For overland adventures, life on the road, or just an elevated and more comfortable campout experience, rooftop tents are the way to go. As options for car- and truck-mounted tents expand, it can be tough to separate the wheat from the chaff. Here are our picks for the best rooftop tents.
If you’ve never slept in a rooftop tent, it’s hard to imagine how different it is from sleeping on the ground. Rooftop tent (RTT) sleeping feels safer and more secure than sleeping in a tent on the ground.
Plus, RTTs offer a bird’s-eye view of your surroundings, airflow that’s unheard of in a traditional tent, protection (and peace of mind), and generally superior comfort for sleeping.
The drawbacks: Unlike a ground tent or a tow-behind camper, when your tent is on your roof, you have to break camp before you drive away. And, for those who make nighttime visits to the loo, there’s a ladder to negotiate between you and relief (unless you’re willing to get creative).
Also, if your dog gets to share the human bed, practice your one-handed ladder climb before you attempt to hoist them up. Multiply that effort if you have more than one dog.
Not every rooftop tent fits every vehicle nor every budget. But some tents work for almost every car or truck. Rooftop tents are all pricier than even the plushest backpacking tent, but if you’re able to invest, you won’t regret it.
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The Best Rooftop Tents of 2021
Best Rooftop Tent for Small Cars: iKamper Skycamp Mini
This aerodynamic and lightweight rooftop tent will fit any car you want to put it on, right down to a Mini Cooper. It’s also one of the easiest rooftop tents to deploy — setup takes less than a minute, and so does takedown.
The Skycamp Mini’s ($3,499) hardshell cover flips open to become one wall of the tent, the only wall without a window. That wall is lined with a quilted panel printed with a world map.
The quilting helps manage condensation, while the world map inspires tent dwellers to dream up their next adventure. Plus, the sidewalls, front, and ceiling of the tent all have oversized canopy windows for weather-protected airflow and great views.
The Skycamp Mini is made from breathable and insulating polycotton canvas with a waterproof polyester rainfly. The fly detaches for better airflow and uninterrupted views.
In a storm, you’ll appreciate the fly’s waterproof zippers. And because there’s no vinyl coating on the tent or the fly, this tent is more breathable with less condensation than many others. It’s also quieter in the wind.
The base of the tent is made with two layers of honeycomb aluminum panels with an insulating inch of air between them. A 1.6-inch firm polyfoam mattress with a 6.4 R-value rests on top of the honeycomb floor.
If you like a firm mattress, you’ll love this setup. But if you don’t, buy a softer aftermarket mattress and swap it out.
To get into the tent, climb iKamper’s redesigned ladder. With the ladder attached to the tent, its rungs run parallel to the ground. This makes climbing the ladder both safer and more comfortable than climbing other rooftop tent ladders. On other tents, when the ladder leans against the tent, the ladder rungs are angled.
The Skycamp Mini gives customers a choice of tent finishes. The shiny black hardshell is more aerodynamic and fuel-efficient. The matte black shell is ruggedized and won’t show scratches as distinctly.
Both shells are made from insulated, fiber-reinforced, double-layer plastic that’s soundproof and condensation-resistant.
The Skycamp Mini mounts to a roof rack with iKamper’s quick-to-tighten version 2.0 brackets that are compatible with a maximum crossbar 1.2 inches high and 3.5 inches wide. For higher crossbars, use iKamper’s version 1.0 mounting brackets.
You can also personalize your iKamper Skycamp Mini with accessories. Options include an annex or awning, storage racks, and bracket locks that secure the closing straps.
If you drive a small car, are shopping for a tent for a short-bed truck, or want to mount a rooftop tent on your truck cab, the Skycamp Mini is one of the best options available.
- Dimensions open: 48″ x 101″ x 102″
- Dimensions closed: 13″ x 57″ x 55″
- Sleeping footprint: 51″ x 83″
- Peak internal height: 47″
- Weight: 125 lbs.
- Static weight capacity: N/A
- Minimum bar spread: N/A
- Fits all vehicles
- Ultrafast setup
- Mattress was too firm for some campers
Best for Headroom: Roofnest Sparrow EYE
Newly redesigned, Roofnest’s two-person, pop-up hardshell wedge tent has a taller peak than tents that lift in all four corners. This one is also super easy to open, with gear storage on top.
By opting for a wedge instead of a tent that lifts in the tip and tail, you save weight and complexity. A wedge tent only needs lifting struts at one end.
Unclip it, and the Sparrow EYE ($2,995) opens with a gentle nudge to activate the struts on the front end. There are no tent poles to fiddle with and only one awning to prop.
The massive door and side windows keep the inside of the tent breezy and cool, even without a fourth wall. Both side windows can also be used as doors, although they don’t have awnings. Zip them closed in a rainstorm, and you do lose some airflow.
The tent’s fiberglass-reinforced ABS shell is molded to be aerodynamic for best-in-class gas mileage and reduced road noise. The inside of the shell is insulated and lined with a quilted, condensation-busting fabric that also reduces noise and gives the inside of the tent a den-like feel.
Also inside is a 2.7-inch foam mattress that Roofnest claims will rival the comfort of your bed at home.
The tent portion of the Sparrow EYE is a breathable polyurethane-coated polyester and cotton blend that’s three times more waterproof than most backpacking tents. It gives the tent a sturdy, protective, and secure feel, more like a safari tent than a backpacking tent.
In cool temps, it’s insulating, and in the wind, it cuts down on noise. The Sparrow EYE’s dual side windows and its door have zippered mesh and zippered canvas covers for as much bug-proofing, rain repellency, and airflow as desired.
A 7.5-foot telescoping ladder clips onto the tent under any window or door opening. While it doesn’t store inside the tent for travel, it comes with a storage bag.
This bag attaches to the roof gear storage zone on top of the tent for travel if you don’t want to pack it into your trunk. The rooftop bag can also be used to hold cooking gear, wet clothes, and other things you don’t want inside your car.
Also on the roof of the tent shell, there’s a dedicated spot to mount a solar panel on the tent roof. Mount one, and then park strategically so that with the wedge open, you’re generating max watts.
- Dimensions open: N/A
- Dimensions closed: 11.5″ x 85″ x 50″
- Sleeping footprint: 83″ x 49″
- Peak internal height: 44″
- Weight: 130 lbs.
- Static weight capacity: 650 lbs.
- Minimum bar spread: 28″
- Tent-top storage bag included
- Solar panel mount on the roof
- Super easy to open
- 270-degree views, not 360 degrees
- The low ceiling at the foot cuts down on internal storage space
Best 3-Person Rooftop Tent: Yakima SkyRise Medium
Two of the biggest barriers to entry for campers considering a rooftop tent are weight and price. Yakima’s SkyRise ($1,599) is not only relatively light, but it’s also competitively priced for a three-person tent. And it’s the most similar to backpacking and car camping tents that many backcountry enthusiasts are already familiar with.
The SkyRise is made from the same stuff as most tents you’d pitch on the ground. The 210D nylon is light and breathable, with mesh ventilation panels that double as windows into the Milky Way. All the windows and the two skylights have solid and mesh panels that zip open for ventilation and views.
Much like a standard ground tent, the SkyRise’s waterproof fly is polyurethane-coated, and the tent can be set up with the fly on or off. Aluminum poles give the tent structure. They’re strong, pre-set, and easy to engage once you manually flip this tent open.
Consider a three-person tent if you’ll be sleeping with a child. This is also a good option if you’re a dog owner whose dog climbs ladders, or if you’re willing to shuttle your pooch into your rooftop nest. Everyone will appreciate the plush, 2.5-inch-thick, wall-to-wall mattress.
And after this tent gets some use, you’ll also appreciate that the mattress has a removable cover for easy cleaning.
The SkyRise M is one of the easiest tents to mount on a roof rack. It goes on and comes off tool-free.
It also locks to your roof with the same system used in all Yakima bars and mounts, SKS lock cores, which are included with the tent.
- Dimensions open: N/A
- Dimensions closed: 58″ x 48″ x 16.5″
- Sleeping footprint: N/A
- Peak internal height: N/A
- Weight: 115 lbs.
- Static weight capacity: N/A
- Minimum bar spread: N/A
- Super easy to mount
- Locks to your roof
- Lighter fabrics flap more on windy nights
Most Compatible With Additional Roof Mounts: Thule Tepui Foothill
Thule’s new spacious two-person Foothill ($1,699) is a rooftop tent that deploys compactly, so there’s still plenty of space on your roof rack for bikes, kayaks, and cargo. The symmetrical Foothill, which Thule says is half the width of other rooftop tents, can be mounted on either side of your rack.
Folded, it’s low-profile, with a soft cover and a new base that cuts weight but adds strength and stability. Unzipped and unclipped, it’s easy to set up with telescoping internal poles that click into place.
The Foothill’s wide door left plenty of space to climb in and out of this tent while carrying a duffel bag. Paired with its panoramic rear window and dual skylights, the tent had superb airflow, even on sweltering hot nights. And it provided stargazing from every angle.
You can leave a bike or boat on the roof while you have the tent deployed and one side of the awning folded down to make space.
Inside, Thule outfits this tent with a high-density foam mattress that practically guarantees sweet dreams. Four internal pockets hold a book, headlamp, and other small items.
If you want to get fancy, buy Thule’s 310-thread count fitted sheets that fit the mattress perfectly. You can also choose Tepui’s insulator, a quilted liner that gives the tent extra insulation for four-season use. Both are sold separately.
The Foothill’s canopy fabric is UV- and mold-resistant, designed to be used year-round. In wet weather, the rainfly attaches quickly. And when you just want air and to see the stars, it folds down and away.
When you’re not using it, the Foothill takes about 10 minutes to remove from the car. It attaches and detaches with four brackets that tighten with a 13mm wrench. Packed for travel, it sits about 9.5 inches taller than a car’s roof rack.
- Dimensions open: 84″ x 47″ x 40″
- Dimensions closed: 83″ x 24″ x 9.5″
- Sleeping footprint: 84″ X 47″
- Peak internal height: 38”
- Weight: 108 lbs.
- Static weight capacity: 400 lbs.
- Minimum bar spread: 24”
- Room for gear on the roof
- No compatible vestibule
- Cumbersome for a two-person tent
- Ladder can’t be stored inside the packed tent
Best Budget: Smittybilt Gen 2 Overlander Tent XL
A goliath of a rooftop tent, Smittybilt’s Gen 2 Overlander Tent XL ($1,599) sleeps four and costs less than other RTTs, but it requires more initial assembly.
The Generation 2 Smittybilt Overlander Rooftop Tent is a good option whether you just like your space or you actually want to load four people into this tent. This mondo condo gives campers with larger vehicles maximum sleeping space for minimum cash.
The inner tent is made from heavy-duty, waterproof ripstop polyester with a polyurethane-impregnated top. Anodized aluminum tent poles create the tent frame. The tent folds open and on stainless steel hinges.
A lightweight, waterproof oxford rainfly installs with 4mm spring steel poles. And the tent flips open with a telescopic anodized aluminum ladder, which also provides access to your rooftop abode.
Once the tent, which has a king-sized mattress inside, has been assembled, it takes just 10 to 15 minutes to set it up. Windows are all covered with no-see-um mesh as well as waterproof fabric covers that keep the weather out. And when you’re chilling inside, an LED strip lights your cocoon so you don’t have to fiddle with headlamps or lanterns.
When it’s time to pack up, your bedding and accessories stay inside, and the ladder levers the tent closed. Improvements in the Gen 2 include a telescoping ladder, an improved rainfly, a better mattress, and a redesigned veranda that won’t collapse in heavy rain.
The Overlander is built on a light and strong 1-3/16-inch aluminum/polyurethane sandwich base. When the tent is folded for travel, a heavy-duty PVC cover with Velcro straps protects it.
This tent rings in at such a great price for several reasons. Some assembly is required, such as installing brackets for the ladder and mounting brackets on the underside of the tent.
It’s made from less expensive materials than other tents. And it’s not as quick to set up and break down as other tents. For example, the rainfly has to be fully staked out.
If you’re on a budget or packing a whole family into a single tent, buying this one won’t require a second mortgage. And if you need more space, or want to turn this tent into a compound, add Smittybilt’s Annex for more covered space.
- Dimensions open: 122″ x 76″ x 51″
- Dimensions closed: 47″ x 76″ x 11.5″
- Sleeping footprint: 92.5″ x 74.8″
- Peak internal height: N/A
- Weight: 148 lbs.
- Static weight capacity: 770 lbs.
- Minimum bar spread: N/A
- Some reported quality control issues
- For some racks, the provided hardware was too short
Easiest to Assemble: CVT St. Helens
One of the easiest tents to set up, CVT’s St. Helens ($2,995) goes from a roof box-like pod to a ready-for-occupancy tent in less than a minute. Undo the front and rear straps, nudge the lid, and climb right in. Once you’re inside, it’s quick to set up the awnings that shade the oversize doors.
The pop-top hardshell St. Helens opens on gas struts that require almost no effort to activate. Vertical walls and a full-size bed footprint give inhabitants space to sleep or to get out of the weather on a rainy day.
A ceiling net holds gear so it’s not in your sleeping space. So do portable pockets that mount in various locations inside the tent so you can stash your headlamp, book, and toothbrush where it’s convenient for you.
The tent body is made from breathable, water-resistant ripstop. The doors and windows can be rolled open, closed with mesh, or zipped shut with tent body material to keep out the weather.
This tent has oversized doors on both sides of the tent. However, you have to pick one as your main entrance, as the tent only comes with a single ladder.
The sides also have a smaller window on each sidewall. Zip the doors shut, and you have privacy without cutting off the airflow.
Under the hardshell roof, a plush quilted ceiling liner over an anti-condensation mat manages moisture, sucking it out from under your mattress and drawing it out of your tent.
When it’s time to pack up, the tent packs up as quickly and easily as it opened. This key feature made this one of the best rooftop tents for campers on the move.
St. Helens’ shell is a glossy, aerodynamic poly/fiberglass that’s strong and durable. The shell comes in white or black.
- Dimensions open: 81″ x 52″ x 39″
- Dimensions closed: 83″ x 54″ x 11″
- Sleeping footprint: 52″ x 81″
- Peak internal height: 39″
- Weight: 153 lbs.
- Static weight capacity: N/A
- Minimum bar spread: 46″
Buyer’s Guide: How to Buy a Rooftop Tent
What Fits Your Vehicle?
Not every rooftop tent will fit every vehicle. Know the load capacity of your roof rack, as well as the maximum spread of your roof rack bars to determine if a specific RTT will fit. The spread of the bars is the distance between the front roof rack crossbar and the back one.
Do not mount a rooftop tent on a factory rack, or you’ll break the rack and possibly cause damage to your roof.
What Else Do You Need to Carry?
Some RTTs require you to carry the access ladder inside your car. Some leave extra space on your roof for bikes or boats, and some hardshells have storage on top for gear or space to mount a flexible storage panel. Choose an RTT that won’t cramp your style.
Hardshell vs. Softshell
Hardshell RTTs are sleeker looking when compressed and more aerodynamic. Some hardshells have storage on top of the shell. But most hardshells won’t give you 360-degree views.
The shell will be either the roof of your deployed tent or one wall. Most softshell tents have views in every direction.
Space vs. Weight
RTTs typically sleep two to five people and fit a double to a king-size mattress. The bigger the tent and mattress, the heavier and more cumbersome the RTT. Find the right balance between size and weight for your vehicle and your family.
Manual vs. Automatic
Some hardshell RTTs lift with a gentle nudge, whereas most softshells have to be flipped open manually and the awning bars inserted. RTTs with gas struts that lift the tent open are becoming more common. They often cost more, and there are more parts to potentially fail.
All rooftop tents require a heavy lift to get the tent onto a vehicle’s roof rack. So, plan to get a hand from a friend. While you can take it on and off, it’s always an awkward operation.
What Is the Benefit of a Rooftop Tent?
Rooftop tents get you off the ground, providing a great view. In most situations, they also provide more airflow than you’ll get when you’re sleeping in a tent on the ground.
When your tent is on the roof of your vehicle, you’re also out of the dirt and away from creepy crawly things on the ground. That makes a rooftop tent feel more secure.
Most rooftop tents are super quick and easy to set up. And when your tent is on your roof, it’s always with you, which can inspire some great impromptu adventures.
Rooftop tents often accommodate a mattress and bedding, not just sleeping pads and inflatable pads. And many let you leave the bedding inside the tent when you pack up.
Can You Put a Rooftop Tent on a Car?
Many rooftop tents are designed to be mounted on cars. But not every tent will fit every car. The size and weight of the tent need to match the size and carrying capacity of your car’s roof rack.
For best results, use aftermarket bars, not standard factory-installed racks. Also, check the car manufacturer’s and the roof rack manufacturer’s websites for compatibility.
Why Are Rooftop Tents So Expensive?
Rooftop tents are more expensive than most ground-staked tents because of the materials, engineering and design, and accessories. Rooftop tents flip over to create a platform with a tent on top of your car. That’s a whole lot more complicated than creating a structure with a fabric floor that gets placed on the ground.
Then, throw in a mattress, ladder, and a hardshell exterior, and you can see why rooftop tents are costly.
What Is the Cheapest Rooftop Tent?
You can buy a rooftop tent for under $1,000. It’s also possible to get a used one for well below the original price.
But remember that not every tent will fit every vehicle. And, for a few extra bucks, you may be able to get more space, more stability, a tent that’s quicker and easier to set up, and other benefits.