The wind is roaring through the trees and shaking the jeep. There’s enough different types of rain pouring down to make even Forrest Gump run out of descriptors. I can hear frantic shouting from surrounding campsites as tents begin to submit to the weather in the middle of the night–not to mention the variety of shoddy tarp contraptions that are rapidly turning into wind socks. Normally this midnight mayhem would equal a complete camping bust, but for me, I’m strangely excited. I’m about to find out if an $800 decision will pay off.
It turns out the shores of Beaver Mines Lake in southern Alberta is the perfect spot to try out the new Summit Series roof top tent from Cascadia Vehicle Tents (CVT). For their Shasta Summit Series will set you back a cool $800 over the standard Shasta, so ever since mine got bolted down, I’ve been looking forward seeing if the premium price is justified ($2,095US… don’t get me started on what that is in Canadian dollars).
If you’re reading this hoping to make a call on whether or not to pull the trigger on these rugged version roof top tents, I only spent two nights in the thing, so I’m not prepared to give it a full stamp of approval. But I think a couple nights that emulate a frigid tropical storm (yes, I’m aware that doesn’t make sense) are a good start to offer some first impressions.
So here it is: This tent is heavy. Heavy duty canvas. Heavy duty floor. Heavy duty ladder. Heavy duty waterproofing. And just plain heavy. According to CVT it’s only 25lbs heavier than a standard Shasta, but it feels like a lot more when it’s above your head during install. The extra weight, however, is much appreciated when the wind gets to howling. The 380g poly ripstop canvas hardly seems to move. Likewise the 1” aluminum material wrapped frame is very stout and I didn’t see any signs of movement even in very high winds.
I inspected the tent for any signs of leaky seams or areas where waterproofing wasn’t complete and couldn’t find any compromised areas. Judging how it stood up to driving rain, I didn’t miss anything. The rain fly also extends out far enough that even with the door open, rain didn’t make it into the interior.
Overall, everything about this tent seems built. The diamond plate on the bottom covering the honeycomb aluminum base, clearly takes a beating compared to a standard floor, and the telescopic ladder seems solid (albeit a tad finicky to set up).
One feature that instantly made an impression on me is the waterproof cover that goes over the 2.5” thick high density foam mattress. In the pouring rain I could climb up, push the bedding aside, and get changed without water soaking into the foam. A quick wipe with a towel and I could slide the sleeping bag back, keeping everything completely dry. The anti condensation mat (a $55 option on standard models) has the same goal, though I can’t confirm whether it works or not. No signs of condensation on this trip.
Everything above is what you’re paying the extra $800 for. The rest, in my opinion, is just bling. They’re definitely nice-to-haves, but certainly not worth paying extra for. There’s a 12v cord that you can run to your vehicle’s auxiliary outlet. This powers an interior dome light and two USB ports. While these are cool, they’re by no means necessary. I was, however, really impressed with how bright the light was, but it does seem to flicker slightly. Most people have at least one USB charging port in their vehicle, so while it’s nice to have them in the tent, I doubt it will ever be something I couldn’t do without.
Finally, the Summit Series comes with two “shoe rack/holders.” My hiking boots easily fit inside, but there’s nothing in the instructions about where to hang them, etc… So I just ended up using the velcro straps to hang it from the fly support rods. I’m sure there’s a simple answer to this, but in the midst of a rainstorm, I wasn’t really into troubleshooting. They did the job of keeping my shoes dry and accessible, but it’s a feature (along with the light) that are available in much cheaper models.
So overall, I can see why this tent runs an extra $800. Have you priced out diamond plate sheets lately? The heavier canvas and waterproofing brings a lot of piece of mind, and I have a lot of optimism as to how this tent will hold up during three weeks in the North.
But as with everything, there’s some areas that need work. They’re not deal breakers for me, but having said that, for a premium tent, I was a little surprised they were overlooked, as I can’t see them adding much to the manufacturing cost. The eyelets for the rain fly are pressed into the 600D Polyester Oxford with a little square of vinyl on either side, I guess to give it some structure. It doesn’t work. The little manufacturing inconsistencies that go with made-in-China tents means some of these grommets want to pull out.So I’ll have to remove the fly and find someone with a heavy duty sewing machine to stitch in some reinforced corners (as they should be in the first place).
The other thing is so simple, it’s infuriating. The final tie down straps that go over the PVC cover go through heavy duty metal buckles, which work great and really let you cinch down the cover. Trouble is, they didn’t melt the ends of the nylon webbing that you feed into the buckle. This webbing was frayed right out of the box, making feeding it through the buckle a struggle, and the “melt with a lighter” approach really didn’t do a great job, so I’ll have to experiment to get a clean edge to avoid future frustration.
These are minor flaws, but I hope they’re addressed in future production runs.
It took a bit of convincing from our buddy Kyle at Cochrane Toyota, but he insisted this was one of the best quality tents he’d seen, and he wasn’t kidding. Overall I’m really happy with the decision to go for the Summit Series. After this outing, I’m completely confident it will hold up over the long term. But we’re not done reviewing this purchase. For any overlander, the choice of shelter is a big decision, and not one that we’ve taken lightly. So we’re going to follow this up with a first impressions of a standard CVT Shasta (although with an extended vestibule), and a direct side by side comparison. Finally, later this year we’ll be able to give a firsthand account of how the two roof top tents fare over three weeks of daily use in Alaska, the Yukon, and Northwest Territories. By then, I hope we can provide enough info to inform a hefty investment.
Edit June 20 – We heard from CVT that they’ve already addressed our few little concerns for future production runs, so now we’re really running out of criticisms… Also provided a lovely snapshot to point out the obvious with the shoe bags… It’s pretty obvious but still claiming impaired judgement due to duress…