Camping is a passion for many. Nature lovers appreciate the opportunity to spend the night in the wilderness, but many people don’t care for sleeping on the ground. Sleeping in a tent on top of a car is a great way to camp off the ground and keep your vehicle available for storage. A rooftop tent is comfortable and convenient, but it’s no small investment. This guide will show you the best rooftop tents available and tell you exactly what to look for in a good rooftop tent.
Quick Answer: Best Rooftop Tents
- Best Softshell: Thule Tepui Explorer Kukenam 3
- Best Hardshell: iKamper Skycamp 2.0
- Best for Small Cars: iKamper Skycamp Mini
- Best for Families: Thule Tepui Explorer Autana 4
- Best Budget: Smittybilt Overlander
What to Look for in a Good Rooftop Tent
Because of the strain it can put on your car, be sure you’re clear about all the details before purchasing a roof top tent. Here are the most important things to consider:
1. Hard-Shell vs. Soft-Shell Tents
Rooftop car tents either have a hard or soft shell and there are pros and cons to both types. Make your choice based on the type of travel you’ll be doing and which one you’re most comfortable with.
- Hard-Shell Tents: These are typically made of an aluminum, plastic, or fiberglass shell that surrounds a fabric tent canopy. The pros are a longer lifespan, better protection when inside, and a quick setup / teardown process. Hard-shell tents are waterproof, more aerodynamic, and more wind-resistant. Since the shell is hard you can store things like bikes, stand up paddle boards, or solar panels on top. These tents are also known for having more headroom and a more comfortable mattress. If you’re packing up and moving every day, you’ll appreciate the convenience of a hard-shell tent. The downsides are the weight, price, and the smaller floor plan.
- Soft-Shell Tents: If you’re looking for a cheap roof tent then it’ll have to be a soft shell. The biggest advantage to this type of tent is the price. Hard-shell tents can be two to three times more expensive than soft-shell tents. Another advantage is the larger floor plan. Soft-shell rooftop camping tents fold out beyond the roof of your vehicle, come in a variety of layouts, and can accommodate additions like awnings. However, they are prone to moisture build up and mold which gives them a shorter lifespan, plus they usually make more noise when the wind’s blowing. Also, while hard-shell tents are quick to set up, setting up a soft-shell tent is similar to setting up a backpacking tent.
Even the top roof tents are heavy and bulky. Some might be less than 100 pounds while others are up to 300 pounds. Before purchasing a tent, make sure your car can handle the weight and that the tent is compatible so you don’t damage it. Your vehicle comes with dynamic and static load ratings, these tell you how heavy the tent can be. The heavier the tent, the worse gas mileage you’ll get. If you have a taller vehicle you also need to make sure your car can still fit under bridges and into the public spaces you want to see.
Because rooftop tents are so heavy, you may be tempted to leave the tent on your car when you’re not camping. If your car is covered or in a garage most of the time then that’s not an issue, but if it’s not then the tent is more likely to suffer moisture and sun damage.
3. Space / Capacity
Some tents are made for two people while others can fit five or more. More important than the number of people the company says the tent can hold is the floor space, peak height, and mattress size. Understanding these numbers will help you make sure you’ll be comfortable.
The best car top tents were built to withstand inclement weather. If bad weather might be an issue be sure your awning offers full-coverage so the air flows without rain getting in. If you’ll be using the tent in the colder months, or at higher elevations, you may want to go with a tent which allows you to purchase additional insulation.
5. Ease of Installation
Most, if not all, on car tents require at least two people to carry and install them. Some are super user-friendly, while others are a bit more complicated and may require some visits to the hardware store. If you’re concerned about the installation process, you may be able to find people at a gear or hardware store willing to help you install it. If you’ll frequently be taking the tent on and off your car, it’s best to make sure the installation process is as smooth as possible.
While some people love roughing it in just a sleeping bag on the ground, those days are over when you buy a rooftop tent since it will include a mattress. The comfort of the integrated mattress will be largely determined by the thickness. Premium options may have mattresses with a gel or memory foam topper. If you fall in love with a tent, but the mattress doesn’t suit your needs, you can buy an after-market mattress. Just make sure it will fit in the tent well.
If the mattress doesn’t include them, you’ll need to buy a mattress cover and an anti-condensation mat. The cover needs to be breathable, waterproof, and easy to wash. Even with your anti-condensation mat, make sure you let your mattress breath between trips.
If you enjoy going on longer camping trips, an annex will increase your space while protecting you from the elements and providing privacy. Annexes attach to the tent’s extended platform and many enclose the ladder. They are perfect spaces for your camping stove, portable toilet, or additional living space.
Pro tip: If you want to buy an annex, make sure you get a tent that can accommodate it. You can’t pair an annex with a pop up tent that doesn’t fold out beyond the footprint of your vehicle.
8. External Storage
If you’ll be traveling with a lot of gear, consider a tent that’s specifically created to carry extra gear. Some include attachment points and some can accommodate racks.
Best Rooftop Tent Reviews
Now that you know what to look for, here are the best rooftop tents on the market today.
Best Softshell Rooftop Tent
Floor area: 37.3 sq. ft.
Peak height: 52 in.
Weight: 131 lbs.
The Thule Tepui Explorer Kukenam 3 is a three-person tent constructed of a 260g polyester/cotton blend and coated 600D ripstop fabric with a water-resistant coating. The floor dimensions are 96” x 56”, you’ll have 37.33ft2 of floor space, and the peak height is 52”. Inside are four large pockets for storing your accessories and gear, and the mesh panels give you plenty of ventilation. This tent packs down to 56” x 48” x 12” and weighs 131 pounds. For a tent that can withstand the elements in any season, the Thule Tepui Explorer Kukenam 3 is one of the best roof tent options on the market.
Best Hardshell Rooftop Tent
Floor area: 43.2 sq. ft.
Peak height: 45 in.
Weight: 160 lbs.
The iKamper Skycamp 2.0 is consistently among the top roof top tents available. In only one-minute you can be relaxing on the king-size mattress in comfort. The 160-pound tent can accommodate three adults or two adults and two children. The polyester/cotton canvas tent body is breathable and holds up well in the rain. Inside the tent, the roof has a window so you can stargaze, and there are two side windows that let you take in the views. The honeycomb aluminum floor extends to 85.8” x 82.6” and gives you 49ft2 of floor space. The tent also has two interior pockets and a peak height of 45”. When it’s time to hit the road, it packs down to 85.8” x 54.3” x 12.5”. The iKamper Skycamp 2.0 is easy to set up and durable enough to follow you for many years to come.
Best Rooftop Tent for Small Cars
Floor area: 28 sq. ft.
Peak height: 45 in.
Weight: 125 lbs.
Just because you have a small car doesn’t mean you have to give up on rooftop camping. This tent packs down to 57.1” x 54.3” x 12.5” and is great for small vehicles as long as the crossbars are at least 30” apart. The iKamper Skycamp Mini is a three-season tent that can sleep two people. It has a fiber-reinforced hard shell and quilted insulation. The three interior windows let you look out of both sides and the roof. It only weighs 125 pounds, but has a 900-pound weight limit. The peak height of the tent is 45” and the dimensions are 80.7” x 50.4”, which gives you a floor area of 28ft2. The tent is also equipped with a 150D polyester rainfly, mesh netting to keep mosquitoes out, and two interior pockets. The iKamper Skycamp Mini sets up in only one minute, and is an ideal option for a smaller vehicle or the bed of a truck.
Best Rooftop Tent for Families
Floor area: 48 sq. ft.
Peak height: 56 in.
Weight: 190 lbs.
Able to sleep up to four people, the Thule Tepui Explorer Autana 4 is a great car rooftop tent for family trips. It’s constructed of a 600D polyester/cotton blend to help withstand the elements. The tent fabric is also resistant to mold and UV rays. The Thule Tepui Explorer includes an extended canopy entrance and a removable annex for additional space. Four large internal pockets allow you to store your snacks, camping gear, etc. It has 48ft2 of floor space, floor dimensions of 96” x 72”, and a peak height of 56”. The 190-pound tent packs down to 72” x 48” x 12”. If space is what you need, you’ll love the Thule Tepui Explorer Autana 4.
Best Budget Rooftop Tent
Floor area: 36.9 sq. ft.
Peak height: 51 in.
Weight: 117 lbs.
Capacities: 2+, 3+
The best rooftop tent for the money is the Smittybilt Overlander. This 117-pound tent has a maximum load of 661 pounds and can sleep up to three people on a double/full mattress. This tent is easy to set up and take down and has a PVC cover to minimize moisture and UV damage when not in use. It opens up to 95” x 56” x 51” and has side windows and a sunroof. Included is mosquito netting and a 600D waterproof rainfly. The Smittybilt Overlander is the perfect budget-friendly tent on a car that doesn’t compromise on quality.
Best of Rest
Floor area: 28 sq. ft.
Peak height: 42 in.
Weight: 101 lbs.
Regardless of the season, this two-person tent is a durable mobile base camp. The Yakima SkyRise HD 2 offers four-season protection thanks to its 600D ripstop polyester fabric, 3,000mm waterproof PU coating, and 210D ripstop polyester rainfly. The extra large windows and doors allow for optimal ventilation and the guylines and D-rings let you easily secure your gear. The 2.5” thick wall-to-wall sleeping pad helps you sleep in comfort and is easy to clean. The abrasion-resistant tent floor measures 84” x 48” and has a floor area of 28ft2. The 102-pound tent has a peak height of 42”. If you want to be able to take spontaneous camping trips any time of year, check out the Yakima SkyRise HD 2.
Floor area: 28.7 sq. ft.
Peak height: 37 in.
Weight: 177 lbs.
Tepui Tents HyBox is a pop up roof top tent that works as a hybrid system. It has a zip that lets you easily switch from cargo box to tent. Its aerodynamic shell offers a fuel-efficient and quiet ride. The floor dimensions are 81” x 51”, it has an area of 28.7ft2 , and the tent has a peak height of 37”. The foam mattress is 3” thick and has a removable cotton cover. All four openings have mesh to keep bugs out and the canopy has a waterproof rating of 3,000mm. This two-person tent packs down to 84” x 55” 12.75” and weighs 155 pounds. If you’re looking for a three-season hybrid system, the Tepui Tents HyBox might be the one for you.
Floor area: 34 sq. ft.
Peak height: 46 in.
Weight: 93 lbs.
This low-profile tent is ideal if you’re concerned about your vehicle’s total height. The Front Runner Roof Top Tent is a four-season tent made from a 260g 600d polyester/cotton ripstop material that sleeps two. The interior of the tent measures 96” x 51” and its peak height is 46”. From the 2.25” thick mattress you can admire the stars through the skylight vent roof windows. The interior also has two pockets so you can store your personal items. The roof and side windows can be zipped or unzipped based on your preference. The tent weighs 93 pounds, has a weight limit of 600 pounds, and closes down to 51” x 48” x 8.5”. Its low profile is a big benefit not only for the total height of your vehicle, but also because it reduces wind resistance throughout your road trip. The Front Runner Roof Top Tent is a comfortable and convenient option no matter where you choose to camp.
Floor area: 37.3 sq. ft.
Peak height: 52 in.
Weight: 154 lbs.
The Tuff Stuff Ranger Overland was designed to provide you with the ultimate comfort, ease, and convenience when camping. The 96” x 56” x 52” tent can sleep two adults, and the annex room can accommodate a queen mattress. The tent weighs 116 pounds, can hold up to 685 pounds, and unfolds in minutes with no tools necessary. The body is made of a 280g polyester/cotton ripstop and the rainfly is made of a 420D polyester/oxford fabric. This is one of the best roof top tents for Jeeps and other vehicles that can go offroading, as it was created to keep you comfortable even in remote locations. If you don’t have a Jeep or SUV, the Tuff Stuff Ranger Overland will mount to any other vehicle with cross bars and certainly enhance your camping trip.
10. iKamper X-Cover
Floor area: 46.9 sq. ft.
Peak height: 46 in.
Weight: 120 lbs.
If you’re not a fan of bulky PVC covers, try out the iKamper X-Cover. This soft-shell, low-profile design only takes three minutes to set up so you can spend more time enjoying nature. Integrated is a hardtop cover to give you easy shelter and cargo hauling. The tent body is made of a polyester/cotton canvas and has a 150D rainfly. The honeycomb aluminum floor measures 90.5” x 75” and has an area of 47ft2. The 2.5” thick king mattress sleeps three adults or two adults and two children. When opened it has a peak height of 46”, but the tent packs down to 75” x 44” x 14.1” and weighs 120 pounds. The iKamper X-Cover is a great low-profile option for three-season camping.
For some, rooftop camping is much easier than regular camping, so it’s understandable that it’s starting to take off. Using a rooftop tent adds an additional layer of comfort, convenience, and safety to your camping trips. You’ll definitely be able to find the perfect option for you and your vehicle in this guide.