Roof Top Tent Air Camping

Explore the magic of the great outdoors in a cozy bedroom floating in the mid air. The roof top tent is nothing new to this world, in fact it has been around the world since the 1950's. And yet still offers a simple solution of sleeping on the top of your vehicle or trailer.

The whole idea was pioneered and constantly improved by the Italian Autohome, a company with a large range of  roof top tents available worldwide today. Other manufacturers followed the same idea, and today you have a variety of makes and models to choose from.

At a first glance it might seem like the perfect companion for those real hard core and off the beaten track Safari adventures. Well in fact it is, that's for sure, but this tent can be a comfortable bed in everyday life as well. You can use it just for the weekend or to travel around the world if you want.

Easy to install on aftermarket roof racks such as Thule or Yakima, it's your bedroom up in the air with your bedding ready to go, just waiting for your next adventure. When you reach your destination, pop up the tent, put the ladder on the side, climb up and enjoy your bedroom high above the ground. No poles or pegs needed, unless you have an awning for extra equipment.

And when the season is over, just store the tent in your garage. You can even lift it up below the ceiling with using special levers.

Volkswagen Beetle with a roof top tent.
Volkswagen Baywindow camper with a roof top tent from 3 Dog.

Fits on most vehicles

The versatility of this roof top tent comes from the fact, that it can be installed on almost any kind of vehicle or trailer using roof racks. Even on any kind of a camper van or a mini van, allowing the van to be used either as storage place, living space or sleeping quarters for extra two or three or people. A very practical camper van conversion.

These tents come in many shapes and sizes. Some of them open up like a book and have a classic tent look, while others use the pop up approach using the scissor lift system or gas rams, either opening straight up or in a V-shape style which describes opening at the rear part. Depending on the size, they will sleep from two to four people comfortably.

Classic Roof Top Tent

Classic tents use marine grade plywood or a fiberglass and plywood sandwich for the base. They're made from two hinged base plates, which with the help of pulling the ladder, open up like a book, unfolding the fabric via special framework to a tent shape and then using the ladder again to support the open part of the tent. All roof tents come standard with a comfortable foam mattress inside.

Volkswagen T3/Vanagon with a pop top roof and a roof top tent.
Volkswagen Transporter with two Autohome roof top tents.

Two classic models

Being able to extend to either side of the vehicle, the classic type tent can be considerably larger then pop up tents, thus allowing up to four people to sleep inside. In my Autocamp Family 190 I had one of the largest beds in the air, measuring a whopping 190 x 200cm (6.2 x 6.5ft). You can't beat the size in any leisure vehicle.

The tents have large openings in the front and rear plus at least a couple of windows on the sides to allow maximum air circulation. All openings are protected with mosquito nets and fly sheets. Various types of breathable all weather fabrics are used for maximum comfort.

When closed, the classic tent comes covered with a tarpaulin cover, allowing bedding and some camping gear to be stored underneath. On the image above, you can see a Volkswagen Transporter with two identical Autohome roof tents mounted on the roof, one of course is opened while the other is covered up and ready to go. A excellent option for larger family adventures.

Pop Up Roof Top Tents

The pop up tents use the fiberglass sandwich for both, the base and the roof and look like a large roof box when closed. They are fully erect in a couple of minutes using a special lever.

These all weather tents are well insulated inside and use high quality breathable and waterproof fabric for comfort. Two or three openings are usually possible, so if you want to sneak out at night for a beer, just remember to put the ladder on your side! The inside sports pockets for your belongings and even a reading light incorporated in the interior headliner.

Camper van conversion with a Maggiolina roof top tent from Autohome.
SUV with the Maggiolina roof top tent from Autohome.

Italian world famous - Autohome Magigolina

When closed, there is some storage room under the cover for your bedding and some camping gear.The fiberglass cover can also carry sport equipment such as kayaks, surfboards and so on using roof racks.

This model also comes in another version, where the top is opened in a V-shape form, meaning that it has hinges up front.

The only downside of pop up tents is the fact, that they are limited by the width of average vehicles. The largest model on the market is 160cm (5.2ft) wide, which is great for a couple and a little tight, when you have a couple of small kids with you. But if two people use the van to sleep in, you'll have a dream room up in mid air.

Which Model To Choose From?

By now, your probably wondering which model is more comfortable or practical. Well, this is a tricky one. Equipped with a mattress and a couple of pillows, they beat any classic camping tent in terms of comfort. So does sleeping on the roof of your vehicle away from humidity, water and local wildlife.

The pop up tent is operated much easier than the classic roof tent. It opens in a couple of minutes with a special lever, while the classic models have to be uncovered first and then opened up using the ladder, so I guess this makes the pop up tents more practical when constantly moving around.

Small camper with a roof top tent.

On the other side, classic roof top tents open to one side of the vehicle, allowing you to sleep horizontally and for that reason can be much wider inside if you need more room. So at the end, I guess this is your call.

As you can see from the images on this page, there are actually some variations you can make using two tents on the van's roof if need to. If you wish to boost your sleeping capacity in a van and need to have your gear organized and a proper kitchen under the rear lid of your vehicle, a camping box will take care of your needs here. A compact and very practical solution combined with a roof top tent.

Most companies in the roof top tent business, like Autohome for example, provide a line of accessories such as awnings, changing rooms and winter hoods if you want to bite the winter cold.

However, none of them will provide you with the information about wind resistance. Well just for the info that I picked up somewhere on the net, there was a test with the fully opened Maggiolina tent driving on the highway. The fabric started shredding at about 130km/h (81mph), which is a pretty good indication of the tents capability.

When strong winds come around, you have to decide for yourself.  I looked for shelter behind buildings or trees but when things really get harsh, just pack up the whole tent and stay in your vehicle or the local bar. No tent survives gale force winds, neither will these.   

Overall, the roof top tent is a very practical and comfortable piece of camping equipment, made from high quality materials and with a little bit of regular attention it will last for decades.

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