The history of the roof tent

A comprehensive guide to the history of roof tents (or rooftop tents).

Ever wondered about the history of the roof tent? Roof tents have revolutionised the camping experience but they have been around for nearly 100 years! Offering comfort, convenience, and breathtaking views, these portable abodes have a rich history. Consequently, their popularity has been on the rise, especially in the UK in recent years. In this article, we’ll take you on a historical journey through the evolution of roof tents, and explore their role in the world of roof tent camping in the UK.

Ancient origins of roof tents

Roof tents, or car tents, derive from the humble ground tent. The tent has a lineage that can be traced back to ancient civilizations where nomadic tribes and explorers sought shelter while on the move. These early shelters were rudimentary, typically consisting of animal hides or simple fabric draped over wooden or bamboo frames. These early iterations allowed travellers to camp in diverse terrains while enjoying elevated views.

The 20th Century: A pioneering era for roof tents

The 20th century marked a pivotal period for roof tents, driven by the growth of automobile travel and outdoor exploration. During this era, notable milestones include:

1930

The emergence of rooftop tents: In Europe during the 1930s, the first examples of roof tents were seen. These early designs featured canvas tents mounted on car roofs, introducing the concept of comfortable and elevated camping experiences. On the other side of the pond in America, there were early examples of the roof tent concept that were patented. The first was in 1929, F.B. Lichtenberg submitted a patent for a ‘tent accessory for automobiles’.

1950s

This period saw the creation of pop-up camper. Between 1951 and August 1958, approximately 1,000 pop-up Camper Box conversions were made by Westfalia, official builder of Volkswagen camper conversions.

1958

Italian manufacturer Autohome claim to have designed, patented and mass-produced the first roof tents in 1958. In fact, two tents were created at about the same time. The first one was called “Au-tocampeggio Stogl” from the name of its creator; patented between 1957 and 1958. And only a few months later, the “Air-Camping”, a folding fabric roof tent by Giuseppe Dionisio, was patented in 1959.

1960s

The 1960s witnessed a rooftop camping boom, particularly in Europe and Australia. Advancements in materials and design led to more practical and durable roof tents. This period also saw the introduction of hard shell roof tents, which would become a cornerstone of modern roof tent design.

The first roof tent advert Autohome, showing a rooftop tent on a Fait 500.

1970s

Autohome produced roof tent models Maggiolina and Overland Adventures in the 1970s. The Italian brand significantly contributed to roof tent design with their iconic hard shell models. These robust tents gained popularity among overland adventurers for their durability and ease of use, further fueling the growth of rooftop camping.

The first hard shell roof tent with two people looking out the door.

The Modern Era: Innovation and versatility in roof tents

In the late 20th century and early 21st century, roof tents continued to evolve:
 

1990s

Hard shell roof tents continued to evolve, incorporating features like gas struts for easy setup and integrated mattresses for added comfort. These improvements made roof tents more user-friendly and appealing to a broader audience.

Hardshell roof tent camping UK

2010s

The rise of hybrid roof tents: Recent years have seen the emergence of hybrid roof tents. These tents combine the flexibility of soft shell tents with the durability of hard shell models, offering campers adaptable and convenient camping solutions. In 2017, iKamper crowdfunded the Skycamp which was one of the first hybrid designs seen on the mass market.

The back of a hybrid soft shell roof tent on a land rover on a field of long grass.

2020s

Roof tents for all in the UK: Today, roof tents are available in various sizes and configurations, catering to solo adventurers, families, and everyone in between. Whether you’re in the UK or anywhere else, from sleek and aerodynamic designs to spacious and feature-packed models, roof tents offer a wide range of options to suit different camping styles and preferences.

The history of roof tents is a testament to human ingenuity and our enduring desire to connect with nature while maintaining comfort and convenience. From ancient nomads seeking shelter in the wilderness to modern-day adventurers embarking on rooftop camping escapades in the UK and beyond, roof tents have come a long way. Their evolution continues, with ongoing innovations making camping on top of your vehicle more accessible and enjoyable than ever before. As we look to the future, it’s clear that roof tents, also known as car tents or roof top tents, will remain a beloved fixture of outdoor exploration for generations to come.

2 Responses

  1. Enjoyed reading the article above, the article is very interesting and informative. Thank you and good luck with the upcoming articles.

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