Days until our next trip

Howling Moon Rooftent

Written by ralph on 13/01/2012. Posted in Kit and Equipment

I had always loved the look of rooftents and following our trip to Morocco, where we used a pop-up type, we realised that there was a practical advantage in keeping all your bedding etc. together in an easily deployable place.  So we took the plunge and bought a Howling Moon 1.4 Tourer.  We have now used the tent in the UK several times and in the desert, made a few modifications and improvements.  So I thought I would outline here why we choose this particular tent, how good it is in varying conditions and some of the things we have done to make it better.

Reason

So the first thing to get out of the way is “why a rooftent?”.  The simple answer is because I like the concept.  There are distinct advantages and disadvantages to a rooftent such as:

Pro’s

  • All you bedding in one place and ready to deploy
  • No space required in the car for bedding, tent, etc.
  • Straight forward set up
  • Always sleep on a flat surface with a good(ish) mattress
  • Can set up anywhere (car parks, truck stops etc.)
  • Attached to the car so you can make a quick getaway (if you need to)
  • Off the ground so it’s supposedly warmer
  • Off the ground so you are away from beasties and bugs (that can’t fly or climb of course!)

Con’s

  • Bl**dy expensive for what they are
  • Place a substantial (60kg) weight up high
  • You need substantial roofbars or rack to take the load
  • Not as quick to erect and strike as you might think
  • You have to climb on top of the car to fit the cover which is covered in road grime
  • Can be noisy (and a bit scary) in high winds

In the end we came into some money and decided to go for it regardless.  All told we are pleased although we have made some mods (see below).

Choice

I always fancied a rooftent but the first hurdle was the fact that Belinda doesn’t like heights.  We spent a whole day at the September Peterborough Land Rover Show, in 2009, wandering from one dealer to another to find out if it was feasible.  Belinda was up and down ladders all day and we discovered some very interesting things.

The quality of manufacture varied significantly from one make to the other.  Some tents (Hannibal included) Belinda didn’t even bother to try because as she stood at the bottom of the ladder we could see the sky through holes in the canvas stitching.  These were in places where water would obviously enter when it rained so these were rejected.

The stability and comfort of the ladders varied a lot.  Flat rungs, round rungs, wide, narrow, thin, thick, wobbly, stable, folding, sliding or removable.  The choice was amazing.  We considered the fact that Belinda had to feel confident climbing it and what it would feel like in bare feet (midnight toilet visits).

Then there was the access to the tent.  Some ladders were on the outside and some went up under an extended cover.  This was what we needed.

Then there was the width 1.2, 1.4 or 1.6.  I’m not as thin as I like to think I am when I look in the mirror so a 1.2 was out and a 1.6 overhung the sides of the car too much.  So a 1.4 it was then.

In the end it boiled down to two, the Eazi Awn T top or the Howling Moon Tourer.  The Eazi Awn had a better cover system (Ratchet strap rather than zip) but The Howling Moon had the better ladder.  In the end we opted for the Howling Moon 1.4 Tourer.

Choice made I started searching.  At £1700 new I thought I could get a bargain if I searched ebay.  We had a few months so I could afford to be patient.  In the end I found exactly the model we wanted and paid £1000 (bargainLaughing).  However there was then another £100 to get it shipped from South Wales, another £90 because we found the cover was leaking, another £50 for a waterproof mattress cover because it was soaked, another £90 because the mattress had seen better days and the fact that I had to fabricate my own roofrack fixings because the originals had gone missing.

Although I did save some money I wish I had just bit the bullet and bought a new oneFrown.

There are 2 options when buying this model a lightweight or heavyweight lower awning/surround.  We had been advise to go for the lighter one as the other is more difficult to hold up while your trying to zip in on and it takes up more room in the car when stored.

Living with it

We have now slept in the tent several times in the UK and in Tunisia and we have found it very comfortable.  The large side windows allow plenty of ventilation and it is very spacious.  There are 4 hanging pockets inside and we use these to out our shoes, a bottle of water, reading books and the tupperware toilets (more of them later).

I cannot say that we have slept in it in very warm conditions as the desert nights dropped down to 8 degrees (C) but we have experienced some pretty wild storms and driving rain.  Although, at times, we thought we would be blown off the top of the car the tent was actually quite stable.  It was quite noisy but I’m pretty certain that a ground tent wouldn’t have been much quieter in the conditions we encountered.

I did make sure to ‘point’ the tent into the prevailing wind and this made a big difference.  I also learned to use the guide ropes to hold the extension down, even when it dosn’t seem necessary.  Climbing out in the dark in the middle of an unexpected desert storm to do it is not a nice experience.

In the desert I would dig down a foot and then drive the tent pegs in filling the hole back in after and burying them.  I found this to be quite secure.

We sleep with a 4 season duvet and ordinary pillows.  My sister, Janet, made a ‘fitted sheet’ to cover the mattress and so it is just like regular bed.  The duvet is actually a 10.5 tog and 4.5 tog which can be used independently or together.  Allowing us to choose how thick we want it to be.

The biggest bug bear we had was packing it away.  Once it was folded you had to tuck all the sides in and then climb up on top of the dirty road cover to ‘crush’ it down enough to operate the zip.  This was always a faff.  It would have been much easier if we removed the bedding but that was one of the major benefits so we didn’t want to do that.

Belinda also found that backing out of the tent and finding the ladder with her feet was a bit disconcerting.

In the end I made a couple of modifications to ease both of these problems (see below).

One downside of being up on the roof was the need to pee in the night.  Initially I used a plastic ‘sports’ drinks bottle (if you do this make sure you get a 1 litre one!).  For Belinda we looked at the Sheewee but in the end we found that a ‘half height’ plastic (tupperware) cereal container was ideal.  It was ‘woman’ shaped, just the right height to kneel over, was resealable and fitted nicely into the tent pocket.  It also came in useful on the trail when she couldn’t get out of the car to find cover.  We would simply empty them when we got up in the morning.

 

Modifications

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The first modification was something we noticed on another model (much cheaper) of tent that we tried at the Peterborogh show.Once we tried it we realised how much easier it made it getting in and out of the tent.

I took a long length of 1″ (25mm) nylon tape and created a loop from the central ‘hinge’ of the tent from one side to the other.

This loop was long enough to hang out the entrance.

When climbing into the tent this provides a really good hand hold.

When exiting it allows you to ‘centre’ yourself, if your going backwards and provides you with a good handhold until your feet are on the ladder.

This one little modification has made getting in and out much easier.

tent 5
tent 3tent 4
The second modification was to add some ‘hold down’ buckle straps to the front of the tent.As I said, earlier, compressing the tent with all the bedding inside was a pain when you were trying to zip the cover on.  This usually involved sitting on top of the dirty cover using my body weight to force it down and then reaching down to operate the zip.

This meant that I was getting quite grubby and sweaty before we’d even set off for the day!

Once again I used 25mm nylon tape and some plastic buckles (all bought from good old B&Q).  I undid the securing screw and prized away the base edging.  I then drilled though and fixed some short spreader plates and wrapped the fixed end of the tape around them.

The tapes had to pass behind the edging strip to prevent fouling the zip.

Using these means that I can now use my weight to compress the tent, without the cover, then fasten the straps with the buckles holding in down and compressed.

The cover can then be easily slipped over and zipped without having to climb all over it.

At the time of writing I haven’t tested this ‘in anger’ but it seemed to work well on the driveway.

One tip we did learn is to always leave the window and door flaps open when you’re packing the tent away.  By doing this, and collapsing the tent slowly, the air can escape and the sides don’t ‘balloon’ out so much.  This means you don’t have so much to tuck in around the edges.
PA055061 All in all we are extremely pleased with the tent.The fact that we could stop and sleep in a parking space at the back of a French Aire (service area) as comfortably as we could in the middle of the desert is a great benefit.

 

LRmax1 As I mentioned, we were advised to go for the ‘thinner’, lightweight lower awning/shower screen.  This hangs below the rear overhang and is zipped onto the upper section.  This can be quite fiddly to fit and the heavy option would definately add to the difficulty.  Due to this ‘fiddlyness’ we didn’t tend to use it on a day to day basis when we were travelling.  however when we camped at Stoneleigh and Billing we did put it up because we were there for a few days and it gave us more privacy and because the weather was bad and it gave us somewhere to shelter.It has a door at the rear and two windows for ventilation.  It is not huge inside and the ladder does go right up the middle (which does mean that it is sheltered unlike some other designs where it’s on the outside).  However, if you fold the ladder up (it rests on the rear car gutter) it does become a very useable space and provides a good place to get dressed and shelter from the wind and rain.

 

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