Get your next camping trip ‘off the ground’ with a roof top tent. For our roadtrip around Australia we chose the Darche Panorama 2 Roof Top Tent with Annex. Read on for our review.
A good day starts with a good nights sleep, so when out on the road it’s important to invest wisely in your sleeping quarters. For our trip around Australia, we considered many options from the humble swag through to a full off-road camper trailer, however a roof top tent offered us the perfect balance between comfort and convenience.
With this in mind, the hunt was on for the best roof topper within a reasonable budget. The range of available options are large, however can generally be separated into two main categories:
- Soft Shell Roof Top Tents – These are a fold out design with a solid base and canvas/fabric upper construction. Once setup they look much like a conventional tent, just sitting atop a vehicle. Our Darche tent fits into this category.
- Hard Shell Roof Top Tents – These tents are contained within a hard shell or pod, with the upper half moving upwards on hinges and struts to allow entry. They are generally more expensive and occupy more space on the roof, however are quicker to setup and many allow mounting of further accessories on top. Examples include offerings from James Baroud and Alucab.
Our final decision was the Panorama 2 from Darche, along with it’s included annex. Read on to find out why we chose this particular model and our experience of living in it for months on the road.
The Panorama 2 retails for $2199.95 on their official website. This is positioned towards the premium end of the soft shell roof top tent market and is the most expensive of the options available from Darche, sitting above the “Intrepidor 2” and the “Hi View”. The extra cost is justified by features such as the star gazing sunroof, Aluminium checker-plate base, compact pack down dimensions and included annex.
Once familiarised with the procedure, setup and pack-up of this tent can be easily completed in less than 5 mins with two people and only a little longer with a sole person. The base simply folds in half and accommodates all bedding within the tent, after which two straps hold the halves together with a cross strap to retain the ladder. A tough, weather proof PVC cover mounts on one edge with a slide then is zipped closed on the remaining three sides. Finally two straps fasten down above to prevent wind filling the cover when in motion.
Setup is the reverse of packup, while the tent windows can be held out with flexible metal rods that slide into appertures within the base. The entry door has a canvas shelter hood held in place by C shaped metal bar that slots into pivot tubes mounted on the base, while the opposing door/large window can have the canvas or drop sheet pegged out by more flexible metal rods or simply rolled up and affixed with the standard hoop lugs.
All said, we have found the Panorama 2 to be very easy to use and quick to setup, with the further benefit that you only need open as many windows or doors as you see fit at the time.
One bugbear we have with the Darche is that it’s standard 50mm thick foam mattress is too thin to sleep comfortably on. Fortunately this is easily remedied by supplanting the standard mattress with additional material or replacing it entirely, however it is disappointing that this is required given the cost of the tent itself. Darche themselves appear to be aware that this may be an issue, offering a replacement self inflating air mattress for additional cost. Our solution was to slide two inflatable camping mats into the case below the foam, which we inflate when setting up the tent.
Aside from the thin mattress, this tent offers plenty of room for two adults and excellent all round sleeping comfort. There are meshed windows on either side, with larger doorways front and rear. An additional signature feature of the Panorama 2 is the upper window or “sunroof” which allows for further airflow and star gazing with the outer most drop sheet removed.
Sleeping atop the vehicle also imbues us with additional security and isolation from ground dwelling creepy crawlies large and small. While any roof top tent will offer this, it’s important to note the peace of mind and additional sleeping comfort offered by the elevated position and excellent visibility afforded by this Darche example.
Like the majority of competitors at this price level, the Darche Panorama 2 is assembled in China according to Australian engineering and design. We have found the build quality to be good and have had no major issues in our time with the tent. All fittings are high quality stainless steel and have proved to be highly resistant to corrosion, while assembly instructions are easy to understand and follow, even for the inexperienced.
The canvas and PVC materials used are of a durable and high quality nature, keeping water and wind out of the tent even in arduous weather. The zips have proven excellent and not exhibited any binding or slipping.
The only issues experienced have been regarding the telescopic ladder, though these have proved minor and simple to fix. The first was a disintegration of the fabric strap used to retain the ladder in it’s compact position, which we have deemed unnecessary and not sought to find a replacement. The second issue was a separation from the ladder frame of the rubber bump stops that insulate the ladder itself from the Aluminium base when the tent is folded. These had simply been attached via a Phillips head screw to the 1mm thick material of the lower ladder tube, and consequently pulled out of the material over time. To fix this we replaced the Phillips screw with a similar size bolt and corresponding lock nut inside the tube.
Of the roof top tents currently available, the Panorama 2 has one of the smallest pack down profiles we have seen at approximately 300mm tall including the ladder. This has benefits to vehicle handling (lower center of gravity) and lowers air resistance induced drag at highway speeds, while also maximising you clearance in low roof environments such as underground car parks.
Due to the fold out nature of this tent, it does not occupy the entire roof space and leaves us room to mount additional accessories and equipment. This is the main difference between hard and soft shell tents, where a hard shell can only expand upwards and thus is longer to accommodate the occupants.
All Weather Ability
We have found the Panorama 2 well suited to a wide range of weather conditions and have slept comfortably within it’s confines throughout the Arid Australian summer heat, tropical rainstorms and freezing desert nights. Weather conditions where it is yet to be tested is that of a snow drenched mountain top or freezing winter rain squall, however we do aim to avoid living in the tent when such extreme weather hits.
Ventilation within this tent is excellent given the number of windows and doors available, so warm Australian summers are as comfortable as they can be when sleeping in a tent. With all windows closed (each has a fly net and canvas layer) the tent has proved sufficiently sealed to keep insects and rainwater out, whichever may be of concern at the time.
The PVC drop sheet mounted atop the roof dispenses with the majority of rain along with tree sap and bird droppings, though it can be removed in fine weather. All canvas seams are twin needle lock stitched and sealed with tape to keep moisture out, while air vents are built in near the roof to prevent condensation build up. The high vantage point of a roof mounted tent also has benefits in both the summer heat and winter wet, putting you up in the airflow for added ventilation and keeping you off the water drenched ground.
The included annex is also a useful addition for adverse weather or simply a storage area for longer stays. We must admit however, we have only used it once on this trip and in hindsight could easily have done without it. The primary reason for this is that most of our stops have been a single night only and in fine weather, where we cannot justify the additional effort of setting up the annex.
We have found that the tent offers very little in the way of thermal insulation from the elements, so expect the temperature within to reflect the temperature outside even with all apertures sealed up. Here is where your bedding comes into play and we use a double sleeping bag with three additional blanket layers to keep warm when the Mercury drops to freezing.
All things considered, we are very happy with our Darche roof top tent. It offers convenience and comfort at an affordable cost, along with proven quality and durability for extended use in the Australian Outback. We particularly enjoy the stargazing view afforded by the ‘sunroof’ and the space efficiency that leaves room on the roof rack for recovery gear and additional storage. Roof top tents may not be for everybody, however if you are considering one make sure to pop the Darche Panorama 2 on your shopping list.
What is your camping set-up? Do you have a roof top tent or otherwise?
Let us know in the comments below.