Camping sure has changed in recent years, from traditional to high tech. Some people don’t even use the term camping anymore, as “glamping” is all the rage. And as more people have started to take up camping and explore the outdoors, a new rooftop tent industry has sprouted. Just a few years ago these were relatively rare, but now they are commonplace at nearly every camping spot.
This article is going to explore the best rooftop tents on the market today. We’ll go over their pros and cons and give our recommendations for the top 5 best rooftop tents for 2023. At the bottom, you’ll find an FAQ to answer all of your questions. No matter what vehicle you have and what type of camping you are planning, we’ll try to have a recommendation for you.
Rooftop Tent Pros and Cons
The top benefits of rooftop tents are:
- Saving space inside vehicle
- Don’t have to sleep on ground
- Tend to be more comfortable
- Built for durability
- Supposed to quick and easy to set up
Probably the biggest advantage of a rooftop tent is that you don’t have to sleep on the ground. This is nice because not only does it keep out of the way of most small critters, but it also tends to be more comfortable. It won’t stop all bugs, critters, or animals from getting to your tent, but it definitely cuts down on them. In addition, if you are enduring harsh weather like rain or snow, sleeping in the air prevents you from waking up in a wet puddle or encased in snow.
It’s also great for saving space. Instead of taking up room in your vehicle with your tent, raincover, and sleeping materials, you can keep them all in the tent. Most tents have built-in mattresses, and you can keep all of your sleeping paraphernalia inside while you drive. This saves a ton of space that you can use for other things. Also, the built-in mattress is usually much more comfortable than an air mattress or sleeping pad.
Rooftop tents are built to be durable. There are both softshell and hardshell designs, and the hardshells are very rugged. They can withstand extreme weather like sleet, hale, and snow with ease. They also last a long time, as even the softshells are built from thick materials that can withstand weathering.
Finally, the biggest selling point is the supposed ease of putting the tent up and taking it down. While it sounds good in theory, actual real-world experience with them has been mixed. They can be quicker than ground tents, but only if you get the hang of them – which takes time.
The top drawbacks of rooftop tents are:
- Very expensive compared to ground tents
- Increased weight
- Difficult initial setup
- Have to stay with vehicle
- Can’t keep tent up during day
While getting a rooftop tent definitely has its advantages, there are also some significant trade-offs as well. The biggest disadvantage by far is going to be the price. Rooftop tents are much, much more expensive than ground tents, it’s not even close. A nice ground tent might set you back $100-$200, but an entry level rooftop tent is at least $1,000. Hardshells are more expensive than softshells, and some of them can be north of $4,000. Definitely not something you buy as your first tent.
In addition, they weigh a lot more than ground tents. While you don’t have to carry them, it increases the strain on your vehicle. Not only does it diminish gas mileage as you are carrying an extra couple-hundred pounds and increasing drag, but it also puts a lot of weight on your vehicle’s center of gravity. This can make it more susceptible to flipping over on tighter turns or when off-roading. The additional height on top of the car also makes it more treacherous when driving through areas with lots of low-hanging tree-branches.
They are also hard to set up initially, because they are heavier than average and many people struggle to lift them onto bigger trucks and SUVs. They are also more complex than setting up a normal tent, as you have to make sure that it is secure to your vehicle.
Our final rooftop tent gripes
The final drawbacks are mainly convenience. Since your tent is attached to your roof, you have to sleep on your car. That means no ditching the car for a hike and overnight camp; you have to return if you want to use your tent. You also can’t keep your tent up during the day while you leave the campsite and explore in your car. While they are supposed to be easy to set up, many people consider it tedious and annoying to do every day.
Top 5 Best Rooftop Tents
The top 5 best roof top tents are:
- Thule Tepui Explorer Kukenam 3
- Roofnest Condor XL
- Smittybilt Overlander
- iKamper Skycamp 3.0 Mini Tent
- Front Runner Roof Top Tent
Now let’s look at the top 5 best roof top tents on the market for 2023. We have a mix of both hardshell and softshell choices, and also have tents of varying size. There are literally dozens of rooftop tents on the market today, but we think these are the best options.
1) Thule Tepui Explorer Kukenam 3 Roof Top Tent
Capacity: 3 Campers
Type: Softshell Tent
Purchase Link: Thule Tepui Explorer Kukenam 3 Rooftop Tent
Starting off our list is the Thule Tepui Explorer Kukenam Roof Top Tent. Thule acquired Tepui in 2018, and have since been selling their tents under the joint branding. They have some of the biggest market share in the industry, and their tents are immensely popular.
Their Explorer Kukenam 3 is one of their most popular midsize tent options. It can comfortably fit 2-3 campers and includes a 2.4 inch high density foam mattress for sleeping. Tepui gave it panoramic windows and skylights for optimal stargazing and nature watching. They also help ventilate the tent to keep temperatures down. The 52 inch ceiling makes it very roomy.
It’s not going to give you the protection of a hardshell, but the cover is made from coated 600 denier and a 260g poly-cotton blend. It weighs just shy of 120 lbs, making it relatively light by rooftop tent standards. Its moderate price also means most buyers will be more than happy camping with a Tepui Explorer Kukenam 3.
2) Roofnest Condor XL Rooftop Tent
Capacity: 3-4 Campers
Type: Hardshell Tent
Purchase Link: Roofnest Condor XL Rooftop Tent
Coming in second on our list is the Roofnest Condor XL roof top tent. The XL in the name indicates that it is the larger of the Condor models, and this one is meant to sleep as many as 4 people. It’s over a foot larger than the standard Condor, though it also weighs more too at 160 lbs.
For comfort, the tent has a 2.5 inch foam mattress and maximum interior headroom of 50 inches. It also has an included privacy cover, 4×4 ground mat, and interior LED light. The tent is huge, with an interior of 93″L x 74″W and exterior of 74″L x 55″W. Yet, it compacts into just 13 inches when fully closed – great for reducing drag.
The Condor XL is a hardshell tent, meaning it is meant to brave the elements. It is very sturdy and will definitely hold up to extreme weather. However, it is very expensive at just shy of $3,400, but you are certainly getting a solid piece of equipment. It’s probably overkill for single campers or couples, but if you have a group of 3-4 it’s perfect. The Condors are among the best rooftop tents for Jeeps.
3) Smittybilt Overlander Rooftop Tent
Price: $1,325.99 – $1,529.99
Capacity: 2-4 Campers
Type: Softshell Tent
Purchase Link: Smittybilt Overlander Roof Top Tent
The next entry on our list is the Smittybilt Overlander Rooftop Tent. Smittybilt has two options for the Overlander, the standard and the XL. The standard is meant for 2-3 people, while the XL is meant for upwards of 4 campers. The XL is significantly bigger than the standard, coming in at 122”W x 76”L x 51” H. The standard is only 95”W x 56”L x 51”H. The XL also has a larger load capacity, at 770 lbs vs 661 lbs.
Comfort-wise, it includes a 2.36 inch foam mattress with a removal cover. There is also an LED strip interior light, and the interior height of 51 inches – for both models – making them pretty roomy. They also include a sliding ladder and mosquito screens, though there have been complaints about the ladder’s durability.
The Smittybilt Overlanders are softshell tents, so they won’t have the same durability as a hardshell. However, they do come with rain covers and offer excellent ventilation for temperature control. The roof panels open on clear nights for excellent stargazing, which is one of the Overlander’s top selling points. The Overlander is definitely a solid rooftop tent, even if it is a bit pricey.
4) iKamper Skycamp 3.0 Mini Tent
Capacity: 1-2 Campers
Type: Hardshell Tent
Purchase Link: iKamper Skycamp 3.0 Mini Tent
Coming up next on our list is our smallest suggestion, the iKamper Skycamp 3.0 Mini Tent. IKamper were one of the first rooftop tent manufacturers, and their Skycamp model is already on its third edition. As the name implies, this tent is on the smaller side. It’s meant for a single camper or a couple, but it saves a lot of space. This is one of the few tents that can be mounted on smaller cars and not just trucks, Jeeps, or SUVs.
The Skycamp 3.0 is a hardshell tent, so it will do well against the elements and in extreme weather. Even though it’s a mini, it’s still pretty comfortable for two-people. It measures 82 ⅔”W x 51”L x 48”H, and weighs 125 lbs. The mattress is the smallest on our list at just 2.25” thick, but it is insulated. It also has iKamper’s signature skyview window for optimal stargazing and nature watching.
While the iKamper Skycamp isn’t cheap, coming in as our most expensive tent despite being the smallest, it is a very solid unit. The hardshell adds weight, but also a ton of durability. Due to its price, the Skycamp is probably best for couples rather than single campers, and definitely for those who will use it often.
5) Front Runner Roof Top Tent
Capacity: 2-3 Campers
Type: Softshell Tent
Purchase Link: Front Runner Roof Top Tent
Our final entry on the list is the Front Runner Roof Top Tent. The Front Runner is popular among many campers due to its low profile and beautiful design. It can comfortably sleep two people, but a third camper can also fit if needed. It is very light, coming in under 100 lbs, and uses a sturdy aluminum frame.
The Front runner is a softshell, so it won’t provide the protection or durability of a hardshell. However, it does have a rain cover for protection which is very thick PVC. The interior dimensions are 96”L x 51”W x 46”H. Due to its low profile, it doesn’t have the height of others, but it is still decently spacious.
The Front Runner is one of the top rooftop tents for stargazing, as it has ample windows that are big. It is also meant to be quick to install and easy to rollout, designed to be unraveled in one quick easy foldout. Like the iKamper, the Front Runner is probably best suited for a couple or single camper due to its size. It is also less than ⅓ the price of the Skycampter, though it is a softshell not hard.
Rooftop Tent FAQ
What is a rooftop tent?
A rooftop tent is a tent that attaches to the roof of your car or bed of your truck. They usually contain a small mattress and sit half-on and half-off the vehicle’s roof. Tents include ladders to get in and out of, as you need to climb on top of the car.
Are rooftop tents expensive
Yes. Rooftop tents start at $1,000 and can cost upwards of $4,000+. They are much more complex than ground tents, and also much more durable.
Which is better, a rooftop tent or ground tent
It depends on what type of camping you are doing. If you plan on doing light or occasional camping at mostly campgrounds or established spots, a ground tent will probably suffice. However, if you tend to camp on more off-road or off-trail spots that don’t always have flat spaces designed for camping, a rooftop tent might be something to consider.
Can rooftop tents handle extreme weather
Yes. There are both hardshell and softshell tents. While hardshells will obviously do better during extreme storms and snow, most softshell tents are still all-weather capable with rain covers.
How much rooftop tents weight
Most rooftop tents weigh between 100-160 lbs. Most vehicles can only take a max of 160 lbs on their roof, so most tents stay below that weight. Hardshells almost always will weigh more than softshells.
How big are rooftop tents
Rooftops can come in pretty much any size. The smallest are meant for 1-2 campers, while the biggest can fit 4-5 at the most. They won’t compare with the massive family ground tents or camper vans, but they are big enough for most small camping trips.
What are the different types of rooftop tents
There are both hardshell and softshell rooftop tents. Hardshells weigh more, cost more, and are meant for more extreme weather like hale, snow, and sleet. Softshells weigh less, cost less, and are better suited for summer camping. They can still handle rain and some extreme elements, but definitely not as well as hardshells and won’t stay as warm.
Are rooftop tents comfortable
This is subjective, but most people actually find rooftop tents to be more comfortable than ground tents. The built-in mattresses certainly help with sleeping, and most are built with windows or vents for nature watching or star gazing. Being on an elevated platform also definitely helps with views.
Are rooftop tents safe
Yes, rooftop tents are safe. The hardshells are built to withstand extreme weather, and being lifted off the ground helps protect from some critters and animals. You are attached to your car as an anchor, so even extreme winds aren’t going to blow you away.
Are rooftop tents easy to setup
Yes and no. While they are easy to quickly set up and take down once you get the hang of it, there is an initial learning curve that takes time to master. In addition, for the initial setup you will probably need help, as they are very heavy to lift onto a car. After you have them installed, they are designed to be quickly folded and unfolded, though again it does take some time to get fast at.
Where do rooftop tents go when driving
Rooftop tents roll up and fold up into themselves, and they sit on top of the vehicle when driving. This does add extra weight and drag to the car, and also weighs down the center of gravity. Most of the time, the only issue it presents is diminished fuel economy.