Car camping provides you access to the great outdoors without forcing you to sleep in a tent on the ground that could be flooded, visited by a large animal or otherwise impossible to set up. Pitching a tent on top of your car provides you with some much-needed space from any wildlife that might be roaming around on the ground, plus they are more comfortable with a built-in mattress. Plus, these tents can be a smooth transition for a camping partner that might not love nature as much as you do.
Since you’re stuffing your car for the weekend, weight is not a concern. These types of tents tend to be a bit heavier, especially considering they have to support your weight on top of a car. You also won’t have to worry about the tent set-up. There aren’t too many poles to worry about, and there’s no hammering stakes into the ground to make sure your tent doesn’t blow away with any wind or rain.
There are, however, a few things to look out for before purchasing a tent. You have to make sure the roof rack you have already (or the one you’re going to purchase) is going to mesh well with the tent. Each tent has a unique way of attaching itself to the car, so double checking before you buy is imperative. You also might need to purchase tools to connect it. Most tents will take up most of the space on your roof rack, so you’ll have to fit everything else you want to take with you inside the car or on another rack (like a hitch-mount rack).
With all that in mind, here are a few of our favorites this year.
When closed, the Roofnest resembles a simple roof storage unit, but when you pop it open (seamlessly, I might add), a square box takes shape. You can sleep two adults and a child inside. While it might heat up quickly thanks to the enclosed area, unzipping the windows before you nod off is an easy solution. The mattresses are included, but if you’re used to something a bit plusher, consider bringing something to puff it up (blankets, anyone?) and enjoy a deeper sleep.
Tepui Explorer Series Autana 3
The removable annex with PVC flooring is a nice addition to just the rooftop sleeping quarters. When packed up, it’s just like you have a condensed mattress strapped to the roof. Three people can lay their heads down each night, and there’s no concern about bugs or humidity with the screened windows on the sides. If the weather doesn’t work out quite the way you wanted it to, the rain fly and water-resistant YKK zippers will keep you dry all night long.
Yakima x Poler Skyrise Rooftop Tent
The camo-inspired tent fits on top of your already installed roof rack in just 15 minutes. A 210D nylon material envelops you and a buddy. Installation looks easy: just pull the cover off, roll it up, stretch out the ladder and out pops your tent. The tool-free mounts mean it’s not a time-suck to attach the Skyrise to your roof. It’s offered in two different sizes, a small or medium, depending on whether you need space for two or three people.
Mt. Denali Standard Stargazer Pioneer
This four-person tent features an entry and an exit, each with its own ladder, as well as an additional annex and private room. It’s practically bigger than studio apartments in New York City. The heavy mosquito mesh means bug-free meals and bedtimes. For families, this is an easy choice, especially with the privacy wall so the little ones can wake up with the sun and teenagers can sleep until noon. At 225 pounds, this one is a bit heavier than others on this list, but it’s also compatible with eight different roof racks, so you have more than one option.
James Baroud Evasion Roof Top Tent
A hardshell rooftop tent provides a 360-degree view of your campsite, which is better than a movie theater. You can sit fully upright in this tent with no worries about banging your head on either end, making it possible to read before nodding off – just be sure to pack a headlamp. The telescoping ladder comes standard in addition to a 5-year warranty. The 145-pound tent will withstand winds (or car speeds) up to 72mph. The fiberglass-fortified polyester hardshell helps eliminate wind noise and improve fuel economy.