Roof tents – some thoughts

Roof tents are no longer the novelty they once were, and overlanders tend to be divided between those who see them as essential, and those who see them as expensive luxuries. Of those who  opt for a roof tent, there seem to be a limitless supply of opinions on their ideal use, and also the best models – especially since the large number of cheaper Chinese varieties started appearing in shops.

            Until recently I had a ‘clamshell’-type design on my Camel Discovery here in the UAE, whereas my Defender and Discovery in the UK both have ‘soft shell’ designs that open out like a book. I’ve since replaced the clamshell on my Camel Disco with a soft shell here as well. It’s been interesting to compare the two types with their advantages and disadvantages. Seldom does a month go by without people asking me about recommended use and placement of roof tents on their Land Rovers, so it might be worth passing on the results of that comparison here.

            The clamshell design was an Epic Adventure Equipment model, produced locally. It was 1.2m wide and had windows on each side and at the rear. The front was a sloping sheet of fibreglass that formed the ‘clamshell’ and dropped to a hinge where the sleepers’ feet are. It completely filled the roof rack. The older soft-shell models i the UK are both MyWay tents, one is the Evolution and the other is the Evolution II. Each is 1.4m wide, with windows to front, back and sides. Both open over the back of the Land Rovers and give a shelter over the back door.

            The most immediately obvious difference, apart from the design and structure of the tents, is that with the clamshell tent you give most of your car roof area to the tent floorplan. Land Rover roofs, being dependent on an aluminium structure, often have quite low maximum loads, so a lot of folk don’t use them for loadbearing. In that case, no loss – the roof is for the tent, and that’s fine. However other users prefer to keep light, bulky equipment on the roof, like clothing, bedding or solar panels – for them the roof space is important, so the fold-out nature of the soft-shell tent is an advantage because it only takes up a half the roof space. In addition, the folded-out half of the tent, supported by a ladder, can give a shelter over the side or the rear of the vehicle. In either case if you choose the tent wisely you don’t need a full roof rack – roof bars will support the weight.

            The flipside to this is the speed of pitching the tent. The soft-shell models should be very quick to pitch and strike (I say should be – some are very cumbersome and cannot be dealt with by one person) and I’ve always been very pleased with the MyWay models from this point of view. However the clamshell design is even faster – literally ten seconds to pitch, and about double that to strike it when you move on. It really is remarkably quick and easy.

            The soft-shell models are roomier (but with less headroom) and have useful pockets inside. My particular clamshell doesn’t have pockets, but others do. It does however have a layer of insulation under the clamshell roof which helps with intense desert sunlight – it stays cooler longer, though without windows on each side it’s less easy to open it to a cooling breeze. Each one has the ability to hang kit from the ceiling for storage, and the soft shell tent design can take a full mesh Gear Loft of the type sold for mountaineering tents – examples are made by Terra Nova. For kit storage in the clamshell type look at the Nite Ize Gearline sling system. To an extent you can store light stuff on the clamshell itself (solar panels for example) as long as the hydraulic struts that hold the shell in place can cope with it.

            Each one can hold bedding inside (some soft-shell models will not however) and each one also gives stowage for the ladder. To my mind the crux comes down to speed of pitching set against the ability to have half a roof rack free, plus shade over the back. As with most equipment questions however there are a myriad of different opinions!

            Roof tents need looking after – they are expensive investments. Mildew smells can be removed by vinegar. If you wash the tent fabric or mattress cover, use Dettol Laundry Cleanser instead of fabric conditioner. If your mattess gets a buildup of condensation underneath it when in use, look at products like the Vicarious Press BedAirer mattress underlay (

            I tend to leave a stash of kit in mine – earplugs, a headtorch, wet wipes and an extra blanket are always handy!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s