Roof top tents are amazing–whether you have a camper van, a truck, or SUV–adding a rooftop tent to the mix can be an absolute game changer. 

There are so many reasons to want to add a roof top tent to your camping adventures-easily set up, camp from literally anywhere your vehicle can go, get out of the elements of nature–the list can go on and on. 

But with so many different options and price points, which one should you buy?

Considering how expensive roof top tents are, this is not a decision to be taken lightly and definitely one you should put some thought into. 

I’m going to be honest–there are many roof top tent options–most of which are overpriced junk that are simply not worth the money. 

In the review below, I outline the 2 best roof top tents money can buy depending on your specific needs. I don’t make guarantees often, but I guarantee that after reading this review in full, you will find the perfect roof top tent for your needs. 

I have traveled the country in my camper van for years. I’ve spent hours upon hours researching roof top tents in my life, and in this review, I will share everything I know with you.

In this review, you’ll learn:

  • Exactly which roof top tent is best for your needs and budget
  • The difference between hardshell and softshell rooftop tents (and which is best for your needs)
  • Other key factors to consider before buying a roof top tent

**At the bottom of the article underneath the reviews, I put important things to consider when buying a roof top tent that I HIGHLY recommend reading before buying.


Best Hardshell Rooftop Tent: RoofNest Sparrow Adventure

Best Roof Top Tents
Features
Our rating
Features
  • Most convenient and easy to setup option
  • Best choice for solo campers or groups of two
  • Integrated mounting channels allows the use of gear crossbars on top of the tent
  • Aerodynamic ABS design includes spots for gear stowage plus a dedicated space for a 100-watt flexible solar panel
Our Rating
Our #1 Rated Best Roof Top Tents
5 out of 5
Roofnest Sparrow Adventure

I’m going to be honest–I’m biased here. I absolutely LOVE this option from Roofnest and have personally used it.

The amount of adventures I’ve been on that have been enhanced by this one is too many to count and I can’t tell you how excited I am to be writing about this with you. 

The RoofNest Sparrow Adventure is one of the most versatile, easy-to-use, and durable roof tents you can find

It’s made from high-strength ABS with a streamlined design that helps with aerodynamics and incorporates some seriously cool utility features. The roof center is designed to fit a standard 100-watt flexible solar panel and even includes attachment points that allow you to mount it quickly. 

The back is a dedicated spot for putting duffles, bags, boxes, and any other gear you might want to bring with you.

Roofnest Sparrow Adventure

It measures 85” long and 50” wide and is rated to sleep two plus people. I’m 5’9” with relatively broad shoulders and had plenty of room up top with my partner next to me.

What stands out about the roof of the Sparrow are the dual mounting channels. One of the biggest flaws of old-school roof tents is losing storage space once you’ve mounted the tent. 

With the Sparrow, you can put a pair of standard-sized crossbars up to attach bags, carriers, bikes, and even heavy-duty items like surf or paddleboards. I don’t know about you, but I tend to bring A Lot of extra gear and fun stuff with me when I hit the road.

Once you’re ready to set up camp, the tent deploys in under 30 seconds, with the release of four clips and a pair of straps. I was a bit skeptical going in, but you really can just pop the clips and give it a gentle upwards push, then watch as it telescopes out into a ready-to-use tent.

Even better, both the mattress and the 8.5’ ladder stow away inside the tent. That reduces the number of things you have to remember to bring and store inside your vehicle.

Roofnest Sparrow Adventure

The mattress itself is made from 3” thick foam rubber and is shockingly comfortable. I’m kind of a finicky sleeper, yet I had no problem falling asleep and staying asleep on this bad boy.

All in all, the Roofnest Sparrow Adventure is durable, incredibly easy to use, and offers a reasonably priced option for those looking for a highly versatile roof tent that won’t get in the way of your other gear needs. Whether you want to use it for overlanding, camping at trailheads, established or dispersed sites, or just about anywhere else you can park a breeze–you’ll be happy with this roof top tent from Sparrow.

Specifications:

  • Weight: 130 lbs
  • Material: Fiberglass Reinforced ASA/ABS
  • Mattress Thickness: 7 cm / 3”
  • Exterior Dimensions: 85″ L x 50″ W
  • Interior Dimensions: 84″ L x 48″ W
  • Time to Deploy: +- 30 Seconds
  • Sleep Capacity: 2
  • Headroom: 40”
  • Height Closed: 12”
  • Season Rating: Three-Season
  • Crossbar Compatible: Yes, Crossbars included

Pros: 

  • Most convenient and easy to setup option
  • Best choice for solo campers or groups of two
  • Integrated mounting channels allows the use of gear crossbars on top of the tent
  • Aerodynamic ABS design includes spots for gear stowage plus a dedicated space for a 100-watt flexible solar panel
  • Heavy-duty ABS construction offers serious protection while driving and helps keep you dry while camping
  • Mattress, ladder, and even blankets/sleeping bags stow away inside the tent while packed
  • Tent deploys in under 30 seconds with just a few actions
  • Easy to mount on a wide variety of vehicle types and sizes

Cons: 

  • Only sleeps two
  • Have to remove any gear from the top of tent before you can deploy it

Best Soft shell Roof top Tent: iKamper X-Cover 

Best Roof Top Tents
Features
Our rating
Features
  • Best option for larger groups up to four people
  • Deploys out into a king-size foam mattress
  • Small awning underneath deployed tent provides shade and seating area if your vehicle is tall enough
  • Built without PVC cover for a lighter, more MPG friendly design
Our Rating
Our #2 Rated Best Roof Top Tents
4.8 out of 5
iKamper X-Cover

If you’ve got a larger family or are looking to travel with friends, the iKamper X-Cover is the way to go. It’s a soft shell rooftop tent rated to sleep up to four people in comfort. 

I picked it from a very large field of contenders because of its high-quality construction, ease of deployment compared to other softshell tents, and the multiple comfort and utility enhancements it incorporates.

It folds out from a very compact rectangular package using the included ladder as a lever to pull the top up and over and is mostly ready to go once it’s folded. It takes a time or two to get used to the process but it’s pretty easy to figure out once you’ve had that practice. 

You have to manually put in some window bars, but I found that to be pretty easy overall. What helped make it stand out was the relatively thick mattress for a soft shell roof tent and the included extras. 

It comes standard with a pair of crossbars that allow you to use the tent without sacrificing storage space. While testing it out I put a pair of bikes, a kayak, and a standard cargo bag on top without any fear of damage or loss.

iKamper X-Cover

The included king size mattress is about as big as a roof tent gets before you’re getting into multifold setups and provides ample space for three with just enough for four to squeeze in.

iKamper X-Cover

Overall, this is a robustly constructed and cleverly designed tent that manages to maximize the benefits of the softshell market while cutting some of the downsides. If I was looking for a roof tent for a family of four, this is the one I’d go with.

Specifications:

  • Weight: 120 lbs
  • Material:
  • Mattress Thickness:
  • Exterior Dimensions:
  • Interior Dimensions:
  • Time to Deploy: About 10 Minutes
  • Sleep Capacity: 4 
  • Headroom:
  • Height Closed: 14.2”
  • Season Rating: Three-Season
  • Crossbar Compatible: Yes, Crossbars Included

Pros: 

  • Best option for larger groups up to four people
  • Deploys out into a king-size foam mattress
  • Small awning underneath deployed tent provides shade and seating area if your vehicle is tall enough
  • Built without PVC cover for a lighter, more MPG friendly design
  • World map interior design is really sharp
  • Standardized mounting system allows it to fit on a wide range of vehicles
  • Broad Skyview windows give you a panoramic view of the scenery or the night sky
  • Designed with a honeycombed aluminum frame to provide maximum strength and security while inside
  • Included crossbar allows you to store additional gear or equipment on top of your tent

Cons: 

  • About 10 minutes once you get the hang of it (noticeably longer than our hardshell pick)
  • Not fully waterproof, comparable to a standard ground tent


Why You Should Buy a Rooftop Tent

You’ve no doubt been on a camping trip where the ground wasn’t quite level or was too wet, or too rocky, or there just wasn’t a good spot to begin with.

Rooftop tents solve all those problems. 

They allow you to bring an incredibly comfortable tent that you don’t have to put together, don’t have to put a ground cover on, and don’t have to worry about finding ‘just the right spot’ to pitch it.

If you’ve got room to park your car, you’ve got a perfect campsite with a rooftop tent–and many of the options on our list can be set up in less than a minute. 

Of course, there are some downsides, price being one of the most significant barriers to entry, but if you’re a serious fan of the great outdoors and want to make it easy to visit more of it, a rooftop tent is one of the most flexible and comfortable ways to do it.

Hardshell Roof Tents Vs. Softshell Roof Tents

The first question you have to ask yourself when looking at rooftop tents is whether you want a hardshell or softshell tent. There are definite pros and cons to both options, with the choice between each coming down to your specific needs and camping style.

Hardshell Tents Pros 

Fast and Easy Setup 

Hardshell tents are by far the fastest tents to set up. Some that I’ve tried out before can go up and be ready to use in a matter of seconds. 

The best models out there use gas-piston arms that raise themselves with a gentle push. You can go from fully stowed to ready to camp in 30 seconds.

More Streamlined 

If you’ve used an aerodynamic roof box before, you know what we’re talking about here. Hardshell rooftop tents have engineered curves that make them more aerodynamic than boxier softshells.

Waterproof 

If you listen to tent manufacturers, every tent on the market today is ready and able to stand up to monsoon rain, but those of us who’ve tested numerous tents in rainstorms know many of those claims fall flat as soon as the first drops hit the canvas. 

Even the very best water-resistant fabric can’t match the waterproofing of solid ABS plastic over your head. You might get a few drops blowing in from the side, but falling rain won’t stand a chance.

More Resistant to Damage

Hardshell tents are made from high-strength ABS and ASA composite materials. They can handle bumps, knocks, and the occasional road rock without issue.

Comfort

Hardshell roof tents pop straight up, allowing for generally thicker and plusher mattresses. A softshell tent would have to be significantly thicker to pack in the same level of comfort.

Hard Shell Tents Cons 

Size and Sleeping Space 

The most significant downside to hard shell tents is the loss of internal volume and sleeping space that comes from their straight-up design. 

No matter what kind of coverage your hardshell has over your vehicle, it won’t be able to match the expansive space and sleeping area that a fold-out softshell can provide for the same footprint.

Cost

Closely correlated with the lack of sleeping space is the cost. Hard Shell tents of the same level of build quality cost twice as much based on the number of sleepers.

Generally speaking, you’ll pay the same for a two-person hardshell roof tent as you would for a four-person softshell.

Softshell Tents Pros 

Size

Because they fold, softshell tents can be noticeably smaller when packed away than a hardshell tent. You can fit a larger soft shell roof tent on a smaller vehicle than with a hardshell.

Larger Sleeping Area

Softshell tents of the same stored footprint, on the same vehicle, will be able to sleep many more people than a comparable hardshell tent. They’ll also offer more room for storing clothes, gear, or anything else you might wish to keep inside.

Foldout Design Creates Natural Awning

When you deploy a soft shell roof tent, at least half of the total space hangs off the side of your vehicle. That creates a natural shade spot that you can relax in and expands the overall usable footprint of the tent.

Foldout Design Creates Natural Awning
Source: @bmxmac

Softshell Tents Cons

Bigger, Heavier, Less Aerodynamic

Softshell tents pack more material into the same space than does a hardshell tent. That means they’re taller, weigh more, and have a blockier front face that causes more wind drag.

Longer Set Up

Softshell tents take significantly longer to deploy than do hard shell tents. Whereas a well-made hardshell can go up in less than a minute, you’re looking at a minimum of three to five minutes to fold out and set up a softshell.

Less Water Resistant

Softshells aren’t as water-resistant as hardshells. There’s a fundamental difference in the ability of treated fabric and solid composite sheeting to block water. 

Softshells won’t fare as well as a hardshell roof tent in inclement weather.

Less Robust

Softshell tents are the closest thing to an actual ground tent on the roof of your car. Many rely on tent poles, expanding sections, and even the need for guy lines. 

That introduces both more points of failure and materials that aren’t quite as strong as a hardshell tent.

Key Factors to Consider

There are some key factors that you should take into account across all types of roof tents.

Vehicle Fit

Before you fall in love with the perfect rooftop tent, double-check to make sure it will actually fit on your car. These are not universal fit products, with many tents only working on a few or even a single type of vehicle.

If you drive a more traditionally outdoorsy car like a Jeep, Subaru, or 4Runner, you’ll have an easier time of it, but even then, you should confirm.

Capacity

Every rooftop tent gives you a ‘sleeps’ number that tells you how many people can physically fit inside to sleep. That does mean physically fit. You won’t be swimming in space if you’re at the maximum sleeps number with adults.

One of the best things about a rooftop tent, though, is that you don’t have to worry about stowing your gear in the tent. It can all stay safely locked away in your vehicle below. That frees up more space than you’d think for sleeping comfort.

Temperature Rating

Given their raised position, rooftop tents are very exposed to the elements when out camping. You’ll get a full measure of any wind blowing through and have to deal with the lack of insulation below the tent floor. 

Check to see what season rating a tent is to confirm that you can use it in your area during the parts of the year you most like to camp.

Weight

While it’s essential to take proper safety precautions when installing your roof tent, weight here comes primarily down to how the tent will affect your fuel efficiency. Heavier tents have a more significant impact on the MPG of your vehicle.

Storage and Roof Bars

One of the biggest downsides of old-school roof tents was the loss of storage space on your roof. Mounting a tent meant you couldn’t put a storage box or duffle bags on the roof of your car.

Newer models have fixed that issue by adding either mounting points or integral crossbars right onto the tent’s body. It allows you to have your tent and still use your roof space for all kinds of adventure gear.

Final Thoughts

Both hardshell and softshell rooftop tents can be great ways to hit the road and enjoy the great outdoors. Picking between the two comes down to your individual needs.

Those looking for the most effortless setup and takedown plus a robust and waterproof exterior are best served by hard shell tents, like the Roofnest Sparrow Adventure (which I have used for my own adventures, and absolutely love)

If you’re looking to camp with a family or just want more space in and under the tent, a softshell tent is the best choice.

Josh Davidson

Josh is a freelance writer and avid outdoorsman. He graduated from the University of Georgia with a B.A. in Political Science and has done his best since to live location-independent. He's been a firm supporter of the tiny movement, new homesteaders, and sustainable alternative living and used his knowledge of these topics to convert a 1999 Dodge Ram van to explore as much of Wild America as he could reach.

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