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Testing Yakima’s $1,000 Rooftop Tent: What’s the Money Get You?

Posted in How To: Body Chassis on March 15, 2018
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Yakima is well known for its line of rooftop and bumper-mount products ranging from bike racks to storage pods, ski racks, kayaks, and more. But for such an outdoorsy company it hadn’t really ventured into the camping genre. Until just recently, that is.

Last spring the company unveiled prototypes of a new rooftop tent system, dubbed the SkyRise. We got our hands on one of the first preproduction units built for media evaluation and for the past 11 months have been putting it through its paces. Available in two- or three-person configurations, our test model was a small-sized SkyRise 2, which turned out to have the perfect dimensions for your average small SUV or pickup. We mounted it in our 2001 Toyota Tacoma using the company’s BedRock system and spent at least one night in it every few weeks, even if it was only in the driveway. And any time it rained even a little we ran outside to put the tent up because … SoCal.

So what’s the final word? We were able to take the SkyRise 2 on and off our Tacoma singlehandedly. Adding it to the roof of a taller SUV would no doubt take two people. It offers plenty of ventilation for warm-weather use, the 2 1/2-inch foam mattress pad was comfy under the author’s 175-pound frame without any additional padding, and it was quick and easy to set up and fold away. When stored, the vinyl cover cinches to the frame with Velcro around the entire perimeter, keeping the tent nice and dry inside when you’re driving through pouring rain.

Even after a full 11 months sitting outside in the strong SoCal sun, the vinyl cover was in great shape. The Velcro is still strong, the webbing hasn’t faded from black to purple, and the stitching isn’t deteriorating. The white “Yakima” lettering is not faded—this is how the cover looked when we took it out of the box; kind of a dull gray.

However, we weren’t without gripes. The ladder system gave us fits. We didn’t like how it adjusted. The Velcro retaining strap wasn’t strong enough to hold it together when we were unfolding the tent during setup, which allowed the ladder to come crashing down to the ground, impeding tent deployment. Also, in stronger rains we found that water could enter the tent system. It didn’t happen in lighter rains, and you didn’t wake up with a constant faucet trip on your forehead, but there were wet spots on the foam mattress and sleeping bags. The rainfly could stand to be thicker and better sealed at the seams.

Overall, if you’re not inclined to go camping in very inclement weather and are looking for a lightweight above-vehicle sleeping system with a lot of factory mounting options, the small SkyRise 2 or medium SkyRise 3 are worth considering.

The vinyl cover cinches to the tent base with Velcro around the entire lower perimeter to keep water out. There are also six retention buckles to ensure that the cover doesn’t loosen at highway speeds and zippers at each corner to aid in cover removal and installation.
In our 11 months of testing we got no moisture under the cover no matter how heavy the rain we drove through. To begin tent setup, unfasten the retention buckles, unzip the corners, and peel back the cover from the Velcro.
The vinyl cover remains attached to the tent frame at the pivot side. Lay it astride the vehicle and then roll it up to the tent base so it’s out of the way for removal. If you need to fully remove the cover, the pivot side cleanly mounts inside a channel in the aluminum frame.
Two toggle-and-loop fasteners allow you to easily cinch up the vinyl cover.
Next, remove the Velcro straps that retain the two tent halves together. There are four in total.
Our tent was mounted on Yakima’s BedRock rail system in addition to a FrontLoader mountain bike rack, which didn’t impede the tent’s function at all—as long as we removed the bike first. Notice the ladder’s retention strap. The Velcro isn’t really strong enough to retain it when folding the tent out.
On our test unit, every time we got this far the ladder strap broke loose and the ladder self-extended all the way to the ground, preventing the tent from folding completely open. We had to jump down out of the bed and move the ladder, allowing the tent to completely open. Replacing the Velcro with a clip-type fastener is the quick fix. You listening, Yakima?
The SkyRise uses an aluminum frame and aluminum rods to keep weight down. Once folded open, all that’s left to do is to install the rods for the rainfly if you’re using it. Otherwise, just stow the rainfly inside under the mattress and go do something fun.
The rainfly mounting rods are stored under the mattress in a canvas bag. If you’re using the rainfly, bust them out and fit them into these drilled slots in the tent frame.
After a few months of use we noticed the rods retaining a bit of the bend they had when flexed, but they still kept enough spring to hold the rainfly taught.
Inside there are toggle-and-loop fasteners for all the screen and window flaps. The roof vent in the top of the tent really lets the side windows breathe, releasing all the trapped hot air in warmer camping situations. Conversely, if the tent interior gets wet, the vent allows for rapid drying once the weather settles down.
The zippers worked well through our entire test period, with no sticking or separating. Again, the toggle-and-loop fasteners make it quick and easy to get the flaps or screens up out of the way.
The aluminum frame and rods keep the weight down. The rod positioning inside the tent isn’t obtrusive. We didn’t hit our elbow or other body part on them when tossing and turning at night.
The 2 1/2-inch foam mattress pad is adequate if you’re of slight or moderate build, but if you’re got a lot of meat on your bones you might want some sort of mattress topper too. We found you can leave your unrolled sleeping bags inside and still close up the tent without problem, so another 1 1/2 or 2 inches of mattress foam probably wouldn’t impede the tent’s function.
If you intend to run your tent in a bed-mounted application like ours and plan on using the rainfly, be sure to space the tent far enough away from the cab to insert the mounting rods in the tent frame. This was as close as we could get the tent to our Tacoma cab and still insert the rods.
The ladder is just awkward. There’s no other way to explain it. Each ladder rung can only be locked when fully extended or collapsed, not partially. If a rung is partially collapsed (third from top in this photo) it will be free-floating and allow the ladder to move if you kick it at the base. Also, it makes it difficult to get even spacing between rungs for ingress and egress, which caused us to nearly take a stumble a few times when nature called in the middle of the night.
To collapse the ladder segments, you need to push each of these tabs inward, then slide the ladder rung up. However, the segments don’t lock in the collapsed position, so as soon as you lift the cantilevered side of the tent to fold it closed, the ladder self-extends to maximum length. In our opinion, that’s something that needs fixing.



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