Rooftop tents initially gained popularity with overland adventurers who wanted a way to stay off the ground and away from predators as they explored the Australian Outback. But their convenience and easy setup has made campers everywhere lust after them. Just attach a tent to your vehicle’s roof rack and you can deploy it almost instantly by unfolding and extending its ladder. This makes camping at trailheads, established or dispersed sites, and just about anywhere else you can park a breeze.
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The market has responded. There are now dozens of great options, ranging from low-cost soft shells to durable, weatherproof hard tops, with a few innovative options in between.
Read quick info below on five of the best rooftop tents, then scroll farther for tips on how to find the right model for you and in-depth reviews of these and other options.
The obvious great thing about rooftop tents is that you can set up camp just about anywhere. Is the ground soft and muddy? Is your trailhead parking lot made of large, sharp chunks of gravel? Worry not, you’re high above it all. And if the ground is uneven, a few carefully placed hunks of wood under your tires can level your vehicle—and your tent.
You’ll also be high above curious animals—large and small—that might walk by your tent in the night. It’s kind of like being in a tree fort that comes with a soft foam mattress and a watertight roof. Not so bad.
What you gain in convenience, you could lose in rooftop storage. There might not be enough real estate up there to accommodate both a rooftop tent and a cargo box or rack. But many options have flexible layouts so you can still use your vehicle’s hitch to attach bike racks or storage trays.
These tents are a big purchase, both in price and, well, actual size. Many weigh more than 100 pounds, so double check that your vehicle’s roof or factory rack is rated to carry the load. If not, you may need a stronger, aftermarket rack. In addition to the initial hit to your wallet, you can expect your fuel efficiency to decline, adding to gas costs. Then again, think of all the money that you won’t be spending on hotel rooms and snake-bite kits.
Hardshell vs. Softshell
A soft shell is going to be a lot like a more standard tent—think a canvas roof and walls. This helps keep its cost and weight down. Hard shells are a bit heavier, but the shell adds more protection, both to the tent during transportation and to you during inclement weather like sleet or thunderstorms. Soft tops are easy to unfold, but hard shells can be even easier, popping open like a rocket box. As for cost, most soft shells come in around $1,000 to $2,000, while hard shells can run $2,000 to $5,000.
Where to Mount
How We Tested and Selected Them
We called in several tents and tested them in every way you would use a rooftop tent, installing them on our cars, deploying and collapsing them, and camping out in them. All the while we gauged them on ease of use, how comfortable (or not) they were to sleep in, and how much they impacted mpg and wind noise on top of our rigs. We also took into account construction materials and whether the tents leave room for anything else on the roof, like racks for gear or a storage box.
We’ve also included some models that we haven’t tested yet but that look promising based on our knowledge of RTTs and their reception among expert sources and thousands of consumer reviews. For those untested tents, we included our Total Expert Score, calculating the ratings from trusted publications such as Gear We Are, HiConsumption, and Gear Junkie and converting them to a 100-point scale. You’ll see our Consumer Score with each of those reviews too, which represents the percentage of people who bought the product and rated it at least four out of five stars on retail sites like Amazon, REI, and Backcountry.
Closed dimensions (WxLxH): 50 x 90 x 6.5 in. | Open dimensions: 50 x 90 x 60 in. | Total weight: 140 lb | Material: Aluminum shell, polyurethane-coated polyester-cotton blend walls
The Falcon epitomizes the convenience and utility of rooftop tents. This aluminum hardshell makes for a slim, sub-seven-inch profile on top of a vehicle, which doesn’t drag mpg down as much as the softshell variety. We also didn’t notice any major increase to the sound as we were driving. It does make setup easy, too; all we had to do after we arrived at the campsite was pop the two latches and push the lid up for the pistons to take over, after which we threw the tent poles in the awning. And the foam mattress was firm but comfortable. We slept in it in midsummer, and we didn’t feel too hot inside.
Breaking the Falcon down took a bit of muscle. To close the tent far enough that the latches could catch, we had to really press on it, a job that took two people so that one could apply the pressure and the other could work the latch. So bear that in mind if you decide to take this out for a solo weekend. You’ll have plenty of room if you do. We slept two comfortably in the Falcon (plus a dog who we had to hoist up after she refused to sleep away from us on the ground or in the car). Another thing our 6-foot-2 tester appreciated: the padded ceiling. Headroom isn’t an issue here, but when sitting up in the dark, it helps to have a buffer.
Thule Tepui Foothill
Closed dimensions (WxLxH): 24 x 83 x 9.5 in. | Open dimensions: 47 x 84 x 38 in. | Total weight: 108 lb | Material: Ripstop polyester canopy, ripstop nylon rainfly
Thule struck a nice balance with the Foothill. Whereas some hardshell tents can accommodate gear racks on top of them, this softshell only takes up half the car’s roof. That leaves room for equipment like a bike, a kayak, or a thin rocketbox. And our tester reported that the interior is nice, with padding, complete darkness with the windows closed (if that’s your thing), and temperature retention similar to a ground tent during his sub-freezing trip.
As with many softshell RTTs, even once you’ve got the Foothill on your car’s roof, it’s a bit of an endeavor to set up. “You install the ladder, pop three poles inside the tent, and then attach eight poles for the rain fly,” said our tester. “My first time setting it up took much longer and more effort than setting up a standard tent—it’ll definitely be faster the second time, but there are still lots of steps.” It also wasn’t a selling point that you have to store the ladder inside your vehicle, taking up valuable trunk space. Breakdown was slightly less complex, with our tester describing it as a “bit easier than the universal struggle of trying to fit a tent back into its bag.”
Because it sits fairly high on the roof, the Foothill dragged down his fuel efficiency by about three miles per gallon and created a lot of noise in crosswinds. But its small build makes it easy to get on and off (with two people) should you need to use the full roof. Overall, it’s well built and well designed.
Crua Outdoors Aer
Closed dimensions (WxL): 51 x 45 in. | Open dimensions (WxLxH): 51 x 89 x 47 in. | Total weight: 143 lb | Material: Ripstop polyurethane-coated poly-oxford outer fly, ripstop poly-cotton inner fly, aluminum frame
The Aer boasts one of the most interesting builds of a rooftop tent that we’ve seen. Ireland-based Crua designed it so that you could remove the tent from the base that attaches to the roof of your car and use it on the ground if you prefer. Given the weight, this isn’t something you’d take backpacking, and you will need to buy a couple of accessories to make it work, but that kind of capability broadens the Aer’s usefulness.
We tested an early prototype and found that installation was easy with two people, and points to Crua for building the Aer so that it requires no tools to connect to the roof rack. “The system was fast, effective, and stayed tight for the month or so it was on my car,” said dour tester. “It seems basic and inelegant for a $2,000-plus tent, but then it’s plenty effective, and you can source replacement parts at a hardware store.” They also noted that there was no built-in way to lock the Aer to the rack, so keep that in mind. Deployment took a few tries to master, as it involves fussing with a number of buckles, zippers, and poles. But our tester got it down to five minutes doing it by himself with practice. And wind noise and the hit to his mpg were about the same as with the full-size Thule box he swapped off to get the Aer on, which isn’t bad.
“Once you’re inside the tent, it’s wonderful,” they reported. “The floor is a supportive and comfortable memory-foam-ish pad that’s just lovely to sleep on. The tent feels open spacious, and it’s tall enough to sit up without bumping your head on the roof. Even with the fly on, when you open up all the windows lots of light and air that comes into the tent, and you can remove the fly (though it does not look like the easiest process) if you want even more ventilation and views. I loved laying on my back and looking up through the roof window to the sky.”
Other Great Options
Tuff Stuff Ranger Overland
Total Expert Score: 98/100 | Consumer Score: 89% give it 4 stars or more
Closed dimensions (WxLxH): 56 x 48 x 14 in. | Open dimensions: 56 x 96 x 52 in. | Total weight: 132 lb | Material: Cotton, polyester
Many rooftop tents give you the option of adding an annex room beneath the tent where it hangs over the side of the vehicle, but few include one with your purchase. The Ranger Overland does, and it comes in at an impressive 90 x 90 inches. That’s plenty of room for more campers (or lots of gear) in addition to the main tent itself, which can accommodate two adults on its foam mattress. Of course, if there are only two of you, then you’re free to use the annex as a kitchen, living room, or changing room.
The tent install is easy and shouldn’t take two people more than an hour or so. Reviewers on Amazon also noted this tent’s high quality for the lower price. “From what I can tell, this tent is built with the same quality and materials as the higher-priced tents on the market,” said one.
Front Runner Roof Top Tent
Total Expert Score: 94/100 | Consumer Score: 100% give it 4 stars or more
Closed dimensions (WxLxH): 53 x 49 x 8 in. | Open dimensions: 53 x 134 x 55 in. | Total weight: 93 lb | Material: Water-resistant cotton-polyester tent body
If you’re worried about fuel economy or having to install a heavy tent on the top of your car, this one from Front Runner could be your ideal shelter—it weighs less than 100 pounds. And yet, its Oxford tent fabric is still waterproof, strong, and breathable. You’ll also get handy features like interior pockets, overhead Velcro light loops, and a mesh window in the roof for stargazing. One reviewer on the brand’s website wrote that they bought the Front Runner because: “It is one of the lightest that I saw and it has a quick-release mechanism. This tent is so easy to put on and take off.”
iKamper SkyCamp 2.0
Total Expert Score: 86/100 | Consumer Score: 100% give it 4 stars or more
Closed dimensions (WxLxH): 54 x 86 x 13 in. | Open dimensions: 83 x 86 x 43 in. | Total weight: 155 lb | Material: FRP and polyester/canvas
The expandable SkyCamp clamshells opens, with the top forming an angled section of roof/wall and the bottom the platform for the mattress. The tent that pops out of the hardshell is a weatherproof durable polyester-canvas blend that keeps the outside world out. The comfy mattress is big enough for a family of four or three adults, so bring buddies. This iKamper also comes with locks installed and has an insulated bottom to help keep you warm. That means you’ll be comfortable when you’re in it, and comfortable that no one is walking away with it when you’re not.
Mountain iQ’s reviewer was impressed with just how easy it was to get the SkyCamp onto the roof—“Its spacious design and incredibly easy installation are the standout features of the iKamper Skycamp”—and appreciated the large interior. And customers from Off Road Tents liked the improvements from the previous and beloved SkyCamp 1.0, noting that a “better latching mechanism, sturdier body, and improved interior fabrics were undersold in the description.”
ARB Simpson III
Total Expert Score: 87/100 | Consumer Score: 100% give it 4 stars or more
Closed dimensions (WxLxH): 57 x 49 x 15 in. | Open dimensions: 55 x 94.4 x 51 in. | Total weight: 171 lb | Material: Polyester-cotton ripstop canvas
Ideal for warmer climates, the Simpson III has plenty of ventilation—its mesh windows and door allow for plenty of airflow. One of the aspects that GearWeAre called out in its review was the mattress: it found that the bonded chip foam better distributed weight for comfortable sleep. Outback Review out of Australia (also ARB’s home) noted that the Simpson was very easy for one person to set up due to the “easy access straps and zips attached to a rope to assist with opening.” A reviewer on Amazon did mention how the instructions for initial setup were straightforward, but they would have liked better details on how to set up the rain fly.
James Baroud Explorer
Total Expert Score: NA | Consumer Score: NA
Closed dimensions (WxLxH): 55 x 78 x 13.2 in. | Open dimensions: 55 x 78 x 40 in. | Total Weight: 200 lb | Material: Polyester and fiberglass
The Explorer doesn’t have a lot of consumer reviews, but many outlets have given it good reviews without assigning it a number or letter grade. Still, it’s noteworthy for the fact that it might have the most robust cooling system out of any rooftop tent on the market, leading Gear Patrol to label it the best for camping in the heat. Mesh windows occupy every side of the tent, the polyester walls are relatively breathable, and in the roof sits a solar panel-powered fan. All this, paired with the hard-shell construction, make for an expensive tent. And the mattress isn’t suited for taller people; since the Explorer pops straight up (automatically) when deployed, instead of folding open to double the real estate, the bedding measures about six feet.
That said, the shell will lend durability, protecting what’s a sizable investment for a rooftop tent. And the Explorer is storage-friendly, with a net to hang gear in on the ceiling and the ability to carry a modest amount of strapped-down equipment on top.