Rooftop tent, interior sleeping layout, or simple tent? Which type of sleeping should you choose when overland camping and traveling?
This is the first part of our Land Rover Defender Series: Episode #1 The Sleeping Layout.
We have our Land Rover Defender since 2009. At that time it was brand new and naked. We were young and inexperienced new owners of this 4wd car. We didn’t know exactly what kind of equipment we needed to allow us to explore and travel with our little girl and, at that time, our unborn baby boy. All we knew is that we wanted to be able to move around on and off-road, and experience freedom.
One of our first steps was experimenting the best way to sleep during our first overland trips with our Land Rover Defender.
Traveling and sleeping in an all-terrain vehicle offers many different and various possibilities. From the interior built-in layout to the roof tent, and the roof lift, there is a very wide range of products and interior design. Nobody can claim to find the perfect combination without reaching astronomically high budgets. And of course, each combination is different for each user due to needs and perception of comfort.
This post is here to help you make choices by explaining various possibilities. I will also explain the various experiences that led us to our current configuration. We think, for now, the best for our use.
Above all, you need to define your needs and goals.
- Which type of vehicle is it?
- Will you use your vehicle only on campsites?
- Will you go overland and wild camping?
- What kind of use do you have of your vehicle?
The type of car you have
A simple car, a 4wd vehicle, a huge 4×4, or a van? The type of car you have will define what is possible in terms of a sleeping layout without a normal tent.
If you own a “normal” car, choices are fewer than for a van or a 4wd.
Maybe you own a van, simple interior sleeping arrangements are easily achievable for very small budgets because space is there. There are many craftsmen offering smart and practical interior designs for vans. Or you may take your time and DIY, that’s a great option too!
On the other hand, if you own a 4wd, certain models lend themselves more or less well to the interior sleeping layouts. Because of the configuration of the interior, the seats, or other accessories, it may be very difficult to build a practical interior sleeping space.
Only staying on campsites
If you choose to equip your vehicle to only stop at campsites, an interior sleeping will not necessarily be useful.
You will almost always have the possibility to install an outdoor tent next to your vehicle. I say almost because some camping areas can be extremely unsuitable for the installation of a classic tent with sardines to hammer into the ground.
A rooftop tent is also a cool option for this kind of overnight stops. It will allow you to have more space in your car, but it is also more expensive than a simple tent.
Going overland and into the wild
If you now plan to go overland and wild camping, stop in places where you may not be able to pitch a tent, you may want to consider the possibility of either a rooftop tent or an indoor sleeping space.
How do you use your car?
Is your vehicle only meant for your freedom experiences or do you also use it on an everyday basis? Are you a solo camper or the whole family is following?
These are things to consider because they will also define what you can or can’t do.
How many seats should remain in the car, how much place is needed for all your equipment and stuff?
This is the moment when your brain is on fire because you have to think about everything: your needs, your comfort, your loved ones, how many beds, how you visualize freedom, where are you planning to go, what would be less of a hassle, and the list goes on…
But don’t worry, we’ve already done most of the work for you!
Here’s our experience
I will now explain the various experiences that led us to our current configuration.
The beginning – The normal tent
From the moment we bought our car, we started traveling with just a Quechua “2 minutes” tent for 4 people.
You know, the one you throw up in the air and it opens like a butterfly but when you have to fold it the next day it’s all another story…
At that time, with two adults, a toddler, and a baby, it wasn’t the worst solution. But we soon understood the value of choosing a good pitch to stop for the night.
If you don’t have a good place to pitch your tent or, for example, bad weather, such as strong wind or/and rain at night can quickly become unpleasant, I mean very unpleasant.
So then we decided to invest in a rooftop tent.
The middle – The rooftop tent
Back in 2012, the offer wasn’t as varied as today. And even when you buy a rooftop tent, there are many parameters to consider such as the ease of opening and closing, the quality of the materials for resistance in time, but also the comfort of the sleeping.
It was a hard decision to take, a long time hesitation between a soft shell rooftop tent with accordion opening or a hard shell rooftop tent often made of fiber or aluminum.
We opted for a hard shell rooftop tent from the brand James Baroud and the model is Explorer. Its size is 140cm x 200cm and 100cm height when open.
What is sure now, several years after: we do not regret our choice!
This was especially confirmed when we were able to experience the soft shell rooftop tent with an accordion opening during one of our trips to Australia. The rental car was equipped with this type of soft shell tent. After a month overlanding across the country and living the hassle of opening this tent with the cover hanging in front of the trunk and closing it, in almost all type of weather: we were really happy to come back to our Land Rover Defender with our hard shell rooftop tent when back home.
Why, in our opinion, a hard shell rooftop tent is better
The level of comfort has no big difference between the two different types of tent.
But the opening and closing are often more complicated for the soft shell rooftop tent than for the hard shell one. Especially for a little woman like me of 1m60 tall.
In most case, the tent cover stays hanging over the side or back of the car. This means a door or the trunk (depending on which side you open your rooftop tent) is blocked by this cover.
With a hard shell rooftop tent, it’s easy: you climb on your car and make it pop up like a tiny house on your roof and it doesn’t bother you while installing your camp.
Only the ladder may bother you to open a door if you didn’t position correctly the tent, thus its attachments, on the roof. Moreover, the tarpaulins (heavy-duty waterproof canvas) are tense and vertical. They are less prone to store water and less troublesome in case of strong wind.
The end – The hard shell rooftop tent & the interior sleeping layout
When buying our hard shell rooftop tent we chose a two-place tent. This is because we didn’t want it to exceed too much the size of the Land Rover Defender.
These tents are spacious and two adults with two young children can easily sleep inside.
Of course, once they are bigger, you will need to consider a second sleeping arrangement if you don’t want to end up cramped and piled on top of each other while sleeping in the rooftop tent.
Solution 1: You start from scratch and take your Quechua tent as a second sleeping.
Solution 2: You plan to build an interior sleeping space in addition to your rooftop tent.
The problem with a normal tent is the place you stop and the problem with interior sleeping is that it can easily reduce your storage space. When you travel you can’t totally sacrifice the storage space since you need to bring equipment for outdoor living.
This is where you will need to find a practical layout to put in place considering your preferences.
Our choice for the children’s sleeping
It was clear we wanted an interior sleeping space and not use again our normal tent. We also needed a bed that would allow us to keep the back seats and some space in the trunk to load at least 4 travel backpacks.
We found this combination possible at “Aménagement 4×4“. A great French expert who manufactures custom wood fittings for all types of vehicles. His hand-made work includes sleeping layouts and storage.
And yes, the rooftop tent was first placed in front of the roof rack and now on it’s on its back. For better positioning of the ladder and better use of the roof rack space 😉
The cons of our hard shell rooftop tent
Of course, there are some cons!
Price: Our James Baroud rooftop tent cost around 3000 USD when we bought it in 2012. It is really expensive but, as said before, not much of a choice at that time around our place. And when we can we chose quality over quantity.
Quality: You better choose a good quality one! It should be well designed and materials should last longer in time. Back in 2012, James Baroud was one of the best manufacturers for hard shell rooftop tents. This is also why we chose this one as we wanted it to last.
Our quality problems
After 7 years of use, we obviously have some quality problems.
- The first thing to tear was the waterproof scotch on the stitchings inside the tent. My husband pulled them off and changed them for duct tape.
- The ventilation system stopped working quite quickly. It’s a fan that functions with a solar panel that recharges a capacitor. Nothing was done for that and for our trips it doesn’t bother us.
- The fiber hard top cracked in a few places. Happily, this doesn’t create any problems, no water leaking inside the tent. But if so, it would possible to repair with specialized material.
- The paint faded because of the sun. But we think it was painted green by the seller to match a car color and not by the manufacturer because at that time no tents were green.
- Small holes in the canvas. My husband tried to repair with specialized canvas patches but they didn’t stay. Now, these small holes are there but don’t bother us that much.
If we had to change
We were first thinking of an Alu-Cab high-quality aluminum hard shell rooftop tent. Then analyzing every aspect, we decided their tent is too big. It is 30cm longer than ours and we would have to sacrifice more space on the roof rack which isn’t good for us.
Now, we would go for the same James Baroud high-quality fiber hard shell rooftop tent. The size is perfect for our use and our Land Rover Defender. We also think that the new generation of tents should be made of even better quality materials due to their long term experience.
But for now, we won’t change our current tent because it meets our needs, it’s fine like that, and we simply don’t have the budget to buy another one.
What we didn’t talk about
We didn’t give much information on the most expensive sleeping arrangements possible which are the popup roof and the removable camper for pick-ups.
It must be a great option for large 4wd. But I think not all 4wd can be prepared for these two types of sleeping layouts.
Having a kitchen and a living room type of space under your rooftop bed or behind your car must clearly be cool! Concerning us, it isn’t what we need for the moment.
And as we haven’t experienced any of them yet, we’re not going to give our opinion on something we don’t know 😉
Our configuration is great for our use!
We are a family of 4 with two children who are now nine and eleven years old. We are able to stop overnight wherever we want. This is possible without taking more place than the car and without worrying about the type of ground.
Also, the children feel safe while sleeping in a locked car with me and my husband just on top. Or maybe it’s me who feel safer?! 😉
Sure, it is a little of an organization to put in place the inside sleeping layout. And we had to learn to pack more minimal which is good. But the hassle is so much less than trying to pitch a tent on unfriendly ground.
There we are!
I hope this post is helpful for you and that it leads you to choose the best sleeping configuration for your use.
Would be absolutely pleased to hear from you! Reach out below to let us know your choices and your questions.
Check out our youtube video! It is the first one of a series dedicated to our Land Rover Defender equipment. And you will clearly see how we pop up the rooftop tent and how we prepare our interior sleeping layout.
Here are again the links to the manufacturers we’ve talked about:
James Baroud: hard shell fiber rooftop tent, Aménagement 4×4: crafting wooden interior layouts, Alu-Cab: hard shell aluminum rooftop tent.
Talk to you soon & take care!