Brock Keen insists he wasn’t trying to start a trend. “I never really contemplated sports-car camping in the past, and I’ve had Porsches and BMWs and others, but I’ve always taken an SUV or a truck camping,” he tells us from his home in Portland, Oregon. However, when a bargain rooftop tent didn’t jibe with the roof rails on his Range Rover, Keen stuck the tent on his 2004 911 Carrera 4S, just to get it home. He and his wife quickly realized this setup was far too cool to languish. So they started an Instagram account, @996roadtrip, to document the fun. Followers came quickly. Sports-car camping became a thing.
And hey, why not? A sports car might not take you as far off the grid as overlanding mainstays like the Toyota 4Runner or Jeep Wrangler, but have you ever tried to hustle one of those barges up a twisty road? “People are missing out by putting rooftop tents on their trucks and their SUVs,” Keen says. “Find a way to put one on your small car. You’re going to have so much more fun.”
This story originally appeared in Volume 5 of Road & Track.
It makes perfect sense, especially when you consider that many of America’s greatest roads run through state and national parks. Plus, a lower car allows easier tent access and simpler setup.
Of course, camping with a performance car has its challenges. You’ll need to know the maximum approved weight the roof can bear when parked and while moving. For Keen’s 996 (and many other modern Porsches), the dynamic weight limit is 165 pounds, while the static limit is around 600 pounds. And with a sports car like a 911, there are other concerns.
Storage isn’t exactly plentiful, Keen says. “For us, one of the things that worked out really well is we love to backpack. So we went into it with that mindset. We’re not going on a full-on glamping trip, even though it’s in a Porsche. We’re going to go out and do this from a minimalistic standpoint.”
Over the last few years, Keen has refined his gear: smaller chairs, a firepit that folds flat, backpacks that fit in the front trunk, the best-tasting freeze-dried food. With his wife up front and their 50-pound dog, Lucy, riding in the back, there’s enough room in the 911 for an easy four-night trip, though Keen has gone for longer outings.
As far as pure sports cars go, Porsches are well-suited for camping, thanks to surprisingly useful storage space (compared with other vehicles in their class). That said, Keen helped outfit an Acura NSX (and its thimble-sized trunk) for camping, so you don’t necessarily need Stuttgart’s brightest. Sports coupes and sedans also make great performance-car campers.
Remain mindful of ground clearance when you leave the tarmac, too. Keen does this by scanning the road far ahead for hazards, an especially important task as his 996 sits about an inch lower than stock. The drop is bad for ground clearance, but good for lowering the center of gravity with a tent latched to the roof. His 911 also benefits from all-wheel drive, which allows him to venture a little farther from humanity than in a rear-drive car, though he and his wife also camp with a first-generation Boxster.
Fresh tires are critical in either case. Keen typically selects all-season rubber, which deals better with the obstacles. And for Keen, keeping up with maintenance is essential for long-distance trips.
The approach is refreshing in a world overflowing with six-figure overlanding rigs built more for Instagram cred than, you know, camping.
“Get your cars out there and go camping,” Keen says. “You’re going to enjoy the roads a ton, and the fact that you can go on a little camping trip and get away is even better.”
Moral of the story: If a lowered 911 can get out there, your car can, too. Go forth.
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