13 Easy Steps to Making Your Car Roof Tent More Comfortable
The rooftop tent is the most comfortable tent on the market. Many overlanders will tell you - once you walk the car roof tent path, you don’t go back.
You get to sleep on even ground without dodging tree roots. No need to worry about the wet, muddy ground. And depending on the model, you may get a thick, comfy mattress.
But why stop there? Why not take things to the next level? Check out the steps below to enjoy ultimate Overlanding comfort.
Steps to Car Roof Tent Comfort
1. Upgrade Your Mattress
Not all RTT mattresses are created equal. If yours is on the thin side, how can you have a better tent sleep experience? Add cushioning (especially important for side-sleepers). One way to do that is to upgrade your mattress.
What are your options?
- Upgrades – some RTT manufactures offer upgrades.
- Inflatable mattresses – the cheaper, lighter option - if you get a standard air mattress. Higher quality inflatable foam mattresses are available and cost more (around $100 for some brands).
- Real camping mattresses – higher-priced, greater comfort – these mattresses will make you feel at home.
Get the perfect foam mattress by knowing the ILD – indentation load deflection (aka. IFD). This tells you how much it compresses under the given weight.
A higher ILD number means a firmer mattress. For a medium to firm mattress, look for ILDs of 26+. Layered mattresses may have different ILDs for each layer, the firmest at the bottom.
Standard roof tent mattress sizes are:
- 2 person – 48 x 84 inches (Double)
- 3 person – 56 x 96 inches (Queen)
- 4 person – 72 x 96 inches (King)
Most mattresses come with protective covers. If not, it’s wise to get one. They’re waterproof and extend the mattress’s lifespan.
If you have a hard shell tent, make sure you can close it with a thicker mattress inside.
2. Get a Mattress Topper
If your tent can’t accommodate a thick mattress, a mattress topper does the trick. You might be able to close your tent with the mattress topper inside. If not, they’re easier to remove than a mattress when you pack up. And they’re cheaper.
Toppers containing gel are breathable and keep cool, ideal for summer. Memory foam is comfy but hardens in extreme cold. A better solution for cold weather is sleeping pads.
3. Sleeping Pads
If you’re camping in winter, sleeping pads designed for camping on the ground are a useful addition to your rooftop tent. But not just any sleeping pad. You need one that’s designed for retaining heat.
A pad’s R-value tells you its thermal resistance level - how well it resists losing heat to the ground. The higher the R-value, the better it performs. You will also see degree ratings but they’re not as accurate – R-ratings have standardized tests but degree ratings vary for different companies.
Companies like Therm-a-rest and Exped make high-quality pads, specifically for winter camping.
Common sleeping pads include:
- Self-inflating foam pads – These pads inflate and deflate using a valve. To make them firmer, you can breathe into them for extra inflation. It’s a good idea to fully inflate it before its first use.
- Air pads – the most compact pad when deflated. Bring along a puncture kit, just in case.
- Standard foam pads – non-inflatable foam padding provides extra cushioning but generally, not as high an R-value as the other options.
To use a sleeping pad for extra comfort and warmth in a car roof tent, place it under your mattress.
If you don’t need a top-quality sleeping bag for surviving the extreme cold, you might be more comfortable with duvets and pillows.
RTT mattresses have different dimensions compared to double, queen, or king sizes – make sure they fit.
In the spirit of hassle-free camping, try fitted sheets. Rooftop tent manufacturers supply fitted sheets for their mattress sizes. Common materials are cotton, linen, and flannel. You can even buy matching sheet and pillowcase sets, perfect for the design-conscious overlander.
5. Level Your Vehicle
With rooftop campers, you always sleep on an even surface (the tent base). With that said, you probably don’t want to sleep on a slope. Sometimes, you won’t find completely flat ground, so you need to level your vehicle.
You need wood planks, leveling blocks, or recovery tracks. Your vehicle might have a leveling device – if not, consider buying one or just play it by ear.
Once you find the flattest surface you can see which tires need lifting. Next, reverse, place the blocks and drive onto them. When it seems level, get in the tent and test it out.
Keep your sleeping area minimal. Store belongings in the annex and keep footwear in shoe pockets. Some tents come with a set but you can buy them separately.
Storage netting is another great addition. Again, some tents come with it but you can add them later.
If you have an extended roofline but no annex, attaching netting behind the ladder is great to use space. You can also hang accessory bags from your tent base using track hangers.
Unless camping under the midnight sun, you’ll want a light source. Why is this essential for roof rack tents? Because climbing down a ladder after dark – with no lights – is not safe. Especially in wet weather. Besides, soft lighting is cozy.
Areas to light are: inside the tent, in the annex/around the ladder, and under awnings.
Types of lighting include:
- Dual solar-powered and USB rechargeable lanterns
- LED light strips
- Fan and light combos
- Remote controlled lighting
- Lighting with dimmer switches
LED lights usually have orange and white modes. The softer orange is easier on the eye and less likely to attract insects. Lighting designed for camping is waterproof – if you’re using anything else, check it’s suitable for outdoor use.
8. Keep Cool
Choosing the right tent is the first step toward keeping cool in hot weather. A tent with large windows and breathable body fabric (like polycotton) is a good start.
If you definitely won’t be camping in the winter, a three-season tent will serve you better than a four-season.
What else can you do?
- Set up in a shaded area - unless you have solar panels on your tent roof, keep out of the heat and park in the shade. The best option is somewhere shaded that still has a breeze, maximizing ventilation.
- Open all windows and vents – keep air flowing during the day and night.
- Use heat-reflective tarps – the easiest way is to suspend them from trees so they hang over your tent. (This won’t work if you’re camping in bear country – bears can climb so you’ll want to avoid setting up near trees).
- Get a camping fan – if you’re not in a breezy spot, leave the fan running while your tent is open, to assist air circulation. Keep it on during the night for a comfortable sleep. A hanging fan is a great choice – it’s out of your way, placed centrally and there’s less chance of it knocking over.
- Use bamboo sheets – they’re breathable and reduce sweating. (They also reduce condensation).
Nothing ruins a camping trip like waking up shivering during the night and starting the next day sleep-deprived - or worse, getting hypothermia.
Hardshell tents often have insulation in the roof and floor – or the option to add it later.
Getting the correct sleeping bag is the next thing to consider. Like with sleeping pads, degree ratings are not accurate. EN (European) standards for sleeping bags were introduced in 2005. As of 2017, new ISO standards provide the most accurate way to compare, based on rigorous testing.
Everyone has a different tolerance for the cold. Instead of giving a temperature rating i.e. 0° F, EN/ISO standards specify temperature ranges:
- Comfort range – in this range, an average woman can sleep comfortably without feeling cold.
- Transition range – in this range, a standard man is feeling the cold and fighting it, but not shivering. He could be sleeping in a curled up position, trying to keep warm. The coldest temperatures your sleeping bag can protect you from are within this range.
- Risk range – it’s not safe to use in these temperatures - hypothermia is possible.
The standards give you guidelines but everyone is different. Getting something with higher ratings than you need can work, but you risk being too hot. Evaporation through sweat makes you lose heat.
If in doubt, buy something rated for the range you need and use an extra down quilt – if you don’t need it, just take it off.
Specialist camping quilts cover your top and sides and don’t have a hood. Some quilts have similar ratings to bags so it’s important to only combine them if you’re experienced with low temperatures.
Make sure the bag fits properly. If it’s too tight or too spacious, its insulating properties are less effective.
Choose a size closest to your height. A bag sized for someone 5 feet tall will be longer than that. Don’t be put off by the difference in size between the bag and your actual height – manufacturers take into account the extra space needed for it to fit well.
Improve insulation in your tent by placing your equipment along the inside edges. If you intend to camp in the cold often, make sure you use as small a tent as you need. That way, you don’t have to heat up more empty space than necessary – you hardly want to heat a 6 person roof top tent for just two people.
Sometimes, you have to heat your tent, but perhaps you’re wondering how safe it is. These days, flame-free, carbon-monoxide-free options let you safely enjoy the wild in the depths of winter.
For cold nights (not below zero), electric heaters do the trick. Get a model with shut off protection for overheating or tipping.
As temperatures drop below zero, you need something more powerful. Catalytic propane heaters use chemical reactions to produce heat, instead of a flame. Propane fuels the reactions. They’re more efficient than other types of heating, reducing fuel costs.
How will you power your lights, fan, heater, and other devices? Unless they’re battery-operated or solar-powered, you’ll need a portable power supply.
The Jackery Power Station (various models) is a favorite among overlanders. It’s a rechargeable battery-powered generator that you charge via an AC outlet, DC carport, or solar panels.
Power supplies like this one let you enjoy the outdoors while still accessing laptops, phones, cameras, and other devices you need for work or comfort.
Installing solar panel rigs on hardshell tents lets you power devices big and small. It depends on the specifications – some supply enough power for fridges and other large devices.
12. Prevent Condensation
Nobody wants to wake up in the night with cold water dripping on their head. It’s one of the biggest drawbacks of camping, preventing a good night’s sleep. Then there’s the hassle of wiping it off and drying your tent after.
Thankfully, roof tent manufacturers designed anti-condensation mats. You place the mat between the mattress and tent base. (Body heat transmitted through mattresses contributes to condensation building on the cold base). If you don’t want to buy a mat, you can stick down carpet tiles instead.
Other steps to limit condensation:
- Open windows and vents as much as you can.
- Avoid camping near rivers and lakes – air is humid near bodies of water.
- Camp in a breezy location or use a fan.
- Take off the rainfly if it’s not going to rain.
- Store wet clothing and belongings outside.
- Don’t cook inside your tent – not even in the annex.
- Get a dehumidifier.
An affordable rooftop tent that’s great for ventilation is the Overland Pros Anza 1400 Extreme Edition. It has large windows and you can zip down the outer walls for maximum ventilation.
13. Outdoor Comfort
For longer stays, add a few touches to your outdoor space and feel at home. Awnings are a quick escape from the sweltering sun and heavy rain – without climbing in your tent.
Like an annex tent, awnings provide extra sheltered living space but you’re not enclosed. Awnings are definitely worthwhile for summer camping.
Some overlanders use the annex as a shower room. If you want to use your annex for other purposes, portable shower rooms are a great add-on.
For soft-shell tents without an annex, why not set up a clothesline? Under the overhanging part of the tent base, attach some cord and there you have it.
What happens if you want a place to relax outdoors? Somewhere to lounge around after a satisfying meal, separate from your sleeping area? A travel hammock or inflatable chairs are the answer. Either option can be lightweight and easy to store.
Now you’re ready to have the comfiest trip so far! The most crucial step in tackling the enemies of comfort – condensation and poor temperature regulation. With that under control, you can focus on creature comforts like cozy bedding. For cold climates, you know what thermal resistance standards to look for.
Enjoy the ultimate Overlanding comfort with mattress upgrades or toppers, electricity, lighting, storage, fans, and outdoor furniture.
The lightweight Overland Pros Anza 1400 Extreme Edition checks off many items on our list - a great all-rounder for comfort.