Imagine: you’re bumping and bouncing away along a dirt track, winding between oaks and cedars then cruising through meadows of wildflowers. Suddenly you find yourself at the edge of a solitary lake with the setting sun reflecting on its still water. As you unpack the sleeping bags and recline the front seats you think ‘if only there was a more comfortable way to sleep in my car‘.
It’s time to join the overlanding trend and get yourself a comfortable and compact rooftop tent. Not only do they give you the freedom to set up camp anywhere you choose, but they’re also extremely practical. No more banging pegs into the ground with a rock like a stone age Neanderthal. No more waking up to a soggy groundsheet because you’ve forgotten that the tide’s coming in and not out.
- The best roof top tents: softshell
- The best roof top tents: hardshell
- The pros of camping in a roof top tent
- The cons of camping in a roof top tent
- Types of roof top tents
- How to set up a roof top tent
The best rooftop tents come with a sturdy frame which is quick to set up and packs neatly away on the roof. They’re fully waterproof and able to stand up to strong winds. Plus, they provide a cosy, comfortable and mega convenient place to sleep when exploring the wilderness by car.
Rooftop tents are a relatively new concept and you may be unsure which one to invest in. Well, take a seat by your campfire and keep reading because we’ve put together a list of the best rooftop tents of 2018 to answer that very question.
|Product||Type of tent||Weight||Capacity||Cost|
|Yakima SkyRise 3 Rooftop Tent||Softshell||98lbs / 48kg||Sleeps 3||$|
|Smittybilt Overlander Tent||Softshell||116.5 Lbs/52.8 Kgs||Sleeps 2-3||$|
|Tepui Tents Kukenam Ruggedized Sky 3||Softshell||180lbs / 81kg||Sleeps 3||$$|
|Tuff Stuff Delta Overland Rooftop Tent||Softshell||116lbs / 52kg||Sleeps 2||$|
|Front Runner Feather-Lite Roof Top Tent||Softshell||93lbs / 43kg||Sleeps 2||$|
|Bigfoot Tents Explorer Series Hard Shell Roof Top Tent||Hardshell||141lbs /64kg||Sleeps 2||$$$$|
|Ikamper Skycamp||Hardshell||155lbs / 70kg||Sleeps 4||$$$$|
|Roofnest Sparrow X||Hardshell||135lbs / 61kg||Sleeps 2||$$|
Includes: 3 Person tent and rain fly, aluminium ladder, SKS Lock Core, travel cover, 2.5-inch foam mattress with removable cover, all hardware.
The Yakima SkyRise 3 Rooftop Tent is a mid-priced and lightweight 3-season tent for your overland adventure. Made from a durable 210T Nylon, which is both breathable and waterproof, and fitted with aluminium poles, it’s sure to protect from the rain and wind. The tent is fitted with multiple double layer windows which can be unzipped on warm nights or closed for weather protection. The windows are fitted with a mesh layer which allows for ventilation but keeps pesky mosquitoes out whilst you watch the stars at night. This model also comes with a waterproof rainfly with built-in sky roof.
Like most rooftop tents it attaches to a roof rack but for extra security the Yakima rooftop tent features SKS Lock Cores. No need to worry about thieving monkeys when you’re out in the wilderness. Best of all the Yakima SkyRise 3-person rooftop tent is a breeze to set up. Simply unfold using the built-in collapsible ladder and, voila, your outdoors bedroom is ready.
- Very Lightweight
- Breathable and waterproof fabric
- Easy tool-free set up
- Mid-range price
- Minor issues with how the ladder is fitted
Includes: Tent and flysheet, aluminium ladder, mattress with removable cover, LED lights, cigarette lighter, travel bag, one-year guarantee.
At just under 120 lbs the 2 to 3-person Smittybilt Overlander Rooftop Tent is another lightweight option for cars with limited weight capacity. It’s also one of the most affordable rooftop tents on the market. Despite its lower price tag, the tent is made from a heavy-duty 600D ripstop polyester with a fully waterproof rainfly made from 420D oxford fabric. Its base is a 2.5-inch polyurethane/aluminium sandwich which can hold a weight of up to 661lbs (300kg).
Intended for use in all 4-seasons, the Smittybilt Overlander is fitted with a sky window as well as zippered windows with mesh mosquito nets to allow for ventilation during the summertime. Other useful features include the extra wide 18” ladder, LED lighting strip, and 12V cigarette lighter power adapter. The Smittybilt Overlander is primarily designed to fit on Jeeps, however, the U-shaped clamps can fit other vehicles providing that they have a dual track rack.
- Durable, waterproof, and lightweight
- Fits most vehicles
- Affordable price
- Versatile design – can be fitted for entrance on either side.
- Difficult to attach without two people
- Rainfly tends to pool water
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Includes: tent and flysheet, foam mattress with anti-condensation mats, telescopic aluminium ladder, 3-bolt heavy duty hinges, waterproof travel cover.
Unlike most rooftop tents the Kukenam Ruggedized Sky 3 is proud to be a heavy tent. Its 360g dual-stitched polyester/cotton fabric and wrapped aluminium poles make it 40% heavier than most rooftop tents. This may sound like a bad thing unless you intend to take your rooftop tent into the wilderness. In which case its heavy-duty internal frame will provide you with the protection you need from fierce winds and even snow. With a flysheet made from 420D polyester ripstop fabric with a PU coating and taped seams, this is one of the best rooftop tents for 4-season camping.
The Kukenam Ruggedized Sky 3 is designed to fit on most roof racks, assuming that their Dynamic Weight Capacity is sufficient. That makes this Tepui rooftop tent suitable for use with a variety of vehicles. Its price tag is a little on the high side but considering its quality construction, with mesh-screened sky panels, hard-wearing materials, and welded aluminium base, we think that the Kukenam Ruggedized Sky 3 is worth the money.
- Highly durable and well made
- Suitable for year-round use
- Sturdy frame
- Fits most roofracks
- High price tag
- Cannot be carried by vehicles with a lower weight limit
Includes: tent and rainfly, mattress with removable cover, aluminium ladder, frame and rooftop mounts, tools for installation, PVC travel cover.
The Delta Overland Rooftop Tent from Tuff Stuff is another well priced and versatile rooftop tent. It is able to fit almost any SUV, van, jeep, travel trailer or pickup truck providing that the vehicle has the correct crossbars (up to 38” apart). The lightweight aluminium poles and waterproof material makes the tent suitable for use in wet weather as well as warmer temperatures. When it comes to ventilation, the Delta Overland Rooftop Tent is fitted with upper air vents and mesh mosquito nets which allow the tent to breathe. As well as protection from rain and wind, the 420D oxford fabric rainfly can provide extra UV protection whilst also blocking light so that you can sleep for longer on your weekend camping trip.
- Lightweight and easy to set up
- Breathable and waterproof design
- Can fit most vehicles
- None that we can find
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Includes: tent and flysheet, mattress, aluminium ladder, vinyl travel cover, rod kit, mounting studs kit.
The Feather-Lite car top tent from Front Runner features a wide 1.3 x 2.5-metre design which can comfortably sleep two people and still leave room for luggage. Its super lightweight construction, under 90 lb, helps save on petrol but also makes it suitable for solo roadtrippers to install and remove. Meanwhile, its low profile and sturdy 400D oxford tent fabric allow it to be used in strong winds and heavy rain. The durable fabric is also breathable and mould resistant so, although this Front Runner roof top tent is not cheap, it will certainly go the distance in terms of durability. The Feather-Lite is quick and easy to set up making it a convenient option for weekend camping trips. It comes ready with a mattress as well as zippered windows and mesh screens for keeping creepy crawlies out.
- Very light
- Easy to set up
- Made from durable and breathable fabric
- Ladder tends to move too easily
The best roof top tents: hardshell
Includes: hard Shell tent, aluminium ladder, interior light, 50% cotton mattress.
The Explorer Series Hard Shell Rooftop Tent is another convenient pop-up option for over landers who don’t want to mess around with poles and pegs. The Duck Back Hard Shell can be opened and closed within minutes. It packs down to a height of just 1.3 feet so you’re unlikely to get caught out going through low tunnels. The advantage of Bigfoot Rooftop Tents is that their sleek and streamline design can fit to almost any truck, car, van, or 4×4. They are compatible with most roof racks including Thule and Yakima, making this a very versatile product.
The tent fabric is made from a UV resistant and waterproof polyester so its suitable for use in both summertime and in cooler conditions. For extra convenience the Explorer Series Hard Shell Rooftop Tent also comes with an interior light, a 50% cotton mattress, and a collapsible telescopic ladder.
- Quick set up
- Compact and streamline design
- Internal reading light
- Can fit almost any roof rack
- High Price
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Big Foot Tents
Includes: hard shell tent and flysheet, aluminium ladder, foam mattress, travel cover.
This is undoubtedly one of the best hard-shell rooftop tents on the market. Its lightweight and aerodynamic design make it suitable for most roof racks. Its spacious interior folds out large enough for 3-4 people to sleep comfortably (3 adults or 2 adults and 2 children). What’s more, the Skycamp from IKamper takes less than a minute to set up and collapse, and it’s secured using lockable closing straps for peace of mind while you travel. The sturdy frame and interchangeable tent fabric (Airflow Summer tent is not included) make it suitable for camping in all 4-seasons. Meanwhile, its hard-outer shell has a matte finish which is scratch resistant and available in 3 colours.
The tent itself is made from a breathable poly-cotton canvas which is waterproof and insulating whilst still providing excellent breathability. The windows and door have mesh screens while the roof features a fully waterproof sky view window for wishing on stars at night.
- Can be used in 4-seasons
- Spacious interior
- Very quick to set up
- Quality materials
- Very expensive
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Includes: hard shell tent, foam mattress, ladder.
The Sparrow X from Roofnest is one of the most convenient rooftops tents out there. Its super quick pop-up box design means that it can go from packed to pitched at the push of a button. Perfect for taking a roadside nap! The 82 x 48-inch size and built-in mattress make it roomy enough for two adults to sleep comfortably. The Roofnest Sparrow X had mesh windows on either end and two side doors for easy access from either the driver or passenger side.
The top shell is made from reinforced fibreglass which is lightweight and aerodynamic thereby helping to reduce both fuel consumption and noise. Meanwhile the lower shell is a sturdy aluminium plate which doesn’t dip or bend. No need to worry about camping out in a storm either because the PU coated poly-cotton canvas provides a waterproof rating 3000mm (3 times higher that the standard backpacking tent).
- Entrance doors on two sides
- Quick set up
- Aerodynamic design
- High price
- Needs two people to install it
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The pros of camping in a roof top tent
- Very quick and easy to set up
- The tent is stored on the roof and not inside your car — great when it’s wet!
- You have instant cover from the rain underneath the overhanging platform as soon as you pop it up
- You can camp on rocky or snowy ground and still be comfortable
- You don’t need to worry about your campsite flooding
- Super comfortable inside with built-in mattress
- You get good ventilation through the tent
- You feel safer from critters
- They are very secure in bad weather
- You can camp wherever the vehicle goes
The cons of camping in a roof top tent
- Bad for fuel consumption
- Not very convenient when nature calls in the middle of the night
- Takes up a lot of space on the roof rack
- You’ll probably need to upgrade your roof rack so that it’s strong enough to hold it
- They’re big and heavy, and can be difficult to get onto the roof of your vehicle
- They’re expensive
- Getting up and down the ladder can be tricky if you have a bad back or knees
Types of roof top tents
Roof top tents come under two main categories: hard and soft shell. That said, there are a few models out there that combine the designs of both, such as the Ikamper Skycamp. This is a hardshell, but with some of the features of a softshell.
Hardshell roof top tents
These pop straight up from the roof of the car and don’t fold out. This means that their footprint is much smaller than soft shell models that fold open. But they are incredibly easy and quick to set up.
Softshell roof top tents
Soft shells roof top tents fold open to create a sleeping area that is around double the size of the tent when it is packed away on the roof. They take a little longer to set up than hardshell roof top tents.
How to set up a roof top tent
One of the main benefits to roof top tent camping is how easy they are to set up. Most hardshell roof top tents are the equivalent of pop-up ground tents — almost instant. Softshell roof top tents are slightly more complex and time consuming to set up, although most still only take around 5 minutes. Here’s how:
There’s no denying that roof top tent camping isn’t for everyone. But there are also a ton of benefits that make a roof top tent an ideal addition to the backcountry camping set up of some car campers. Are you ready for your next adventure in wilderness camping?