The first time that I ever saw a rooftop tent was at Sea Otter a few years back. Tepui had one set up on a silver Toyota (like the one I drive) so it caught my attention. I thought “cool idea..and asked how much?”. They said somewhere in the low two-thousands (I don’t remember the exact number). My brain tried to wrap itself around a two-thousand-dollar tent. The next spring, I saw that Cabelas had the Tepui tents in their camping catalog. In addition to the 4 person Autana that was over $2k I saw their Ayer 2-person version for just under a thousand bucks. I guess my brain was halfway wrapped around the idea of a two-thousand dollar tent because I bought the Ayer and have been using it now for just over 2 years.
When I bought my Tepui Ayer in the Spring of 2016, I further attempted to justify the expense as a way to save money on hotel rooms, when I travel to events and press junkets. I had the somewhat naive notion that I would avoid paying for hotels in the dead of winter. The problem isn’t sleeping in the cold or the quality of the shelter. I’ve slept in the tent overnight in the snow. It kept me warm and dry. The difficulties arose the when I got up in the next morning. Taking the tent down at 22 degrees with snow and ice hampering the way and frozen fingers trying to get the cover fitted and zipped closed made me realize that I might still be purchasing hotel rooms during the snowy months of the year. With that being said, I think that the Tepui is very well made and the materials used are heavy duty and made to last. A rooftop tent turns any vehicle with a roof rack into an RV and that’s a pretty revolutionary accomplishment for folks that like to travel and camp outdoors. So this is my tale of two years with a Tepui rooftop tent.
For the first year of the test, I mounted the tent onto a set of Rhino aftermarket crossbars that were already mounted to the Toyota factory accessory roof rack. The Toyota factory rack crossbars were total shyte and they were long gone, replaced by the rock-solid Rhino crossbars. I’m used to climbing all over the top of this truck from using a Rocketbox and getting boats and boards mounted up on the roof rack but the Tepiu took that climbing to another level. This spring I picked up a step that hooks onto the inside of the car door that makes getting up top a little easier.
The next spring, for the second year of the test I removed the aftermarket crossbars and mounted the tent directly to the factory roof rack. When I switched the mounting, I had to replace the mounting bolts with longer ones and I had to find an alternative set of brackets for my canopy to attach to the factory rack, but once that puzzle came together everything worked better than the previous mounting. Lower is better when it comes to mounting anything to the roof of your vehicle and in this case, lowering the tent just a few inches allowed me to do most of the tent set-up with my feet on the ground. I still had to do a little vehicle climbing to get the ladder secured and the cover fitted, but that small change was a considerable improvement to the ease of set-up and take-down of the tent. I most often see rooftop tents on top of trucks and SUV’s, but the lower the roof of the vehicle, the easier the tent is to set-up and tear down. A rooftop tent turns any car with a roof rack into a camper. The tent weighs just over a hundred pounds, so it’s a two-person job to get the thing up on top of my tallish SUV.
Set-Up / Take-Down
Once you unzip the cover on 3 sides of the tent and fold it back, you’re ready to set up the tent. The ladder is stored on top of the clamshell floor. (this is the climbing part) Release and extend the ladder and then use the ladder as a lever to open up the clamshell 180 degrees. The tent/fly and poles self-erect. There are 8 poles that extend the awnings and that’s all there is to set up. It’s one of the easiest tent set-ups that I’ve ever owned. It really has to be easy, because the tent can be eight feet in the air during set-up. Like all things, there’s a learning curve to pitching any tent. Every Spring I have to relearn the best way to torque the awning poles into place on the Ayer, but once you get that, everything else is easy as pie.
Take down is a little more tedious than set-up, due to the need to tuck in all of the flaps and canvas, before refitting the cover and zipping and strapping the tent for transport.
To get a nice level sleeping surface, you need to park the vehicle on a level spot or use trailer leveling blocks to achieve a reasonable level pitch. The Ayer has the ability to be cross vented with 2 doors and two windows that have awnings that allow windows to be open even in the rain. Those awnings can be left down and the windows kept closed for a warm and cozy cocoon when the temperature drops. I’ve slept in the Ayer in some pretty good downpours and woke up bone dry. The material that they use for the walls is nice and thick and doesn’t feel flimsy when you inevitably park your truck in a spot that’s not level and you end up sleeping against the side of the tent. I never felt like I was going the break this thing.
The interior of the Ayer would be tight for two people. It’s perfectly sized for one. There are side pockets along the walls of the tent and the ribs that form the shape of the tent are great places to hang an LED headlamp/lantern. The one preconception/concern that I had about sleeping on top of a vehicle was that the tent would seem unstable due to the suspension on the vehicle, but once you get settled in, it’s as steady as it needs to be. A lot steadier than a Hammock Tent!
The mattress is probably the weakest element of the Tepui. It’s a foam mattress with a nice cover, but not dense enough for my weight. Soon after my first trip with the tent, I bought an air mattress that I blow up and with that….the Ayer became as comfortable as one can expect from tent camping. Right up there with the big bed in a pop-up camper. Tepui does sell a Luxury Memory Foam Mattress for $171 that I thought of ordering, but I already spent $100 for an air mattress so I just never clicked the buy button. Tepui also offers sheets and bedding for the tents in their line-up.
The Bottom Line
Having dispelled my naïve theory that, I would winter camp with the Tepui, I’ll preface any conclusions based on three season use. I have two small knits to pick. Early on, I somehow lost one of the rubber bumpers off of the hook-end of the awning support poles and after 2 years the thick rubberized cover started to crack, which beagn to leak rainwater onto the enclosed tent. I bought a replacement cover from Tepui for $105 plus $26 shipping (ouch). Taking into consideration the kind of harsh environment that we exposed the Ayer to for over two years, I rate the durability of the Tepui as excellent. Roof-top tenting is more comfortable than ground tenting. My Tepui Ayer has been 100% weatherproof. Whether it’s pouring rain or a few inches of snow I stayed bone dry. The Ayer is two years old and it has held up extremely well. The tent canvas, nylon rain fly and all of the zippers, screens are all in excellent working condition.
If you’re planning a trip, where you’re traveling every day or so, roof-top tenting works great. If you plan to stay more than a few nights at one location, you would have to take down the tent to say…go get ice or firewood. The tent being attached to the vehicle can hamper your mobility. (Not a big deal if you’re moving along every day or two) Set-up and take-down are pretty easy, but not ‘that easy’ where you don’t mind taking it all down to go on a Be-double-E-double-R-you-N (beer run). Roof-top tenting is great for dispersed camping. Where ever you can drive – you can camp (depending on the vehicle’s off-road capabilities). However, for folks that don’t drive an SUV, an RTT transforms any vehicle (with a roof rack) into the most basic of recreational vehicles for camping at a state park or private campground. A dry flat place to sleep is a good start to any car-camping adventure and the Tepui Ayer nails that every time. If you’re thinking about an Ayer here’s a list of pros and cons to consider
- Easy To Set Up
- Always there and Ready To GO!
- More Comfortable vs. Ground Tent
- Better Ventilation/View
- Price vs. Pop-Up Trailer
- Excellent Durability
- Price vs. Ground Tent
- Decreased Vehicle Mobilty (once tent is set-up)
- Increased Fuel Consumption (depends on set-up)
- Installation (Requires 2-people)
- Tight Fit for Two Adults
So that’s my tale of two years with a Tepui Tent. Taking everything into consideration, I think that this has been an interesting camping experiment. I’ve enjoyed the hell out of this test. I love camping! The Tepui Ayer gets 4.75 gnomes out of a possible 5
For more information about Tepui visit – https://tepui.com/