Are you looking for a quick and easy way to camp comfortably while on the go? Over the past few years, rooftop camping tents have become an increasingly popular way to experience camping. They are known for being lightweight and easy to set up and store.
Even though the concept of sleeping on your car might seem a little bananas, once you’ve slept in a rooftop tent it’s difficult to go back to regular camping on the ground. In this article, we’ll learn the basics of rooftop tents and provide useful tips on how to choose the best one for your needs.
What is Rooftop Camping?
Rooftop camping literally involves pitching a tent on the roof of your vehicle. Unlike traditional camping, it’s a unique experience that allows you to camp wherever your car can take you. It’s a version of “glamping” that offers some creature comforts of home, while being surrounded by nature.
Rooftop tents come in different shapes and sizes – some versions are designed with fold-outs; some offer side openings; others are made with pop-up roofs; while aluminum options remain available too.
How do rooftop tents compare to regular tents?
Rooftop tents are convenient and unique way to camp because they’re lightweight, easy to set up, and atop the roof of a you car. They also give you the option of sheltering in place when a ground tent setup is not ideal, especially when the ground is wet or covered in snow.
Moreover, they offer much more protection from mother nature, including bugs, dirt, rocks, water and wind. On top of that, they’re a log cheaper than a trailer or camper van, which providing some similar benefits.
For all of these reasons and more, rooftop camping tents have their own distinct advantages and disadvantages in comparison to regular tents.
Pros of Rooftop Tents
- You’re elevated off the ground, with a 360 view of your surroundings. Rooftop tents give you a bird’s eye perspective, providing the ultimate view of the nature surrounding you.
- Bugs and most wildlife can’t get you! Rooftop tents keep you away from a lot of the things that make camping a drag, like bugs and wild animals sneaking into your tent for a snack.
- Rooftop tents are more comfortable than sleeping in a ground tent because they have built-in memory foam beds. You don’t need sleeping pads or cots like you do in regular tents because the bed is already built-in.
- They are easy to transport and setup. Roof top tents attach to your car and stay there as long as you like. They setup fast and some can even be opened / closed with the simple push of a button.
- Rooftop tents are a cheaper alternative to Campers and RVs. These tents are a fraction of the cost of motorized options like campers and RVs.
Cons of Rooftop Tents
- Rooftop tents are more $$$ expensive. Rooftop tents are much pricier than regular camping tents. Entry-level models can cost around a thousand dollars, and a premium model can cost $2,000 and more.
- Rooftop tents can weight your car down and use up additional gas. These tents can impose additional drag on your vehicle, decreasing fuel economy and mileage.
Rooftop Tent Architecture
- More durable and weather-resistant: Hard shell tents are made of a hard outer shell, with tougher, tear-resistant materials that give you better protection in rain, wind, and sun.
- Easier setup / take down: Hard shell rooftop tents typically have a push-mechanism or automated crank that allows the tent to be set up in a matter of minutes, requiring very little physical effort.
- Aerodynamic design: Hard shell rooftop tents have an aerodynamic shape that allows for a smoother ride while you’re driving at higher speeds, reducing air drag and noise.
- More expensive: The price of hard shell can range from $1,000 to more than $4,000, depending on the model.
- More fuel consumption: Hard shell roof top tents are heavier, which can cause the vehicle to use more fuel, especially at higher speeds.
- More affordable: Soft shell are the most popular type of rooftop tent because they are cheaper and easier to install.
- Lighter, better fuel economy: Soft shells are made with flexible materials that are lighter compared to hard shell tents. This reduced weight puts less strain on the vehicle resulting in better fuel economy.
- Longer setup time: Soft shell rooftop tents generally require more time and effort to set up because the process involves unzipping and extending the fabric, inserting poles, and securing the tent to the car’s rooftop.
- Less waterproof: The soft shell tent fabric is more susceptible to leaks, especially during heavy rain or snowfall.
- Less insulation: The fabric walls of soft shell tents may not provide as much thermal insulation in cold temperatures.
- Hybrids rooftop tents combine elements from both hard shell and soft shell styles. They are composed of a metal frame with a combination of canvas and fiberglass walls.
- Hybrids provide lightweight construction combined with durable materials, making them an ideal option if you plan on roof-top camping often but want something lighter for easier transport.
Vehicle Considerations for a Rooftop Tent
It’s important to consider several features of your car before you buy a roof top tent, including weight capacity, dimensions, and roof rack compatibilty, to name a few.
Consider the weight capacity of your car
Make sure your car can handle the weight of your rooftop camping gear, including the tent and any additional accessories. Rooftop tents typically range from around 80 to well over 200 lbs, so it’s important to make sure that the carrying capacity of your car or SUV is up-to-par. Check the weight capacity of your vehicle to ensure that you’re using a roof rack and installation system that can safely support your roof-mounted camping gear. Exceeding the load limit is dangerous and can cause serious accidents, in addition to damaging car components like suspension or brake systems.
Check the dimensions of your car
Make sure the roof of the vehicle is large enough to fit your rooftop tent and any additional gear you plan to bring.
Make sure your roof rack is compatible
A roof rack is necessary for supporting the weight of the tent, and everything inside, so the roof rack needs to strong enough to handle the load.
There are a number of mounting options, depending on the make and model of your car, so make the specifications of the roof rack are compatible.
Make sure your car has solid suspension
You car ‘s suspension needs to be sturdy enough to handle the weight of your rooftop tent and camping gear.
A vehicle with a flatter roof is better for a rooftop tent
A flat roof provides a secure base for your rooftop tent and makes it easier to set up.
Think about how much insulation you need, based on the weather
Insulation is an important feature in rooftop tents, as it helps to retain heat and regulate temperature. It also serves as a thermal barrier between the indoor living space and outside environment, helping to keep temperatures consistent through the day and night.
Hard shell rooftop tent insulation
- Hard-shell tents generally provide better insulation than soft-shell tents, as their rigid outer shell can better protect against wind and cold temperatures.
- The hard-shell design can also help retain heat inside the tent more effectively.
- Some hard-shell tents may have additional insulation features or materials built into the tent walls or floor, further improving their thermal performance.
Soft shell rooftop tent insulation
- Soft-shell tents typically have less insulation compared to hard-shell tents due to their fabric construction.
- This can make them less suitable for colder climates or seasons, as they may struggle to retain heat effectively.
- However, some soft-shell tents may have thicker fabric or optional insulation add-ons to improve their thermal performance.
Good ventilation is essential for proper airflow to reduce stuffiness inside the tent and prevent condensation from forming on walls or flooring Roof top tents have built-in ventilation systems like mesh windows, vents, skylights and adjustable windows to manage air flow.
Hard shell rooftop tent ventilation
- Usually have built-in vents or windows.
- The vents and windows can often be opened or closed.
- Might offer less natural airflow due to its more rigid structure.
Soft shell rooftop tent ventilation
- Often have mesh windows and openings, which allow for greater airflow and natural ventilation.
- The fabric construction and design promotes air circulation, helping to reduce condensation inside the tent.
- May also be more prone to drafts.
Case Study: 4 Months with the Roam Rambler Hard Shell Tent
Video: Testing the Roam Rambler Hard Shell Rooftop Tent
The YouTube channel TrailRecon did an extensive test of the Roam Rambler hard shell rooftop tent. The Rambler was attached to a Jeep for four months to test how the shelter performs both when in use and storage.
Measuring 81 inches in length, 48 inches in width, and standing at 11 inches tall, the Rambler boasts a low-profile design that sets it apart from many other rooftop tents.
The tent weighs 165 pounds and the exterior shell features a black gel coat reminiscent of boat hulls. The shell itself is crafted using hand-laid fiberglass layers, sandwiched between a quarter-inch thick high-density foam. Due to the height of the vehicle the tent was attached to, it could not be parked in the garage. However, the improved aerodynamics of the tent made up for this inconvenience.
Rooftop Tent Setup
Video: Demo of a soft shell rooftop tent setup
Video: Demo of a hard shell rooftop tent setup
Vehicles that work with rooftop tents
This is not an exhaustive list, but the list below are examples of vehicles that work well with rooftop tents. If you don’t see your car, don’t worry – many cars not on this list will work. Contact the rooftop tent manufacturer and confirm that your vehicle will work before you buy the rooftop tent.
- Midsize Sedan
- Honda Accord
- Toyota Camry
- Subaru Outback
- Jeep Wrangler
- Toyota 4Runner
- Toyota Tacoma
- Nissan Frontier
- Chevrolet Colorado
Frequently Asked Questions
1. What is a rooftop tent?
A rooftop tent, also known as a roof top tent or RTT, is a type of tent that is designed to be mounted on top of a vehicle’s roof rack or crossbar. It provides an elevated sleeping area and is a popular choice for camping and outdoor enthusiasts.
2. What should I know before buying a rooftop tent?
Before purchasing a rooftop tent, there are several key factors to consider. One important aspect is the weight of the tent as it will impact the load capacity of your vehicle’s roof. Additionally, think about the number of people it should accommodate and the level of comfort you desire.
3. How much does a rooftop tent weigh?
The weight of a rooftop tent can vary depending on the type and size you choose. It is crucial to check the weight capacity of your vehicle’s roof rack or crossbar before buying a rooftop tent to ensure it can handle the weight.
4. Can I camp inside the rooftop tent?
Absolutely! Rooftop tents are specifically designed for camping and provide a comfortable sleeping area elevated from the ground. Most rooftop tents come with built-in mattresses and some even have additional features like windows, storage pockets, and integrated awnings.
5. How do I mount a rooftop tent on my vehicle?
The process of mounting a rooftop tent may vary depending on the brand and model. However, it generally involves securing the tent to the roof rack or crossbars of your vehicle using mounting brackets or straps. It is essential to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for proper installation.
6. Should I choose a hard shell or a soft shell rooftop tent?
Both hard shell and soft shell rooftop tents have their advantages and disadvantages. Hard shell tents are more durable and provide better insulation, while soft shell tents are usually more affordable and easier to set up. Consider your camping needs and preferences before making a decision.
7. What should I keep in mind regarding my vehicle’s roof?
Before buying a rooftop tent, check your vehicle’s owner’s manual to determine if it is rated for rooftop loads and if any specific regulations or guidelines need to be followed. It’s also worth considering the aerodynamic impact and the overall weight capacity of your vehicle’s roof when loaded with the tent and other camping gear.
8. What are the weight limits for rooftop tents?
The weight limits for rooftop tents depend on the tent’s design and the load capacity of your vehicle’s roof rack. Generally, rooftop tents can accommodate 400 to 800 pounds (180 to 360 kg), including the weight of the tent itself. It’s essential to ensure you don’t exceed the recommended weight limits.
9. How long does it take to set up and take down a rooftop tent?
Setting up and taking down a rooftop tent typically takes around 5 to 15 minutes, depending on the tent’s design and your experience level. Softshell tents tend to be quicker to set up, while hardshell tents may take a little longer due to their heavier construction. With practice, you’ll become more efficient at setting up and taking down your rooftop tent.
10. How can I prevent mold and mildew in my rooftop tent?
To prevent mold and mildew growth in your rooftop tent, follow these tips:
- Ensure the tent is completely dry before packing it away. If you must pack it wet, unpack and air-dry it as soon as possible.
- Avoid storing the tent in a damp or humid environment.
- Regularly clean the tent to remove dirt and organic material that can encourage mold growth.
- Ventilate the tent well during use by opening windows and vents.
- Consider using a moisture-absorbing product, such as silica gel packets, to help control humidity inside the tent when stored.
11. How often should I replace my rooftop tent?
The frequency of replacing your rooftop tent depends on factors such as the quality of the tent, how often you use it, and how well you maintain it. With proper care and maintenance, a high-quality rooftop tent can last for several years.
Keep an eye on signs of wear and tear, such as fraying fabric, damaged zippers, or weakened seams. If you notice significant damage or the tent no longer provides adequate protection, it’s time to consider a replacement.
12. What is the average amount of time required to install a rooftop tent?
The time required to install a rooftop tent varies depending on the tent’s design and your experience level. On average, it takes between 1 to 2 hours to install a rooftop tent for the first time. Once you become familiar with the process, future installations may take less time. Make sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions and ensure the tent is properly secured to your vehicle’s roof rack.
13. How do I know if the rooftop tent fits my vehicle?
To determine if a rooftop tent fits your vehicle, you’ll need to consider the following factors:
- Roof rack compatibility: Ensure your vehicle has a roof rack or crossbars that can support the weight and dimensions of the tent. Check the tent manufacturer’s guidelines for specific compatibility requirements.
- Weight capacity: Verify that your vehicle’s roof rack can support the combined weight of the tent and its occupants. Consult your vehicle’s owner’s manual for the maximum roof load capacity.
- Vehicle dimensions: Consider the size and shape of your vehicle to ensure the tent can be properly mounted without obstructing doors, windows, or other essential features.
14. How do I know if my vehicle is compatible with a rooftop tent?
To determine if your vehicle is compatible with a rooftop tent, follow these steps:
- Check your vehicle’s owner’s manual for information on its maximum roof load capacity and any specific roof rack requirements.
- Ensure your vehicle has a compatible roof rack or crossbars that can support the weight and dimensions of the tent.
- Review the tent manufacturer’s guidelines for vehicle compatibility and mounting requirements.
If your vehicle meets these criteria, it is likely compatible with a rooftop tent. However, it’s always a good idea to consult with the tent manufacturer or a professional installer for specific guidance and recommendations based on your vehicle and the tent model you’re considering.
Rooftop Tent Information and Resources
- Manufacturer websites:
- Online forums and communities:
- RoofTentInsider: https://rooftentinsider.com/13-must-have-tips-for-roof-top-tents-an-owners-advice/
- Overland Bound: https://www.overlandbound.com/forums/
- Expedition Portal: https://expeditionportal.com/forum/
- Reddit’s r/rooftoptents: https://www.reddit.com/r/rooftoptents/
- Blogs and articles:
- YouTube channels:
- Books and guides:
- “The Rooftop Tent Guide” by Roofnest: https://roofnest.com/pages/rooftop-tent-guide
- “A Beginner’s Guide to Rooftop Tent Camping” by The Dyrt: https://thedyrt.com/magazine/gear/rooftop-tent-camping-guide/
- “Roof Top Tent Guide: Everything You Need to Know” by Overland Bound: https://www.overlandbound.com/roof-top-tent-guide/
- “The Overlander’s Handbook” by Chris Scott: https://www.amazon.com/Overlanders-Handbook-Worldwide-Expeditions-Vehicles/dp/1905864469
- “Vehicle-Dependent Expedition Guide” by Tom Sheppard: https://www.amazon.com/Vehicle-dependent-Expedition-Guide-Exploring-Planning/dp/0953232420
- Social media:
- Instagram (search for rooftop tent-related hashtags): https://www.instagram.com/explore/tags/rooftoptent/
- Facebook (search for rooftop tent and overlanding groups): https://www.facebook.com/search/groups/?q=rooftop%20tent
In conclusion, rooftop camping tents offer numerous benefits, including an elevated sleeping area, enhanced comfort, quick setup, versatility, better views, increased storage, and all-terrain suitability. These advantages make rooftop tents an attractive option for outdoor enthusiasts looking to elevate their camping experience.
For those considering rooftop camping, it’s essential to research and invest in a high-quality tent that fits your specific needs and vehicle. Consult manufacturer guidelines, read reviews, and engage with the rooftop camping community for insights and recommendations. Proper maintenance and care of your rooftop tent will ensure its longevity, allowing you to enjoy the many benefits of this unique camping solution for years to come. Embrace the adventure and explore the great outdoors with the comfort and convenience of a rooftop tent.