Rooftop vs ground camping: Up in the air or planted on the ground?

2018-02-16 14:29 - Gabi Zietsman
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Every avid camper has been faced with this question - rooftop tent or ground tent - and it probably has created quite a stirring debate around campfires when everyone's camping style is scrutinised.

Most of my childhood holidays involve trekking around South Africa and Namibia setting up camp in the middle of nowhere, before mobile signal became a basic need for life. We never had a rooftop tent, and I was always envious of fellow campers who looked like they were kings and queens up in their cloud castles.

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I experienced my first rooftop tent while on a trip with Wishing Well Foundation through Mpumalanga, Swaziland and northern KwaZulu-Natal. I was extremely excited about finally living out my childhood fantasy and joining the sky-high club.

But was it better than camping on the ground? According to our readers on social, the majority prefer to stay grounded. The price of Rooftop tents and need for a big car or trailer obviously excludes a lot of people from being able to compare, but if you are looking to invest here are a few things to consider.

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When you need space to move

If you want to be able to stand instead of shimmying your pants on while sitting, a ground tent wins out. Most rooftop tents don't accommodate standing and at most have space for two people and one bag each. Long-term campers also tend to prefer to be able to setup 'house' in a roomy tent, and if you're a family sharing a rooftop tent can only lead to internal screaming.

If you're a couple that likes to cuddle howevere, a rooftop tent is an ideal catalyst.

Winner: Ground

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The painful dread of setting up the tent

Even ground pop-up tents are a pain to get back into its impossible shape. With rooftop tents you only need to pop open a few clasps and you're all set up - any lazy camper's dream. Taking it down again is just as easy as you fold it up back into its compartment. 

For anyone who's ever had to deal with a missing peg or pole, a rooftop tent is heaven.

Winner: Rooftop

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Looking for the best spot to set up

When you're dealing with lumpy ground that'll make you feel like the Princess in the pea story, it's easy to position your car just right so you sleep on an even level high up. However, when you set up camp on the ground you're free to travel, unless you have enough energy to constantly put up and take down your rooftop tent every time you want to go for a game drive.

But if you're travelling to a new place every day or have it set up on a trailer, a rooftop wins, so here it really depends on the kind of camping trips you take.

Winner: Both

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Blow-up mattress drama

This was by far the best part of staying in a rooftop tent for me. They normally have a mattress built-in which not only saves you the creeping dread of a mattress slowly losing air in the middle of the night, but also saves you space in the car.

Again you have the added bonus of no rocks and sticks trying to murder your spine.

Winner: Rooftop

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Unwelcome visitors

This is a bit of a toss-up between the two. Growing up my parents always scared me with tales of 'friends' with rooftop tents where pythons have made their homes. On the other hand you get stories like the leopard who attacked a woman in her ground tent that will make you reconsider camping altogether. Either way both are not foolproof, but it is rare for animals to attack tents if they're safely zipped up.

Not much you can do against invading mozzies though.

Winner: Neither

SEE: #ShockWildlifeTruths: SA woman attacked by leopard in her tent at Kgalagadi Park


Going to the bathroom in the middle of the night

This was by far the worst part about a rooftop tent. When I go camping I always have to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, and this midnight curse was a new hell when you added a ladder you have to descend while half asleep. If you have some difficulties with your knees or back a rooftop tent is also not a good option. 

Basically if you have a tiny bladder, you're going to rather want to stick to the ground.

Winner: Ground

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Final tally?

Based on these considerations, it's pretty much a tie, so it depends on which category is most important to you. Personally I am leaning towards the rooftop tent just because of traumatic flashbacks to tents caving in and breakdowns over not finding the hole in the deflating blow-up mattress. 

Then again I almost died trying to climb a ladder while barely conscious. 

What do you think? Vote below!