The Complete Roof Top Tent Guide – This Is What You Need To Know
Article from Unsealed 4X4. The complete roof top tent guide This Is What You Need to Know Investing in a roof top tent is a fantastic idea. They free up space inside your vehicle for …
Article from Unsealed 4X4.
The complete roof top tent guide
This Is What You Need to Know
Investing in a roof top tent is a fantastic idea. They free up space inside your vehicle for other essential items, you get a great view when you wake up and they tend to get less sand and dirt in them. More importantly, they stop unwanted critters from visiting in the night.
But now that every man, woman and dog knows just how awesome roof top tents are, they have exploded in popularity. As a result, there are LOTS of different options on the market.
So, how do you know which roof top tent to buy? Well, as a self-confessed roof top tent fan, I’ve created this guide to take the guesswork out of it. This is what you need to know before you go out and buy one!
The main types of roof top tents
A soft shell roof top tent is the most affordable option and it basically looks like a standard tent perched on top of your vehicle. It’s lightweight and has the potential to be roomy enough for families. Although it’s still quick, it’s the slowest option to set up and pack up. Particularly when it comes to packing up as you have to walk around the car tucking all the little bits in and then try to wrestle the protective cover over the whole thing.
Soft shells are a popular choice for families as they are affordable and tend to have more room. You also have the ability to put an annexe underneath. I use a softshell and while it’s not without its cons, I have twice now lived in it for four weeks at a time (two adults and two kids) while we explored Central Australia as well as many other shorter trips.
- Can get an annex room to sleep more people (great for families)
- Slowest option to set up and pack up
- Can be noisy in a storm as it flaps around a little
- Not the most aerodynamic option
- Overhangs the car when set up
THE ARB SIMPSON III SOFT SHELL ROOF TOP TENT
Hard shell – pop up
Hard shell pop up roof tents are quick to set up and look like a big cargo box on top of your car when unpacked. They have either gas or spring struts that hold the walls taught so it’s a little quieter in a storm. The hard top protects you from weather and drop bears… just kidding, nothing will protect you from a drop bear. Unfortunately, they are more expensive and less roomy than a soft shell roof top tent.
- Quick set up and pack up
- Can usually close it with your pillows and blankets inside
- The walls are not as flappy and therefore quieter in a storm
- Can house a thicker mattress as it doesn’t need to fold over to close
- Some models can have solar panels mounted on top
- No overhang when set up
- Head height is often reduced
- More expensive
- The moving parts are inside the fabric making it harder to repair
- Less room
THE KINGS KWIKY POP UP ROOF TOP TENT
Hard shell – clam
Clam shell tents are the fastest to set and pack up and look like a big triangle on your car when they are set up. The hardware (hinges etc) are all mounted on the same tracks so it’s easier to repair when they need maintenance. Like the pop up, the fabric is stretched tight so it’s also less flappy in bad weather but it also has the added benefit of being able to angle the roof to deal with the weather by moving your car.
- Quick set up and pack up
- The walls are taught and not as flappy in a storm
- Moving parts are easier to access
- Can angle the roof to deal with weather by moving your car
- No head room up one end
THE IRONMAN SWIFT 1400 CLAM SHELL ROOF TOP TENT
Other roof top tent types
There are some less common types of roof top tents on the market but the most notable is the blow up tent. It’s roomy and just like the name suggests, it’s erected by pumping air into it.
- Very lightweight
- An option to sleep up to 5
- They float! (although its not recommended you do this)
- Some can be used like a normal tent on the ground
- Not the quickest set up option
- Have to pump it up
THE GT PICKUP BLOW UP ROOF TOP TENT
Important things to consider before buying a roof top tent
How many beds do you need?
If you only need to sleep 1 or 2 adults then you have the most options. Any more than that and options are limited. It’s hard to find a roomy hard shell roof top tent that is affordable which means that families are often limited to a soft shell. This is because they fold out over the side of your vehicle, effectively doubling the sleeping space. You can also add an under awning tent to a soft shell creating a whole new room at ground level. This is how we travel with two adults and two kids. It also means if one of the kids are sick or wets the bed, they can sleep in the room downstairs where it will be easier to clean up any messes.
Hard shell tents fit two people easily so singles and couples should have no problems. They can of course, still get a soft shell tent for its affordability and extra space but a single person may have trouble packing it up solo as sometimes you need someone to hold it down while the other zips up the cover.
How much weight can your vehicle and roof racks handle?
Roof top tents weigh from 49kg to upwards of 90kg so you will need to make sure that when it’s installed, the vehicle does not weigh over its GVM (the maximum your vehicle can weigh when fully loaded).
Equally just as important is your roof rack’s maximum static and maximum dynamic load. The static weight is how much the racks can hold when the vehicle is not moving and the dynamic weight is how much it can hold when the vehicle is moving. Often the roof racks that come standard with a vehicle just don’t cut it and an aftermarket roof rack will be required.
Comparison of roof top tent brands
BrandPrice*TypeWeightSleepsMattressOpen mmClosed mmMaterialsNotesKings Tourer
$849Soft57kg2 (up to 6 with annexe)75mm1340H
1400L300 GST polycotton ripstop canvasARB Simpson III
1400LPolycotton ripstop canvasIronman Soft Shell
2300LIronman Nomad 1300
2160L280 GSM polycotton ripstop canvasThule Tepui Explorer
1220L260 GSM polycotton ripstopThule Tepui Foothill
610L600D polyester ripstopXTM
1250LPolycotton ripstopGT Roof
1000LOuter tube is double ripstop & tent is polycottonGT Skyloft
1650LOuter tub is double ripstop & tent is polycottonCanyon Off-Road
2120L320 GSM polycotton ripstop + polymer topCanyon Off-Road 4-Man
2020L320 GSM polycotton ripstop + polymer top* COST AT TIME OF WRITING