North American High Tops

How high a high top do I need?

Let’s begin by accepting a few basic premises:

1.       Space is space. The volume of a top is limited by its dimensions and shape.

2.       The two greatest benefits that hightop users report (pretty universally) are: 

1. a. the ability to stand upright in their van and not have to "hobbitt" around and 

b. b. the ability to stow “stuff” up top while “on the road” or camped. The resultant lack of clutter in the main cabin makes the entire experience of using the vehicle more enjoyable.

3.       The height of the sleeping compartment “upstairs” will be determined by two factors: A. the height of the top, B. the location of the bed platform – on top of the roof or lowered  as in a “westy cut roof”

4.       If a “westy cut” or “AW” cut is employed, the resultant upstairs height, will result in a lower ceiling over the rear part of the cabin “downstairs”.

So - back to the question . Let’s first determine how you intend to use the van and how many people you want to sleep in the van.

For example, we, my wife and I have two sons, ages 13 and 11. We use the van in primarily 2 ways.

1.       We take some extended 2 – 3 week trips, Florida, U.S. Southwest, Canadian East coast – we drive, camp overnight, maybe staying 2 or 3 nights on one location and move on. We need sleeping accommodation for 4.

2.       I and my buddy take the van to Northern Ontario for a week or 10 days of fishing. We generally get to one good spot and settle in for the duration, as long as the fishing is good anyways. I won’t sleep beside my buddy – I like him a lot but he’s noisy and smelly (he probably says the same thing about me) so its one upstairs and one downstairs. We could set up a tent, but inasmuch as we’re usually in a game preserve, there are lots of bears – after a couple of “experiences” I’d rather be in the van than in a tent.



OK – so all of this is to preface the fact that sleeping accommodation “up top” is a priority for me. And I would suggest that the question of how many to sleep in the van, and where, is the starting point of your decision making.

“Hightops” for vanagons have primarily come in 2 general variations. “High” hightops are made tall in order to provide adequate sleeping height “upstairs.  “Low” hightops primary function is to provide height to stand up in the van and to provide storage for “stuff” generally fore and aft. Some “low” hightops have provision for a cramped “bed” and some van interiors are modified with a significantly lowered rear ceiling to create a limited space upstairs “loft”.


To illustrate this, I have chosen 2 tops other than ours to make the point. The “high” hightop is a Joker top and the “Low” top is a Dehler.

This Joker top is similar to our “high” top in the rear section.

Joker Hightop                                                                                Joker Hightop upper bed

The upper bed arrangement of the interior of the van with this top features a stacked number of platforms that would pull out to create an upstairs bed. This particular van has had a “westy cut” to the roof to drop the bed platforms lower and you can see the decrease in headroom over the rear section of the van.

An example of a “low” hightop would be this Dehler top. It provides space inside to enable standing upright for most folks and for a variety of interior arrangements and storage fore and aft.

It is storage fore and aft – any attempt at an upper rear sleeping arrangement – results in the headbanger arrangement here. Practically, its useful for storage as seen below. it simply does not provide adequate headroom in spite of the “westy cut” to the roof. 

So how do our two tops fit into this comparison?

Clearly, our “high” hightop,



Is very similar in height to the Joker. Applied onto the top of a tintop van, there is space fore for storage and aft for bed platforms. Applied as a replacement for a westy top – therefore with a westy cut roof, there is even better headroom

Front storage locker with bulkhead                         Bed extended upstairs

Where does the ADVENTUREWAGEN top fit into this?

Well, someplace in the middle. The AdventureWagon conversions featured an extensive “westy cut” to the roof and brackets that dropped the bed platform down diminishing the space above the rear seat – The resultant “upstairs” sleeping area had what is considered by some to be adequate headroom for a bed.

There is less headroom than that in our “high” hightop applied on a tintop without a “westy cut”.

Lots of space fore and aft for storage, virtually identical space fore for both tops.

Does all of this help with the decision making?

Maybe, right?

Indeed, it may have just obfuscated the process.

(ignore the air conditioner - I can't figure out, even

with the extra space, how they manage to carry

that long an extension cord)

The following is my subjective list of recommendations.

1.       If you need space to sleep more than 2 people, you will have the maximum space by choosing the “high” hightop. If the top is a replacement for a westy top, you will have the maximum space available. If the “high” top is going onto a tintop, then a decision has to be made re the amount of roof that is to be removed.The regular opening or a “westy cut”. The “westy cut” will involve a much more extensive (and costly) install and you will have to decide on its cost effectiveness.  Again, personally, and I have slept up top in vans with the top as a westy poptop replacement and in a top applied on top of a tintop, I felt very little difference between either. Could I have gotten up in the middle of the night without disturbing my wife from either? No, but then I couldn’t with the westy pop up either. Given that, were I to make the decision, I would not consider it cost effective to do the “westy cut” I would put the “high” hightop onto a tintop with the regular roof cut . The space “upstairs” is fine for 2 people (I’m 6’ 210lbs , my wife is 5’8” and I’m not dumb enough to say her weight but she is slim). Us sleeping up there is a moot point anyway, our two sons (11 and 9) have served notice that the loft is theirs from now on anyway. So be it.

     If the ADVENTUREWAGEN top appeals to you aesthetically and you like the idea of a clean, easy to clean interior (nice to have with little kids), then the "upstairs" sleeping space would be fine for those little kids. Some safety netting and a ladder for easy access would make it work well. When the kids get bigger, someone has to move to a tent.

2.       Having begun this by stating that the greatest benefit is the alleviation of clutter by having access to interior storage, then the decision will come down to which top best suits your needs and appeals to your sense of aesthetics Could you create a sleeping space up top with an ADVENTUREWAGEN  top ? Yes, as I stated at the beginning, space is space and folks will have to decide for themselves if it is adequate.

If you only need sleeping for 2 adults, then either top will provide more than adequate up top storage. Either, applied with the regular roof cut would be a cost effective solution.

In terms of choosing between the 2 tops, make your decision based on your sense of aesthetics and other factors – eg. the choice of a smooth easy to clean gel coat interior available for the ADVENTUREWAGEN top as opposed to some other interior finish.

I would add this other consideration. How tall are you? Floor to ceiling in a van with an AW top is about 6'3", in a van with the NAHT top it is about 6' 10".  If a 6'3" ceiling would make you feel claustrophobic, then the choice of the NAHT top (IMHO) is obvious.

Interestingly, just after I wrote this a thread on Samba and is closely related. The Getaway top and the AW top are pretty similar in size, the AW top may be slightly bigger, but I for sure don’t have a Getaway top to measure.

No matter which of the two hightops you choose, buying a tintop vanagon and adding a hightop to it is a very cost effective way to end up with a T3 (vanagon) camper. A modest investment (beyond the top) of adding an energy efficient fridge, maybe a compact removable kitchen unit and you would have a hightopped camper for still less than the cost of an equivalent year/mileage/condition westy.

Choosing a High Top.