If you’ve never slept in a rooftop tent, it’s hard to imagine how different it is from sleeping in a traditional tent. In general, we’ve found that rooftop tent sleeping has certain key advantages over sleeping in a tent on the ground.
Rooftop tents offer a bird’s-eye view of your surroundings, airflow that’s unheard of in a ground 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 or 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.
Once you’ve decided if a rooftop tent is right for you, it can be tricky to pick out the right model. In recent years, the GearJunkie team and our greater network of expert gear testers have researched and sampled all of the leading styles on the market. We’ve used these tents for overlanding, car camping, and cross-country roadtripping. We’ve closely examined their features at trade shows and expos in far-flung corners of the globe.
After hundreds of nights of elevated sleeping and hours of poring over specs, we’ve decided that the rooftop tents on this list are the best of the best. Rooftop tents are still a young development in the world of life on the road. We expect that they’ll only get better.
Editor’s note: On November 16, we updated this article to include additional buying advice and information on our ongoing testing process.
The Best Rooftop Tents of 2023
- Best Rooftop Tent for Small Cars: iKamper Skycamp 3.0 Mini
- Best Budget Rooftop Tent: Smittybilt Gen 2 Overlander Tent XL
- Best for Headroom: Roofnest Sparrow EYE 2
- Best 3-Person Rooftop Tent: Yakima SkyRise HD
- Most Compatible With Additional Mounts: Thule Tepui Foothill
- Dimensions open 102" x 101" x 48"
- Dimensions closed 57.5" x 55" x 13"
- Sleeping footprint 83" x 51"
- Peak internal height 46.5"
- Weight 125 lbs.
- Static weight capacity N/A
- Minimum bar spread N/A
- Fits all vehicles
- Ultrafast setup
- Mattress may be too firm for some campers
- Dimensions open 122" x 76" x 51"
- Dimensions closed 76" x 47" 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
- Great price
- Some reported quality control issues
- For some racks, the provided hardware was too short
- Dimensions open 84" x 48″ x 40"
- Dimensions closed 85" x 50" x 11.5"
- 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
- Dimensions open 96" x 56" x 48"
- Dimensions closed 58" x 48" x 17"
- Sleeping footprint N/A
- Peak internal height N/A
- Weight 115 lbs.
- Static weight capacity N/A
- Minimum bar spread 26"
- Super easy to mount
- Locks securely to your roof
- Lighter fabrics flap more on windy nights
- 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
Rooftop Tent Comparison Table
|Rooftop Tent||Price||Open Dimensions (L x W x H)||Closed Dimensions (L x W x H)||Sleeping Footprint (L x W)||Peak Internal Height||Weight|
|iKamper Skycamp 3.0 Mini||$3,979||102″ x 101″ x 48″||57.5″ x 55″ x 13″||83″ x 51″||46.5″||125 lbs.|
|Roofnest Sparrow EYE 2||$3,195||84″ x 48″ x 40″||85″ x 50″ x 11.5″||83″ x 49″||40″||130 lbs.|
|Yakima SkyRise HD||$2,499||96″ x 56″ x 48″||58″ x 48″ x 17″||N/A||N/A||115 lbs.|
|Thule Tepui Foothill||$2,000||84″ x 47″ x 40″||83″ x 24″ x 9.5″||84″ x 47″||38″||400 lbs.|
|Smittybilt Gen 2 Overlander Tent XL||$1,632||122″ x 76″ x 51″||76″ x 47″ x 11.5″||92.5″ x 74.8″|
How We Tested Rooftop Tents
The GearJunkie team is composed of overlanders, auto experts, and seasoned car camping fanatics. Over many years, we have tried and rigorously tested just about every kind of camping gear on the market — including rooftop tents.
Our lead tester for rooftop tents is Berne Broudy. Based in Vermont, Berne has amassed over 20+ years of hiking, cycling, climbing, ski touring, and overlapping. Berne’s broad portfolio of outdoor activities has added up to many nights of camping outdoors — many of which were spent in a rooftop tent.
To compile this list of the best rooftop tents of 2023, Berne and the rest of our team combed the market and compared the pros, cons, and specs of dozens of models. We’ve mounted tents on rigs of all shapes and sizes — from compact sedans to full-sized trucks. We’ve spent many nights — some glorious and others full of tosses and turns — testing the quality and comfort of rooftop tent mattresses.
Our assessment process is detail-oriented. No subtle feature or flaw goes unnoticed. On this list, we’ve included a wide variety of excellent rooftop tents to meet all sorts of needs. From compact SUV drivers to large-family road trippers, one of the models on this list is destined to be a good fit.
Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose 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 distance between your roof rack bars to determine if a specific rooftop tent will fit. The spread of the bars is the distance between the front roof rack crossbar and the back one. Most rooftop tents have a “minimum bar spread” spec. Before purchasing a rooftop tent, be sure to physically measure your rack’s spread to ensure you’ve got a compatible matchup.
When in doubt, get in touch with the rooftop tent manufacturer and verify that your planned setup will be safe and sound. Many of the tents on this list can work with sedans, trucks, and everything in between — provided you’ve got the proper rack and mounting system.
What Else Do You Need to Carry?
Some rooftop tents require you to carry the access ladder inside your car. Other tents incorporate the ladder directly into the tent’s packed-away design. Some tents have accessory options, including awnings and extensions. Typically, these will need to be stored separately inside of a car or truck bed.
As for sleeping bags, and pillows, many rooftop tents can be fully folded and tucked away with the bedding stored inside. This feature is especially common in hardshell models.
Some rooftop tents with smaller footprints leave extra space on your roof for bikes, boats, and other gear. Of course, the square footage of your leftover roof space will depend on the size of the tent and the dimensions of your roof.
Some hardshell rooftop tents provide storage on top for gear or space to mount a flexible storage panel. In most cases, you’ll need to purchase additional racks if you want to utilize the roof of your tent’s shell for storage space.
Hardshell vs. Softshell
Hardshell rooftop tents are sleeker looking when compressed and more aerodynamic. They also tend to be shorter when folded up — an important consideration for those planning to park in a garage.
In general, hardshell rooftop tents are easier to set up and fold away. Most come with pop-out hydraulic struts that do most of the work for you, as opposed to softshell tents that typically come with traditional aluminum or fiberglass poles that require assembly.
Another plus, some hardshells have useable storage space on top of the outer shell. On the flipside, many hardshells won’t give you 360-degree views.
Softshell rooftop tents are generally similar to traditional camping tents. They tend to be less expensive, harder to set up, and less durable in the long term. Still, a softshell might be the better option for you, especially if you’re prioritizing 360-degree views and a tight budget.
Space vs. Weight
Rooftop tents 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 rooftop tent.
Most rooftop tents weigh between 100 and 200 pounds — an important spec to know, especially in relation to your roof rack’s recommended capacity.
For a family of three or a couple with a dog, we like the Yakima SkyRise HD — a roomy yet comfortable option with a plush wall-to-wall mattress.
If your roof space is limited and you’re looking for a svelte single sleeper, the SkyRise HD also comes in a scaled-down small size.
Manual vs. Automatic Opening
Some hardshell rooftop tents lift with a gentle nudge, whereas most softshells have to be flipped open manually and the awning bars inserted. Rooftop tents with gas struts that lift the tent open are becoming more common. They often cost more, and there are more parts to potentially fail, but they’re quite convenient — especially in poor weather.
Either way, initial assembly can be a pain in the butt with a steep learning curve. Once assembled, 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 repeatedly install and uninstall, it’s always an awkward operation.
In the long run, we’ve found we have a slight preference for automatic-opening rooftop tents. They’re just so handy after a long day on the trail or the road.
Rooftop tents are a major investment — some cost as much as half a year’s rent in a studio apartment. If you’re going to invest, it’s fair to assume you’ll get many years of issue-free use out of your rooftop tent.
Because these tents live on your roof completely exposed to the elements, it’s important to care for them properly in order to squeeze out every drop of longevity. We recommend storing your rooftop tent in a dry, covered, and fairly temperature-regulated place when not in use. Go easy on the zippers, struts, ladders, and poles — these intricate mechanical components tend to break first.
In our experience, all of the rooftop tents on this list offer competitive durability when properly cared for.
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.
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 automaker’s and the roof rack manufacturer’s websites for compatibility.
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.
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, and a tent that’s quicker and easier to set up, among other benefits.