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What’s the Advantage of a Roof Top Tent?

The advantage of a roof top tent is its comfort features, durability, safety, and ease of use while offering greater mobility and affordability over camper trailers, travel trailers, and RVs. Whether on an overland adventure, at a campground, or in a parking lot, if you can park there, you can camp.

Roof top tent advantages include:

  • Safety from wildlife
  • Fewer climbing insects are likely to enter the tent due to its height
  • Highly durable materials
  • Comfort features
  • Expandability with awnings and annexes
  • Easy setup and breakdown
  • Ability to camp almost anywhere
  • Greater mobility and cheaper than trailer tents, camper trailers, travel trailers, and RVs
  • Fits on almost any vehicle
  • Greater protection in bad weather compared to ground tents
  • Better views of nature from up high.
  • More Room in your vehicle when the tent and bedding are on the roof

For greater insight into the advantages and disadvantages of roof top tents, check out Roof Top Tents: Pros and Cons.

Why Are Roof Top Tents So Popular?

An iKamper hard shell tent set up on top of a 4-door Jeep Wangler parked on top of a ridge overlooking a beautiful view of the mountains and sea.

The popularity of roof top tents is due to their quick and easy setup and the quality of materials. They are made of thicker, more durable, long-lasting materials that provide greater year-round comfort for a cozier night’s sleep, plus greater safety from wild animals and protection in bad weather.

Setting up your roof top tent and breaking it down couldn’t be easier or quicker and it only takes one person less than 10 minutes.

When breaking camp, you don’t even have to make up your bed. The comfortable foam mattress stays inside allowing you to break camp for the day while leaving all your bedding inside.

Rocky, mucky, or other unfavorable ground isn’t an issue like it is with a ground tent. It doesn’t matter if you’re on an overland adventure, at a campground, or in a Walmart parking lot, if you’ve found a place to park, you’ve found a place to set up your roof top tent.

So… Why Do People Want Roof Top Tents? The basics are comfort, safety, ease of use, and durability.

If you are debating between a ground tent and a roof top tent, check out the article Roof Top Tents vs Ground Tents. Both tent types have their advantages and disadvantages. Camping styles and locations often dictate which tent is best.

Are Roof Top Tents Worth It?

Safety, fast setup times, and ease of use make the convenience of a roof top tent well worth the money it gets enough use. Soft shell roof top tents range from $1300 to $2800+ and should give you 5-10 years of use. Hard shell roof top tents range from $3000 to $4000+ and should give you 10-15 years.

Don’t overspend. If you only camp a few times a year, an inexpensive Ozark Trail 3-Person Camping Dome Tent for $35 will do just fine in most situations.

Are Roof Top Tents Sturdy?

Hard shell and soft shell roof top tents are made from sturdier, heavier materials than ground tents. Of these, hard shell roof top tents are the most rugged with aluminum, carbon fiber, or fiberglass shells and thicker fabrics for the best protection from weather and impacts from debris.

What Material Are Roof Top Tents Made of?

Laying in a leveled roof top tent on a slope overlooking a mountain range and valley below.

Common materials found in roof top tents are:

  • Aluminum floors
  • Fiberglass, carbon fiber, or aluminum shells with hard shell models
  • Materials used for the walls are made from a few possible fabrics: cotton, polyester, poly-cotton blends, nylon, rip-stop nylon, and acrylic-cotton blends.
  • Mesh windows and door with zip closures
  • Telescoping aluminum ladder
  • Included or build-in foam mattress for sleeping comfort

How Long Do Roof Top Tents Last?

How long a roof top tent lasts depends upon the quality of the tent, frequency of use, conditions in which it is used, and how well it is maintained and stored. In general, a soft shell roof top tent should give you around 5-10 years of use, and a hard shell roof top tent should give you 10-15 years.

Manufacturers stand behind the longevity of their roof top tents. Many high-quality roof top tent manufacturers like Roofnest, Thule, and iKamper back their tents with a limited 2-year warranty.

An extended warranty is available with iKamper, and the discretionary replacement of parts and materials is available to Roofnest customers after their 2-year warranty on a case-by-case basis for failures due to normal use.

How Do You Pick a Roof Top Tent?

Picking a roof top tent is often dictated by the following:

  • Price
  • How many people you plan to sleep
  • Available annexes and awnings if desired
  • Brand and tent quality
  • Tent weight
  • Your vehicle’s static load capacity. This is how much weight your vehicle can handle on its roof when the vehicle is parked. This usually isn’t a problem since your car is built to withstand a rollover and heavier roof top tents are in the 200-pound range.
  • Your vehicle’s dynamic load capacity. This is how much weight your vehicle can carry when it is in motion. Large trucks and SUVs usually don’t have a problem, but you can run into an issue with smaller vehicles. You should never exceed your vehicle’s dynamic load capacity.
  • Compatibility with your vehicle’s rack system.

Can You Sleep in a Roof Top Tent Anywhere?

Soft shell roof top tent set up on a 4-door Jeep Wrangler.

Technically, yes. Roof top tents function more like an RV than a ground tent. They can be set up at a campground, in the wilderness on an overland adventure, in a parking lot, or on the side of the road outside your buddy’s place. They can be set up almost anywhere for a comfortable night’s sleep.

Do Roof Top Tents Affect Gas Mileage?

According to Consumer Reports, the addition of a roof rack alone can reduce gas mileage by 11%. With the addition of a roof top tent, gas mileage can plummet by 19%. Boxy soft shell roof top tents have the biggest effect on fuel consumption while streamlined hard shells offer aerodynamic advantages.

Though a roof top tent has a significant effect on a vehicle’s gas mileage, it is more efficient than a camper trailer or RV. Luckily, these heavy, bulky roof top tents can be removed after the camping season.

How Do You Reduce Wind Drag on a Roof Top Tent?

To improve aerodynamic efficiency and reduce the wind drag of a roof top tent, install a low profile, aerodynamic roof rack, and a wind fairing.

It’s important to understand that the make and model of your vehicle will have an effect as well. A hard shell roof top tent creates less wind resistance than a soft shell roof top tent.

Why Are Roof Top Tents So Heavy?

The sturdy materials that go into making a tent so that it can be mounted on the roof of a vehicle and support the weight of two to four people while sustaining the harsh rays of the sun, brutal winter conditions, and wind force make a roof top tent far heavier than a standard ground tent.

How Heavy is a Roof Top Tent?

Roof top tents weigh around 90 lbs to 200 lbs. Hard shell roof top tents are often heavier per square foot. The tent weight will occasionally vary if upgrading bedding, insulation, or ladder or if amenities like an annex or awnings are added. Most roof racks and vehicles can handle these weights.

Weight of Hard Shell Roof Top Tents

BrandModelHard Shell StyleSleeping CapacityWeight
RoofnestCondorClamshell w/ Fold-Out2-3135 lbs
RoofnestCondor XLClamshell w/ Fold-Out3-4160 lbs
RoofnestCondor OverlandClamshell w/ Fold-Out2-3165 lbs
RoofnestFalcon 2Clamshell2160 lbs
RoofnestFalcon 2 XLClamshell2-3175 lbs
RoofnestFalcon 2 ProClamshell2180 lbs
RoofnestSparrowPop-Up2130 lbs
RoofnestSparrow XLPop-Up2-3155 lbs
RoofnestSparrow AdventurePop-Up2130 lbs
RoofnestSparrow Adventure XLPop-Up2-3150 lbs
RoofnestSparrow EYEPop-Up2130 lbs
iKamperSkycamp MiniClamshell w/ Fold-Out2125 lbs
iKamperSkycamp 3.0 MiniClamshell w/ Fold-Out2125 lbs
iKamperSkycamp 2.0Clamshell w/ Fold-Out4160 lbs
iKamperSkycamp 3.0Clamshell w/ Fold-Out4165 lbs
Thule BasinPop-Up2176 lbs
Thule Basin WedgeClamshell2156 lbs
SMRT TentSummit Suite TentClamshell3160 lbs
ROAM Adventure CoRamblerPop-Up2130 lbs
Overland Vehicle SystemsBushveldClamshell w/ Fold-Out4175 lbs
SylvansportLoftPop-Up2117 lbs

Weight of Soft Shell Roof Top Tents

BrandModelPerson CapacityWeight
Front RunnerRoof Top Tent293 lbs
iKamperX-Cover 2.0 Mini2119 lbs
ikamperX-Cover 2.03-4150 lbs
ThuleTepui Foothill2122 lbs
ThuleTepui Ruggedized Kukenam3162 lbs
ThuleTepui Ruggedized Autana + Annex3195 lbs
ThuleTepui Explorer Ayer2100 lbs
ThuleTepui Explorer Kukenam3119 lbs
ThuleTepui Explorer Autana3152 lbs
ThuleTepui Explorer Autana + Annex4180 lbs
ThuleTepui Low-Pro 2298 lbs
ThuleApproach Roof Top Tent2110 lb
SMRT TentThe Softshell Tent4128 lbs
YakimaSkyrise Rooftop3115 lbs
YakimaSkyRise HD3114 lbs
ROAM Adventure CoVagabond Lite2110 lbs
ROAM Adventure CoVagabond XL + Annex4160 lbs
Overland Vehicle SystemsTMBK 33100 lbs

What Cars Can You Put a Roof Top Tent On?

A soft shell roof top tent installed on a small SUV in the woods.

Roof top tents are designed to fit on most SUVs and trucks with a wide variety of roof racks, though you may have to upgrade your roof rack to support the weight or installation of the tent. The main thing is to ensure that you don’t exceed the static and dynamic load capacity of your vehicle.

Static load capacity is how much your vehicle can handle on its roof when the vehicle is parked. This usually isn’t a problem since your car is built to withstand a rollover and heavier roof top tents are in the 200-pound range.

The dynamic load capacity of your vehicle is how much weight your vehicle can carry when it is in motion. Large trucks and SUVs usually don’t have a problem, but you can run into an issue with smaller vehicles. You should never exceed your vehicle’s dynamic load capacity.

How Do I Know If My Car Can Handle a Roof Top Tent?

It is not advisable to install a roof top tent on a vehicle with a roof load limit under 165 lbs. While larger SUVs, and trucks are often acceptable, small SUVs and cars may not be great candidates for installation. As far as roof racks go, some fixed point and most raised rail systems will work.

Remember to consider the weight of the tent, accessories, and occupants when looking at static load limits, and check the requirements for the tent you’re considering before purchase.

How Do You Install a Roof Top Tent?

Here’s a great video from Roofnest demonstrating the installation of a roof top tent.

How Long Does it Take to Install a Roof Top Tent?

Once you have your roof rack installed, it only takes about an hour or two with the help of a friend to lift the tent on top of the vehicle and stably secure and level it with the proper tools. After installing the tent according to the manufacturer’s specifications, setup should only take 1-15 min.

Installation and setup times will vary according to the tent make and model. Once you have driven 20 miles or so recheck the mounting hardware to make sure it is still tight.

How Do I Get In and Out of a Roof Top Tent?

A roof top tent on a Jeep Wrangler camping on a beach at night.

Roof top tents come with a telescoping ladder. These ladders are lightweight, durable, and collapsible with safety features like anti-skid rungs. They come in different heights too. So, whether you have a tall or short vehicle, you are sure to be covered.

Do Roof Tents Damage Cars?

Rood-top tents can be installed on almost any vehicle without damage. To minimize the possibility of damage, do not install a tent that exceeds the weight limit of your roof, install the tent properly, and get others to help lift the tent onto the car and remove it at the end of your camping season.

Do You Need a Roof Rack for a Roof Top Tent?

A roof top tent is supported by and installed on a roof rack system attached to your vehicle. This might be a factory-installed rack or an aftermarket roof rack from Front Runner, Rhino-Rack, Thule, or Yakima. The proper roof rack system must have crossbars for securely mounting your roof top tent.

You may want to consider an aftermarket roof rack that has a higher weight capacity than the standard factory-installed rack that may have come with your car. Aftermarket roof racks are better at handling the static and dynamic weight of roof top tents.

I know picking the right roof top tent rack and parts can get confusing. If you plan to mount your tent to a platform rack Roofnest has done a great job clarifying what’s needed in the Roofnest Roof Rack Guide.

How Far Apart Should Crossbars Be for Roof Top Tents?

22″ – 48″ Apart

Roof top tents mount to the crossbars on a roof rack system or a platform rack. The required distance between the crossbars will vary according to the roof top tent. I have found required distances anywhere from 22″ to 48″ apart. See your owner’s manual for your tent’s specific requirements.

How Do You Level a Roof Top Tent?

To level your roof top tent, start by parking on the flattest surface you can find. From this starting point, use a combination of a leveling tool to measure your pitch and roll and leveling blocks, recovery boards, air suspension, scrap lumber, rock, log, or firewood to level your vehicle.

For more on leveling your roof top tent and your vehicle when camping, check out the article How Do You Level A Roof Top Tent? for how and the specific tools needed.

Are Roof Top Tents Easy to Steal?

It is hard to steal a roof top tent weighing 100-200lbs plus any accessories and bedding left in the tent. The tent’s high mounting position, attachment systems, and anti-theft locking nuts make it even more difficult for a team of thieves to run off with a roof top tent. It’s rare but does happen.

The best way to secure a roof top tent from theft is to attach the tent to your roof rack with anti-theft locking nuts.

Can a Roof Top Tent Be Used On the Ground?

A roof top tent can be used on the ground but why would you lug a very heavy expensive tent that is designed to go on top of your vehicle into the woods? How would you get it there in the first place if it wasn’t bolted to your vehicle? A ground tent would be a more practical solution.

Also, if you place a roof top tent on the ground it losses many of its advantages and is susceptible to most of the same conditions as a ground tent.

Do Roof Top Tents Get Hot?

A hard shell roof top tent on top of a vehicle out in the desert.

Tents have a tendency to get hot. They trap heat. The thick material walls and insulation in roof top tents can make this issue worse. Any heat that builds up in the tent if set up during the day and your body heat can make your tent feel like a sauna. Luckily, there are great ways to cool tents.

How Do I Keep My Roof Top Tent Cool in Summer?

Here are some of the best ways to keep cool in a roof top tent this summer…

  • Set up your tent in a shaded area.
  • Don’t set up your tent till dusk and break it down in the morning. This will prevent hot air from building up in your tent making it a sauna. Be sure to keep your tent shaded until setup time. If there’s no shade consider covering it with a reflective tarp.
  • Get a little camping fan to circulate the air through the tent’s windows.
  • If you want to go all-in for comfort, there’s always the Zero Breeze 2300 BTU
    battery-powered portable camping air conditioner.

Are Roof Top Tents Cold?

Roof top tents don’t sit on the cold ground and many are 4-season tents made of thicker materials that provide more warmth than most ground tents. They also have foam mattresses and an insulation system may also be available like the Ptarmigan Tent Insulation for the Roofnest Sparrow and Sparrow XL.

If you find that it’s cold in your roof top tent, a portable heater will give you the extra warmth you need. Just make sure you get one with an oxygen depletion sensor and accidental tip-over safety shutoff like the Mr. Heater Portable Buddy Heater.

How Do Roof Top Tents Do in Wind?

Though roof top tents do quite well in the wind, the best-performing roof top tents for major wind storms, snow storms, and dust storms are those with a clamshell design without a foldout. The tent best deflects the wind and minimizes noise when turned with the hinged side facing into the wind.

Are Roof Top Tents Waterproof?

Yes, the thick durable materials of roof top tents are designed to be waterproof. In addition, soft shell roof top tents have a rain fly and hard shell roof top tents have the extra protection of a fiberglass or aluminum roof. Unfortunately, waterproofing doesn’t last forever and must be maintained.

The longevity of a tent’s waterproofing is dependent on the frequency of use, the environmental conditions of where you camp, and how well you maintain your tent.

If your tent starts to leak, you can restore the waterproofing by applying sealer to the seams, refreshing the urethane coating on the rain fly and tent floor, and refreshing the durable water-repellent coating on the exterior of the rainfly.

Are Roof Top Tents Safe in Thunderstorms?

No, roof top tents are not safe in a thunderstorm. Roof top tents and ground tents offer no protection from lightning and there is little you can do to reduce your risk of a lightning strike if you are outside in a thunderstorm. The only safe recourse is to get in your vehicle or a safe building.

Tips for reducing your risk of being fried by a lightning strike while camping:

  • Know the weather forecast for where you are camping. If there is a high chance of a thunderstorm, consider rearranging your plans.
  • Don’t stay in your roof top tent. Get in your car or a safe building.
  • When there is a risk of lightning, avoid setting up camp in open areas or on the top of a ridge or hill.
  • Avoid tall, isolated objects and trees.
  • Locate away from water and metal objects. These conduct electricity from a lightning strike.
  • If you are forced to weather out a thunderstorm, a ravine or other low area might be your best bet.

How Do I Stop Condensation on My Roof Top Tent?

How To Stop Condensation In Your Roof Top Tent

  • Make sure your tent is well-ventilated. Keep windows open to improve airflow and remove moist air before condensation has a chance to buildup on the inside of your roof top tent.
  • Setting up your roof top tent in an area with a natural breeze can improve air circulation.
  • Improve air circulation inside your tent by using a fan to improve airflow in your tent.
  • Use an anti-condensation mat.
  • Store wet or damp items outside your tent.
  • Do not set up your roof top tent near a body of water. Water sources will increase humidity levels.
  • Camp on dry ground. Evaporation from the damp ground will increase condensation.
  • Don’t touch the sides of your tent. This can cause water to leak through where you touched it.
  • People and pets camping in your roof top tent will increase moisture from breathing. The more the merrier my not be the case when fighting condensation.
  • Moisture is added to the air with each breath expelled. The more people and pets in your roof top tent greater the moisture content in the air.
  • Air out a wet tent before storing.
  • Use a dehumidifier.

How Many People Fit in a Roof Top Tent?

A roof top tent on a Jeep Wrangler in the desert.

Roof top tents can sleep anywhere from 1-5 people. Hard shell roof top tents typically sleep 2-3 people, yet clamshell styles can sleep up to 4 people. Soft shell roof top tents with a large footprint can sleep up to 5 people. If you need more room for campers, annexes are available for some models.

Are Roof Top Tents Good for Families?

Yes, roof top tents offer families extra safety, convenience, and comfort. There’s no sleeping on the cold, lumpy ground and wild animals are less likely to come knocking in the night. Hard shell roof top tents also offer increased protection from the cold, wind, rain, wind, snow, and hail.

You’ll camp more often when your family sleeps well. We all want happy campers! Younger kids also love the novelty of climbing up into a tent on top of your vehicle.

Can Bears Get in a Roof Top Tent?

Yes, bears can get into a roof top tent.

Roof top tents were originally invented to keep campers safe from predatory animals but bears climb and tent fabrics aren’t impenetrable. Roof top tents do, however, keep you safer than a ground tent. At least a bear would have to climb a ladder or get on top of your vehicle to reach your tent.

Are All Roof Top Tents the Same?

An iKamper hardshell roof top tent on a Jeep Rubicon and a softshell tent mounted to a truck bed in the the woods on a camping trip.

Not all roof top tents are the same. Many brands may look somewhat alike but the quality of materials, craftsmanship, and durability of roof top tents vary greatly across brands. Like most things in life, you get what you pay for. Be sure to research products and read reviews before buying.

Are Roof Top Tents Comfortable?

Roof top tents can be very comfortable. They are up off the cold hard, lumpy, ground, and come with a high-density foam mattress. Different brands and models have mattresses of varied thicknesses and quality that can rival your bed at home. Comfortable pillows and a blanket add to the lavishness.

For a detailed look into the comfort of rooftop tents, check out Are Rooftop Tents Comfortable? And Ways to Improve Comfort.

Can You Leave Bedding in a Roof Top Tent?

Yes, you can leave a limited amount of bedding in your roof top tent when it is folded up. The amount of bedding depends on your tent. The slim roof top tents are often too tight to store much other than a sheet and thin blanket whereas others allow thick blankets, pillows, and even a mattress topper.

Do Roof Top Tents Come with Mattress?

Roof top tents come with mattresses. The quality of which can vary greatly between brands. The mattress can be upgraded for sleeping comfort. If you like extra comfort, a 2-inch memory foam topper can be placed on top of the stock mattress of some roof top tents and still get the tent to close.

How Can I Make My Roof Top Tent More Comfortable?

Camping with a hard shell roof top tent on top of a Land Rover Defender.
  • Make sure you level your vehicle and tent.
  • Upgrade your tent’s mattress or add a memory foam topper.
  • Use an anti-condensation mat.
  • Bring some good pillows
  • Use a blanket that fits the season instead of a sleeping bag.
  • For outside comfort, attach an awning or annex.
  • Buy a tent insulation kit for winter camping if your tent brand offers one.
  • Use a fan, portable camping air conditioner, or space heater.
  • Where you set up your tent and at what time of day can also affect comfort.
  • Solar panels for powering your gadgets.
Steve Hood

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