Roofnest Condor Rooftop Tent Review: Raising the Rooftop
I’ve been camping as long as I can remember, first with the family, then with the Boy Scouts, now with my wife and extended family, and occasionally, my coworkers. I’ve slept in trucks and cars, under the stars, on a picnic table, under a shelter I built out of branches, and in more tents than I can remember. In all those adventures I’ve yet to sleep in a tent a nice or as comfortable as the Roofnest Condor rooftop tent I recently spent a weekend in.
Rooftop tents aren’t a new idea, but not being in the overlanding scene (though I’m certainly interested in it), they’re the one type of portable shelter I hadn’t tried until this summer. If you’re equally green, the concept is simple: A mostly pre-assembled tent inside a protective shell or cover is installed on your vehicle’s roof racks or over the bed of a pickup truck. When you’re ready to use it, you raise or fold open the tent, erecting it in the process. Then, you install ancillary accessories like rain fly prop rods and you’re good to go. No stakes necessary, no assembling poles and feeding them through fabric loops.
Roofnest Makes Quality Stuff
Roofnest is a newer player in the rooftop space and it specializes in tents only. The Condor model I slept in retails for $3,195, and truth be told, you can find a number of cheaper rooftop tents from other makers. But with the Condor, you get what you pay for—it’s the nicest, highest quality tent I’ve ever used.
It’s evident in both the materials and the build quality. Many tents, regardless of type, are made of thin synthetics. While that’s good if you’re backpacking and need to save weight, it can be frustrating when you see daylight through the stretched seams, even more so when clips and straps start pulling out of those seams. The Condor is made of sturdier stuff. Its construction allowed enough material overlap and the stitching has plenty of material to hold onto.
The Condor’s mechanical components are equally as sturdy. Rooftop tents by their very design fold open one way or another, usually with the help of a gas strut or a spring. How well the mechanisms work can vary greatly, but the hinges, joints, struts, and poles incorporated into the Condor all operated smoothly and consistently, making setup a breeze.
The Upsides of Rootop Tents
That’s the best part of rooftop tents in general. It’s the fastest you’ll ever put up a tent. The Condor is a two-step process, unlatching and lifting the hard shell cover first (which rises on its own toward the driver’s side of the vehicle to form the back wall of the tent), then extending the collapsible ladder and using it as leverage to fold open the floor, roof, and other three walls of the tent in one motion. All that’s left to do is insert the flexible metal prop rods that hold up the rain fly if you need to use it. That’s it. Setup done. You’re ready to crash.
But if you have another minute, be sure to install the Roofnest’s greatest feature, the hanging gear and shoe holders. Slide the flexible rod sewn into the top of the holder into the floor frame on either side of the ladder and you have convenient places to stash your dirty shoes and other gear as you climb inside rather than throwing them in corner of the tent or leaving them on the ground.
Once you’re in, you’ll find Roofnest’s second- and third-best features. Built into the ceiling is an extra zippered window with a screen for stargazing or standing up through like you’re commanding a submarine. And don’t worry about the rain fly, it has a clear plastic window. If there isn’t enough starlight to see what you’re doing inside the tent, you can turn on the removable USB-powered light strip (battery not included) above the door.
Once you’re situated, you get to enjoy the Condor’s other top-three feature, its built-in sleeping pad. At 2.4inches thick it’s much more substantial than your average sleeping pad. The foam is fairly firm, but proved comfortable all night long even after five days on the road.
Because the whole thing folds out to double its footprint, the tent is surprisingly spacious. At 83 inches long, 60 inches wide, and 50 inches tall inside, it’s far more spacious than the two-person tent I own. Slightly larger than a queen size mattress, it’s as roomy as my bed at home.
It didn’t even move around much, despite being mounted on the roof of a Kia Telluride for our test. Because you sleep perpendicular to the vehicle, rolling over doesn’t cause the car to rock much (this will vary car to car, but I had the same experience with a similar tent from a competitor mounted over the bed of a pickup). If you’ve ever slept in the bed of a pickup truck, you know vehicle rocking can be an issue when you’re laying parallel with the vehicle. Cars tip side-to-side much easier than they do front-to-back, so which way you’re rolling over in your sleeping bag matters.
The Downsides of Rooftop Tents
While it’s better than a tent mounted in the bed of a truck in many ways, the rooftop tent does share some drawbacks, the biggest of which is you must put the tent away to drive the vehicle. Thankfully, the Condor is almost as quick to put away as it is to set up, but it still means taking all your stuff out and closing it just to drive to the trailhead or view point, then setting it all back up when you get back. In theory, you can leave a set of sheets and blankets in the Condor when you fold it up, but in practice it folds up so tight that any extra stuff inside makes difficult to properly close.
Then there’s the matter of finding a level parking spot. I’d recommend getting drive-on leveling blocks, because most campsite parking areas aren’t perfectly level and if the car ain’t level, the tent ain’t level. It’s the same problem in-bed tents and campers have, one that’s easy enough to fix with the blocks. There’s no getting around the other inherent compromises that come with a rooftop tent. You’re climbing a ladder to get in and out, and that’s not the most fun for middle of the night bathroom runs. Getting things in and out of the tent means a lot of lifting over your head, so pack light. Roofnest does include a ground mat and a separate pop-up changing tent if you prefer not to do everything on top of the car.
In addition, adding a big box to the roof of your car is going to affect your fuel economy. The aerodynamics of modern cars are very carefully tuned and mounting anything on the roof is going to mess with the calculations. Good news is the Condor packs down to just 12 inches tall and our Telluride only saw its fuel economy drop a couple MPG from its EPA-estimates of 19 mpg city, 24 mpg highway, and 22 mpg combined.
Mounting rooftop tents can also be challenging. The Condor weighs 135 pounds all in and needs to be bolted to your roof rack crossbars. It’s only eight bolts, but it’s going to take at least one helper with good upper body strength to get the tent on and off (which is why you see so many people driving around town with them on all the time). Of course, before you even get that far, you need to verify how much weight your roof racks can hold, factoring in the weight of the tent plus two or three people.
Don’t Compromise, Get the Good Stuff
Since all these compromises apply to all rooftop tents, we can’t really hold them against the Condor, specifically. But do a few clever features and better build quality make it worth significantly more than other rooftop tents? I say yes. The Yakima SkyRise rooftop tent I tried a few weeks before the Roofnest showed up had a less durable fabric cover, was smaller in every dimension, and was made of cheaper materials. It cost $2,299, so yeah, the better-made Roofnest Condor is worth $900 more if you have the budget for it. Considering how much you’re going to pay regardless for a rooftop setup compared to an old fashioned on-the-ground tent, it’s worth getting the best quality product. For our money, it’s the Condor.
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