HOW TO CHOOSE BETWEEN A ROOF TOP TENT OR GROUND TENT
Dispersed camping and overland travel have afforded our family the option to see places and go on trips we never would have had the opportunity to take otherwise. This was the goal when we made the decision to invest in a roof top tent.
These days, since our family has grown, we actually use both kinds of camping tents. There are pros and cons to each.
The decision to buy a tent is an important one. It's an investment, and we want to help you figure out the best option for your family, whether you enjoy wild camping or more traditional campground digs.
Wondering where to go camping? Check out how we find free campsites in the USA.
A FEW QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF BEFORE BUYING A TENT
- Do you like camping as a family and camping with kids? Is it something you can see yourselves doing for the long haul?
- What kind of camping do you plan to do? Boondocking? Traditional campground?
- What is your budget for a family tent/s? How many tents will you need?
- Do you have the equipment necessary for the kind of tent you're purchasing? If not, do you have the budget for it, as well? (We'll get into more detail about this in the pros and cons below.)
PROS OF A ROOF TOP TENT
A car roof tent is especially helpful when you do a lot of overlanding, off the grid travel, or boondocking with your family. It gives you the option to find free camping spots in places all across the country.
A car top tent pretty much unzips and pops up. We'll talk a bit more about this in the cons, but depending on personal preferences, it can be a really nice set up process.
Also, when we're camping in Big Bend National Park where it's very very hot, we've discovered that the bit of shade it provides from the part that flips over with the ladders, is wonderful.
One thing I love about our CVT tent…
It gets us up off the ground. We don't have to worry much about ground water or critters, and the fact that it's off the ground means it has less of an impact when we're not camping on a tent pad.
CONS OF A CAR ROOF TENT
Believe it or not, there are cons to owning a tent like this.
For one, the initial price can be quite expensive if it's not a true investment for your family. A larger rooftop tent can cost upwards of $2500 or more.
If you're not using a camp trailer, you'll definitely need a roof rack for the tent to sit on top of your car. And if your tent is on top of your vehicle, you'll also need to find level ground to set it up when camping.
Especially if you do a lot of camping in the mountains, you may need to think about building a camp trailer so you can use jacks to level out the tent when the ground isn't level. And then you can leave camp without having to tear down every single day.
Having a roof top tent on your vehicle when you want to go explore means you'll have to take down and set up every day of your trip. You won't be able to just drive away without losing your spot.
Depending on the height of your vehicle, you may need to carry a step ladder to help with set up and take down.
One more con is that you can't simply walk into your tent. There's not enough room to stand upright, so simple things like getting dressed can be more of a chore to do in the tent (unless you add an annex onto your tent).
Wind can be a game changer in any kind of tent, even a durable roof top tent…
Dan would tell you that set up can be a huge pain when it's super windy; and if you're like us camping all over the place in the mountains, the desert, or the plains, you will encounter wind.
We had one particular trip where we went out on BLM land outside Roswell, New Mexico. We'd just gotten everyone settled, when all of a sudden, the wind came gusting like nothing I've ever experienced. It was the scariest thing.
PROS OF A GROUND TENT
If you don't have the money to invest in a rooftop tent, a ground tent can be a much more affordable option. Most ground tents start in the $50 price range, sometimes even cheaper than that depending on the size tent you need.
A ground tent is good for walk in sites, as well. If you do a lot of backpacking or you look for more private walk in sites at campgrounds (kinda like our site at Cosby Campground in the Smoky Mountains), a ground tent may be a better option for you.
CONS OF A TRADITIONAL CAMPING TENT
You have to find a level spot to set up the tent. Level isn't an option in quite a few places, especially if you're overlanding.
When it's cold, you're sleeping on or next to the ground, so you may be a little colder than you would be in a roof top tent.
DECIDING BETWEEN A ROOF TOP TENT OR A GROUND TENT
We have a ground tent for our older two boys because we've kinda outgrown the whole family sleeping in the rooftop tent together. They actually prefer to sleep on the ground too, so it works out well for us.
When you're making your decision, it's important to think about your own family's preferences and the impact your purchase will have on everyone involved.
Ask yourself the questions I mentioned above. Study the pros and cons, and give yourself enough time to make a sound decision.
A tent is such a personal choice for any outdoorsman/woman. It's your home away from home and can actually make or break a trip.
If you're trying to make a decision but just not sure which one to go with, you can always reach out with questions. We have a lot of experience with both kinds of tents and would love to help however we can.
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