Roof Top Tent Trailer: 16 Practical Considerations Before Buying
Last Updated: November 4, 2021
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Roof Top Tent Trailer: 16 Practical Considerations Before Buying
Without a doubt, one of the best parts of camping is being in nature. For some, the more remote and deeper into nature you go, the better your experience gets. If this is you, you have likely come across Roof Top Tent Trailers on your off road trips.
This guide will break down the pros and cons of Roof Top Tent Trailers to help you decide if it’s worth the investment for your camping lifestyle.
Roof Top Tent Trailer: Is an Off Road Trailer Worth It?
Can You Put a Roof Top Tent on a Trailer?
Yes! You can install a Roof Top Tent on a rack that is attached to your vehicle or a trailer.
Whether you opt for elaborate off road trailers that already come with tents included or purchase your roof top tent and trailer separately, roof top tent trailers can be an option for getting you to more remote and remarkable camping spots.
But does it make sense for you? Are Roof Top Tents worth it for your camping needs?
Let’s dive in and see. First, let us tell you a little about our experience with Roof Top Tents and how we came to these conclusions for ourselves.
Let’s back up a little bit… Why are we calling this “off road camping”?
Some people call any kind of camping that isn’t in a paid campground “overlanding”.
Those who have been in the overlanding world way longer than we have are trying to protect the integrity of that term with this defintion.
We are with them. So, we don’t call what we do “overlanding”.
But we do go off road camping when we can. Some people call it “soft roading”.
Whatever you want to call it, for us – it just means you can’t pull a typical trailer to some of the spots we want to go.
So, we need a system to get us deeper into the wild and free camping places we love. Most often, this means taking rougher roads to recreation sites.
Why We Switched to a Roof Top Tent Trailer
So, why did we ditch our perfectly amazing Subaru Outback Roof Top Tent system? And what did we switch to?
Let’s get into the thicket, here.
We think our original off road camping system was amazing for 2-3 days. For longer trips, the three challenges we ran into were:
1. We wanted more freedom.
When we took our Subaru Outback into the woods with our Roof Top tent, that’s where we were stuck. If we wanted to go to a different spot, we had to pack down the tent.
But wait, don’t they claim fast set up / take down for roof top tents?
YES, yes they do. And they are fast. The tent itself is like 3 minutes. So if you are literally just dropping and sleeping for a night? Awesome.
But if you like to settle into a spot with a few more creature comforts, it can take longer to unload and load each time.
We wanted the freedom to set up a basecamp and explore the area around us. Sometimes, those places were more than an hour’s drive away.
While we were in Tofino camping for 9 days, we explored at least one new place that we needed to drive to every day.
2. We wanted more consistency/organization.
Not only did we want freedom while at base camp, but we also wanted a spot for all of our stuff to live, not just while camping.
Our Outback was our daily driver and everything had to be packed in and out every time we wanted to go camping.
With our roof top tent trailer, all of our camping stuff lives in the trailer. No packing in and out – hook it up and go!
3. We wanted more room.
We quickly realized we didn’t have enough room in our Subaru Outback for more than a 3-day getaway.
That doesn’t work when we want to venture off on extended trips of 3 weeks or more like we just did while exploring Vancouver Island.
Our portable refrigerator takes up quite a lot of space but we would never venture out on a short or long trip without it anymore.
We also have a portable firepit with an extra propane tank because our region is typically in a fire ban from June – September.
I could go on and on listing camping essentials for longer trips, but you can see most of our gear listed in our wild and free camping guide.
Does a Roof Top Tent Trailer Make Sense for You?
Maybe, maybe not. First, ask yourself these questions:
1. Where do you like to camp?
Are you someone who wants to be as far from crowds as possible?
► A Roof Top Tent Trailer will help you get back into the bush with a capable tow vehicle.
Or do you love the community of a campground?
► If you don’t need the capability of an off road vehicle, a tent or a trailer might make more sense.
Do you like the thrill of adventure and finding new spots that most people don’t know about? Or do you prefer to have a firm plan with your spot booked weeks or months in advance?
►Similar to the last consideration, you might not need the additional cost of a Roof Top Tent Trailer if you are booked into camping spots.
2. How many creature comforts do you crave?
Are you cool with some quick swipes of shower wipes before bed or do you crave a hot, steamy shower? What about digging a hole vs flushing it down?
► If you are like us and you mostly visit recreation sites, then there are usually pit toilets, but that’s it for amenities. No garbage, no power, no showers – nothing but you and nature. If you go further into the wild, then you are digging catholes.
How fussed are you about having an indoor living space? Are you ok sitting in an Annex or under a tarp during rainy weather or would you prefer to snuggle up to your pet on the sofa in a trailer?
► You cannot stand up in a Roof Top Tent. If you want indoor space to store your stuff or to cook and relax in rainy weather, this is not your best bet. A travel trailer might be calling your name.
3. How often will you go camping?
Are you the adventurous type who pretty much camps whenever they can? Or are you a camper who wants to get out more but can’t seem to find the time?
► This is a big one. If you head out occasionally, this is likely not a wise investment for you. Get a great ground tent and some awesome gear and you are set.
4. Does your Roof Top Tent Need a Trailer?
Do you go for shorter trips or longer adventures? How much gear do you want to bring with you? Are you comfortable with towing? Do you want a basecamp? Do you want to keep your vehicle as a daily driver, or do you want to mod it out as the ultimate adventure vehicle?
► For us, a Roof Top Tent on top of a car or truck works best for those who are going to mod out your vehicle to store all the stuff, or you are a minimalist camper and don’t need a lot of gear.
Roof Top Trailer: Pros vs Cons
Ok, now that we have covered why we switched to a Roof Top Tent Trailer, and a few points to consider if this type of camping even makes sense for you, let’s dive into a list of Pros and Cons we have noticed about our time spent camping in our Roof Top Tent Trailer.
PROS of a Roof Top Tent Trailer
You can have a basecamp
Putting your Roof Top Tent on a Trailer allows you to disconnect your trailer/tent, settle in and then go explore the surrounding area.
You can find free spots
With the added capability of a 4WD vehicle and trailer, you have access to more free and spectacular spots. Wild and free camping is amazing.
Saves space in your car
No more packing stuff in and out of your car every time you want to go camping. Create a system that works for your stuff, and it stays like that.
Cheaper than an RV (?)
Maybe. It depends on how fancy you want to go with either of them. If you combine a well-kitted 4WD, with either a top-of-the-line hard shell roof top tent, or an off road adventure trailer (with a tent included), you could be well over a small RV.
All said and done, our low-end off road trailer and iKamper/Annex was around $16K (Canadian).
Most off road trailers have a kitchen
This is a big deal for us. We love the running water and propane stove that comes with our trailer.
Your daily driver stays that way
If you have a trailer, there is no need to mod out your daily driver into an adventure rig with slides and storage.
A roof top tent offers more comfort than a ground tent. It keeps you off the (potentially muddy) ground, is safer from critters, and offers cool views.
CONS of a Roof Top Tent Trailer
Burns more fuel
Pulling a trailer not only burns more fuel but adds wear and tear to your vehicle. Especially, if you are pulling your trailer off road over rough terraine.
More costs for insurance and registration
Not only do you have the upfront cost of purchasing the trailer, but it comes with its own set of plates and insurance.
It needs to be stored
If you don’t have extra space in your garage or your backyard, you will need to find somewhere else to store it, which could add both cost and inconvenience.
Difficult to maneuver
It’s more difficult to tow a trailer than it is to boot around with the tent on top of your vehicle. Backing up, turning around, and navigating trails all become a little more tricky with a trailer.
It’s a lifestyle that requires a hefty investment upfront. Even if you are opting for a cheaper soft shell tent, the trailers are at least $8K for entry-level new trailers.
As with everything, you get what you pay for. “Pay now, or pay later”, is often the case with these types of systems.
Finding used, good-quality gear is always a great option!
Increased set-up time
Quick set-up time is a selling feature of Roof Top Tents when they are on top of your car. As soon as you add your tent to a trailer, your set-up time goes up between backing up, leveling etc… And if you add an Annex or an awning, that adds more time as well.
However, these added features make your basecamp that much more comfortable and convienient.
Nighttime bathroom hassles
If you are someone who needs to make a few trips throughout the night, climbing the ladder up and down can become a hassle.
Less covered living space
Your Roof Top Tent is for sleeping and that’s it. Well, maybe one other thing… 🙂
You can’t stand up, and if you don’t have an Annex, you have to exit directly into the elements. (Not the best for rainy midnight pees!)
It might be hard to find a spot
Whether you are camping in the wild or in an organized campground, you might have a hard time finding a spot if you have an Annex and an awning.
Once everything is set up, you have a big footprint between your trailer, Annex, awning, and your vehicle.
It is very important to Tread Lightly when camping in the wild, which means you want to avoid sensitive areas. So, you will need to find a wide-open responsible spot to set up.
Organized campgrounds might have long spots, but this type of set-up needs both long and wide to accommodate both an Annex and an awning.
You will have to make your own decisions on whether a Roof Top Tent Trailer makes sense for your camping lifestyle. But here is where we have landed…
After experiencing both a Roof Top Tent on top of a car, and a Roof Top Tent Trailer, we far prefer the trailer option.
Because we wind up spending more time in campgrounds vs the backcountry, we often find ourselves wondering if a small trailer would make more sense for us?
We camp a lot. It takes us up to 2 hours to set up and tear down camp. That’s substantial.
And if we are not headed out into the backcountry for camping and we don’t need that 4WD capability in a trailer, a small RV would make more sense for us. We could park the trailer and boot out to the bush with our 4Runner!
Best Ever Lifestyle Guide Inc. is an independent lifestyle guide for British Columbia based in Kelowna, BC.
We recognize and acknowledge that we live, learn, play and work on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territory of the Syilx Okanagan people.