Best Roof Top Tents

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Introduction to Roof Top Tent

Roof top tents have actually been around for quite a while, but they hit the scene in a big way about 10 years ago as some passionate companies decided that it was time to make comfortable rooftop tents for the masses. We should all thank them.
Rooftop tents, and rooftop camping, are a key part of the whole “Overlanding” movement, which combines camping, offroading, and exploring. Like rooftop tents, Overlanding has been around for a while by different names, but as people try to become less tethered and more nomadic, try to get a best roof top tents, Overlanding has created its special niche. Whether you are looking to travel the continent, or simply get a weekend away, the roof top tent can be a great option for those with some budget to spend.

What we love about rooftop camping and Overlanding is the mass appeal. Baby boomers are doing it as they retire and want to roam the country.
Millennials, notorious for not wanting to be committed to one place, are adopting it in droves. We expect that Generation Z will take it to “a whole nother level” as they decide that it is time to explore.
Back to roof top tents, there is a lot to learn about them. After all, most people have only even known they exist for a few years or even months, yet it has quickly become one of our favorite types of camping.
With no further wait, we will share with you an overview of rooftop camping and Overlanding along with the best roof top tents in our opinion.

What Are Roof Top Tent Anyway?

Roof top tents are sleeping quarters that mount on top of your vehicle. think of a tent like one that you camp in, only that sits on top of your car, is elevated off the ground, and has a built-in mattress. You access it via a ladder. When not in use, it folds up into a small package that simply cruises along on top of your vehicle while you are driving, somewhat like a rooftop cargo carrier.
The advantages are many, and we discuss those below. While these tents are not inexpensive, they most definitely are worth the money for people who will make use of them. The sleep quality is much better than a ground tent, and the cost is a lot cheaper than hotels, hostels, or cabins over the long haul.

The Best Roof Top Tents For 2022

We will discuss the details of what to look for in rooftop tents shortly, but we know that many people just want us to get to the point. We are rooftop tent junkies, so here is our list of the best ones:

Best Hard Shell Roof Top Tent: iKamper Skycamp 2.0

The speed of setup is assisted by some gas struts that push the hard top into position. That is a nice feature and allows you to do nearly all of the base setup while standing safely on the ground. The hard shell lifts to about a 45-degree angle when open, which is something that we think is a bit of a selling point. If you expect thunderstorms or a stiff cold breeze, you would simply want to position your vehicle so the raised hardshell becomes a bit of a roofline for you, protecting you from the elements.

 Inside, you get the real benefits of this tent. A king-sized mattress allows comfort for adults and is one of the largest sleeping surfaces on the rooftop tent market. We like the positioning of the three windows — two on the sides, one on the top — which allows for venting and a nice cross-breeze. Although, in inclement weather, you are going to want to get the top window secured nice, and sealed.

Why We Like the Skycamp?

We like the construction quality. Lots of stainless steel, a sturdy ladder, and strong hinges. We think they did a good job of making materials heavy when they needed to be, and lighter when they could be.
For those who are fine splurging even a bit more from the base price, the “Annex” option gives you indoor quarters underneath the extended floor of the tent, perhaps a nice option for people traveling through mosquito-prone areas or expecting evening temps to dip down around freezing. The annex adds a bit of setup and you need to find a spot to carry it while traveling, so we advise only getting it if you envision yourself being a regular user.
The Skycamp 2.0 goes for a pretty penny — over $3,500. But you have to compare it to a pull-behind trailer at $8,000, given the sleeping comfort, you will get from it. The price is not scaring people off, because it has periods of being sold out relatively regularly.
The Skycamp 1.0 will save you about $500 but is likely being phased out over time. Similar in size, the 1.0 just has fewer creature comforts, a less safe ladder, and a slightly harder setup and takedown. You can find the 2.0 here direct, through iKamper, with a 2-year warranty.

The Skycamp II is a hardshell tent that, amazingly, sleeps up to four people. If you are talking about full-growth adults who want space and comfort, two or three might be a better number. For iKamper hardshell roof top tents, opening them up is one of the easiest and quickest parts of the entire experience. Once the hardshell is unlocked, all you have to do is push it slightly and the gas struts will do the rest of the work by raising the tent. Once the hardshell is completely open, you extend the ladder to use it as a lever to extend the fold-out panel. All that’s left is to put the tension poles in place to support the tent’s canvas, and you’re done! we found that a minute was feasible once you had a little practice. If you are setting it up to stay in it, installing all of the awning supports, and getting it just right, plant in 3-5 minutes to have it ready to roll.

 

skycamp 2.0

Best Soft Shell Roof Toptent:Tepui Ruggedized Autana What is Tepui Ruggedized Autana?

We have been big fans of the Tepui lineup ever since we saw them in action a couple of years ago. When it comes to the soft-sided roof top tents, they have a high-quality and plentiful lineup, and the Autana is perhaps their gold standard.
Getting a “ruggedized” version of the Tepui tents does exactly what it sounds like: Gives you a tent that is heavier-duty all around: A stronger frame base, heavier-duty hinges, and fabric that is 40% heavier and stronger. All of this means that the entire unit will be heavier, but it will also be able to stand up to rough roads and tough weather better than the standard versions. If you are someone who tends to hit rough dirt roads, for example, the normal frame can sometimes get damaged if the unit is jolted too much.
If you feel you don’t need the “ruggedized” version, you can get the standard Autana and save yourself a little money, and some weight. You can find that version here.

best-roof-top-tents

                               Tepui Autana

Why We Like the Autana?

The Autana has lots of opportunities for both ventilation and light. Skyview panels and side windows make it so that you literally could have more daylight than a tent showing when everything is fully unzipped.
When you need full coverage, you have an Oxford Nylon rain fly that covers the tent well. We like that level of protection. On a rainy day, it will give you a little extra interior gathering space.
We like the full mattress coverage, and the mattress size overall. The mattress runs from side-to-side and end-to-end, with a 2 ½ inch foam surface. We find it comfortable and like the cotton cover that can be removed for easy cleaning. This all sits on a strong aluminum base, and if you go with the Ruggedize version you upgrade to a ¾-inch frame (instead of ½-inch) as well as an anti-condensation mat under the mattress.
The sleeping space, when unfolded, is impressive. Very. It says it sleeps 4, and we think that is a valid claim. It gives you a couple of feet more surface area than most other options on the market today. The exact mattress dimensions are 72″ by 122″.
When stowed, the tent packs in to a nice, compact package. Perhaps not quite as bulletproof as a hard shell tent, but the tough PVC cover does a good job of protecting the outside so that hail or road debris is not going to cause major damage to your tent. Perhaps the main thing to be aware of is the occasional underpass or ramp ceiling — folded, it adds about a foot of height to your vehicle, above and beyond the roof rack. You would not be the first to scrap the tent as you are pulling into an underground parking garage — we have seen it happen!
We think that if you are planning to get a soft shell roof top tent, and ready to go all-in on your investment, the Autana is at the top of the list. Quality is an A+.

Roof Top Tent Buying Guide: What to Look For

There are several things to be on the lookout for when buying a roof top tent, and much like any other outdoor product, it often comes down to a balance between how much budget you have to work with and what priorities you have in the tent you purchase.  Once you figure those things out, the decision becomes a lot easier.
Hard sided vs. Soft sided.Perhaps the #1 decision to make is if you want a hard-sided tent or a soft-sided one.  The hardshell tent will often be quicker to set up (perhaps counterintuitive but it is true) and provides additional protection for the tent when rolling down the road.  On the downside, they are more expensive and heavier. The softshell tents are going to be lighter and cheaper, and your dollar will go further when investing in them. However, they are often a little clumsy to set up and take longer, and they are not going to weather the elements quite as well as a hard tent.  Some brands specialize in one versus the other.  For example, to weigh iKamper vs. Tepui is really to compare hard-sided versus soft-sided.
Size. Once you decide on hard vs. soft, then you need to figure out what size tent to get.  These are the two major decisions — hard/soft and size. Once you have those things nailed down, the choices become clear.  Size is a factor not only in terms of the sleeping area you will have in the tent but also the amount of space the tent will take on your car when stowed.  A massive tent might be too big for a small car. Also, think about how much storage space you have in your home for when the tent is not in use, and make sure that the packed size of the tent is compatible with that.
Weight.  Similar to but different than size, you need to consider weight, for two reasons.  First, the tent needs to be 100% safe on your vehicle and rack, and its weight needs to be less than the dynamic weight rating on your vehicle.  Second, a lighter roof top tent is easier to handle, install, and work with overall than a heavier one. Not a factor if you plan to put the tent on and then go for months, but a factor if it is a weekend thing for you.
Setup EaseSetup is a factor, and if you have to wrestle with a tent for 20 minutes just to get to read, that will get old in a hurry.  A good hard-sided tent should go up (with the help of pistons or struts) in 3-5 minutes. A soft-sided tent should take no more than 7-10 minutes.
Construction QualityDon’t skimp on your tent.  We get it — these tents are expensive and it can be very tempting to spend a little less.  Some companies “dabble” in the roof top tent business, and others are 
VentilationAdequate ventilation is a must in a roof top tent, because it can get pretty warm inside during those summer nights.  The tents we profile up above all have very good ventilation.
AccessoriesWe would not base our roof top tent purchase decision on accessories, but once you have a shortlist, accessories are a factor. Perhaps the most common accessory that people consider is the awning or canopy, which can be nice to create a living area under the floor of an expanded tent.

Roof Top Tents Vs. Regular Tents

Comparing a roof top tent to a regular tent is pretty simple. While based on the same concepts, the two are quite different.

  • Roof top tents are easier to set up. It might seem crazy, given how expensive a piece of equipment it is, but a rooftop tent sets-up and takes down faster than a regular tent
  • Roof top tents have better floors for sleeping. Many roof top tents have a built-in mattress or, at least, foam. Regular tents have you sleep on the ground. You need to bring a pad if you want comfort.
  • Roof top tents take up no space in your vehicle. Instead, you save the vehicle space for other things you need on your trip.
  • Roof top tents keep you up off of the ground. This can be a factor if the ground is wet, cold, or has rodents or snakes that you want to avoid.
  • Regular tents are much less expensive. We are talking 1/10 the price. Big difference.
  • Regular tents require much less space to store when not in use. A roof top tent probably needs to stay in a garage or shed, it is pretty large.
  • Regular tents are much lighter. A roof top tent can weigh 100 lbs or much more. On the other hand, the Coleman Sundome 6-person tent, for example, a pretty spacious tent, is just over 16 lbs.
  • Regular tents don’t tether your vehicle. Once a rooftop tent is a setup, you kind of need to stay put.
  • Regular tents allow you to stay in the backcountry, walk-in-only sites. With a rooftop tent, you need to be able to drive your vehicle to the site.
  • Regular tents do not require a ladder climb — something to consider for those who might have physical considerations

Roof Top Tents Vs. Trailers

We also hear lots of people comparing a rooftop tent to a small, pull-behind trailer…. The kind that doesn’t take up much space and sleeps 1-2 people. They look cool and evoke this image of cruising the West with no worries. Here is our quick take on how they compare to roof top tents, and for our purposes, we are comparing them to the very small, teardrop-style trailers.

  • Rooftop tents do not require a hitch or can keep the hitch open for other things like a bike rack
  • Rooftop tents are smaller to store when not in use. A trailer likely requires a special place in one’s yard or driveway.
  • Rooftop tents are less maintenance. Any time you have an axis and tires, the chances of a flat or other mechanical issue go up.
  • Rooftop tents can venture further into the backcountry than a trailer.
  • Rooftop tents only affect gas mileage by 1-2 mpg. Pulling a trailer will affect mileage considerably more, depending on the vehicle.
  • Trailers protect you better against harsh elements like hail or driving rain.
  • Trailers allow you to pack them full of gear when traveling, expanding your storage space.
  • Trailers typically have slightly more room inside, although they are smaller than you think.
  • Some trailers offer a toilet, but if they do they are larger and heavier than the base models we are referring to.

Roof Top Tents FAQs

What Is "overlanding?"

Overlanding is the fusion of a few things: Camping, exploring by road, and offroading. Think of it as the new version of traveling the country in your VW Bus (although traveling in a VW Bus is still an option).
Because of the desire to stay in beautiful areas and not spend money on motels or hotels, tent camping is popular with the Overlanding set. Rooftop tents have several advantages over traditional tents, as outlined above.
If you are intrigued by Overlanding, we recommend two classic books for inspiration: On the Road by Jack Kerouac and Blue Highways by William Least Heat-Moon. They are Americana classics and will give you the itch to road trip!

How Do Roof Top Tents Attach?

Most rooftop tents attach directly to your roof rack, much like a roof top cargo carrier. Assuming your roof rack was factory-mounted or safely mounted by professionals, the roof top tent can simply sit on top of it, Bolton-on by the brackets that come with the tent.
You will need some basic tools to attach the tent, or you can ask a pro to do it for you. If you are going to leave it on for a while and are not handy yourself, a body shop would probably stick it on for just a few bucks, but the better bet might be to find a handy friend who can assist.
you will first need to mount the brackets onto your tent, measuring to be sure the spacing works with your roof top rack. Then, you will want a helper to get the tent up onto the rack (remember, they weigh more than 100 lbs). From there, it is all about positioning the tent correctly and tightening the clamps and bolts according to the specifications.
For people attaching the tent to their truck bed, most people use a separately-sold truck bed tent mount, which allows the tent to sit elevated above the bed of the truck. The bed mounts are not cheap, so factor that into the purchase price of your overall tent setup.

Are Roof Top Tents Safe?

Yes, if installed properly, a roof top tent is quite safe. They are mounted on top of a vehicle using factory mounts from the tent manufacturer and ideally the factory-issued roof rack from the carmaker. Every roof rack has a weight rating, so pay attention to what it is for your vehicle. That is very, very important, to make sure that the tent is compatible with your vehicle.
In some ways, rooftop camping is safer than tent camping. You can be away from snakes and other ground-dwelling creatures, and because your vehicle has rubber contact points with the ground, you may be safer in a lightning storm.

Are Rooftop Tents Waterproof?

They are about as waterproof as a high-quality regular tent. What that means is that you will have a rainfly that comes with the tent, and it is a good idea to use it.
Most rooftop tents have a poly-coated polyester rain fly, much like a good tent that you might pick up through LL Bean or Patagonia. It is there for a reason — the fabric in most roof top tents is not meant to be impermeable to water. If they were, they would not be breathable, and being breathable is essential for ventilation as well as general comfort in warmer weather. As with rain flies on ground tents, some are better than others. The ones that come with the tents we recommend above are pretty good overall.
A hard-sided roof top tent might be slightly more waterproof, but only on the hard side. That is why we recommend situating your vehicle so the winds and rains will hit that side in a hard, driving rain storm.

Are Roof Top Tents Warm?

They are only slightly warmer than regular tents on a cold night. They are probably on par with an insulated tent.
A common misperception is that because a roof top tent mounts on your vehicle, it somehow is going to be warmer than a regular tent. This might be the case in extreme cases, like when you decide to camp on the ground that has a ground temp of 40 degrees. However, a rooftop tent does not have natural heating abilities.
But because a roof top tent usually has you sleeping on a nice, thick mattress or piece of foam, you get more insulation from the ground than you would in a normal tent. If the ground is frosty, this can be a factor.
Don’t expect a roof top tent to be warm in four-season weather, though. Most rooftop tents that we see are designed for and advertised as a three-season pieces of equipment. You will still want a good sleeping bag and perhaps some thermal underwear if using it on those evenings when there is a chill in the air.

How Much Does A Roof Top Tent Weigh?

Roof top tents can weigh anywhere from 80 pounds up to 200 pounds, depending on the size, design, and features. Yes, they are pretty heavy. Moving them around and installing them is a 2 (or more) person job. Getting a 150-pound object hoisted above your vehicle isn’t easy. But once it is on, it is secure (assuming you install it correctly).
Your vehicle and your roof top rack will need to be able to support the weight of the tent. For that reason, you will need to carefully examine your vehicle’s specifications. We cannot answer the very common question of “Can I use X roof top tent on Y car?” You should do your research.

How Much Can A Roof Top Tent Hold?

While it can be a little tricky to find specifications on the interior weight capacity, most tents are designed for 2, 3, or 4 adults and have been tested for that kind of weight. Because these tents are made with strong metal plates and a strong internal frame, we don’t worry too much about the interior weight. The Skycamp, for example, says that the unit itself can hold up to 900 lbs — so you could theoretically have 4 adults whom all weigh above 200 lbs in it. But the weight limit of your vehicle is just as big a factor.
Perhaps the more important weight research is to make sure your vehicle can handle it. Any vehicle with racks (which you will need for a rooftop tent unless you have a truck bed) will have a rating on those racks. Pay attention to that. The static weight rating refers to the amount of mounted weight that a rack can accommodate when the vehicle is still and not moving. The dynamic weight rating refers to the amount of weight that a rack can handle as it is moving down the road. A vehicle and rack can always handle way more static weight than dynamic weight.
With that said, these tents are not designed to throw a party in — they are meant for sleeping. The beauty of a roof top tent is that by definition, you will have your car along. The inside of your car is a great place to stow your camping stove, sleeping bags, coolers, and other gear. The tent can be its own thing as you cruise down the open road.

Does A Roof Top Tent Change The Way My Vehicle Drives?

A roof top tent will not have much, if any, impact on the way your car moves at low speeds and on smooth roads. If properly mounted (a must) it will solidly sit on your roof racks and ride along.
At higher speeds, the roof tent might cause some road/wind noise. It can also cause handling to be a bit more difficult in high cross-winds. This is lessened if you use a hard shell tent, or if you have it tied as compactly as humanly possible. Still, you will know it is there are high speeds.
The tent will also impact your gas mileage by probably 1-2 mpg.
If you are off-roading on bumpy ground, you need to be careful. The brackets that hold the roof tent mounts are not meant for crazy off-roading. A few nasty jumps and bumps and you could bend the mounts or damage the brackets.

 

We hope this article has been helpful and informative. If you have any questions for us, our customer support is ready to assist you however we can. Feel free to reach out to us at sales1@happykingo.com.

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