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First Look: RoofNest Sparrow

By: Matt Hart - August 19, 2017

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#Vanlife is having a moment. What’s not to like about the idea of hitting the open road to explore the wilds of America, camping wherever you’d like and adventuring from your car door without concern for exorbitant hotel fees?

Well, let’s be honest, Sprinter vans aren’t cheap. What if you don’t have the $50,000 buy-in to the romanticized, adventure-lifestyle of the Instagram age? RoofNest, based in Boulder, Colorado, hopes to considerably lower that cost with an affordable roof-top tent.


RoofNests currently come in two sizes, a large, for $2,395, and small, for $2,195. The larger Eagle will sleep two adults and a child comfortably. It weighs 135 pounds and is just 3 inches shy of a queen-size bed. We tested the smaller Sparrow, which weighs 120 pounds and is roughly equivalent to a full-size mattress. Both units will mount to any type vehicle roof-rack with crossbars and come in black or white.

Sparrow Closed

The tent itself springs forth from a sleek fiberglass case that angles up toward the rear of the car for improved aerodynamics (it’s 11.5 inches at its widest point). For those used to wrestling with traditional ground-tents, setting-up the Sparrow, will bring tears of joy to your eyes. No more spending an hour with the directions and a headlamp trying to figure out where that extra pole goes—the Sparrow takes less than a minute. Simply undo the front and rear straps and give it a push, pneumatic gas struts do the rest, easing the tent up to full extension.

Sparrow Arms

All RoofNest tents come with a lightweight eight-foot telescoping ladder. Inside the tent is 3 feet tall and has a built-in, custom-shaped 6 centimeter foam mattress. There is also plenty of internal tent storage, with mesh webbing on the ceiling, eight locker-style hooks, and four large magazine-sized pockets. The mattress is more comfortable than we expected and infinitely better than sleeping on the ground with a pad. The two doors and the two windows give the Sparrow great ventilation and the option to be screened-in if bugs are an issue. If you’d prefer not to get up with the sunrise, zipping the doors and windows shut, allows very little light into the tent, which makes it easy to get a great night’s sleep no matter where you park.

Sparrow Inside Mattress

The walls of the tent are a polyurethane-coated polyester and cotton blend with about three times the waterproof rating of a backpacking tent. To close the shell you simply pull it down and tuck in the sidewall material before securing the safety straps. The shell has room, when closed, for you to leave your bedding inside so it’s ready to go next time you open it. You don’t even have to sacrifice the roof space. Some models, like the Sparrow X has a gear rack and can accommodate 100 pounds when the tent is closed.

At 120 pounds, you’ll need at least one other person to help get the tent on and off your car. If you have a non-standard rack system—like my 2017 Subaru Outback, where the bars are hard to reach—then accessing the bolts can be tricky. But for half the cost of your last mountain bike, you have a bed on your roof, that deploys in a minute, anywhere you go, allowing for something approaching #VanLife.


Read more about the RoofNest Sparrow here:

About the Author

Matt Hart

Matt Hart

Matt is a contributing writer covering snow sports for Gear Institute. He’s a former professional runner and endurance coach turned adventure-journalist who lives with his wife in beautiful Boulder, Colorado.


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