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This is part 2 of a 2-series story about rooftop tents. Here is part 1.
In this post, I will focus on our rooftop tent. Why did we buy the one we did? What are the advantages and disadvantages of our RTT, as it’s also called? What adaptions did we make? Here is the story.
In 2003, we expected to be traveling for 2 or 3 years with the idea to drive to Asia (read here). What kind of bed did we want? We settled for 2 options:
- To be able to sleep in the car (which is topic for another blog post).
- To buy a rooftop tent.
The Search for a Rooftop Tent
As part of our preparation for the journey, we headed to several stores and compared Eezi Awns, Howling Moons, Hannibals and a couple of other soft-shell rooftop tents.
As I climbed in one after the other, I concluded that the differences among them weren’t big (Note that in 2003 there weren’t that many RTTs as today). We didn’t particularly favor one over the other. Prices were all in the same range – around $1500 US if I remember correctly – so money wasn’t a deciding factor either.
Well, actually, it was. The reason to buy an Eezi Awn was that we were offered a new tent for $900 US from an overlander who had shipped a couple of them with his vehicle in a container from South Africa (where the Eezi Awn roof tent is produced) after a six-month road trip.
How Much Have we Used the Rooftop Tent?
It’s a bit of a guess:
- From the Netherlands to Southeast Asia, 3.5 years: about 80%. In Vietnam the tent started to leak, probably a result of having folded it too often wet due to the monsoon.
- In South America, 9 years, covering all countries: maybe 20 or 30% even though we had stunning rough camp options in many countries. But the tent leaked and in Patagonia there often was so much wind that the tent buffeted too much, keeping us awake.
- Northeast Asia, 2 years (Japan and Korea): maybe 40 or 50%. We have a new tent (Carpas Anaconda), waterproof, which is great but the material is so light that it buffets very quickly. We have also grown used to sleeping in the car. We’ve gotten a bit lazy about it, I guess. We plan to be using the tent more into Russia.
What we Like About Both Rooftop Tents
The sense of freedom! There is something immensely gratifying, beautiful, liberating, inspiring about finding a mind-blowing rough camp, to climb up that ladder, and sleep on top of your rig in a rooftop tent. While that sense of freedom also exists when sleeping in a ground tent, the sleeping pads are never as comfortable as the mattress in our rooftop tent.
- The comfort and particularly the breeze in warm climates because the tents have mesh panels on all sides.
- When camping for a longer period of time I don’t have to clean up the mess inside the car every day because I need to make the bed.
- The chances of ants, scorpions, snakes or other creepy-crawlers entering the tent are zero (this compared to a ground tent).
- It’s a great spot for viewing wildlife. We particularly experienced this in the wetlands of the Pantanal (Brazil) where we woke up before sunrise and watched birds and other animals from a much closer range than had we sat outside.
The Eezi Awn Rooftop Tent
Here are some issues related specifically to the first rooftop tent. For the second, Carpas Anaconda tent, see below. As said before, we used the Eezi Awn from 2003 to 2015; initially very intensely, at the end hardly at all.
What we didn’t like about the Eezi Awn:
- We were not impressed with the durability of the mattress (we replaced in Vietnam after 3 years with one that’s still fine 10+ years later, see below).
- The mosquito netting, which came with straight zippers instead of a round one, didn’t properly close in corners (we stuffed them with old T-shirts).
- Serious leakage problems after 3 or 4 years.
While we loved sleeping in that tent, frankly, we were not impressed with the price-quality ration.
Improvements on the Eezi-Awn
1- Extending the Ladder
For our farewell party in the Netherlands, I wanted to have the roof tent up to show it to people. Fortunately so, because only then (a week before departure) we discovered that the ladder was too short! Because of the extra 25-centimeter aluminum (dark-brown) layer to heighten the Land Cruiser’s roof, the ladder was too short. A neighbor of mine welded an extension, which has worked perfectly.
2- Impregnating the Leaking Canvas
The outer layer of the tent, the canvas that covers the entrances on both sides, tended to curl up. This was a problem with slanting rain which then entered the tent. I glued velcro on the wooden sidebar of the floor and sewed Velcro on that layer. Problem solved.
We emailed Eezi Awn when the leaking problems started, which couldn’t be solved with any first-quality impregnation liquid I bought in the Netherlands. We had to admit: Eezi Awn did know about after-sales service.
They sent impregnation liquid to South America twice, free of charge, even though by then we had used the tent for more than four years. The waterproofing liquid helped for a while but the tent became a good-weather option only.
3- Replacing the Mattress
In Vietnam, after 3 years of intensive use the mattress needed to be replaced (well, much earlier but we never got around to doing that). We were in a region known for rubber plantations and we found a tiny shop that sold pure latex mattresses for a reasonable price. It was way heavier than the original, but boy did this enhance our sleeping experience.
Depending on the climate you’re camping in, you may find that your mattress gets humid because it doesn’t get aired properly on the wood/aluminum bottom. To prevent this we have a woolen blanket under the mattress, making sure it sticks out on all sides for a few centimeters. The wool wicks the humid away.
4- Maximizing Comfort in Hot Climates
When the weather is hot, we take the small oscillating fan (find it here) to the tent, which normally hangs above the driver’s seat. With an extension cord, this works perfectly in the Eezi Awn; the Carpas Anaconda comes with an electrical plug inside the tent so that’s even easier.
The Carpas Anaconda Rooftop Tent
As said before, despite all the impregnation liquid, the Eezi Awn tent kept leaking and it was time to look out for a new one. By that time we had left Brazil, which would have been a good country to buy one. There are a couple of local suppliers. Your best chances are in São Paulo.
However, we were in Venezuela. Like Brazil, this is a country full of off-road and overlanding aficionados and in Venezuela are a couple of rooftop tent designers and builders. The off-road community connected us with Carpas Anacondas, situated in Maracay. Inspired by our travels, the owner Robespierre Bataille was so generous to give us one!
He currently produces and sells in Venezuela and Colombia, but plans to expand to the United States as well.
Likes & Dislikes of the Carpas Anaconda Rooftop Tent
- It is made of a much lighter material than the Eezi Awn, and any minimizing of weight on the roof is a good thing.
- However, the lighter material makes the tent buffet very quickly, the noise at high winds keeping us awake.
- Like the Eezi Awn, the zippers are straight. These simply don’t close as well as round zippers, like many ground tents. Thus, as we did with the Eezi Awn, we stuff the corners with old t-shirts.
- The rungs of the ladder are solid and wide, maybe a bit too wide, making the ladder is a bit bulky.
- We really like the cover, which closes with velcro all around. This is way better than the strap we had on the Eezi Awn.
- Inside is a 12-volt hookup, meaning we can connect the oscillating fan (or lamp) in a plug inside the tent.
- The tent came with LED lights on the outside (attached underneath the unfolded floor section), which is nice.
- The foam mattress is way too thin. We immediately replaced it with our latex mattress from Vietnam which is still going strong.
- For us a ridiculous notion but for those who want aircon: the tent has openings in both side to install one! If not used as such, you can still insert a tray for your breakfast on bed 🙂 (see photo).
Other Soft-shell Rooftop Tents
These are just our experiences. To get you started in the labyrinth of the rooftop-tent world to find which one is best for you, check out the legwork Expedition Portal did on the subject (March 2016).
What are your experiences? Or do you have questions? Fire away in the comments below!
(Originally published in 2013 / updated in 2017)