Each year tens of thousands of people head to their favorite state parks, lakes, and secluded spots to do a little camping. Of these, most partake in car camping but why fight with getting a tent packed and struggle to find a good spot when you can make your vehicle a part of your camping experience. This is where the best rooftop tents come in and believe me, they beat sleeping in a car!
There are two varieties to discuss here, the standard rooftop tent that is generally used on a minivan, SUV, or Jeep and truck tents which are usually mounted in the truck bed. Both serve the same purpose but have their own considerations. To help decide what works best for you, here are some of the finer points of rooftop tent selection
Table of Contents
- Rooftop Tent Considerations
- The Best Rooftop Tent & Truck Tents Reviewed
Rooftop Tent Considerations
Because tents vary as much as the vehicles we drive, don’t rush into a tent that won’t do what you need. Make sure you read through this section first so you know what you are getting into.
What vehicle you drive can have an impact on what tent type and even model you choose. Though most rooftop tents are universal, you will want to check measurements and make sure it will fit. Almost all tents will work for cars with a luggage rack.
All rooftop tents require a luggage rack as a mounting point and to support the tent floor. From this point they simply unfold meaning they are stored completely on the luggage rack as you travel. This saves valuable space but you do need to make sure you have a vehicle that will fit your tent.
There are a specific few tents that are designed to fit specific vehicles. Though these tend to be a little more robust and with better quality, they are often very expensive and may even be designed specifically for the auto maker. Usually these are for the very common off-road vehicles like tents made specifically for Land Cruiser or Hummers.
For a truck bed tent, you do want to make sure you have a clean bed and that the measurements are appropriate for your bed size. Most tents will have a little leeway to make sure they fit a variety of brands, makes, and models. Usually, the only real concern is the size of your bed, whether that is a short wheelbase or long wheelbase.
If the tent you are looking at does not have its own bottom and relies on the truck’s bed for the floor, make sure you have a good fit. If there is any slop, it gives a place for rain to get in and pool under your equipment. This could make for a bad trip with soggy gear.
Very few truck bed tents are model or brand specific.
Attachment and Construction
The luggage rack of your vehicle provides the attachment point for a rooftop tent and plays a large part in its structure and support. Most rooftop tents have attachment points that are adjustable to fit the specific size and tubing dimensions of most common luggage racks.
Generally the floor of the rooftop tent sits flush with the luggage rack and most are hinged to fold outward to expand the space. This uses additional legs and will normally provide a ladder for tent access. Generally the only entrance is in the floor.
Many of these tents will have a sleeping surface already fitted in. While this works for some people, if you are looking for a specific size, say a 5 person setup, you may have to add your own sleep system.
Because there is a single door on the bottom, many of these tents can be quite warm. This is good in cooler weather but when things get hot, you need a lot of ventilation. Usually this is done through covered mesh windows and small mesh vents. Make sure the tent you are looking for has these features.
Where many portable tents are made using lightweight vinyl and nylon, many of these vehicle-mounted models us more robust materials. Many use a cotton canvas that has been treated for water resistance. These are much more durable than the standard camping tents.
Weatherproofing and Seasonal Use
Because they don’t rely on lighter weight fabrics to make them easier to carry, most rooftop and truck tents work as well for cold weather as they do for warm weather. In conventional terms, this makes them a 4 season tent. Most will have plenty of ventilation for the summer that can be closed off for winter.
For dealing with the elements, most rooftop tents use a waterproofed oxford cloth. Truck tents rely more on traditional fabrics though often a thicker weave. Both are treated and should do well for most any inclement weather you could encounter.
Because they don’t sit on the ground, this gets you out of the elements even more. There are no issues with standing water to get into your tent. Even the best sealed bottom will leak if left standing in water long enough. Not a concern you will have with a rooftop tent.
With a truck bed tent, things are a little different. Because the bed of the truck will support the tent and may even provide the floor, you need to take measures to ensure you aren’t going to end up with a lake in your bedroom.
For most tents, all you need to do is park the truck with the tailgate facing on a very slight downward slope. This will keep your tent from sitting in a puddle that will eventually find its way inside.
For those which have no floor, you have to make sure the fit on your truck bed is appropriate to prevent water from getting in in the first place. Most are adjustable but check your bed measurements before you order to save yourself the headache.
With a little care, any of the best rooftop or truck tents will serve as a great all weather option for rain, for winter, or any weather you could imagine.
The Best Rooftop Tent & Truck Tents Reviewed
1. ARB Simpson III
For those not familiar with ARB, they are probably the foremost off-road supply company in the world. Bred in the Australian Outback, this company knows about harsh conditions and tough gear. They have applied that to the Simpson series of tents and produced what is easily the best option on the market. These have been used everywhere from big game expeditions in Africa to dealing with the harsh climates of the Northwest.
This tent does require an aftermarket roof rack so you will need to get with AWB for that. Their website offers guidance on getting one for your off-road vehicle. Once you get everything set up, deploying this tent is so fast it may as well be automatic. Simply unfold and set the ladder in place and you are ready to go.
Measuring around 6x8 feet, this is a great 2 person option but could be used as a 3 person tent when needed. The floor is a bonded foam mattress that is very comfortable in most any temperature but will really be appreciated in the cold. You can get an attachable skirt tent that will up this to a better option for family camping and offer you a little more room.
Construction is mostly aluminum with a sealed, ripstop poly-cotton blend. The rainfly is included and can be left in place when packed. Comes with its own protective cover for transport and storage. This really is the best option on the market but can put a serious dent in the budget.
2. Tepui Kukenam Sky Tent
If you need an option that is a little more affordable to accommodate, there is no better option for the money than a Tepui tent! This company specializes in getting campers up off the ground and out of the elements. While they may fall short of our number 1 spot, there is no doubt that for most people this will be the best option.
Tepui makes their tents to fit standard roof racks so you can put this on a car, SUV, or van. It even works as a rooftop truck tent if you have a rail system over your bed. Installation is easy with just a few bolts to keep everything in place. When you get to your campsite, a simple pull of the ladder will unfold the tent. Attach the rainfly and you are ready to go!
At just a little over 4x8 feet, this isn’t an exceptionally large tent but can easily fit 2 to 3 people. You can add an annex around the bottom that will convert this into a 4 person tent. If you do, those sleeping downstairs will likely envy the cotton covered foam mattress that makes up the floor of the upper portion.
This uses the standard aluminum frame with a poly-cotton ripstop fabric that has been treated for water resistance. The rainfly is a poly oxford cloth that is 100% rainproof. From the ground up this is a 4 season tent and works a well in cold conditions as it does in the heat of summer. Easily one of the best options if you don’t want to sink money into specialized gear.
3. Smittybuilt Overlander
While we prefer to be inclusive here, it would be poor form not to include this tent from Smittybuilt. If you are not aware of the company, they produce some of the best Jeep products on the market but specialize in mostly Jeep gear. There are people who have modified to this tent to fit other vehicles if you feel you are up to the task. Who can blame them? This is one of the most affordable roof tents around at well under $1000.00.
In many ways this tent isn’t much different than the option above other than is specialized nature. It measures about 5x8 feet and sleeps 2 easily and 3 if you are cozy. Installation is a breeze with the included mounting system. Setup is even easier as it just folds out into a fully functional tent.
The construction is about what you have come to expect with heavyweight waterproofed fabric. The rainfly is included as are mesh window and vent covers. You can easily take this tent down into the coldest weather with the included full mattress built in. Just close off the vents when the temperature drops.
One thing you can say about Smittybuilt is they know how to pack in features. This has a telescopic latter and powered LED lights built in. This is a great tent, probably the best bang for the buck out there, but you need the right vehicle for it to work.
4. Guide Gear Compact Truck Tent
For those who haven’t heard of Guide Gear, they make a full line of outdoor equipment to keep you dry when it's wet and warm when it's cold. They have been a staple of many outdoorsmen for decades. In the case of this tent, if you have a truck you are halfway there. Well, as long as you have a compact truck, this tent was designed for Tacoma, Ranger, S10 and similar models.
The whole tent folds flat and stores easily in the truck bed. When you get to your site, fold down the tailgate and the tent goes up in seconds. It is designed to take advantage of every inch of space your truck bed has to offer and can sleep 2 to 3 people with ease.
This tent has an independent floor to keep you dry but the design keeps water out of your truck bed anyway. The construction is polyethylene with sealed seams and full waterproofing. The rainfly is included and well fitted.
With venting underneath the fly and a full mesh door, this is a great tent for summer but seals up well for colder weather. Year around this tent can get you outdoors and keep you comfortable. The best part, you can have one of these for under $100.00!
5. Napier Backroadz Truck Tent
If you have a full-sized truck, the option becomes the Napier truck tent. With models to fit most any bed size and truck model, you can get one of these specifically tailored to work for you. They have all of the quality of the Guide Gear without the vehicle restrictions.
These tents go up a little slower than some other truck tents but with a little practice, about 10 minutes should do it. Open the tailgate, set the poles and attach the rainfly. It is about that simple. When set up, this tent takes the full truck bed and gives you a ton of useable camping space.
Like the Guide Gear the Napier has a full floor to keep your backsides dry. Even the material and construction is similar. The difference between the two is down to size and design. The Napier will give you more headroom in addition to the larger footprint size.
Even if you have a toolbox or bed liner, you can get a Napier tent to suit you. It is well fitted to the bed size and will keep the weather outside. The full rainfly keeps the top vents covered but still able to breathe. The mesh door provides excellent airflow. If it gets cold, seal it all up and you have a good 4 season tent.
6. Rightline Gear Truck Tent
While both of the above options are great for bad weather with their included floor, there is a benefit to a tent that has no floor, provided you get the right size. The Rightline tent fits over the bed of the truck to keep the weather out but without the floor, you can set it up without unloading any of your gear.
Getting this tent ready is not unlike putting a toboggan on your truck bed. It straps around the sides and folds under the tailgate. A few poles and a rainfly later and you are ready to camp. And all of your gear is still safe inside.
The total size of your truck bed will determine how much space you get but Rightline produces models to fit just about any truck on the market. All of them have some built-in adjustment to get a perfect fit. Even if you have a large toolbox or anything else permanently mounted in your bed, this tent will simply slide right over it.
Because this doesn’t have a floor, it can sleep a little cooler and probably works best as a 3 season tent. It has plenty of rain protection and ventilation for warm weather. As things turn cold, there is a little room for air to get in. You could probably work around this but if you want a 4 season option, the above tents are probably a better bet.
One of the main complaints with camping is the discomfort of sleeping on the ground. With roots, rocks, creepy-crawlies, and larger critters, many people just have trouble with getting the rest they need. If you want a successful, complaint-free camping holiday, one of the best rooftop tents or truck tents will likely be your best bet! You can even use your battery to power some smaller electronic devices to keep everyone happy!