If you happened to encounter my family in a state park or campground, you would know us by the noise. It is a joyous noise of five siblings under eight enjoying the outdoors and finding play wherever we happen to be set up. Follow the noise to our campsite and more than likely my five-year-old will proudly proclaim to all in earshot, “We have a Mantis! It has bunks and a bathroom!” In response, her older brother and sister will usually chime in with their own Mantis related factoids and offer to show you our camper as if it were a member of the family.
We started our adventuring in a TAXA habitat several years ago in one of the early model Crickets. Even though my oldest son and I were in a tent next to our Cricket most of the time, it was our family’s ticket to making camping and the outdoors an integral part of our recreation and lifestyle. Since then our clan has grown and thus our choice to trade in our Cricket for the larger Mantis, which from the first day we saw it was a member of our large family.
Those of you who own a Mantis or have read the spec sheet are probably asking yourselves, “How do you fit seven people in a Mantis?” Well, we don’t, but the best part of TAXA’s design is the versatility baked into every habitat they create. The following post will explain how we have leveraged this versatility to make our Mantis perfect for us. Two add-ons, the ARB Screen Room and the Tepui Explorer Ayer 2, have made this camper exactly what we need as a family. If you choose to try either of these, I hope some of what I have learned will make your set up easier.
When we first debated upsizing to our Mantis, the ARB Screen Room was one of the features that tipped the scales in our decision making. It attaches to the ARB Awning that comes standard with each Mantis off a dealer’s lot. Overall, I would recommend this piece of gear to every Mantis owner out there. We have used ours as a mud room, playroom, outdoor kitchen and sleeping area. It is a nice balance of inexpensive, easy to store and is relatively simple to set up with some practice. We bought ours for $220 on Amazon, and it packs up to just slightly larger than what most large tents do, roughly the size of a big kitchen trash can.
Setting the screen room up is where I think I can impart the best tips. First, before you take it out of the box, use a socket set or wrench to loosen the ARB awning on its mount, just enough to slide it left and right. Then move it as far forward on the mount as it will physically go and retighten the nuts until it is secure. (Pictures included for reference) This will allow you to open and close the door with very little impact from the screen room material, especially after you unzip the large panel on the Mantis side of the screen room. Most of the day the door to our Mantis stays open, with a small bungee used on the inside of the screen room to keep the door secure. New paragraph Second, when you set up the awning, make sure to leave one of the tent poles shorter than the other so that water can drain off the awning and not collect on the canvas. I made this mistake on my second real venture with the screen room and I woke up after a wet night to a significant amount of water collected on the awning, causing the awning poles to visibly bow under the weight. Luckily, I was able to straighten out the poles, but now I ensure there is at least a six-inch difference between the two corners.
Finally, my last tip would be to dry run the entire set-up before you take it for a longer trip. After that initial set-up, my eight-year-old and I can set the whole thing up in about 10 minutes.
Not every trip in our Mantis includes the whole family, but when it does, I generally will sleep outside in the screen room with one of our older children while my wife takes the bed with our young-ins. As an Eagle Scout and lifelong tent camper, I don’t mind the ground, but it can be limiting when the screen room is also tripling as our mudroom and playroom. Recently, we purchased a Tepui Explorer Ayer 2 which we have mounted on the Thule rack on the aft roof of the camper. Overall, while the steep learning curve of the RTT takes a few attempts to master its set-up, the added sleeping space is well worth the effort. Instead of fighting over who gets to sleep on the bunks, now my kids argue over who gets to sleep next to me in the treehouse. I would recommend this to anyone who is considering maxing out Mantis’ capacity or have older children that need more of their own space.
While there are considerable resources available on YouTube for RTTs, I would recommend two tips to anyone considering a solution like this one. First, do not settle for the Thule bar configuration that came from the dealer. I originally mounted the RTT so that there was a minor uneven overhang, which made it very unstable when I set up the tent. On the second attempt, I separated the bars by Thule’s recommended 24”-28” and the RTT was much more stable as a result. The exact answer may change depending on your Mantis’ roof configuration (my 2019 has the old roof style), but it is worth putting some thought into the bars before you lift the RTT into place. My second tip is to invest in a small extendable stepladder. The steps on the back of the trailer are nice, but it still makes it difficult to reach all the way around the tent when it is unfolded. I have an extendable Gorilla ladder which I stash in the front of our Mantis when it is being towed and stow underneath the trailer when we are in camp. With the ladder and some practice, I have a nice flow for setting up and tearing down the RTT so that it only adds a few extra minutes to the entire process.
If you happen to find yourself in the same campground as my crew, stop by and say hi, my kids and I would love to show you our Mantis. I hope the following review and tips have been helpful, especially to the old and young seeking play wherever it may be.