camping roof tent

Choosing a roof tent instead of a van? 5 questions to ask yourself

Here are the questions to ask yourself when choosing between a roof tent, a tent or a van.

Roof tent or van? After a successful experience in a van, I must admit that the idea of exchanging the comfort of the van for that of a roof tent does not really appeal to me, and yet, the user testimonies are positive: freedom, independence, comfort... Etc.
I went fishing for information with Jean and Maguy, both users before swapping Vanlife for Rooftent life.

What exactly is a roof tent?

A roof tent is a tent designed to be fixed on the roof of a vehicle: car, van, or truck, depending on the type of tent. Depending on the model of car and tent, you will need roof poles adapted to the vehicle and the weight of the tent. When folded, the roof tent is stored in a case, which saves space in the vehicle boot: rather practical. There are many tutorial videos on YouTube that explain how to set up your roof tent, fold it and unfold it in a few minutes.

Finally, if you want to extend your living space, there are awnings that connect to the roof tent for even more comfort. These are the "technical" aspects.

💡Maguy's advice: before starting, keep in mind the criteria to take into account when choosing our roof tent: compatibility with my vehicle; the number of campers (2, 4 or 5⁄6 people); the type of tent (set up and structure: inflatable or rigid); material and canvas type; type of mattress.

Van, roof tent or classic tent: 5 questions to ask yourself

In talking to Jean and Maguy about their respective experiences, I found that there are a few questions to ask yourself before deciding on one solution or another. If, like me, you are wondering whether a roof tent is suitable for your nomadic life, here is a decision tree to guide you before taking the plunge.

camping roof tent

1 - Am I travelling on a roaming basis or do I plan to set up camp in one place?

If you are planning to roam, changing location every day or so, it’s better to use a roof tent and a van rather than a traditional tent. From a logistical point of view, these two options will be quicker and you will be able to set up camp in just a few minutes. However, if you keep the same (supervised) camping spot for several days, the classic tent remains a very interesting option.

2 - Do I regularly need my vehicle to move?

If we have set up camp for a few days, and we don't need to move our vehicle, all the options are perfect. However, if we need to move regularly with our vehicle, we will have to plan a few extra minutes of logistics with the roof tent option to raise the camp: unpack the bed and connected awning if there is one. Even if it's not very long, you have to allow time to unpack, tidy up and have room to store all the equipment, which can become a burden on a day-to-day basis, even though you’re on holiday, in theory!

3 - What is my budget for this trip?

Unsurprisingly, the most economical are the classic tents which cost around thirty euros for the cheapest.
Then there is the roof tent for which you will need to budget at least €1,400 if you plan to buy one. Alternatively, you can borrow one from someone you know or rent one, especially if this is your first experience with a roof tent and you want to make up your mind before buying. Finally, there is the fitted out van, more comfortable but also more expensive, you should allow approximately €1,400 for one week’s rental.

camping roof tent

4 - Where do I go camping?

The roof tent is the best solution if you want to camp in (authorised) areas that are a bit more remote and less accessible to vans. It’s also more practical if you decide to make a stopover to visit the historical centre of some cities, where there are often many restrictions for motorhomes and vans. This is another reason to guide our choice...

5 - How long am I going for?

If you're going on a road trip lasting several weeks or even months, the trick is to always test the equipment before you leave. If you go for a roof tent, make sure it has a comfortable mattress and is spacious enough so that you don't have to sleep folded in half.

6 - Tent, roof tent, van: what kind of trip do I want?

In the end, the question is simple: what do I want for my holidays? comfort, adventure, roaming, novelty, nature, etc.?

Desire for comfort: the van is still comfortable, some have an integrated roof tent so you gain space inside the van to take even more things like bikes, kayak, stand up paddle, etc. In addition, most of them are now fitted out: kitchenette, storage, curtains and many other accessories, in short: the ultimate in luxury!
The roof tent is also a good option as it guarantees a flat floor, without rocks and small earthly insects that sneak into the sleeping bag (a camper's nightmare, Iet's say). "Most roof tents have a real mattress and that's great for comfort, you sleep like at home!” (Maguy)

Looking for adventure and nature: the roof tent has an undeniable fun side. You gain height just like a tree house, according to my colleague Jean, “By being raised on the roof of the vehicle, you can see the landscapes better and you are really close to the stars, it's magical!”. Another advantage is that you can travel on the move and set up camp in unusual places, sometimes inaccessible to vans and pedestrians, as Maguy says: “Going on an adventure with a roof tent is freedom”.

Want something new: if you’re used to camping and want something new, a roof tent is a good compromise between a traditional tent and a camper van, for example.

In fact, there are many reasons to try a roof tent...

roof tent

In short, what are the advantages of a roof tent versus a tent and van?

1/ Keep your feet dry when it rains, unlike a classic tent.

2/ Save space in the boot as the tent is stored on the roof.

3/ Sleep more comfortably as you are on the flat and there are no stones or earth bugs.

4/ Camp is set up more quickly compared to a classic tent.

5/ Live a new and different experience in the great outdoors.

6/ To observe the landscape from above.

6/ Bivouac wherever you want, as long as you respect the legislation in force in the country where you are.

7/ Save money: compared to buying a van or camper van, the roof tent is still much cheaper.

PODCAST: The roof tent, or how to move around according to your desires

Athlete Tips by Decathlon.

How long can you go away in a roof tent? Maguy answers us

Weekends (2 to 4 days)? “It's great for short stays! You can leave at a moment's notice and that's the real advantage, every morning you are free to decide spontaneously when and where to go!"

What about holidays of one to three weeks? “No problem! Roof tents are really comfortable, mattress, duvet, pillows, you really sleep like at home!”

And the road trip (from 1 month to several months) “Why not, but you have to be aware of the disadvantages on longer road trips. Storage, organisation, cooking, hygiene: you don't shower as long as you do at home, but these are habits to be challenged. Afterwards, there's nothing to stop you staying at campsites too.”

💡 Any advice to share?
Leave your spot as clean as when you arrived #leavenotrace (Maguy)

After having discussed the question, roof tent, tent or van? The answer depends on each trip (desires, budget, duration, weather, etc.). For me, I was convinced by the arguments of adventure, fun, spontaneity and I plan to try it in a few weeks for a long weekend. If you try it, share your experience with me [email protected]

Choosing a roof tent instead of a van? 5 questions to ask yourself



As a swimmer, runner and rider, what I like about road cycling is the feeling of freedom, the feeling of going on an adventure...