[Toronto Star] Camping in comfort with a rooftop tent

With public health orders to socially distance and strong recommendations to put those sun-destination vacations on hold, many Canadian’s fell back in love with the great outdoors over the past year. Camping provided a way for people to get away from it all (as far as restrictions allow) and stay physically apart from those who were not part of their bubble.

Many folks are perfectly happy sleeping in a tent on the ground, but for those who may be new to the world of camping or just prefer a certain level of comfort, trying to figure out how those poles work or having only a piece of material separating you from nature, can be a bit daunting. A better camping option may be one of the cool ways you can utilize your vehicle as your home away from home.

If you’re willing to invest a little money, rooftop tents take things to a whole new level of camping comfort. These deluxe tents are set up in minutes and come with a mattress built in. They live on your car roof and, when you are ready to use it, spring open similar to a pop-up trailer.

For the past four years Kevin Rego, who lives in Cambridge, Ont., has gone camping with his wife, two kids (ages 13 and nine) and their dog using a rooftop tent. He said the family loves it. “What initially attracted me to these was that because you’re up off the ground, a change of weather isn’t going to cause an overnight mishap, but also you’re safe from being a snack for any wildlife,” said Rego.

Rooftop tents are a bit of an investment. You could spend a few thousand for a top model and there are a number of add-ons, such as awnings and thermal liners for winter camping, you can also purchase. Peter Sugura, regional manager of Rack Attack, which has four Ontario locations selling various brands of rooftop tents, said that as long as your vehicle has a roof rack, it more than likely can support one. He said you can even mount one of a smaller car, like a Mini Cooper. The iKamper SkyCamp Mini, for example, sleeps two and is compact. Other rooftop tent options can sleep up to five. You just need to have the right vehicle to support them, he said.

“Most prospective rooftop tent customers are unaware that they will usually need an aftermarket racking system to house the tent,” said Sugura. He advised you speak to your outfitter about the model of tent you are considering purchasing and whether your vehicle can support it.

As easy as they are to set up, getting the tent unit on and off the roof of your vehicle can be a challenge as they can weigh between 80 and 200 pounds. Most people will keep them on for the entire camping season. You may also encounter parking issues in some condo garages because of the extra height it adds to your vehicle, said Mike Gorev, co-owner of Toronto-based Red Bear Outdoors.

“When I lived downtown, I had to park on the street that whole time [it was on my vehicle],” said Gorev. “But it is worth it. We get so many testimonials from customers after they buy a rooftop tent. They could never go back to camping any other way. It’s like travelling with an outdoor condo.”

If you do not want a rooftop model, there are other options available, including SUV, trucks and car tents that attach to your vehicle and provide extra room while camping. These tents run between $200 and $500. If you have enough space in your vehicle you can fold down the seats and sleep there, or in the bed of your pickup, and use the tent as an extra space for relaxing, storage or food preparation.

“It’s like adding a living room to your bedroom,” said Rod Matin of TruckTentsCanada.com.

No tent, no problem. It is possible to just sleep in your vehicle – though, it will be more comfortable it is a larger model, like an SUV. Sean Blackwood, camping expert and store manager at MEC in Toronto, said that even though your seats may fold down, they’re unlikely to fold completely flat, so you’ll want to use a thick sleeping pad or an inflatable mattress.

One important thing to remember, he said, is condensation. Your windows will likely be covered in moisture if you sleep in your car. “You just have to crack the window and hope for the best. You might wake up and roll your windows down to get some fresh air in, otherwise, it might get pretty moist,” said Blackwood. “Sleeping in a moisture-wicking garment will help keep you cool and stop you from adding to the condensation issue.”

And, if you do plan to use your vehicle for extra light and heat while camping, be careful about its battery. “Some of us have learned the hard way how easy it is to kill your battery,” said Blackwood.

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