Rooftop tents are growing in popularity because they provide campsite sleeping quarters above the hard dirt and prowling animals.
Mounted on vehicles, they’re also easy to deploy and free interior space for cargo or companions. To help pick a tent that’s right for you, we’ve compiled the following rooftop tent buyer’s guide. Below, you’ll find what’s currently on the market, as well as what to look for before buying.
It’s important to know your vehicle’s payload capacity before buying. Don’t assume every truck or SUV with a roof rack is capable. Many should handle several hundred pounds, but always reference your vehicle owner’s manual for its maximum capacity.
Keep in mind that most rooftop tents are heavy. What you lose in weight savings is made up in durability. Also remember to factor in the weight of each tent occupant. A vehicle’s maximum capacity needs to cover both the tent and its users.
Payload capacity isn’t just for the vehicle itself but also important for each rack system. The owner’s manual lists the capacity for its native roof rails and crossbars. These also need to account for both the weight of the rooftop tent and whoever intends to sleep inside.
If you plan on buying an aftermarket rack, check what’s offered by the company whose rooftop tent you intend to purchase. Many are tailored specifically for their tents, yet offer the versatility for other rack accessories or tent brands in the future.
For instance, Yakima’s OutPost HD truck bed rack works with its SkyRise rooftop tent. But it is also compatible with gear from other brands, such as Thule or Inno. This includes roof baskets, cargo carriers or other rack systems.
A rooftop tent offers a flat surface to sleep on, but how comfortable you make it is up to you. Some tents feature built-in bedding and mattresses, but others may need an upgrade. Many tent makers have bedding accessories to match their products. These have the added benefit of not needing to be packed separately when closing up camp.
Other accessories to consider are lighting attachments and an extending annex for added privacy. Awnings can make sitting around your vehicle more comfortable. And if you have room for a water tank, there’s even a shower.
Your vehicle plays a large part in deciding what size tent is right for you, but personal preference is also important. Those bringing a companion should size up accordingly, while solo trippers might want a smaller option.
Size also affects pricing, so consider giving up elbow room if you need to save on the bottom line.
Once you’ve picked your tent, mounting it is the final obstacle. Thankfully, rooftop tents are designed to be deployed and packed up quickly. Most manufacturers have installation videos on their websites. Some may even offer to install it for you, depending on your location.
ROOFTOP TENT BUYER’S GUIDE
Starter: Yakima Skyrise Tent (small) $1,099
Why we picked it: The Skyrise is an inexpensive all-arounder that’s easy to install out of the box. It requires no special tools for setup and deploys in just a few minutes. It’s suitable for light camping needs but also holds up to multiday overlanding excursions.
Its waterproof rainfly keeps you and your belongings dry, though an upgraded fly is more suitable to winter-weather camping. The SkyRise comes with its own 2.5-inch wall-to-wall foam mattress that packs into the tent. It also features a built-in ladder. It weighs just 95 pounds.
High-Capacity: Tuff Stuff Elite Overland Jeep and Truck Tent $1,905
Why we picked it: Tuff Stuff’s Elite tent accommodates up to five occupants. It features two ladders for entry and comes with a removable split wall for privacy. Its ladder area is large enough to accommodate an annex curtain for added shelter.
The Elite is great for larger camping groups or a family of four or five. It comes with two 2.75-inch high-density foam mattresses and weighs 187 pounds.
Hard shell: Tepui HyBox $2,900
Why we picked it: Tepui’s HyBox is a hard-shell tent that doubles as a streamlined cargo container on days you’re not in the wild. Hard-shell tents offer extra security in the elements, and their design often makes packing and unpacking easier. The HyBox weighs 175 pounds with the ladder.
As a tent, the HyBox deploys via gas struts that pop it open. Its waterproof canopy zips open to create a sleeping space suitable for two people in every season. It is designed to work on factory-installed or aftermarket racks and crossbars. It features a built-in telescoping ladder and a 3-inch foam mattress.
All-Around: Front Runner Roof Top Tent $1,099
Why we picked it: Front Runner’s rooftop tent is a soft-shell rugged enough for all four seasons. Its 400D Oxford tent fabric keeps rain and cold out, while still being breathable enough for summer.
Its added durability doesn’t come with extra weight, as the Front Runner is the lightest on this list at 93 pounds. The tent features a low profile while packed and comes standard with a 2.5-inch canvas-covered foam mattress. It also has a built-in ladder and costs just $1,099.