Best Rooftop Tents

Updated July 2019
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
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How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

19 Models Considered
7 Hours Researched
1 Experts Interviewed
128 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.

Buying guide for best rooftop tents

Last Updated July 2019

Rooftop tents are an increasingly popular choice for campers. Putting them up each night is quick and easy. You’re off the ground and out of the way of rain and mud, bugs, critters, and snakes.

These tents come in a wide range of sizes, styles, and features, which can make choosing the right model a bit complex.

We’ve put together the following shopping guide to help you make your decision. It includes information on how you can get the convenience and comfort you need in a rooftop tent while staying within your budget.

Your vehicle roof isn’t the only way to keep a tent off the ground. There are many models made specifically to fit in truck beds.

Types of rooftop tents

Rooftop tents fall into two categories: soft-sided tents and hard-shell tents.

Soft-sided rooftop tents are much like ordinary tents.

  • Made of polyester or cotton/polyester mix fabric

  • Include hard PVC or aluminum floor

  • Erected with poles and ties (takes longer to put up and break down)

  • Occupy less roof space (especially height) when folded

  • Size for size, less expensive than hard-shell models

  • Some versions fit in pickup truck beds
     

Hard-shell rooftop tents have a rigid structural shell.

  • Made of fiberglass, fiberglass/polyester mix, or aluminum

  • Resemble cargo carriers when closed (some can double as one)

  • Fabric sides when open (most)

  • Open along one edge (like suitcase) or by raising top

  • Some come self-contained in a trailer (“rooftop” because they’re raised in the air)

DID YOU KNOW?

If you need more space, you can extend many rooftop tents with an annex or awning.

Rooftop tent features to consider

Weight

You might expect occupancy to be the prime consideration – and it's certainly important – but before you put people in your roof-top tent, you need to know your vehicle can handle the load!

All vehicles have a maximum dynamic loading weight (the weight you can carry on the move), generally around 150 to 170 pounds (check your owner's manual). Exceeding this can seriously affect the handling and braking of your vehicle. You can't just put a bit more air in your tires to compensate! Overloading your vehicle is illegal in 15 U.S. states, and the last thing you want on your trip is a ticket.

Occupancy

Although many soft-sided models overhang the vehicle's roof when erected, you still have some space restrictions. The most common sizes are rated for two adults or two adults and a child. That doesn't mean there aren't bigger models around – the largest we've seen accommodates six – but they’re less common. Because hard-shell rooftop tents don't extend sideways, their size is more limited. Most are built for two people, and the largest models sleep four.

Size and fitting

Almost all rooftop tents bolt to a roof rack or roof bars. If you haven't got either, that's the first item on your shopping list. Many tents claim to have “universal” fittings, but it's still a good idea to check compatibility with your system.

You also have to think carefully about the size. A six-person tent might be compatible with your brand of roof rack, but that doesn't mean it's a good idea to fit it to a compact car. A family sedan or SUV is a better platform.

Materials

The strength of tent material is measured in denier (d). Because it's a measure of fibers, it isn’t strictly speaking a “thickness,” though for our purposes we can look at it like that. The higher the denier number, the thicker the fabric. Manufacturers usually use the term "three seasons" to suggest their model is good for spring, summer, and autumn use. Tough winter tents are available but are a more specialized item.

  • 200d to 300d: lightweight summer tent

  • 600d to 1,000d: probably the thickest available; better weather protection

  • 1,000d to 2,000d: range for travel covers (with polyurethane coating for waterproofing)
     

Other structural elements

Look for these features as you shop for a rooftop tent.

  • Floor: This is often made of PVC, but some are aluminum. The latter is more durable, but it can be dented or bent. Foam layers can provide added comfort.

  • Poles: Aluminum tent poles are lighter than steel poles.

  • Seams: Look for seams that are double-stitched and taped for added strength.

  • Mesh screens: Screens on windows and doors keep bugs out and allow for airflow (it can get surprisingly hot in these tents). Noseeum mesh on some rooftop tents gives occupants more privacy. Others have additional flaps, though these do restrict airflow.

  • Zippers: These should be sturdy and waterproof.

  • Room divider/privacy wall: You’ll find this on some larger models.
     

Other equipment

The following may or may not be supplied with a particular tent, so it's worth checking the details when you compare prices.

  • Mattresses: One is often provided as part of the package. In hard-shell rooftop tents, the mattress is frequently already fitted, though you might get a choice of thickness. For soft-sided tents, an air mattress is a space-saving option if a mattress isn’t included. You can run a small compressor from your vehicle's lighter socket.

  • Folding ladder: This is something of a necessity. Telescopic models are often more robust and require less space. Steel models are cheaper; aluminum is lighter.

  • Annex: You’ll have more room for changing if you have an annex that drops down to the ground.

  • Lock: We like to see a lock on hard-shell rooftop tents.
EXPERT TIP

The disadvantage of a rooftop tent comes when you need a comfort break in the middle of the night.


Staff  | BestReviews
EXPERT TIP

Internal pockets and hooks are always handy for stowing your gear or hanging a lantern when you’re inside the tent.


Staff  | BestReviews

Rooftop tent prices

Due to their more complex construction, rooftop tents are more expensive than standard tents. You can expect to pay from $100 to $5,000 and up, depending on the type and features.

Inexpensive: Truck tents are the cheapest and most basic option, starting at around $100. You’ll want to add an air mattress (around $30) or a sleeping pad ($60 to $100).

Mid-Range: There’s a big jump in price to soft-sided rooftop tents, and it’s unlikely you’ll find a complete setup for under $800. The cost increases to around $1,800, but at that price it’s heavy-duty equipment for the serious camping enthusiast or wilderness explorer.

Expensive: Hard-shell rooftop tents go up quickly, often have more rigidity, and are frequently more luxurious. Of course, technology and ingenuity come with a higher price tag. Entry-level models cost about $1,500, but $2,000 to $3,000 is more common. The best hard-shell tents can exceed $5,000. It's a considerable investment, but the best are more like a collapsible camper than a tent.

Private, comfy truck camping

While not a proper rooftop tent, there’s no denying this model’s convenience. It’s among the least expensive on the market, yet it’s tough and well thought out. A single pole and body straps make for a versatile fit in 6.5 ft. beds. Mesh doors and windows with privacy shades keep it cozy. There are even storage pockets and a lantern hook. Grab your keys, throw the carry case and air mattress in the back, and away you go!

Tips

  • Include a portable power pack. It can give you light and a fan for cooling. Tents do a good job of retaining heat and can get very hot in warm climates.

  • Stop in a suitable location. Hard ground or concrete might seem like a convenient place to park, but it will make securing an an annex or awning almost impossible.

  • Don’t forget you’ve added height to your vehicle. This isn’t generally a problem, but if you’ve already got a tall SUV or truck, any place with restricted headroom (like a parking garage) could cause problems.

  • Bear in mind that a hard-shell rooftop tent is a semi-permanent installation. And fitting one takes time. Some can also be used as cargo carriers, so you don’t have to take the whole shell off the vehicle when you’re not camping.
A skylight panel is a nice addition. A clear section in the roof enables you to enjoy the night sky.

FAQ

Q. Is a rooftop tent difficult to fit to my vehicle?

A. Not technically. It’s usually a case of fitting brackets and tightening nuts and bolts. However, many weigh a hundred pounds or more, so manufacturers suggest that it’s a two-person job. Having a friend help is also a good idea because they can double-check that everything is secure.

Q. Some big-name rooftop tents seem very cheap. Am I missing something?

A. This is an important point. You need to check the description very carefully. Advertising photos sometimes show a vehicle with complete tent and ladder, but if the product is described as a “canopy,” for example, things like a base or ladder will be extra. The manufacturer isn’t being deceptive, but descriptions can sometimes be confusing. Make sure you know what you’re getting before you order.

Q. How long does it really take to put up a rooftop tent?

A. Not surprisingly, it varies depending on construction and size. With a bit of practice, most soft tents can be set up in about five minutes. Hard-shell models tend to go up more quickly. The fastest we looked at has pneumatic rams and is ready for use in eight seconds!

Stowing away the tent takes a bit longer, so allow yourself a quarter of an hour. Zip everything up first, so you don’t have to deal with loose flaps.

The team that worked on this review
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    Bob
    Writer
  • Bronwyn
    Bronwyn
    Editor
  • Devangana
    Devangana
    Web Producer
  • Eliza
    Eliza
    Production Manager
  • Karen
    Karen
    Writer
  • Melinda
    Melinda
    Web Producer

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