Friday, October 22, 2021


RV review: 2020 Roofnest Sparrow

These RV reviews are written based on information provided by the manufacturers along with our writer’s own research. We receive no money or other financial benefits from these reviews. They are intended only as a brief overview of the vehicle, not a comprehensive critique, which would require a thorough inspection and/or test drive. 

By Tony Barthel
What exactly is an RV? We each have our own preconceived notions of what the best kind of RV is. I belong to a lot of groups and organizations where people are looking for a small trailer to tow behind something like a Subaru. To some, that’s all the “RV” they need. 

While the obvious answer to those people might be a very tiny trailer to tow behind their car, what about something you can put on your car? More and more, here in Northern California, I am seeing an increasing number of vehicles with roof-top folding tents including seeing those at campgrounds. In fact, I even met a guy who was living in one on the roof of his Subaru. So I looked into them for these reviews and came across the Roofnest Sparrow.

Really, these rooftop tents are more overlanding than RVing, and I accept that, but they’re also a great alternative to the casual enthusiast looking to go somewhere who wants to step up from a tent. You’re probably thinking, “Wait, but this is a tent.” But here’s the deal:

In a rooftop tent, you never have to worry about rocks or snakes or critters on the ground. The bottom is always on a flat surface because the bottom of the tent is consistent. Set up and tear down are a breeze and, since the tent isn’t level with the ground, you’re also not tracking in a bunch of dirt into the tent that you promise to sweep out but, really, shows up the next time you open it. 

So, in that respect, this shares some advantages of RV camping. 

A rooftop tent takes up no more space than the vehicle you use to haul it in – which means it’s also a great solution for going into the backcountry atop a four-wheel-drive like a Jeep, Subaru or that new Ford Bronco. You can just get to places with one of these that you can’t get to with most other forms of RVing. 

In fact, if you do have a vehicle that can tow an RV but you also love back-country trekking, you could put one of these on your four-wheel-drive and then leave the trailer behind while you go even further off the beaten path. 

The Roofnest Sparrow has a hard shell top and bottom. The bottom is completely covered in a mattress and is 50” x 85” outside (83” x 49” inside). The company provides a mesh pocket in the roof for holding clothes or whatever, and there are also two bags included that can hang from the ceiling or from the outside of the tent – think socks and undies or spare clothes, that sort of thing. 

The build quality of these is good with marine-grade struts and a fiberglass molded shell. 

On the top is a space to put a flexible solar panel if you choose, and they even have a recessed area where you can throw an included bag for more storage when the tent is stowed for travel. There is also a collapsible ladder as part of the packagel. 

If this is your style, there are plenty of great choices of 12-volt coolers and camp kitchens out there so you can set up the “ground floor” for food prep. There are also shower tents out there that set up in the blink of an eye, if that’s a concern – and you could also put a portable potty in there or just bring a bucket and a pool noodle. 

These tents also really don’t require any special vehicle, and I’ve seen where folks put a lift mechanism in their garage to take the whole assembly on and off, although I’ve also seen people just leave them up on the vehicle all the time so they look like the adventurous type. 

Now, the inherent disadvantages of these are that you can’t stand up in the tent; if you have a dog that you camp with, that dog is going to have to be lifted into and out of the tent; and these are much, much more costly than simply buying a regular tent and they are still tents. Though Roofnest talks openly about how their tent material is waterproof, they’re obviously not as warm as a travel trailer. 

2020 Roofnest Sparrow specificationsStill, for some folks, a rooftop tent is a solid option and can be part of a camping rig that serves as a regular daily driver. These would work with just about any SUV out there along with a station wagon (if you can find one), and even pickups and off-road vehicles like that snazzy new Ford Bronco. Another advantage is that there is no licensing required on one of these as opposed to even the smallest travel trailer. Nor is there any real maintenance of tires and axles. 

I can understand there is a limited market for these – but for those for whom these make sense, Roofnest certainly has a nifty product in their Sparrow line. 


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Ron T.
11 months ago

I could have used one of these when I first started traveling in the 1970s. As it was I had a ’74 Vega GT hatchback with a CB radio and a 109″ whip antenna on the back bumper. Yeah, I was cool back then, ha! All I needed was a cooler, a few clothes and a sleeping bag stretched out in the back. I only got a week’s vacation at that time but covered as much of the country as I could sometimes driving ’til the early morning and overnighting wherever I could find a quiet place to park.

Thomas D
11 months ago

You didn’t list how much height it adds to the vehicle. I have a seven foot garage door and only about 4 inches clearance on my Toyota Rav4.

Tony Barthel
11 months ago
Reply to  Thomas D

I did not – but to answer your question the tent itself adds 11″ to the height of your vehicle. Furthermore there will be an air gap between the exterior of the roof and the bottom of the tent which will vary depending on the mounting system for your vehicle. For example, on a Beetle the curvature of that roof means it’ll have to sit higher above the roof than, say, on your RAV4.

So, with only 4″ of clearance this won’t fit on your car. My wife used to have a RAV4 and she camped in the car many, many times while she was getting her degree and studying the Southern California desert.

Donald N Wright
11 months ago

Sleeping in my garage is a “Aircamping” cartop tent, manufactured in Indiana in the mid-seventies. Canvas & wood, it is heavy. Still, it was a wonderful way to camp, we got breezes without dust, privacy with a view, and folks always came by to visit. As for alternative RV’s, if I had known in 2015 what I know now, I would buy a used JUCY van with a cartop tent.

11 months ago

We have seen a fair number of different rooftop tents in our travels and as you note, they are great for those who don’t wish to sleep on the ground. If we didn’t have our own little trailer, this would definitely be a consideration for us. Tent camping at its best.