Roof-Top Tents: Pros and Cons


Camping / Saturday, July 25th, 2020

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Have you seen roof-top tents? If you have, you’re probably in one of two boats… Or is that tents? For me, I was ready to buy. My wife… She thinks they’re silly. Which way do you lean?

If you’re interested in buying, you’ll want to know the pros and cons. If you want to talk your husband out of a silly tent, you’ll want to read the cons.

Oh! And there are softshell and hardshell roof-top tents. Both will be covered so you can explore the advantage and disadvantages of each.

Advantages of a Roof-Top Tent

The advantages of roof-top tents for many campers and overlanders often outweigh any disadvantages. Let’s look at why people love roof-top tents.

Safety

Wildlife is less of a threat when you’re sleeping up high in a roof-top tent. Snakes, crocodiles, bears, wolves, and so many more will be denied access to your outdoor penthouse.

Keeps Some Insects Out of Your Tent

Creepy crawly insects like scorpions, ants, and spiders will find it harder to climb into your tent. I hate feeling like something’s crawling around in my tent or in my sleeping bag.

If you need them, we’ve covered ways to keep insects out of your tent.

Durable

Roof-top tents are 3-season or 4-season tents constructed from a coated denier canvas made to withstand the elements. This material is waterproof as well as UV and mold-resistant.

Denier canvas along with a heavy-duty aluminum support structure makes for a very durable tent that will provide decades of use with the proper care.

Comfort

Roof-top tents have mesh windows and door for ventilation and typically come with a high-density foam mattress for a comfy night’s sleep. Some even have a sky view window in the roof for extra light during the day and a relaxing view of the stars at night.

Expandability

Need more room? Some softshell roof-top tents have annexes that can be added and a Thule Tepui Overcast Awning can be used with either soft or hardshell versions for added shade.

Easy Setup and Breakdown

Setting up your roof-top tent and breaking it down couldn’t be easier or quicker and it only takes one person. If you have an annex, it doesn’t take long to set up either.

When breaking camp, you don’t even have to make up your bed. The foam mattress folds up inside. Breaking camp for the day? Leave your bedding inside too. It’ll save space in your vehicle.

Camp Anywhere

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 the Walmart parking lot, if you’ve found a place to park, you’ve found a place to set up your roof-top tent.

Mobility

You’re far less encumbered with a roof-top tent. They allow you to go places you could only dream of with trailer tents, camper trailers, travel trailers, and RVs especially if you have an off-road 4×4.

Fits on Almost Any Vehicle

Roof-top tents and 4×4’s are a great marriage but they fit on almost any vehicle. There’s even a Skycamp Mini Roof-Top Tent from iKamper that fits on compact cars.

Truck, family sedan, SUV, compact… You can mount them on trailers too. All you need is a suitable roof rack to mount them to. Roof-top tents are heavier than your average ground tent so aftermarket roof racks like those from Yakima and Thule may be needed to accommodate the extra weight.

Wondering if the roof or roof rack of your vehicle can support the weight of a roof-top tent? Most cars can due to manufacturer safety requirements though you should be sure to check your manufacturer’s recommendations.

Weathering the Storms

There are softshell and hardshell roof-top tents. The hardshell versions offer more protection in bad weather though both versions are waterproof and made from sturdier, heavier materials than the average ground tent.

Roof-top tents are not only waterproof they’re capable of handling strong winds and with a roof-top tent, you don’t have to worry about water from heavy downpours pooling up and swamping your tent. Snowbanks are less of a problem too but please don’t camp in a blizzard.

Seek shelter during severe storms. They should be avoided as they should in all camping situations.

The View

You have your very own mobile tree house with great views that you can’t get with ground tents. Whether the view is of the mountains, lake, river ocean, or elevation over the forest floor, you’ll love the view from higher up.

Cheaper than Alternatives

Are you looking to move up from a ground tent to something better? Roof-top tents are cheaper than camper trailers, travel trailers, and RVs. They provide mobility and some useful upgrades at a fraction of the cost.

For added storage, efficiency, and comfort, add some drawer systems, refrigerator and cargo slides, and electric cooler to your vehicle.

More Room in Your Vehicle

When the tent is mounted on your roof, you’ll have more room inside for your family, friends, and essential camping gear.

One thing to remember when you bring that extra stuff is how to keep your camping gear safe from theft. You may want to pack up your gear if you drive away from the campsite for the day. You’ll have to break down the roof-top tent for sure. You can’t drive with it expanded on top.

Roof-Top Tent Recommendations

Night scene of a camper climbing down a ladder for accessing a Thule Tepui roof-top tent mounted on a Jeep Wrangler.

Thule Tepui Tents is one of the best roof-top tent brands. These two hardshell and softshell are my favorite choices from Tepui.

Disadvantages of a Roof-Top Tent

There are fewer cons than pros though the disadvantages may deter you from buying a roof-top tent. Other than price there is one disadvantage that is a huge deal for my family. It might be for you too.

Price

Price is the biggest deterring factor for many campers. The tent itself can run $1000 to $4000. If you need a roof rack, you’ll be out a few hundred more.

It’s still cheaper than other tent alternatives like travel trailers and RVs.

Mounting the Tent

Getting a roof-top tent on and off the roof of your vehicle will take no less than two people. These tents can weigh 100 – 200 lbs.

Removing and remounting between use can be a pain. If you camp often, you might want to leave it on your vehicle during camping season.

Roof-Bound

You’ll only be able to camp where you can drive. You can’t take the tent off your vehicle and backpack to your camping spot. This is less of a problem with a 4×4 but the use of a roof-top tent with the family sedan may limit possibilities.

Camp Breakdown for Excursions

You can’t drive while the tent is set up, so you’ll have to breakdown the tent every time you want to go on an excursion away from camp. This may cause you to lose your camping spot, especially if you take all your gear with you, and leaving limited gear at a campsite increases the possibility of theft.

Related Content: Keep Your Gear Safe From Theft While Camping

Nighttime Bathroom Trips

A groggy climb down a ladder and back up in the middle of the night for a bathroom trip is a little more work than a ground tent but really not too bad.

Gas Mileage

The wind resistance of roof-top tents has a negative effect on gas mileage. This can add up if you keep your tent on your vehicle throughout the camping season.

Change in Center of Gravity

If only slightly, the increased height of mounting a roof-top tent can negatively affect a vehicle’s center of gravity thus reducing trail performance and road handling.

Wind

Though they’re designed to handle stronger winds, you’ll feel the roof-top tent rocking around a bit. The winds catch your vehicle and tent.

The rocking motion may bother you or it might lull you to sleep.

Single Bed

Roof-top tents typically come with a bed. One bed. This is fine when camping alone or for couples but families or groups of friends might find the accommodations less than desirable.

Can’t Stand Up In

Some ground tents are tall enough to stand up in. Not so for roof-top tents. An annex, yes, if you have one but not the roof-top penthouse.

Difficulties with Small Children and Dogs

The high mounting position makes camping with little children and dogs difficult. Carrying a small child or dog up and down the ladder is precarious and these tents lack safety features at the tent door to prevent falls.

We have an infant and will not be camping in a roof-top tent until she’s older.

Clearance Height

The clearance height of my vehicle with a roof-top tent makes it too tall for parking garages and other structures like my garage at home. Be sure you know your height restrictions. You don’t want to damage your tent, vehicle, or a permanent structure.

Mold and Mildew

The fabrics of roof-top tents are mold and mildew resistant but folding up a roof-top tent after camping in rainy or snowy conditions can cause mold and mildew to form virtually destroying the tent. The tent must be opened back up and dried. This can be inconvenient if there is a lack of space to unfold the tent at home or if you live in an area of the country with an inhospitable climate or other weather conditions that prevent you from drying the tent.

Conclusion

The pros of roof-top tents far outweigh the cons. Well, for the longterm they do. For the short term, I’ll be sticking to camping on the ground for the safety of my infant daughter. When she gets older, she’ll probably enjoy climbing the ladder to her penthouse.

Does a roof-top tent fit your desired camping style?

Roof-top tent set up on a 4x4 under the night sky.