Thule channels its expertise in hitch carriers and rooftop tents into a new style of vehicle tent aimed at giving car campers the best of both vehicle and ground camping … with a little trailer-style hitching/unhitching for good measure. The all-new Outset tent hitches up and rides to camp on the back of the car or truck, staying hitched or unloading once there. It sets up on an accompanying stand to keep campers level and comfortable above ground, freeing the vehicle for unencumbered day trips away from camp.
The idea of a hitch-mountable answer to the rooftop tent (RTT) isn’t a new one, but it’s one that we’ve previously only seen approached by small startups in an expensive and awkward way. Both Hitch ‘n Pitch and Rubicon EP released their own stands for carrying existing rooftop tents on the hitch. The stands were meant to make setup and removal easier than rooftop mounting, but they introduced some glaring problems along the way.
One, they were expensive, essentially doubling the cost of the rooftop tent alone – the Rubicon Hitch Tent frame cost $1,200 in 2019. Two, both versions merely folded the large rooftop tent 90 degrees up against the back of the vehicle, blocking the rear window completely and making for an odd, high weight distribution.
Thule, which is about as far from a small, inexperienced startup as you can get in the car accessories space, looks to use its unique combination of hitch rack and rooftop tent know-how toward solving the hitch-top tent dilemma in a different way. Instead of developing a separate platform for its RTT lineup, it has created the Outset as a single integrated product purpose-built for hitching.
Rooftop tents are sized to fit inside the dimensions of a vehicle roof, resulting in a long, wide, low box that isn’t an ideal fit for hitches. So Thule has restructured the folding soft-shell tent into a lower, denser package more similar in size and shape to a hitch-mounted cargo box. This drops the center of gravity down and sets the Outset low enough for full or partial visibility out the rear window.
As shown in the video at the bottom, the owner can simply roll the Outset package to the hitch ball on the integrated wheels, secure it, fold it up into travel position, and drive off. The hitch arm also tilts into different positions to clear access to the tailgate.
At camp, the tent folds out atop the accompanying stand, which relies on telescoping legs to level out uneven ground. Inside, it offers a flat sleeping platform with included mattress and lighting, just like a rooftop tent, promising a more comfortable night of sleep than a basic ground tent.
Using a rooftop-style tent on the ground leaves the vehicle free to travel during the day without the extra weight and bulk of a tent, particularly valuable when navigating tight off-road trails. While campers can leave it hitched for camping, they can also unhitch it and leave it behind as a claim to the campsite when no one’s there.
Campers will want to be wary about the possibility of theft, however, as a hitch-mounted tent will be more conspicuous and valuable than the average ground tent – some kind of a hitch lock seems imperative to prevent a thieves from simply hitching it to their vehicle and driving off.
The Outset will also pop off more easily than a roof tent between camping trips. We’ve always preferred to keep a rooftop tent installed throughout camping season rather than constantly hoisting it up and taking it down, but the roller hitch system should make the Outset quite simple to detach and store after a camping weekend and slide back on before the next one. In the meantime, the vehicle goes back to normal, without the weight, drag and bulk of an unnecessary tent.
The Thule Outset is still under development with a launch planned for Spring/Summer 2024 (Northern Hemisphere), so while the company is showing the current iteration at this year’s Düsseldorf Caravan Salon, it has not released all the specs. Thule is advertising the Outset on websites outside Europe, including those for the US and Australia, so it looks to be a global product.
How attractive of an option the Outset will ultimately be will depend on its mysterious specs, particularly key numbers like weight, sleeping area and price. We’ll look to get all that information as the Outset moves closer to launch. In the meantime, the quick video shows the Outset in action.
Introducing: Thule Outset hitch tent – Experience the revolution in outdoor living