XpeditioNZ Roof Tent Buying Top Tips

Our buyers guide is a bit different from most. We test gear not just in NZ, but globally, in all manner of terrains, conditions and climates.  Our years of experience with international 4wd expedition travel means we really know our stuff - we aren't just another marketer. Whether you buy from our range or not, we sincerely hope this guide helps you to find the best product you can with the budget you have available. 

In Brief - These are the minimum standards to look for in hard shell tents: 

  • Clam shells shouldn't be less than 2.20m in length. Typical Kiwi height guys will benefit. 

  • Avoid less than 60mm mattress thickness. Our range between 60mm and 80mm.

  • Only aluminium hard shells, with stainless steel fittings. Avoid most plastic shells under NZ sun.

  • Only suitable weight real polycotton canvas. None of our tents have polyester anywhere - not even for the fly, not even on our soft shell range. South African canvas is superior.

  • Not all Chinese hard shells are poor quality... but 90% are mediocre at best. In contrast pretty much all roof tents of South African origin are excellent quality. South African overland travel gear is has for decades been world leading because everything they built had to survive Africa!

In Detail

What you don't want in a roof tent, and won't find in any of our tents. 

 

  • No 215cm hard shells!  All our hard shell tents are between 2.20m and 2.25m in length.  Why?  Because the internal sleeping area/mattress (which is always considerably less than the external dimensions) isn't 100% useable!  This is due to the foot area being restricted by the steep angle of the hard shell.  Most Kiwi guys will need the extra length of our tents.  A 2.15m length clamshell that otherwise looks identical to our Sub60 might have a 2.0m long mattress inside.  On paper this seems like it would be enough, but deduct the unusable portion at the foot end and the usable mattress is now tight relative to many Kiwi guys height.  That's not an insignificant problem, unless you're short. The mattress in our Sub60 is 217mm (longer than the external length of others) so even deducting the unusable portion there's plenty of sleeping area for taller Kiwi guys. The Stealth is an exception to what has been said here (and certainly a tent extra tall guys should consider) because uniquely it automatically lifts 300mm at the front when opened, thus eliminating the foot box restriction altogether.

  • No tents with under 60mm mattresses, at minimum!  Our mattresses range between 60mm and 80mm (and in the Blade & Stealth you're just about getting a real bed inside!).  Anything less than 60mm and the first thing you'll need to consider is a mattress upgrade (if the tent can fit an upgraded mattress!).  This isn't only our advice.  Expedition Portal (the USA based authority on overland travel) also recommends 60mm as the minimum mattress thickness you should consider.  No reputable manufacturer of roof tents fits the 50mm mattresses that we're now seeing in Chinese replica tents flooding onto the NZ market. This is entirely a cost down initiative by Chinese manufacturers desiring to produce roof tents for export (they don't use them in China) as cheaply as possible. Buying a cheaper product you immediately need to set about upgrading is likely to prove a false economy. Do your research and buy better from the outset. 

  • No polyester!  Is the 'canvas' your roof tent is made from real cotton based canvas, or is it just plastic/polyester being sold with a fancy name? Real canvas will perform MUCH better and last MUCH longer. We don't use any polyester on our products. Not even on the fly sheet of our soft shell canvas tents.  Not even for the annex room on our EEZI-AWN Xklusive tents.  We are the only seller in New Zealand offering this.  Our EEZI-AWN range of canvas tents are the most proven roof tents in the world, proven over decades to survive the harshest conditions on every continent across the globe, including in much, much tougher conditions than we commonly experience in NZ.  EEZI-AWN doesn't use polyester, anywhere, not even for the fly.  Instead they use a UV stabilised, reinforced PVC.  We also don't specify polyester for the fly on our XpeditioNZ Sub60 - it's made from the same high performing polycotton canvas as the rest of the tent body.  We also refuse to sell any awnings made with plastic base/polyester/420D Oxford fabrics - it's got to be real polycotton canvas or nothing for those!  All our awning wall enclosure systems are made from real South African woven polycotton canvas - anything else and you're just making yourself a wee glasshouse off the side of your vehicle.  It will look great on Instagram, but you won't really enjoy going inside on a sunny day.

  • No plastic or fibreglass hard shell tents!  You can find these on TradeMe now, and being sold by sellers not experienced with these sorts of products.  Usually priced from $2,000 to $3,000.  Plastic and fibreglass products are capable of surviving our harsh UV environment, if they're made with the correctly rated source materials.  But those cheap, often unbranded, plastic/fibreglass tents you're being offered are just straight out of some Chinese factory and unlikely to be the type of plastic/fibreglass that will withstand more than a year or two under NZ sun.  

  • No rubber or plastic tent body fittings!  All our tents have stainless steel fittings because they're designed to serve for the long term. 

'NZ Designed for NZ Conditions'?! A Word of Caution

It's become common to see NZ sellers emerge from nowhere professing to have designed the roof tent they sell, or selling a product they claim was designed uniquely for NZ conditions. In all cases the product they're bringing to market is straight out of China, not materially different from what that Chinese factory routinely ships out all over the world, just with a different brand name stamped on the product and carton.

The WORLD's BEST roof tents are also NZ's BEST roof tents. Roof tents that have been proven on every continent on Earth (the South African original brands like EEZI-AWN) are not in danger of suddenly not working well in NZ!  NZ is a first world country. We don't have 4wd routes comparable to spending days entirely off-road crossing deserts in Africa. We don't have 50+ degree celsius temps in shadeless deserts. We can't drive to anywhere near the altitudes you must drive at to cross Central Asia - in Central Asia the mountain passes (not the peaks) are 1km higher than the peak of Mt Cook! We know, we drive those routes. For the roof tents that were developed to conquer the harshest continents on Earth, produced by brands that have refined their designs over decades, the reality is NZ is a breeze! 

 

When a genuine roof tent designer/manufacturer such as EEZI-AWN say they design roof tents, they don't mean they tick a box on a form from a Chinese manufacturer that gets them an upgrade to YKK or SBS zippers and some different canvas colours.  They mean that since 1983 they've been physically building roof tents, and have continued to refine them over the decades, taking on board feedback from the many serious cross-continent 4wd expedition groups that rely on their products. 

At XpeditioNZ we don't feel the need to make up unsubstantiated claims about our Sub60. And yet we can confidently promise you our Sub60 is the best hard shell available in NZ, short of moving up to one of the EEZI-AWN hard shells.  How can we be so sure? Rather than create marketing hype, we pay our manufacturer an average $1,000 extra per tent to bring the overall product quality up to a very high standard. We pay for better canvas, thicker mattresses and all stainless steel hardware etc. We commonly see the almost identical looking hard shells that we rejected in China (even though they would have cost us much less!) selling on Trademe and other NZ websites for far more than they're really worth... and claiming to be designed in NZ! The easiest way to identify those overpriced inferior products is they have less than 60mm mattresses.

 

In our view roof tents with under 60mm mattresses should not be being offered in NZ for $4,000 to $5,000+, but they are! The problem here is that at that price you're so close to buying one of the EEZI-AWN 'Blade' or 'Stealth' hard shells we stock, even though they're WORLD's APART on quality, comfort and longevity. Paying over 75% of the price of a genuine South African engineered hard shell roof tent, for a Chinese replica product that's still stuck at 'toy-grade' level, is the worst possible value for money.

The bottom line: the roof tents that will be most optimally designed for NZ conditions are not those falsely claiming to be designed for NZ conditions, but instead those that have been tested and proven on every continent on Earth over decades, including in environments 10x harsher than anything found in NZ. They're the South African engineered brands like EEZI-AWN.  Our Sub 60 will also outperform others in NZ, but due simply to it having been built to a much higher quality standard overall, not specifically altered for NZ conditions. The best roof tents are the best roof tents everywhere!

Are Soft Shell Canvas Roof Tents Going to be Replaced by Hard Shell Tents?

For many users, with the budget to get into a genuinely high quality hard shell tent, the answer might appear to be 'yes'.  A soft shell canvas roof tent cannot come close to matching some of the advantages a hard shell tent offers, and once you get used to touring with a tent that takes under a minute to setup, there's really no going back from that.  However, soft shell canvas tents still retain some advantages over hard shells that make them better suited for some users.

  • Lighter.  For expedition and hard off-road 4wd use, you may want to stay lighter up top.  Soft shell tents are lighter.  Very high end hard shell tents do tend to get heavy and require a sturdy vehicle setup to accommodate them.  Our Sub 60 and the Blade are hard shells that were designed to stay lighter up top, so you can find lighter weight hard shells... but, see next.

  • Price.  Having said that we can offer some lightweight hard shells, they are in a much higher price bracket than soft shell tents.  You will always be far better off with a higher quality soft shell than a lower quality hard shell.  We can't overstress this one!  Only buy a hard shell if your budget is $4,000+.  But even this isn't straight-forward, because we're seeing hard shells on the market in NZ from $4,000 to over $5,000 with specs far short of what an informed buyer might expect for that money.  Buy wisely!  Our advice: even if our above $5,000 EEZI-AWN hard shells are out of your budget, have a look at them anyway - because you'll learn what sorts of specs serious tents have, and this will help you to know what you should be looking to get as close as possible to.  

  • Lower annex room.  Many soft shell canvas tents can have an annex/room attached to the tent.  We can meet this need for covered & enclosed space with a hard shell tent by using one of our EEZI-AWN awnings and it's matching wall set.  This will actually give you a superior space, because it's all 'real' canvas, compared to annex/rooms for soft shell tents that are always made from cheap Chinese plastic/polyester fabrics.  And an awning based enclsoure can be set up independently of the tent.  But for some users something may still be missing - it's a really nice feature to be able to descend the ladder from your roof tent directly into your covered & enclosed space.  There's one canvas roof tent now in NZ that has a 'real' canvas wall set that forms an enclosed room.  It's the Xklusive T-Top, which also comes complete with a high quality woven floor.  It's a soft shell tent worth considering because for well under the price of any quality hard shell tent you get the world's ultimate soft shell canvas roof tent, including it's real canvas annex/room wall set.  We can heat that lower enclosed space using one of our portable XpeditioNZ diesel-electric heaters, and the heat will rise up into the main tent area too.  All that is a 10 minute setup, not 60 seconds, but it's a really nice setup, especially if you're stopping a little longer.  Definitely something to consider.

  • Families and groups.  Most hard shell tents are really for an individual or a couple.  If you want a family sized roof tent, then large sized soft shell tents win this one hands-down.  Also bear in mind that when you're setting up for the whole family, 60 seconds isn't a realistic objective anyway, and the 3 to 10 minutes it takes to setup a soft shell roof tent is perfectly acceptable.  We may soon be testing and reviewing a full sized Xklusive T-Top, in 2.2m.  The size of the lower annex/room grows to match the tent as this tent increases in size, so in this case the lower (real canvas) room will be a full 2.2m by 2.0m.  Ample room upstairs and downstairs for the whole family, and not something any hard shell tent can offer.  

A final piece of advice

 

If you want a hard shell roof tent, but have a budget of less than $4,000, be very cautious of being tempted by the cheaper hard shell tents offered.  $2,000 to $3,000 could afford you a hard shell tent that leaves you disappointed with it's comfort and performance in use, and even more disappointed when it doesn't last longer than a year or two.  That's just a waste of money.  For less than $3,000 you could have bought you one of the very best canvas soft shell tents in the world - EEZI-AWN's Series 3 - which would have been a genuine long-term investment in a globally proven, ultra-high performance tent.  Under $4,000 gets you into an EEZI-AWN Xklusive, and that's a LOT of tent.  So don't waste your money.  Research carefully and make a wise investment.