I know this is a cycling site but over the years, we’ve covered so many events where car camping is a theme and have spent many a weekend in the wilds of the Southwest with MTBs in tow. I get a lot of questions about our setup, so I’m tackling a big part of it with this article. If you don’t like cars and think they have no place on a cycling website, no worries, you don’t have to read this…
For the past few years – since moving to California – I’ve traded the jet-set life for road trips. I used to fly two or three times a month out of Austin, Texas, all over the world. These days, I like to make longer, meandering road trips out of assignments, or events and spend the summer months almost exclusively living out of our truck, sleeping in the Go Fast Camper Roof Top Tent.
Not wanting to limit our traveling experience, we’ve tried a number of sleeping arrangements in the Cruiser, but the Go Fast Camper has really been the best overall. These rooftop tents are the best on the market and while it comes at a hefty pricetag, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Read on below for our in-depth look at these unique campers.
On the road to Abiquiu, New Mexico
What is a Roof Top Tent?
The early concepts of a roof-mounted tent for vacations, getaways, and road trips date back to the 1920’s. Ford actually made a model called the “Ford House Car.” What a hoot those skirted contraptions were, yet the departure isn’t as acute as you’d expect, with many manufacturers continuing the pursuit of the perfect “soft top” tent.
Canyon Country Camping
Soft top tents are typically square or rectangular in their footprint, about 12″ tall, and fold-out on one side, forming a cantilever structure with the rigid braces of the tent acting as the main support. I.e. half of the sleeping platform is hanging off the side of the vehicle. A ladder is then folded down from the base and you enter from one of the vestibules. These tents are typically 120+ pounds, very loud in the wind, since you’re 6′ – 8′ off the ground and take about 5 minutes to close up. They’re also very high, making your center of gravity a bit more dangerous during side hill or off-camber trails or roads.
The benefits of rooftop tents are you’re only a few minutes away from having a thick, comfy mattress to sleep on, the interior of your car is freed up from sleeping pads, tents, and sleeping bags, since you can close your bedding up in most tents. I’ve found them to be more pleasant in summer months since you’re off the ground and up in the breeze, yet in a wind storm, they can be very loud. In the winter months, you can close up the windows and stay comfortable.
You don’t have to worry about rocky campsites, thorns, or other ground debris. If you can park it fairly level, you can camp there. I like using them because as long as there’s a vehicle pull-out, you don’t have to clear any ground material for a ground cover, leaving the site as you found it. There’s also an interesting vantage point to be had from being off-the-ground. In places like Australia and Africa, they gained popularity due to so many dangerous animals lurking about.
While they are neat to have and can be quite nice, there are some downfalls to them as well.
Wheelin’ Devi’s Racetrack in the San Rafael Swell
The Challenges of a High Center of Gravity
Spend enough time on rocky trails and you’ll quickly realize how body roll, sidehill, and off-camber sections are greatly affected by high weight. A rooftop tent is around 120 pounds. A roof rack, around the same. That’s more or less the weight of a human on the top, tipping your vehicle side to side. We learned real quick that a high center of gravity wasn’t going to work for us. Our old soft top and roof rack had to go.
GFC co-founder Wiley’s Tacoma with his 1-Up Rack and Trek.
Go Fast Campers
We’ve had our GFC RTT for about a year now and since I’ve spent an accumulative 5 months on the road, I can give an honest report on its use. I will say it is the best rooftop tent I’ve used and over the years, I’ve used a great deal of them. Both on my own truck and on other’s. Since the GFC replaces the roof rack and with some vehicles having direct-mount options, we cut our roof load down by over half. The tent acts as a rack, with cargo bars available to sash or tie bags, boards, and even boats to the top.
The GFC sits 1″ over the sheet metal of our roof and is only 6″ thick. Its lightweight structure and materiality makes it easy to install or remove with a buddy, but since it’s so minimal, we just keep it on.
Pickup or SUV
Go Fast Campers started off making camper shells with the tent portion integrated. You simply open up the liftgate and enter from the bottom of the tent in the cargo bay of the bed. They’re light (250lbs), waterproof, bombproof, and extremely versatile. I have very limited experience with these campers, so I won’t be going into them deeper.
The success of the campers led GFC to design their RTT, for those of us with SUVs, wagons, or other crossover vehicles. The only limiting factor is the size of your vehicle since these are large tents with exterior dimensions of 53″x96″, resulting in 50″x90″ of interior sleeping space.
GFC started in 2017, launching a crowd-funded truck camper model. After the initial run was manufactured and shipped, they moved into their current shop in Bozeman, in March 2018. Since then, they’ve slowly grown and continued to hire more folks in the Bozeman, Montana area to work in their manufacturing facilities. Currently, GFC employs about 30 people, with the entire staff in production, save for two customer service and sales reps. In the time since they’ve launched, 500 campers have shipped from their facilities.
With custom-made aluminum extrusions, CNC-machined aluminum hinges and hardware, composite honeycomb paneling and a 2.5″ sleeping pad, the GFC RTT is the nicest made tent on the market. The paneling is translucent, allowing in a soft, diffused glow during the day, relieving the cave-like tendency of most other hardshell tents. Every piece is serviceable, replaceable, and tested for literally thousands of usage cycles.
The tent material itself is made from a waterproof fabric and is single-wall construction, meaning if you’re in humid areas, it will sweat a bit, but we’ve slept in the rent during a blizzard and many rainy nights while on the road and stayed as dry as you would in any tent. Remember, all single-walled tents will sweat. If the tent is wet in the morning, we’ll close it up until we hit a dry and sunny stretch to pop it up and let it dry out.
After over a year of heavy use, ours still looks new.
The design intent of these tents is to be a shelter and a cargo solution. Thanks to the unique extrusion design, their direct mount kits simply attach to your car’s rain rails and the tent’s channels via t-nuts. You can also mount them to crossbars. Along these rails, you can also mount clamps, shovels, awnings, lights, and what-have-you using the same t-nut hardware. Their “Beef Rack” crossbars make it possible to carry bikes on the roof as well.
For someone who spends almost half the year on the road, usually in this thing, the deployment speed is what makes the GFC so appealing. If I’m tired while driving, I’ll pull over on some BLM land, pop the tent, crawl inside and sleep for a few hours. If we get to camp late, or just want to take a break from driving, it takes 10 seconds to open and under a minute to close. Sometimes we don’t even open the truck and fully set up camp. Open. Sleep. Close. On the road…
While people will swear by Sprinters and other vans, those vehicles are limited to where they can really go. Long wheelbases, horrible approach/departure angles, and a tendency to get stuck in sand make them non-ideal vehicles for our desert ramblings. We can literally get away from everyone, up the dirt road, through the rock garden, and in a private nook within a canyon and set up our base camp to hike, trail run, MTB or gravel ride with ease.
With Go Fast Camper’s ultralight truck camper shell running $6,450, the GFC RTT is considerably less expensive, yet still a hefty $3,500. Considering it replaces a roof rack – which runs between $1,000 to $1,800 – and soft shell tents run around $2,000 for a good one, it’s not so bad. These robust tents are extremely popular and right now, there’s a 6-ish month waitlist for one, which gives you plenty of time to do research and save.
Right now, for how we use our Cruiser, I couldn’t ask for a better solution. Perhaps one day our requirements or needs will change, but as it sits now, it’s a dream machine.
Got questions? Critiques? Comments? Drop them below and I’ll do my best to respond. Reviewing car camping hardware is something new for us here at the Radavist, so let us know how we can make it a better experience.