Solving the rooftop tent dilemma… Sort of…

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Test driving CVT’s mattress.

We’re heading on a three-week trek to the Yukon and Alaska this summer, and after a first night tent failure on our inaugural expedition to Overland Expo West last year, the dilemma of  what type of shelter to go with for this trip was forefront in my mind. While the tent failure didn’t spell the end of our trip, it certainly put a damper on this first 24 hours and had us second guessing our equipment for the remainder of the week–and that was just a one week trip. Spending three weeks in one of the most unpredictable climates on the continent with nothing but a tent to call home, makes you really want to make sure you have the right one. I doubt we’re the only ones who have endlessly debated this decision, so hopefully by sharing our decision process, we can commiserate, and perhaps help others skip a few steps.

To begin with, we decided we would join the ranks of trucks with rooftop tents. We wanted something quick to deploy and pack up so we can spend more time enjoying the location, and less time setting up and tearing down. Also, with a two-door Wrangler, being able to move a mattress and sleeping bag into the tent permanently frees up valuable real estate in the cab. Little did we know, that would mean sifting through the seemingly endless new manufacturers peddling the flip top shelters, and frankly… they all start to look the same. All we wanted was a durable tent that will stand up to the elements, not completely break the bank. Easier said than done.

To begin with, we had to eliminate the South African stalwarts. Eezi-Awn and their ilk are clearly the top of the heap, the price tag for getting one in Canada really makes them impractical for us. We’re starting out, after all. So with those off the table you can look at the other end of the spectrum. For the highly budget conscious, there’s options like Smittybilt’s Overlander tent that will certainly do the job, but you definitely compromise on quality.

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Cochrane Toyota’s Parts Manager, Kyle George, sharing his RTT expertise.

With heads thoroughly spinning with all the options (Expedition Portal’s round up clearly demonstrates how daunting the selection process can be), we turned to the expertise of Kyle George, Cochrane Toyota‘s parts manager and Toyota overlanding expert extraordinaire. Kyle doesn’t just sell rooftop tents. He uses them. A lot. And he’s tried a lot of different models and can zero in on what’s important to you. So with us looking at something in a mid price range and a reputation for good quality and customer service, Kyle helped us narrow things down to Cascadia Vehicle Tents, and Tepui Tents.

Here’s the best lesson we took away from our crash course: Bottom line, any tent at this price point will meet our needs. So don’t drive yourself crazy debating the details.

After getting hands on with both CVT and the Tepui models, there really wasn’t anything that made one brand or the other stand out. They both have a solid base product available in a wide variety of sizes and configurations. The quality of their standard units is very comparable, and after seeing them, I wouldn’t hesitate to make any of them home for three weeks in Alaska. But just because you’ve narrowed it down to a couple brands, doesn’t mean the decisions are over. Do you need an extended vestibule (EV)? An enclosed annex? How much space? What about the ruggedized versions? Are those worth the extra money? Those are questions we just can’t answer without trying them out. It’s really about personal preference.

So here’s what we’re going to do: We’re gonna try a couple out with two very different setups, and see which features we like, which we don’t, which are superfluous, and which ones just aren’t worth the extra cash.

We don’t want to make this a battle of brands, so we are getting two from the same manufacturer. There’s plenty of tents out there of similar quality. We want this to be more of a comparison of features to help others determine to spend their (many) hard-earned dollars on.

So without further ado… here’s our homes for three weeks this year.

Kevin’s Tacoma will be sporting CVT’s Mt. Shasta

CVT_Mt_Shasta
Courtesy of CVT

And my Wrangler will be going with CVT’s new Summit Series Mt. Bachelor.

CVT_SS_Mt_Bachelor

Kevin’s is CVT’s standard model, but it’s an EV model, while mine is the heavy duty version of the Mt. Shasta, without the extended vestibule.

So we’ll be determining if there’s any value to spending significantly more on a rugged version (although the spec sheet sounds amazing and Kyle was clearly impressed with is experience), and if the added bulk of an EV model pays off.

The tents are on order now, so stay tuned for an in-depth look at each one as soon as we can get our hands on them. Then later this year, we’ll see how they perform on a three week expedition that will take us from Calgary, to beyond the Arctic Circle.

No pressure CVT…

-Matt

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