Getting these thoughts written down on paper (screen) will help get them out of my disorganised head and hopefully avoid a few of the unexpected issues along the way.
It’s worth pointing out that I’ll be happy and if I end up with a roof tent concept design. I enjoy design, creative processes and problem solving most and therefore will not be disappointed if it’s something I can’t actually build myself.Is doubt creeping in? Nah 😉
Let’s start with the biggest priority and what that means for the design. This is just a brain dump blog so I apologise if it feels unorganised and disjointed.
In my previous blog I set the total roof load to a max weight of 40kg. That’s the tent AND mounting solution and does not include the awning.
That’s the worst case acceptable amount but far from what I want to achieve. 30kg is the result I hope for. As I write this I’ve no idea how I’ll do that, while keeping the necessary strength, size and hardshell structure.
I may as well stick with the 44.5kg (Front Runner tent and load bar) set up I already have if I end up making a heavier hardshell tent. Having better protection in windy conditions is nice but not as important to me as low weight and low profile.
The main problem to solve is finding super lightweight materials and creating a structurally sound minimalistic design that does not require a NASA style budget.
The design needs to solve the following problems:
Somehow be lighter weight than any tent on the market (gulp!).
Mainly to keep the roof load as low as possible but also to make the mounting and removal process easier. Some design elements can help with easier handling of the tent but I need to figure out how to make the frame and bottom base super light, strong and weatherproof.
Be super thin.
This is important for 3 reasons.
- To fit in my garage while on the vehicle. This will not be possible immediately but I do plan to get the garage remodelled in the future with one that has a taller entrance.
- I don’t want the car to look like it’s got a tent on it. As daft as it sounds I think most roof tents look naff packed away on a vehicle, especially the style of tent I currently own. It’s a big lump of ugly. Even the high end hardshell tents look undesirable to me on most average sized vehicles. Too bulky, awkward and it feels like little effort has ever been put into the closed aesthetics of roof tent.
- Finally and most importantly to avoid adding more wind drag on a car that is already as aerodynamic as a box on wheels.
Zero set up time.
If I’m going to make my own tent I may as well make it convenient. The ’60 second’ set up time marketing seen on a lot of high end tents is awesome. However, what’s the difference between 1 minute or 2. It’s still a set up time that you either get done quickly or slow depending upon the weather conditions. In strong wind or freezing conditions my current tent is slower to pack away than in calm, normal conditions.
I watched a video of a guy who made a tent with a 10 second set up time. That’s what I should aim for. Something as simple as opening and closing a car door. The problem to solve is how I eliminate all the usual multi stage steps in the set up and tear down. Metal rods for rainflies and throwing on canvas covers and pulling zips around the entire car are obvious steps to remove but there’s also tucking in fabric and mounting/removing ladders.
Access and manoeuvrability.
2m-2.4m telescopic ladders average around 5-7kg in weight. I keep mine in the car but it does take up some valuable space in the boot. It’s an awkward shape to store and can get filthy. The problem to solve is how to gain easy and safe access to the roof tent without the need of a normal ladder. I’ve got some ideas for this already but not fleshed out yet. I may end up using the ladder anyway but it’ll be fun to explore some crazy alternative ideas.
If I want to quickly change position at camp and move the car fast I don’t want to have much work to do. Pull the tent flat or just leave it open if it’s just a simple camp reposition. If the awning is out, it’s self supporting to an extent and I could move the car around camp with a little extra effort.
I do not like roof tents that overhang too much on the vehicle. Especially at the front. This is an interesting problem as the Jimny roof is approximately 180cm long and I’m 183cm tall. Let’s leave this one to fester in our imaginations for later.
Obviously it needs to be waterproof. What it doesn’t need to be is bulletproof. I’m not traveling the outback or overlanding for months at a time. I’m an overnight camper hobbyist, 2 to maybe 3 days max! If I can reduce the weight and complexity by using materials that are lighter weight sacrificing durability I will. I do not object to the concept of replaceable items, particularly any tent material. Let’s face it, I’ll make a few different designs anyway. Why not have multiple colours to switch out?
Why does a roof tent have to be all season? I’d like to be able to increase insulation properties or reduce them depending upon the conditions. I’d like to be able to remove panels much like how you can remove jeep doors and roof panels in hot weather. I only need a more robust and insulated structure in winter camping conditions so perhaps I solve the problem of how I make the tent more modular? Meaning during the warmer months the tent is even lighter weight.
iKamper are releasing a 1 person wedge style roof tent in 2021. I think that is a brilliant idea. If I go camping 99% of the time solo what’s the point in a 2 person tent? If I spent time in the tent for anything other than sleeping I would argue that a 2 person tent is better. However, experience proves that I climb in when I’m going to sleep and get out within minutes of waking up. I don’t hang out in the tent.
With the awning and side walls set up I have all the privacy I need for getting changed but I typically pull my clothes on while lying down in the tent. I don’t need all that 120cm width. I certainly don’t need the 244cm (96″) length of the Front Runner tent. I mostly need head room for packing away my mattress and sleeping bag, so if I don’t have to do this maybe I can work within different space constraints and design differently?
I think it’s better explained this way. I need a bed not a tent. A platform to sleep on not a room to spend time in. Granted, if this means I design something akin to a roof top bivy, the design is restricted compared to normal roof tent. I want to throw all the rules out and explore this design from the design brief of “I want to sleep on my roof”. As opposed to “I want to design a roof tent”.
Let’s say my wife joined me camping. Would she be more comfortable tucked away cozy inside the Jimny while I’m up top? Probably. It means I would need to pack how I would if I were sleeping in the Jimny and maybe take less kit but that’s fine. Everything’s a compromise with a Jimny.
That begs the question… why don’t I just sleep in the Jimny when I camp solo? Why bother with a roof tent at all? Fair point. I could go that route and I do enjoy it but I also like the simplicity of a separate bed on the roof. All of your kit safely stored away while you sleep. If I remove the set up and tear down time then it’s even more optimised and convenient. Maybe I can afford a slightly bigger fridge at some point, or build a pull out kitchen?
It’s flexibility and options I’m seeking for our Jimny camper build. There isn’t one perfect set up for all trips, conditions or even my mood. I don’t like things staying the same. Switching things up adds more fun to an overnight camp. Sleeping in/on/outside of the car. Going with loads of kit, going with hardly anything… it changes the experience a lot and that’s good fun.
On my YouTube videos I take a fair amount of kit. Obviously I need to keep myself busy and have things to do or there’s nothing to film. I enjoy the routine of it. The set up. Everything having a home and a purpose. My only personal goal is experiencing a comfortable, super chilled escape from normal life. I’m purposefully not roughing it, being there for leisure not pressure.
What about occasions I don’t film? If we want to quickly drive to Kielder forest as it’s forecast a clear night with a chance of seeing the Milky Way? On my own, I might just throw the mattress, sleeping bag and a rucksack in the boot. With a small gas burner, some basic food and drink. Or perhaps my wife and I are planning a hike the next morning. Stopping overnight means we get a super early start (best time of the day!). One of us sleeps in the car and one in the single person roof tent.
It’s just options I’m seeking. Situational variables. Keeping things fresh and uncommon. Or I’m absolutely bonkers, whatever you want to call it.
Ok, enough ramblings! This has helped me more than you I suspect 🙂
It’s time to start the hard part. Research… let’s see what people way smarter and more qualified than I have made already. What can I learn from their designs to help influence my own. I hope to discover some crazy hinge and frame designs. It’s not just roof tents I want to look at, basically any frame, panel and hinge design I can find. The weird and wonderful to ignite some ideas.