by | Published on April 10th, 2017
Editor’s Note: We’re testing out a new series of Guest Articles—featuring articles from both up-and-coming and established adventure authors. Here’s a different take on the roof top tent debate from our friends at Overlanding USA. Like what you’re reading? Let us know in the comments below, and be sure to visit OUSA’s social and give them some love (links in the author bio below). Have an article you’d like us to feature? Get in touch!

With the Roof Top Tent craze hitting an all time high, we made the conscious decision to leave our roof and firmly plant our feet back on solid ground. “Why would you do such a thing, don’t you know all true overlander’s use Roof Top Tents?”

Let me explain: while Roof Top Tents (or RTT as we will refer to it from now on) are great in concept, they sometimes don’t live up to their high held glory.

Let me explain further: yes it is true RTT’s get you off the ground, away from animals, the dirt, and unleveled ground. But you also get: poor MPG on your adventure rig, top heaviness, limited space, the inability to stand up in your tent, and most of all the ability to leave camp without breaking down your sleeping accommodations.

Now, taking all of these into consideration, we decided to give the humble ground tent a try. What we found was a much more fulfilling camp experience. Currently we are running a double awning system: one 270-degree Manta awing, one standard 8-foot awning, and our all important awning tent. This setup gives us maximum coverage while still giving us a quick and simple set up and break down.

This kept our already top heavy 4Runner from being even more top heavy. Oh, and we regained 3 MPG the RTT had taken away, adding almost 60 miles to our total vehicle range per tank of gas.

At the end of the day one of the biggest advantages is for our dogs. We are like many overlanders and outdoors individuals—we love taking our dogs with us on trips, and they love to go! The old routine would be the same every night: I would throw the dogs over my shoulder and carry them up the ladder, only to have them take up most of the room in the cramped tent. And don’t get me started on if they have to pee in the middle of the night. With our new set up, not only do they not have to be carried over the shoulder, but, they have their own beds in the tent. Why? Because we now have so much more room!

At the end of the day, you will always have those that say the RTT is the best way to go. But for us and so many others remember: there is always another option, you just have to step back and look at them all.

About the Author

Ruston Smith

Hey guys! Its Ruston from Overlanding USA! Cant wait to meet everyone!

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  1. Rick Louie says:

    Do you think you saved MPG from the weight savings? You still have to carry the tent on your roof, correct? With the awning and tent mounted it would appear to me it’s not necessarily any more aerodynamic, but I could be wrong. Any issues with wind gust while traveling with the awning and tent? Thanks for the post. It’s been something I’ve been considering.

    1. Ruston Smith says:

      The way we have our rig set up it hands down saves mpg. This set up reduces our wind resistance from a 48 wide by 12 tall block to a simple 12 wide by 10 tall almost cylinder. Much more friendly towards MPG.

  2. Great article! I will be testing this myself in May and June. My RTT will be staying in the garage this spring and Ill be using a OZ tent RV2 for a couple trips that will be base area camps with no day to day movement. The OZ tent cross section alone is about a 25% of my RTT and weighs in less than half. When base camping the ease of a stand up height tent for changing and the enclosed awning area for a shower will be welcome. Anymore my RTT only comes along for trips when my GF is with. I generally just crawl in the back of the truck and sleep.

  3. Dean says:

    After ground-tenting for my 2015 trip and the 2015 event season I swore I'd never sleep in a tent again. RTT's are out of the question for a number of reasons (some outlined in this article). That's how I ended up with an enclosed trailer.

    The major deal-breaker against RTT's for me was the ladder. Two bad knees, a bad back, and a fat ass is not a great combo for crawling in and out of something 6' up off the ground. The other one was cost. Even some of the designer ground tents are pricey. I built my trailer for less than you can buy an RTT for. Not a bad deal.

  4. I've always used ground tents. But this has been a big discussion point in my household. We have an Airstream, so I'm not looking to add another trailer. But we've kicked the idea of a off-road trailer around and now we've been seriously considering a RTT. But I'm hearing a lot of things that almost make me wonder if I should just stick to a ground tent. Especially since I already own four, lol.

    I have two little girls, and the appeal of the RTT seems to be because it's "cool" and assumption that it's easier. But I'm starting to hear it might not be any easier. This article gave me a few things to think about.

  5. soc.diver says:

    I would add one caveat to the RTT comments for pickup owners: If you can reduce the height of the RTT even slightly (which you can't on an SUV) with a lower bed rack then the wind resistance goes down exponentially. This was my primary consideration when choosing to buy a shorter bed rack. The shorter rack also lowers your CG without giving up much cargo space. I absolutely agree about the PITA of breaking camp to move the vehicle. As a 5yr plus RTT owner, and lifetime ground tent user, ground tents are much better if you are camping in one place for several days. Adding a vestibule provides a space to change, store gear, and dogs, but also adds some setup time. My wife does love the memory foam mattress in the RTT though…

    Great article!

  6. I went from ground tents to sleeping under a truck topper to a RTT on top of my M416 to a FWC. Well, certain areas or campgrounds forbid the use of tents or soft sided campers due to bear activity like in Yellowstone and the Tetons, so in this case an RTT would be a better choice being higher off the ground. When traveling the PNW one year, it rained for 2.5 weeks straight, except in the Hoh Rainforest -go figure. What I didn't like was having to pack up the RTT wet every time I moved. Granted you'd have the same issues with a ground tent, but in a worst-case scenario you could always get a hotel room and bring your tent in your room to dry out, where as a rooftop tent is stuck up on top of your vehicle and underneath the PVC cover. This, overtime developed a little bit of mildew/mold in the tent on the fabric. Having a place off the ground was appealing to get away from critters and torrential downpours and CampSite flooding. For me I'd choose an RTT. Yes it does decrease mileage, costs more and is bigger/bulkier but I think it'd be my preferred choice over a ground tent. Nonetheless, I carry a Mountian Hardware Drifter 2 tent everywhere I go. It's in the wheel well between the truck bed and camper.

  7. Malamute says:

    Interesting piece, thanks for writing it. The RTTs sound good in many ways, but I knew right off they wouldn’t work for me with serious back and shoulder injuries and a large dog. The main advantage to me over a ground tent was getting up from snakes and scorpions. A good tent should deal with those issues.

    The small trailer idea looks practical also.

  8. I forgot to mention, carrying my dog up and down the ladder was not enjoyable.

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