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The Need to Escape
Living in today’s modern and overcrowded world, many people feel the urge to get away from the stresses of their day-to-day lives. For some, these retreats aren’t necessarily a means of escaping work or family-related responsibilities but a way to heal, recover, and recharge both the body and mind.
One of the more popular ways to go about this is to head out to a secluded location and camp out for a few days. Of course, when you read or hear about how excellent camping is, you probably don’t stop to think about the gear that is required to make your camping comfort level adequate. A person who lacks proper equipment can easily have their hopes and dreams of a relaxing weekend in the wilderness crushed due to constant discomfort.
One item in particular that can make or break the enjoyment of any overlanding adventure or camping trip is a tent. Just like anything in life, some tents are excellent and some that are incredibly bad.
What makes any particular tent good, bad, or in between is a matter of personal preference, but most people want their tent to be comfortable, sturdy, and easy to set up and take down. Sounds easy, right? Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as you would think because, with the incredible advancements in a tent technology, some manufacturers have either over-complicated the installation of their products by including any number of design flaws that can negatively impact one’s ability to enjoy their trip.
There is also a pretty crowded field of tent models to choose from – pop up canvas tents with an added rain fly, waterproof inflatable tents with a telescoping ladder, mesh hammock tents, softshell, hardshell, and the list goes on and on. The sheer number of purchase and price options can make it hard to differentiate one from the other, though each brand offers its unique characteristics. Even people who are considered wilderness veterans can have a tough time weeding through the excessive amount of options. So, instead of looking for a regular tent, a lot of comfort-minded adults and savvy camping explorers turn to rooftop tents for secure overland tent products and camp shelter needs. There’s no doubt that after a bit of travel and experience using a rooftop tent, you will, too. Rooftop tent camping gear is some of the most durable, waterproof, and travel-friendly purchase choices available on the market today.
So, for campers thinking about purchasing a durable tent model for their next travel adventure, search no more because this article features all the information you need to make a great choice. Each model and option listed here includes the essential camping elements and features. All shelters are with enhanced durability as well as gear for both exterior and interior storage capacity, quick installation, and overall comfort, making them the best rooftop tent models available.
What is a Rooftop Tent?
Before we delve into the rather extensive catalog of the best rooftop tents, you first have to know precisely what a rooftop tent is as some people have never seen or heard of one. A rooftop tent is a portable weatherproof enclosure that sits on the roof of a car, truck, or SUV and is accessed by an aluminum ladder. These are mainly used as a place to sleep while on camping trips, but I’m sure folks have made use of them at tailgate parties or any other outdoor type of activity.
For those who are new to the idea of rooftops tents, it may be a bit hard to imagine a closed shelter with windows and an attached aluminum ladder sitting safely and soundly on a platform on top of your vehicle. These tents require mounting brackets attached to the unshapely roof rack and feature a suitable lightweight design that allows the size of the frame to be sturdy with enough internal capacity to sleep two or three adults comfortably without the fear of falling off.
These worries are usually quick to dissipate the first time someone goes camping using a rooftop tent. Even though the frame design, aluminum ladder, mounting materials, mesh interior, exterior window options, polyester fabric, and other accessories don’t weigh much (usually around 120 lbs-150 lbs). Still, the durable materials and design make mounting the ladder, setting up the annex, camping, and sleeping very easy. Most models are designed to allow for a relatively quick set up that two adults can accomplish rather easily.
It’s also important to note that these tents require a vehicle with a roof rack and tend to work better with larger vehicles due to the aerodynamics of the extra weight during travel, which vary from model to model. Don’t expect to have the same experience using a rooftop tent with frame design and size not suitable for the size of your vehicle.
What to Know
Most websites that sell rooftop tents have a compatibility guide where you can see if your vehicle’s cargo capacity and model are compatible with their tents. This is helpful as each brand of the tent has a specific weight capacity, and travel laws requirements them to be used and transported safely.
So, by using the quick compatibility search and guide, you’ll know before you buy If your vehicle doesn’t fit the specifications. These weight limits and other requirements for rooftop tents are a rather important issue to cover with thoughtful consideration and must be adequately explored before deciding on a particular product.
Another thing that I need to cover is the fact that rooftop tents can typically only hold as much weight and storage as the car roof rack is designed for. The longer and thicker the roof rack is, the more weight it can carry with comfort, but since each car type and subsequent car rack is different, you must refer to the specifications of your vehicle to get the most accurate weight allowance.
Generally, the manufacturers of rooftop tents account for each of the adults to weigh 200 pounds maximum, so a typical rooftop tent made for two adults is designed to hold a maximum of 400 pounds plus the weight of the tent itself and added accessories. Again, using the company website compatibility guide makes this process incredibly easy.
Hardshell Vs. Softshell
The last thing I want to touch on before we get to our rundown of the best rooftop tents is the differences between tents made with a softshell and those made with a hard shell. These two types of tents each have their pros and cons, and it’s essential to understand what some of those are to find the right fit for you.
We’ll start with hardshell rooftop tents, which offer a hardened tent fabric material at the top and bottom of the tent that add an extra exterior layer of waterproof protection and durability from the outdoor elements.
The pros that a hard shell rooftop tent offers include unique accessories such as a rainfly and waterproof annex and a fancy ladder. They’re also more comfortable to drive with because when mounted on the top of a vehicle, they can be stored in a more secure, closed, and compact manner than a softshell tent. This makes the storage space and travels on a car roof rack more aerodynamic, saving you both gas and time when going from place to place.
Hardshell rooftop tents also offer their owners a more straight forward installation set up right out of the box, with some only taking one adult a couple of minutes to erect, even with an extra rainfly. Taking the tent down is relatively easy, too, with only a couple of latches and buckles to manipulate. Perhaps the best thing about hardshell tents is their ability to protect their occupants from the outside weather.
The hardened material on these tents are waterproof and will undoubtedly keep you warm through the night. As for negatives, the biggest issue with a hard shell tent is its limited sleeping space due to weight limits and the physics of how these tents operate. Due to the hardened material on the top and bottom, they tend to be a bit smaller than soft shell tents and are usually somewhat cramped, even for just one or two people.
Softshell tents are very much like a typical tent made with elastic nylon type material that is both flexible and weatherproof. The bottoms of these tents are usually made of more rigid material like aluminum, but the rest is made up of fabric, window included.
Though this fabric allows for more than just a few inches of extra space within the waterproof tent, it has to be transported in a rather bulky case, so it’s a little harder to drive with. Storing it in a case also means that it takes more time to set it up and put it away. Another common issue with the soft shell rooftop tent brand is that the material isn’t as suitable for use in harsher weather as the hard shell and can be prone to damage and leaks.
Both varieties of tents have significantly more pros than cons and, although they weren’t all mentioned in this article, the information provided should give you enough information to determine which type suits you best.
Now that we’ve established a rather extensive knowledge base about rooftop tents, we can begin to break down which products are the best on the market. These opinions are not mine alone, as other reviews from both veteran and novice campers were taken into consideration.
So, without further ado, listed in no particular order, here are the best rooftop tents and a little bit of information on what you can expect from each one.
The Smittybilt Overlander begins our lineup and is widely regarded as a top-flight product due to its many attractive qualities. The Smittybilt is incredibly lightweight at just 115 lbs making it easy to transport and set up.
The material is lightweight, waterproof, and incredibly durable. Both the interior and exterior walls are made of polyester fabric treated with polyurethane and, if that’s not enough protection, it also includes a durable rainfly that can be attached and removed if and when you need a little extra protection from the rain.
What people tend to like most about this Smittybilt waterproof softshell tent are its netted ceiling windows, which allow you to look out at the stars and sky. These windows are also useful vents on hot days and, since they are made from a mesh material, no bugs can sneak through, either.
Other features that make this two-person rooftop tent stand out amongst its competitors are a two-inch-thick high-density foam mattress. It is about the same size as a queen bed. Also, the addition of built-in LED lights which wrap around the top of the tent and are great for late-night reading or card playing.
Next up is the Yakima Skyrise 3, which earns a spot on our docket of the best rooftop tents because it offers not only a wall-to-wall mattress but also a removable cover, so cleaning up after your trip is relatively easy. The aluminum poles that the Yakima is constructed with are the same type used in hardcore backcountry tents, so they are top of the line as well as lightweight and incredibly robust. The Yakima Skyrise’s lightweight fabric is noteworthy as well because it is very airy and won’t make you feel like you’re stuck in a sauna. This makes sleeping in hot, humid weather much more tolerable.
Much like the other tents in this article, the Skyrise also comes with skylights. It also has a high-density foam mattress, mesh panels, and rainfly protection. What makes this tent stand apart from the others is the different colors and size options you can choose from. There are even unique camouflage tints you can choose from, though this option tends to sell out very quickly.
Moving on to the next product, the Front Runner Roof Top Tent is notable because it has managed to squeeze in all the standard amenities you’d expect from a quality tent and did so with the total weight of the product being only ninety pounds or so.
The lightweight nature of this product is excellent for both novice and experienced outdoor enthusiasts because not only is it easy to transport, but the fabric can also stand up to all types of weather. I’ve heard of folks using this same tent to patiently wait out storms with wind gusts of thirty to forty miles per hour who admitted that, although it was a rather frightening experience, the tent held up beautifully.
The usual perks are found in the Front Runner tent, including air vents, an insulated aluminum base, and covered mattress.
The iKamper SkyCamp 2.0 is a relatively new hardshell tent that has earned enough praise to make its profile, design, and features popular among campers in the somewhat short amount of time it has been around, mainly because of its unique size.
Claiming to be the world’s most enormous expandable hard shell rooftop tent, is something to marvel at. What makes it noteworthy is how much sleeping space there is inside while maintaining a relatively compact and sleek outer appearance. The inside of the tent folds out, creating enough room for two adults and two children to sleep comfortably.
Tepui Baja Kukenam
Our search continues with the Tepui Baja Kukenam tent, which has evoked praise from many outdoor enthusiasts for its interchangeable canopy. This standout feature offers owners the option to swap out either a no-see-um mesh shade canopy if the weather is hot and humid, an ultralight nylon rip-stop canopy with a water-resistant coating for colder and wetter climates, or an aluminum one for more extreme types of weather.
Of course, the Tepui also has all the classic features you’d expect from a quality rooftop tent, including extra storage space and bed cover or annex accessories. Still, the fact that it’s a waterproof, comfortable sleeping shelter no matter what the weather is has earned it a spot as one of the best rooftop tents available.
ARB Simpson III
With so many fantastic tents on the market today, it’s vital for manufacturers to create a product that differentiates itself from the others. The ARB Simpson III does just that in a streamlined, straight forward design that allows owners to quickly and conveniently get it put up and taken apart.
This idea is one that customers appreciate as its ease of setup and takedown reduces the stress of these somewhat tedious chores. The convenience doesn’t end there. This tent also includes a bit more interior space than some of the other models, and the tent fabric, windows, and ladder are all made from extremely durable materials that will comfortably protect you from the elements for many years.
The next tent option, which reviewers remark as being one of the best rooftop tents, doesn’t have anyone thing in particular that elevates it above the others. Yet, it still makes our lineup because, top to bottom, this tent did everything right. With a focus on quality construction and materials, this one accomplished what very few other tents have been able to do, which is to create a product with no glaring flaws.
The aluminum floors and poles, stainless steel hinges, brackets, fabric, and zippers all have a quality feel about them, and when everything is put together, you’ll surely notice how strong and secure this tent is.
Also, the installation and takedown are stress-free, and they even put a bit of extra time and energy into making the transport cover a little bigger than average. This feature is a high selling point because this crucial part of the rooftop tent is often overlooked with manufacturers. They tend to skimp on the cover, which usually causes it to be a bit too small for the tent to comfortably fit, making it a pain to put away, especially when the weather is super cold.
The GFC Rooftop is another hardshell rooftop tent that campers enjoy not only because it’s one of the best hardshell rooftop tents available but also could very well be the best overall rooftop tent on the market.
What sets it apart is its slim design -the slimmest hardshell tent on the market – and the fast setup and takedown. Plus, it has a rather incredible four feet of headspace.
The mind-blowing part is how they managed to build a fantastic and supremely made hardshell rooftop tent with a weight of only 135 lbs. Hardshell tents usually weigh somewhere in the neighborhood of 170 lbs, so their ability to craft one with all the amenities and have it weigh 40 lbs less than the others is something to marvel at.
The TMB Motorsport is the next tent included as one of the best hard shell Roof Tents. Any car, truck, or van equipped with crossbars and roof rails would do. This unique perk is very difficult to do and, though the other tents on this list do a great job at making sure their tents work with numerous types of vehicles, the TMB Motorsport goes above and beyond in this respect.
Not only can the TMB Motorsport attach to nearly any roof rack set, but it also does so in an aerodynamic way, which makes driving with it much more manageable. You’ll surely be amazed at this product not only with its ease to cover and transport but also with how it expands into a lightweight, medium-size tent.
Last but certainly not least is the CVT Mt. Rainier Extended Stargazer Pioneer. This is an absolute monster of a tent. Measuring around six by eight feet, this tent is big enough for three and possibly four people to sleep comfortably. There is also an included annex that sits off the side of the vehicle giving this tent even more room.
This tent pretty much took the average specs of your regular sized rooftop tent and made everything a size bigger. This includes but isn’t limited to more windows, a bigger ladder, and a thicker mattress.
You might think that since this tent is so spacious, it must be a bit unstable. This is not the case with the CVT Mt.Rainier Extended Stargazer Pioneer. Because its aluminum frame and lightweight polyester fabric are expertly made, all the pieces form together to create an incredibly secure fortress-like tent.
I’m sure after digesting all the information in this article, you’re probably left with at least a couple of questions about rooftop tents that I may not have touched on. To remedy this, here are a few of the more popular and commonly asked questions and answers regarding rooftop tents.
Can you use a top roof tent on the ground?
The answer to this question is that these tents are specifically designed to be used in coordination with a vehicle of some sort. But where there’s a will there’s a way and, though it isn’t recommended to use a rooftop tent on the ground, it’s been done before. That said, doing this is somewhat convoluted, and you’ll more than likely end up damaging some part of the tent during the process.
Can I stop to sleep anywhere with a rooftop tent?
Similar to the above question, you can certainly stop and sleep anywhere, but you’ll be running the risk of legal issues if you’re in an area where it’s not permitted. Stick to campgrounds and other places where it’s permissible, and you won’t be bothering anyone.
What are the general maintenance guidelines?
Just like anything else, proper care and maintenance are required to make sure your tent lasts a long time. You can use regular dish soap and s scrubbing brush for the fabric, zippers, and other metal parts. It’s not any different than cleaning anything else, but take the time to carefully inspect the details of your rooftop tent both before and after you use it.