There are car camping tents, and then there are car camping tents. This is the latter. Ryan Dunfee photo.
Tepui is a Santa Cruz-based operation that makes a wide variety of car-top tents, with options that fit on everything from small sedans to Moab-crushing 4x4's. I started seeing them more and more around Jackson this spring and summer, and as a car camping option that sits in between your standard tent and a full-on adventure van, it presently a curious option. I had to inquire.
A few weeks later, an 18-wheeler dropped off the Autana Sky model for a review, which sported some skylights for proper late-night shooting star/Verizon satellite/International Space Station viewing.
Strapped down, the Autana Sky weighs 130 pounds and sits 12" off of your roof rack. Ryan Dunfee photo.
Wrenched down to the top of my VW Jetta (sorry for the extra nitrous emissions, Earth!), the 130-pound Autana Sky took up a solid amount of room, and stacked about 12” high above the roof rack. Surprisingly, mileage barely suffered.
Unfurling a Tepui tent is relatively straightforward thanks to their clamshell design. Shauna Fraser photo.
And, once established on flat ground among epic mountain vistas, you can be up and running at a basic level in about five minutes; just unzip the waterproof PVC cover, undo three velcro straps, extend and lever the telescoping entry ladder out to fold out the tent, unfurl the full-width internal mattress pad, and you’re ready to crash.
To go 100% OCD and pop out all the vents and supporting struts, as well as neatly tuck, fold, or roll away any excess flaps, adds another ten minutes to the camping project.
The Autana Sky in 100% OCD mode. And what kid-turned-adult doesn't want a ladder going up to their tent?!? Ryan Dunfee photo.
Once unfurled, the Autana Sky is surprisingly enormous. The tent floor platform is 4.7 feet wide by 8 feet long, with a shaded canopy over the entrance that keeps out sun, dust, and curious eyes, and a high, 4.5-foot ceiling that keeps the wind from disturbing your peaceful slumber on the nicely firm 2.5" thick mattress even if you have all the top rain skirts rolled back.
While the photo doesn't do it justice, the Autana Sky will sleep three adults comfortably, or two adults and two high-maintenance dogs. Ryan Dunfee photo.
The capacious interior slept us two adults and our two 50-pound dogs with far more space to spare than if we were on our queen bed back home, and kept our two high-maintenance furry children from sniffing and barking endlessly for marmots in the night as they are normally want to do. It’s some seriously cush accommodations as far as sleeping bag nights go.
Perhaps the best feature of the Autana Sky, the skylights can be zipped fully open for lookout tower-style nature viewing. Ryan Dunfee photo.
However, what is by far the coolest aspect to owning a Tepui is the childlike satisfaction of having your own mobile treefort. Perched so high off the ground, sleeping in a Tepui satisfies every primordial instinct for high ground and protection you ever suffer from in a grounded tent.
With a roof that unfurls completely except for the framed bits, you can pop your head out of the top by sitting on a cooler or camp chair and watch the sun set on the golden prairie that leads up to the foot of the Tetons from your own private duck blind. It is an unreasonable amount of fun – hard to really explain in words – but if you were the kind of kid who grew up slapping together janky treehouses, repurposed nails barely supporting your body weight as you teter on a borrowed plank 25 feet up a backyard tree, your inner child will be deeply satisfied.
Of course, there’s always that practical advantage of being lofted off the ground, where all those nefarious coyotes, bears, moose, snakes, scorpions, interns, etc. tend to loiter. Should that be a concern.
The next day, no matter how hardcore you went with the setup, the Tepui can be packed up and ready to lumber out of the campground within ten minutes, especially if you’re comfortably clambering around your roof a bit.
The Bottom Line
This review in a Tweet: "Mobile Treehouse. Want!!!" Ryan Dunfee photo.
I was really bummed to give the Tepui back. It was ridiculously fun to camp in, easy to set up and break down, didn’t kill my gas mileage, and super comfortable. If I were forced to condense this review down to the size of a Tweet, “mobile treehouse. Want!!” would probably be all I’d need to get out with my thumbs. Just let yourself imagine it for a minute…. hmmm.
Of course, like anything really sweet in the outdoor gear world, Tepuis are expensive, and there’s a big gap between the $1,800 Autana Sky and a $30 surplus tent from the Army/Navy store that you’ll have to justify if car camping is your game. But it’s hard to imagine one of these car-top tents being the kind of gear purchase that wears out after a couple of seasons riding shit show, or no longer remains the trendiest thing in bike design.
After all, tree houses haven’t changed much since Sandlot, and nor has their appeal.