The Outside Blog

Dispatches : Camping

Luxury Rooftop Penthouses—for Your Car

Car camping is a bit like backpacking, except that instead of a backpack, you have a multi-ton vehicle to lug all your gear.

So yes: when your car plays double-duty as base camp and storage, you’re entitled to luxuries you definitely wouldn’t have while backpacking. Sleeping in a penthouse atop your vehicle—away from dust, dirt, mud, and creepy crawlies—is one of those luxuries. 

Enter Eezi-Awn, a South African company with more than 30 years of experience crafting vehicle-based expedition gear. It makes field-proven rooftop tents that have long been the premier choice for intrepid explorers in Africa looking for a good night’s sleep in the bush.

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For Eezi-Awn’s customers—a group that consists of safari guides, around-the-world travelers, and four-wheel-drive aficionados—the only comfortable bed they’ll retire to after a week of adventure is the one mounted to the roof of their vehicles. 

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Setting up an Eezi-Awn tent takes less than two minutes once you’ve gotten the hang of it. Simply remove the tent’s waterproof cover, use the attached ladder to help you unfold the tent on the car’s roof, then climb up, crawl in, and fall asleep. Having spent quite a few nights in an Eezi-Awn (with temperatures ranging from zero to 95 degrees), I have yet to find a more comfortable shelter to sleep in at the end of a long day.

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Did I mention the tent comes with a built-in mattress? Well, it does, and it is light years ahead of the backpacking pad I usually sleep on. I was also pleasantly surprised how well sealed the tent was against the elements. A durable wax-impregnated ripstop poly-cotton fabric keeps the rain, sleet, and snow outside, while still allowing the tent to breathe effectively. In short, it’s old-school tech done right.

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This comfort comes at a price. Starting at just over $2,000, Eezi-Awn roof tents are more expensive than their competitors. And at more than 100 pounds, they’re not exactly lightweight either. (Granted, no rooftop tents are light.) But when it comes to durability and build-quality, the Eezi-Awn products are unsurpassed.

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The Outdoor Exchange: Never Buy Gear Again

If your friends’ lack of kayaks keeps spoiling your dreams of organizing flotillas in nearby lakes, weep no more: last week, a small group of New Jersey men formally quit their jobs to focus on The Outdoor Exchange (OX), a subscription-based gear closet.

The brainchild of outdoor enthusiast and startup veteran Dariusz Jamiolkowski, five-week-old OX gives subscribers access to a catalog of high-end, expensive gear. Basic subscriptions to OX (there are a few options, the cheapest of which is $100) allow users to rent one item per week. You can rent more items at 10 percent of each additional product’s value. OX recently started an Indiegogo campaign to boost its membership, and expects to be “fully operational” by July, after which point basic subscription costs will double. 

So far, most of the rentals come from New Jersey (OX is based in Fairlawn), but subscribers hail from California, Colorado, Florida, and even England. Jamiolkowski estimates the young company rents about 10 items per week, and he hopes to attract more than 1,000 total subscribers by the end of summer, mainly by preaching the company's cause at big events like the Philly Folk music festival and relying on word of mouth. 


But while OX is still young (currently it only has a couple hundred paying members), it's run by seven business- and tech-savy teammates whose resumes are padded with names like Lockheed Martin and Novo Nordisk. Jamiolkowski officially left his position as Handybook’s vice president of finance in February after being accepted into startup incubator TechLaunch, while marketing lead Adam Hackett quit his day job on June 6.

That team has come up with a unique gear-sharing model. Unlike GearCommons—another peer-to-peer program that depends on its users to supply gear—OX stocked its warehouse full of gear by working directly with manufacturers and distributors. The majority of the 300 products in its inventory were provided by companies like Black Diamond, Hobie, Maverick, and Folbot, a foldable kayak manufacturer. It's a relationship that benefits both parties. 

“The issue (Folbot’s) having is that they have a great product, but it's hard for somebody who hasn't been in a foldable kayak to spend $1,200 on a foldable kayak,” Jamiolkowski said. “So we're putting butts in the seats for these guys. We're gonna get people to try the product and nine out of 10 people are gonna try it and say it was great, but one person is gonna end up purchasing the kayak...And our customers are going to be happy because they get to use a premium product at a low entry-point.”

The company is still working out some kinks, including how to streamline shipping costs. For New Jersey residents, OX will drop off and set up gear at trailheads within 25 miles of its warehouse for $20. But the idea of spending $100 a year on shared gear doesn’t sound as good if you have to pay an additonal $200 in shipping.

This week, OX began testing what its founder calls the Trailblazer Program. For a set $74 per year, subscribers can ship all their rentals for free within the continental United States. Ultimately, the team hopes to open local warehouses where subscriptions are most concentrated to help defray costs. 

You may be wondering, “What happens if the gear gets damaged?” Well, Jamiolkowski and his team have set up a system to incentivize good gear treatment. OX rates both customers and gear internally when products are returned. If a customer gets low enough marks, she can’t rent gear anymore. “In order for this to work, it's gotta work both ways,” says Jamiolkowski. “Have you seen Meet the Fockers? We're building the Circle of Trust.

“We have families to support and mortgages to pay for, but we strongly believe in what we're doing, based on everything we've done so far to build a very successful, not only business, but a community for outdoor enthusiasts,” he says. 

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