Gear Review: Yakima Skyrise Car Top Tent (2 person)

May 7, 2017

The Yakima Skyrise is the first car top tent from Yakima. After owning one for a couple months, I have slept in this car top tent now for 20+ nights in desert campsites, county campgrounds, snowy forest roads and even a library parking lot. For the most part I love it, but there are several things I wasn’t a huge fan of. As far as I can google this is the only real in depth review of the tent that isn’t just blog advertising. This is what you’ll want to know.

Why a Car Top Tent?

Often I explain this while explaining what a car top tent is. First off I justify paying near $1000 for the Yakima because I’m planning to be on the road day after day for many months. I’m 6’6″ and I can sleep in the car, but the car isn’t that comfortable. So a car top tent was a nice solution that was cheaper than the other alternative of buying and refurbishing a van. Similarly, I think a car top tent is superior to a tent on the ground because its more comfortable due to the mattress, its faster to setup and its easier to find a place to set up when pulling off a backroad to sleep. My thought is the easier and more comfortable my daily sleeping arrangement the less likely I’ll spring for paid camping, hotels, hostels, etc.

The downside of a car top tent is that you can’t really stealth camp places like you can in a van. I felt pretty weird popping the tent in the library parking lot. However, I haven’t experienced the other two downsides people often think of: I haven’t noticed any decrease in gas milage (but I haven’t been looking) or experienced any impact on maneuverability from drag or wind.

Installation

The Yakima website says it takes 15 minutes to set up. Which is maybe true if you already memorized the manual. In reality it took about an hour and a half to install in the REI parking lot by street light. However, it was pretty easy and straightforward.

Our newly installed tent!

The main challenge with installation is figuring out how to configure the clamps so the ladder comes off the side you want. I’ve had it off the back for most of the time I’ve used it. Some good news is that even in this configuration I  have been able to open the back lift partially on the Subaru Forester. However, I’m currently trying it off to the side so I can sit on the tailgate while the tent is setup. The mechanism that clamps onto the car rails is really good and makes reconfiguration a breeze.

I have one major complaint in that the camps only work in one orientation because in the other orientation their bar overlaps the riveted straps on the base. This causes the bar to come up off the platform high enough where their screws don’t reach the nuts anymore. WTF! I couldn’t find a single video with people having installed their tent with the clamps in this direction and Yakima’s video is more advertising than information. Luckily we were able to use our cross bars to get the orientation we wanted, but still a huge design oversight.

You can see he camp overlaps the metal frame in this orientation


You can see how far these rivets push the bar off the frame

Set up

This might be my favorite part of having a car top tent. It takes me 30 seconds to take off the cover and pop it up. It has been so amazing to pull off after hours on the road and be sleeping within minutes. One thing I didn’t understand at first was that the poles they give you to prop up the rain fly are supposed to bend. Find the frame flaps, stick the poles in the angled machined holes and bend them to meet the rainfly.

Another trick with setup is to adjust the ladder to make the platform level and then move it closer towards the tent so it is firm and acts as support. Otherwise you’ll feel the platform wiggle up and down at the hinge as it slides on the ladder. Finally, I’ve found it really easy to remove and attach the rainfly.

Tent life

Temperature

The best thing about this tent is all the windows. I’ve spent many mornings laying in the tent in perfect temperature. Warm in my sleeping bag with a cool breeze running through the windows. Even better there is a top window you can unzip and gaze up into the stars! In general, I’d say this tent probably excels in heat and it is definitely limited to three seasons. When I was sleeping in it alone in a snowstorm I had all my clothes on in my zero degree sleeping bag and was still cold.

Weather

I’ve been in this tent in rain, snow, hail and moderate winds. The tent didn’t seem to have any trouble with the winds and I never had anything in the tent get wet from any precipitation while the rain fly was up. The tent doesn’t shed snow completely, but that wasn’t really a problem. One cool thing is the rain fly has a transparent plastic window you can look out into the sky.

Comfort

I found the mattress that came with it to be very comfortable. So comfortable it makes it hard to get up in the morning. However, I do find myself needing to change positions in the night when I sleep on my side. My sleeping situation with two people is one sleeping bag on the bottom, two sleeping bags on top as a sheet and one real pillow each. The biggest downside to comfort in this tent is that it doesn’t breathe at all. You pretty much always have to leave the top window all the way open whether its hot, cold or snowing. Otherwise you’ll wake up with water dripping on you and on all the walls.

One last minor complaint is that you can’t sit up in the doorway to put on shoes, etc. when the rain fly on. You’ll always be hunched one a little.

Packing it up

Leaving the tent to go summit a mountain

Packing up is as fast as setting up, maybe 1 minute. One trick is to make sure the back cover corners are all the way forward before you start velcro’ing so you can get the front velcro all the way down and no bugs get into the velcro when on the road (bugs cause velcro to loose its binding might). Sometimes I also pull down on the front of the platform to help with this.

I found it disappointing I couldn’t leave all the sleeping stuff in the tent when we folded it up. I’ve only been able to fit the bottom sleeping bag I use. Once I tried leaving the pillows in there and it didn’t close at all. A mild inconvenience, but would have been nice to leave it set up inside.

One thing to watch for is ladder wear on the platform. The ladder sort of wiggles left and right so I think this is from driving? I don’t think I need to be worried about it wearing through the floor, but I’ll probably put some smooth tape on it to prevent more damage.

That mark is where the top ladder run rests when driving

Finally, the built in locks for the clamps really give me piece of mind that my tent isn’t going to stolen.

Summary

Pros

Cons