Affordable rooftop tents have a magnetic pull. But who can stomach a compromise to their sleeping arrangement, occupied for a third of touring life? The dream would be a cheap tent that didn’t shirk on comforts, because there are no chiropractors in the Simpson Desert.
Soft-shell rooftop tents are a common budget choice, a few week’s pay cheaper than the exotic hard-shells washed up from France and South Korea. Most soft-shells bear a family likeness; the competition boils down to the finer details. Darche thrive on these, as I’ve discovered since purchasing their Intrepidor 2 1400 rooftop tent.
INSTALLING THE TENT
The Intrepidor 2 1400 comes put together in all the important ways. After unboxing, you attach the ladder brackets, the ladder and the mounting channels using nuts, bolts and washers, before lifting the tent onto your roof with the help of one or two mates.
A two crossbar set-up is all your vehicle requires. To secure the tent, you drop bolts through holes in plates and slide these plates along the grooves in the tent’s mounting channels. You position these suspended bolts either side of your crossbars and place curved mounting plates onto them, which you secure with nyloc nuts. These nuts are hard to screw on, but for that reason they’re more likely to stay put on corrugated roads.
You could secure the tent to a third or fourth crossbar if you sourced additional parts from Darche. If you have a roof platform, enquire with Darche and the roofrack manufacturer to determine suitability.
The mounting plates are approximately 18.5cm long, with the M8 bolts (55mm long as provided) sitting about 15cm apart. These plates have a hat-like profile and the flat part in the middle is about 8 or 8.5cm wide, meaning a bar of this width or narrower will work best.
INSTALLATION PROS AND CONS
Initially, the 55mm bolts fouled on our Mitsubishi’s factory standard roof rails (our roof rack system doesn’t utilise these rails). We fixed this car-specific issue by substituting in shorter high-tensile bolts from Bunnings.
When set up, the tent’s window awnings are held in place by metal rods that slot into the base. If you have a touring awning and its L-brackets are installed to point upward, you may not be able to set up the tent window on that side (the awning may block you from inserting them).
We solved the issue by flipping the awning’s L-brackets to face downwards but check whether you’ll be able to do this and still open your car doors.
An advantage of the Intrepidor, which doesn’t travel full length but measures 121.5cm by 143.5cm when packed away, is that there may be left-over room for MaxTrax, a storage tub, or similar, if your car has a platform on the roof.
Another advantage is that you can install the tent to fold either side of your car or perhaps even over the boot or the bonnet. The aluminium mounting channels always run parallel to the vehicle but if you orient the tent vertically like this, you’ll have to cut them to length to prevent overhang.
DRIVING WITH THE TENT
At 52kg, the Darche Intrepidor is the lightest tent we found in the soft-shell style (apart from the more expensive James Baroud Vision Horizon). Two-person soft-shells tend to be the lightest; it’s hard-shells that really push the scales. But even within the genre, Kings and 23Zero models weigh 57kg. Other models weigh more.
Carrying less weight up top equates to better fuel economy and closer-to-standard handling. That said, all rooftop tents impact the driving experience. The Intrepridor, like most soft-shells, is not sold on the promise of aerodynamism. It presents wall-like upright surfaces (fortunately only 35cm tall at most), so as a driver you can occasionally feel the lewd suggestions of strong gales.
But in regular conditions, you don’t notice the tent’s presence. It remains quiet and doesn’t flap, thanks to the snug fit of the tonneau cover and a Velcro tab securing its zipper pull. This cover is made of laminated 600gsm PVC and thoroughly protects the interior from sun and water exposure.
FOLD AND LIVE TO FOLD AGAIN
To set up, you undo two straps that secure using Velcro and D-rings, which extend either side of the ladder. Then you lead the cover’s zipper pull around the three sides of the tent, lift the cover off of two corners and undo straps pulling the two sides closed, and lift the slotting pins that lock the sliding ladder.
You then lift the cover off fully. Its fourth side is held in by slide-tracking; it can be left attached, hanging by the car’s side, or you can slide it out.
Next, you extend the ladder as it rests flat on the tent, before applying downward pressure and pivoting the top half of the tent upwards on its stainless-steel hinge until it is standing about upright. You then shift your grip up to the ladder’s fixed half and lower the tent down until level. The ladder-fold is surprisingly easy, the weight surprisingly light.
Then you extend the 2.1m ladder until it reaches the floor and set it at one of three heights using the slotting pins. I find I often have to slide and unslide the pins over the holes a few times before they click.
If you’re knackered, you can climb in at this point and sleep as is. That’s a nice cop-out to have up your sleeve for those nights you want to hit the hay instantly.
For those still pumping with energy, the next move is to slot eight metal rods into dedicated holes around the base of the tent, then flex them backwards and hook them into eyelets in the window awnings to hold them in place.
I tend to set up the one over the entry, before entering the tent and opening the windows, unthreading the toggles holding the awnings down, and placing the rods in from inside. That’s because, from outside, the awning eyelets are hard to reach.
The tropical fly can be tightened and loosened by eight buckle straps, or removed so you can see the stars through the Intrepidor 2 1400’s sky roof window. To remove, you unthread the straps from the buckles and lift the fly’s three poles from long retaining pockets on the tent’s sides.
Usually the fly forms two of the window awnings, but in its absence the canvas on both ends can be propped out with the metal rods. On hot summer nights without dew, I’ll be thanking Darche for putting me in touch with the fiery cosmos.
CHILLING AND SLEEPING INSIDE
The sky roof isn’t the only way the Intrepidor puts you in touch with space. There’s 115cm of head height under the central bar and 85cm under the side bars. A vaulted ceiling like this can offer more room than a flat one and is a lot easier to move around under than an angled one. You can sit up or kneel and put on clothes without ducking. I’ve found the folding side to be pleasantly steady when you move around on it.
The base measures 240cm by 140cm. There’s no bumping of your head or toes and there’s room at your feet for shoes, clothes or valuables. At 1.4m wide, the mattress is only a tad narrower than a standard queen (1.52m). A lone wolf can luxuriate, while a couple can enjoy a restful night without getting in each other’s way.
Huge windows with canvas and mesh layers extend on all four sides of the tent. Both layers can be rolled up and secured with rings and toggles. With them closed, the walls block light, keeping the interior dark. With them up, the ventilation and the view are exceptional.
I love lying in the tent at night with the canvas cleared from the windows. The widely cast silhouette of the awnings forms a massive sombrero of protection. Extending for 360 degrees, the dimly perceived landscape comes alive with the noises of feeding fish and rustling animals. When a breeze soughs in the trees, I feel it too — unimpeded by low-lying obstacles, it enters freely, carrying in the Aussie bush, wafts of wattle.
These far-reaching awnings block angling rain. We’ve remained dry and cosy through downpours. The 260gsm ripstop canvas has a polyurethane coating and is waterhead rated to 1500mm, and the well-separated 210D polyester ripstop tropical fly minimises interior condensation. If water did violate the sanctum, the mattress cover has a waterproof underside and sides. You won’t get wet coming in; the entry awning extends more than 95cm from the fly’s forwardmost pole and has protected sides.
The canvas doors at the entry and opposite are weighted across their bottom edge, so they fall into position without being zipped closed. You can go to the loo at night without having to re-zip anything until you’re back inside. The dark will be preserved, and the door won’t flap, keeping your slumbering partner happy, too.
Two storage pockets reside both sides of the bed, ideal for your phone, wallet and keys. There’s no lighting as default, so bring up a headlamp, or a lightweight lantern; you should be able to hang it off one of the three main beams. Alternatively, you could figure out a way to install strip lighting that ran off a small battery or an accessory plug somewhere on your car.
There are gaps in the canvas at the hinge on both sides; it’s a soft-shell design necessity (otherwise the canvas would break or jam when you folded the tent). Darche have covered this with internal and external flaps but even then, there’s a gap that bugs could enter. You could plug these gaps with tea towels.
BUILDING UPON THE BASE
Darche sell various accessories to improve your lifestyle further. These including a sturdier ladder ($180) and a self-inflating mattress ($300). The tent appears to be modular, with a lot of replaceable parts (for example, the cover and fly), so if something does go wrong, you ought to be able to get it replaced without writing off the tent.
The original 65cm high-density foam mattress may cause a few pins and needles and prove rough for side-sleepers with bony hips. I’ve laid on Darche’s self-inflating mattress and found it a big improvement; however, we opted against the additional set-up time its inflation and deflation entails. For now, we’ve added an eggshell mattress topper from Target ($35); Clark Rubber have better ones.
An annexe is not one of the options for this model; if this matters to you, see Darche’s Hi-View or Panorama models.
THE SHOW’S OVER, FOLKS
To pack up, you take out all the metal rods from the windows while still in the tent, store them in their bag on the non-folding side of the tent, then secure all the awnings with toggles through their eyelets.
While up there, you stretch three bungee cords across the tent to keep the canvas contained on pack-down. The cover has a bit of spare room so you can keep your quilt or sleeping bags inside.
Outside now, you lift the folding side of the tent using the ladder until it is pointing upright, then switch to an overhand grip and let the tent lower until closed. I often find, despite the bungee cords, that some canvas spills out and I have to tuck it into the fold.
Next, you slide the ladder back into itself, locking it on the far side with the pins. You then use side-straps to compress the two sides of the tent. Finally, you place the cover back on, connect the two sides of the zip and pull it around, and secure the entirety down with two straps either side of the ladder.
With that, the Darche Intrepidor 2 1400 experience concludes. Until your next campsite, that is. For $1599.95 and with a two-year warranty, it’s a stand-out in the soft-shell market, a mouth-watering claw among legs in the seafood basket of rooftop tents. Your return on investment is the Great Outdoors itself.
Frame 25mm internal aluminium
Canvas material 260gsm poly/cotton ripstop canvas with 1500 PU waterproofing
Fly material 210D Oxford Polyester Ripstop
Cover material Laminated 600gsm PVC
Ladder Alloy 2.1m square slide ladder
Mattress 65mm high-density open cell foam mattress with a water-resistant cover
Style Folding soft-shell
Travel size 1215mm L x 1435mm W x 350mm H (including ladder)
Sleeping area dimensions 2400mm L X 1400mm W x 1250mm H
Telescopic ladder $179.95
Self-inflating mattress $299.95
PRICE AS STANDARD
HQ Address 75 Heyington Ave, Thomastown VIC 3074
Phone 1300 367 695