THE TRAILER TENT
One thing that I learned with the Pioneer, was that making and breaking camp on a daily basis can get tedious, and it's not always possible to find a decent campsite for a group of overlanders to erect all of their tents. A rooftop tent was definitely in my future, I just wasn't for sure how to go about it. Rooftop tents are becoming more common on the trail, but they are still far from commonplace in North America. The best rooftop tents seem to come from South Africa and Australia. On their respective continents, rooftop tents are ubiquitous if not necessary. They are also used with enough regularity and in extreme enough environments that most are all constructed of very high quality materials. I also looked into some more budget minded tents that were constructed with backpacking tent materials, but I decided that the savings in dollars and the long term durability tradeoff wasn't one I was willing to make. Here is a quick reference on rooftop tents.
There truly are a dearth of very high quality rooftop tents that would be more than suitable for what I was going to do, but after reading great articles in Overland Journal (Spring 2007 and Summer 2011 issues) testing all of the high quality options, I settled on a Howling Moon tent. These are manufactured in South Africa and their products have been in use for over 40 years there. The tents are sewn from a ripstop polycotton (think military uniforms, but heavier duty) that is weather treated. As with all good rooftop tents, they come with an actual mattress inside, and fold up nicely when traveling. I was leaning towards the "Stargazer" model until I learned that Bundu Gear here in the States sold their dedicated trailer tent. Roualyn de Haas was a tremendous help to me during the decision and purchase process. This tent is another step above in that it is designed to expand significantly by attaching multiple awnings, wall sets, and even a ground level sleeping room with a floor. There was a significant price hit with this level of adjustability, but I think it will fit my future needs well. I wanted at least one awning with the tent in order to cover a cooking area at the trailer in inclement weather, and this tent does that and more. It's big enough to provide some cover for the whole Flatwater team if need be. On a side note, I was considering also purchasing some sort of wall tent to use when doing a field day for HAM radio operation, but that will now be unnecessary with the capacity of the Howling Moon Trailer Tent.
Pros/Cons of a Rooftop Tent:
I've been asked about why to spend the money on a rooftop tent as opposed to just using a standard backpacking or family wall tent. As with most things regarding overlanding, Overland Journal said it best in the Summer 2011 article "Penthouse Living"- by Graham Jackson
- Are extremely comfortable
- Can store bedding
- Offer roomy living space
- Offer a secure location off the ground
- Are quick to set up and take down
- Offer a high vantage point for viewing surroundings
- Allow easy camping on rocky, muddy, or wet ground
- Allow a very small campsite footprint; if you can park, you can camp
- Ingress and egress require climbing
- Late night potty breaks can be daunting
- Having to break camp to move the vehicle (but not when on a trailer)
- High location can be unfavorable (and often loud) in windy conditions
- Higher drag reduces fuel economy (mitigated when on a trailer)
- Require roof rack or load bars
- Raises vehicle center of gravity
- Raises vehicle profile making stealth camping difficult
- Set-up can require clambering around the sides and top of the vehicle
- Hard to remove from vehicle when not needed (moot point with a trailer mount)
- Require parking on level surface (trailer with jacks mitigates this)
Author note: I can't say enough good things about Overland Journal. If you are at all interested in overlanding or adventure travel, you really should subscribe!
The trailer tent was one of the initial purchases because of its cost and how it will impact certain aspects of the trailer design. It is constructed to be deployed when mounted approximately 50-52 inches above the ground. Also, it's stowed size is larger than I had originally planned, so that impacted a decision to do away with an "exo-cage" around the trailer body. Time will tell if that was a mistake. The tent I purchased is what Howling Moon now calls the "2010 Trailer Tent" since then they have introduced a new line of trailer tents. One of these has the skylights of the "Stargazer" tent- much to my chagrin. It should be clear that one does not have to purchase a dedicated trailer trailer tent in order to have the capability on an overland trailer. Regular rooftop tents will work, but it will be unlikely that you could use the covered entry awnings many of these come with since they are meant to mount significantly higher on top of a 4x4 as opposed to the top of a trailer. It would also likely be necessary to cut down the entry ladder. Here is a gallery of the tent I decided on.
ROLLING STOCK AND SUSPENSION
I thought this was going to be the easy part of finalizing the design. With the use of the Aqualu CJ box, it would be a simple matter to build a steel chassis for it to sit on and fit a Jeep YJ leaf spring suspension to it that matched the tow vehicle. Well, in this case, I actually listened to some good advice from Derek and went with something a little more complex but still within parameters. I mentioned in an earlier blog that I didn't really feel that the trailer required an independent suspension. I felt this was an area that money and time could be saved. A leaf spring and solid axle suspension would also mean fewer moving parts to fail and maintain. The final concept was to retain the leaf springs, but to go with some de-rated factory YJ springs (which I had on hand), and supplement them with a Firestone air bag system. This would allow much more versatility in suspension tuning for different trailer loads, and remain durable. An added benefit would be that extra ground clearance could be gained when necessary, and then the trailer could be easily lowered to optimum height when deploying the tent. The airbags will be filled and adjusted at a schrader valve inside the electrical access panel on the passenger (right hand) side of the trailer. The tow Jeep has a quick disconnect for onboard air access at the right rear corner for easy filling of the airbags when on the trail and road.
The axle setup would be nearly identical to the Pioneer with a Redneck 3500 lbs. trailer axle with electric brakes. The hubs will be the same 5-on-4.5 pattern as the YJ to allow for the same wheel and tire combination as on the Jeep. This would be a set of AEV Pintler wheels with Toyo Open Country MT tires in the 285/75-R17 size. So, no worry or compromise when installing a spare or swapping wheels between the trailer and vehicle in an emergency. These tires are overkill on the Jeep, and certainly are on the trailer, but it is the best case scenario.
With the CJ box, the trailer tent, axle, wheels, and tires on the way, the actual build wasn't too far away!