Are they foolproof? No. But they are a great way to explore Dumfries and Galloway from the comfort of a Fiat Panda
Published: September 19th, 2023
Writers: Will Hide
I was on top of a hill in Dumfries and Galloway and it was blowing a hoolie. Actually, to be more accurate, I was on top of a hill, on top of a Fiat Panda, in a tent that was attached to the roof, and it was blowing a hoolie.
Tents on top of cars aren’t new. Google the concept and you can see East Germans pootling off with them on smog-belching Trabants back in the 1970s. And safari companies offer them in Southern Africa too. But now several small British manufacturers are producing new versions that suddenly seem to be all over my social media feeds. I decided to give one a spin in Scotland.
Mine was already fixed to the car roof for me, which, as someone who struggles with IKEA instructions, was probably no bad thing. Friends assured me that all you need is a pre-check of your vehicle’s “dynamic roof load” (how much weight it can take), roof bars, some elbow grease, six minutes of your time to watch the how-to video, half an hour to install and you’re away.
The version I borrowed was entry-level, with space enough for two people. It requires you to do the grunt work of putting it up, but it can go on a small car. (Pricier models are larger and effortlessly pop-up on gas-filled struts in under 60 seconds.) With practice, I got the set-up to under five minutes and it’s doable by one person after a few goes, although two would be handier.
You need to unstrap the outer cover, then fold the tent out over the side of the car by pulling an attached ladder, which also acts as support. Then – the fiddliest bit – you stretch to put in some struts that keep the roof taut and flaps extended and hook those in, which is all fine and dandy in a day-lit car park off the M3, less so with a head torch in the pitch black on top of a hill outside Dumfries.
There’s a comfy built-in mattress and on balmier nights, vents to let a breeze through, as well as zip-open skylights to fall asleep under the stars. For me, there was no sense of being especially high off the ground: the tent is sturdy and well supported by the ladder and strong hinges, so there’s absolutely no feeling of instability.
Is it foolproof? Apparently not. I awoke the next morning to a damp patch around my head, but that was my fault. In my haste to escape the storm, I hadn’t fully extended one of the side flaps because it was at an awkward-to-reach angle on the other side of the car, and I was tired. Not only did it slap against the canvas all night long but it must have allowed rain in through a vent I’d left ajar; the lesson being, don’t take shortcuts. It didn’t happen twice.
My initial plan had been to park up and ramble free o’er brae and glen, spending the night where the winds of freedom and a portable gas stove took me. Scotland has well-defined right-to-roam and wild camping laws thanks to the 2003 Land Reform Act. There are a few exceptions but generally, if you’re respectful, you can pitch your tent wherever you want as long as the land is not enclosed.
However, that right does not extend to motor vehicles, even if you have a tent screwed on top. So, you can’t just overnight where you want with a car. My plans, therefore, were scaled back from wild to wildly remote-but-legal.
With my head torch on, I clambered into the tent just before the heavens really opened, then drifted off to sleep accompanied by gusts barrelling over the Solway Firth. I must have been tired because even the loose flap didn’t really keep me awake. Any downside? Yes, that 4am battle between my requirement for the loo and the need to stay tucked up, warm and cosy under the duvet. No way was I fumbling for my head torch, putting on shoes and a jacket, climbing down the ladder and stumbling 40 yards in the rain. Two hours later my bladder won.
By now I’d got my tent set-up in under five minutes. I was pleasantly full after a dinner of fish and chips and a plate of Dumfries and Galloway cheeses. I was lulled to sleep with the soft crash of waves and the call of seagulls, and it was those same sounds that woke me the next morning.
I packed up, dismantled the struts, pulled up the ladder and folded the tent one last time then stretched the cover over, cleaned my teeth, and headed off. When your car is also your accommodation it’s easy to have micro-adventures around the country. I plan to do more.
Although a very different type of definition for “art”, I classified this article as an art because of the article was more like a trip blog and the concept of a car roof tent baffles me. I had never heard of this kind of camping set up, although it makes sense. One doesn’t have to lay on the hard ground and is safe from critters of the night. I would be a bit worried about rolling around or off the car, but the author of this article claimed he felt stable the whole time. This is another example of a car accessory that I can use for product development. Since, Honda is looking for a physical product, car accessories might be a good inspiration. This car accessory, a car tent, kind of seems straight out of an art studio to me. I think the line of thinking to get to a product like this should be the type of ideating I apply to my product development. This blog style article is also a good account of user experience. When I design a product, I would want the user to find it useful, manageable, but also not take over the point of using the product. The author was able to still enjoy himself and take his trip as normal even though he was using a different method of camping. This type of car accessory is also inspiring for me to really look outside the box and come up with creative and innovative solutions to niche problems.