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Two people bike away from a soft shell roof top tent parked in the snowy mountains.

Hard-shell versus soft-shell rooftop tents

Rooftop tents can be divided into soft-shell and hard-shell rooftop tents. Hard shell tents have a plastic or metal roof while soft shell tents fold open like a book and the tent canopies are entirely made from fabric.

Read on to see some of the most important differences between the two.

Hard-shell rooftop tents

Hard-shell rooftop tents have a hardy aluminum or ABS plastic exterior and are ready to use simply by unlatching the latches so that the tent pops up. They are a great option for people who prioritize setup and takedown speed, and only need space for up to two people.

Benefits of a hard-shell car tent:

  • Can be set up in under a minute – simply undo the latches and the tent pops up automatically so you’re ready for a great night’s sleep. Faster than traditional ground tents and soft-shell rooftop tents that take roughly 3-4 minutes.
  • Made of sturdy ABS plastic, so they are great at withstanding bad weather and dry quickly after a rainstorm
  • Some tents double as a cargo box, which makes them useful when you’re not camping
  • They fit up to two people
Two people hike along a grassy path next to a vehicle with a hard shell roof top tent of the roof racks.

Soft-shell rooftop tents

Soft-shell rooftop tents are made out of durable fabrics and come in a range of sizes for up to four people. They are great for campers who need extra space for kids, pets or gear. They’re also a great choice for avid nature lovers who want to sleep under the stars.

A vehicle is parked on the beach at sunset with a soft shell rooftop tent and people sitting around a camp fire.

Benefits of a soft-shell car tent:

  • Can be set up in 3-4 minutes – simply remove the travel cover, unfold the tent and you´re ready to camp. This makes them a lot faster than traditional ground tents.
  • Lightweight which make them easier to put on and take off your vehicle
  • Fold compactly on your roof racks so you have space for other sports carriers
  • Work together with an annex or awning for even more sheltered space
  • Panoramic skylights allow for better ventilation, evening star gazing and a closer feeling to nature
  • More spacious than hard-shell tents, with the largest models fitting up to four people
  • A more affordable option
Two people sit in a soft shell roof top tent with panoramic skylights looking at the mountain view.

Thule hard-shell rooftop tents

Our hardshell car tents include Thule Basin and Thule Wedge. While the wedge shape of the Thule Basin Wedge makes it our most stable and quickest rooftop tent to deploy, the Thule Basin is more spacious.

Thule soft-shell tents

Our shoft-shell car top tents include Thule Approach, Thule Foothill, and Thule Autana. Thule Approach is the quickest and easiest to mount on your roof racks, and provides the most spacious feeling thanks to the outward-angled walls.

Thule Foothill, on the other hand, is compact and allows you to bring with other gear on the roof of your vehicle. Thule Autana comes in a range of sizes to fit the whole family.