Welcome to our guide to the best roof top tents for car and truck camping. If you’ve been camping recently or spend time on Instagram looking at camping and van life inspiration, the chances are that as well as plenty of camper van and van life images, you’ve seen some beautiful photos of people in rooftop camping tents which are installed on top of their car, truck or SUV.
This style of camping is getting popular, and there’s a lot of choice out there when you start to think about buying a car tent of your own, when you start to compare your budget with choosing to go for a hard top vs soft shell camper, and how big the tent needs to be for you and your travel companion(s) to sleep comfortably – this list includes everything from small, budget-friendly rooftop tents for small cars to larger 4 person roof top tents so you can fit your how family in the same space on camping trips.
CLICK HERE to jump straight down to our car tents shortlist, or read on for more information to help you decide whether investing in one of these is right for you and your partner / family, and if so, work out which of these options is the best for you.
Table of Contents
- Best For Small Cars
- Best Budget Tent
- Best Hard Shell
- Most Slimline
- Best 3 Person Model
- Best 4 Person Model
- Read The Buyer’s Guide:
Best For Small Cars
Thule Tepui Explorer Ayer 2 Tent [Winner]
This Tepui roof top tent is designed to fit on the roof rack or roof crossbars on most small cars, making it a great choice if you are a small car owner and larger / heavier roof tents are not an option for you.
The Explorer Ayer 2 is the lightest option on our list, suitable for even small cars, and at a cost of around $1300, it’s one of the cheapest car roof tents on this list.
At 48 inches wide it’s a small double bed inside and nothing more, and 39 inches is only just over 3 feet of headroom. This makes it a great choice for one person or for couples who need one to sleep in but not spend too much time hanging out on top of their car.
- Sleeps 2 person / Price $1300
- Interior dimensions 84 x 48 inches / Headroom 39 inches
- Closed dimensions 42 x 48 x 11 inches / Weight 105lb
iKamper Skycamp Mini Rooftop Tent [Runner Up #1]
Both of these runners-up are more expensive than the Tepui tent above, but very sleek options for small car roofs.
This new hardshell Skycamp Mini is designed to fit on any car or truck bed, with an expanding footprint when assembled in iKamper’s famous ‘one-minute setup’ time.
Being a hard shell camper it has a shape when is designed to be more aerodynamic than the soft-sided options, and being an iKamper it comes with loads of extras designed to help you camp in style and comfort. At a weight of 125lb it is also very light for a hard shell tent.
- Sleeps 2 person / Price $3500
- Interior dimensions 51 x 81 inches / Headroom 45 inches
- Closed dimensions 57 x 55 x 13 inches / Weight 125lb
Roofnest Condor Tent [Runner Up #2]
The Condor is Roofnest’s smallest hard shell popup camper for small cars – definitely worth a look if you want a hard shell rather than soft top option to use with a small car, and the quick setup and premium features appeal to you.
In their marketing materials Roofnest even show the Condor tent atop of a Mini Cooper, just to prove that the ‘mini’ fits on a Mini – and it costs less than the iKamper option above.
- Sleeps 2 person / Price $3100
- Interior dimensions 60 x 83 inches / Headroom 50 inches
- Closed dimensions 60 x 48 x 12 inches / Weight 135lb
Best Budget Tent
Smittybilt Overlander [Winner]
If a relatively cheap roof top tent is what you’re looking for then for around $1000 this Smittybilt option is our top pick.
Smittybilt is a recognizable brand in the overlanding market and offers quite simply, a vehicle tent for camping – the classic Jeep overlanding tent (although it doesn’t have to go on a Jeep, of course).
It doesn’t come with fancy looks, good aerodynamics or a particularly quick setup time, but for the price this is a great deal. At a weight of 117lb it’s also one of the lighter options out there (compare this to the Thule Tepui Low-Pro 2’s weight of 105lb, for example, and note that you get a wider bed with this Smittybilt option).
- Sleeps 2 person / Price $1000
- Interior dimensions 90 x 53 inches / Headroom approx 50 inches
- Closed dimensions 58 x 49 x 13 inches / Weight 117lb
23Zero Weekender 56 Tent [Runner up]
This 23Zero overlanding tent is close in price to the Smittybilt Overlander Tent above, at $1099, and is similar in terms of features, with the notable difference being that the 23Zero tent has a 56 inch wide double bed compared to the Smittybilt’s 53 inch bed.
The price differential (plus the 23Zero shipping charge of $260) may be worth it if you need a little more room at night and value a step up in quality – the mattress and tent walls of the 23Zero tent feel more robust in comparison to the Smittybilt option (for example, the 23Zero’s mattress is 3 inches thick compared to the Smittybilt’s modest 2 inch mattress).
- Sleeps 2 people / Price $1100 plus shipping
- Interior dimensions 56 x 96 inches / Headroom inches
- Closed dimensions 56 x 48 x 14 inches / Weight 116lb
Best Hard Shell Roof Top Tent For Luxury Camping
iKamper Skycamp 2.0 Tent [Winner]
The iKamper Skycamp 2.0 is the newest version of the original Skycamp roof top tent that took the market by storm after a successful crowdfunded launch in 2017.
The floor of this iKamper hard shell tent folds out to create a huge KING SIZE bed to sleep 4 people, and the whole setup takes only one minute. This tent will sleep anything from a solo or couple wanting LOADS of tent space on top of their vehicle, or a family of four with two small children.
If you are looking for more of glamping experience, then for $3,900 this iKamper tent is the way to go.
- Sleeps 4 people / Price $3900
- Interior dimensions 83 x 77 inches / Headroom 45 inches
- Closed dimensions 85 x 55 x 13 inches / Weight 160lb
ALSO – if you don’t want that much space but like the brand, check out iKamper’s more compact tent options: the Skycamp 2X is not quite as wide (51 inches) so great for a couple (and at $3,200 significantly less costly than the Skycamp 2.0), and the Skycamp Mini, which also made it to our ‘best options for small cars’ shortlist, above.
The Roofnest Sparrow XL [Runner Up #1]
The Roofnest Sparrow XL has been redesigned for 2021 and is another premium hard shell tent option which pops up rather than opening like a clamshell.
It’s not as wide as the iKamper Skycamp 2.0 but at 60 inches wide, it offers a queen size bed, a built-in storage area, and three doors, giving you three options of where to mount the ladder. Like the Skycamp 2.0 and 2X, you can store bedding in the tent when traveling, which adds to the ease of setup.
You can also mount solar panels on top of the tent shell and it features a built in storage area with an included waterproof gear bag.
- Sleeps 2 people / Price $3000
- Interior dimensions 49 x 82 inches / Headroom 40 inches
- Closed dimensions 84 x 50 11 inches / Weight 130lb
James Baroud Tent – Space Pop-Up [Runner Up #2]
For when you want nothing less than a premium European-made tent, check out James Baroud’s range of pop up tents.
We’re loving James Baroud’s Space model, which opens up like a clamshell, but they also have some very nice full pop-up campers for your vehicle’s roof as well as larger clamshell style options.
These pop up in seconds, and depending on the model, you’ll get features such as a ventilation fan (with an integrated solar panel to power it) a customizable colored gel coat shell, and 360 degree views through the mesh, plus a 5 year warranty. Depending on your chosen model, prices range from between $4,000 and $6,000.
- Sleeps 2+ / Price $4200
- Interior dimensions 78 x 55 inches / Headroom 52 inches
- Closed dimensions 78.5 x 55.5 inches / Weight tbc
Roofnest Falcon and Falcon XL [Winner]
If an aerodynamic hard shell tent is what you’re looking for then the Roofnest Falcon is our top choice. It’s very sleep when closed, and when open it makes your vehicle look like a little camper van!
The Roofnest Falcon is less than 7″ tall when closed, and you can buy an optional set of crossbars to carry bikes, kayaks, skis, and anything else on top of it, so you don’t lose your roof storage space. Similar to the Tepui rooftop tent above, this Roofnest camper bed is 48 inches wide.
At $3500 it’s one of the more expensive choices, although it’s worth factoring in the free shipping Roofnest offers, and perhaps some gas mileage savings on top of that due to the better aerodynamics over other options.
- Sleeps 2 people / Price $3500
- Interior dimensions 88 x 48 inches / Headroom 60 inches
- Closed dimensions 90 x 50 x 6.5 inches / Weight 140lb
For $200 more also consider the Roofnest Falcon XL, which is a similar design, but 10 inches longer and wider so may be a good option if you would like a bigger bed (almost Queen sized) or have a small child traveling with you.
Outer Tents Osprey Slimline [Runner Up]
A new 4-season option on the market in 2021, the Osprey Slimline Tent is also worth a look if you are after a low profile hard shell tent when closed.
This Osprey Tent is very similar to the Roofnest Falcon in design and dimension – with similarities including a 6.5 inch closed height and the ability to add gear to the top of the tent, but at less than $2400 it’s at a significantly different price point to the Roofnest option, especially when considering that this tent also ships with free delivery to the lower 48 US states.
- Sleeps 2-3 people / Price $2400
- Interior dimensions 82 x 56 inches / Headroom 58 inches
- Closed dimensions 84 x 58 x 6.5 inches / Weight 142lb
Best 3 Person Options
Yakima Skyrise Rooftop Tent 3 person [Winner]
A new lightweight car top camper from vehicle racks specialist Yakima, the Skyrise Rooftop Tent is designed to sleep three people, or two very comfortably. At 115lb in weight, this is one of the lightest car tents on this list, and that’s for a tent designed to sleep three!
This Yakima tent mounts to your vehicle without needing tools, which is a convenient feature especially if you expect to be needing to remove and re-mount the tent from your vehicle roof rack a few times during the camping season, and the tent has locks to attach it to your car or truck’s roof rack.
We also love the skylight feature, great for gazing up at the night sky. For less than $1,600, the Skyrise rooftop tent is a good deal indeed.
- Sleeps 3 person / Price $1600
- Interior dimensions 96 x 56 inches / Headroom tbc inches
- Closed dimensions 56 x 48 x 12 inches / Weight 115lb
Thule Tepui Explorer Kukenam 3 [Runner Up #1]
This rooftop tent from the market leader Tepui sits alongside their smaller Ayer 2 person tent as some of the company’s most popular models.
For $1,750, the Explorer Kukenam 3 offers more room than the Yakima option, for two people or two people plus one or two small children needing that extra space.
This is a quality tent with a high level of durability when it comes to soft shell tent options, and still only weighs 131lb.
If you’re not fussed about having a hard shell rooftop tent and still want a car tent that will last a long time when cared for, then it’s hard to go wrong with this Tepui option.
- Sleeps 3 people / Price $1750
- Interior dimensions 96 x 56 inches / Headroom 52 inches
- Closed dimensions 56 x 48 x12 inches / Weight 131lb
Tuff Stuff Ranger 3 [Runner Up #2]
The Tuff Stuff Ranger 3 tent is another overlanding roof tent option and has the overall color and look of a jeep safari adventure in the making!
While it’s heavier than the Tepui Explorer Kukenam 3 at 154lb, and 3 inches taller when packed up, the Ranger 3 comes at a lower price point – plus, it comes with an annex included, so you’re getting more tent for your money.
- Sleeps 3 people / Price $1550
- Interior dimensions 96 x 56 inches / Headroom 52 inches
- Closed dimensions 56 x 48 x 15 inches / Weight 154lb
Best 4 Person Options
Thule Tepui Explorer Autana 4 Tent [Winner]
Another Tepui tent makes it on to this list, this time the Thule Tepui Explorer Autana 4 tent. If you want a versatile, relatively spacious and great quality tent that can sleep up to four people then this is our top pick.
This 4-person tent includes plenty of storage, and an extended canopy entrance with a removable annex for additional privacy (included rather than being at an extra cost up front).
It’s also capable of keeping you comfortable across all four seasons due to the high quality, coated 600-denier fabric, which is both UV and mold-resistant.
- Sleeps 4 person / Price $2800
- Interior dimensions 96 x 72 inches / Headroom 56 inches
- Closed dimensions 72 x 48 x12 inches / Weight 190lb
Cascadia Vehicle Tents Denali (CVT Hybrid Range) [Runner Up #1]
A ‘hybrid’ between a soft and hard shell tent, CVT’s Denali is a hard shell tent that folds out like a soft roof tent, allowing plenty of space to sleep 4 people.
At 88 inches wide, this CVT car tent offers the biggest sleeping area on this list. With a price of $3600 it will set you back (although not as much as the similar-sized iKamper Skycamp 2.0 above) and it is one of the heavier tents here, but the ease of set up, sleek good looks and extra durability of a hard shell will be yours!
- Sleeps 4 person / Price $3600
- Interior dimensions 96 x 88 inches / Headroom 44 inches
- Closed dimensions 89 x 48.5 x 15 inches / Weight 280lb
23Zero Walkabout 72 Tent [Runner Up #2]
If a big rooftop tent is what you’re after (and you don’t want a heavier hard shell one), this 23Zero tent has answered your call!
The Walkabout 72 has a 72 inch wide, California King Size sleeping area, it really is a king-sized tent, designed for sleeping in all four seasons, and at less than $2000 it’s a great deal.
If you want even more under canvas space, you also have the option to add on an annex (at extra cost). Wait, there’s more. If you want even more space, check out their Walkabout 87 tent – yes, that’s 87 inches wide – pretty much the same size as the CVT Denali tent above.
- Sleeps 4 person / Price $2000
- Interior dimensions 96 x 72 inches / Headroom 48 inches
- Closed dimensions 72 x 48 x 14 inches / Weight 165lb
Car Tent Buyer’s Guide
Why Are These Getting Popular?
While roof top tents have been popular for many years, especially with the overlanding community and in countries such as Australia and South Africa for some time, they’re definitely becoming a popular outdoor adventure purchase in other countries such as the US.
A rooftop camper, which goes by many different names including car tent, rooftop tent and roof rack tent, is a big step up in both budget and relative luxury of your camping experience when compared against regular tent camping.
Camping on your car roof is quite appealing if you prefer not to sleep on the ground – not least because it keeps you away from the bugs and cold (and if it’s been raining, wet) that you may find in your campsite. There may not be as many highly poisonous beasts on the ground in the US and Europe as there are in Australia, but its still a nice thought to be sleeping above where they tend to hang out.
A car roof rack tent is also appealing if you really want a camper van but can’t justify the time / expense / space etc etc needed to jump in and buy your own dedicated adventure vehicle – because you can convert most cars, SUVs and trucks into adventure wagons with the addition of one of these, and the tent can live on your car roof for the duration of your preferred camping season, ready to go hit your desired camping spots each weekend and vacation break you get.
Rooftop Car Tent Advantages
Why would you spend between $1000 and $5000+ on a rooftop camping tent when you could spend $200-$300 on a good quality regular camping tent?
As well as the idea of elevating your camping experience off the ground and away from bugs, some other reasons people choose roof top tents over regular tent camping include:
- Comfort – most rooftop tents come with a foam mattress built in to the tent – so no need to go without or spend time inflating one
- Ventilation – being higher up from the ground means you should have better airflow around a car tent than one on the ground, which is helpful when keeping it cool and reducing condensation overnight
- Quick and simple setup – especially with the hard shell tents that can be assembled in literally one minute. This makes car camping and camping on road trips quick and simple when you get to your camping spot
While you’re in the process of creating a comfortable camping experience for yourself, it may also be worth checking out our list of the best camping and backpacking sleeping bags and pads. If you’re camping as a couple, also consider double sleeping bags, so if you’re camping as a couple you can share a sleeping bag rather than being tucked up in individual mummy-style bags at night.
Also, if you’re thinking about what to bring on a road trip, check out our adventure road trip essentials checklist, which includes a full packing list for what to take with you (the link opens in a new tab).
Car and Truck Roof Tent Disadvantages
Having a big tent on your car or truck roof will affect your gas mileage. So if you are going to be keeping the tent on your vehicle’s rooftop for the whole summer, or longer, and driving long distances in it (like commuting at speed) then you’ll definitely be spending more on gas due to the adverse impact on your car’s aerodynamics.
Hard shell models tend to be more aerodynamic than the soft tent options so it’s worth factoring this hidden mileage expense in when weighing up whether to pay more money up front for a more aerodynamic rooftop tent. Note also, though, that a heavier tent will affect your miles per gallon, too.
Makes sure you’re fine with using a ladder to get in and out of your roof camper. If you tend to want to leave your tent in the dark to go to the bathroom then this is definitely something to consider before committing to buying a truck or car roof rack tent. For a simpler (and less costly) way to sleep off the ground but only 1-2 feet off the ground, consider camping hammock tents as an alternative. They could be a great option, especially if you’re traveling solo.
Soft vs. Hard Shell Roof Top Tents – Which Is Best For You?
Soft rooftop camping tents
The classic overland rooftop camping tent looks from a distance like a regular canvas/ripstop camping tent that you’ve installed on your car or truck roof. When the tent is up, it often extends out to the side of your car, and you get in and out of the tent using a ladder.
Soft rooftop tents tend to offer larger footprints than hard shell options, because of how they fold out to the side of your vehicle, so you have more options especially when it comes to tents that will accommodate three or even four people (or at least two people and two kids).
When packed away, these soft overland style tents fold down into a square or rectangular box that stays attached to your car or truck’s roof rack. These tents are built to be highly durable and waterproof to withstand a whole range of elements, not to mention living on the roof of your car for months at a time.
Hard shell roof top tents
Hard shell tents tend to be made out of materials such as fiberglass, plastic or aluminum, and pop up into a camping tent in a similar way to a European style pop-top camper van roof does – either like an opening clamshell, or the entire top of the tent raises up to provide a rectangular sleeping space on top of your car. Either way, they look pretty slick and make your car look like a little camper van.
If speed to set your car tent up (and take it down again), aerodynamics, fuel economy and good looks are your priority when it comes to rooftop tent camping then a hard shell style is the way to go.
It would also be the best choice if you plan to be doing road trips in your car and moving every day or every few days, because these hard top roof tents are so much quicker to take down than the soft sided alternatives.
If, on the other hand, you need the extra space to sleep more than two people, or are on a smaller budget and don’t plan to be needing to take your car tent down every couple of days to change locations then a soft rooftop tent may be the best choice for you.
How Much Does a Roof Top Tent Cost New?
We’ve included the cost of each option on this list of the best rooftop tents, and generally this will range from around $1000 at the budget end, to around $4000 for a premium, hard top car tent.
A lot of the most popular rooftop camper options cost in the region of $2000 to $3000 – that includes spacious 2 person tents as well as 4 person tents, such as the Tepui tent we have picked out as the best option if you’re looking for a car tent that will sleep four people.
When we are looking at a large purchase like one of these car tents it’s worth reflecting on how often you will use a rooftop camper and if it’s worth it, as well as how the ‘price per use’ will work out for you with use throughout not just this year but, if you buy a quality tent and look after it, many years to come. This could work out to be a tiny cost per night if you can see a future of many nights camping on your vehicle’s roof in a cosy tent.
What Size Tent? 2, 3 or 4 Person Rooftop Tent Options
Some of the 2 person car roof tents on this list are pretty cosy, with not much room for anything other than sleeping. Assuming your primary tent buying focus is not simply finding a cheap roof top tent (which often also means a small tent), it may be worth considering getting a larger 2 person tent, or sizing up to a 3 or even a 4 person car tent to give yourself and your travel companion(s) some extra space when you’re zipped in for the night (that is, assuming it will fit on your car – see the next section for more on rooftop tent size and weight considerations).
As a reference point, it’s worth bearing in mind that a US queen size bed measures 60 inches wide by 80 inches long, and comparing this relative to the interior dimensions of each of these roof rack tents as you work out which one’s the best one for you. We’ve included the approximate dimensions of each tent in this list, although it’s always best to check directly with the store or brand to get precise measurements if that is important to you when it comes to your tent buying decision.
Will a Roof Top Tent Fit my Car, SUV or Truck?
Before you click or go out and buy a rooftop tent for your car or truck, it’s important to check that the tent will fit on your car roof, and that the roof and roof bars are structured to hold the overall loaded weight of the tent itself. This information can usually be obtained by finding out your vehicle’s static and dynamic load rating. Some of the larger roof campers available may weigh more than your vehicle’s load rating, particularly if you have a small car.
Rooftop car tents are designed to fit on roof racks or roof rails that are first attached to your car roof (or truck bed). So the other key piece of gear to buy, if you don’t have one already, is a suitable roof rack or roof rails system that can securely hold the load of your rooftop camper shell or tent.
A distinct advantage that makes Thule Tepui a very popular choice and market leader in the rooftop tents arena is that Thule are specialists in vehicle rack systems and accessories, so since they bought Tepui, a specialist in this area, it’s simpler to find out which Thule roof rack or rail system will work best for your vehicle and choice of car tent. The same goes for Yakima, who have also moved into the vehicle camping market in recent years.
Roof Top Tent Rental: Try Before You Buy
I hope that from reading through the top picks in this list you’ve found the one that’s best for you and this year’s camping adventures.
If you’re not quite ready to commit to buying a rooftop camper for your car or truck just yet, then trying one out for a weekend is a great way to see if getting one is worth it for you and something you will enjoy using.
Many of the camper van rental companies on this list also rent car roof tents, so it’s definitely worth checking out if you live near one and can rent one the next time you want a week or weekend camping.