You and I have never met, dear reader, but if you knew me, then you’d also know that camping is undoubtedly on my shortlist of Things I’ll Never Be Caught Dead Doing.
Which is exactly why I found myself huddled in a tent in the middle of a field while wind and rain lashed about outside. This is for the blogs, I kept telling myself. What I wouldn’t do for my children, the blogs.
But before I get into that, let’s back up for a second.
The Roofnest Falcon
Recently, I tested out a 2020 Kia Telluride. It was a nice car! You should read the review.
But I asked for this particular version of the Telluride from Kia’s media fleet because I’d heard it had a roof-mounted tent from a Colorado-based company called Roofnest. Seeing as I was (and still am) living out a global pandemic and social distancing is the name of this game from hell, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to try sleeping outdoors.
The tent that came attached to the Telluride’s roof rails was the Falcon model: a 50-inch wide, 90-inch long, aluminum hard-shell tent that sleeps two adults. (A piece of free advice: if you’re planning on bunking with someone, make sure you’re comfortable being very close to them. I brought my boyfriend, whom I live with. We’re only quasi-used to sharing a small space together.)
The Falcon opens like a clamshell. Once unbuckled, you simply push up on the top half and its stainless-steel gas struts do the rest of the work, popping the tent up in a matter of seconds. The tent itself is made from waterproof canvas walls with mesh windows that you can zip up in case of inclement weather or a chill.
The Falcon uses what Roofnest calls a “universal mounting system,” which you can use to mount it to “any set of crossbars, similar to a bike rack or storage box,” according to emailed press materials.
Inside, there’s a three-inch-thick mattress for comfort. Above that, attached to the “ceiling,” there’s some netting for you to store items such as jackets.
When open, it provides 60 inches of headroom. When closed, it’s less than seven inches tall. In all, the whole thing weighs 140 pounds and comes with an 8.5-foot telescoping aluminum ladder that you can keep in your car.
Prices for the Falcon start at $3,395. I don’t know anything about camping, but I do know how to do math. One of the most popular and highest rated two-person tents on Amazon — this Coleman Sundome tent — costs $71.19. That means the Falcon costs about 48 times as much as the Coleman.
I suppose you have to think about it like real estate: the further from the ground you are, the more expensive things get. I just never thought that also might apply to tents.
There’s also the fact that you don’t actually have to do any actual work to pop the Falcon up, especially compared to a conventional tent. But whether that’s worth $3,300 and a slightly elevated view is up to you.
The whole idea of pitching a conventional tent — though having been described to me multiple times as “so easy” and “Christ, Kristen, even a child could do it” — has never been attractive. It always seemed like so much effort for what amounted to sleeping on the ground, a situation that I go out of my way to avoid.
Broader still, I’ve never seen the appeal in camping. Why would you sleep outside with no running water when perfectly good cabins, houses, and hotels exist that come with hot showers, soft mattresses, flushing toilets, and locks on the doors?
The Falcon was the perfect solution. A penthouse, but in tent fashion. A penthouse tent that raised by itself, came with a mattress, and was scores of feet above the ground on the roof of a roomy and spacious Kia that I could shelter in if the situation outside became suboptimal.
Night: Part Un
After sufficiently psyching myself up for something I had never, ever had a desire to do, I was emotionally ready. I was in the right headspace to leave my comfortable bed behind and sleep on the roof of a car.
The spot we selected was a grassy field overlooking a small pond, which would be a lovely sight to wake up to. I flipped the Telluride around so the rear was facing the water and parked it.
The aluminum ladder telescoped open easily and hooked onto a lip on the side of the Falcon. We unbuckled the pieces locking the tent flat and gave the upper lip a push. It rose heavenward as smoothly as a sun salutation sequence. My boyfriend, the handy one between the two of us, climbed in first to pop out the little awning, and then the tent was set up. It took less than five minutes.
Once I joined him, I realized our first problem. The Roofnest video said shoe bags would be provided, but we couldn’t find them. So we had no choice but to stuff our dirty shoes in the space under the tent and on top of the Kia’s roof. Apologies to whoever had to wash that gunk off.
Neither of us made any comment about the ominous-looking clouds blowing our way, thinking that perhaps if we ignored them, they, too, would ignore us.
So there we sat, about seven feet off the ground, in our little penthouse tent, drinking our beers. The sun was setting, throwing rose-gold streaks across the sky. With all three windows open, the Falcon was airy and offered a near-panoramic view of our lovely surroundings. It was nice.
But then the wind picked up. Then rain started to fall. The tent shook. The rain started coming in from the west-facing window. We were forced to close two of the three windows. Doing so plunged us into a gloomy, constricting space. The airiness provided by those big windows vanished, as did my enthusiasm. People do this for fun?
I was then faced with two options: Admit defeat, succumb to my suburban ways, pack up, and go home to try again another day. Or, stick it out in the bad weather because that’s what Real Campers™ do.
Hahahahahahahahahahahah. Please. What do you think I did?
Lemme tell ya, the Falcon assembles like the easiest thing in the world. Disassembling it is slightly more challenging. True, we were disassembling it in the rain, but still.
As you pull the top half of the clamshell down, the tent canvas poofs out on all sides. There’s a strip of elastic that prevents all of it from ballooning too far out, but it doesn’t manage to catch all of the fabric. You still have to move about the perimeter of the Falcon, stuffing the tent material back inside the shell.
Only after that can you buckle the thing. Owing to the fact that I’m short and the Telluride is tall, I could not easily flatten the shell enough to buckle it. The buckles were also located above the trunk of the Telluride, but the car had an extra spoiler (?) piece above its rear window that prevented me from reaching them.
Ultimately, it was a two-person job. My boyfriend, standing on the ladder, had to gently body-slam the top of the clamshell while I hung from it with my fingers. Together, with our combined weight and some extra help from gravity, we were finally able to flatten it enough to buckle it shut. Have you ever tried to close a suitcase after buying too many souvenirs on vacation? This was like that — except the suitcase is five feet wide and mounted on top of a car.
After that, we went home and watched TV in a dry living room for the rest of the night.
Look: I feel your judgment. It doesn’t upset me in the slightest. I could have slept in the rain. I like sleeping when it’s raining outside. But in a dark tent? No, thanks.
Night: Part Deux
Thankfully, the second night was perfectly cloudless. With markedly higher spirits, I parked the Telluride in the same spot in the field as the night before. We put up the tent, lined the mattress with pillows and blankets, kicked off our shoes, and settled in for the night.
After the last vestiges of the sun disappeared behind the mountain, there were still a couple of hours left to kill before it was time to sleep. And because we were already comfortably settled in our little tent above the ground, neither of us really felt like going back down to the ground level, which was dark and required shoes.
Luckily, I had anticipated this. We happily killed two hours watching “Jurassic Park” on my phone — a most fitting camping film, in my opinion. I actually believe it’s a documentary about becoming one with nature. Anyway, it’s great. Highly recommend.
Then, with the movie finished, it was time to brush our teeth and extinguish the electronics.
This last task really hit me hard, because I suffer from the horrific habit of doom-scrolling on my phone before I go to bed. As there was no cell service in the field, I was left alone to contend with my own demons rattling around in my head before sleep took me.
I’m only joking. (Sorta.) But the night was so clear and the air so crisp that it hardly mattered that I didn’t have a little rectangle of light in front of my nose. The Big Dipper hung just slightly above the horizon and I’d track its movements across the night sky as I woke up periodically. I wasn’t used to sleeping with so much openness around me. It pressed down on the tent, its presence noisy.
The night itself was also anything but silent. I typically sleep like the dead, but the sleep was light that night; the hooting of owls, yips of distant coyotes, bellows of bullfrogs, and whispers of wind through the trees blended together in an irregular wood nymph symphony.
A three-inch mattress perhaps doesn’t sound like much on paper, but it was quite comfortable. As the temperature outside dropped, the little nest (hah) we’d built for ourselves became cozier. At 6 a.m. sharp, I was awoken by the bright gilded beams of the rising sun streaming into the tent. They washed over the pond, where clouds of early morning mist hadn’t yet burned away.
This is what made the whole thing worth it, I realized later on. I’d come to that pond dozens of times before, but never just as the sun hit it for the first time of a new day. Never early enough to see the gentle licks of mist gliding across its mirror-like surface. Camping gave me a front-row seat to a view I’d never seen before, and camping on top of the Telluride gave me the peace of mind that nothing was about to crawl next to me while I slept.
Camping. I think I understood it. I could see why people did it. I grasped — albeit a small piece of — the charm.
But if you think I’m a changed woman and now all of a sudden a Real Camper™, I have some disappointing news. I’m not. I’d still take a well-situated cabin over a tent any day. The only reason why I was so willing to camp in the first place was because I cheated the hell out of the experience.
How to win at camping: Cheat
Oh, yeah. Of course I cheated.
That lovely field we parked in, overlooking the magical little pond? That was about 300 feet behind the actual house we were renting. We could see the house from the tent. We didn’t have to go looking for a suitable campground, or pay to use it. We didn’t have to share it with anyone else.
We ate a full, home-cooked dinner before driving the Telluride those 300 feet out to the field. No crappy camp food heated over a sad little fire for us.
We showered and used the bathroom before departing for the evening. I was already in my pajamas by the time I locked up the house and drove to our “campsite.” In the morning, we collapsed the tent and drove back to the house and made ourselves coffee and breakfast in a real kitchen.
And the biggest cheat of all? The ready-to-go tent on the roof of a luxurious, spacious SUV. True, the Telluride wasn’t the happiest trundling over the grassy knolls, and the folded Falcon roof tent resulted in a loud humming as wind washed over it on the highway, but both made this excursion possible in the first place.
By far the most comforting thing to me, however, was the knowledge that if conditions truly went south, we could simply climb down from the Roofnest, get back in the car, and return to the safety and security of the house. The whole thing would have taken five minutes, tops.
It’s the same deal with planes and movie theaters: always know where the emergency exits are.
But for absolutely green campers such as myself, the Roofnest provides a great introduction to camping. There’s minimal cleanup and the car carries the tent so you don’t have to. Of course, where you can pitch the tent is limited to where you can fit the car it rides on top of, so the more adventurous campsites are probably out.
That didn’t matter to me, though. I just wanted a nice, easy first foray into sleeping in the wildness. That’s what I got. And for $3,395 — the price of the Falcon — you can, too.