15 Reasons Why People Camp On Top Of Cars


In the last couple of years, the popularity of rooftop tents has increased significantly, and that is why you might wonder, why do people camp on top of cars?

People tent on top of cars because this is an easy, affordable, comfortable, and convenient way to go camping. Sleeping off the ground is cleaner, safer, warmer, and dryer than ground tents and the quick setup makes you more mobile, giving you the freedom to move from place to place and camp anywhere you can (legally) park your car.

But there is so much more to unwrap about why people like to camp on top of a car.

We constantly travel through Europe with a rooftop tent as a family. We even used a rooftop tent as our home for more than eight months as a couple. So we know everything you need to know about rooftop tents, plus we also asked many people on the road why they tent on top of their cars. And we are happy to share all the reasons why people tent on top of cars in this article. So continue reading.

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1) Mobility

One of the main reasons people love to use a rooftop tent is because you’re very mobile and experience a lot of freedom. That is what traveling is all about, right? It is also one of the reasons why we love it so much. You can literally camp anywhere you want.

A rooftop tent is perfect for any road trip, whether you want to get away for the weekend or travel through a whole continent for months, as we did. You have so much freedom because of the on-the-go camping experience a rooftop tent brings you. The easy setup makes you packed up and ready to go to the next destination within minutes.

And this way of camping can also be very adventurous and takes you to places you usually wouldn’t sleep. Especially when you drive a 4×4 vehicle, you can camp at normally impossible places. If you can level your car evenly, you have a very comfortable and even surface to sleep on the night. This is much more comfortable than setting camp in the wild with a ground tent with all the rocky and uneven surfaces.

We even slept in a supermarket car park a couple of times because we needed to board a ferry to the Greek Islands very early in the morning. The advantage of that experience is that we had fresh bread in the morning and other yummy fresh fruit. And we also made it all the way to the Sahara Desert in Morocco.

And you don’t take up a lot of space, as your tent and your vehicle are in the same space. This will help you find a camping spot or parking spot more easily compared to traveling with an RV.

The first time we experienced sleeping in a rooftop tent was when traveling through Australia. We enjoyed it so much that we researched if we could put a rooftop tent on our small car at home. And to our surprise, we discovered this was possible. And surprised many people on the road when we arrived with our small car and opened up our rooftop tent.

Check out my article: Can You Put A Rooftop Tent On Any Car? Step-by-Step Guide for more information.

2) Quick To Set-Up

Setting up a rooftop tent is very quick. Some rooftop tents, especially hard shell rooftop tents, will only take seconds to set up. Our first rooftop tent was set up within 5 seconds, as seen in the video below.

Other rooftop tents will only take a couple of minutes to set up. Plus, in most rooftop tents, you have a built-in foam mattress and can leave your bedding inside, so you don’t need to inflate an air mattress or hassle with tent poles when it’s raining or dark outside. The time between parking the car and going to bed is only a couple of minutes and, for some, even less than a minute. That is also a big reason why people go from camping on the ground to camping in their car.

Also, for example, on a Friday, you can spontaneously go camping on the weekend, and you don’t need to collect your camping gear all around the house because it is already on top of your car and ready to go. That is how quick, and easy camping on top of a car is.

3) Comfortable Sleeping

Most rooftop tents have a standard foam mattress between 1.1 inches and 2/3 inches thick (around 3 – 6 cm). Plus, an anti-condensation matt underneath. Some (older) people like to put a self-inflatable mattress under the mattress for more comfort.

It is not as thick as the mattress you might be sleeping on at home, but it is way more comfortable than sleeping on a sleeping matt or air mattress on the ground! 

Plus, you also can use your own bedding if you don’t like sleeping in a sleeping bag as we do. We always use our own bedding and pillows. And when it is too warm at night, we just only sleep under the duvet cover. 

Also, as anyone who has ever slept outdoors in the wilderness knows, sleeping on the ground can be a nightmare, as rocks and uneven surfaces can cause sleepless nights. With rooftop tents, you always have an even surface (some models even feature cushioned floors) for restful and comfortable sleep, no matter the location, as long as your car is evenly parked ;).

4) Safe Way To Camp

Many people feel safer when sleeping on top of their car because they’re properly distanced from wildlife and crawling animals, like spiders, scorpions, or snakes. It is no wonder that rooftop tents have been around since the 1950s in South Africa and Australia. When you hear something, you can safely watch it from above and continue sleeping comfortably after any animal encounter.

5) Safely Secure Gear In Car

A great advantage of a rooftop tent is that you can safely secure all your gear in the car and lock it. A ground tent is easily opened and easy to taken apart within a few minutes by thieves. A rooftop tent is very hard to remove, especially with ant-theft security nuts, where you need special tools to open it. In most cases, the normal installment, as you see below, is more than sufficient.

6) Nice And Warm

Sleeping on the ground can be very cold, so when you’re sleeping on top of your car, you don’t need extra insulation to protect you from the cold ground. On chilly nights, a rooftop tent can be warmer than a ground tent, but on a hot night, you also catch a nice breeze on top of your car.

When you want to go camping with a rooftop tent during winter or cold weather conditions, you might want to read my helpful article: How To Heat A Rooftop Tent (and stay warm in winter).

7) High And Dry

Also, a rooftop tent is a lot dryer than a ground tent. You don’t have to worry about any water runoff from unexpected storms in the area. And when you’re camping in a muddy area, you just have to climb up the ladder and take off your shoes (put them in the bag or on top of your car), and you can sleep high and dry. It is a lot less messy camping.

Also, when it’s pouring rain, you can set up camp quickly and sleep without being drenched by rain.

The same applies to any tent when wet. Dry it first before you pack up. Or as we do, we pack up and drive further, and when there is a moment of sunshine during the day, we park the car, open the tent and let it dry. Most of the time, it is dry within half an hour.

8) Easy Parking

Another benefit of camping with a rooftop tent instead of an RV, mobile home, or campervan is the easy parking. You’re a lot smaller with a car and a rooftop tent on top than when you travel with an RV. As you may have also experienced, in many cities, you’re not even allowed to park your RV in a parking lot even when it is paid. Or the parking spots or too small.

In Europe, people love to drive around in old campervans, but due to the emission, they’re not allowed to enter the city center in the most famous cities. So they need to park outside the city and hop on public transport to do some sightseeing. That is a lot of hassle.

When you have a rooftop tent on top, you can use almost every spot on popular campgrounds, and you can park easily at parking lots in bigger cities. Look at the image below, where we can enter a parking lot that is 6.3 feet in height. So easy.

9) Durable Framework

Rooftop tents are typically made from thicker materials than conventional tents. This robust construction provides better protection against challenging weather conditions like wind, rain or even snow (many models can be fitted with insulation that covers the walls and roof for additional warmth in harsh weather).

Also, unlike standard ground tents, rooftop tents material is thicker, more durable, and long-lasting because it doesn’t have to be lightweight for easy carrying. And thicker material keeps more w mth in for a comfortable night’s sleep.

When you invest in a high-quality rooftop tent, it pays out quickly. For example, normally, you pay around $100 for a hotel room. When you sleep in a rooftop rent instead of a hotel room, you save around $75 per night. After 33 nights camping, you already got your investment back.

10) Affordable

Another reason people love camping on top of their car with a rooftop tent is that it is so affordable.

The price of a rooftop tent varies per brand, size, and material. On average, the price of a rooftop tent is between 1100 US Dollars – 3500 US Dollars.

Then you need to buy a roof rack as well, and the most trusted brand is Thule, which is between 80 US dollars and 250 US dollars. Depending on which one fits best on top of your car.

An RV is between 10.000 US dollars and 300.000 US dollars. The price depends on how big and luxurious you want to go with an RV. So let’s say we compare the price of the most basic RV, like a small campervan, for example, with a rooftop tent. 

When a cheap RV costs around 10.000 US dollars, and the most expensive rooftop tent is around 3500 US dollars, a rooftop tent is still, on average, 6500 US dollars cheaper! I know an RV has advantages, but you can make a lot of fun trips with 6500 US dollars.

11) More Storage Space In The Car

One aspect of camping in a rooftop tent that is easily overlooked is the amount of space it creates. You have more storage space in your car when you have a rooftop tent installed on your roof rack.

With the ability to securely stow away practically all your gear in your car, truck, or SUV, instead of inside your tent, there will be less clutter and more space inside your rooftop tent for you to stretch out and relax.

12) Extra Storage Space On Top Of The Car

You can store extra accessories such as poles, sleeping bags, and other gear in many rooftop tents. Also, most rooftop tents have an in-built mattress, so you don’t need to carry an air mattress around, etc.

Underneath the rain cover, we have stored stools, a camping table, a rooftop tent awning, bedding, and pillows. This way, we are able to keep traveling with our small car while being a family of three. And also have all the kitchen appliances we need to cook healthy and delicious meals.

13) All-Seasons Usage

Because of the rugged construction of rooftop tents, most of them can be used all year round and in many different weather conditions. Or it can be upgraded with extra insulation, extreme weather cover, etc.

Before you buy a rooftop tent, you can check if it’s suitable for all seasons and what material it is made of. You can find more information on that in my article: Ways To Heat A Rooftop Tent And Stay Warm.

14) View From Above

Camping on top of your car never gets old. The view and perspective you get from above is much cooler than the view you have from the ground. It is like waking up in a treehouse. Who doesn’t love that idea?

You literally and figuratively see things from a different perspective when you sleep on top of your car. And that makes your camping experience a lot more unique.

15) Fun Camping Experience

Almost everyone has slept in a tent on the ground one time in their life. But not a lot of people can say they have slept on top of their own car very comfortably. I speak for many people. Sleeping on top of your car is an adventurous and fun camping experience you definitely need to try once in your life.

We loved it and even made a video about living on a rooftop for eight months while we traveled through Europe and a part of Africa. Check out our video below:

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Léon Kopijn

Léon Kopijn works and lives as a Digital Nomad. He travels the world with the love of his life and writes about inspiring cultures and practical travel tips. Find out more about Léon on his about page!

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