The Easiest Way to Camp in a Tent

Devil’s Tower National Monument, WY
Car Top on factory rails and VW manufacturer Cross Bars at Canyonlands National Park, UT

About Me

Hi, I’m Ray Graham, an active camper and retired U.S. Army Colonel. My wife, Diane, and I enjoy camping and travel, experiencing the feel of being outside, in nature, spending time at our destination, not in the campground.

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What is easier than tent camping but cheaper than buying an RV?  Car top tent camping!  There are a wide range of car top tents, at various price points.  If you are thinking about this option to camp, this can be a viable and cost effective way to do it. I grew up camping, camped as a Boy Scout, and camped in the Army (they called it field training), all in tents. After retirement, my wife and I wanted to travel and enjoy the outdoors experience of camping. We had the time, desire and a small nest egg. Having accumulated tents and camping gear over the years, we set out with the tent, quickly realizing this was not as quick and easy as it used to be. We wanted something easier to set up and take down, transport, and be comfortable in. I looked into RV’s, but they are expensive and I don’t have a place to store one. Also, the more research I did, the more I disliked the maintenance and upkeep. Those things that make an RV convenient, like showers, toilets and appliances, are some of the things hard to maintain, and can be dirty, stinky and expensive.

Costs More Than a Tent, But Less Expensive than an RV

Cost.  This is a show stopper for many.  It is always a more expensive option than tent camping.  The roof top tents range in cost from several hundred to a few thousand dollars.  How you will mount it on the car can add to this.  If your roof rails cannot support the weight of the tent, you’ll have to add aftermarket rails from companies like Yakima or Thule.  If you don’t have crossbars for your roof rails, you’ll need to buy that too.  These costs add up.  Maybe the most obvious of all is the vehicle you will put your tent on.  Many cars are difficult to add racks to, and some compact SUVs are too small for the dimensions of the tent.  If you have a suitable vehicle and are willing to pay for the tent and the method of safely putting it on your vehicle, you can get many years of fun adventure without paying for the cost of an RV, and storing it when not in use.

Convenience.  Once you have a roof top tent, you have to consider where you will store it, because it is a large rectangle that weighs about 100 pounds (on average).  Then, how you will put in on and off your car before and after trips.  Most take two people, or a pulley or winch system to put it on an off.  Once you do have it on your car, you generally will leave it on for your whole trip (some people with clamshell style tents leave them on their jeeps and trucks year round).  Once on your vehicle, it is very easy to pop up and take down.

Bang for the Buck.  If you prefer car camping, go frequently, and want an easier, off the ground camping experience, you may find this is the perfect thing for you.  

We have had a Yakima Skyrise 3 roof top tent for several years, and have used it with two different SUVs, and now a tent trailer (Yakima Easy Rider).  I will post blogs about our experiences and why we transitioned from the roof of the car to an adventure trailer, our lessons learned, and how to camp and boondock with a tent trailer with minimal services or amenities. 


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