Proven Overland Gear Reviews
Hardshell Rooftop Tent Review in 2019
A Comparative User Review of the James Baroud Explorer and the Autohome Maggiolina Extreme
By Overland The Americas
December 2, 2019
Whether at a national park, gas station, random parking lot or online, we are often asked about our roof top tent. Is it comfortable? How long does it take to set up and put away? Is it warm and what about condensation? What do you do with your dirty shoes and isn't it a pain to go up and down a ladder to go to the restroom in the middle of the night? These and other questions about quality and features of our roof top tents are quite common. These are the same questions we needed answers for six years ago before committing to spend a few thousands dollars on a little box made out of fiberglass, textiles and metal. After all this would be our home for the next few years while on our continental overland adventure.
After spending four years on the road traveling the Americas in our Toyota 4Runner with our rooftop tent we can now confidently say that we've learned a thing or two about what to look for and what's important and why. This is a comprehensive comparative review between the James Baroud Explorer (insert hyperlink) and the Maggiolina Extreme rooftop tents (insert hyperlink) both of which we've owned and used extensively.
Why did we invest in a hardshell rooftop tent over a soft shell tent? The hardshells last longer and are sturdier in strong winds. They are significantly easier and faster to set up and have an aerodynamic design. Reduced drag means fuel cost savings. These considerations were important for us as we planned for long term travel.
We decided on a Maggiolina Extreme after careful research and owned it for six years total. For four of those years between 2015 and 2019, we lived in it full time. The tent survived 87,000 miles through 23 countries in the Americas. This gave us a chance to really test the tent through tropical rainy seasons, high elevation extremes, and against the infamous Patagonian winds. Overall, we were very satisfied.
All those years of adventure in some pretty remote spots, typical (and not so typical) wear and tear caught up to our rooftop tent and it was time for us to consider another one. We had been eyeing our friends’ James Baroud tent while camping together in Peru and Brazil. They loved their tent and apparently so do most overlanders online. The stars aligned for us and Adventure Ready (insert hyperlink), James Baroud’s national distributer located in Seattle had just the tent we were looking for. The added bonus was that we didn’t have to coordinate and pay for shipping.
We have had the James Baroud Explorer for six months and we are very impressed and are excited to keep exploring in it in the US and Canada. We feel that we have made an excellent decision because it is comparable in quality, price, durability and it definitely surpasses our expectations of comfort and usability. We really sleep like babies in it. The 360 degree views, plus the comprehensive warranty are icing on the cake.
Now let’s dig into the details of our two hardshell tents, the James Baroud Explorer and the Maggiolina Extreme. We’ve broken it down by specs and some key design features. We touch on what’s important to us such as general usability, ventilation and storage. We have also included an “At a Glance” section for each tent as a quick reference.
James Baroud Explorer Specs
Exterior: 55.5” x 78.5″x 13.5"
Mattress: 55 x 78″ x 3″
Roof stores up to 65 pounds
Weighs 150 pounds
Starting at $3,999
Custom built in Portugal
Warranty: 5 Year guarantee on the fabric, fiberglass, the mechanism, the canvas, the lift supports, the ladder and its fixings, the zippers, the mosquito net, the mattress, the rail and fixings, the upholstery of the upper shell. 2 Year warranty includes the gel-coat, the color, the extractor, the flashlight, the tent locks.
Accessories: awning enclosures, bag-less awnings, comfort mat, eco-bag, isothermic kit, luggage bag, shower cabin, tent annex, vehicle insulation kit and shoe bag.
Maggiolina Extreme Specs
Exterior: 51″ x 83″ x 13″
Mattress: 48″ x 72″ x 3.2″
Roof stores up to 55 pounds
Weighs 143 pounds
Starting at $3,299
Custom built in Italy
Warranty: 5 Year guarantee to repair or replace any material and manufacturing defects. This does not extend to normal wear and tear, or to damage or cosmetic blemishes sustained during use.
Accessories: independent verandah, changing room, awning, winter hood, wings, awning rolling top and anti-condensation mat.
Comparing Design Features
Set up and Take Down
The main difference in design between the two tents is the opening mechanism. The James Baroud includes an automatic hydraulic strut system which takes a few seconds to pop up while the Maggiolina has a manual hand crank that turns and raises two scissor arms in the front and back of the tent. This takes some 64 cranks and about 1-2 minutes to complete. Ernesto’s right arm got super strong.
The effort and time it takes to take down both of the tents is comparable. It takes us 2-3 minutes to manually compress, tuck in the sides and close the four clasps of the James Baroud. It takes the same amount of time to crank down, tuck in and close the four clasps of the Maggiolina.
Something to consider about Maggiolina’s crank system is that without the hand crank “key” no one is be able to open the tent. This provided us some peace of mind during our international travels because our home and bedding were safe and sound. The down side of that was when we lost the crank key, we were not able to open our tent!
It happened in a remote mountain village in the middle of Huascaran National Park in Peru. We had come back from a stunning hike and we were in a hurry to take down camp and continue on before dark. We left the crank key hanging off the tent as we drove off into the distance up a winding dirt road. We only noticed our mistake after dinner when it was time to deploy the tent hours later. Whomp whomp. Did we mention that we were at the crisp elevation of 12,400 feet? Luckily we found a room to stay in at a local motel with warm wool blankets and a mattress made of straw. Long story short we had to hurry back the next day to a bigger town to find a welder to fashion a new key for us. We eventually got a replacement key that lasted two years before breaking after heavy daily use.
In the case of the James Baroud tent, there is no locking mechanism or clunky crank key. We will likely buy a couple of small locks to thread through the clasps as a deterrent in big cities and possibly for more remote spots like trailheads when we know we will be away from our vehicle for hours at time.
The James Baroud tent is roomier on the inside. It’s only a couple of extra inches in width and height, but it makes it more pleasant and easier to sit up in and change. The length feels the same and is sufficient for us. We are 5’7 and 5’10. The Maggiolina was long enough for us too, however every once in a while our feet or heads would brush up against the metal arms. There is enough space in both tents to store bedding which is really nice for long term travel.
Now let’s talk zippers and netting. Both tents use high quality zippers and are custom made. However, the James Baroud netting, material and zippers are noticeably thicker and sturdier and are covered under the five year warranty. With the Maggiolina, we were disappointed that the mosquito netting for the windows and the doors began to rip in the second year. Also, after daily use our zippers ended up failing in the fifth year of ownership. These components were not covered under warranty.
For our needs, both tents have ample exterior and interior storage options. On the inside of the Maggiolina the attic mesh is very large and the dual hanging side pockets are spacious enough to fit our laptops. The interior of the James Baroud has slightly smaller storage pockets and mesh attic, however it has additional space for clothing, books or a water bottle alongside the mattress at the base of the struts, which we find handy.
Another reason we chose both of these tents was because they have the capacity to store around 50 pounds of gear on the roof. The Maggiolina is fitted with two adjustable bars on the roof that are compatible with Thule Aero accessories and can support top loads such as surf boards, kayaks, bicycles, rotopax and maxtrax. This design is more versatile than the James Baroud exterior storage system which works with tie down straps and a waterproof duffel bag. Both models accumulate water after precipitation. Since the James Baroud has a slightly deeper depression designed for the duffel bag, water tends to pool more and can create a pesky splash when taking down the tent.
A sweet upgrade of the James Baroud tent is the 360 degree windows. You can’t beat that view and it really opens up the space and provides much more light and ventilation than the Maggiolina. A complementary feature of the James Baroud is the built in solar powered fan. It stays charged for up to 24 hours and is super quiet and efficient. We are hoping that the fan and the additional air vents and integrated dust filters on the sides of the tent will be key for mold prevention. The only thing we have to be more mindful of now is not snagging the fan on any branches or vegetation since it protrudes slightly on top of the roof.
Does your rooftop tent keep you warm? This is a frequently asked question and we are happy to say that both tents have kept us warm and protected. We recommend buying the cold weather hoods if you know that you will be exposing yourself to extreme weather and high elevations. The Maggiolina hood is attached and zipped up on the outside of the tent and take 3-5 minutes to set up and 1-2 minutes to take down. The James Baroud hood is bulkier and wraps around the inside of the tent. It takes 1-2 minutes to set up and less than a minute to take down. In our personal opinion, good quality sleeping bags are important for a comfortable sleep and for an added cozy factor we sometime use an electric mattress pad.
Both tents include telescoping ladders that can be stowed on the inside of the tent. We like the permanent latches that help slide and lock the ladder into place against the base of the James Baroud tent. We think that it is safer this way. Also the ladder is slightly lighter and easier to deploy than the Maggiolina’s. We ended up cracking the Maggiolina ladder in the sixth year after daily use and exposure to extreme temperatures. We have noticed one downside of the James Baroud design though. Since the ladder locks into the exterior base of the tent, there is some bending of the fiberglass base and we believe that in the future this section of the tent should be reinforced.
The question about the inconvenience of going up and down the ladder in the middle of the night to use the restroom is a legitimate one. Our advice is to drink fluids earlier in the day and be extra diligent when you are coming down in the dark. Some folks get creative and use funnels, tubes, shewees and old water bottles. Life on the road isn’t always glamorous but it usually is entertaining.
What do we do about our dirty shoes? We often place them on top of the roof or in a plastic bag inside the tent. James Baroud sells a waterproof shoe bag as an accessory that mounts on the side of the ladder.
Lastly, both companies have an appreciation for aesthetics and so do we. Having the choice of three standard colors is cool. James Baroud offers white, gray or black at no additional cost while Maggiolina also offers these same three colors and has tiered pricing for carbon and black colors. And if you are really into customization, James Baroud is now offering over 250 color options from RAL Color Swathes for all hardshell rooftop tents for an additional $550.
James Baroud Explorer
The Good and The Bad at a Glance
- Tested by former Dakar rally driver. Rated to withstand heavy rain, extreme temperatures and winds up to 60 miles/hour.
- Set up is faster and easier. The tent basically pops up by itself with the gas struts in a few seconds.
- The fabric is aluminized polyester with an acrylic coating that is 100% waterproof and UV resistant. It feels much sturdier.
- The interior of the tent is more spacious both in height and width and we appreciate every extra inch.
- We love the 360 degree views! We may have already said that.
- For us, the mattress is much more comfortable.
- The quiet built-in solar powered fan/ventilation system is a sweet upgrade.
- The ladder locks in place, is light weight and easier to set up and take down.
- The tent is available in 250 customized color options for an additional $550.
- The warranty is more comprehensive. It covers parts such as zippers and netting for five years.
- The velcro door sometimes gets stuck on clothes when we are entering or exiting. A pet peeve but not a deal breaker.
- Some condensation in the interior of the tent in the mornings. It is remedied by cracking the windows and putting on the fan.
Autohome Maggiolina Extreme
The Good and The Bad at a Glance
- Tested by us over a six year period. Withstood heavy rain, extreme temperatures and wind (up to 50 miles/hour).
- Set up is fairly fast and easy. The crank system required some elbow grease, sixty-four cranks to be exact which took about 1-2 minutes.
- The Dralon fabric is breathable and waterproof. We experienced very little to no visible condensation on the interior material and only once experienced a leak during a torrential down pour in Uruguay.
- Has more interior storage with a large attic mesh and two large dual hanging pockets.
- Has a more versatile storage system on the roof of the tent.
- The mosquito netting in the windows and the doors cracked and ripped in year two.
- The door zippers ended up failing in years five and six.
- The ladder ended up breaking in year six.
- Losing the crank key and the plug wasn’t fun, although it made for some good stories.
- The warranty did not include replacing parts such as mosquito netting and zippers.
If you are a sucker for scoping out prime real estate with loft views (like us), then maybe rooftop tent living is for you. We love the versatility, comfort and the views from above.
There is no denying that inside living space for an extended trip is awesome, but we wouldn’t trade our rooftop tent living experience. Our little home on wheels allows us to enjoy epically remote spots with ease which brings us closer to nature and also enhances the magic of mingling with the locals.
Although we have owned the James Baroud Explorer for a significantly shorter period of time, we both have concluded that it is our top pick because of the overall quality of materials, improved usability and superior warranty.
We hope that our comparative field tests are helpful in your exploration of rooftop tents. Feel free to reach out with any questions. See you on the road!