I’ve done the math. As much as I fantasize about buying a sweet Sprinter or Promaster for my weekend-warrior missions, it would be a ridiculous purchase. Roughly estimating $50k for the vehicle and build-out, that works out to $100 per night… if I sleep in it for 500 nights, and that’s before factoring in fuel, repairs, and maintenance. No, a luxury van does not make economic sense for me. But I also get tired of sleeping on the ground, and setting up and breaking down my tent. Enter the roof tent, providing the sleeping comfort of a home-on-wheels at a relatively reasonable price.
The Roofnest Sparrow is a pop-up-style roof tent. Encased in an ABS shell reinforced with fiberglass, this tent lives on your car’s roof rack, deploys quickly by disengaging a few straps, and is accessed with an included hook-on ladder. The shell pops up to create a sleepable space that is 46" wide, 80″ long, and 36″ tall inside. Best of all, the floor is lined with a ~3” thick high-density foam mattress. Think of it as a bed on wheels.
I used the Sparrow for weekend camping across Colorado’s Front Range, when hot summer temps made us flee to the high country. My girlfriend and I slept well on the plush mattress. It’s more comfortable than any common tent/sleeping pad setup. I’m 6’1”, and we still had adequate sleeping space for the two of us, though not quite enough to include our border collie, who stretches and fidgets throughout the night. (Note that a wider model—the 53” wide Eagle—is available for an extra $200.) The 36" of headroom was fine for sleeping, but taller users may feel cramped if stuck inside playing cards for an extended period of time due to weather. Speaking of weather, the ABS-plus-fiberglass shell will repel anything, and if the rain starts coming down sideways, the polyurethane-coated polyester and cotton blend walls are rated waterproof up to 3000mm, which is as high as you'll find on any ground tent, save an ultra-bomber mountaineering tent. And with huge mesh windows on all four sides, air flow is not an issue. For one to two average-sized people, this is a great road-tripper option. Taller or larger couples, and couples with dogs or kids, may want to look at the larger, folding-style roof tents, which sacrifice ease of use to provide quite a bit more space.
Installation is straightforward, albeit a bit annoying. Four brackets secure the Sparrow to your roof rack (it’ll fit just about any rack), each requiring you to tighten two bolts. On my stock Subaru Outback rack, it required some contortion to reach the bolts, while the narrow gap between the roof and the tent added to the difficulty. You won’t want to take this thing on and off often (though with a taller after-market rack, some of these challenges would be reduced). When closed, the Sparrow only adds 10.5" to the height of your vehicle, so unless you’re driving some jacked-up monster truck, you can leave the Sparrow on all the time without worrying about destroying the Wendy’s drive-through or crashing into an overpass. I did note a reduction in fuel efficiency with the Sparrow on, but it was only about one mile per gallon. One ding was that, at certain speeds, the Sparrow produced a high-pitched tone, but you can’t hear it if you close the windows.
Overall, the Roofnest Sparrow is a solid option for long weekends, road trips, and anyone who doesn’t mind leaving it on their car all the time. At just $25 a night to sleep on a cush mattress for 100 nights, it’s a reasonable price to pay, and thanks to the Sparrow’s bomber hard-shell design, it should last a lot longer than that.