Roof Top Tent Or Campervan/Camper? (A Side By Side Comparison)
You may be trying to decide whether to get a camper or a roof tent for your camping adventures! Both are good options and offer their own benefits over each other. We'll be discussing some of these advantages in this article!
Roof Top Tent Advantages:
1. Lower Upfront Cost
Roof tents vary in price between £850 - £3,300 ($1050 - $4,000 or €950 - €3,700), which is a lot lower than what you would pay for your typical camper. Good campervans can go for 10-20 times this price just for the upfront cost, so are often more than most people’s realistic budget.
2. Don't Breakdown And Rarely Need Repairs
Roof top tents don’t breakdown or need repairing, unlike campervans and in particular older/cheaper campers, which can be both costly and annoying. You also have an annual MOT Test in the UK that you will need to pay for and pass every year to add to the one off repairs that occur.
3. Cheaper And Easier To Store
Campervans need storing in a facility if you don’t have the space to keep them on your drive or on your street, which can add up to quite a large cost over the years. Whereas roof tents take up less room, so you can store them either in your garage, shed or you could leave them on your vehicle roof all year round if you’d prefer!
4. Better Views
The views in your roof top tent are improved due to them being elevated off the ground on top of your vehicle. Also with roof tents that have two windows and two doors you get 360 views from wherever you are in the roof top tent, which you don’t experience to the same level with campervans!
5. No Need To Spend Time And Money On Renovating Them
Most cheaper campers require lots of time and money invested in them before they’re good enough to go on your adventures with. The average full van conversion costs around £6,000 ($7,500 or €6,700) if you do it yourself and takes about 300 hours of labour to get done if you’re starting pretty much from scratch. These costs will go up a lot though if you’re employing people to do the work for you or if you aren’t very strict with your budget. If you’re just renovating an already decent looking campervan, then it won’t cost you as much or take as much time, but then the upfront cost of these vehicles is often significantly higher than what you would pay for the average roof tent, so either way it will probably be more expensive.
6. No Van Insurance Costs
With campervans you’ll need to get van insurance to drive them, which is another ongoing cost that you’ll need to factor in. This should average £500 - £1000 a year according to Goboony ($600 - $1200 or €550 - €1100), depending on your age and no claims bonus. Roof top tents obviously don’t require this as you’d be paying your car insurance whether you owned one or not.
7. No Road Tax Costs
The 2020 road tax laws in the UK/EU means that campervans will be taxed based on their CO2 emissions like cars are, so depending on the emissions of your vehicle this will most likely be on average an extra £950 a year ($1150 or €1000). Roof tents obviously won’t have this extra cost as it will be charged anyway on your vehicle with or without a roof top tent. In the USA, annual vehicle registration fees and road taxes vary from state to state, so you’ll need to check what the extra fees you may have to pay are and again, factor that into the total cost of having a camper.
1. Have Built In Appliances
Expensive campers have built in cookers and sinks, which makes cooking and cleaning easier. Although there’s no denying this a definite advantage campervans have over roof tents, you can still get gas stoves and BBQs for roof top tent camping, which are decent replacements. Plus, you can use a camping shower setup with a water basin and table to replace having a sink. Both of these are obviously not as good as having built in cookers and sinks in your campervan though!
2. Have Toilets In Them
You can sometimes have a built in toilet in a campervan, which means you don’t have to go to the toilet block at night if you’re on a campsite or do it in the bushes if you’re in the wilderness! You can buy portable toilets for quite cheap if this is a problem though, along with a toilet/shower tent to give you extra privacy and protection from rain too. However, this still isn't as good as having an indoor toilet because you still have the problem of it potentially being colder outside!
3. Have Plugs And Electrical Goods
High end campervans have plugs giving you the option of charging your phone or adding any other accessories that require electricity to run. A good solution to this if you have a roof tent is to get a portable power station that charges using either your car’s battery, a mains plug or by solar power and use that for any electrical goods. Alternatively you can charge your phone using a mini power bank or opt for travel accessories that require batteries. High end versions of these portable power stations can get quite expensive, so again, having electricity built into your vehicle is better, but the cheaper ones still offer you some electricity for appliances and gadgets that aren't quite as powerful.
4. Have A Table Set Inside
Lots of campers are fitted with a table and chairs inside, which makes meal times more comfortable than either eating it with a plate on your lap or having to battle the bad weather outside. There are some things you can add to your roof tent setup to solve this though. You can buy an annex awning tent add on for roof tents, so you can avoid the rain/wind when needed or you can buy a good picnic table and chair set to go in the awning too. This still won't be quite as comfortable as eating inside your campervan- especially when it's cold outside, but it's still a decent solution for most of the time!
5. Have Heating
Most campers have heating in them when bought and can easily be fitted with heating, which makes things extra cosy when camping in the Winter. Although hard shell roof tents do keep heat in quite well anyway due to less heat escaping through the fibreglass/ABS shell roof, having heating fitted is obviously better. There are accessories that can be added to roof tents for extra warmth such as electric blankets, electrical/diesel powered heaters or simply getting a high quality sleeping bag. We feel Campervans still take this round though!
6. Have Showers In Them
Some high end campers have showers built into them, which even though they don’t offer as nice of a shower as you may be used to at home, they’re still decent. You can get portable showers for camping in a roof tent too if you want the convenience of having a shower on your doorstep, but again, they're not as good as the power showers you may be used to at home! If you don’t feel the showers for campervans/roof tents are the best or you’re camping without one altogether, then there are places you can stop off to shower at such as gyms, swimming pools, public toilets and obviously campsite showers. These facilities are available for both campervan and roof top tent owners, but since some campers have showers built into them, we're treating this as a narrow victory for campervans!
Overall we would say if money is no object, then getting a high end campervan with all the latest gadgets and gizmos would definitely be a better option than a roof top tent. You are looking at around 10-20 times the cost for a good campervan- plus every other cost that we’ve outlined here though, so you’ll have to decide whether you feel it’s worth it or not.
We do feel that roof top tents are a good alternative to cheaper campervans, as they have many benefits over them and can have accessories added to them to make up for any shortcomings for far less money- especially if you plan on camping mostly in the warmer months, as the solutions for their disadvantages would work best during these months. In our opinion budget campervans don’t offer enough extra benefits considering the difference in price and can also come with far more headaches than they’re worth with the problem of potentially breaking down ect.
So to conclude if you have a large enough budget, buy a high end campervan, but if you’re looking for a good alternative to cheaper campervans that gives you value for money we feel roof top tents could just be what you’re looking for!
Of course it doesn’t necessarily have to be a choice between a campervan or a roof tent. Roof tents can also be used as a cheaper alternative to getting a pop top roof for your campervan, so you can have extra sleeping space on top and allow more living space in the van. This might just come in handy if you have an ever expanding family that are also eager to get exploring! That's why we've written a guide comparing the two options, so you can make a more informed decision here: Roof Top Tent Or Pop Top Campervan/Camper Roof? - A Side By Side Comparison
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Hard Shell Or Soft Shell Roof Top Tent? - A Side By Side Comparison
8 Reasons Why Roof Top Tents Are So Popular