At the end of a long, fun day on the trail there is no better feeling than climbing into my rooftop tent and going to sleep. It’s a rewarding because, once you get in bed, a feeling of satisfaction stretches through my mind because I have reached my destination. A great night’s rest is essential for tackling everything you want to do the following day because sleep is good for the body and the mind.
So Many Choices
Choosing where you’ll sleep when you’re out on the trail can be a tricky decision because there are so many options, including:
Softshell rooftop tents
Hardshell rooftop tents
These options all have their pros and cons but, ultimately, where you choose to sleep should best fit you--literally and figuratively!
Pros: Inexpensive, nostalgic
Cons: Time to set up, extra gear to pack
The most classic camping set-up is the traditional ground tent. This option is probably my least favorite. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with sleeping in a ground tent and it’s something we’ve probably all done at some point in our lives--as a kid on camping trips with our families or backyard sleepovers--but I just don’t sleep well when the only thing between me and the ground is a sleeping bag and piece of foam.
When I do use a ground tent, I much prefer sleeping on a military style cot inside the tent rather than just sleeping on the ground. While it does mean bringing another piece of camping equipment to pack, in my humble opinion, it’s worth it.
Another reason this isn’t my favorite option is that ground tents can sometimes be tricky to set-up and pack away. If this is your preferred method, I recommend a little practice setting up and taking down your ground tent a couple times at home before taking it on the trail to avoid any hassle when you get to camp and can spend more time enjoying your destination and less time fighting with poles or looking for missing parts. Whether you’re out for just a night or enjoying a long weekend, camping in a ground tent can be a good, cost effective way of catching some z’s on your next adventure.
Pros: Comfortable, lightweight, easy to pack
Cons: Expensive, requires trees
A set-up that I heard my son talk a lot about after spending a week in Wisconsin’s north woods is a camping hammock. They can be very comfortable and don’t take up too much space in your rig or at camp. Although, they are not a recommended choice if you’re headed to Moab or the deserts of Southern California because you need to have two trees, the right distance apart, to hang the hammock. And the more people, the more trees you’ll need.
Speaking of trees, you need to make sure not to damage them by selecting ones that are sturdy enough to bear your weight and that you don’t tie your hammock to a tree with just the bare rope, which could damage the bark. If your hammock doesn’t come with a suspension system that has wide, protective straps, you can purchase them separately.
Being comfortable is key to a good night’s sleep and there are lots of variations of the camping hammock as well as several accessories to make them even more comfortable. Of course, accessories aren’t free, so anything extra is an added cost. One extra that might be considered an essential is a foam insulating pad that, when placed in the hammock, will keep you very warm, even on cold nights. Other additions can include:
Underquilt (prevents heat loss from cold air wafting across the underside of the hammock)
Camping hammocks can be a little bit more expensive than some ground tent options but if you’ve ever slept in a hammock, even just to take a nap, you know just how comfortable they are and you won’t wake up stiff and sore like you will if you sleep on the ground or in your vehicle.
Pros: Inexpensive, not a lot of extra gear to pack
Cons: Not very comfortable
The most cost-effective method, and one that doesn’t require any additional gear other than something to keep you warm, is sleeping in your vehicle. Now, this isn’t something I do because I’m over six-feet tall and I don’t find it very comfortable and, with the built-in storage unit in the back of my jeep, I just don’t have the room. But it is an option, which is why I’m including it.
If you have the space to lay down your back seats and can sleep comfortably, depending on your height and how much gear is in the back of your rig, this option is not going to cost you a dime. The only thing you need is a pillow and blanket from home or a sleeping bag. You can even throw in a foam pad or air mattress for added comfort.
Other bonuses with this method is that it’s a good way to stay warm, avoid the wind, keep out the critters, and requires absolutely no time for set-up or take-down.
Pros: Quick and easy set-up and take-down, very comfortable, no extra gear to pack
Cons: Expensive, added weight to your vehicle
The next two options are ones that I get asked a lot of questions about--hardshell and softshell rooftop tents. If you do a lot of overlanding and camping from your vehicle, both of these are great choices but they are the most expensive of all the options and the heaviest.
If you’re more of an occasional camper, you might be better off going with a more inexpensive option like a tent, hammock, or the back of your car. For me though, I am constantly out adventuring so my rooftop tent gets a lot of use and is well worth the investment.
I love sleeping in my rooftop tent because it has a built in mattresses that is really comfortable and helps me sleep like a baby. I’ve done more than my fair share of sleeping in some really uncomfortable places on deployments aboard ship and with the Marines and, as far as I’m concerned, a good night’s sleep is priceless.
So, softshell or hardshell?
Softshell rooftop tents are usually more affordable than the hardshell versions because they are mainly covered with a sewn PVC material instead of fiberglass or aluminum. Also, softshell tents are usually roomier than the hardshell ones because they typically fold out and over the side of your vehicle, providing you with more space.
Think of a softshell tent as a ground tent that’s on the roof of your vehicle with a built-in mattress. And, like ground tents, these have a pop-up fabric canopy that provides a lot of head room inside. If you’re sleeping family style with two or more people, softshell rooftop tents offer plenty of room.
One down-side with softshell tents is setting up and packing up, which will take you about five minutes each. Still, it’s faster than setting up most ground tents and doesn’t take up any storage space inside your vehicle. Another downside is that they look a little like a brick sitting on top of your vehicle and there is nothing aerodynamic about them--you will feel the wind drag with a softshell rooftop tent and your gas mileage will suffer.
Bottom line--softshell tents are a great option for adventure-seekers who will be out on the trail for days at a time!
Lastly, I want to talk about what I am currently running, which is a hardshell rooftop tent. I’m going to be honest--these are almost always more expensive than softshell rooftop tents.
That’s because these are rugged, tough, and built to withstand the bruising impact from the weather and wear and tear from the road. They’re designed to be durable and look sleek on top of your vehicle. Unlike the giant box style of softshell rooftop tents, hardshell options are typically low-profile to reduce wind drag compared to the soft shell.
A big perk of hardshell rooftop tents is that they are usually super easy and fast to set up and pack away. Usually, all you have to do is unlatch a couple latches and it pops right open. I can literally set my current tent up in 45 seconds.
The downside of hardshell rooftop tents is that they typically aren’t as spacious as the softshell models. Most hardshells can sleep two adults comfortably but three would definitely be a crowd.
Hardshell rooftop tents are a fantastic option if you spend a lot of time overlanding and are looking for a rugged, quick, and reliable home-away-from-home, a place to lay your head, shut your eyes, and catch some dreams at the end of day on the trail.
A Good Night’s Sleep
When it comes to choosing where to sleep when you’re out on the trail, it’s really a matter of personal preference because only you can decide what’s most comfortable for you and how much you want to spend. All of the options I’ve discussed are popular among campers and fellow adventurers. Some are more comfortable than others, some are easier to set up, but it’s all about what best fits your needs.
I know when I’m overlanding and filming my adventures, being able to sleep comfortably is what keeps me going (that and coffee--you know I need my morning cup of caffeine to start the day off right).
Overlanding with great people in the great outdoors is always a memorable experience and being well-rested and ready the next day just makes everything that much better.