Before we left on our expedition to Alaska (AK), the Yukon (YT) and Northwest Territories (NWT), and British Columbia (BC), we did a little write up with first impressions and comparisons (link here) between a couple of Cascadia Vehicle Tents’ (CVT) roof top tents (RTTs). The link also includes pictures for a visual comparison. 1 year later including 3 weeks of daily use up north and a handful of smaller trips throughout Alberta, we’ve put together our thoughts.
If you haven’t read our previous post, I, Kevin (Tacoma), had the standard Mt. Shasta with the extended vestibule (EV). It is now called the Mt. Shasta Extended Pioneer and listed on their website at $1895 USD. Matt (Jeep) had one of the first Summit Series Mt. Shasta RTTs without the EV. That one is still called Mt. Shasta Standard Summit and listed on their website at $2495 USD. It’s important to note that they are now all stargazers (can open on the top of the tent) and have gone through some changes (hopefully for the better). Neither of our tents were stargazers. Also, for pricing, one should compare between two equivalent tents – ie. extended Pioneer with extended Summit and standard Pioneer with standard Summit. There’s a $900 USD difference between equivalent tents to upgrade from a Pioneer to a Summit.
Remember: Kevin – Tacoma, Mt. Shasta Extended (Pioneer). Matt – Jeep, Summit Series Mt. Shasta Standard (not extended)
So let’s get started!
Extended vs Standard
Kevin: I found it useful to leave stuff under and keep dry. Also, the larger annex was great for the one time we used it to shower. Had no problems with wind picking it up and was easy to secure with guy lines if needed. Easy to tuck in additional fabric for packing up once I got used to it. The annex was included in my tent and zipped around the extended part to enclose even the ladder. This was awesome when needed but for daily moves, it was a bit of a pain and I didn’t end up using the annex much. You’re also supposed to slide the truck side of the annex into the same channel as the travel cover but for $30-45 USD, you can buy an annex channel to bolt on so you don’t have to take the travel cover off each time you want to put the annex on. That being said, I think it worked fine being just being zipped up. It also comes with a floor but I didn’t bother bringing that. Instead I used x4 interlocking foam mats which was light weight and served a variety of purposes from having a clean floor to having a work surface.
Matt: The only time I found myself wanting an EV is when climbing up while it’s raining. As soon as you touch the rain fly while your entering the tent, it wants to send all the collected water straight down your back. If you don’t have shoe bags, then the EV would be nice to keep the ladder dry while you make your way down, but that wasn’t an issue for me.
Not having the EV means the space for the annex is pretty small. Basically enough for a change/shower room, and a bit of undercover storage. Any more than two people sitting inside would get pretty tight. For the Summit Series, the annex slides into the aluminum tracks, like the travel cover and shoe bags. While it is fairly secure, it is a bit of work to get everything slid into place. The heavier duty canvas is a bit unwieldy to try and line up with the channels. An extra set of hands is a big help.
But back to the EV, one thing I loved about having not having one, is being able to look out the door and see the view. It’s a great way to wake up.
Kevin: All parts of the tent stayed water tight. I wore earplugs most noisy nights so I didn’t notice any of the fabric flapping around. That being said, unlike our trip down to Arizona for Overland Expo West, there wasn’t hurricane force winds, whirling debris, or flying bison to worry about. It was nice having thinner fabric as it appeared easier to bunch up pack up the next morning. Also kept the overall weight of the tent down.
Matt: Thicker ripstop and extra waterproofing to me is more of a mental reassurance that it can take whatever is thrown at it. But I don’t think the standard fabric would fail in many circumstances based on our experience. I can say, however, after having mine in a windstorm where a ground tent was lifted off it’s pegs, I hardly even noticed the fabric moving inside. It seemed like the Jeep shook more than the tent. Also, if you’re tough on your gear, the thicker ripstop might hold up better over the long run, but we can’t confirm that yet.
Zippers and Toggles
Kevin: There weren’t many differences between the two in this regard. All of them functioned well.
Matt: The travel cover zipper can be stubborn, but keeping a bar of paraffin wax handy took care of that as soon as it became an issue. I did find some of the stitching on a few of my toggle loops wanted to come loose. Used Shoe Goo to reinforce them, just in case.
Kevin: the mattresses were the same and both were surprisingly comfortable. I didn’t have to add anything extra except during winter camping when I laid down a thermarest as well (although I’m unsure if this actually helped or not). Biggest difference was the mattress cover – Matt’s was waterproof and mine was just water resistant. I usually went into my tent dry and more or less clean-ish so this didn’t make as much of a difference for me. I haven’t noticed any odours from the mattress. My infant son vomited on it once but it stayed beaded up on the top of the cover long enough for me to wipe it before it set in.
Matt: This was probably one of my favourite features of the Summit series. On nights when the condensation got really bad and dripped from the roof to the mattress, I literally had puddles on my mattress that didn’t soak in and were easily wiped up. I crawled in soaking wet and muddy a few times. Just pushed the bedding out of the way and was able to quickly wipe up the water and mud after getting changed. If you’re going to be using these in really wet or snowy situations, you’ll love the waterproof cover but for normal use, it’s more of a nice perk.
Anti Condensation Mat
Kevin: There was usually quite a bit of condensation built up inside the tent especially when we camped out near rivers or during/after rain. The mattress and floor seemed to stay dry but I have no comparison. Just seemed like a good idea for daily use. My tent didn’t come with one so I had to purchase it separately. You can get one for $105-175 USD depending on the size.
Matt: I didn’t have condensation soaking in from the bottom where the mat is, but I also had the waterproof cover. Definitely still had a lot of condensation on the walls and ceiling when the temperature dropped.
Kevin: My tent came with a sliding ladder. There is one pre-drilled hole for the ladder to lock into but I ended up drilling two others – one above and one below. Of course it’s advised that you don’t as elongating the ladder can make it more unstable but for me, it seemed to hold out just fine. Of course you can buy a ladder extension for $70 USD or simple throw a stool, log, or rocks under the ladder to position it as needed.
Matt: The telescopic ladder on the Summit Series is definitely a plus for being able to quickly adapt to a variety of terrain and keep the tent somewhat level but the latch system can be a bit finicky, and at times you feel like you need a third hand.
The aluminum tubing on the telescopic ladder is very sturdy and I never felt insecure climbing on it and that’s coming from someone who isn’t a fan of heights.
Overall the versatility of the telescopic ladder is a real plus for the Summit Series, especially if you’re expecting unpredictable terrain.
Internal Frame – Bare or Fabric Wrapped
Kevin: I ended up liking the bare frame for a couple reasons – 1. it was thinner to pack up and 2. it let me easily put my own LED lights up. At times, condensation would build up on the frame.
Matt: I didn’t really notice it either, but the one thing I thought of is if you’re in sub-zero temperatures, those poles could freeze your skin, especially if you rolled over to one in your sleep. If I was planning to do a lot of winter camping with it, I’d wrap the lower parts of the poles on a standard version, just to be safe.
Kevin: My tent did not come with a light. Instead, I got x3 LED light bar kits from IKEA, secured them to the frame with double sided tape and zip ties, and ran the wires to a power bar at the side of the tent that faces the back of my truck. Then I ran an extension cord to my inverter in the truck bed for power. I could still close all my covers on the tent and truck with no problems. If I could do it over again, I’d get the bulk light bar strips as it’d be cheaper. Lights were a final detail and I was in a rush. Ended up installing them in northern BC at camp.
Matt: Great to have it already built in, but not a must have from the factory. Easy add on, or just leave a small lantern in one of the pockets.
USB Charging Ports
Kevin: My tent did not come with USB charging ports. However, my power bar for my LED lights had plenty of plugs left as well as USB charging ports. I also had an inverter in my cab that I used to charge other electronics.
Matt: Definitely not a must have, but I used mine every night. Nice to have it built into the pole and out of the way. Wouldn’t be a deciding factor for me though. There’s plenty of options for keeping things charged. But when you’re paying that much more for a tent, you’ll take whatever perks you can get.
Kevin: My tent does not come with diamond plating, just the plastic composite. The diamond plating likely provides way more protection but I’ve bashed the underside of mine plenty getting it on and off, standing on top to pack it, etc. without any problems. Some scratches but no dents yet. I’m probably not heavy enough. Also appreciate weight savings without diamond plating.
Matt: I’m a bit bigger, so I liked the diamond plating when I was walking or kneeling on it while folding it up. It’s a must have with the telescopic ladder though. The ladder beat up the diamond plate plenty. Can’t imagine what it would do to a standard base.
Kevin: No problems with the rain fly. Only thing would be that since it’s an extended, there was more material and it would get bunched up when packing up the tent but after figuring out it just had to be stuffed in better, it wasn’t an issue.
Matt: Had problems with the eyelets on the first one. They’ve since been completely re-engineered and are fantastic. Heavily reinforced. No concerns with it at all now. And CVT sent the new one, no questions asked.
Tie Down Straps
Kevin: Having 2 total worked out fine. It was a great mechanism to help cinch everything down before putting the travel covers on. I usually climbed on top to help push everything together a little more. No wear detected yet.
Matt: On the Summit, there’s 4 straps instead of 2. Made it possible to cinch it down really tight which is a big help since the heavier fabric is tougher to compress.
Kevin: Proper placement of the travel cover was essential to easier zipping up so once I figured that it, packing up got a lot easier. There was no reinforcement needed over the ladder as the sliding ladder did not wear the cover.
Matt: The travel cover had a reinforced flap that would fit over top the telescoping ladder to help protect the integrity of the cover.
Travel Cover Straps
Kevin: They worked out fine. No wear detected yet.
Matt: The thicker straps on the first version weren’t great. They frayed easily, making them difficult to thread through the heavy duty buckles. That has since been addressed, and after some heavy treatment from a BIC lighter, mine work just fine. Again, I don’t think these would be a deciding factor for me, but I definitely felt confident reefing on them to cinch down the cover. The reinforced cover over the ladder is a bit tricky to get lined up right until you get used to it.
Kevin: My tent did not come with shoe holders but you can buy a single one for $30 USD or a pair for $50 USD. After I McGyver’d up some “d-rings”, I just hung small foldable wire and mesh laundry basket next to my ladder to transport things in and out of the tent and leave my shoes there at night.
Matt: Really loved these. They hold more than just shoes, so I was able to keep a few things right at hand. One side is also mesh if you want to let something dry in there. Kept everything completely dry on the enclosed side, even without the extension. Not a necessity, but these were really well designed in my opinion.
Kevin: Again, my tent did not come with any built on. However, they still had some channels along the edges. I got some 5/16 tubing, ran a zip tie through it and tied it off. I snipped the extra bit off and voila! Light duty d-rings I could slide back and forth in the channel. Good enough to hold my makeshift shoe/clothing holder, a clothes line, lantern, etc. Some of my zip ties I attached a carabiner for easier clipping in and out.
Matt: Worked great. Nice to have but there are other DIY options.
Interior Bungee Cords
Kevin: DO NOT USE. Tears away at the weather stripping on the inside. Just take them off and now you have extra bungee cords! They were intended to bring the fabric between the frame in to make packing easier but I’d rather do that manually than deal with torn weather stripping later down the road.
Matt: Mine came with them. I never installed them. Just pushed the fabric in when folding. Not enough of a benefit to have the extra strain on the fabric and obstructions inside.
Kevin: My tent weighed about 125lbs. It is just light enough for me to push it up a makeshift ramp for independent installs and removals (see our Instagram for a picture of that!)
Matt: They say mine is 150lbs and I definitely felt every bit of it. With that much weight it would be better on a truck bed rack instead of on a roof but it’s doable on the roof. Definitely something to consider if you’re going to be loading and unloading yourself though.
Kevin: The $900 USD difference was too much for me to justify the perks. I spent about $200 USD on additions and modifications (anti condensation mat, d-rings, LED lighting, power bar, etc.) to make the tent what I felt to be “good enough” for the foreseeable future. All the features in my tent were sufficient for the occasional long term overlanding expedition and certainly more than sufficient for the 3-7 day camping trips.
Matt: If it’s something you’re going to use day in and day out for a year or something, then the extra $800 is a small price to pay for extra durability and peace of mind. But if you’re just using it for typical recreational camping, or shorter expeditions like ours, then I think the standard is more than enough.
There are certainly many more options to choose from now including Tepui, Treeline Outdoors, Smittybilt, Cap-It, etc. It’s important to know that, generally, they all come from similar factories in China. Distributors will just choose different feature sets to try to set them apart from the competition. That being said, build quality will likely be similar for most tents – it just comes down to what you find valuable and worth the investment. When making purchases, we often adhere to the budget overlander’s mantra – “Get what you need, not necessarily what you want”.