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Making Road Trips Easier with the Tepui Rooftop Tent
Intro to Tepui Tents
This cool company out of Santa Cruz makes an awesome rooftop car tent that first caught my eye at the Subaru dealership when I was getting my new ride. I’m sure you’ve seen them driving around. They look like big plastic boxes containing clothes, but underneath is a roomy, comfortable tent you can take anywhere.
There are a number of different models in the lineage of Tepui Tents and they all have the same basic design. The two-person Ayer tent starts at $835 and the four-person Autana will run you $2,750.
The basic tents are made of a 600-denier ripstop polyester & cotton blend coated with water repellent. The sides have zippered windows and a door to reveal a heavy-duty mesh to keep the bugs out. The windows and door can be rolled up and stowed to be kept out of the way. Awnings on each side help keep the sun and rain out of the tent. Probably the most surprising aspect is the comfortable mattress; the 2.5-inch thick high-density foam is surprisingly cozy. The strong frame and durable material truly makes these four-season tents.
The two-person Ayer weighs 115 pounds and has a footprint of 48″ x 42″ when closed, and is 11″ high. Opened, the dimensions are 48″ x 84″ and has 39″ of headroom. A heavy-duty PVC cover will keep your tent protected from the elements and features a super-easy large zipper to secure it.
Installing the Tepui rooftop tent on a Subaru Outback
The Tepui was installed on my car and ready to go within one hour of tearing the shipping box open. All of the tools necessary for installation are included in some sturdy bags that’ll last the life of your tent.
The first step is to mount the brackets that will secure the tent to the roof rack. This task takes two people; one person needs to crawl inside and hold the bolts in place while the bracket and nuts are secured on the other side. I suppose you could tape the bolts to the inside of the tent as you get the nuts on, but you’ll want that second person later to help lift the thing!
Note: The instructions say that if you want the tent to open to the side of the car, the brackets should be perpendicular to the hinge. This is true if your roof rack runs the length of the car. If you’re mounting the tent to crossbeams off the rack, like on the Subaru Outback, the brackets need to be parallel to the hinge.
As mentioned earlier, it takes two people to lift the Tepui. I’ll confess I did it by myself one time but I ended up with some scratches on the roof of my car…I’ll come up with a system some day.
The most time-consuming part of installation is tightening the mounting brackets to the roof rack. The bolts are long, and on my Subaru Outback there’s not a lot of clearance between the end of the bolt and the roof. Once you can get the nut on there, it just takes a lot of ratcheting to get them tight. Solution: replace the provided bolts with shorter ones from the hardware store.
Using the Tepui Rooftop Tent
Driving with the Tepui on my Outback
Man I was so paranoid. I’ve never carried anything this heavy on the roof before and even though the dynamic load of the factory Subaru Outback rack was rated high enough for this rooftop tent, I still had my reservations. I kept looking through the moonroof but the Tepui was solid with each turn and at highway speeds.
I did notice a small decrease in gas mileage but that’s to be expected with that much drag added to the top of the car. It wasn’t much though; I can usually go about 550 miles cross-country on one tank of gas and with this I get about 480. Though another time I had a tailwind the entire drive and had over 550. So it all depends on other conditions. Anyways, if you do have a moonroof you’ll notice the noise with the roof open. Otherwise it doesn’t add any noticeable noise to the drive.
Making & breaking camp
The best part of the Tepui is the ease of making camp.
- Find a sweet spot to make camp for the night
- Unzip & roll off the cover
- Grab the ladder and fold the tent open
- Install the small rods that hold the awnings up
Breaking camp is just as easy, doing all of these steps in the reverse order.
I’ll have a video soon to show just how quick & easy the entire process is.
One thing to note, that I hope doesn’t really need to be said: make sure you’re parked on level ground!
My only complaints about the Tepui rooftop tent
The thing I least looked forward to was tightening the mounting brackets to the roof rack. As I said earlier, the bolts are long and there’s not a lot of clearance between the tent and the roof on a Subaru Outback. Both of my forearms were rubbed raw, bleeding at times, from ratcheting in that small space. Replacing the long bolts with shorter ones nixed this problem and my contempt for installation & taking it down.
This next one I can’t really solve. When I get to a campsite I’ll be at for a few days, I’d normally leave my backpacking tent set up and then come & go in the car when I wish with no hassles. The Tepui must be cleaned out, closed, and zipped up every time you want to take the car somewhere. You can’t really unhitch it and leave it in camp. Then you get back late and you have to open it back up again and throw your stuff back in. Does this suck? No, not really, since it does open & close so quickly, but it’s just a bit of an inconvenience if you plan on running around in the car from camp.
One other thing to note. Condensation forms between the bottom of the mattress and the floor of the tent structure. I haven’t tried putting any kind of vapor barrier in there yet, like a plastic sheet or perforated flooring tiles, so if anyone has ideas about that please let me know! I saw Tepui does sell a mat on their website. Anyways, just be sure to dry it out before storing it for a long time.
Update: Two years later
We’ve had several great adventures driving around both the U.S. and Canada with this rooftop tent. We’ve had no issues with the roof rack or the structure of the tent, either driving or sleeping. We were in some massive storms in the Canadian Rockies with some unexpected snow and high winds, and other than being cold, putting up with the noise from the wind, the tent did fine. That trip was over 3,000 miles.
The only thing to note is that the foam mattress did start to lose some cushion and we’ll likely be replacing it soon. The PVC cover is still in good shape despite being subjected to the elements.
A great investment so far!
Where to buy a Tepui rooftop tent
A number of dealers throughout the country sell these tents; you can check Tepui’s map of dealers to find one near you.
You can also purchase the tents online, like at REI.com or see the offroadtents.com selection of Tepui tents.
Do any other Tepui owners have anything to add? Any questions? Please leave them below!
Wednesday 19th of October 2022
I am a Tepui Antanna 3 owner, for 3 years now, with over 55k road miles and 40 campsite, up and down the west coast. My Tepui is mounted to my beloved '05 Honda Element on Thule aero blades with No issues. I love my tent, it's been a game changer for me. Opening up space in my vehicle because all my bedding folds up nicely in the tent. I did purchase the quilted insulator that can be stored inside as well I just unclip to tops and lay it flat inside with my sleeping bags, etc.
I have spent some evenings in the tent with temps in the twenties and slept fairly warm inside. (< before I got the insulator) One possibly helpful trick... I do have 2 rechargable hand warmers that I keep in my bag at the small of my back when its cold like that. They help a lot and do the trick to keep me warm thru the night.
Happy adventures, camping and be safe out there all.
Wednesday 19th of October 2022
Oops, Mileage correction 5.5k
Thursday 5th of May 2022
What roof rack do you have ? I called Thule and they said that none of their racks will support any of their tents on top of my 2013 outback. I already have the factory installed railing but have had no luck with finding actual racks to fit my outback and support a tepui
Thursday 5th of May 2022
I just used the factory crossbars on my 2016 Outback.
Thursday 5th of August 2021
Just an FYI for anyone interested, I bought stainless steel metric bolts (8 x 40mm) that really did the trick for me. Made installation much easier.
Friday 6th of August 2021
Great tip, thanks!
Monday 26th of April 2021
I am curious if anyone has added any LED lighting inside or if there are any other tips on customization or needed accessories to make for a successful outing? I was thinking of getting some LED string lights with a solar charger but not sure you I can run it out to the top and still easily break down camp for daily travel. Thanks in advance for any info.
Tuesday 27th of April 2021
Hi Alex, yeah that's exactly what we did. We got some LED string lights from ENO that run on 2 AA batteries that last nearly the entire season. We just leave them strung up on the framing; no worrying about breaking them or anything. Then we have a little blow-up solar-powered lantern that we hang from a carabiner we put in the tent and charge it on the car dash during the day.
Monday 19th of April 2021
Do you have any issues with mounting it to original crossbars
Tuesday 20th of April 2021
Nope. The bolts are pretty long and come close to the top of the car but no other problems with the factory rack.