Photos by Peter Bakken
We’ve all seen these rooftop tents floating through magazines and the interwebs, but not many of us have actually seen them out in the wild, so I was pretty excited when Tepui Tents out of Santa Cruz, California, was willing to send us their 3-person Kukenam SKY for review. Arriving in late April, it served as the weekend roost for the first two months and then sporadically throughout the summer months.
On paper, initial setup seemed straightforward, determine the tent’s entry point (i.e., driver’s side, passenger side or the rear of the vehicle) and attach the mounting rails and ladder to the base accordingly. Next, a second set of hands is required to hoist the tent onto the vehicle’s load bars. The mounting system consists of two front and two rear flat brackets that are tightened by a pair of bolts, sandwiching the vehicle’s load bars between the brackets and the base. This simple design works well with all types of load bars whether round, square or aero.
We installed the tent directly to the factory load bars of a Subaru Outback. The load bars have a dynamic load capacity of 165 pounds, which is the weight limit at which the vehicle can safely cruise down the highway while loaded. With the Tepui tent weighing approximately 130 pounds, we are safely under the max capacity and good to go.
The Outback factory roof rails also proved to be a huge PITA when tightening the mounting hardware which added approximately an extra hour of setup time due to the specific vehicle. Thankfully, Tepui included a ratcheting wrench in the kit. Vehicles that use an aftermarket load bar system should have no problems achieving a 30-45 minute install time.
The Kukenam SKY canopy is constructed of durable canvas with a waterproof coating. Four side panels and two roof panels have fully zippered mosquito screens, which can serve as access ports and also provide ample airflow within the tent. For the sides, Tepui added a dual-closure system. The exterior canvas awning can be battened down, and an interior canvas closure can be zipped up when mother nature tests your limits. The removable rain fly is a polyurethane coated polyester that extends over the front and rear of the tent. The 3-inch gap between the tent and rainfly helps regulate the temperature inside. It can also be easily removed/installed with six buckles.
Inside, a 2 ½-inch foam sleeping pad is included, providing a sleeping footprint of 56 by 96 inches. For comparison, your standard Queen size bed is 60 by 80. As for headroom, the center is 46 inches and drops down to 34 inches to the front and rear, offering plenty of room for two to comfortably sit and play some rendition of poker.
Tepui’s rooftop tent is perfect for the individual who typically finds themselves traveling to remote locations and needs to set up camp during their adventures. Many will balk at the price of the Kukenam SKY, and at just under $1,400, there is no denying it’s an expensive tent. However, the telescoping aluminum ladder, insulated fiberglass base and the canopy’s skeleton system that pops open with ease are all well-crafted and optimized to keep the weight of the tent as minimal as possible.
However, there are a few places where the Tepui falls short. The tent didn’t leak, but there were tiny pin holes around a few seams. After contacting Tepui, they said the tent was defective and quickly sent a Kukenam SKY Ruggedized canopy for replacement. The ruggedized canopy has a slightly thicker canvas and four internal stash pockets on the inside. Unfortunately, one of these stash pockets was sewn upside down making it useless. I brought up the quality control issues to John Griffith, sales and marketing manager at Tepui, and he mentioned that by 2019 they will have full-time quality control personnel auditing the Tepui factories to mitigate further quality issues such as these.
Sleeping in the tent was pleasant, regardless of the weather outside. The canopy remained warm and dry during the spring showers and well-ventilated when temperatures became hot and humid. If you get a clear night, the SKY panels can be opened and the rainfly removed offering a starlit sky to fall asleep to. However, the SKY panel zippers are not waterproof, so unless you are 100 percent certain a random storm is not rolling in, I’d suggest only folding back half the rainfly.
So, what if you have to pee in the middle of the night? Don’t be lazy, it’s not that difficult. If you can crawl out of your bed and walk to the bathroom in the middle of the night at home, then you certainly are capable of unzipping the tent and crawling down a couple steps.
The more time I spent using the tent, the less I wanted to go back to sleeping on the ground or in a hammock. Sure, tents, hammocks and your own car all work perfectly fine; there is no denying that fact. But, it’s like comparing crab meat from a country store in the middle of West Virginia to what you can find at an oceanfront restaurant in Delaware. The Tepui rooftop tent is straight luxury, and I am in no rush to take this off my car.
- Finding level surface to park.
- Finding big enough spot (essentially two parking spots worth).
- Included instruction manuals are minimal; had to review the online assembly videos.
- The ladder is slippery when wet. I would suggest putting some grip tape on the steps.
- 2-3 mpg reduction in fuel economy, roughly the same as a roof basket or transporting bikes on your vehicle’s roof.
- Off the ground: allowed a nice breeze when opened and stayed dry when it rained.
- Safe from wildlife such as lions, tigers, and bears.
- One person is able to set up and break down.
- Can be fully set up and broken down in less than 10 minutes.
- Can pack pillows and bedding inside the tent; it’s ready when you are.
- Less dirt accumulating inside the tent.
- Don’t need to find a smooth surface to set up camp.
Start dreaming of spring and camping season with this long-term review of a 1-person tent, sleeping bag and pad from REI.
REI Co-op Quarter Dome 1 Tent
The REI Co-op Quarter Dome 1 is a 1-person, 3-season tent. If you are in the market for a tent or know someone who is, this tent should be on your short list to consider. After a long-term review period and multiple nights in the 2017 model REI Quarter Dome 1 tent, here is my assessment.
The packed weight on the entire tent is 2lbs 14oz, with a packed size of 6 x 18.5 inches in its bag. You can drop that weight down if you individually pack just the tent body, rainfly and poles taking it to a trail weight of 2lbs 7oz.
The color-coded poles and buckles made this tent very easy to set up. I had it complete in 5 minutes with no experience with last years model. The aluminum tent poles are robust and snap together easily, attaching to the grommets without a struggle. The rain fly attachment is also color-coded and has buckles making it simple to attach and adjust tension.
The main vestibule is large enough to store my bags, a little gear and there is also a small area on the non-door side of the tent that can be used to free up a little space if needed. The inside area gives enough room in the tent for sleeping pad and bag, nightly clothes, a few nighttime gadgets, plus my labrador-mixed-breed dog. With floor dimensions of 88 x 35/27 (L x W head/foot) inches, the footbox has enough room to accommodate said dog, or make things a bit more roomy if you’re sleeping solo. The peak height on the QD is 42 inches and I’ve seen a 6’3″ person sit-up completely in it.
This tent stayed dry through heavy rains and without the rain fly on, it opened the opportunity on a clear night to enjoy the sky. REI continues to work on improving their outdoor gear and the changes from last year’s model such as the increased height, color-coded poles, wider doors, more stash pockets, and rainfly buckle replacing grommets made for a nice improvement to this particular domicile.
REI Co-op Flash Insulated Air Sleeping Pad
Price: $99.00 – $119.00
Sizes: Long (reviewed), Long Wide, Regular, Regular Wide
A good sleeping pad can go a long way after a full-day biking adventure. The REI Co-op Flash Insulated Air Sleeping Pad surprised me with how comfortable it is. The pad uses multiple inflating pockets that result in the pad feeling stable and not bouncy. The down-side to this comfort is lack of rigidity – if you’re putting down clothes on uneven ground to even out your sleep area, the pad will bend around the items rather than remain horizontal like more rigid pads. But no matter the surface I slept on with this pad, the two-inches of cushion gave me a comfortable sleeping experience.
The sleeping pad weights 15 oz and has an R-value of 3.7. An R-value is a way to measure a materials thermal resistance. For example, a winter-ready sleeping pad R-value would be a 4.9. So, if you encounter snow this pad will be a little on the cold side, so pack extra clothes to put underneath. The Flash has separate inflate and deflate valves, making this pad super easy to use. About 17-20 good puffs will get this pad fully inflated. With the two valves, you can add air to this pad while you are laying on it and not have it deflate. Just make sure not to pull the deflate side.
The pad is 30 denier polyester which can be a little concerning if you’re sleeping on bare rocks or under a bivvy. I intentionally attempted to put a few holes in the pad and failed to do so. I could see over time a few holes appearing, but with good care, this pad should last a while. Know that a patch kit is NOT included with the Flash.
Overall this pad is comfortable, low weight, has good warmth retention, and excellent valves, making this a contender in three-season pad choices. Make sure to purchase that patch kit and if you find yourself sleeping on slopes a lot maybe look for a more rigid pad.
REI Co-op Magma 17 Sleeping Bag – Women’s
Price: $349.00 -$369.00
Sizes: Long, Regular (reviewed)
The new REI Magma women’s sleeping bag went on many adventures this year for a long-term review. Let’s start with the biggest draw with this bag, the price. REI’s Magma sleeping bag series costs nearly $100 less than similar bags on the market.
The Magma is 850-fill water-resistant down with a Pertex Quantum shell bringing the bag comfort rating to 17 degrees. Note that the men’s version of this bag is rated at a lower limit of 10-degrees, the women’s is rated at 3-degrees. So the women’s bag is warmer than the men’s and that is because women tend to cool down quicker than men. The hood of the bag wraps around your face like a cocoon and there is even enough room for a pillow. Along with the overall softness of the bag, there is a yoke under the chin to really ensure cold air doesn’t sneak in.
The Magma comes with a mesh storage sack and a nylon stuff bag. If you are bikepacking and need every inch of space I would recommend picking up a compression sack. The regular size bag weighs in at 2lbs 4oz and fits up to 66″. The Long size weight is 2lbs 6oz and fits up to 72″ in length. Overall impressions of the Magma are that it is comfortable, warm, and affordable. The only concern I had with the sleeping bag is the lack of a double-layer outer shell which could potentially reduce moisture protection and affect the long-term lifespan of the bag. With that said, I have been using this bag almost all of the past year with zero complaints, just sweet dreams.
If you’re touring or bikepacking you know how important it is to shave as much weight as possible. The Big Agnes Slater UL2+ is light and fast, but offers extra floor space across the board. Whether you’re flying solo or bringing a dog or partner, the extra space comes at little cost in these minimalist free standing shelters. We’ve replaced the mesh walls on the tent body with lightweight breathable nylon rip-stop for that extra bit of weather protection and privacy or just to keep the sand and wind out when you’re headed to the desert. The large vestibule is perfect for storing all your gear while out on multi-day bikepacking missions.
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The appeal of a single-wall tent is easy to see: with today’s advanced textiles, it’s possible to create a tent that is waterproof and breathable, cutting down on weight and increasing its steadiness in high winds. Most tents used in mountaineering are single-wall for this reason.
The $599 Covert 2 is a two-person, single-wall tent made from 100 percent breathable, waterproof DriZone nylon from Sierra Designs’ mountaineering lineup. Its packed weight is 6 pounds 12 ounces, and it offers up 29 square feet of interior room.
The only entrance is through a single door at the head of the main body, designed to be pitched facing downwind. With 29 square foot interior, I’d likely rate the Convert as a “real world” one-and-a-half person size rather than two with room to relax. Be prepared to get to know your roommate very well. The vestibule is large enough to fit a full-size backpack or your panniers, but not much more since it would be in the way of getting in and out. If you want to travel light you can remove the vestibule entirely.
Editor’s note: This review originally appeared in Issue #31 of Bicycle Times. To make sure you never miss a gear review, order a subscription and you’ll be ready for the everyday cycling adventure. Issue #34 will focus on bikepacking!
If the wind is really blowing you can install the patented Jake’s Corners, which are small poles that reinforce the corners of the main body. Something designed for and tested in some of the harshest high-altitude environments.
While the pitch looks straightforward enough, like any new tent you’re going to need to practice pitch a few times get the hang of it. It took me a few minutes to find the pole sleeves, and that was in the daylight. I also broke the heads off three of the included stakes on my first pitch, so I can’t help but recommend bringing some spares. It can also be pitched from inside, but a practice pitch (or three) becomes even more important when it’s dark and cold.
While the material is breathable, you’re going to want to make sure those roof vents are open, no matter how cold it is. A night spent short of breath convinced myself and another tester of that. In retrospect it seems obvious that the vents should be open, but trying to “batten down the hatches” left me gasping for air.
While the simple design of a single-wall is appealing for touring and bikepacking use, the Convert still clocks in at nearly seven pounds and is large enough to fill an entire touring pannier. While it performs well in its intended function, it’s likely overkill for most casual touring cyclists.