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Old 09-29-2017, 02:43 AM   #1
Join Date: Jul 2016
Location: Alaska
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High roof or penthouse?

This question has been asked a million times, yet the search doesn’t bring much up! I have PM’d a few of you and exchanged some thoughts, thanks.

High roof or penthouse, in hindsight (or in your current plan) what would you do, and why?

Originally it was about the penthouse for me. Now as I am about to order I am having second thoughts (just see so many high roof conversions!). My goal really is to have a larger transport vehicle that we can camp out in. We have a toddler and hope for another. So, the need for a bench seat eliminates a good walk through design (where I can see the high roof shinning).

We bike a lot and I would really like keep the bikes inside all the time. Lots of gnarly road stuff gets sprayed up on the back of rigs here in winter driving.
In truth, if am camping, how much time am I really spending standing up and walking in my rig? Hopefully this will just be a glorified tent and we retreat to sleep or if the weather is gnarly. We should be outside .

The benefits of a high roof (that I can see) would be: it’s warmer (winter), slightly cheaper, can stand and maneuver inside easier (if I had a walk through design it would have good flow).

Benefits of a low roof/penthouse
: more space (when top is up), like having a second floor, can sleep more people comfortably, better use of rear area for bikes and “stuff” since beds are up top, better ventilation, can have a killer view, has a “cool” factor for kidos.

Cons High roof: fixed, need to dedicate the rear area to sleeping (this is big for me). If stacked beds to sleep 4 people could be tight, unless windows in rear no view, bikes would most likely have to be outside, not as good of ventilation (yes fans will help but not like 4 open panels on a penthouse).

Cons Low roof/penthouse: more expensive, need to go out of state to get it, may not be good for windy conditions, won’t be as warm in winter, lower inside unless top popped, no stealth, attracts attention.

I’m sure there is more, and of course it is all personal and based on individual needs and desires. Still, I am curious to hear your thoughts and perspectives. It’s tough because I have no spent much time in avan. We tent camp or occasionally sleep in my trailblazer. Therefore our wants and needs are not fully articulated yet. Yet, I need to make some decision to move this dream forward.

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Old 09-29-2017, 06:27 AM   #2
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I'd go for a high roof, especially in Alaska. If there is any way you can look at some in person this might help you narrow it down but you can do upper sleeping easily in a high roof and if you choose a 50 floor plan or the like with a fold down bench/bed in the rear for forward-facing seats you can put kids beds above. With a couple slider windows up there with screens and one or two roof vent/fans you'll be set and mosquito proof. This floor plan also allows for some bike storage in the rear behind the gaucho. Take a look at Claude's floor plan. It's always been one of my favorites and eternally etched in my memory, however, you could do it in a newer van if you like, such as a Transit, Sprinter or Promaster and you wouldn't need to add a high roof, just buy the van with a higher roof.

You can get rather lost in his pictures but here is a good one of the upper sectioned bed and lower layout with the upper bed pushed back for daytime use.

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Old 09-29-2017, 06:52 AM   #3
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Looks like you have done a great job of researching the differences already. Question would be how is the weather where you will be using the van since it appears you are in Alaska? Are you doing a lot of winter camping in the cold or camping in the rain?

I have owned both types of tops and like them both. For Southern California the pop top is a better fit for me overall but I do miss the hard top at times just because it is always up. In warmer weather there is NO comparison for me on how much better the pop-top ventilation is. I haven't had an issue with mild cold weather here but if I were in snow the hard top might be better.

Visibility and the feeling of light and openness wins on the pop-top and mine does fine in wind. Hard top gives a more secure feeling but feels darker and narrower and I had larger top sliding windows on mine. Even with the fantastic fan and windows open the hard top just seems to trap in a lot of heat, which is great for winter but not so much for summer. If I did it a hard top again I would install a real RV AC unit for summer camping.

I had an upper bed in my hardtop and was able sleep up there but it was tight, although comfortable once in place. Should be photos in some threads or PM me and I can get you some to an email. The pop-top bed is fantastic and has plenty of headroom for me. The openness of the pop-top really is a great experience being able to see out and feel the ventilation. I find the standard SMB bed up there uncomfortable but I have another bed the previous owner made that is much better.

You might consider a top like the CCV high pop-top so you get the best of both worlds. I have been in a few of those models and they offer a lot of room and what looks like a more comfortable mattress. I am NOT recommending that brand based my own personal experiences and the customer service threads but some trustworthy members here have them and love them. Another member is said to be coming up with a pop-top but I am not sure what design that would be. The ability to stand up with the top down and get the benefits of a pop-top when needed is great...enough so I would consider swapping over if I found a vendor I could support.
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Old 09-29-2017, 12:30 PM   #4
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Ive decided to go high top and am awaiting arrival now. Here are my reasons -

I'm lazy and popping a top whenever I stop sounds like something I would end up not doing after the high from getting one wears off. Being in a wheelchair doesnt help either.

I am jealous everytime I see the amount of room MG has in his transit and I can't afford to van swap again, so this high top will be the closest thing I can get to a mid roof transit.

I dont want to deal with a wet top or having to air it out if it gets wet.

I dont need to fit within any low overhead parking structures so height doesnt matter.

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Old 09-29-2017, 12:41 PM   #5
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The SMB penthouse top is pretty narrow and once you're up there, there isn't a lot of head room. You cannot sit up on the bed. I haven't been in a CCV top, but judging by the pictures and reviewing the dimensions that would be my choice. You can sit up in there with lots of room to spare and the bed is much wider.

I really like the high top since it's always "up" and you can stand up in the van at all times. It does restrict your sleeping capacity so if you need to sleep more than 2 adults, you don't have much choice.
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Old 09-29-2017, 12:56 PM   #6
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^^^ we have 4' between our mattress and the roof with our ccv top.

I really like the looks of the fixed high tops and see the draw 100%, but nothing beats laying in the penthouse with all the windows open and having a 360 degree view of your surroundings. plus napping in the shade on a hot day with a cool breeze is tough to beat. whenever im doing that I think to myself, theres no way id be happy with a fixed top.

granted, we have little humidity here and ive never had any issues putting the top away wet. every time I got home and thought I needed to air it out to dry, when Id get it open, it would already be dry.

I have zero need to stealth camp so that's not a concern for us. if it ever was, we have a way to sleep downstairs with a small reconfigure that takes 10-15 min.

ive read a few stories where wind moved peoples rigs around, but so far, weve either been pointing in the right direction or protected by trees. only issues weve had that way was the zipper handles chiming all night.

best advise is to roll through the ground up threads and take a look at some of the layouts. theres some really innovative folks on this forum. easy way to adapt ideas into your build. might be how you figure out what you think would work best for you.
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Old 09-29-2017, 01:22 PM   #7
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My kids love the penthouse pop top. It's their personal playhouse and they like hanging out up there and annoying the crap out of me, but I know they are safe and sound and having fun, that's what matters. I am sure they would also groove on a high top with a bunk setup.

I am seeing some drop down bed platforms in sprinters that allow you to store a lot of gear in the back, take it out, then drop down a bed platform or even 2. that is something you could do in a high top with ample height.

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Old 09-29-2017, 03:16 PM   #8
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Thanks for the input everyone!

Yes, i am 6'3 so if i do a Penthouse top it would be CCV. it is much larger. They only cutout the area between the B and C pillar, but if I get a seat on a slide so I can move it back from the 2nd row position, the interior height would be almost the same height as a high roof (in that section).

I have tent camped in sub zero many times so I imagine it wouldn't be any different in a penthouse, maybe better with an Espar running. i am not really looking for a decked out 5 star RV experience. I just want to be able to store gear, set up and break down with minimal fuss, and have a place to get warm or eat if the weather is really nasty. A big issue really is the layout to facilitate carrying gear, kids and such. That is probably more of the priority than "comfort" camping inside. Truth is the rig will most liekly be used more for day trips to sites to hike, ski, or bike, and maybe have some lunch or dinner afterwards than long trips or overnight outings.

Will check out those threads and pics. Appreciate the input and thoughts and look forward to what others have to add! I know no matter what I do it will be a compromise one way or another. I'm sure I will be happy with either one, I just need to make a choice and get on with it .
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Old 09-29-2017, 03:53 PM   #9
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In our sprinter we will be able to stand up straight even with the CCV top down. (In a ford transit we'd have had even more room). With our design this means more storage space, more seating, and all the advantages discussed above concerning openness and windows (when the top is up).

With a heater and insulated top we don't expect any cold camping we won't be able to handle. (I'm more worried about our choice of diesel sprinter vs the gas based ford).
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Old 09-29-2017, 05:46 PM   #10
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Can you give us more information? I'm having difficulty envisioning the complete picture and it's difficult for me to see this one issue in isolation from the big picture. So firstly, are you talking about older Econolines, Sprinters, Promasters, Transits? Secondly, what length are you talking about-RB, EB, or LB? I have a lot of difficulty seeing 2 adults, 2 kids, and bikes all crammed inside a low roof RB Econoline, Transit, or Promaster. OTOH, if you are talking the super high roof 24' Sprinter, that's a ton of volume.

What are your use cases? Are you going to stay on pavement, go on nothing more than gravel roads, want to go rock crawling? Are you not going off road but want to travel in snow? Do you need to maneuver and park in urban settings? Do you have garage height/length considerations? I see you're in Alaska and I assume you intend to stay there. Will you be only taking the bikes in summer? Will you use the van in winter (snow obviously) but without the bikes. Will you need to go up and down hills in the snow? (This determines whether 4x4 is necessary or whether you might get by with just studded snow tires.)

Do you have mountain bikes, cruisers, racing bikes? Are you open to folding bikes? (We have a pair that are full sized and very sturdy. They are expensive, but we love them.)

All of this stuff matters and it is all tied together. That super high roof 24' Sprinter could serve you very well in cramming a full family and bikes inside and touring the country on paved roads, however you can't get it in 4x4 and it is not something I would want to drive around in a city.

If you can answer the above questions I think people will be able to give you better feedback.

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