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Your rugged outdoor vehicle can be your best friend on backcountry camping adventures. With a couple simple upgrades it can even help make your camping experience easier, smoother, and more enjoyable. One huge step forward for many adventurers is to install a rooftop tent for camping.
Rooftop tents are streamlined pop up shelters that bolt atop your vehicle. They can be quickly opened up to accommodate multiple sleepers while keeping the weather off and the bugs at bay. Today we’re going to check out some of the most accessible and highest performing rooftop vehicle tents on the market.
We’ll start by looking at what’s out there but if you need help understanding how they work and what to buy, jump further down. You will find a rooftop tent buyer’s guide about halfway down the article.
Best Rooftop Tents
|Smittybilt Overlander Rooftop Tent||Thule Tepui Explorer Kukenam Rooftop Tent||Overland Vehicle Systems Nomadic 3 Tent|
|Max Weight:||660 lbs||600 lbs||N/A|
|Tent Weight:||116 lbs||131 lbs||165 lbs|
|Fabric:||600D polyester||260g poly-cotton||600D Ripstop|
Quick Answer: The 7 Best Rated Rooftop Tents For 2021
- Smittybilt Overlander Rooftop Tent
- Thule Tepui Explorer Kukenam Rooftop Tent
- Overland Vehicle Systems Nomadic 3 Extended Rooftop Tent
- Front Runner Roof Top Tent
- TMBK 3 Person Roof Top Tent
- Raptor Series Offgrid Voyager Truck SUV Rooftop Tent
- ARB Simpson Rooftop Tent
Rooftop Tent Reviews
- Sleeps: 2-3
- Max Weight: 660 lbs
- Tent Weight: 116 lbs
- Tent Fabric: 600D polyester
- Other: Internal LED lighting
There’s no doubt that the Smittybilt Overlander Tent is among the most prolific options on the market. It’s reasonably priced, well-loved, and can fit on darn near anything with the SRC overhead rack or the included aluminum track!
There’s a lot going on here so let’s dive in. These tents are among the best Jeep tents out there since they’re designed specifically for Jeeps (they may fit others).
The Smittybilt roof top tent has a high-density mattress that covers the entire floor. It’s rocking a sunroof, adjustable bug netting, and you can customize it with different size awnings for weather and privacy. I love the internal LED lighting, it’s a great call. In fact, there are so many features it’s hard to sum them all up.
Keep in mind when buying that the ladder has a max weight rating of 265 pounds. If you stick with 2 people in this tent you’ll find ample room for living space and daily use.
Maybe the only real downfall of this tent is that it is… well… a tent. You’ll still have to do a bit of work to deploy it. Unfolding, deploying the support arms, and throwing out the awning sounds more daunting in a downpour!
While I’m sure it will be debated, this might be the best roof top tent out there right now.
- Sleeps: 2-3
- Max Weight: 600 lbs
- Tent Weight: 131 lbs
- Tent Fabric: 260g poly-cotton
- Other: Telescoping ladder
Thule is well-known for making some great rooftop storage and luggage, but did you know they make tents, too? This is a highly-rated soft shell rooftop tent from a great company.
I’m sure that the name brand alone will probably inspire many buyers. However, we’re going to take a look at the specs and see whether or not it’s for everyone.
First, I have to say I was a little amazed by the list of “DO NOT” items they featured on this item. Maybe it’s just the way they made the listing for the product, but it warns pretty explicitly about what type or styles of roof racks and rails this tent will or will not work with. Overall it’s probably a good thing to make sure people know clearly what they’re getting into.
Now, with that said, it is a full featured soft shell tent for up to 3 people. My favorite feature is the telescoping ladder for ease of use. However, the generous awning and window overhangs (so you can keep windows open in the rain) are really nice touches for extended stays.
By far the nicest touch, however, is the Annex accessory (optional). It extends below the tent overhand and allows you to enter the tent completely covered. Additionally, it provides direct access to one of the rear car doors so you can use your vehicle as added shelter space!
Hands down this deserves a place among the best rooftop tents on any list.
- Sleeps: 2-3
- Max Weight: N/A
- Tent Weight: 165 lbs
- Tent Fabric: 600D Ripstop
- Other: Led Lighting
By far the most ambitiously sized rooftop tent on our list so far, the OVS is a space beast!
There’s no doubt this tent checks all the boxes. Heavy duty rain fly, tent walls, and a burly travel cover make it robust. Breathable windows, a solid rainfly, and included 3” thick mattress keep things comfy. As a little bonus they also include memory foam pillows, laptop table, mini broom, dust pan, and LED accent lighting.
Maybe the nicest feature to me, though, is that the extended tent floor becomes the cover when stored. That means you get a nice solid piece of aluminum to help protect your tent from branches, debris, and weather when stored.
To top it all off, Overland says you can get this thing deployed and ready in less than one minute of setup. You know, I believe them, too! The way the tent halves fold together is pretty intuitive and well done on their part. Kudos!
It’s worth noting that the manufacturer specifically states that this tent is designed to work with any high quality roof rack system. We feel this is the best Overland tent out of their lineup!
Note: I was unable to confirm a max weight rating for this specific model.
- Sleeps: 2
- Max Weight: N/A
- Tent Weight: 93 lbs
- Tent Fabric: 400D Oxford
- Other: Single motion deploy
Without a doubt, the most notable feature of this roof top tent is the slim design. Great for tight spaces!
I have to say, if you want a lightweight, slim roof top tent then you’ll want to pay close attention here. It’s well under 100 pounds which makes it, without a doubt, the lightest tent on our list so far by orders of magnitude. It’s also the shortest when stored, at just under 8” tall. Solid option for narrow garage parking.
With the lightweight build and slim profile come a few drawbacks, however. It’s not as roomy as some of the others on our list. Even with just two people you won’t find as much roominess as some competitors. Of course, we can’t have it all, can we?
Overall I think this tent really checks all the boxes, even though it leaves out some luxuries to save weight and space. Don’t hesitate to consider this option if you want something easier to manage, smaller to transport, and lighter to manipulate.
- Sleeps: 2-3
- Max Weight: N/A
- Tent Weight: 103 lbs
- Tent Fabric: 600D Ripstop Polyester
- Other: Generous awnings
Overland makes many of the best roof top tents on the market. Their name and quality isn’t a surprise, but the low price tag on this well-loved rooftop tent definitely is!
Giving the Front Runner a “run” for its money is the TMBK 3. It’s right around that 100 pound mark, very affordable, and made for 2-3 people on a small footprint.
Overland does state explicitly that this rooftop tent can be mounted to any roof rack. Period.
With or without the rainfly installed there are awning and window shades on all sides of this tent. That’s an awesome feature for keeping the sun out and the breeze moving for those of you camping in hot climates.
Note: There was no specified weight limit rating in the manufacturer’s listing description.
- Sleeps: 2
- Max Weight: 750 lbs
- Tent Weight: 140 lbs
- Tent Fabric: Polyester
- Other: Arched awning design
This one stands out a little from the rest thanks to a slightly different awning design. If you want good views and open spaces, check this out.
Instantly this tent stands out from the crowd. Why? Because of the central pivoting awning design. This design gives the front of the tent a massive, protected, view of the world around. It’s definitely the right tent for vista views!
With that said, the tent manufacturer doesn’t easily offer up a ton of details. There’s no doubt that the simple aluminum frame design is going to be easy to use and reliable over its lifespan. Don’t expect tech specs, though!
It comes with a heavy duty cover, telescoping ladder, and other features like shoes storage pockets.
- Sleeps: 2
- Max Weight: N/A
- Tent Weight: 171 lbs
- Tent Fabric: Canvas
- Other: All-weather entry
Before you balk at the price tag, remember this tent comes with an absolutely massive annex. That’s something you’d pay hundreds for from other manufacturers, and it’s included here!
I gotta admit… even trying to get detailed specifications from the manufacturer’s website was like pulling teeth. Nonexistent teeth… It just wasn’t there.
However, I did find enough reliable info to give you the skinny. This beast is heavy, at nearly 200 pounds it’s a heavy-for-class roof top tent. That’s probably largely thanks to the beefy poly-cotton canvas used for the main body.
This particular package includes the annex underneath. Annexes allow for entry into the tent completely protected from the weather – including blowing rain! It also makes it easy to climb in and out of the vehicle underneath through a rear door should you want to.
This is a good alternative to the Thule Tepui – but remember to include the price of the optional annex with the Tepui if you compare them.
Because of the weight and bulk, I think this one is among the best SUV tents on our list.
Rooftop Tent Comparison Table
|Rooftop Tent||Sleeps||Max Weight||Tent Weight||Fabric||Rating|
|Smittybilt Overlander Rooftop Tent||2-3||660 lbs||116 lbs||600D polyester||4.7 / 5.0|
|Thule Tepui Explorer Kukenam Rooftop Tent||2-3||600 lbs||131 lbs||260g poly-cotton||4.9 / 5.0|
|Overland Vehicle Systems Nomadic 3 Tent||2-3||N/A||165 lbs||600D Ripstop||4.8 / 5.0|
|Front Runner Roof Top Tent||2||N/A||93 lbs||400D Oxford||4.1 / 5.0|
|TMBK 3 Person Roof Top Tent||2-3||N/A||103 lbs||600D Ripstop Polyester||4.7 / 5.0|
|Raptor Series Offgrid Voyager Rooftop Tent||2||750 lbs||140 lbs||Polyester||4.5 / 5.0|
|ARB Simpson Rooftop Tent||2||N/A||171 lbs||Canvas||4.8 / 5.0|
How to Choose the Best Roof Top Tent for You
First thing’s first – we need to know how many people will use the tent. Not just people, either. Count pets, gear, and other things that will take up space in the tent while you occupy it.
A single person rating is usually good for one person without much gear or a pet. If it’s you and your trusty doggo or you’ll need space to spread out and, say, work remotely then you may want a 2-person rooftop tent to offer some wiggle room.
Of course, that’s just an example. Like layering clothing, we often go up a size to leave room for adaptation. Much the same can be said of considering your capacity needs.
Rooftop tents aren’t cheap either. You won’t want to have to buy a new one in a season or two when you start a family, adopt a pet, or start taking a partner with you. Remember that larger tents leave room for growth and change.
One way you’ll find commonly used for gauging rooftop tent size is by mattress size. If you plan to use a traditional mattress in your tent (which is popular) then you may want to base your decision on the mattress footprint to avoid problems.
Types of Rooftop Tents
When you start shopping for rooftop tents you’re going to quickly find that they breakdown into two major categories: softshell and hardshell.
Soft shell rooftop tents are more like your traditional camping tent. Fabric walls, fabric doors, and a weather-resistant fabric cover/roof. On these models of tents the roof is usually also the cover for the tent when stored and, often, forms some or most of the awnings or flys if applicable.
Hard shell rooftop tents are more like pop-up campers than tents. These rooftop tents use a hard plastic “shell” system for protection from the elements when driving or in storage. Most will tell you that a hard shell rooftop tent will last substantially longer than a softshell.
Why? Because synthetic fabric and fibers don’t tend to hold up well against the high winds created when driving or the exposure to UV sunlight inherent to rooftop tents. Hardshells, on the other hand, can be made from synthetic materials much more resistant to these factors which helps extend the life of, and protect the tent inside.
Additionally, many hard shell tents use the rigid shell material as an integral part of the floor and roof. No need to worry about leaky seams or torn fabric letting water in while you sleep if your roof is made from a solid piece of plastic!
It’s worth noting here that, in terms of pure ease and speed of use, hardshells probably eke out a win. While both types of rooftop tents are quite simple, hard shells typically need less steps to set up.
Of course, hard shell tents have drawbacks. They tend to be substantially more pricey on the top end than budget-oriented soft shell tents can be. Additionally, they are usually much heavier which can be a hassle installing or removing. Further, the shell materials are generally prone to slight UV degradation over very prolonged periods which may eventually lead to color fading or weathering.
Pro Tip: Consider a hard shell if you do any off-roading. Low hanging branches and debris can easily damage or destroy a soft shell rooftop tent.
Roof Top Tent Size and Dimensions
There are two major sizes and dimensions that matter when buying a rooftop tent. First is the size of the tent when packed. Second is the size of the tent when fully deployed. These may seem obvious but, be sure to fully consider them before committing to a purchase.
Stored dimensions matter for a couple of reasons. First, and most importantly, the footprint of the tent has to match the space you have available on your vehicle’s roof mount. After that, you need to be cautious that the dimensions will work given any other roof attachments or storage options on your vehicle (roof racks, side racks, etc.).
Finally, give some thought to the overall height when stored. It’s annoying, at best, to put your rooftop tent on and then find out your vehicle will no longer fit in the garage. Or to rip the roof rack off on some low-hanging back road bridge.
On the other side of things, consider the internal space of your rooftop tent when deployed. We already talked about mattress size but you also want to be mindful of head space.
Each tent is different in this regard. Some slope outward from the center, others may have a flat and level roof height, while others may hinge at the back and slope up across the roofline. Flat rooflines provide by far the greatest amount of usable head space but aren’t as efficient as other designs in terms of weight and materials.
There are a lot of reasons rooftop tents make camping easier and faster. One major factor is the ability to use (and store) an integral mattress.
Many, if not most, roof top tents come with an integrated mattress. These sleeping pads usually run the entire footprint of the tent. They also vary in quality pretty substantially.
Among the cheaper tents out there you’ll find thinner pads made from cheap simple materials like a single layer of open cell foam. As you go up in quality and luxury it’s common to see thicker mattress pads made from multi-layer foam and/or memory foam material.
There is also a small (pricey) market for aftermarket rooftop tent mattresses. So, you can always buy a rooftop tent with a poor mattress or no mattress at all and find something to fit it later though it may not be justifiable for some budgets.
When buying a rooftop tent I would rank mattress size and quality as potentially the single top factor for consideration. A good mattress will make your trip more enjoyable and increase the likelihood that you continue to use and enjoy your rooftop camper.
Insulation, Ventilation and Weather Resistance
I’m going to lump all of this together because, at the end of the day, all of these factors are controlled by the same features on the tent.
Insulation is, for most rooftop tents, simply a factor of blocking the wind. You won’t find many rooftop tents with truly insulated walls (though a few have aftermarket options). All of them use some type of thick fabric to comprise part, if not the majority of, the wall structure.
Because of this, the only insulation provided is simply to stop the exchange of air from inside to outside which is typically enough to keep you significantly warmer.
One place where rooftop tents do, truly, have insulation is in the sleeping mattress. Even the cheaper and thinner sleeping mattresses available in rooftop tents provide a pretty substantial amount of insulation as you sleep. Of course, the thicker the sleeping pad the more insulation it will provide.
If you plan to encounter really frigid temperatures, be sure your sleeping pad is up to the job. Losing body heat through contact with the floor of the tent while you sleep is sure to be a major problem if your sleeping pad isn’t up to the task.
Ventilation, in many ways, is the opposite of insulation. It’s necessary because as you sleep your body generates a ton of moisture in the air through breathing and sweating. Eventually, that moisture will build up on the inside of the tent. I’ve even had condensation dripping on my face wake me up in the middle of the night in poorly ventilated tents.
Ventilation can come in many forms but I prefer adjustable vents. Being able to open or close vents as needed is nice so you can adapt to the weather conditions at hand.
Note: ventilation is also important to prevent mildew and mold when storing your rooftop tent if it’s wet. Never store your tent for prolonged periods when wet!
Weather resistance comes down to the wind and water-proofness of your tent. For hardshell tents this is pretty easy. The seamless hard material makes a great waterproof roof!
Where it comes to fabric tents, however, things get more complicated. Waterproofness can break down over time from the factory. You may need to keep materials on hand to repair or patch seams and holes just in case.
If you do go with a fabric tent, make sure it’s seam sealed from the factory (they all should be).
Weight and Bulk
Unless you plan to be adding and removing your rooftop tent regularly, weight isn’t much of an issue. Even the heaviest are still easily within the payload capacity of the vehicles they’re designed to be attached to.
Keep in mind, though, that you’ll likely need two or three people at least to get that beast up there and installed without hurting someone!
Bulk also typically doesn’t make much difference so long as the model you’re looking at is rated for your vehicle. Check the dimensions in width and length to be sure it won’t overhang your ride by a dangerous margin (or not fit in the first place).
If you do plan to park in a garage, be sure to check the total height. Remember to add the height of any rails or adapters to the height of the tent when packed. Measure that against the clearance you have in the areas you typically drive or park.
It should be said that the overwhelming majority of vehicle tents will fit any roof rack system.
Now, don’t get lost on me yet. There’s more to it.
Some of the roof top tents out there are designed for specific rails, or rail types. Just be sure to read the fine print about fitment before you buy.
Maybe more importantly, however, is durability. Rooftop tents are usually pretty heavy. Plus they are made to handle multiple people, often with weight ratings over 500 pounds. When you attach a tent to a roof rack, add people to it, and then shuffle, move, crawl, and climb around on it there’s a lot of stress being put on your roof rack.
Don’t expect a cheap roof rack to hold up well against the forces involved in roof top tent use. Never use clip-on roof racks for a rooftop tent. Be sure your roof rack is installed properly and rated to handle well over the weight of the tent plus the people in it.
FAQs For Roof Tents
Q: Why are rooftop tents so expensive?
A: Roof Top tents are way more expensive than your average camping tent. Many hundreds (sometimes thousands) of dollars more.
There’s a simple reason for this. They’re made from more materials and made to handle a lot more stress than your standard fabric tent.
Most rooftop tents are made with metal floors such as aluminum. Metals cost quite a bit plus they have to be machined and fabricated. Then there are metal support poles, thick canvas walls, and complex awnings to be installed.
After all this, the manufacturers have to come up with a way to securely bolt it to a roof rack. Oh, and did we mention that it has to withstand highway-speed winds and weather?
Yeah… They’re not cheap.
Q: Are roof top tents safe from bears?
A: Roof top tents are not safe from bears.
A rooftop tent is not an excuse to put yourself in unsafe areas or to be sloppy with your bear-safety protocol when camping.
Bears are regularly filmed breaking into cars, climbing on cars, and otherwise vandalizing their way into vehicles for yummy snacks. Or maybe just because they can, because… bears.
Now, I’m not saying you need to live in fear of bears by any means. Just don’t treat your rooftop tent like a shark cage – or bear cage, as it were.
Q: Do I need a roof rack for a roof top tent?
All rooftop tents are made to integrate with roof racks.
Some rooftop tents are made to work with specific roof rack models. However, for the most part, rooftop tents are usually made to work universally with just about any standard roof rack.
As I’ve mentioned before, the most important part is to ensure that your roof rack is installed properly and rated to handle the weight and stress of a rooftop tent.
Clip on, clamp on, and aftermarket roof racks that are not securely integrated with the vehicle’s frame will not handle the weight and stress of a rooftop tent.
Q: How much weight can a roof top tent hold?
A: Each rooftop tent is made to a different capacity.
On average, however, most rooftop tents will be able to hold 500 pounds or more. Don’t take that as gospel, though! Some can handle more while others are rated for less.
Another thing to keep in mind is the weight rating of the ladder for getting into the tent. Be sure the ladder included with the tent will stand up to your needs.
Lastly, double check that your roof rack is rated to handle the weight you intend to put in the tent.
There are a lot of roof top tents out there. Each one varies in size, weight capacity, and features. They are all universally great options for camping on the move though!
Before you buy, be sure to visit our “how to choose” section. Then dive into our list of the best roof top tents and see which one seems like a fit for you. We hope this article has helped to point you in the direction you want to go.
How We Researched
To come up with the top roof top tents we researched a variety of sources for reviews such as REI, Bass Pro Shops, Cabelas and Backcountry along with our own personal experience.
We also consulted online magazines for product research and reviews to get as much unbiased information as we could. To help weed out fake reviews we used Fakespot.com to make sure we only looked at genuine reviews.
With so much quality gear available, we had to narrow it down based on what we felt were the best options for the price. The author, Casey Fiedler has been leading backpacking trips for over a decade in his native state of Michigan.
To help narrow down the selection he used his personal experience along with recommendations from fellow guides and outfitters.
After extensive research, we came up with our list to help you choose the right one for you.