sure that there is plenty angle on the ladder so it is easier and safer to climb, there are many ways to do this. (See photo below for one idea) Secondly for the blokes (and girls if they like, but usually not as much an issue) take a bottle with you ( I use a Liptons Cold Tea bottle) so one up and down the ladder per night. Quite apart from that, it takes about 7 seconds to ascend or descend the ladder, so for what is well under a minute of ladder time you get 8,9,10 or what ever hours beautiful sleep. It is a no brainer for me. Sure there can be an element of danger with the ladder which escalates as your mobility decreases with age, but by ensuring there is plenty of slope on the ladder I believe it is well worth it for the great sleep that you get from a RTT.

If you look carefully at the cover on my RTT you will notice it looks a bit baggy. Hannibal made me a much bigger cover at my request. So while it does not make the package look nice and neat, it is much easier to live with. I can leave more bedding inside the tent, I can put ground sheets on top of the folded tent before putting the cover on, I do not have to tuck the sides of the tent in so as to get the cover on, and it is far easier to get the cover on.

I have all the side skirts but only use them occasionally. When I am travelling with others I can easily move further away if I want more privacy. As I can move once setup, it is easy to move to face the sun and/or into the wind for protection and shade. 

RTT's I have found to cope with the elements far better. No chance of blowing away being bolted to a 3+ tonne anchor and easy to reposition if necessary. On cold nights they are very warm with the few extra covers. On warm nights I have both ends open so you get any breeze going. Even the not so warm nights I will have both ends open so I can still see the stars and have a cool breeze on my face. I like to face the vehicle east so that from my pillow I can see the sunrise. 

For safety reasons I take a grab bag into the tent each night containing, vehicle keys, PLB,!Spot!device, Garmin GPS, Mobile phone (it has my phonebook),!Sat phone, 2 torches, a loud whistle, camera (in case of a spectacular sunrise), and water.

Which way to go, “budget” versus “quality” ? Again a no brainer for me. At 860+ nights so far "quality" is the obvious choice. My RTT is looking a bit faded but there are no tears and not one screw has come loose, it does the job today just as well as the day I brought it. I have no reason to believe that it will not continue to deliver for a long while yet.
I never take my RTT off the vehicle so the external cover has to cope with all the elements. My current cover is the second one I have had and I will need to replace it sometime in the next twelve months. In the time my RTT has been on the vehicle it has travelled 200,000 kilometres.

Condensation. I have heard many people complain of condensation in their RTT. I have never experianced condensation in my RTT nor have I heard of it from another Hannibal owner. If you are planning to get a lot of use from your RTT I would suggest that you need a tent made from a breathable material like canvas and to steer away from the so called "budget" models. At the end of the day you get what you pay for.

I cannot over emphasise the benefits and freedom of not having to tow anything. On the occasions that I travel as one vehicle, there is not a track that I cannot go down. As an inquisitive outback/remote tourer I put great importance in having this ability. So when I am based camped and have to pack up to go for a drive I remind myself of the money, time and hassle I am saving by not towing, and the pack up process no longer seems a chore.

Years ago I said that as I get older and had done many of the more challenging tracks and destinations I would get a camper trailer. Well the chances of me getting a camper trailer are diminishing as the RTT is just so very easy to live with.

We all know about "happy wife, happy life". My partner does not come with me very often unfortunately but for other reasons than the RTT, She likes the RTT for its ease, comfort, and simplicity. But the ladies place more importance on other issues and the two hurdles they tend to have difficulty with is "the ladder" and the fact you cannot stand up in a RTT. When my partner comes I would use the side panels more often (easier to put up with two of you) and if travelling with others, we will camp a bit further away and maybe just string up a tarp to change behind or use a shower tent. Now, for what its worth, a big comfy double bed that is firmly anchored can be a lot more practical for to two people than a shaky camp stretcher. 

As I said at the start it is horses for courses. We all know that every setup is a compromise, there is no such thing as the perfect setup. So at the end of the day you have to decide on what is, and is not, important to you, and what you are prepared to compromise on.

For further reading go to to Forum post

What other people think of me is none of my business.
Do unto others what you would have them do unto you.
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