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How do you choose a rooftop tent? And how do you make sure it fits your car? We answer these questions and more!
Roof top tents are made for campers who love adventure. Their quick set-up time means you can camp easily anywhere, and their durable construction makes them the perfect for the wilderness.
So is it time to ditch your tent on the cold, muddy ground and climb up among the treetops? Well, before you do, there are a lot of things to keep in mind. Our complete guide will help you answer any pressing questions.
In this article:
Why buy a rooftop tent?
There are lots of benefits of a rooftop tent:
The adventure. Rooftop tents are a unique way to experience the great outdoors, no matter the conditions. These tents are built to last. They handle bad weather better than ground tents and can be used in tricky terrain unlike RVs.
The view. Getting up off the ground means that you have easy viewing of the beautiful scenery just outside your tent. Some roof top tents even have built-in sky panels, so you can drift off gazing at the stars.
Quick to set up. Rooftop tents can be opened and packed away within minutes. You don’t have to connect a bunch of poles and secure them in the ground like a ground tent. All you have to do is unfold the tent and you’re done. This means more time exploring and less time setting up camp.
Comfort. Most roof top tents have built-in mattresses which are comfier than blow-up mattresses (especially a deflated one!). The bedding remains inside the tent which means you can jump in as soon as the tent is opened. Also, the tent’s flat floor means no more knobby stones poking your back at night.
Helps you keep clean and dry. These tents keep you up and away from mud, snow, sand and critters.
Built for all kinds of weather. The materials used to make rooftop tents are often designed to withstand harsh weather conditions better than ground tents.
Rooftop tent vs trailer?
The rooftop tent is more affordable than a trailer, camper van or RV – but is still a mobile home transported by your car. These tents can be transported on any vehicle which makes them more flexible. Also, they can handle bumpy terrain making them perfect for off-road adventures.
A trailer, van or RV is a better option for those who like being in a home away from home, with a water and plumbing system. As they are larger, they are often less flexible than rooftop tents.
How do you use a rooftop tent?
How to install a roof top tent?
Before you get camping, you have to first mount the roof top tent to your vehicle. Rooftop tents are designed differently and have different installation methods, but the general process for most tents is:
Of course, for more specific instructions always refer to the manual of your specific tent.
How to use the rooftop tent?
Once you’ve reached your destination, how do you set up the rooftop tent? There are two options, fold-out or pop-up, both are a lot quicker than traditional ground tents.
Fold-out: Most common with soft-shell roof top tents. Simply pull off the travel cover, pull out the ladder and unfold the tent. Adjust the ladder so that it reaches the floor and then you’re ready to enjoy!
Pop-up: Most common for hard-shell roof top tents. Simply unlatch the latches and the tent will pop up into place. It’s that simple!
How long does it take to open a rooftop tent?
Some roof top tent enthusiasts have been interested in this exact question. When timed, most rooftop tents can be opened and ready for use in about three to four minutes average.
The process of opening the tent, setting up the windows and rainfly rods can take a little longer, anywhere from 4-6 minutes. Hard-shell tents are usually quicker since there are no extra features like rain fly rods to set up.
Where can you camp with a roof top tent?
You can set up your tent anywhere camping is allowed. Campsites, certain national parks, or designated parking areas can allow camping. Check the guidelines of your local authorities to see if they allow camping with a car. Apps like iOverlander or Allstays help you find places in your area where camping is allowed.
What kind of rooftop tent should you buy?
Once you’ve figured out how to use a rooftop tent, the natural next question is: which rooftop tent is best for me? Here are some details to keep in mind when picking out your new mobile home.
Hard shell roof top tent vs soft shell roof top tent
Hard shell roof top tent: A hard shell tent is opened just by releasing a few latches. For this reason, they are even faster than soft shell roof top tents to set up and tear down. Also, since they tend to be made of sturdy material like aluminum or ABS plastic, they are great at withstanding wind and rain. All these factors make them popular for overlanding and off-roading trips. Also, some hard-shell tents double up as a cargo box for extra storage, or to use during the off-season.
Soft shell roof top tents: Soft shell tents are the most common type. One half is mounted to the roof rack of your car, and the other is supported a ladder. To open it you simply pull down the ladder and the tent folds open. Soft shell tents come in bigger sizes than hard shell and the largest roof top tent fits four people. Also, soft-shell tents can have an annex attached which allows for extra space below the tent.
What’s the best roof top tent?
The largest roof top tents usually max out with a weight capacity of about 650 lbs. (290kg), which is perfect as a 4 person tent for families. A roof top tent annex also gives you extra space to get the little ones ready in the morning, or even separate place for them to sleep. The Thule Tepui Autana 4 is ready for any season and provides protection in all types of environments.
For weekends and short trips
If you’re the type of explorer who likes quick weekend getaways or a short stay at a campsite, a compact lightweight car roof tent is ideal. A tent like the Thule Tepui Foothill frees up space on the roof of your car. This makes it ideal for smaller vehicles like crossovers and wagons and means you can bring along extra equipment like a bike or kayak.
For the adventurers
If you have a long trip planned out to the hinterlands, choose a roof top tent that is designed for where the road ends. Hard-shell rooftop tents like the Thule Tepui Hybox have hard material makes them extra good at withstanding rain and wind. A tent like this is perfect for your 4X4 trailer or off-road rigs.
Roof top tent accessories and features
How do you know if a roof top tent fits your vehicle?
We know how important it is to make sure that your rooftop tent is secure and safe. That’s why it is important that your tent fits your car properly. Below are some things to consider when checking if a tent will fit your car.
Roof rack fit
(Roof types from left to right: fixed-point, raised railing, rain gutters, flush railing, and tracks)
Use our fit guide to simplify the process! We do all the calculations so that you don’t have to. Just select your car brand, car model and manufacture year into our guide and we’ll suggest some of our rooftop tents that fit your car.
Do you need a roof rack for a roof top tent? Yes! Rooftop tents are installed on the rack system of your vehicle, truck, SUV or van.
Can you put a rooftop tent on top of a jeep or truck? Yes! Most roof top tents fit on most vehicles, whether it be jeep, truck, or SUV.
Can I put a rooftop tent and a kayak on my rack? What about canoes or bicycles? Yes! Some roof top tents give you enough space to also carry a kayak, canoe or bicycle on the side. A roof top tent and a cargo box is also possible. Just make sure the weight capacity of your roof rack and car is up to it.