The 2 Story Tent is on the Rise

Do 2 story tents even exist?

The short answer is, yes. But, it’s probably not what you imagined. 

Rooftop tent with large annex on display

The 2 floor tent systems that exist today are not being marketed as a two story tent. Instead, they are called elevated camping tents or rooftop tents. And while those are essentially single floor tents that are off the ground, when combined with an annex or awning, you essentially have 2 floors occupying the same footprint.

I did search the internet for 2 story tents to see what popped up and all I found were tents that were actually permanent structures or products that didn’t even exist.

What is a rooftop tent?

Camping in desert BLM lands

Simply put, a rooftop tent is a tent that goes on top of a vehicle or trailer. They are designed to be attached to a roof rack. When packed, they keep a relatively low profile on your vehicle. When you are ready to sleep or prepare your campsite, a roof top tent is usually unfolded from it’s pack state creating a structure almost instantly. It’s sort of like a clamshell opening up but with a tent that pops up. A ladder is used to access the tent.

Getting a rooftop tent ready takes much less time than a traditional tent which often requires you to lay out a tarp, assemble poles, attach the tent fabric to the poles, drive the stakes into the ground, put on the rainfly, inflate the air mattress or pad and get the sleeping bags out of their bags. And this assumes that you don’t have to move the tent after finding your position unsatisfactory. With a rooftop tent you skip a lot of these tedious steps. Putting it back into it’s packed state also is less of a fuss.

Rooftop tents come in several varieties including a soft top, hard top, popup and hybrid. There are even some inflatable ones. They all have their advantages and disadvantages.

Interestingly enough, the first rooftop tents were created at least 90 years ago but have only recently become popular in North America. Overlanders seem to favor them the most. Many people will use the rooftop tent only for sleeping, but when you open the tent windows you can get a good view outside.

What is a rooftop tent annex?

Tent annex with large seating area

Rooftop tent annexes are popular accessories that are sold alongside the roof tents. They are essentially an additional layer of fabric which you can attach to the base of a rooftop tent. When attached, they create an additional space below the tent and become your ground level space. 

Annexes come in different sizes and have different features. The most basic annexes cover only the area directly below the rooftop tent area that overhangs a vehicle. It’s usually enough space for limited storage, a place to change clothing in privacy, or even keep a kennel for a dog that is too big to stay in the rooftop tent. It often will surround the access ladder, and have 2 walls as the vehicle will be the 4th wall.

The larger ones can create enough space for some camping chairs, a table and a place to store your gear. There are even some extreme ones that have multiple rooms in the annex for additional sleepers. You can have a living room, dining room and closet attached to your car.

While this might sound great, setting up annexes are much more involved than the rooftop tent. So if you want to keep things simple, consider the next item, the vehicle awning.

What is a car awning?

Car with side awning out and camping

A car awning is exactly what it sounds like: an awning that is partially supported by a vehicle. Unlike tent canopies, and awning only needs a few extra poles, though, there are some that don’t even require poles at all. With the car used as part of the support, you can position the car upwind so that it blocks the wind from where you’d like to stay.

Some of the most popular awnings attach to the side of a roof rack. When unpackaged, they can be expanded to create up to a 270 degree awning. The simple ones will just pull out and have 2 supporting poles. The pole-less varieties have more rigidity and do better in windy conditions.

An awning will keep you out of the rain and snow. It will also give you protection for the sun.

So, how does the awning factor in the two story tent set up? You could use the awning to protect your main sitting area right next to your rooftop tent. They seem like they are more popular than annexes and are a lot easier to set up. Some will have both an awning and annex which is possible depending on how you install them.

Why would you need a 2 story tent system?

There are many reasons why you’d want a 2 story tent system. Some are practical, some are borderline narcissistic. 

A smaller footprint in small camping spots

Dispersed camping on forest road

When car camping, the use of a rooftop tent with an annex and/or awning will reduce the square footage you need for most of your camping activities. This can be ideal when you have limited camping space because the terrain you are on isn’t very flat or you have to share a campground space with others. 

Often when camping in the mountains or in the forest, you may have difficulty finding enough flat space for your tent and room for your vehicle. By putting your tent on top of your car, you have more ground space for other activities. For dispersed camping, rooftop tents are perfect.

Also, campgrounds sometimes have less space than ideal when you have friends sharing the same spot. Having 3 or 4 tents in one campground space can be a challenge if there are trees, bushes and rocks preventing you from putting your tent on the ground. When one of the group members has a rooftop tent, they can utilize the parking space which is already flat enough for the car freeing up more space for common areas.

Weather protection

When there is rain and snow, you may find it a lot easier to have your main sleeping area off the ground. With a 2 story tent system, you will sleep above your car. Also, the annex or awning will have minimal contact with the ground. This means less of a chance that your gear gets muddy. 

The tent will have no contact with the ground. You can just fold it up when ready to go. Also, if a significant amount of snow piles up outside, you don’t need to spend time digging yourself out. As an added bonus, you can keep your boots and gear hung under the overhang of the rooftop tent and out of the rain and snow. If you have the bigger annexes or awnings, you will have less to worry about.

Added privacy

Camping with 2 story tent system at night

Some will find changing clothes in their tent a struggle. Especially if you have a smaller tent. With an annex, you can have a dedicated room to change clothes in. Also, if you opt for a bigger annex that allows you to have a sitting space, you will have some more privacy from the campers next to you. This can be nice when you are in a popular campground or near trails.

Added security 

How would a layer of fabric create additional security? Well, for one, the added privacy means that people will have a harder time seeing all of your gear placed inside the annex. Also, it’s an additional barrier between you and the outside world. Rooftop tents are great by themselves, but with an annex, you get additional benefits. 

Snakes, rodents, mountain lions, bears and other critters will have a much more difficult time getting into your tent. And intruders will also be at a disadvantage. By having to get through an annex first, they lose their element of surprise giving you the upper advantage. 

As mentioned before, if you have a large dog that is too big for the tent, an annex will provide some shelter for a crate which will make your dog safe from wandering off or having to defend it self from bigger wild animals.

Better accessibility to prime camping spots

RVs and trailer campers are great for providing additional room to sleep and recreate when outdoors. However, RVs and trailer campers will have difficulty accessing camping spots off the beaten trail. Overlanders prefer to get off the main roads and into the wilderness. A rooftop tent and awning or annex are simply attached to the roof of your vehicle. If you have an off-road capable car, you can bring your living quarters and living room with you. I will note that there are off-road style trailers on the market, but, keep in mind that you’ll have to store them when not in use. A roof top tent takes up much less room in your garage than an offroad trailer which will probably have to sit outside on your driveway or in your yard.

King of the campground

Keeping up with the Joneses in the camping world is a real thing. The lust for the best gear is extreme. An example of this is with the growing popularity of $400 skottle grills which cook just as well as a $20 cast iron pan. 

A two story tent system with a huge annex is like having an outdoor mansion. On a camping trip back in 2019, one of my campground neighbors had a huge annex that took up most of the spot. It was as if he had a house placed there.

Before you go overboard, consider this

The writers at Trail Mastery believe that good gear can make hiking and camping more convenient, enjoyable and accessible. We hope that it increases the opportunities you have to get outside and enjoy the outdoors. But as certain activities increase in popularity, it also can make simple things more complicated than they really are. Don’t let gear prevent you from getting out on the trails. There are many alternatives out there suitable for everyone. 



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