A luxury rooftent for around £20 – 8 easy upgrades for your roof tent.
Rooftents are well established on expedition vehicles in the UK and are a great solution to sleeping in many situations. However they tend to have some drawbacks for our damp climates, having been designed for use in hot South African savannahs. Polycanvas is used for the main tent, often with a nylon flysheet, both excellent rot proof fabrics but once soaked through, are slow to dry, heavy and need drying before storage. Polycanvas and nylon both benefit from occasional re-proofing with a silicone based water-proofer like Fabsil. As well as adding waterproofing and UV resistance we also find it adds flexibility making the tent easier to fold away. We tend to give our tent and flysheet 2 generous coats every 2 years or so on a hot dry day. It’s worth paying particular attention to seams and the joining rail that clamps the tent material to the wooden base to make sure of good penetration. Any drips or runs onto vehicle paintwork can be wiped off before it dries. Its smelly stuff, full of solvents designed to wet and penetrate fabrics, probably does the same on skin so use gloves and a 3 inch paint brush to apply. I find the brush better than a spray as you can work it into seams. You need to allow around 6 hours in good conditions for it to dry before sleeping in it. 5 litres seems to be enough for a 1.4 m Hannibal.
There are a few other things you can do to make life easier. Ever lain awake listening to jingling zips on windy nights ? …… well, with a pair of side cutters and paracord you can create a silent night very easily. I have often seen people add paracord to zips to make them easier to grasp but they don’t cut off the actual tag of the zip and it’s this that creates the noise. The photo makes this clear (Fig.1).
Another source of noise is the actual flysheet so its worth retensioning this. One simple way of doing this is to keep the support sticks bent correctly. On our Hannibal tent I find the sticks start to bow a little over time and a simple bend in the opposite direction helps but by bending the last 1 inch section you get a much better effect. The further to straight it is the stronger the effect (Fig.2)
Its also worth running a 5mm drill bit up the holes in the base that the sticks push into as often swarf get left in and the sticks don’t seat fully home. Usually ends in a loud twang as the stick jumps out as the wind gets up and then a clang as it falls onto your car. Followed by 6 hours of loud flapping ……..
I then normally spray all the zips (teeth and cloth surround) with a silicone lubricant, helps waterproof and lubricate the zip. I know some people use furniture polish but I have found this to attract grit and dust – a quick way to ruin your zips and an expensive repair.
A quick check on the waterproof cover for cuts and abrasions and the application of patches to damaged areas will keep the tent dry at home if you leave it on the vehicle. Adding 12-18” of paracord to the zips on a Hannibal bag makes life at lot easier when closing the bag, by pulling the zip along the same axis as the zips teeth, it helps stop zip failure and mis-meshing.
Want to add a bit more luxury then add a LED lighting system. Easily done with a switch and a waterproof connector. Our LED lamps are undercupboard strip lamps from IKEA, come in about 3 x 25cm sections that clip together and conveniently run on 12volts – just cut off the 240/12 volt converter and wire them in. We also use the same strips around the car for both internal and external lighting.
We often hear complaints about condensation in the tents. It can be an issue with cold nights and hot days but opening internal zips to vent the hot, respired air will normally cure it. Many people close up the tent to keep warm – a colourful fleece blanket from a Moroccan market will keep you snugly warm and the increased ventilation will keep you dry.
We use 70mm of high grade dense upholstery foam for a mattress, the standard foam is good for a year before it collapses. With both you can still get some condensation underneath the actual mattress and this has been a problem, often leaving the mattress base damp, even during the day. A recent solution to this has been a material used on ocean going yachts to prevent the same problem in berths, DRY-mat (www.shipshapebedding.co.uk). Simply cut to size and lay under the mattress, its mesh design allows air to circulate and remove moisture. A plaster friend says he used a product called Kontact 20 under his caravan seats and it also works well (www.basement-living.co.uk), looks cheaper then DRYmat but possibly thicker.
By Paul Blackburn