Thule Approach M Review
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Thule Approach M
|Price||Check Price at Backcountry|
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|$3,195 List||$2,500 at Evo|
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|$2,000 at REI|
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$1,289 at Amazon
|Pros||Roomy, great stargazing, rack locks, easy to remove||Effortless conversion, no assembly, tons of cargo space||Very comfortable, durable, has entrance awning, great weather protection, included annex||Rectangular design allows for more room on the rack, quick installation, durable canopy||Wide and sturdy ladder, boot bag, LED light strip, spacious|
|Cons||No cover storage while camping, mildly frustrating rain fly||Big while in travel mode, expensive||Longest conversion time (though not by much), side window awnings don't roll up, pricey||Thin mattress, longer conversion time, Cordura cover may be less durable||Ladder may require drilling, velcro cover not the most efficient cover system, heavy|
|Bottom Line||A top-tier softshell fold-out model with ample interior room and huge windows||A high-end hardshell rooftop tent that is comfy, spacious, and incredibly easy to install and set up||A versatile rooftop tent that offers maximum comfort no matter what Mother Nature decides to do||A rooftop tent that leaves lots of room on the rack for extra toys||With a durable design and many handy features, this model competes with the top models while costing significantly less|
|Rating Categories||Thule Approach M||Roofnest Sparrow EYE||Thule Tepui Autana 3||Thule Tepui Foothill||Smittybilt Overlander|
|Space and Comfort (30%)|
|Ease of Conversion (20%)|
|Ease of Assembly and Installation (15%)|
|Cover Convenience (10%)|
|Specs||Thule Approach M||Roofnest Sparrow EYE||Thule Tepui Autana 3||Thule Tepui Foothill||Smittybilt Overlander|
|Weight||128 lbs||130 lbs||130 lbs||122 lbs||144 lbs|
|Max Inside Height||40 in||44 in||52 in||38 in||51 in|
|Windows||4||2 side||3 side, 2 roof||3 side, 2 roof||3 side, 2 roof|
|Floor Dimensions||95 in x 56 in||83 in x 49 in||56 in x 96 in||87 in x 40 in||56 in x 96 in|
|Floor Area||38 sq ft||28 sq ft||38 sq ft||24 sq ft||38 sq ft|
|Vestibule Area Dimensions||n/a||n/a||26 in x 56 in||n/a||n/a|
|Packed Size||11 in x 49 in x 56 in||6 in x 50 in x 88 in||12 in x 48 in x 56 in||9.5 in x 24 in x 83 in||12 in x 48 in x 56 in|
|Floor Materials||Aluminum||Fiberglass-reinforced ASA/ABS||Aluminum||Welded aluminum||Aluminum|
|Main Tent Materials||600 D polyester ripstop||Polyurethane-coated polyester and cotton blend||420 D||600 D||420 D|
|Rainfly Materials||TPU-coated nylon||n/a||600 D||600 D||600 D|
|Number of Poles||4||2||6||6||8|
|Pole Material||Aluminum/spring steel||Aluminum/spring steel||Aluminum/spring steel||Aluminum/spring steel||Aluminum/spring steel|
|Pole Diameter||1/8 in||1/4 in||1/4 in||1/4 in||1/4 in|
|Extras||Dual-layer foam mattress, removable rain cover, lockable mounting bracket||Mattress, LED light, privacy tent, ground mat, anti-condensation mat||Awning over ladder, 2.5" foam mattress||Double level pockets, loop inside for hanging lights and gear||Interior LED, extension cords, boot bag|
Our Analysis and Test Results
The main factor that sets the Thule Approach apart from others is the amount of space inside the tent. While maintaining the same footprint as other three-person models, its unique design adds a noticeable amount of cubic footage.
Space and Comfort
Many people's primary reason for wanting a rooftop tent is because they've heard how spacious and comfortable they are. The rumors are true. Nearly every one of the models we've tested has a cushy memory foam mattress, and they extend from wall to wall. You're off the ground, out of reach for creepy crawlies and critters, and you'll likely never have to worry about rainwater seeping into your tent. In all but the smallest models, there is plenty of room to sit upright, stretch, and change clothes. In many cases, we've found that rooftop tents dramatically improve your view. For these reasons, we dedicated the most significant portion of our overall score to this metric.
Our team found the Thule Approach to be one of the best models when it comes to comfort and roominess. The mattress is every bit as comfortable as any that we've tested, but where this particular tent shines is when it comes to how much space is inside, thanks to some innovative engineering. While many of the industry's softshell fold-out models use three poles that create a house-shaped roof with a peak in the middle and sloped ends, the Approach uses four poles that form a shape resembling a UFO more than a house. This design allows the ends to be vertical, making it much roomier inside.
We immediately noticed this roominess the first time we climbed into the tent because it makes it noticeably easier to get in and out. The sloped walls of other softshell fold-outs can make you feel a bit claustrophobic while sitting up in bed, but the Approach feels like you're sitting up in your bedroom when you wake up. It has four massive windows that go up the wall and partway over the roof, and we love that they installed see-through sections into the rainfly so that you can let some natural light into the tent even when it's nasty out.
When you research, save up, and finally invest in something as large and pricey as a rooftop tent, the last thing you want is for it to break down sooner than it should. Durability is an essential factor, so we dedicated a substantial chunk of our total score to this section. We used several tactics to assess durability. We began by considering the materials that the tent canopy, rainfly, and cover are made of. We inspected any clips, handles, poles, and seams for flaws or shortcomings. We converted each tent from travel mode to camping mode dozens of times. Finally, we undertook the task of closing and opening every zipper 25 times.
After completing our testing regimen and camping in the tent for a week, it was clear that the Thule Approach is one of the most durable tents we've reviewed. The 600D polyester ripstop that the canopy is made with is an industry-leading material, and we know from experience that this material is enough for lighter rainstorms without the rainfly. In addition, the rainfly is made from 90% nylon and 10% thermoplastic polyurethane, which will be impenetrable to water for years of heavy use. The zippers are all bomb-proof, and the one on the cover is especially beefy.
The cover itself is made of treated Cordura ripstop, but it's also lined with rubber. This combination makes for a cover that repels water but won't degrade in the sun as fast as rubber alone.
There is a section on the top side of fold-out model platforms where the ladder adds a lot of pressure while you're unfolding and folding the tent. This area is known for getting marred, scuffed, scratched, and even dented after heavy use. Thule has installed an added layer of plastic on the Approach to minimize these issues.
Ease of Conversion
For this metric, we calculated an average of how long it takes to convert each model from travel mode to camping mode and how long it takes to pack them up when it's time to leave. The Thule Approach is one of the faster softshell fold-outs we've tested, taking under a minute to set up and only a minute or two longer to break down.
The process is simple. Unzip the cover, remove it, and set it to the side. Next, you fully extend the ladder and use it as a lever to unfold the tent. The edge of the tent, combined with the floor's hinges, then acts as a fulcrum, making the unfolding process nearly effortless. You then reduce the ladder to the appropriate size and climb on in!
Reversing the process isn't much more time-consuming or difficult than setting up. Extend the ladder, then push it upward to fold the tent. You then collapse the telescoping ladder and zip the cover back on.
Ease of Assembly and Installation
Rooftop tents are way faster and easier to set up than a standard camping tent once installed, but assembling them and getting them properly attached to your vehicle is a whole different story. When we first dove into this project years ago, we quickly discovered that certain models can take a good chunk of time to unbox and assemble before you can even think about actually putting them on your rack. Even the fully assembled models require two able-bodied and strong people to lift them, especially onto a taller vehicle. For this section, we timed each model's unboxing, assembly, and installation.
The Thule Approach earned a great score for this metric. It comes in a box designed to splay apart with the tent right-side-up. The mounting tracks come pre-installed, which is a huge benefit. The task of bolting the tracks onto the floor of rooftop tents can feel very arduous and frustrating. Only two things on this model require assembly — the ladder and the mounting hardware. Each only takes a few minutes.
Once the ladder is attached and the mounting hardware is assembled, the rest of the installation process is about as easy as it gets. Unlike most other models that require you to position the hardware before you lift the tent onto your rack, the design of the Approach allows you to insert the clamps wherever you want from underneath the track rather than slide them from the end. One of our favorite features is that this model comes with a torque wrench, making it practically impossible to overtighten the nuts or unknowingly leave them too loose.
Finally, we considered how easy each model's travel covers are to use. There are several different ways that manufacturers have chosen to go about the cover system. Some use Velcro, some use zippers, and some use clips. Certain models have straps so that you can partially unzip them and roll them up out of the way, and some covers need to be removed entirely and reattached every time.
Although we awarded the Approach a decent amount of points for this section, it is this model's weakest score. The cover is designed to be completely removed every time you use the tent, which means that each time you go to put it back on, you have to be sure to line up the zipper ends in the right place. We prefer Thule's older cover style, where you only had to zip three out of four sides of the cover off, and then the cover was flopped over, rolled up, and strapped out of the way.
Should You Buy the Thule Approach?
The Approach is a top-of-the-line softshell fold-out rooftop tent. The mattress is as comfortable as can be, it's exceptionally spacious inside, and the vast windows are innovative. The cover is durable, the canopy is as tough as they get, and the rainfly will keep you dry. Once assembled, the installation process is as easy as it gets. This is the one we recommend for those looking for a high-performance model that can go from the coast to the mountains.
What Other Rooftop Tents Should You Consider?
If you're looking for a hardshell model, the Roofnest Sparrow EYE doesn't require any assembly at all and takes as much effort as opening the hatchback of an SUV to convert from travel to camping mode. For those shopping on a tight budget, we recommend the Smittybilt Overlander. Lastly, the Thule Tepui Foothill is a unique model that folds lengthwise, freeing up half of your rack for other toys.
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