If you have read my camping guides or watched any of my YouTube videos will know I’m keen on sleeping in a roof tent. Since first seeing an iKamper tent on a Facebook post my wife shared with me, a roof tent was something that was key to the build I was hoping to achieve. Rightly or wrongly, I like them. They’re far from perfect, too expensive and too damn heavy… but that didn’t stop me.
Let’s recap my experience so far running a roof tent on a Jimny over the last 2 years.
I bought the Jimny knowing the risks that a roof tent may not be suitable on the car. At the time Roam Overlanding was one of the few people to show a roof tent on his new Jimny but he’ll be the first to tell you it wasn’t ideal and said on his summary video “don’t do as I do”.
One caveat before we start. I do not do any technical off-road driving or arguably any driving that requires 4WD. I’m driving on woodland paths, farmers fields and easy gravel paths to get to camp. Slippy mud and cow shite is as a bad as it gets for me.
My experience so far with a roof tent on a Jimny
I’ll start by saying that there is no perfect tent on the market for a Jimny, yet.
I only have experience of a soft-shell roof tent by Front Runner. I’ve been reasonably happy with my purchase and have recommended it to many people over the last few years. I did hit unlucky ordering it weeks before an updated model was silently released so it has a few missing features that would have been nice, such as:
- Skylight vent windows in roof. The old model doesn’t close so you’re forced to use the rainfly unless you’re 100% certain it will not rain.
- The updated tent design with longer bottom ‘skirting’ flaps that also help with packing the tent away neater on the sides.
- A single zip door opening instead of 3 separate zips on the old model.
In no particular order, let’s look at some notable aspects of camping with the roof tent on Jimny so far…
Fairly easy to pitch
Having dry, clean sleeping space accessible within minutes is great. With careful parking or use of levelling chocks (rocks) to help create a flat lay, in my view being off the ground is better than on it. Millions would disagree and that’s fine. I like not having to care about awkward ground conditions. Not withstanding its own limits of course, you can’t get a roof tent to all places you can ground tent camp. Or are even allowed to do so.
There’s nothing wrong with ground tents, hammocks, bivies, or any other method of sleeping outdoors. Each to their own, just crack on with what you like most.
It’s important to really think about how you’re going to camp before jumping into a big purchase like a roof tent. It suits me as I’m usually in the shelter of a woodland or forest and so far I’ve never wild camped in the roof tent in the UK as it’s illegal.
Weight matters most
I chose the Front Runner tent mainly due to its comparatively low weight of 43kg. With some simple changes and compromises I got mine down to 37.5kg.
I’ve been asked many times about how I can load a roof tent on a Jimny with the 30kg limit. Just because I do it doesn’t mean you should. Many people carry more roof load than I do, but that doesn’t mean I’ll be comfortable with that level of risk.
It’s hypocritical coming from someone who far exceeds the manufacturers load limit. However, I can’t stress enough how much consideration you should be giving to what you load onto your roof. If you’re like me loading over 30kg including your rack/load bars you’re over the limit. Simple as that.
That said, I’ve ran a few different loads exceeding that and have found what I’m personally comfortable with having up there while driving. It’s the ‘while driving’ aspect that I am focusing on here. 60kg is the max for me and ~50-55kg is almost unnoticeable (disclaimer: to me!) with the upgraded Old Man Emu suspension fitted.
When I say unnoticeable, I mean once you’ve driven a few miles down the road you quickly get a feel for the car and adjust your driving style accordingly. It doesn’t feel scary and sluggish like 72kg did on stock suspension. Stock suspension has a lot more body roll and that can be the white knuckle ride. I’m sure some people do, but I’d hope you never speed beyond 60 mph with that level of roof load on stock suspension. It’s not worth it, just ease back if you must take the risk of running that much roof load. Or better yet don’t do it.
THIS IS NOT TO BE TAKEN AS PROFESSIONAL ADVICE. Please do you own tests and don’t take some random dudes experience on the internet as gospel. I am not qualified in any way whatsoever.
Easy to break camp
It’s easy but not the easiest to pack away. The fastest I’ve done it is in around 3 minutes. Average pace is 5-7 minutes.
The soft-shell style roof tents are not as convenient to pack away as the wedge or popup style ones but they’re not terrible. I would probably agree with proper overlanders who say that on longer trips it can become tiresome. Stuffing the material in at the front and sides up so high on a vehicle to try get the cover on, especially in the wet isn’t something you want to do.
I’ve never had such a horrible time pitching or packing away the tent that I considered never using it again. I know some people have going by other reviews I watched online.
Softshell tents are bad in the wind
My pal Denis published a great blog on why he ditched his roof tent and I agree with his negatives. However, as I said above it comes down to styles of camping. If I were to camp in more open spaces, exposed to the wind instead of usually finding somewhere to tuck the Jimny in, I’d have started this ‘build my own roof tent’ project sooner.
Wind is definitely the nemesis of softshell roof tents and frankly any tent, but you can imagine being high off the ground doesn’t help. A friend of mine has an iKamper and facing the hardshell to the wind he said helps a lot.
Good nights sleep
That elusive full nights sleep when camping is possible in a roof tent with one of the cheapest mods you can buy. Ear plugs. I’ve had way more good nights sleep camping than terrible ones. Good, is briefly waking up a few times during the night for a few moments then drifting off again. Expecting to lie there, dead to the world, is something I never assume is going to happen when camping. I’ve kitted out for comfort not survival and 5-6 hours is easily achieved. I’ve even slept in a few times.
This is more of a reflection on the mattress and sleeping bag choices you make in the temperatures you’re heading into. Use the mattress that comes with the roof tent at your peril. In my experience as a side sleeper they’re hopeless.
The front runner tent is good value but it’s naturally not without its draw backs. The style isn’t unique to Front Runner, there’s dozens of brands selling ones very similar. I can only speak for the one I have and the one thing I think sucks is the base floor. I kneeled on mine while setting it up on day one, unsuspectingly being rewarded with 2 big dents where my knees where in the floor. The aluminium covered flooring dents so easily. I was really pissed off doing that before I’d even got it mounted on the car.
Other than that though I’ve not had any failures or problems with it and that is only based on occasional all season use over two years. This is not a heavy usage report as other owners may give you.
I like them. I like waking up feeling like you’re in the trees. I like climbing up into them, silly as it sounds. I like the rigid flooring and flat base to stretch out on. It’s nice not being on the freezing cold uneven floor.
Much like the Jimny they’re not perfect. You gain some benefits and lose out on others. It’s best to make sure you’ve stopped drinking fluids at least an hour before bed to help avoid needing a pee in the middle of the night. That sucks at the best of times camping never mind climbing half asleep down a ladder.
I think it’s important to point out the obvious though, it’s just a tent. They’re not warmer or necessarily better than ground tents. With a shitty sleeping bag and mattress you’ll have an awful nights sleep.
Lastly, they’re bloody expensive, especially the hardshell ones and how it looks on instagram isn’t reality. You will rarely lie in them in your skimpy underwear, dreamily gazing out over lakes and mountains, reading a book with your dog curled up beside you. You’ll go camping, eat, have a few drinks, climb up when you’re tired, go to sleep, wake up and super quickly get dressed and out of there. Especially when it’s cold.
Oh and if you’re a light sleeper and not solo you’ll be woken up every time your other half moves. As unlike your bed at home, you’ll feel every wobble and shake.
What goals do I have for designing my own roof tent?
The goals are simple for the roof tent. Simple to write down, not to achieve.
- Low weight
- Low profile
- Good in windy conditions
- Bedding inside
- Easy to mount
- No frills
- No wasted space
- No rainfly and metal rods
No greater than 40kg (88lbs).
If I can source materials or design in such a way that I can achieve less weight that I will. Low weight is the top priority in every design decision I make.
I want to design and build a roof tent that is 30kg, that I know may not be possible due to the fact I want some sort hardshell style and no requirement for a cover. However I will pursue it.
No higher than 150mm packed down, less if possible. I want it to almost to look like part of the roof and have a profile that allows for reduced wind resistance. Avoiding whistling wind noise is essential. The design is a flat out fail if it makes too much noise at speed on the motorways.
Good in windy conditions
I’ll aim for a design that performs better in windy conditions than a softshell tent. I’m not necessarily looking to design a hardshell tent in the typical styles we see on the market. Low weight and low profile will take priority over better protection in windy conditions but I feel like I should explore alternative ideas to try and improve this element of the design.
Ability to leave mattress and bedding inside is essential for a faster set up and tear down. For a Jimny owner I’m also freeing up vital interior storage space.
Simple to mount
It must be easy for my wife and I to lift up onto the car. Once up there the fixing points need to be at least as simple as the 4 bolts I use on the Front Runner tent. Easier and faster options will be explored.
I just want somewhere to sleep. I’m not interested in rails for mounting stuff to the tent. LED lights, pockets, even windows are not a priority. I don’t spend any time whatsoever in the tent other than sleeping in it. If I can save weight and complication in the design by omitting any luxuries I will.
No wasted space
I don’t need to store anything in the tent with me at night that can’t lay alongside the inflatable mattress. Basically, clothes, phone and car keys are the only items I need in there. Boots can be stored in a hanging waterproof bag outside the tent.
No rainfly and metal rods
Whether I decide to omit windows from the design or not I don’t want to have metal rods to hold up canopy doors and rainflies. For me, they’re unnecessary as I always have the doors/windows closed when I’m in it. I want to design a way to avoid using a separate rainfly. Saving space and weight.
That’s it for now. The next article will be expanding upon the problems I need to solve in the design, then I’ll move onto research. I’m not sure how long the research will take but I’m not going to skimp on that. I want to explore, shapes, materials, hinge designs, self supporting structures, anything that might influence the designs I sketch up.
I’d love to hear your thoughts and share with me anything you’ve seen or ideas that can contribute to this project.
Cheers for reading!