The 5 best rooftop tents, for use at the campsite or in the backcountry

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

  • Rooftop tents attach to the roof of a vehicle to give you an elevated and secure place to sleep while camping.
  • The best tents are easy to pitch, come with a foam mattress, and have enough space to sleep comfortably.
  • Our top pick, the Roofnest Falcon, is a low-profile and versatile tent that pitches in under a minute.

Rooftop tents originated as an alternative method for campers to sleep off the ground, with the earliest versions existing in places like Australia or Africa to protect them from predators. Although they’re still widely used like that, many of the models prevalent in the US are geared more towards comfort and ease of use – and they’ve ushered in an entirely new era of what it means to “rough it.”

These standard rooftop tents attach to a vehicle’s roof rack and crossbars that are placed either on top of an SUV or crossover, or over the bed of a truck. There’s no lack of variety but many of the tents function similarly in that they’re able to pitch in a matter of minutes, feature a wall-to-wall foam mattress, and come with an attachable ladder for entry.

A rooftop tent’s ability to improve both the comfort and efficiency of camping does come at a cost, however. Most tend to run anywhere from $1,000 and $4,000 (or more), which is significantly more expensive than a traditional ground tent. But as they continue to grow in popularity, it’s become easier to see why they’re worth the investment.

Before I used one myself, I was skeptical. I’ve camped for over 25 years and grew accustomed to sleeping on the ground in a normal tent. And although it may not be the most comfortable way to sleep, to me, that was camping. But once I finally spent a night in a rooftop tent, it was easy to see their utility – and I quickly changed my tune.

In the years since, I’ve camped in enough rooftop tents to have a good idea of what should (and shouldn’t) deserve a spot on top of your vehicle – and have compiled a list of my five favorites below. So, no matter if you want something casual for car camping or are looking to deck out an overlanding rig, I have you covered.

At the bottom of this guide, I’ve also included some insight into the testing methodology I used in deciding which to feature, the other tents I’m currently testing, and why every camper should consider a rooftop tent.

Here are the best rooftop tents:

The best rooftop tent overall

RoofnestFalcon

The Roofnest Falcon is a low-profile rooftop tent that’s incredibly easy to pitch, comes with a comfortable foam mattress, and is compatible with additional crossbars for hauling extra gear. 

Pros: Takes under a minute to fully pitch, comes with an included foam mattress, sits just 7 inches tall when packed down, ladder can be placed on either side of the tent for access

Cons: Expensive, might be cramped for two people plus gear

The Falcon from Roofnest does three things very well: It has an extremely low profile while packed down, it takes less than a minute for just one person to pitch, and its ability to be compatible with extra gear makes it highly versatile. Those three components alone slot it in as our top overall rooftop tent, but there’s plenty more to the Falcon that makes it even more impressive.

The tent comes with its own included mattress that I found to be comfortable no matter if I was sleeping by myself among an allotment of gear, or if someone else was sharing the tent with me. I will say that space is quite limited in the Falcon’s interior, so even having one other person sleeping in it makes for a bit of a cramped night of sleep. It’s no dealbreaker but the Falcon certainly isn’t the biggest rooftop tent I’ve tested. 

Where it makes up for that lack of space is with how easy it is to pitch and its ability to carry additional gear. The Falcon’s design allows for just one person to open the tent on their own, and it fully pitches in under a minute (once you get the hang of it). Packing it down does take a little longer (and a bit more effort) but you can say the same thing about any of the rooftop tents featured in this guide. 

Concerning its versatility, the Falcon allows for the attachment of an additional set of crossbars. This helps make up for the lost roof rack real estate the tent takes up and lets you attach extra gear on top of the tent itself. Since it sits just 7 inches tall when packed down, the extra gear won’t be much more of a drag as it typically would be on your normal rack.

The tent has two separate entrances and a component on either side for the included telescoping ladder to latch into. Its interior features a number of pockets for stashing things like a smartphone, headlamp, or car keys, and a rear window zips open to allow for increased airflow or for some nighttime star gazing. 

Rooftop tents are spendy and the Roofnest Falcon is no different. Though it costs north of $3,000, it’s well worth the investment for anyone who intends to use it often.

The best hybrid rooftop tent

tepui

The Tepui Hybox doubles as a spacious rooftop tent and a cargo box, so you can easily store your gear in it when you’re not sleeping in the tent.

Pros: Can function as a rooftop gear container, hard top design improves aerodynamics, patented zipper system makes it easy to switch between the tent or storage container

Cons: Expensive, space enough for just two people

One of the drawbacks to using a rooftop tent is sacrificing the cargo capability of a vehicle’s roof rack system. With Tepui’s Hybox, you’ll not only have access to a quality rooftop tent but also 23 cubic feet of storage space via its built-in cargo box.

With the Tepui Hybox’s cargo box function, you’ll no longer be stuffing gear inside your vehicle ceiling-high while prepping for a weekend spent camping. When it’s time to convert it back to a tent, an included canopy easily zips on to create a spacious and comfortable sleeping area. Its aerodynamic design also means your car won’t be guzzling gas. 

However, the catch is that it can only be used as one or the other. For instance, any gear that’s stored inside is essentially being stored in the sleeping area. This does open up more room in the interior of the vehicle but would require gear to be removed to create a proper sleeping area.

Switching between the cargo box and the tent requires zipping on the included canopy, releasing both of its latches, and then pitching the tent straight up. This can be done easily by just one person. An included telescoping ladder attaches to either side of the tent to allow campers to choose the best point of entry. Each door on the attached canopy also zips out to act as an entryway canopy. 

The tent features a 3-inch foam mattress with a removable cotton cover (which can be easily removed when storing gear), as well as a quilted upper to help with insulation and sound dampening. Its hardshell exterior is made of a thermoplastic polymer called ABS and an aluminum substructure. The shell is both aerodynamic and durable as it’s able to take a beating and helps improve fuel efficiency for longer trips.

The best rooftop tent for families

freespirit recreation

For families of three or more, Freespirit Recreation’s High Country rooftop tent is perfect for making sure everyone has enough space to comfortably rest. 

Pros: Sleeps up to five people, durable construction, large awning covers entryway, 360-degree windows

Cons: Heavy, expensive

Camping with a large family doesn’t have to be a cramped and uncomfortable experience. With Freespirit Recreation’s High Country rooftop tent, families of up to five people can rest assured each person will have more than enough space to snooze comfortably. When pitched, the tent measures 80 inches in length, 98 inches wide, and 49 inches tall, and can hold up to 750 pounds. 

The interior of the tent features a 2.5-inch high-density foam mattress and plenty of storage pockets and gear hangers to allow for easy organization. Its exterior is made of 600D Poly-Oxford body fabric, as well as a durable aluminum alloy frame.

Its heavy-duty construction also means that it can take an absolute beating and still perform as well on its 100th use as it did on the first day. 

Freespirit Recreation designed the tent to be aerodynamic when pitched, allowing it to function well in high winds or heavy rain. Windows on all four sides of the tent offer a full 360-degree view and provide for ventilation and help reduce condensation. When packed, its included cover has front and rear cinches to create a sturdy shape, though the lines can tend to flap loudly if not secured while driving. 

Its two biggest drawbacks are its price and weight. Its $2,495 price tag is a steep initial investment but one that’s worth it for big families that need all the space they can get. Although it’s heavy at 172 pounds, installing or removing the tent with two or three people makes the process significantly easier. 

The best rooftop tent for overlanding

Smittybilt

Rooftop tents were created by overlanders and Smittybilt’s 2883 Overland Tent is the perfect companion for anyone looking to get into the lifestyle. 

Pros: Spacious interior, included mosquito screens, completely covered entryway, sleeps up to four people

Cons: Bulky when packed up

Though nearly all rooftop tents are intended for overlanding use, few do as well as Smittybilt’s 2883 Overland Tent. With size enough to sleep up to four people, a durable ripstop exterior to protect against the elements, and a sturdy aluminum frame, it’s perfect for multi-day backcountry pursuits any time of year. 

With a durable ripstop exterior and aluminum alloy frame, it’s capable of holding up in all conditions. Its 770-pound capacity means it’s able to house up to four people, too. 

What separates Smittybilt’s Overland Tent from others on this list is its attention to the details needed by overlanders. It comes with an included mosquito screen, a completely covered entryway, a fully waterproof exterior without the need for a rain fly, and LED strip lighting on the inside. A 2.3-inch high-density mattress runs the entirety of its interior to provide comfortable sleeping or sitting space. 

One of the tent’s best features is its price. At just $1,499, it offers great value compared to other rooftop tents on the market cheapest and should be the top choice for anyone getting into overlandering. 

The best budget rooftop tent

FrontRunner

The Front Runner Rooftop Tent sits just 7.87 inches tall when packed down, and its low profile helps improve fuel efficiency, reduces wind resistance, and makes it easier to store. 

Pros: Low profile when packed, weighs less than 100 pounds, built-in roof ventilator reduces condensation

Cons: Requires separately sold Front Runner tent mount kit for use on Front Runner racks

One of the biggest drawbacks of any rooftop tent is how much it impacts a vehicle’s gas mileage. Even the most aerodynamic options are still heavy and can dramatically reduce the mpg of any car. The best option currently available that attempts to fix these problems is Front Runner’s Rooftop Tent

Featuring a low-profile design, Front Runner’s tent sits just 7.87 inches tall when packed down, making it the slimmest on the market. This helps reduce the amount of wind resistance taken on while driving and improves fuel efficiency. At just 93 pounds, it’s light enough for two people to install and its compact size allows it to stow easily in a garage.

Though the tent sleeps just two people, it does come with a 2.5-inch high-density mattress, windows on each side of the tent, and privacy shades for each door and window. A telescoping aluminum ladder comes standard with the tent and has treaded steps to make climbing up and down easier. 

The exterior is built of durable 400D Oxford tent fabric that’s breathable enough to offer the ventilation necessary to reduce condensation. Its aluminum base boosts the tent’s insulation to keep the interior cool on warmer days and warm when temperatures drop.

It also comes with a fly-sheet cover to increase the amount of shade or protect against rain getting inside any open windows. A roof ventilator adds airflow and is protected by a mosquito net to keep bugs out at night.

What else I’m testing

yakima sky rise 6

Yakima Skyrise

The Yakima Skyrise has been one of the most intriguing rooftop tents since its debut. Not only is it spacious, easy to pitch, and compatible with a wide range of vehicles (and isn’t only compatible with Yakima racks, thankfully) but it’s one of the most inexpensive I’ve seen. Sold typically at around $1,600, it’s a price that’s hard to beat.

Why use a rooftop tent?

Pitching and packing a ground tent is as much a test in patience as it is deciphering a puzzle. Newer ground tents do feature easy-pitch designs but compared to a rooftop tent, even the simplest setup could be considered challenging.

Rooftop tents often take just one person to pitch and can be fully set up in less than five minutes.

Once set up, they offer more than just a comfortable place to sleep. Its high perch creates a unique vantage point for taking in your surroundings, and some even have a window on the roof for nighttime stargazing. Since most have a built-in mattress, there’s no need to toss and turn in a sleeping bag either. Use sheets and a comforter, and you’ll feel like you never left home. 

Our testing methodology

Each of the rooftop tents in this guide went through a series of tests to see how well they compared across these four categories: Ease of use, versatility, comfort, and value. Here’s how each category specifically factored into which rooftop tents were ultimately featured:

Ease of use: When judging how easy it is to use the rooftop tents tested for this guide, I looked at more than just how intuitive they were to pitch (which is often one of the most straightforward aspects of any rooftop tent). Ease of use also refers to the process of packing it back down, if there are any additional components to attach such as a rain fly or awning, and if the point(s) of entry make it easy to get in and out of the tent. 

Versatility: Rooftop tents are versatile by design, allowing for people to use them at a campsite, in the backcountry, or really anywhere the vehicle it’s attached to can go. Versatilty also pertains to any added extras it comes with like multiple points of entry, awning attachments to create covered outdoor shelter, convertible windows for air flow (and star gazing), or attachment points for other gear. 

Comfort: One of the easiest ways to judge the comfort of a rooftop tent is to consider the kind of default mattress it comes with. Many feature something similar to a 2-inch foam mattress, though the exact kind may vary. Additional areas of comfort I judged were how spacious the interior of a rooftop tent was, whether it allowed for good ventilation and airflow, and how it held up across a variety of weather conditions (be it sun in the middle of summer, an unexpected spring downpour, or the frigid temps of winter). 

Value: Judging the value of a rooftop tent is more than just comparing price tags. Even the budget model in this guide is just north of $1,000, so choosing which tent to invest in is an important consideration. This means that a rooftopt tent’s true value is a combination of the three categories above, as well as how long it’s designed to last. 

Read the original article on Business Insider