Springtime weather can be tricky to predict – it can be sunny and warm one day, with rain and snow coming the next. Such were the forecasted conditions of my long-planned trip to Sequoia National Park, a vacation I didn’t want to spend chilled to the bone. Making matters worse was my hare-brained idea to camp within the park, instead of getting a cheap hotel just outside the boundary.
I love camping in general. Using some of my dad’s old cookware to make a meal over the fire, going to bed with the smell of cedar in my hair, and waking up at first light under a canopy of trees – that’s heaven to me. But I’m not great at the whole weather thing, and I invariably do something that ends up with all my stuff wet and muddy. But as anyone spending the night in Sequoia knows, if you have a campsite reservation, you keep it – otherwise you’ll have to reschedule nine months out. Luckily, I had a new tool in my arsenal: the Roofnest Condor rooftop tent.
The Condor is the company’s smallest hard-shell, fold-out tent. It’s distinct from Roofnest’s other compact model (the Sparrow) in that its floor folds out over the edge of the roof rack, giving it more floor space once you’ve set up camp. Once unfurled, there’s queen-bed space – 60 inches wide and 83 inches long, with maximum interior headroom of 50 inches so two campers can sit up and read before lights out thanks to the optional LED interior and deck lights. Plus, the floor is padded with a 2.5-inch foam mattress, good enough for most folks (although I brought along an additional inflatable pad just in case).
As for that rain and snow in the forecast, I was still a bit worried. However, the Roofnest Condor’s walls are made from seam-sealed, waterproof canvas, and the hard fiberglass shell would provide some shelter against wind and precipitation. With the test vehicle – a 2020 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV – fully charged and loaded up, my boyfriend and I hit the road, bound for the Lodgepole Campground at Sequoia National Park.
Sailing Down The Road
The trip north from Los Angeles was traffic-free, allowing us to preserve every bit of momentum the Outlander had to give. Even so, the aerodynamic effects of the Roofnest made their presence known, particularly on Interstate 5’s Grapevine, a long, steep grade that put the Mitsu into a battery-depleted turtle mode more than once on the ascent. Admittedly, the Outlander PHEV isn’t anyone’s idea of powerful (though the 2021 model is better), but adding a foot-tall, 135-pound boxy tent shell to the roof taxes the meager powerplant all the more. The SUV also wore blocky all-terrain tires, exercising accelerative patience even further.
The road mercifully flattened out on the other side of the Grapevine, making the worsened aero less noticeable and allowing the Outlander to maintain 75 miles per hour much more easily. And once past Sequoia’s southern entry point, the scenic vistas and 25-mph speed limit made the final hour of the trip much more leisurely and enjoyable.
With about five minutes of daylight left upon reaching our assigned campsite, Noah and I got to work setting up the Condor before we lost the sun. Once unlatched, stout gas struts hoist the fiberglass shell into the air, revealing an integrated, adjustable ladder that supports the fold-out platform when deployed. Setting up the tent itself was a two-minute job, although putting up the front door’s rainfly took a bit more effort thanks to its stiff metal dowel supports. Even so, two novices got the Condor in sleeping condition in about five minutes, half the time it takes me to set up my regular dome tent.
The rain wasn’t expected that first evening, so we slept with the tent windows open to enjoy the cool, crisp nighttime air. In these nearly ideal spring camping conditions, the Roofnest was marvelous. The integrated mattress was more comfortable than even some of the better hotel beds I’ve slept in, and the click-to-lock ladder stabilized the tent floor against our movements. I hit my noggin against the hard, unlined fiberglass shell once or twice, but otherwise, the Condor was a nice respite from the lumpy-floored, bug-prone tents I’m used to sleeping in.
One of the downsides to a rooftop tent is that you can’t drive away without breaking camp, so when we decided to use the Mitsu the next morning to get around the park, we had to fold the tent. It was hardly an issue; taking it down is only slightly more difficult than putting it up, especially since we knew the process.
We didn’t regret the decision to drive to the trailhead, either. Visiting General Sherman, the House, the Senate, the Supreme Court, and the President – the Giant Sequoia trees, not the government institutions – put 10 miles on my hiking boots, enough to make this tenderfoot grateful he didn’t have to hike back to camp.
Once back at the homestead, the tent went back up and we started dinner. It wasn’t long, however, before the storm clouds gathered, giving the wind that distinct scent of incoming precipitation. We got through dinner and s’mores okay, but as soon as we changed into pajamas, the heavens started to open. Good timing on our part, but would the tent hold up? In spite of my worries, I drifted off to sleep, dreaming of that time in Boy Scouts that I forgot my waterproof ground cover and woke up in a puddle of freezing rain the first night. “Be prepared,” eh?
Miracle of miracles, the next thing I remember is waking up to that pitter-patter of rain on the canvas, dappled sun ever so slightly breaking through the clouds. We made it through the night unscathed, a bit cold but dry as a bone. And I’m not sure it was the long hike the day before or the comfy mattress or what, but it was actually one of the best nights of sleep I’ve had while camping, refreshing me almost completely before it was time to drive home. Noah and I fixed a quick breakfast between bouts of rain, broke camp, and folded up the tent before heading for the interstate.
I promise they’re not paying me to say this, but my weekend in the Roofnest Condor was easily the most comfortable camping trips I’ve ever had. Although its walls are uninsulated, the tent was impervious to rain and wind, and setting it up was easier than expected – and much easier than a traditional ground tent. What’s more, sleeping up on the roof of the car protected Noah and I from the mud, dirt, and creepy-crawlies that I assumed were synonymous with camping. I might be going soft, but two great nights of sleep with no arachnid surprises in the morning have me just about sold on this whole rooftop-tent thing.
And I say “just about” because there is one big obstacle – price. As delivered, this Roofnest Condor costs $2,995, and that’s if your vehicle already has a roof rack and crossbars. That three large would buy a mighty nice tent, a couple cots, some warm sleeping bags, and an annual National Park pass for the next 25 years. Heck, it’d even pay for 40 or so hotel stays, if your priorities align more with Marie Antoinette than John Muir. Still, for avid weekenders or long-haul overland travelers, the convenience of the comfortable, weatherproof Roofnest Condor is hard to beat.