Best Truck Bed Topper Guide
It’s no secret that there is a huge appeal to pick-up trucks. As far as consumer vehicles go, there isn’t anything quite as practical, especially if you spend a lot of time moving stuff from one place to another. The average standard truck bed is around 6.5 feet long and 5.3 feet wide, making a pickup an ideal vehicle for getting furniture over to the new place, hauling materials for that new shed you’ve been planning on building, or even a truck bed camper build. While there are many uses for a truck bed, there are some less-than-ideal aspects to the pickup setup as well.
One of the main issues is the openness of the bed itself. You better make sure the weather is nice during moving day unless you want a soggy couch on your living room floor. Truck beds aren’t exactly secure either. Even with a flimsy truck bed cover, anything in the bed can easily be accessed by anyone who tried hard enough. That is where truck bed toppers enter the conversation. The best truck bed toppers are obviously subjective. With that being said, there are some important criteria that truck beds need to meet to be considered quality and worth their somewhat hefty price tag.
In this guide, we cover the best truck bed toppers for sale currently in 2023. We’ll consider some of the most important truck bed requirements including fitment, utility, security, and build materials. As a companion piece to this one, we also wrote a Best Roof Tent Guide as well. Check that out if you are just getting into truck or overland camping.
What is a Truck Bed Topper?
Before we get too deep into the details of choosing the right truck bed topper, let’s cover the basics first. At their most fundamental level, tuck bed toppers are simply hard or soft shells that cover the bed of a pickup truck. The term “truck bed topper” is typically used interchangeably with “camper shell,” “truck bed cap,” and “truck canopy.” That’s pretty much it. However, there is some nuance in terms of the types of truck bed toppers that you can get.
Not only can truck shells differ in terms of how they are installed, but they can also vary in terms of material, interior dimensions, and cost. All of these traits are heavily dependent on the truck topper brand that you choose to purchase.
Choosing the Best Truck Bed Topper – Material
The material of a truck bed topper is one of the most important attributes that you need to consider before purchasing one. There are benefits to a number of different kinds of topper materials, but it is important to find one that will suit your needs the most. The two most common build materials for truck bed toppers are aluminum and fiberglass. Alternatively, some people like to go the DIY route and fabricate truck toppers themselves out of wood.
Aluminum Truck Bed Toppers
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that aluminum truck bed toppers are the strongest option that holds up the best against the elements. Aluminum truck toppers are generally constructed for trade work, meaning that they are designed to handle rugged equipment without being internally or externally damaged. That also means that they are some of the most secure toppers on the market. They are typically more utilitarian-focused and often designed with internal storage for equipment and tools.
While that is likely a positive for people looking for a topper for their work truck, it might be a hindrance to someone looking for a truck camper shell, as it limits the amount of internal space. Since aluminum is such a light material, installing and removing aluminum toppers is extremely easy. Since aluminum toppers are very common for professional applications, there are a lot of them in circulation, making them common and relatively inexpensive.
While you’ll likely be able to find the most utility from an aluminum topper, there are some downsides as well. Aluminum isn’t a very good insulator of heat, so if you are planning on spending a lot of time back there it won’t be ideal for cold winter days. Since aluminum is a rigid material, they are also pretty difficult to customize, repair or modify. They also tend to lack any ventilation or windows, making camping in them less than ideal.
Fiberglass Truck Bed Topper
Moving on from metal truck bed toppers, fiberglass camper shells tend to be the better option for more recreational truck topper uses. Fiberglass toppers tend to be a bit less utility-focused and provide a better experience overall if you are planning on spending time in the back of your truck. Most fiberglass camper shells come with locking windows, watertight seals, and even sunroofs in some examples. Fiberglass truck toppers are undoubtedly the most common type of truck topper, meaning that there are a ton of them out there. You can easily find second-hand fiberglass truck campers for nearly any vehicle with a simple eBay or craigslist search.
Another interesting point about fiberglass camper shells is that they are often designed to be aerodynamically efficient. Due to the fact that fiberglass is more malleable and shapable than metal, there is an emphasis on preserving fuel economy via fiberglass camper shell design. While the difference in MPG might not be ridiculous, it is usually noticeable in a positive way.
With all of that out of the way, fiberglass truck camper shells also have a few drawbacks. For one, they are nowhere near as strong as metal shells. While that won’t typically be an issue, it does matter when it comes to severe weather, as fiberglass toppers will not hold up well against hail, strong wind, or massive amounts of snow. Fiberglass toppers are known to crack and break over time, so they might not be the way to go if longevity is your primary aim. While fiberglass toppers are the most popular type, they can still be extremely expensive if purchased new.
Camping Dedicated Toppers
Overlanding and truck camping has exploded in popularity over the past couple of years and it’s easy to see the appeal. However, if you are interested in taking it seriously, you’ll need a pretty quality truck bed camper to get the job done. With that being said, there are plenty of people that make do with a fiberglass topper for their truck camping adventures. If you are interested in a dedicated truck camping setup, there are companies that specialize in that kind of truck bed camper.
The primary benefit of these types of truck campers is that they are designed to be lived in. That typically means that they have good thermal retention, ample ventilation, creature comforts like windows, and good overall strength. Dedicated truck bed campers tend to be intricate and complex compared to other types of campers. Dedicated camper shells come in many different shapes, with some looking like a small metal room on wheels, and others looking like a regular topper with a mounted roof tent. Obviously, you’d have to spend a considerable amount of time in the back of your truck to make a purchase like this justified.
And that is the biggest problem with dedicated truck bed camper toppers, their price. Most serious truck camper toppers cost well over the $5,000 mark, with some high-end options eclipsing $10,000. That is around 10x more expensive than a traditional fiberglass or aluminum topper. While they do come with some serious features, some find it hard to justify that kind of expense.
Wood Truck Bed Topper
Of the topper options on this list, wood truck camper toppers are perhaps the least user-friendly. Generally speaking, you can’t purchase a wood truck topper new. Most of the time, they are fabricated. Unless you have some pretty significant woodworking skills, it probably isn’t a good idea to build one yourself. The primary benefit of constructing a wood truck topper is the ability to create whatever suits your needs the most. Some people opt to make a wooden camper shell as they can’t find one with the optimal dimensions for their needs. Others simply have a bunch of spare wood laying around and have the skills to do so.
There are quite a few potential downsides to building a wooden truck topper, though. One of the most significant is the weight of wood as a building material. Unless you go for a low-weight wood option, wooden truck toppers are typically the heaviest type. That can put additional strain on your truck’s suspension and be difficult to install and remove.
Truck toppers made from wood also tend to leak the most. That makes them a poor choice for truck camping in wet weather. Over time, moisture can rot the wood, leading to damage later down the line. Building your own wood topper is rarely less expensive than purchasing a fiberglass or aluminum one either. Wood is costly and so is the time that it would take you to build it.
What Should You Look For In a Truck Bed Topper?
Beyond just the build materials, there are other aspects that you should also consider when purchasing a truck topper. Truck toppers aren’t universal unless otherwise stated for a particular brand, meaning that you need to find one that meets the dimensional specifications of your truck. That should be relatively easy, as that is usually the very first thing listed in the product description.
You’ll also need to think about your vehicle’s payload. The payload is how much additional weight you can add to a truck’s bed area. That number can vary significantly based on the vehicle. For example, a Toyota Tacoma’s payload is from 1,050 – 1,685 lbs while a Ford F-150 can carry between 1,310 – 2,238 lbs. Fiberglass and aluminum truck toppers typically only weigh between 180-200 lbs. However, you also have to factor in everything else in the bed of the truck as well.
If you are planning on using the truck topper for recreational activities, you’ll need to consider your dimensions as well. In terms of length, you are limited by the length of your truck bed. However, height is an important consideration for truck campers. Do you want to be able to sit up in your truck camper? You’ll need one with a high-rise design if you are a tall fellow.
Finally, you’ll have to consider the price of the camper options out there. After searching a bit, I found some used fiberglass toppers for as little as $400 and some camping-dedicated, high-end toppers for upwards of $5,000. Topper prices can vary a lot. The key is to find a topper that balances your budget with high overall quality.
Best Truck Toppers for 2023
With all of the above considerations in mind, we went ahead and compiled some of the best and most popular truck toppers available for sale currently. There are more than tons of manufacturers making truck camper toppers for almost every vehicle on the sun. While they all accomplish the same overall goal, there is a significant amount of high-quality toppers that stand above the rest as far as quality, price, and utility are concerned.
Once again, purchasing a new truck top camper shell can be a very expensive ordeal. If you are looking at this list and thinking that these toppers are way above budget, check for second-hand options in your area as well. Of course, it is important to closely inspect any used truck topper that you are considering purchasing. Leaks and cracks can ruin any potential gem, so watch out for that. Otherwise, in this list, we try to cover as many truck topper styles as possible.
A.R.E. Overland Series Truck Caps
Purchase Here: 4are.com
When it comes to truck camper shells, specifically of the fiberglass variety, it is hard to find a company that can match A.R.E. in terms of both quality and pedigree. A.R.E. has been in the truck cap game for over 50 years and has been manufacturing personal fiberglass truck caps since the early 1980s. It is fair to say that they know what they are doing when it comes to truck bed toppers. A.R.E.’s Overland Series is one of the company’s best-selling lines and is known for its strength, fit, and finish.
A.R.E.’s Overland Series is a collaboration between the former company and Line-X coating, known for their high strength and rigid spray-on bed liner. The partnership between the two companies is ideal for truck topper production, as the Line-X coating, which is used on all A.R.E. Overland Series products, provides additional strength to high-stress areas of the topper. That makes it a fantastic truck topper option for those that spend time off-road. The additional rigidity allows the Overland to stay secure with minimal flexing or moving.
If you are looking for a good truck camper top option, the A.R.E. Overland toppers are a good option too. With many creature comforts, like a locking rear window and sliding side windows, the Overland has plenty of ventilation and airflow should you spend a bit of time back there on a warm day.
Go Fast Campers Platform Truck Camper Topper
Purchase Here: gofastcampers.com
If you are looking for a truck topper that is specifically designed for truck camping, Go Fast is one of the most popular and quality brands in the space. With a multitude of truck camper shells, the GFC Platform truck camper is their acclaimed unit. It provides all of the features that you’ll likely need for a good truck camping experience without the astronomical price tag. The Go Fast Campers Platform setup comes as standard with a roof tent that is able to comfortably sleep 2 adults. However, it is possible to purchase just the Go Fast topper which doesn’t come with the tent. It does, however, include many features that you’d like to see for truck camping.
In terms of overall internal size, the Go Fast Camper comes in two different sizes. The smaller unit, meant to be a Ford Ranger topper, Jeep Gladiator topper, or Toyota Tacoma topper, measures in at 50×90 inches of sleeping space. The larger model, meant to work as a Ford F150 topper, Ram 1500 topper, or Toyota Tundra topper, is a bit more spacious due to the additional length. The XL model provides 56×90 inches of sleeping space.
The topper itself is constructed primarily of aluminum and features an internal aluminum space frame. It disperses weight extremely effectively if you plan on mounting roof accessories. In addition to the space frame, the topper features locking side panels with inbuilt windows that can be opened from the inside. Overall, if you are looking for a strong aluminum topper with good ventilation and strength, it is hard to beat the Go Fast Campers Topper.
Leer 100R Fiberglass Truck Cap
Purchase Here: leer.com
If you have done any research about truck shells, there’s no doubt that you’ve stumbled across the Leer name. In many ways, Leer is the Coca-Cola of truck caps. They are a well-known brand that provides a quality product despite not evolving a whole lot over the years. But there is value in purchasing a tried and true option, as you know what to expect. Leer offers a wide range of truck toppers that vary in size, features, and price. The Leer 100R truck cap is one of their least expensive offerings. However, it still provides many of the features that you’d expect from a new truck topper.
The Leer 100R is packed full of some highly sought-after standard features, including a custom-fit design, a rear-framed door with dual-locking T-handles, skirted sides, an interior dome light, an insulated roof, and more. Additionally, the Leer 100R can be color-matched to the body color of your truck for no additional cost. There are also a number of optional features that can be added onto the base Leer 100R, including a carpeted interior, roof rack tracks, windoors, removable sliding front glass, and others. For the amount of standard and optional features, the Leer 100R is very good value for money.
Overall, the Leer 100R isn’t going to be winning any awards for its frills and over-the-top features. With that being said, there is still a lot to love about the 100R, especially if, at the end of the day, you want a simple, elegant, and functional fiberglass truck cap that won’t eviscerate your bank account.
SmartCap EVO Sport
Purchase Here: offroadalliance.com
Venturing away from comfy, camping-oriented truck shells, we have the SmartCap Sport. In terms of its overall structure, it is made from high-strength stainless steel. It is meant to hold up in any weather condition or situation that you throw at it. When we were breaking down truck bed cap types earlier, we mentioned that aluminum truck bed toppers tend to be more utilitarian and strength-focused and that is absolutely the case with the SmartCap. Due to the EVO Sport’s stainless steel construction, it can support a massive amount of weight.
Most fiberglass truck caps are not built to keep the weather out completely. With fiberglass options prone to cracking and most lacking true waterproofing, water can seep in and damage whatever you are storing in the space. That isn’t an issue with the SmartCap though, as it features state-of-the-art sealing systems to keep water and dust out.
High internal airflow is also a strong suit for the SmartCap. The topper includes a positive-pressure roof vent that continually circulates air into the space. For even more airflow, the SmartCap comes with gullwing doors with fixed glass inserts. These can be opened on either side of the truck for easy access to the topper. The EVO Sport comes with sliding “doggie windows” that are large enough for your dog’s head to fit, but small enough to prevent any escape attempts.
Overall, the SmartCap truck topper is the best option on this list if strength is a high priority. The SmartCap’s stainless steel construction makes it impenetrable by most metrics, while still providing some of the most essential features that a truck topper can have.
Best Truck Bed Toppers For 2023 Summary
Truck bed toppers (otherwise called truck caps, camper shells, and truck bed campers) come in many shapes and sizes, as hinted by their multitude of names. The reasons to get a truck bed topper vary significantly too, with some truck owners wanting a way to store things in a covered space and others wanting a comfortable space to spend time on a camping trip. While truck bed toppers can be expensive if purchased new, there is a massive second-hand market for them as well.
Ultimately, there are many truck bed topper options that serve some purposes better than others. While aluminum truck toppers are robust, practical, and rigid, they often lack the creature comforts required to camp in one. Fiberglass toppers tend to have the opposite issue, being too comfortable but less durable. Camping dedicated truck toppers tend to be the best of both worlds. However, they come with a hefty price tag that most people cannot justify.
It is important to know what you will be using your truck bed topper for before pulling the trigger. Toppers like the A.R.E. Overland and Leer 100R are fantastic fiberglass topper options that hold high praise in their field, aren’t terribly expensive, and bridge the gap between a good camping topper and a good storage topper. In contrast, the Go Fast Campers topper is much more focused on camping applications and the SmartCap EVO is focused on providing excellent strength. Whichever topper you choose, make sure that you are choosing one that balances your budget with quality build materials.