Pop-up tents on top of your car are an amazing way of getting back to the great outdoors.
Andrew LanxonEditor At Large, Lead Photographer, Europe
Andrew is CNET's go-to guy for product coverage and lead photographer for Europe. When not testing the latest phones, he can normally be found with his camera in hand, behind his drums or eating his stash of home-cooked food. Sometimes all at once.
A pop-up rooftop tent may not be the first thing you'd consider buying for your next photography vacation, but on a trip around the remote and stunning Scottish island of Mull back in the fall last year, the TentBox allowed me to go on a landscape photography adventure that would have been difficult to achieve any other way.
Mull -- a beautiful island, full of picturesque lochs, dramatic hills and white sand beaches -- is a photographer's dream and as a professional photographer myself, it's been high on my list to visit for some time. This was also a great opportunity to go off-road in a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon.
The pandemic has meant that travel has been out of the question for many months, and even as lockdown restrictions have eased in Britain, many businesses on the island, particularly those that provide accommodation, remained closed. I also didn't yet feel comfortable being indoors, and still today I won't sit inside in restaurants or stay in hotels.
A road trip and camping adventure seemed like a great solution to me, allowing me to escape to beautiful places while minimizing my interactions with other people. The thought of having to cobble together awkward tents in windy and/or rainy conditions did not seem like the sort of wonderful break I had in mind though. The TentBox Classic rooftop pop-up tent was a superb alternative.
Sitting on top of the car like any regular rooftop box, the TentBox easily springs open to become a tent, complete with mattress, storage pockets and space to comfortably sleep two people. It's easy to put up and can store your bedding when it's closed, meaning all your night-time requirements are kept separate from your daytime equipment in the back of your car. It also comes with a ladder to help clamber up.
My loaner model came attached to the top of a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon, a burly off-roader which handled the frequently rough, winding roads of Mull with ease and provided ample room for my gear in the back. And I had a lot of gear.
I knew this was a photography adventure, so I didn't want to limit my shooting options. Because I didn't have to pack a tent and sleeping bags in the car, there was plenty of room for my camera gear -- two cases full, as it turned out. This meant I had the gear for any shot I wanted to get, including aerial shots with my DJI Mavic drone and shooting video (though I ended up shooting all my video on the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, which you can see above).
The flexibility the TentBox provided is what appealed most. Knowing I didn't have to check into a hotel or arrive at a campsite with enough daylight left to set up a tent meant I could stay out and make the most of the setting sun. Then I simply popped the lid and hopped into bed.
It also allowed me earlier starts in the morning. I just needed a quick cup of coffee before heading off to my first location, without the hassle of packing away tent poles.
The TentBox is more akin to a camper van than standard tent camping. However, camper vans are mostly huge, way bigger than the Jeep I drove. They require not only bigger camping patches and flatter ground to park on, but also take up more room on the road. Mull's roads are almost all single-track with pull-in spaces if you meet an oncoming vehicle. They're fine to navigate in a regular car, but I think I'd feel extremely nervous about driving a big van on such small roads.
Taking the TentBox to Mull was a bit of an experiment for me. I wasn't sure whether it'd be easy to use (it was) or how comfortable I'd find it (very). What I didn't expect was how much it would make me want my own. I love landscape photography and even relocated to Scotland to immerse myself in more beautiful surroundings. But accessing great landscape spots requires a vehicle and getting there for beautiful sunrise light -- or staying late enough for sunsets -- means you really have to stay somewhere very close by.
Having a camper van all the time is both expensive and inconvenient (unless you have a second vehicle). Being able to attach a tent like this to the roof of any car (it fits on most cars, not just big Jeeps) opens up a wealth of opportunities for landscape photography, both local and farther afield. And sure, at £1,995 ($2,590 and it ships to the US), it's more expensive than most regular tents, but it's also infinitely more practical and comfortable.
The sad fact for me is that I don't even own a car right now, so getting to borrow the Jeep and the TentBox Classic was something like a temporary dream. But it's certainly cemented in my mind that if I had the money to put together the ultimate photography gear list, a TentBox on a car would appear right at the top.