With all the rain we’ve had on the east coast of Australia over the past couple of years, the thought of setting up the family tent or rolling out the swags in yet another muddy-brown puddle has put me off camping a bit, but with this new OZtrail Tarkine 1400 fitted to my Ranger, we can stay high and dry when the weather turns foul.
Top-quality rooftop tent that is easy to set up, is very comfortable and has a low profile when packed down.
The Tarkine is the smallest and lightest rooftop tent in the OZtrail range, measuring 2.4m x 1.43m x 1.3m when open and weighing in at 59kg. I could have fitted it to the Rhino-Rack Pioneer Platform above the Ranger’s cabin, but this would have limited me to on-road driving only, so I instead mounted it on a pair of Yakima LockNLoad crossbars on the canopy.
OZtrail recommends the Tarkine be fitted by a professional 4WD aftermarket store or a roof-rack expert, but I opted to fit it myself, and this proved pretty straightforward. Once unpacked, I removed the mattress so I could bolt the supplied rails to the underside of the tent’s base; I then lifted the tent on to the crossbars and attached it using the supplied brackets, nuts and bolts; once secure, I opened the tent up, attached the ladder and put the mattress back in.
I then closed it and fitted the PVC transit cover. The whole process only took an hour or so and I managed to do it on my Pat Malone; although, it would be much quicker (and easier) with two or three people in on the act.
One of the things I really like about the Tarkine is the design of the telescopic-retracting ladder, which simply pulls out and locks in place at any given height, up to 2.3m in length. Once closed and folded flat against the tent for travelling, it has a very low profile, so it doesn’t protrude excessively like some other rooftop tent ladders.
In fact, the packed height of the Tarkine is just 31cm, including the bit where the ladder sticks up, which is around a foot in the old language. Packed height is an important consideration when fitting a rooftop tent, as the lower the overall profile the less affect it will have on vehicle fuel consumption.
Once the Tarkine was secured to the canopy, I took the Ranger out for a spin. On suburban streets I could immediately feel the extra weight up top, but with the Ranger’s Tough Dog 300kg constant-load springs in the rear, it handles that weight well. In fact, ride quality is actually better with a bit of extra weight on-board, especially when driving over speed bumps or other road-surface irregularities, and the 41mm foam-cell shock absorbers ensure there’s plenty of damping control so the back-end doesn’t bounce around like a pogo stick.
Admittedly, body roll is more noticeable when cornering, but it doesn’t feel excessive. At highway speeds, performance is blunted slightly by the extra wind resistance, but I’m never really in a hurry when loaded up for a weekend away.
The first test of the Tarkine rooftop tent was a family camping weekend in a caravan park on the south coast of NSW. Considering my lack of experience with the Tarkine, I found set-up to be very quick and easy, which was just as well because I reckon you always feel judged when setting up camp in a caravan park full of onlookers.
The process involves removing the strapped-down and zipped-on PVC transit cover, undoing a couple of tie-down straps that secure the tent in place, extending the telescopic ladder and pulling on it to unfold the tent. The attached fly opens up with the tent, and the straps that secure it can be easily adjusted if necessary.
The tent’s front and rear doors are protected by the fly, while the side windows have generous awnings. The poles that hold the fly and awnings in place are durable anodised spring-steel items that are easy to attach, and there’s enough coverage that you can leave the window and door flaps open in inclement weather to maintain good ventilation, of which there is plenty.
As well as the large doors at either end, the large side windows and small vents on either side up near the roof, there is also a ‘SkyMesh’ roof panel that can be opened to let heat out. This panel has a flyscreen and a corresponding clear panel in the fly, allowing you to look up at the night sky as you drift off to sleep.
Of course, the doors and windows have flyscreens fitted too, and shy types can rest assured that it is difficult to see into the tent when these are zipped closed, even with the removable LED strip light turned on. That strip light has a long enough cord to be plugged into the USB outlet I have fitted at the rear of the Ranger’s tub, but there is no switch, so you can’t turn the light on and off from inside the tent. The easiest solution to this conundrum would be to run the strip light off a handheld powerbank, so you could unplug it from inside the tent when you want ‘lights out’.
The material used in the Tarkine is a 280gsm ripstop polycotton canvas that ensures good insulation and breathability. The seams are all double-stitched and the zippers and flyscreens are of a high quality. The fly is made from waterproof 210D Polyoxford flysheet and it too looks to be a decent bit of kit, with quality straps and buckles for adjustment.
For someone more accustomed to sleeping in a swag, I must admit I could soon get used to the Tarkine’s 60mm-thick high-density foam mattress – it’s sooo comfy. The mattress has a removable and washable luxe flannel cover, and it sits atop an anti-condensation mat that is designed to allow airflow to help prevent moisture build-up and mould. The mattress itself is 2.4m long and 1.4m wide, so even tall campers will be happy campers.
On this first camp with the Tarkine, I didn’t get the chance to sample the comfort of the foam mattress – my wife Renata and I swagged it under the Ranger’s awning – but the following morning, we were greeted by two beaming and well-rested 12-year-olds who reported that the Tarkine was “the best tent ever”. As they made their way down the ladder for breakfast, I noted how they didn’t put a second thought into their descent, thanks to the relaxed angle and stability of the ladder, and its wide rungs.
After brekky, I decided to set up the optional annexe, which simply attaches via a sail track and a couple of zips on the underside of the Tarkine, and is then pegged into the ground at all four corners. You could use this annexe as an extra sleeping area or do what we did, and use it as a change room and for luggage storage.
It has a generous 2.3m x 1.7m floor space, three large fly-screened doors and a tough (and removable) 600gsm PVC floor with high sides to keep water out. Another internal door allows you to access your vehicle, which in the case of my Ranger’s set-up means access to the fridge through the canopy’s side door.
The large external doors of the annexe can either be rolled up or, with tent poles, used as awnings to provide additional shelter. As I have also fitted an OZtrail 2m x 2.5m awning (see ‘Blockout Awning’ breakout) to the Ranger, with optional side and front walls, I now have more than enough shelter for camping in crappy weather.
The OZtrail Tarkine 1400 costs $1500, which I think is excellent value for money for a good quality, well-designed and super-comfortable rooftop tent
When it was time to go home, packing up the Tarkine for the first time took a little longer than set-up. The process involves removing bedding, pulling in the cord for the LED strip light and closing the flyscreens, windows and doors. You then use the ladder to flip the tent over in to its closed position, retract said ladder into its transit position atop the tent, make your way around the tent to ensure all the tent and fly material is tucked away neatly, and then tighten the tie-down straps.
Once you reckon you have it all packed down nice and tight, throw over the PVC transit cover, zip it up and strap it down. It should be noted that you have to completely remove the transit cover to attach the annexe via the sail track, but if you haven’t used the annexe you can save some time by leaving the transit cover hanging; or in the case of my Ranger, stowing it between the underside of the tent base and the canopy’s lift-up side door.
A few weeks later, I got to sample the comfort of the Tarkine’s high-density mattress for myself. Tent set-up and pack-away was much quicker the second time around due to the fact I knew what I was doing … and I didn’t have an audience.
The tent alone only takes a couple of minutes to set up, and I can even have the awning attached and pegged down in another couple of minutes, which is great if you need to make camp under threatening skies. If you need to pack up the tent when it’s still wet, it’s advisable to dry it out as soon as possible to prevent mould.
I’ve had the Tarkine on top of the Ranger for just over two months now and, in that time, fuel consumption has increased from 12.6L/100km to 13.4L/100km. It’s less than I would have expected, but I’ll remove the Tarkine between camps rather than leave it out in the weather as fitment isn’t all that difficult or time-consuming.
The OZtrail Tarkine 1400 costs $1500, which I think is excellent value for money for a good quality, well-designed and super-comfortable rooftop tent, while the optional Tarkine 1400 ‘Annex’ is $380. If you’re after a rooftop tent, this one should definitely be on your radar.
There was a fair bit of messing around prior to deciding which OZtrail rooftop tent (RTT) I was going to fit to my Ford Ranger, and that’s because the PXIII Ranger, like many modern vehicles without traditional roof gutters, doesn’t have a huge roof-load capacity at 100kg.
I have a Rhino-Rack Pioneer Platform on the Ranger, fitted via Rhino’s Backbone system, and this set-up weighs 27kg, so I can only put 73kg up on the platform. If driving off-road, Rhino recommends this capacity be divided by 1.5, so the actual roof-load capacity then drops to 48.6kg.
The Tarkine 1400 is the lightest of the OZtrail RTT range, weighing in at 59kg. As a big chunk of my driving is off-road, I couldn’t fit the Tarkine to the Pioneer Platform. That meant it would have to go on the aluminium canopy, which has a dynamic roof-load capacity of 100kg, and this is equipped with a pair of Yakima LockNLoad crossbars that are also rated to carry 100kg.
As well as the Tarkine, I fitted an OZtrail BlockOut 2m x 2.5m awning to the Ranger, and added optional front and side walls. The awning itself sets up like pretty much every other side awning on the market, providing quick and easy shade.
The material used for the Blockout is 280gsm ripstop polycotton canvas treated with OZtrail’s BlockOut technology, which is claimed to block up to 95 per cent of light to reduce temperature under the awning by up to 10°C. It also has a claimed 1500mm waterhead rating so it will keep you dry when it’s bucketing down.
The BlockOut side walls and the front wall are made from the same 280gsm polycotton canvas, and they attach easily and quickly via Velcro tabs and are pegged out at their respective bases.
With the Tarkine rooftop tent and the awning both set up – and one side wall and the front wall fitted – there is loads of weather protection down the passenger side of the Ranger.
Tarkine 1400 RTT: $1499.99
Tarkine 1400 ‘Annex’: $379.99
Blockout 2m x 2.5m awning: $319.99