Tents and Shelters:
Potentially one of the biggest spends after your vehicle will be your choice of tent. It is well worth taking some time on this subject to carefully consider the two main options. The choices are pretty straight forward, Ground Tent or Roof Tent. The latter are often the first choice when you start planning but do not overlook the other option too soon. I have travelled with both roof and ground tents, and both have their positives as well as some negatives.
Like their ground standing cousins Roof Tents come in various shapes and sizes but the basic concept is that the unit is mounted on the roof of your motor. It is possible to put them across the pick-up bed of some types of vehicle or indeed mount them on trailers, in fact some manufacturers now offer specific models for this purpose.
Roof tents will allow for a comfortable night’s sleep almost anywhere and you can pitch the tent virtually anywhere that you can park the vehicle. (Great if you are on hard-standing or rock hard ground). All you need to do is make sure the vehicle is parked level and the tent will open up level allowing a flat sleeping base. This can prove very comfortable and offers a feeling of security ‘away from creepy crawlies and safe from prowling wildlife’. In real terms an inquisitive monkey or marauding big cat is very able to get on the roof of your motor (with consummate ease) as an afternoon driving around the local safari park would show you. Sleeping in a roof tent will however lift you away from nefarious individuals who may be about at night and it can be a wonderful experience waking in the morning and lowering the zips to see the sunrise.
Touring Gear sell Eezi Awn roof tents and we can offer a choice of models suitable for various applications. In our opinion Eezi Awn are about the best and you will see this reflected in the fact that most serious Overlander’s, and companies involved in the supply of this kit are fitting or specifying Eezi Awn product. Take a look around at the other manufacturers and see what they have to offer and then take a look at the Eezi Awn range.
Eezi Awn roof tents offer a combination of solid build quality, finishing, features and overland pedigree.
The best-selling size of tent in either the Series 3 or the T-Top is the 1.4mt wide model. These are the perfect width for nearly every vehicle and allow enough room for two people to sleep side by side in comfort. Don’t forget when you are looking at the tent that you are unlikely to have taken your sleeping bags with you so allow for this, some clothing, a pillow each, maybe a little room to roll over, you will soon use up the space.
Larger models can be fitted on to roofs but bear in mind the weight loading you are putting up there. Most roof tents weigh in easily over 45kgs, often more than that for the better ones, add to that the roof rack (or roof bars) and you begin to see why suspension modifications are required.
Roof tents are best suited for constant travel, their fitment to the vehicle means that once setup you are unable to move your camp for the night without a load of packing up, hard luck if the shop is two miles away and you need something.
Often overlooked by overlander’s but some very serious travellers have used them. Ground Tents are often roomier and lighter, even a big tent is likely to be at least half the weight of a decent roof tent. They offer a smaller pack size, more room for the weight, sometimes standing room (I am getting older and appreciate this!) and potentially an easier setup (if you don’t want to be climbing around on the roof of your motor) and the ability to drive away from the camp if need be.
What you should be looking for here are well built, simple designs with a minimum (as in none at all ideally) of moving plastic and light alloy parts. Good quality Canvas / Rip-stop material with steel poles, heavy duty zips, mossie screens and fitted groundsheets are the order of the day. You are after a touring tent that is designed to be put up and down frequently and will withstand the rigours of overlanding.
These criteria will rule out many of the ‘Puts up in 30 seconds’ type of tent. Some of these are OK and in some cases I have sold them in the past, for euro camping or a short 2 week dessert tag along they may survive, but I can assure you that dust and sand get everywhere very quickly when you jump onto the African continent (or any desert environment) and this stuff is a real enemy to complex moving parts.
Don’t get talked into buying a tent designed to weigh nothing but will go up Everest in a back pack either. The belief that paying a fortune for this type of tent will stand you in good stead for a desert adventure is wrong. Often this type of tent, superb though it may be is designed with wholly different parameters and in fact may only be designed to survive one rigorous mountain trip. It simply will not last long on an overland journey. If you are vehicle based you have room to play around with the weight and packing a little. Equally Roof Tents and Safari style tents are not suited to winter highland camping.
We would recommend simple pole systems, steel is better than alloy (it bends rather than breaks). Heavy duty zips (YKK are good) double stitching on the seams. Reinforcing material where the poles fit (wearing point). Waterproof breathable fabric, (Cotton canvas / Rip-stop). Sewn in ‘bathtub’ style ground-sheets. (Helps keep out undesirables – sand, water and creepy crawlies) Mossie netting over the doors and windows.
Look at the tent from the point of view of ease of putting it up, ideally you need to be able to do this in about 5 – 10 minutes, with practice it may be quicker. You will need to be able to peg the thing down as well so look at the pegging points to ensure they are fitted strongly to the tent and are a sensible size to be able to get a larger peg through.
All tents should have some ventilation, it should be towards the top and may be no more complex than being able to open the top flap of the window slightly to allow hot air out, some will have dedicated vents and again these need to be at or near the top. Hot air will rise and if cannot escape the tent will become extremely oppressive in warmer climes.
These will come in various guises, either designed to fit the roof rack, the tent or free standing. Again all of these have their merits but the free standing awning or tarp offers the most versatility. This can be tied of to the vehicle in any position, very handy if you need to rig shelter to work under the bonnet for example. A decent sized tarp (example. 4.0mt x 4.0mt), a couple of adjustable poles, some lines and bungees will offer a huge array of shelter options.
Most touring tent manufacturers now offer extensions or awnings for their tents, from basic porches for weather protection to an extended living area all depends on your requirements but as always the KISS* principal applies. They need to be adaptable to your situation and being able to adjust the position to suit the changing sun or wind is of some benefit.
Lastly are the vehicle mounted options. Some of these are a triumph of design and marketing over common sense. A particular side awning came onto the market a few years ago and had a lovely wrap around design that covered one side and the rear of the vehicle. This looks great until it is up in windy conditions, then the loading on the hinge is immense and this led to a number of breakages and in one case I understand it then became a free standing awning once it had been recovered from the dunes! I believe the design was re-engineered but most of these awnings are designed to offer shade more than full weather protection and will need to be put away quickly if things get windy.
This applies to all roll out and attached vehicle awnings in some degree, the Eezi Awn and Fiamma type can also very quickly flip back over a vehicle when the wind gets excessive. Campmor make a very good side awning that actually stows off the vehicle. You can obtain additional slides for it and have the option of mounting it around the vehicle to suit your needs and prevailing conditions.
Some of this may sound negative, used sensibly most awnings will work fine but as with the tent advice, the stronger the construction + the less moving parts = the longer it will last.
*KISS – Keep It Simple Stupid