nimblecamper car tents 1 - Pros and cons of car tents - when to buy one and which type

Pros and cons of car tents – when to buy one and which type

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If you are thinking about taking your everyday car for a camping trip and sleeping in it, there are more ways to do it. This post is about one of the most comfortable ways of camping in any car – a car tent, whether a roof tent, a hatch/tailgate tent or any bigger tent you can fit over your tailgate. Other popular ways of sleeping in your car are a DIY camping conversion, a camping box (what is it?) or just throwing a simple mattress into the boot with folded seats.

What types of car tents are there?

You might come across several variations of an SUV tent/hatchback tent – some attach to the car at the back, some at the side, some stay on the roof, others cover only the boot opening and don’t touch the floor and some are just awnings to give you rain and sun cover. The most frequently used types of car/suv tents are:

suv tent boot - Pros and cons of car tents - when to buy one and which type

Tailgate tents (hatchback/boot tents)

Here you can find either big tents that cover the boot opening + create additional space behind the car (freestanding) – or – smaller boot tents that don’t touch the ground, just extend the boot opening area a bit + protect it against rain or mosquitoes.
Typical price range: 50 – 800 EUR

There are quite a few on offer at Amazon, but I haven’t tested them – most are boot covers only. They work more like a mosquito net rather than a tent and I wouldn’t recommend them. Not much rain cover, additional space or privacy. You are much better off buying a normal family tent that is big enough to cover the entire boot (but not too big to leave too much room between the boot opening). You can then either fit it over the tailgate or even the side door.

Side door tents

Here you can find either big tents that cover the boot opening + create additional space behind the car (freestanding) – or – smaller boot tents that don’t touch the ground, just extend the boot opening area a bit + protect it against rain or mosquitoes.
Typical price range: 50 – 800 EUR

caddy tent awning 8 - Pros and cons of car tents - when to buy one and which type

When to buy a tailgate or side door tent?

  • when camping for an extended duration, where you need more living room
  • when sleeping more people
  • (all the camping gear, standup paddle, bicycle etc…)

Here are some of the best tailgate tents in terms of what you get for the price:

suv tents awnings - Pros and cons of car tents - when to buy one and which type

Awnings

Protecting you from the sun or light rain, these don’t do much for sleeping or additional floor space, just create more shade. They come usually in three versions: rear (boot), side door and 270 degrees (rear & side door)
Typical price range: 30 – 150 EUR (cheaper Amazon ones) or 150 – 2000 EUR bigger and higher quality ones

Car awnings are a good addition if you are staying at a campsite for longer, you can put them up together with a tailgate or a roof tent. The tailgate/roof tent can be used as an additional bedroom or storage space, and the awning will create a “lounge/dining area” type of space – put a table with a lounger underneath and you’ll be very comfy indeed.

When to buy a car awning?

  • when camping for an extended duration, where you need more living room
  • when protection from the sun and/or rain is needed
  • as an addition to your car tent/rooftop tent

Shopping from the UK? Check out Tent and Trail’s selection of Awnings with free UK mainland delivery.

Rooftop tents – tents for car roofs

Move your bedroom to the roof… Handy if you don’t have any sleeping room in the back of your car or you need it for storage, or you want to sleep more than two people in a small car. On the other hand – you need to climb the ladder each time you want something from there. Great for sleeping (higher up, safer, more room, additional features like a solar-powered fan), but more expensive. The cheaper ones are soft-shell, the more expensive ones are hard-shell.
Typical price range: 1000 – 4000 EUR

tentandrail roof tent DSC0011 1 - Pros and cons of car tents - when to buy one and which type

Almost any car is the short answer – but you need to make sure the roof of your car can handle the weight of all the people sleeping in the tent + the tent. See this awning guide from tentandrail.com for more info.

All you need is a set of roof bars (rails) or, for bigger tents, you can install a roof rack. Most rooftop tents come equipped with all the materials and tools you need to install them, like Tentandrail.com rooftop tents and awnings. So if you can fit roof bars on top of your car, you should be able to fit a rooftop tent too.

Various estimates for roof boxes and rooftop tents mention an increase between 10% and 17% in fuel consumption. It all depends on the weight, size and built of the rooftop tent

Rooftop tents are becoming increasingly popular – you can pretty much fix one on top of any car with roof bars (rails). They fold down to a flat-packed roof box, some even come with a mattress built-in. All you have to do is erect them once in place and chuck some comfy pillows in.

Rooftop tent PROs
  • great for families with children – sleep two in the car and two (or three) in the rooftop tent
  • higher off the ground – better views, air circulation
  • less area needed for camping – you can basically camp anywhere you can park your car, on flat ground
  • extend your journey duration – you can pack more food, water and gear into your car because the boot is not used for sleeping
  • sleep in any everyday car, no matter what size. As long as you can fit a set of roof bars, you can fit a roof tent on top of it. Very handy if you have a car that has less than 170cm in booth length (sleeping space)
  • quick setup and tear-down (you install the rooftop tent once, then you just erect it easily in a few minutes)
  • higher up = safer from bugs and creepy crawlies
  • higher up = safer from water streams in strong rain
  • a lot cheaper than a campervan, with less maintenance
  • more sleeping room without increasing your consumption too much (10-17% increase, compared to a 50% or higher consumption if you get a campervan or towing a trailer). And you can always remove the tent when not needed for a longer period.
  • if your tent is equipped with windows and skylights, you’ll get to enjoy the night stars and evening breeze.
Rooftop tent CONs
  • more expensive than other car tents
  • increases your car’s consumption (although not as much as you’d burn in a campervan)
  • more noise when driving (especially soft-shell tents)
  • need to drive slower (recommended top speed of 65mph or 100kmh)
  • being higher off the ground means you are more exposed to strong winds. Rooftop tents are designed to handle that, but be ready for it.
  • increased height of your car – a rooftop tent will add to your total height, be sure you know your total height when entering low tunnels or car parks.
  • day trips – if you want to take your car on a day trip, you’ll need to pack it away

When to buy a rooftop tent?

  • when sleeping more people, very useful for families with children in a small car
  • when you need the car for storage (all the camping gear, standup paddle, bicycle etc…)


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