Roof top tent for 5 foot tall mom with two little boys

So I’m planning on driving my X5 cross country in the USA with my 7 & 9 year old boys this summer. I have running boards on my x5, but at 5 foot tall, I will still have a tough time getting a waterproof cover over a soft top tent by myself, and my boys are too little to help much.

We are planning on spending 2.5-3 weeks going each way - southern route in a June and northern route in August. Spending 1 night in some places, 2 nights in other places - so sleeping 15-20 consecutive nights in the tent each way. I’d like to get an easy to use roof top tent that won’t break the bank.

The Smittybilt XL looks nice and roomy, and not too expensive, but I worry about closing it solo.

I’ve seen some hard top roof tents that are 145cm wide with gas struts but are much pricier. Would that be big enough for 3? Are they easier to close?

FWIW, though I’m only 5 foot tall, my kids are tall and skinny (tracking to be 6’3” and 6’1”). So ideally I would like a tent we can all fit into for a few years.

I’m an experienced off the beaten path traveler (55 countries and counting), and have slept on the floors of yurts and open top boats and floating villages with pit toilets that open into a river, but I’m not much of a car camper or hiker. Pre-kids, I would just carry a tiny down sleeping bag and cross my fingers the locals in places without guest houses would take in a solo woman traveler and it usually worked out fine. With kids, it’s a whole new world....

I did travel in South Africa in a rented truck with two flat lion-proof tents on top once upon a time, but that was with several other adults, and by memory, I was too short and too weak to unfold the tent without help.

Thanks in advance for any advice.
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I did find a 1.9m hard top tent on alibaba. Shipped from China it would be $1800 by container ship. But it would be a gamble as far as quality and it would take 50 days to reach me in California.
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Which country are you crossing? What kind of roads?
First thing I would do is check your roof load rating and go from there.
145cm wide with 3 people will be tight I would think.
I’m in the US. Just driving from California to east coast and back. My roof can hold 165 lbs dynamic load.

I anticipate just off-roading a little bit (going to a couple fossil / rockhounding sites in Utah and New Mexico that require going along a few miles of unpaved dirt road, but nothing too dramatic.) Mostly state highway roads or interstate highways.


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So that's about 75kg. Should be fine for most roof toppers I would think. If sticking to mostly tar I would think you can go pretty close to that limit too.


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What about an xtm electric tent? Easy to open and close after you have thrown a kid on the roof to deal with the cover. They have as much space as any others inside. You could have one of those instant up tents that you just take the cover off and throw open for the kids if you have nights where it can be used too.
I'm jealous of your adventures.... :)


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I have a 1.4m wide locally branded RTT that came out of China, probably out of the same factory as they all do.
It's bolted onto the back of my ute, around 1.8m off the ground. I take it camping with 2 kids, one was around 4', the other 5' and I'm 6' 4". It took a bit of messing around to fit people comfortably, but can be done when they are smaller.
My son would sleep sideways at the end, daughter on one side and me on the other. Now the little bugger has grown its me on one side, daughter on the other and son on a bit of a diagonal. He mostly sleeps in a swag on the ground, but when we were in croc territory he wasn't that keen for some reason.
With careful folding most of the bedding can stay up there, with only the pillows having to be loaded into the car.

I was out camping once and a lady and her son arrived in a Landcruiser Prado with a RTT and I was surprised how organised she was when it came to set up. She was what I consider short (lucky if she was 5'), but was out of the car and up on the roof rack faster than I could have done it, cover and straps off then ladder 1/2 extended with a rope hanging off the bottom rung.
Off the roof, she then pulled on the rope, ladder came down and tent went up.
Pack up was the reverse, pushed the ladder up and the tent folds, then up on the roof, stowed the ladder, strapped down, cover on and she was ready to go in the morning.
Thanks for the encouragement. After watching a bunch of RTT setup videos, I’ve decided I would go nuts if I have to climb on my rack to zip/unzip the tent every day, so I have to go with a hard shell. The one I like is 210cm x 190cm unfolded and right at 70 kilos.

I’m leery of ordering one from China, but it’s about 1/3 the price of ordering locally. So long as it arrives and works ok, even if it’s not perfect, I think it’s worth the gamble.

I’ll report back in 7-8 weeks when it arrives. It knocks a few hundred off the price if I don’t order the annex and if I handle the customs paperwork and pick it up myself from the container port about an hour away, so that’s my plan.


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What about a normal tent ....or is that not an option ?
I've got to say I am not a fan of rooftop tents. A normal quick tent like black wolf (I've got a turbo 300) or oztent) is up in 5 minutes and packed up slightly longer. Don't have to get the car level, can go out and explore after camp setup. I don't get the appeal
Maybe someone that uses one a lot can tell me


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I have several quick pitch tents and a double swag and had a RTT for about 6 years and have to say it is the favourite.
Your bed is made when you open it
You don’t have to roll and unroll mattresses and bedding and use up space it in your vehicle
You are elevated so it is cooler and you get a breeze,
You get to watch the sunrise from bed
You are up out of the dust or mud so your gear stays cleaner
You can setup on knarley ground that you wouldn’t pitch a tent on
In croc country you can safely camp right on the river bank
And most importantly my wife likes it the best and we all know how much better it is when the bride is a happy camper :)

Having said all of that it does depend on the style of camping you do, we don’t set up as a base camp and do day trips or stay in one place for more than 2 days.
I have set my vehicle up so that I can open and close it nearly all by standing on the ground.......rummaging around on a roof rack does not look like much fun


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All what Alby said.
Site selection is another bonus. If you can park your car there, then you can camp, you don't need an any additional space the size of a car to pitch a tent.

My wife stays at home, so I got to take the young kids camping.
We had dome tents and they are reasonably quick to set up, but poles get cracked, gear gets dusty/muddy getting dragged in and out and Dad ends up doing all the work.
Its arrive at the camp, doors on the car burst open, kids disappear to the creek/rocks/point of interest and I'm left putting up the tent, transferring the mattress & sleeping bags into the tent, setting up the kitchen, planning dinner, cooking dinner and doing the reverse in the morning.

I could rant and make them help, but that just leaves everyone having a less than optimal camping experience.

RTT, I can unzip and fold out, sleeping bags and mattress are already in there and the kids can handle throwing in the pillows. There is a lot more available space in the vehicle, so getting the kitchen stuff out is easier. I throw my son's swag off the roof rack and if that doesn't get set up, then its not my problem.

I can pack up the whole camp in around 15 minutes at a leisurely pace. I have never had the need to go driving once the tent is deployed and I don't trust people enough to leave a camp setup and setup is so quick that there is no need to pre-deploy a camp, so for me its not a valid argument against. I have moved around the camp site though, left the tent up, hitched the ladder up with the guyropes and motored to a better spot, try doing that with a standard tent.


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. I have moved around the camp site though, left the tent up, hitched the ladder up with the guyropes and motored to a better spot, try doing that with a standard tent.
Haha yes I have done that with the black wolf when I wanted to be a closer to a fireplace once.
Then there is the problem of when you need to get up a few times thru the night, think I might fall of the ladder :)
I can recommend buying one of these platforms. I use it to pack and unpack the RTT , it also is the cooking table, a bench seat, and a access landing placed slightly against the RTT ladder - it makes getting in and out Soooo much easier.