Photos by Peter Bakken
We’ve all seen these rooftop tents floating through magazines and the interwebs, but not many of us have actually seen them out in the wild, so I was pretty excited when Tepui Tents out of Santa Cruz, California, was willing to send us their 3-person Kukenam SKY for review. Arriving in late April, it served as the weekend roost for the first two months and then sporadically throughout the summer months.
On paper, initial setup seemed straightforward, determine the tent’s entry point (i.e., driver’s side, passenger side or the rear of the vehicle) and attach the mounting rails and ladder to the base accordingly. Next, a second set of hands is required to hoist the tent onto the vehicle’s load bars. The mounting system consists of two front and two rear flat brackets that are tightened by a pair of bolts, sandwiching the vehicle’s load bars between the brackets and the base. This simple design works well with all types of load bars whether round, square or aero.
We installed the tent directly to the factory load bars of a Subaru Outback. The load bars have a dynamic load capacity of 165 pounds, which is the weight limit at which the vehicle can safely cruise down the highway while loaded. With the Tepui tent weighing approximately 130 pounds, we are safely under the max capacity and good to go.
The Outback factory roof rails also proved to be a huge PITA when tightening the mounting hardware which added approximately an extra hour of setup time due to the specific vehicle. Thankfully, Tepui included a ratcheting wrench in the kit. Vehicles that use an aftermarket load bar system should have no problems achieving a 30-45 minute install time.
The Kukenam SKY canopy is constructed of durable canvas with a waterproof coating. Four side panels and two roof panels have fully zippered mosquito screens, which can serve as access ports and also provide ample airflow within the tent. For the sides, Tepui added a dual-closure system. The exterior canvas awning can be battened down, and an interior canvas closure can be zipped up when mother nature tests your limits. The removable rain fly is a polyurethane coated polyester that extends over the front and rear of the tent. The 3-inch gap between the tent and rainfly helps regulate the temperature inside. It can also be easily removed/installed with six buckles.
Inside, a 2 ½-inch foam sleeping pad is included, providing a sleeping footprint of 56 by 96 inches. For comparison, your standard Queen size bed is 60 by 80. As for headroom, the center is 46 inches and drops down to 34 inches to the front and rear, offering plenty of room for two to comfortably sit and play some rendition of poker.
Tepui’s rooftop tent is perfect for the individual who typically finds themselves traveling to remote locations and needs to set up camp during their adventures. Many will balk at the price of the Kukenam SKY, and at just under $1,400, there is no denying it’s an expensive tent. However, the telescoping aluminum ladder, insulated fiberglass base and the canopy’s skeleton system that pops open with ease are all well-crafted and optimized to keep the weight of the tent as minimal as possible.
However, there are a few places where the Tepui falls short. The tent didn’t leak, but there were tiny pin holes around a few seams. After contacting Tepui, they said the tent was defective and quickly sent a Kukenam SKY Ruggedized canopy for replacement. The ruggedized canopy has a slightly thicker canvas and four internal stash pockets on the inside. Unfortunately, one of these stash pockets was sewn upside down making it useless. I brought up the quality control issues to John Griffith, sales and marketing manager at Tepui, and he mentioned that in 2019 they will have full-time quality control personnel auditing the Tepui factories to mitigate further quality issues such as these.
Sleeping in the tent was pleasant, regardless of the weather outside. The canopy remained warm and dry during the spring showers and well-ventilated when temperatures became hot and humid. If you get a clear night, the SKY panels can be opened and the rainfly removed offering a starlit sky to fall asleep to. However, the SKY panel zippers are not waterproof, so unless you are 100 percent certain a random storm is not rolling in, I’d suggest only folding back half the rainfly.
So, what if you have to pee in the middle of the night? Don’t be lazy, it’s not that difficult. If you can crawl out of your bed and walk to the bathroom in the middle of the night at home, then you certainly are capable of unzipping the tent and crawling down a couple steps.
The more time I spent using the tent, the less I wanted to go back to sleeping on the ground or in a hammock. Sure, tents, hammocks and your own car all work perfectly fine; there is no denying that fact. But, it’s like comparing crab meat from a country store in the middle of West Virginia to what you can find at an oceanfront restaurant in Delaware. The Tepui rooftop tent is straight luxury, and I am in no rush to take this off my car.
- Finding level surface to park.
- Finding big enough spot (essentially two parking spots worth).
- Included instruction manuals are minimal; had to review the online assembly videos.
- The ladder is slippery when wet. I would suggest putting some grip tape on the steps.
- 2-3 mpg reduction in fuel economy, roughly the same as a roof basket or transporting bikes on your vehicle’s roof.
- Off the ground: allowed a nice breeze when opened and stayed dry when it rained.
- Safe from wildlife such as lions, tigers, and bears.
- One person is able to set up and break down.
- Can be fully set up and broken down in less than 10 minutes.
- Can pack pillows and bedding inside the tent; it’s ready when you are.
- Less dirt accumulating inside the tent.
- Don’t need to find a smooth surface to set up camp.