In 2021, adventure rigs topped with rooftop tents have become common throughout the world’s parks, protected areas, highways, and campgrounds. As many people have turned to the outdoors for stillness, solitude, and social distancing, rooftop tents have become more popular than ever before.
Certainly, sleeping in a rooftop tent is fun — these tents are sort of like an adult fort — but they’re quite practical too. With your shelter stored on your roof, all of the space inside your vehicle can be used as valuable storage for other gear. Plus, high-quality rooftop tents are durable and relatively easy to set up. For a great camping trip, make sure also to pick a car cooler from our list!
The Best Rooftop Tents on The Market
On this list, we have included our favorite models available in 2021, from stealthy softshells to rugged hardshells. For more information about rooftop tents and a comprehensive how-to-choose guide, skip ahead to the end of the list.
The Skycamp 2.0 from iKamper is the second generation of the company’s flagship hardshell rooftop camper. While many customers loved the original Skycamp, the new version has been thoroughly updated, and we consider it one of the best rooftop tents on the market.
First, this tent is beautifully designed. Aesthetically, it is handsome inside and out, and users of this tent often find others commonly stop to ask questions about it. With its burgundy and gray color scheme and tunnel-like tapered shape, it has a very inviting look. On the inside, a world map graphic covers one wall — symbolic of the tent’s adventurous character.
Compared to many other tents on this list, the Skycamp 2.0 is impressively quick to set up. Only one person is needed for set up or break down, and it just takes a single minute. In wet or cold weather, users will appreciate the quick assembly time.
The new generation of the Skycamp features a thicker king-size mattress, sturdier ladder rungs, and stronger locks than the original model. Some users, particularly side sleepers, feel the mattress could be even thicker, but most report a high comfort level. In addition, two adults and two (or possibly three) small kids could sleep inside with plenty of space.
With its handsome design, premium build quality, and quick setup, the Skycamp 2.0 is one of the nicest large hardshell rooftop tents money can buy. That said, it’s quite pricey. For solo travelers or even couples without dogs or kids, this tent may be overkill. However, if maximum space and a polished design are your priorities, it doesn’t get much better than the Skycamp 2.0.
The SkyRise HD Rooftent is the latest version of Yakima’s flagship softshell rooftop tent. While all of Yakimas’s products are known for durability, the SkyRise HD is truly heavy-duty. This tent is specifically designed for users who will be out in the elements during all four seasons.
Though this is a softshell roof tent, it is made of burly materials and will handle bad weather and any competitor on the market. The tent body is made of 600-denier ripstop polyester and is treated with a 3,000mm waterproof coating. It also comes with a waterproof rainfly, meaning there are two waterproofing layers between you and the elements.
Compared to similar roof tents on the market, Yakima leads in the large windows category. The roof of the SkyRise HD features large skylights, and the sidewalls also have expansive mesh-covered openings. During the day, natural light pours in through these windows, and at night, they turn into the ideal ports for stargazing.
The HD is offered in two sizes: small and medium. Both options are impressively lightweight for their size, and each includes a 2.5-inch mattress, which comes with a removable and washable cover.
Though this tent doesn’t simply pop up with the push of a button, it is fairly easy to set up and generally takes less than 10 minutes to go from travel mode to shelter mode. The included ladder has smooth locking action and is simple to adjust. The most laborious part of the setup is fitting the rainfly in place.
Compared to similarly-sized softshell roof rack tents, the SkyRise HD has an average price tag. That said, it does stand out for being low-profile and lightweight, and it gets some extra value points thanks to its four-season weather protection.
Comes with two mounting locks
Includes a comfortable 2.5″ thick mattress
Fully waterproof tent body and fly, including clear plastic skylights
Easy-to-use telescoping ladder
Durable and reliable in all four seasons
Spacious interior in both available sizes
Lots of windows
Not as low profile as some hardshell tents
Rainfly poles are not built-in which adds significant setup time
One of the drawbacks of rooftop tents is they take up precious rooftop space where other gear, including bikes or kayaks, could go. Hardshell tents can sometimes accommodate cargo on top, but the cargo usually must be removed before you can set up the tent, adding another step to your tent set-up process.
The Thule Tepui Foothill solves this problem with one of the smallest footprints of any two-person car top tent. Moreover, thanks to the Foothill’s minimal footprint, users of this tent will still have roof space available for standard mounting racks — even on a small vehicle.
When fully packed up, the Foothill is only 24 inches wide. This compact footprint is quite handy, but it also means the tent’s interior is a bit less spacious than the other two-person options. When set up, the width of the Foothill’s bed is just 47 inches — slightly narrower than a full-size mattress. The maximum height of the interior is 38 inches, which can feel cramped at times.
Still, at just 108 pounds with pre-installed mounting rails, the Foothill is easy to put on, take off, and store in a garage when not in use. Though the interior space is limited, there is no better rooftop tent for those looking for a tiny footprint and the opportunity to store other gear simultaneously on the roof.
Like most softshell tents, set up requires a series of steps and will take 10 minutes or so for most users. The design is thoughtful, though, and the setup process isn’t unnecessarily complicated or frustrating. Moreover, one person can manage it without assistance.
Telescopic internal frame poles allow for one-person setup
Tent ships with mounting rails pre-installed
Wide entry door
Large panoramic rear window and dual skylights
Low-profile symmetrical design allows the tent to be mounted on either side of the roof and to be easily removed
Small footprint allows for rooftop storage of other gear
The Smittybuilt Overlander has the durable construction and thoughtful features of a far more expensive rooftop tent. As a company, Smittybuilt aims to design high-quality and competitive products that won’t break the bank. And the Overlander is exactly that.
With a maximum interior height of 51 inches and 38 square feet of floor space, the Overlander is impressively spacious. Two adults can sleep comfortably inside, and an XL model is also available. As the name of this tent suggests, it is outfitted for rugged travel and built with durable materials.
The tent body is constructed of 600-denier ripstop polyester, and the zippers and tent fly poles are thick and beefy. Also, a handful of unique but useful features are included in the price. The tent comes with an integrated LED lighting strip and a rubber boot bag which add lots of value to an already affordable product.
Though the Overlander is very functional overall, it does have a few quirks. The ladder can be finicky to set up and adjust. Also, the awning can be laborious to get securely in place. Assembly is a bit more involved than other tents, partially due to the Overlander’s hefty total weight. Also, when in camping mode, the rubber travel cover does not integrate into the tent and must be stowed away separately.
Overall, the Overlander is a reliable rooftop shelter that one can purchase for almost half the price of similar options. No, it isn’t the lightest, easiest to set up, or the most stylish looking, but this tent from Smittybilt is unrivaled for pure value.
Durable material, including window screens and zippers
Comfortable mattress included
Lots of internal pouches for convenient storage
Includes an LED light bar that velcros to the roof
Included boot and shoe bag
Spacious for two adults plus a dog or child
Tricky install process
Finicky ladder that tends to stick
5. Best for Large Groups & Families: Cascadia Vehicle Tents Hybrid Series Denali
This behemoth of a tent is the largest model in the Cascadia Vehicle Tents Hybrid series and can comfortably sleep four adults or two adults and up to three kids. With an interior sleeping space of 59 square feet, the Denali includes the equivalent of two double beds. In addition, two separate entrances make this tent the best option on the market for two couples traveling together or for a large group interested in efficiently sharing a single shelter.
While many rooftop tents have an add-on option for an enclosed annex area, the Hybrid Series Denali includes one at no extra cost. This annex has multiple doors, and you can access the inside of your vehicle from within. Optional custom additions include various colorways and an extended rainfly. More of a fortress than a tent, the Hybrid Series Denali will make camping a joy for the whole family.
Unsurprisingly, this large tent is very bulky and heavy, whether it’s packed away or fully set up. At 280 pounds, this tent is not ideal for smaller cars. Setup isn’t terribly difficult, but it does take a few repetitions to learn how to do everything properly, and it helps to have an extra set of hands to help out.
If you prefer the luxury of ample space over simplicity and easy setup, the Denali is an excellent rooftop tent. However, with its thick, comfy mattresses and spacious annex, it feels more like a tiny mobile apartment than a tent.
Heavy-duty PVC travel cover
Comes with mounting hardware and all required tools
Two ladders included
Four-door annex included
Sleeps up to four
Lots of sleeping space for a family or group
Annex includes a floor that keeps the interior clean
When packed away, this hardshell rooftop tent is only 6.5 inches tall. As one of the thinnest models on the market, this aerodynamic tent is a good choice for those concerned about gas mileage and aiming to minimize drag while driving.
When popped up, the Falcon feels a bit like sleeping in a lean-to. It has a generous 5-foot peak height at one end, allowing users to sit up without touching the ceiling. However, due to the asymmetrical shape of the roof, it’s important to face the shell against the wind.
While many tents on this list aren’t compatible with other rooftop gear storage, the top of the Falcon can be fitted with a roof rack, meaning you can store bikes or kayaks right on top of your tent while traveling.
Channels along the entire perimeter of the hardshell allow you to customize the location of the two included latch locks and the mounts for the included ladder. Unlike most roof tents, the ladder of the Falcon is completely separate from the tent and will need to be stored in your vehicle during travel. However, the ladder is small and easy to use, and because it’s removable, you can move your entire rig without having to pack up the whole tent.
The Roofnest Falcon wins the award for quickest setup time. All you have to do is open the two latches, push the tent open, and quickly install two included poles to keep the small awning open.
Every window has a zippable layer of durable mesh, and the tent body also includes a built-in vent to keep condensation at bay. Users report the included mattress is very comfortable. Under the mattress, an included anti-condensation mat is a thoughtful feature designed to help keep you and your tent dry.
Though this tent comes in multiple sizes, we like the XL because it is extra spacious and perfectly accommodates two adults — a child or a dog would probably fit too. However, for smaller trucks, the regular size Falcon might be a more proportionate fit.
Included 7.5′ ladder
LED lights included
Included shoe bag
Track system for hanging gear
Super low profile
East to set up
Roof rack can be installed on top of hardshell
Bedding cannot be stored inside
Ladder is detachable and must be stored separately during travel
Best Rooftop Tents: A Complete Buyer’s Guide
Though lots of people love camping, not everyone loves sleeping on the ground. A rooftop tent attaches directly to your vehicle’s factory crossbars or aftermarket roof rack and provides the experience of sleeping outdoors with an added layer of luxury. While the best rooftop tents on this list are high-quality and comfortable, they are also more expensive than a traditional tent. For this reason, it is good to thoroughly understand your own needs and preferences before purchasing a rooftop tent.
In this guide, we will explain everything you need to know about the best rooftop tents. At the end of the guide, a section of frequently asked questions is also included.
Hardshell vs. Softshell
Hardshell rooftop tents have a rigid casing that serves as the tent’s frame and roof. Typically, hardshells are made from plastic, aluminum, or fiberglass and are quickly set up and put away. While traveling, hardshell tents look similar to a thin cargo box. Some hardshells can be fitted with an additional rack so that you can store gear such as bikes or kayaks directly on top of your tent.
Because hardshells are quick to set up and break down, they are a good choice for campers who move locations often. Generally, this tent style is also associated with a more comfortable mattress and increased headroom, but that is not always the case. Also, hardshell rooftop tents tend to be a little more expensive than softshells.
Softshell rooftop tents look more like traditional tents, except they are pitched on top of your car instead of on the ground. While traveling, most softshell tents are wrapped in a cover made of waterproof material such as rubber or nylon. While setup time varies from model to model, most softshell tents take a little longer to set up and take down than hardshells.
If you are looking for a rooftop tent with a ground-level annex, you’ll probably end up going with a softshell tent. Like the Cascadia Vehicle Tents Hybrid Series, some models include a large annex at no extra cost. As a result, softshell rooftop tents are a little more affordable, on average, than hardshells.
If you’re looking for a more simple solution for your camping trip with your truck, be sure to check out our selection of the best truck bed tents.
On this list, we have included tents with capacities between two and four-plus people. Capacity is determined by a tent’s square footage, headspace, and mattress size. Most rooftop tents that claim to have a capacity of two or more will have a mattress at least as large as a full-size bed. If you plan to share the space with a dog, child, or extra gear, you may want to seek out a tent that has a larger capacity. Many models are available in various sizes. For example, the Roofnest Falcon XL also comes in a regular size that has less square footage.
Depending on the size and specs of your vehicle, you may be limited to a certain size rooftop tent. Like the CVT Denali, some tents weigh well over 200 pounds and are probably best suited for full-size trucks and SUVs. Other options, such as the Thule Tepui Foothill, have a small footprint and can easily be installed on small cars.
Ease of Installation and Setup
After you have purchased and received your rooftop tent, you’ll need to install it. Most of the best rooftop tents come with all of the hardware and tools you will need to install them, but always double-check ahead of time. Usually, installation is a two-person job, partly because most tents weigh at least 100 pounds. Be sure to install your tent according to the manufacturer’s specs.
Once installed, your tent will have two modes: popped up and packed down. Like the Roofnest Falcon XL, some tents can be popped up and packed down in less than a minute. Others, like the Smittybuilt Overlander, require a few extra steps and a bit more time to set up. Tents with a separate rainfly or annexes tend to have a more involved setup process. The good news is with each set-up, you will become more efficient.
Weather Resistance: Three-Season vs. Four-Season Tents
Three-season tents are not designed for winter camping. These tents tend to be less insulated and slightly less robust overall. Four-season tents are built to handle cold weather, snow, and stormy conditions better than three-season tents (though you’ll still need to plan, pack, and layer appropriately to stay warm — you’re still sleeping in a tent after all). If you’re going to be frequently camping in the winter, we recommend going with a durable tent rated for four-season camping.
Most rooftop tents come with a mattress. These pre-installed beds range in thickness from less than two inches to about four inches. Some users choose to upgrade their tent beds with custom bedding options, but always make sure your tent is compatible with any bedding you want to add. On this list, the Smittybuilt Overlander is known for its exceptionally comfortable mattress.
Many rooftop tents come with extra features, and customers can customize all models for an additional cost. Some common extra features include awnings, LED lighting, and exterior shoe compartments.
On this list, we like that the CVT Denali comes with an included four-door annex and a room divider. The Smittybuilt Overlander comes with an LED light bar and a shoe bag that helps keep muddy footwear separate from your sleeping space.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the benefit of a rooftop tent?
Rooftop tents offer a sleeping space that is up off of the ground. These tents literally elevate the camping experience by providing added comfort, cleanliness, and organization.
Your rooftop tent travels with you wherever you go. It almost feels like you’ve got your own private apartment without creating too much separation between you and the outdoors.
Additionally, with your shelter stored on your roof, all of the space inside your vehicle can be used as valuable storage for other gear.
Can you put a rooftop tent on a car?
Yes. Smaller rooftop tents, like the Thule Tepui Foothill, fit on small cars. Because this tent weighs just over 100 pounds, pretty much any car with a roof rack should be able to accommodate it.
However, larger rooftop tents like the Cascadia Vehicle Tents are heavy and bulky, so a truck or SUV will definitely be the best option to haul them.
Is a rooftop tent worth it?
That depends. Many people are quick to point out that even the cheapest rooftop tents are far more expensive than traditional tents. However, if you value the added luxury of sleeping off the ground, you may feel a rooftop tent is fully worth its price tag.
The best rooftop tents range in price from around $1,000 to well over $4,000, so it’s good to decide on your budget before you begin shopping.
Are rooftop tents safe from bears?
Though the best rooftop tents keep you distanced from ground-dwelling wildlife, they do not provide any specific protection from bears. Therefore, whether you are camping in a rooftop tent or tent camping more traditionally on the ground, you should diligently practice all bear-safe protocols.
In some cases, keeping food and scented items inside a closed and locked vehicle is considered bear-safe, though, in other areas, anti-bear containers are required. Be sure to check the campground regulations before planning your trip. And when in bear country, never bring any food or scented items into the tent with you, and always be prepared with a bear deterrent.
Do rooftop tents affect gas mileage?
Yes. Just like roof boxes or other rooftop accessories, rooftop tents create wind drag and will, to some degree, decrease your gas mileage. However, some rooftop tents, like the Roofnest Falcon XL, are super thin and will only slightly minimize your vehicle’s efficiency.
Based in Salt Lake City, Austin Beck-Doss contributes to GearJunkie, Gear Hungry, AutoWise, and more as a Lola Digital Media Staff Writer. Outside of writing, Austin can be found camping at the base of various rock climbing areas in a 2005 Honda Element.