Car camping setups may be a debated until the end of time, but luckily for us, Explorer Ange has a fair bit of experience sleeping in both a swag and roof top tent, and she’s given us the breakdown on what works best for different adventures.
I’ve been living out of my Jeep in an aluminium/hard shell roof top tent with my partner for two months now. Prior to living on the road, I was camping most weekends in NSW for about two years and used a double swag for most of this time. As an avid camper who’s experienced lots of different styles of camping, I feel I can safely provide insight into the ideal camping set up.
Roof top tent vs swag. Which will emerge victorious as the best camping set up?
Disclaimer: This post is not sponsored by any brand and is not a review about the products featured in the photos, but rather a comparison of the two types of car camp set up in general.
Roof top tents are far more expensive than swags. For an aluminium/hard shell roof top tent like the one I use, you’re looking at anywhere between $2,295 for the cheapest version, to $4,500+ for the higher quality ones. If you’re after an all canvas roof top tent, they start at around $590.
Swags are more affordable, with a wide range of brands starting from $119 and reaching $600+ for the most expensive models.
There’s a huge price difference between swags and roof top tents, so your decision may be largely impacted by your budget.
Roof top tents are designed with more headroom than swags, therefore they feel more spacious and liveable. As you’re on top of your car, you don’t have to worry about sleeping on rocks or uneven ground. This’ll guarantee a great night’s sleep!
Swags are directly pitched on the ground which can be pretty tricky depending on the type of surface you’re setting up on. However most swag brands offer a thick foam mattress, which can help with comfort.
For either product, make sure to check the mattress specifications before purchasing. 70mm thickness or more is ideal.
Set Up / Install
Roof top tents require a lot of work prior to being able to mount them onto your car. At the very least you’ll need an appropriate roof rack for the installation.
Something to also consider is the weight you’re adding on top of your car. Most roof top tents are quite heavy (roughly 80kgs), so you might need some help getting it on there! Adding weight to the top of your car can also affect handling, safety, petrol efficiency and aerodynamics.
Once fixed to the top of your car, removing the roof top tent after each trip isn’t really a viable option.
On the other hand, once the install is out of the way, the actual set up and pack-down time is fast. Many brands feature a gas-strut assisted system which makes the opening and closing of the roof top tent very easy. The old-school roof top tents, which are more like a tent and require a cover, take more time to set up and pack down.
Swags are much lighter and do not require an install. They’re usually transported in a canvas bag which just needs to be unzipped for usage. You can fit a swag on the back seat of your car or on the roof. All you need are a couple ratchet straps and appropriate tie-down points.
They can easily be removed from your car after your camping adventure and stored in your garage/house.
Once you’ve arrived at your campsite, setting up a swag can be more time consuming than modern roof top tents.
Roof top tents have been designed for more convenient and frequent camping experiences. You can usually leave all your pillows and bedding inside when closing the tent.
Aluminium roof top tents seem to be far more resilient to rain, making it a better weatherproof option. They’re also generally fully insulated, keeping you cooler in summer and warmer in winter. However roof top tents can be louder and more affected by wind than swags.
When parking, you need to make sure the car is level so that you’re not sleeping on a harsh angle. If you wish to temporarily leave your campsite, you need to completely pack up the roof top tent and set it up again when you return.
Swags can be left behind at the campsite when you want to leave for the day. They’re also not limited to where you can park a car. Swags can be carried a short distance to a more convenient or secluded spot.
However, swags are less waterproof. Being ground based, they can get muddy and wet quite easily. Some brands offer better quality canvas bags, but after consecutive days of rain, water can still seep in. When wet, swags take a long time to dry and are prone to mould.
Ultimately, the decision to purchase a roof top tent vs a swag for your camping set up will depend mostly on the frequency of use and for the length of time you’ll be away from home.