Aspen Princess: We’re taking car camping to new heights |

Aspen Princess: We’re taking car camping to new heights

We slept on the roof of our car last weekend.

Not in the car, but on the car. Levi thought this fact was hysterical.

“We slept on the roof, whaaat?” I’d say, sending him into fits of laughter.

Yes, we are the proud owners of a new Roof Nest, a tent that is affixed to the roof of your car. This is one of many products on the market in a trendy new category of rooftop tents that take car camping to a whole new level.

Car camping is nothing new. You can throw a rock in any mountain town and hit a guy who owns a pickup truck that has been retrofitted to accommodate some kind of sleeping and/or storage compartment in the back. The early generations of this concept were usually constructed of plywood and furnished with things like old mattresses, scratchy Mexican blankets, metal hooks, dry bags and carabiners and typically smelled like sweat, bong water and dirty socks. Then there were the old Volkswagen buses that always broke down but were comfortable to sleep in, especially with the Westfalia attachment on top. Now that I think about it, that was probably the original roof nest.

These days you don’t have to look further than the number of Mercedes Sprinters on the road at any given time as evidence of a new generation of adventurers who want to be able to travel in comfort with luxuries like beds, refrigerators, flat screen TVs and espresso machines.

“That’s not camping,” my friend Catherine chided when I told her we were thinking of buying a pull-behind trailer like an R-Pod or an Airstream. “I don’t know what that is, but it’s not camping.”

As soon as we had a baby, the common wisdom was we’d have to get some kind camper if we wanted to enjoy outdoor adventuring with our kid. The truth is our kid wasn’t the issue, it was me. I sort of assumed it would be Ryan and Levi’s thing. I pictured myself enjoying alone time, flitting from yoga to the nail place, maybe enjoying a boozy lunch followed by an unexpected shopping spree when I’d stumble into a designer boutique and find something that actually fit, so I’d have to buy it despite the nausea-inducing price tag. Or maybe I’d get to enjoy a long hike or bike ride, the kind of all-day outing that you can kiss goodbye when you bring a tiny human into this world.

There’s only one problem: I don’t want Levi and Ryan to do fun things without me.

That’s part of what inspired me to drive to Denver and back to surprise Ryan with the new cartop tent, purchased and installed without his knowing.

It’s rare that Ryan ever asks for anything. Every once in awhile he’ll say, “Honey, I bought some new wrenches on Amazon,” as if it’s a big deal, only to tell me they cost less than 20 bucks. It’s cute, those Midwestern values of his.

Yet he works his butt off to support our family, and plus, he’s the best husband and father I could ever ask for. When he became obsessed with the Roof Nest, talking about it at every turn, I took notice.

The Roof Nest was all he could talk about. He would be like, “Did you remember to buy milk for Levi? Oh, and the Roof Nest is so awesome because it has a hard top and you’re off the ground, so you wouldn’t get wet in the rain.” Or, “I really need to mow the lawn and the Roof Nest has cargo nets so you can store stuff and reach it easily.”

Here’s the other thing: Ryan has great instincts about what’s best for us, so I trusted his judgment that this was the right choice. As much as I love the design of the Airstream, I don’t love how big they are. We also didn’t want a rig so big that it would limit us to campgrounds or keep us from being able to navigate the kinds of wilderness areas we want to visit in the first place. As much as I love the idea of having a bathroom and a kitchen, my friend Catherine is right — you might as well just stay home. But if I can have 500 thread count sheets, a comfortable duvet, and a down pillow, I’m good. See? I can compromise!

Someone in Boulder thought of all that when they came up with the design for this thing: it looks like one of those rocket box things and is affixed to the roof rack and enclosed in a hard shell. All you have to do is unlatch it, prop open one corner and the thing pops open by itself. It’s got a queen-size foam core mattress inside but is 83-inches long with windows on all sides and built in awnings. It comes with this cool collapsible ladder that affixes to brackets for stability and safety. The best part is you’re higher up off the ground, which affords even better views.

Listen, I have no idea how I’m going to actually pay for this thing, but it’s not like that never stopped me before. I picked up the phone, paid for it with a credit card (airline miles, hello) put Levi in school for an extra day, and high-tailed it to Denver.

Our maiden voyage could not have been better. We found exactly the kind of campsite we were looking for: down a dirt road where there was exactly no one else, with 360 degree views. The best part? Levi loved every minute of it. And never have I been a happier than as a mama bird, wrapped up in the warmth of my two boys and my pug, in the middle of the kind of incomprehensible beauty that surrounds us, sleeping in our little nest.

The Princess is still trying to lose 10 pounds. Email your love to

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