Colin reviews the Thule Tepui Foothill
A Tepui is a flat-topped mountain or mesa found in South America, usually in Venezuela and western Guyana. They aren’t usually crowded in with other peaks, and the sheer blocks abruptly rise above the surrounding jungle.
We don’t usually go too deep into the romanticised backstories of the names that brands choose for gear, but when it comes to the Thule Tepui Foothill rooftop tent, it’s surprisingly apt.
Using a clever hot dog bun style setup, the Tepui is a two-person tent design to minimise its footprint on your roof bars (and garage when in storage), so there is still enough space for a bike rack, roof box, surfboards or other toys you may want to take on a weekend away.
After all the wet weather that hit South East Queensland over the past six months, our resident dirtbag Colin has been itching to head out for a few nights in the bush. So, he loaded up the Subaru Flow-rester with a couple of bikes, packed an esky and headed for the hills.
An overview of the Thule Tepui Foothill
Rooftop tents are nothing new, and they come in all shapes and sizes, but the throughline with most of these pop-up shelters is the square footprint that bogarts the entirety of your roofbars.
The Tepui Foothill chops this footprint longways, keeping it to one-half of the roof, so that there is still room to carry something else — like bikes. Thule aimed to achieve this without cramping the inside, so you and your tentmate won’t be totally on top of each other. The folded footprint of the Tepui Foothill is 210.8 x 61 x 24 cm, while open that grows to 213 x 119 x 101.6 cm.
The construction of the tent is reminiscent of those rolling amplifier hard cases you see roadies frantically pushing around at rock concerts — or at least in movies about rock concerts. The base is made from an aluminium sheet, and the edges are covered in aluminium siding with holes for the spring poles that support the rainfly.
The tent itself is made from ultra burly, seam-sealed, 600D ripstop PU coated cotton/polyester, with a 1500mm waterproof rating, which is the same as the brand’s backpack rain covers. Thule includes a rainfly, but also recommends treating the tent body with a spray-on DWR treatment.
Will the Tepui work on my car?
Before you type in your credit card numbers and pay for the freight to have this monster shipped to your home, you’ll want to ensure that your roof bars are rated to carry the tent and check your vehicle’s dynamic weight carrying capacity.
That second one is key because you’re adding an extra 50kg to the highest point of the car. If that weight exceeds what your vehicle can handle, it can not only damage the rails, but potentially lead to a rollover.
For the Tepui Foothill, Thule states everything needs to have a dynamic weight capacity of 75kg. Once it’s on the roof and setup, the internal weight capacity of the tent is 300kg. There are also certain styles of roof bars, like side clamp style mounts for cars without rails the brand says may be unable to support the tent — when it doubt check the online manual.
Building and installing the Tepui Foothill
The Tepui tent comes in a HUGEEEEE box, so make sure there is plenty of space to spread out wherever you dive in. Most rooftop tents don’t come fully assembled and require a bit of manhandling before they’re roof ready, namely installing the mounting rails — a fiddly process that often requires attaching the mounting hardware underneath the mattress.
The rails come pre-installed on the Tepui Foothill, all you have to do is thread the Cordura cover onto the frame, zip it up and tighten two straps.
When it’s time to actually get the tent onto the roof, you’ll wish you hadn’t skipped so many of those gym days. It’s a two-person job, and speaking for myself, at 175cm tall, getting the tent onto the roof of the car requires hoisting the 55kg tent over my head. It’s been quite a while since I’ve executed a clean and press, but fortunately, my t-rex arms prevailed, and the tent has made it on and off the roof safely quite a few times now.
The Tepui is secured to the car using eight bolts and locknuts, and a burly steel connector. Thule includes a pretty schmick 13mm combo spanner, open at one end with a ratchet on the other. The tent doesn’t actually lock to the car per-se, but the locknuts take 4Nm to turn (i.e. you can’t do it with your fingers), and it takes a while to undo eight of them — even with a ratchet — so nobody is going to make a quick getaway with this thing.
This mounting interface is probably the least refined aspect of the Tepui Foothill, and is definitely outshined by the tool-free mounts on Yakima’s rooftop tents, which also have an SKS locking system. It’s utilitarian, but it gets the job done.
Something to keep in mind is that this tent adds 24cm to the height of your car from the top of the roof bars. A word to the wise is to account for the 2cm step your garage floor makes up from your driveway when measuring to see if it will fit underneath the door. I did not do this and had to install the tent twice the first time because we couldn’t get the car out of the garage.
Once you do manage to get out, that additional 55kg is noticeable on the road, and it makes the handling of your car a bit heavier. The added weight and aerodynamic drag also reduces fuel economy. Testing on the same section of highway with the cruise control set at 100kph, with only the tent on the roof we were using 6.7l/100 km, whereas sans tent came in a 5.4l/100 km.
Setting up and sleeping in the Tepui Foothill
As it so happens, I decided not to set up the Tepui in the driveway before heading out for its inaugural voyage and also forgot to grab the instructions on the way out the door. Fortunately, this served as a good test of whether the process was intuitive, or a complicated labyrinth of zippers, spring poles, and tension straps.
All that time working at REI (Ed’s note: these are like the US version of Paddy Pallin, but 3x the size) in my formative years turned out to be pretty useful, and even without the directions to hand, it took less than 20min to have everything set up. The process is literally attaching the ladder, using it to unfold the tent, pushing the internal support poles up until they click twice, and hooking the spring poles into the rainfly — that’s it, your rooftop accommodation is ready. Extending the internal supports is a step that a lot of rooftop tents don’t require, but it’s hardly an imposition. This additional 30-seconds is well worth the extra room on the roof racks.
Break down is even quicker, and even if you fold everything up in a hurry without taking the time to ensure the tent body folds up tidy, the cover will still fit over the mess you’ve made.
This maiden voyage with the Tepui got off to a pretty fast and loose start, and in the same form, I had not measured to see if there was going to be an issue with the bike next door to the tent when we opened it. As it turns out, this further demonstrated the compact nature of the Tepui’s footprint, as it cleared my partner’s bike on the roof with room to breathe.
With a bike on the roof, you do lose the awning and any use for the widows on that side, but with something shorter like a kayak or surfboard, this is a non-issue.
The Tepui comfortably sleeps two adults, and there is room for little tyke or a four-legged fur-child in there with you, depending on how big they are. With the fold going right down the middle of the mattress, one person will be sleeping entirely on the unsupported end of the tent, which is a little disconcerting at first, especially when the frame settles into the stops as you climb in. With the more traditional designs, you’d put your feet here, but once the tent has settled into position, it’s not like you’re flapping in the wind or leaning off to one side. Thule tells us it has tested the open tent to a wind speed of 80kph, so it’s pretty sturdy. And speaking from the experience of being stuck in a tent in the Eagle’s Nest Wilderness in Colorado being subjected to those type of wind gusts, you’d be sleeping in the car anyway.
The roof height measures about 95cm, which leaves ample headroom if you’re sitting up there playing cards, and means you won’t have to do that awkward contortionist act when you’re getting changed.
To be thin enough to allow the tent to fold properly the mattress is VERY thin. It’s not quite as uncomfortable as sleeping directly on the ground, but it’s not far off and I slept considerably better when I added an inflatable sleeping pad to the equation.
Inside there are hanging pockets and plenty of spots to suspend lanterns, fairy lights, damp clothes or whatever else you don’t want free floating on the matters. With that said, the pockets are staggered on opposite sides of the tent, so unless you’re sleeping top and tail, one person is going to miss out. A few more pockets on the tent walls, specifically right where your head sits when you lay down, wouldn’t go awry either.
For the first outing we took the Tepui to a spot about 100km inland from the Gold Coast at a spot near the Kooralbyn MTB Park — unfortunately, our shuttle day was cancelled because the park hadn’t dried out from the previous four days of rain. With that, it also rained on and off while we were out there, and nighttime temps hit about 2 degrees. We had the tent all buttoned up, and it retained a surprising amount of heat, but at the same time there was zero condensation. Given the humidity, the temps, and that the rainfly got some action, I’m not sure I would be able to say the same of a few lightweight 4-season tents in the gear closet.
We’ve since spent a couple of nights closer to the coast with one set of windows open, and there is good airflow, but we’re yet to have a 30-degree night so I can’t speak to just how good.
What the Tepui does well
Roof top tents are fantastic if you’re car camping, and you’re not planning to drive anywhere. You don’t have to worry about finding a dry spot free of lumps and holes, nor dealing with tent stakes, and you’re well away from unwanted nighttime visitors of the slithery, creepy crawly and four-legged variety. Just drive up, park, unfold and dive into your esky.
The Tepui Foothill allows for this convenience, without taking up all of the space on your roof. The soft taco design, it also means you don’t have to crawl all over your car to unzip the cover.
This isn’t a rooftop tent that’s going to live on your car 24/7, and getting it up on the roof is a little scary at first — and would be even more so the taller your vehicle. Beyond the brute force required at the beginning, the installation and step up are dead simple.
Inside it’s surprisingly roomy, which is even more impressive given the size of the footprint.
All of the materials are top-notch, and the manufacturing tolerances are on point — there are zero stray threads, sticky zippers or broken plastic parts. Short of a torrential downpour, you would probably be able to get away without the rain fly. That said, the windows and doors are not totally waterproof — nor are the zippers — so there would likely be some leakage.
With everything open, there is plenty of airflow and ventilation, and at the same time, zipped up tight, it stays surprisingly warm but doesn’t turn into a fogged-up personal sauna.
What the Tepui Foothill doesn’t do well
The glaring problem with rooftop tents, is that if you need to move your car or drive anywhere, you have to break down the tent. Of course, this problem is not unique to the Tepui, but it’s still an issue nonetheless. You also have to pull all your bedding out of the tent to break it down, and the mattress will eventually wear out at the fold. Again these issues are not unique to the Tepui.
The lengthwise, fold in the middle has a tonne of positives, but when it comes time for a midnight nature break, the ladder is only accessible on one side of the tent. So if you’re the person sleeping farthest from the door, you and your tentmate are both waking up because you have to climb over them. Oh, and watch your fingers, because the extendo-ladder is very pinchy.
Speaking of the ladder, when you pack up the tent, it doesn’t fit under the cover and needs to be removed. I am the world’s most forgetful person, and I am willing to guarantee there will be a trip where I forget to grab the ladder and will end up sleeping in the car.
The tent itself is made from burly materials, but I do wonder about the Cordura cover. It looks a helluva lot nicer than the heavy-duty PU reinforced material used on similar tents, and it’s easier to work with too. But lighter, more flexible materials flap in the wind, and flapping leads to fraying. It fits pretty snug at the moment, but driving at 100kph is a totally different story, especially as it stretches and wears in.
This is also compounded by the fact that the cover is held on by a single zipper that runs the whole way around. If that fails, you’re stuffed. Again this is also the case with tents from Darche, Kings, and others, so it’s a design flaw across the category. Yakima has a solution that involves, zippers, velco and clips, but the extra security comes at the expense of convenience.
In 2018, my partner and I spent 12 months on the road and lived almost exclusively in tents, rooftop campers, Wicked vans and the like across Europe, North America and New Zealand. Each of these options had its pros and cons when it comes to comfort, ease of setup/breakdown, gear storage, and liveability, and the Tepui Foothill is only ousted by the very swanky VW California pop-top van we scored in Germany.
When you’re up in the roof-mounted treehouse, there is room to move around, and you don’t have to be uncomfortably squished up against your tentmate when it’s time to go to bed. The mattress is on the thinner end of the spectrum, so unless you bring something for cushioning, don’t expect a plush bedding experience.
I can’t speak to the overall durability of the Thule setup yet, as we haven’t put nearly enough miles on it, but it came out of the box with fewer stray threads than the Hilleberg Tarra expedition tent that’s sitting on top of it in the garage, which is supposed to be the gold standard in quality. Everything is well thought out, and the materials are designed to take a beating.
The big downside of a rooftop tent is the fact that if you need to go anywhere, you have to break it down, and the best way to stake your claim to a site at a first come, first serve camp spot is, of course, to leave a tent.
Once the tent is on the roof, set up and breakdown are dead simple. There is an extra step with the internal supports, but it affords the real estate on your roof for a bike carrier. As far as return on investment goes, that’s a win in our book.
For a weekend away somewhere like Bright or Derby, where the campsite is within riding distance of the trailhead, and the pub, or a stage race like the Port to Port or Reef to Reef where you’re riding and staying somewhere new every day, the Tepui Foothill seems like a pretty darn good solution.
Priced at $3,199 AUD, it’s a bit more expensive than the similar offerings from Darche and a good deal more than the Yakima. When it comes to quality, there’s a sparrow’s fart between them, and ultimately the defining feature of the Tepui Foothill is the footprint of the tent. If carrying gear on the roof is important to you, then Tepui will edge ahead.
There’s also the storage aspect. The long and skinny footprint can be put up against a wall in your garage, or it will fit on a shelf that’s ~61cm wide. If you’re like me and your garage is already too full, this will be a major factor in your decision.
Thule’s Tepui Foothill roof top tent is unique in its field, and the majority of the downsides to it also affect just about any alternative. Ultimately price is going to be the biggest factor, and the Tepui is expensive. But if you can look past the price tag, the compact nature of this rooftop tent is pretty rad, but in the other toys it leaves space for, both on the roof of your can, and in the garage.