Even the most ardent campers can admit that despite their vast benefits, traditional tents have some drawbacks, too. Ever had a critter crawl its way into your tent? Maybe you’ve felt, after meticulously clearing your tent site of stones and branches, a single, sharp twig stabbing into your spine when you lay down for the night?
Or maybe you woke up in a downpour to discover you were sleeping in a puddle.
What, just me?
Whether you’ve personally experienced a camping catastrophe or you’re simply eager to avoid one, a rooftop tent might be the solution.
Plus, a rooftop tent is way more nimble than any RV or campervan, allowing you to explore the backcountry with ease.
Don’t believe me?
Check out this story about a couple who lived in a rooftop tent for over two years!
What is a rooftop tent?
A rooftop tent is, you guessed it, a tent that goes on your roof. Rooftop tents are attached to the roof racks of trucks, SUVs, and 4x4s, though some have also been spotted atop sedans and cars, which is not recommended unless it’s a sedan-specific model.
Rooftop tents are typically much quicker and easier to set up than ground tents and pop up in a few quick lifts and clicks.
Some tents fit entirely on the roof, while others unfold or extend to create more flat space above the vehicle. Some rooftop tents extend even further, all the way to the ground, to create even more space in your little tentopia.
This all means that no matter where you set up, a rooftop tent guarantees a level, elevated campsite and a soft, flat bed to fall (or climb) into at night.
How does a rooftop tent work?
The most labor involved with the best rooftop tents takes place during installation. But once the unit is securely attached to your roof, using the tent is as easy as pie. Some models boast setup times of under 60 seconds, something that can be extremely handy if you’re setting up at night or after a long day of hiking.
Installation means actually attaching the tent to the rooftop of your vehicle.
This is almost certainly a two-person job, due to the weight of most rooftop tents and the awkwardness of getting all that weight on top of your cab.
Different models have various installation instructions, so make sure you’re following the guide for your exact unit. Luckily, they’re typically rather simple to install other than the cumbersome task of getting the tent in place.
Our top picks for the best rooftop tent
If you’re sold on the idea of a rooftop tent, here are our rooftop tent reviews.
Weight: 116.5 lbs
The Smittybilt Overlander Tent is the absolute best bang for your buck we’ve found, and for that reason, it sits comfortably at the top of our list for the best rooftop tents. Despite its reasonable price, this roof top tent is pretty high quality.
It includes many of the best features from other models, like sunroof flaps for stargazing or ventilation and interior LED strips. It comes with a high-density foam mattress and built-in mosquito netting on all windows.
There’s an even larger 3-4 person XL size available, and you can also purchase an annex room and ladder extension, making this tent truly just about everything you want it to be.
While this tent makes for a pretty incredible budget-friendly rooftop tent option, this probably won’t be quite as durable or long-lasting as other models. So, if you’re planning to use this more than the frequent camper, you might want to upgrade to a more dependable model.
iCamper SkyCamp 2.0
Weight: 155 lbs
The Skycamp 2.0 bumps us up a few price ranges but comes with some added features and luxuries. The biggest draw is probably its 60-second setup time. That’s right. Imagine driving 12+ hours and finally pulling up to your campsite close to midnight, exhausted and probably more than a little cranky. You put the car in park, get out, and in less than one minute you have a pretty dang comfortable bed waiting for you to fall into.
The aerodynamic design, huge 4-person interior, and inclusion of creature comforts like a thick memory foam mattress make this tent feel more like an oasis. If the price tag doesn’t scare you too much, the iCamper Skycamp is an awesome option.
Yakima SkyRise Tent – Medium
The SkyRise rooftop tent comes in two sizes, we prefer the larger but if you’re traveling solo or just in a pair, the small is a great option.
These models are built very similarly to a traditional ground tent, so if you’re looking for something a bit more familiar, this might be the answer.
This SUV rooftop tent also includes skylights and a thick, 2.5” mattress. It’s light, strong and technically advanced with 201D light, breathable nylon and mesh panels for ventilation and star-gazing.
Roofnest Eagle Tent
Weight: 145 lbs
The Roofnest Eagle Rooftop Tent is designed very thoughtfully, filled with convenient amenities you might not even think to want.
The popup rooftop tent goes straight up and down, which allows for a flatter profile when closed. This means a more aerodynamic drive, better fuel efficiency, and easier handling in transit.
It also comes with a 3” foam mattress, an easily accessible overhead netting, and removable shoe pockets to help keep the mud and sand out of your bed.
Think you can’t live in a Roofnest Eagle full-time? Think again: Couple lives full-time in a Roofnest
You’ll enjoy the anti-condensation mat to keep moisture out of your mattress and bedding.
Roofnest Sparrow Eye Tent
Weight: 130 lbs
The Sparrow Roofnest model is very similar to her Eagle cousin, just at a smaller scale. It includes many of the conveniences of the Eagle, like the 3” mattress, detachable shoe pockets, and anti-condensation mat.
This amazing little tent is Roofnest’s easiest to use. It opens from the side and you’ll see an incredible view of the sky from the top window. The tent comes with stainless steel gas struts, an impermeable ABS-fiberglass top and waterproof canvas walls so you’ll stay warm and dry even in the worst weather.
The only real difference between this rooftop tent and The Eagle the size and weight, so if you don’t need the extra sleeping space or elbow room, this model is the perfect option.
Cascadia Mt Rainier Extended Summit Stargazer Tent
Weight: 207 lbs
Cascadia’s Mt Rainier line of tents offer an option for just about every type of camper. The extended vs. standard model are actually the same sleeping size and capacity. The difference is that the extended covers the ladder access as well.
This makes for a mini mudroom at the front of your tent, perfect for dirty shoes, bags, or anything you don’t want to bring to bed with you.
The amazing thing about this rooftop tent is that the bed size is a California King! You’ll feel like you’re nestled in the lap of luxury while you fall asleep listening to the wind rustling through the trees.
This rooftop tent fits on most trucks and trailers.
GFC Rooftop Camper Tent
Weight: 135 lbs
The GFC Rooftop Tent is for serious campers and adventurers. This innovative tent stands apart from the rest with its 6″ height when the tent is closed. Then, when you pop this rooftop tent open, it towers at 4″ of living space.
The metal and composite construction makes this tent light at just 135 pounds without sacrificing durability,
This sleek rooftop tent comes with its own rack, but the ladder costs an extra $149. The tent’s maker says a typical rear hatch ladder like a Gobi or a C4 works just fine to climb into this pop up rooftop tent.
Tepui Tents Explorer Series
Weight: 136 lbs
This 4-season Tepui Explorer Rooftop Tent features the traditional A-frame silhouette of a ground tent, providing tons of vertical space when expanded. When you factor in how light and small this tent is, the interior space is surprisingly roomy.
Another nice feature is the ability to swap out your canopy for various seasons. You have to purchase these additionally, but if you’re a year-round camper, this could be well worth it.
Tepui Tents Explorer Series Autana Tent
The Tepui Explorer Series Autana rooftop tent is very similar to the earlier Tepui on our list, but with the added space of the Tuff Stuff. The A-frame roof gives way to a massive upper sleeping section, an enclosed upper ladder area, and a huge lower annex that can be turned into a second sleeping zone as mentioned above.
This might be too much space for your needs, but if you’re traveling with kids or dogs, or just like having some extra wiggle room, you’ll find plenty in this tent.
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Still not sure if you should get a rooftop tent?
Here’s a quick breakdown of the pluses and minuses of the best rooftop tents on the market.
Here are the pros of getting a rooftop tent for your SUV, truck or car:
Easy & Fast Setup.
As mentioned, actually installing the tent onto the top of your car takes a bit of time and effort. Once you get that out of the way, setting up these tents for use is an absolute breeze. Just pull up to your site, unfold or pop-up, set up your ladder, and…that’s about it. Even your mattress (and usually bedding, too) is ready to go.
There’s a couple of benefits to camping 7 feet off the ground. Sleeping on a raised platform means avoiding a lot of the ground critters and creepy crawlies that bite in the night. You’re also not going to wake up with rain trickling into your tent. On a less practical side, a raised bed makes for a better vantage point and usually better views, though if you’re in a campground, this might just mean better views of other campers.
Aside from the comfort of not being waterlogged, rooftop tents typically offer a much more comfortable bed than a ground tent. Almost all rooftop tents come with a mattress that’s usually surprisingly comfortable, sometimes even made out of thick memory foam, and lay flat on a sturdy, stick-free platform. This combination ends up feeling much closer to an RV or small hotel room than a ground tent.
Bonus storage space.
Rooftop tents are pretty much self-contained. There’s space for a mattress and usually some bedding inside the closed-up tent, meaning you don’t have to pack your tent and sleeping bags in your vehicle. That can actually save up a ton of space, and if you’re camping out of your car, a little extra space can go a long way.
Security & Privacy.
Sleeping on the ground is a rather vulnerable position, not just from animals and bugs, but from people, too. Camping on top of your vehicle puts you further out of harm’s reach. Even if you’re not worried about intruders, the extra elevation puts you out of sight, too. And if you’re like me and live for a good breeze and wide-open windows, not being so exposed and in eyesight of other campers offers a surprising and welcome amount of privacy.
Regular ground tents are built to be lightweight and portable, two things that rooftop tents don’t have to factor in quite as much. That means they can be made out of much more sturdy framing and materials. You’ll see that extra craftsmanship factored into the higher cost, but the investment of a good rooftop tent can last you a lifetime.
Price (compared to an RV).
Rooftop tents are much more expensive than a traditional tent, and that extra cost might seem overindulgent. But most campers find that a rooftop tent is more aptly compared to an RV.
With your sleeping situation permanently atop your vehicle, the back can be dedicated to cooking, storage, or other work spaces. This type of setup isn’t too far off from a small RV or campervan. So, if you’re comparing a rooftop tent to one of those, it’s much, much cheaper.
The cons of pop up roof tents:
When your tent is attached to your car, you can only camp where your car can go. That eliminates any type of backroads or backcountry camping. Though if you have a 4×4, you might find that doesn’t limit you all that much.
Another limitation is that you can’t just drive away from your camp for a quick errand.
Since these tents are pretty easy to close up, this might not be a huge issue, but if you’re planning to camp at one location for awhile, this inconvenience could turn into a major headache.
We’ve already mentioned this point a few times, but installing a rooftop tent can be a challenge. It’s not really due to the complication of installation, but just the awkwardness of maneuvering such a large, heavy unit. If you’ve got a friend (or two) handy, this won’t be too much of an issue, but attempting this solo might end up with a dented vehicle and/or ego.
Attaching a tent to your roof will rather obviously raise the overall height of your vehicle. For the most part, these things fold up pretty thin, so you’re not gaining a ton of height, but if you already struggle with clearance, a rooftop tent might push you above being able to access certain areas.
Price (compared to a ground tent).
Because of the added structural requirements of rooftop tents, they tend to fall well above the price points of traditional tents. That price tag is usually reflected in the quality of the overall product, but for some campers, the added investment just isn’t worth it.
FAQ about the best rooftop tents
Q: Can I put a rooftop tent on my car?
A: Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Technically, a rooftop tent can be installed on any vehicle with a roof rack. There are even some sedan-specific models that are meant to be fitted to smaller sedans and cars. As long as your roof is rated to hold the given weight of the unit while in motion, you should be okay, but it’s always better to play it safe than sorry.
Q: How much weight can the roof of a car hold?
A: This depends on your car. Every car’s roof has a different weight rating, and you should find your specific car’s rating. One thing to note, is that the roof rack counts as weight, too. So if your roof is rated to carry up to 180 lbs, but your roof rack weighs 35 lbs itself, you’re only left with 155 lbs leftover. It’s also important to note that these are driving weights, and your roof can hold much heavier loads when stationary, like when you’ll actually be using the tent.
Q: How much does a rooftop tent weigh?
A: In general, rooftop tents weigh between 100-200 pounds. This includes hardware, all tent materials, and bedding. Additional bedding is not included and should be factored into the overall weight.
Q: How many people can sleep in a rooftop camper?
A: Most rooftop tents sleep at least 2 campers, but some offer a surprising amount of space. Larger sizes of beds can fit up to 4 people, and annex rooms can expand that number even further.
Q: Is it hard to set up a rooftop tent?
A: It depends what you mean by “set up.” The actual installation process of attaching a rooftop tent to your car will take a bit of time and muscle. These units are really heavy, so you’ll need an assistant or two to help safely get the tent up on top of your vehicle. This process usually takes an hour or two.
The good thing about that is, once it’s done, it’s done. You can leave the tent attached to your roof for the whole of camping season and not have to worry about installation until next year.
Once that part’s done, the actual setup and takedown of the tent is a breeze. This is one of the huge benefits of rooftop tents, and some models can set up in as little as 60 seconds.
Q: Will my roof rack work with a rooftop tent?
A: Most rooftop tents can be installed on any roof rack. But since “most” isn’t “all,” make sure to check with the tent’s description, they’ll usually include any types of limitations or requirements for your roof rack.
If you want to be extra sure, check reviews, there’s often a ton of information about installation and what types of racks it works best with. You can also reach out to the company to ensure you’re purchasing a tent that will work with your vehicle.
Conclusion on the best rooftop tent for adventurous camping
Hopefully, this article has helped you make sense of the world of rooftop tents. If you’re finding yourself annoyed with the aggravations that come with ground tents, a rooftop tent might take your camping game up a notch.
If you take our advice and factor in your usage, how many people you’ll need, what season you’ll be using it during, and what convenient features you might desire, picking out the perfect rooftop tent can be easy and fun.
It might feel like a pretty steep investment, but the benefits will pay their weight ten times over.
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