Once you start looking into owning a rooftop tent, you notice them everywhere. You might see 10, 15, on your way to the beach. You could have sworn that before RTTs entered your life, nobody owned one; but now, there’s one on every third vehicle.
That was my experience, anyway. And, once I was finally paying attention, I noticed a trend. James Baroud tents regularly appear on LandCruisers, Patrols and Ford Rangers, fitted out with prestige accessories: WARN winches, Intensity spotlights and Cooper tyres.
Expensive tents are fated to appear more in the garages of the nouveau riche, who can afford to spend 5 or 6k perfecting their set-up. But the offerings of this French company, who have their tents manufactured in Portugal, are much more than just tools of conspicuous consumption.
After a reconnaissance mission on the Grand Raid XXL Evolution, with Tony from SA Rooftop Tents in Adelaide, I now fully appreciate why these tents have acquired such cachet among the touring community.
PUTTING ON YOUR CAR’S NEW HAT
The Grand Raid comes ready to mount, out of the box. With the aid of a mate or two, you can immediately lift it onto the roof and secure it using the mounting channels recessed into grooves on its underside.
Being rather large, the Grand Raid is best secured by three crossbars. With the tent on top, you slide plates with hanging bolts along the channels, position them either side of the crossbars, and secure the tent down using a mounting bracket and nyloc nuts.
The standard bracket has holes 45mm apart and suits a 40mm bar. Alternatively, your local distributor can supply brackets with the holes 85mm apart, to suit 80mm aerodynamic bars.
Your distributor may have a relationship with a local roof rack servicing business, who can fit the tent for you, for a small fee. But, provided you can manage the lifting, you should be able to handle the job at home.
STORAGE TO SPARE
The Grand Raid is no shorter or narrower in travel mode than it is when set up. It measures 224cm long by 163cm wide, with a compact height of 33cm. So, vis-à-vis a folding tent that sets up away from the roof, all flat roof rack space will be consumed by default.
However, because it only extends upwards when set up, you can store accessories on both sides of the car, on the end of the crossbars. You can also store a heap in, and on, the Grand Raid. The ladder, in its bag, can store within the tent, as long as you position it centrally and under the mattress. You can leave your bedding in there too, including your pillows. What a luxury it is to exile these fluffy space-wasters from the cab.
You can also use a James Baroud storage bag in the dedicated recess on top of the hull. The zippered bag is made of rubberised material and is secured down by three cam buckle straps, which slot through sleeves in the bag so there’s no chance of it worming out. You can store up to 20kg here.
I rate this bag, which would be handy for infrequently used, non-fragile items, like wetsuits or winter clothing, that present storage dilemmas while touring. You can use the recess without the bag too, but given weight limits you can’t store a spare tyre up here.
These various storage options allow you to bring more gear and prevent over-cluttering in the car.
James Baroud models are 10 to 20kg lighter than some other hard tops. The Grand Raid weighs 65kg, which is light relative to its size and within the generally overweight marketplace, though average in itself. Keep in mind, James Baroud’s smaller hard-tops weigh 60kg, whereas their soft-shell models weigh under 50kg.
The fibreglass hull boasts the sleek, contoured lines of a yacht you’d find in the Port of Marseille Fos. No angles meet the wind head on; instead, they channel the air past, ushering the tent through. Expect little wind resistance and little noise (the lack of flapping parts helps). Tony says that his LandCruiser consumes about 1L more per 100km with the Grand Raid attached.
The tent is well sealed, with a double locking mechanism on the four latches that would never wriggle undone on its own. A vent on both sides creates positive air pressure, helping to prevent the entry of bulldust.
THE JOYS OF A QUICK SET-UP
The biggest advantage to the James Baroud œuvre is the speed of set-up and pack-down. Their tents go up in a minute, down in two, allowing you to spend more time relaxing and travelling. You can even set up the tent and realise you’ve forgotten milk, without being overwhelmed by crushing ennui. It is that easy to pack up and drive on, quickly and within the limits of your tolerance.
It makes even better sense to leave the tent down until you go to sleep. It’s a cinch to pop up in the dark and, relaxing around the campfire at night, you won’t be continuously niggled by an awareness of a 10 to 15-minute process yet to come. Operating a tent like this, day in and day out, keeps the joie de vivre alive. Nothing is worse than a taint in your passion, a seeping black ooze of frustration in your light-filled camping dreams.
To set up, you press the locking pins on the two latches at the back of the tent, release the latches, nudge the tent, then let the gas rams lift this side. Next, you undo the front latches and push up the front of the tent. Side steps, door jambs, towbars, tyres and tailgates will help you reach these latches.
Then, you sit the ladder on two anchorage points below the door, either side of the tent. You don’t have to lock it at a certain length, the idea being that it can adjust to the rocking of the suspension and that there’s no risk of it bending. It’s rated to 150kg and features serrated non-slip steps.
A gas ram sits in each corner of the tent, protected by a loose sleeve. The final step is to push on the two on the ladder-side with the palm of your hand to straighten them up. Locking in the two on your side locks all four.
When you pack up, you zip the windows around to a certain point, marked by red tabs to avoid any risk of the zippers being caught between the two sides of the hull.
Because of the storage recess on the tent’s top, the ceiling sits lower on one half. You lump all the bedding, including pillows, to the higher side when you pack up. If you prefer a more level ceiling, look to the Evasion or other models.
Next, you climb out, disengage the two close gas rams with a tug, detach and bag the ladder, and store it as you wish. Then, using a dangling grab-handle at the tent’s front corner, slowly and steadily lower this side and hook over the latches. Down the sides, tuck as much canvas as you can over the now horizontal gas rams.
Finally, pull down the grab-handle at the rear and hook the latches this side, undoing latches to more thoroughly tuck in canvas as necessary. You shouldn’t have to do much of this; an elastic drawstring stitched into the canvas compresses the tent as you fold it down. This mechanism worked better than any guillotine-like bungee cords I’ve seen and saved a step in the process.
A huge advantage of the hard-shell style tent is that there is no road cover to take on and off.
PLENTY OF ROOM FOR ACTIVITIES
Most James Baroud models are 198cm long internally, so folk of 6ft and over may find their heads or toes brushing the walls because, of course, you don’t sleep with your head at the top of the pillow and your feet at 90 degrees to the ankle.
Fortunately, the Grand Raid adds an extra 22cm, to make it 220cm internal length. What a huge difference this makes for the not-so-petite among us. Anyone about my height or taller will notice and really appreciate this.
Width is great too at 160cm wide. That has the mattress about as wide as your regular queen, so it’s more than enough to accommodate a couple with comfort. You could probably accommodate a lone child in here too, but not if they have hair under their armpits.
Headspace is decent at 98cm in the taller half. Sitting cross-legged, something I haven’t done since third grade, had my coiffure lightly brushing the lined ceiling. Flexible Cirque du Soleil types, whose backs aren’t cactus and who regularly sit like this, or propped on an elbow or on their knees, will have enough space to do so.
WHAT’S IN THE BOX?
The high-density foam mattress is 80mm thick and has a density of 28kg for a cubic metre and air permeability of 828L/dm2. What that means for the guy laying on it is relative comfort. No RTT mattress is lavish, but this is about as good as it gets. Because you can leave bedding in, you could leave a mattress topper on it permanently, if needed.
A strip of Velcro extends around the upper side of the vertical walls, to which you can attach an optional thermal kit, said to add 6 or 7 degrees. Most Aussies won’t need this half-a-grand accessory, unless snow camping. Instead you use this Velcro strip to position two included mesh cargo nets as you please (this flexibility is handy because you never know which side of the tent will be highest, so you never know where you will lay your head). On the lower side of the ceiling there’s a removable cargo net, ideal for a book or two, say, L'Étranger, La Nausée, or the latest Wilbur Smith.
A portable light straps in above the head of the mattress. This light can be used for interior illumination or removed and used as a torch. It can be hung or stuck to your car on its magnetic base (in which position it can be clicked around to face any angle). The 2600mAh battery can be charged in the car via a USB or micro-USB port.
WITHSTANDING THE WEATHER
A half-moon window wraps around each of the tent corners. The two on the front end are more sizeable, extending almost to the bottom of the canvas, while those at the back are smaller. The fly-wire is the structural element; the canvas flaps unzip internally, and you tuck them out of the way (there’s no need, or option, to roll them up).
There’s extra ventilation through the side doors if needed, and there’s another half-moon window on the rear side of the tent, which also has a door. Each door zips down the sides and secures by Velcro along the bottom, and can be rolled up and strapped out of the way. There are no ladder anchor points below this rear door, but distributors may be able to provide them to ute owners so they can attach them to the back of their canopies.
You’ll have 360-degree views of the surrounding tableau, without suffering any loss to privacy, as the windows sit high, not around the base.
A solar fan is built into the roof, its raison d'être to abolish condensation on cold nights. The fan can draw 11.6 cubic metres of air a minute and its battery is constantly topped up by the small circular panel during the day. The switch is located behind the fan so it can’t be accidentally engaged while the vehicle is in transit, which does mean you have to reach past the spinning fan to turn it off. Still, I type this with my full ten digits.
The two side doors have slight hoods; other than that, there’s no external window shelters. I expect you’d have to close your windows in the rain, or even if you expected rain overnight — a bit of a bummer in humid climates. Also, to be finicky, because the fly-wire is on the outside, the inside of the canvas flap could, in theory, get a tad wet in rain. So, if you open your windows after rain, you might bring in a small amount of moisture.
Other than that, the Grand Raid is thoroughly weather-resistant. Being a hard shell, rain is never at risk of finding a way through the ceiling. The sidewalls, which being vertical have great run-off, are 100 per cent polyester (thus waterproof) and are sprayed with six coats of aluminium, to reflect heat. The fly-wire is clearly tough; Tony showed me an image of three blokes hanging off a piece of it.
The tent is said to be able to withstand 120kph winds. If accurate, that’s impressive. There’s little that can make a ruckus, too, so it should be a very quiet tent to sleep in. You won’t wake to the lascivious buzz of mozzies because the tent, when closed, has no gaps to the outside world. It earns my bug-proof tick of approval.
ADDING ON OUTDOOR LIVING SPACE
An optional tunnel shelters the entry and travels in a bag, best stored in your car. You unfold it and feed its top end through the sail tracking (that people who take this option will have epoxied on). Sewn-in poles support the tunnel along the tent’s sides and prop out its shape. Two eyelets allow it to be held down with guy ropes.
The tunnel features a sky-roof and has a few internal storage pockets. I had to arch my back a little to climb up and down with it in place, but not in any bothersome way. The tunnel, which costs around $700, makes most sense when paired with the James Baroud awning, worth a bit more again. This awning is much like a standard touring awning, which you unravel, stand up on attached twist-lock legs, and support laterally with attached twist-lock poles. But there are two key differences.
Firstly, it requires no zipping cover when packed away. Instead, there’s a PVC section built into the top of the canvas; when the awning is rolled up this is the only exposed part, abolishing the need for a cover.
Secondly, it is compatible with the tunnel. You un-Velcro a prism from the roof and, working through the gap, attach the tunnel and awning with a skirting. Then, you can put the ladder back up and climb into and out of the tent from underneath your awning.
To enclose the awning with walls you clip plastic crescent-shaped tubes with sail-tracking over the lateral bars, then slide the walls along, zipping them together to enclose the shelter. Around the inside, about 20 height-adjustable plastic ladders allow pegging to the ground; these cater to wonky surfaces and, being internal, get you out of the weather. Wind can still get in under the car but nevertheless, you now have a sheltered, private spot of approximately 2 x 2m.
The front wall has a door and a window with a plastic mesh layer for visibility without wind, and the two sides have oblong windows for a nice cross-breeze.
James Baroud also make a 270-degree awning, but that’ll cost you more than a few grand.
The Grand Raid XXL, James Baroud’s crème de la crème model in an avant-garde range, will cost you somewhere between $5500 and $6000. Prices will vary depending on the distributor, whether that distributor has the model in stock, and whether it requires delivery. Down here in Adelaide, Tony generally has the Grand Raid in stock, along with the Explorer and Evasion.
James Baroud offer five years of warranty coverage on the hull, canvas and opening mechanism; everything else is covered for two years. Each tent has a serial number, listed in several spots, which is registered for warranty purposes. Tony says Aussie buyers can rest assured that their ability to claim on warranty will not be compromised by geographical separation. In the case of an issue, you consult with your supplier, who will manage the warranty situation for you, in consultation with the national HQ.
In my books, this is one of the best rooftop tents available in Australia. Its main strengths are its simplicity and quality of engineering, its rapid set-up and pack-down speeds, its ability to store your pillows and a bag of gear, its reasonably spacious interior, and its svelte aerodynamic hull. If you’re a weekender wanting to make every moment of your two days off count, or a long-term tourer wishing to travel Australia à la the Decadents, then I implore you, check this thing out.
James Baroud Grand Raid XXl Evolution
Shell material Fibreglass
Canvas material 240gsm polyester with six coats of aluminium spray
Ladder 241cm sliding non-locking aluminium ladder
Mattress 80mm high-density foam with zipped cover
Roof cargo area carrying capacity 20kg
Travel size 224cm (L) x 163cm (W) x 33cm (H)
Sleeping area dimensions 220cm (L) x 160cm (W) x 98cm (H)
Internal volume 3.5 cubic metres
Solar powered ventilation fan; ceiling storage net; two removable storage pockets; removeable LED torch
Colour of hull; thermal insulation; James Baroud awning; James Baroud tunnel; luggage bag designed for hull roof
Expect to pay $5500 to $6000
James Baroud Rooftop Tents
European site jamesbaroud.com
Australian site (with list of distributors) jamesbaroud.com.au
Australian email email@example.com
WITHIN SOUTH AUSTRALIA
SA Rooftop Tents
Phone 0408 828 069