Little did Brock Keen know when he purchased a roof tent for his Porsche 911 that it would completely change his life. After setting up the @996roadtrip Instagram account to document his travels, he ended up generating a huge following with tales of his adventures off-grid. He ended up inspiring a legion of others to tent-top their cars and follow in his tracks. Busting myths, talking about his four-legged companion as well as covering that all-important topic of how to make good coffee outdoors, this is his expert guide to cultivating the ultimate Porsche camping experience.
Porsche + tent? How does it work?
Packing your life into a car and placing a bedroom on its roof sounds like a daunting prospect to many. But Brock encourages all potential roof tent dwellers to be excited about camping with your Porsche… especially when it comes to doing so in a 911. “There’re a lot of things that make camping in a 911 so easy – not least its compact size – as it makes you more selective about what you take with you,” Brock explains. He says that as he and his wife were already used to packing light due to them being fans of backpacking, camping and hiking, so transitioning to off-grid camping in their car ended up a completely seamless experience.
One of the first things that onlookers wonder is how everything fits in so perfectly. “People can’t believe that there’s room for me, my Goldendoodle dog, and all travel essentials,” Brock says. Fortunately, he's got packing down to a fine art over the years, now able to adventure for days on end and remain totally comfortable. “I quickly understood that you don’t need anywhere near what you get at a luxury hotel,” he adds. Instead, he stresses the importance of recalibrating your mindset to embrace a purist philosophy when it comes to driving-meets-camping. He guarantees this is the first step you need to achieve in order to get the best out of every Porsche camping trip.
The art of packing light for a Porsche camping trip
Brock has streamlined what he packs over recent years – using ultra-light titanium gear has proved particularly useful to keep the weight down, he says. A backpacking table and chairs fit perfectly into the frunk, while his fire pit folds down to sit snugly inside the roof tent. “But coffee is the most important thing for me! I’m a picky coffee drinker – I want to grind my own beans and drink the good stuff. My morning ritual is sitting having that hot cup and seeing the steam roll off it.”
After his caffeine fix, good quality bedding is next on the priority list. His roof tent includes in-built, 1,000-thread count sheets and a memory foam mattress. “It’s really all about the views and being as comfortable as is necessary. It’s not about excess. There’s room to let in a few little luxuries – and for us that’s something as simple as bringing a nice bottle of wine and steel glasses, so we don’t break them.”
Why roof tent camping is better than ground camping
What’s more, achieving this idyllic at-peace-with-the-world vision isn’t an onerous task either. The roof tent takes precisely three-and-a-half minutes to set up, Brock says. “I just take off the cover, roll it up underneath and pull the tent open,” he explains. “And since all my bedding is already in there, all I need to do is just climb in.” And, when the next day’s adventure calls, Brock can pack up the tent, table and chairs and be back on the road within 10 minutes.
“It’s a myth that roof tent camping is a big hassle,” he says. “People told me to get a ground tent, as it’s so much easier. I say to them that they’ve obviously never camped on a Porsche.” He says that a lot more time and energy actually goes into ground camping, from laying out and then connecting up the poles, to sorting the sleeping bags and blowing up mattresses. “There are all these steps to ground tent camping that people think would be quicker than with a roof tent – but really, it’s the opposite.”
Setting up camp on top of a Porsche also means that the natural surroundings around you are left undisturbed. Everything Brock takes with him is self-sustaining, all the way down to his fire pit. “It’s all about following the ‘Leave No Trace’ mantra – the concept of camping like you were never there.”
Brock’s favourite off-grid camping spots
Once you’ve assembled your equipment and learned what to do with them, the next step is to actually go off-grid. Brock says that his favourite secluded destination is a place called the Alvord Desert in south east Oregon. “The dry, flat, ground you drive on is almost like the Bonneville Salt Flats,” he says of the legendary Utah plain that over the years has hosted countless world land speed record attempts. “You can see for miles, but you’re also surrounded by 10,000-foot mountains.” It’s to this isolated beauty that he goes to completely disconnect from the rest of the outside world.
“It’s extremely off-grid – just pure sky and stars. There’s no phone service, no facilities, no bathrooms, no water source. Everything you pack is what you have. I do that once a year. It’s the place where I hit the reset button. We really need those off-grid moments – people don’t realise it until they’re actually there, experiencing it,” says Brock, who cites the Black Rock Desert in south east Utah as another great candidate for secluded camping spots in the US.
There’s really nothing that matches the 911 experience. It’s a feeling that’s indescribable. It allows me to get to do what I’m passionate about – explore the outdoors and see amazing views
How long can you camp in a roof tent for?
A typical off-grid Porsche camping trip for Brock lasts about three days. Day one is spent acclimatising to having no technology. Day two is for documenting the experience by taking photos and videos. Finally, day three is reserved for total disconnection, where it’s just himself and nature. When it comes to his longest travels, he’s notched up one solo trip that spanned a total of 11 days, as well as a nine-day adventure with his wife and dog. Journeying from Oregon to Idaho and into Utah, this involved a loop through the breathtaking Monument Valley in Moab and Escalante – a star location of many a Western movie – and racking up an epic number of miles. “We were clocking up to 300-400 miles a day, then waking up in a new spot each morning to unbelievable views,” he says.
What makes Porsche roof tent camping so special?
“The Ferry Porsche quote, ‘I couldn’t find the sportscar of my dreams, so I built it myself,’ pretty much sums up my attitude,” says Brock. “There’s really nothing that matches the 911 experience. It’s a feeling that’s indescribable. It allows me to get to do what I’m passionate about – explore the outdoors and see amazing views.”
From a technical standpoint, Brock also mentions how the 911’s all-wheel drive system allows him to explore that little bit further, including long drives on the beach as well as on frosty terrain when winter camping. “There aren’t many sportscars that offer that kind of convenience. Plus, the storage is significant – despite what you may think – from the frunk to the rear folding seats to the storage capabilities within the roof tent itself.”
What are the challenges?
As tremendous fun as these can be, preparing for bumps in the road – literal or otherwise – are eventualities that you will need to consider. “I’ve learned to have a little bit extra when it comes to the essentials – like water. And make sure you know how to change a tyre, so you can’t get stuck in the middle of nowhere.” But that’s pretty much it when it comes to challenges, Brock says. “Just take pictures, have fun, and create good memories – because very few people are going to do this.”
As well as his 911 and his rooftop tent, there’s one more recurring theme – of the furry kind – that gets him plenty of attention on his trips. “The combination of having a rooftop tent on my 911 and my Goldendoodle, Lucy, in the passenger seat means that everybody wants to talk to me. So, I allocate an extra hour everywhere I go so I can have those conversations. And I love to have them, because I want to show people that they can do this too.”
How do you go Porsche camping with a dog?
Having been camping with his dog since Lucy was eight weeks old, Brock has ensured that she is now completely at ease with the Porsche roof tent experience. “We picked her up in the 911 – so that was her very first car experience. Travelling with her is so easy. She doesn’t move around much, and she’s happy to just sit in the passenger seat or on the shelf in the back.”
Brock’s main advice for dog owners looking to introduce their furry companion to Porsche camping is to ensure a ready supply of water and treats. “We make an extra stop or two to throw the ball and give her some playtime, but other than that there’s not a lot to travelling with a dog. Ours is happy to watch the world go by from the car. We’ve got a well-trained, road-tripping pup!”
What about the next off-grid adventure?
Having experienced some of the great US off-road adventures since he started camping in his 911, this summer Brock hopes to take his precious 996 over to Europe for a multi-country, multi-month adventure. He hopes to visit Germany, Austria, Italy, France, Spain and beyond. His IG followers can expect to see some friends of Porsche crop up along the way, like classic expert Tom Gädtke of @onassisporsches. “Even more exciting is that I’m set to log my 500,000th mile in a Porsche during that trip, if all goes to plan. Stay tuned!”
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