Car camping, admittedly, is hardly a particularly strenuous form of sleeping outside. You don't have to hoof around with a heavy backpack full of sleeping gear and cookware and the like; hell, you don't even need to be all that fit to do it.
That's not to denigrate it, though. For those of us who aren't quite ready, willing or able to trek into the backcountry on nothing but muscle power, car camping offers the chance to see (and sleep in) new places with ease, making it easier to explore the natural world. And once you commit to the idea, you open yourself up to an entire world of new items you can bring along. A grille or a fire pit, mountain bikes or kayaks, even an entire camping trailer — they're all easy to cart along.
But if there's one single easy add-on that can remake your car camping experience, it's a rooftop tent. To find out what it's actually like, the folks at Roofnest offered up their Falcon rooftop tent, along with a Kia Telluride to drive it around. We, in turn, pointed it west to the wilds of New Jersey (don't laugh, they exist) to spend a little camping time with it.
What We Like
The Falcon makes car camping remarkably easy. That's true to some degree of pretty much any rooftop tent, but this Roofnest is a great example of the breed: extend the ladder and clip it to the side, flip two latches, and a gentle push extends it to the fully-deployed position.
Conveniently enough, it doesn’t prevent you from mounting cargo on top of your vehicle. You can grab a set of optional crossbars that enable you to clap kayaks, bikes and the like to the top; at just seven inches tall when folded, it’s not much extra work to mount those items on top. In fact, it’s so slim, you might not even realize it’s there when it’s closed — at least, compared to the bulk of a large SUV like the Kia Telluride I tested it on.
It's well-made. Roofnest's line of tents (they make two others, in addition to the Falcon and Falcon XL) are pitched as premium products, and they certainly look and feel the part, from the sturdy exterior to the thick waterproof canvas skin to the shockingly comfortable memory foam mattress. Roofnest claims it’s able to handle storms and cold weather alike; of course, my night in it was a clear one in balmy July where temperatures barely dipped below 70, so I’ll have to take their word for it.
And in spite of what you might think from a glance, it's surprisingly roomy inside. At six-foot-four, I was worried I’d have to curl up, but I was quite pleased to discover I could sleep in a normal position. It’s a bit tight for two people, especially if they're tall, but not cramped.
As it turns out, sleeping up high when you're out in nature is borderline-magical . Not only are you well above any animals that might wander by and be interested in your food supply, but you’re also guaranteed a flat surface to sleep on, no matter what sort of campsite you’re at. (Not necessarily level, mind you — just flat.) There’s more air circulation in warm weather, with better breezes up there. Having a hard shell above you provides a nice layer of security. And waking up in the morning gives you an incredible view, even if you’re just in a regular campground.
Watch Out For
The Falcon starts at $3,400 — higher than many roof tents from other notable brands. Granted, as mentioned, Roofnest makes a premium product designed for all sorts of weather that's simple and easy to use...but that’s still a hefty outlay of cash in comparison, at least for the casual user.
This was my first time testing a rooftop tent, so I'd imagine this is a common feature to all of them, but it’s a little disconcerting to look out your moonroof and see this giant object wobbling at highway speed, no matter how firmly it’s strapped on.
While opening the Falcon was easy, closing it proved a pain in the ass. I couldn’t pull it shut far enough to latch it from the ground, no matter how hard I tried. I wound up having to climb on top of the tent and put my weight on it to push it together. It's not a huge issue — after all, the ladder makes getting up there easy — but it's certainly not the most dignified method. (Roofnest's explainer video shows an employee shutting it from the ground with ease, suggesting that either my example was an aberration or the company only employs people with super-strength.)
And perhaps those with camelid bladders can go through a whole night without peeing, but I’m certainly not one of those folks. Clambering down an aluminum ladder while half-asleep is hardly an ideal situation.
If you're just looking to dive into rooftop camping but don't want to spend a lot, Front Runner Outfitters offers a fold-out model that runs $1,099. If you think you might want to take yours off fairly often, it might be worth holding out for Go Fast Campers's new lightweight Superlite (starting at $1,199, with ladder and mattress $1,578). And for those who don't mind the price and like the build quality but prefer an option with more space, Roofnest's clamshell Condor ($2,995) offers more interior space.
If you're only planning on using your rooftop tent sporadically, the Falcon might seem like a bit much. But if you want a car camping solution that's tough enough for whatever you'll throw at it, versatile enough to let you carry gear and accessories and well-thought-out, the Falcon deserves to be on your list.