Rooftop Tent Explained: Gimmick or Great Addition

Traveling and camping have become more and more popular as everyone takes to the outdoors to find adventure. One of the newest additions to camping is the rooftop tent. Cars with rooftop tents can be seen across the world either in campsites or on the highways.

Anyone that loves adventure will find a rooftop tent to be a helpful tool to take them to more places with a sense of ease that isn’t always found.

Before buying, let’s discuss why rooftop tents are getting so popular and if they’re a great fit for your weekend, long-haul, or quick overnight adventure.

Article Contents:

Rooftop tent mobile car camping

What is a Rooftop Tent?

Rooftop tents are simple. They fix to the roof rack of your car and fold down to make your car more aerodynamic.

When you go to sleep at night, the tent pops up and becomes a comfortable domain atop your car.

These are a great solution for space, ease of use, portability, and ability to sleep just about anywhere.

Key Features

There are a lot of features that you can find in a rooftop tent that you won’t find in most camping tents. When weight is no longer an issue, almost anything is possible.

One of the most stand-out features is the durability and waterproofness that comes along with these tents.

  • Heavy fabric is used to last years and keep you dry in any environment when most tents focus on lightweight materials for portability

Plenty of other features make these a great pick.

  • Rooftop tents have the option of a quilted insulation layer that attaches to the frame of the tent, making it a cozy and warm space to go camping in at any time of the year
  • Some rooftop tents even come with detachable annexes that can be used to get dressed in and have extra space

There are more accessories that are designed specifically to extend adventures and allow for a camper to go anywhere.

  • A fitted mattress ensures a comfortable night of sleep after trekking around all day
  • An anti-condensation mat ensures that you wake up dry and warm

Setup Overview

Rooftop tent setup is simple. For most cars that already have roof racks installed, all that’s needed is a quick installation. Slide the tent into place and bolt it down securely. They’re designed for easy use!

Once at the campsite, for most tents you need to open them up and unfold them.

  • For hard shell tents, just requires unlatching the housing and the tent pops into place
  • Soft-shell tents need to be unfolded and then popped up

Fold-up and pop-up tents are both simple. The setup time is quick and makes sure that you aren’t left playing around with poles in the dark after an exhausting day.

rooftop tent SUV 4x4 car camping advantages

Advantages of a Rooftop Tent

Rooftop tents are full of advantages, which is why they are becoming more and more popular as the technology is developed even further.

Although the list can be incredibly long, I’ll work to make it short and sweet here to give all the possible advantages.

Ease of Use

In three to four minutes, you can have most rooftop tents completely set up. This is significantly quicker than most tents you struggle with in a campground and can barely ever match the poles to the correct corner on the first go of it.


Seeing as these are strapped to the top of the car, it’s easy to go anywhere with them. You can take them easily to a load of places that RVs will struggle to fit into.


Due to the heavy-duty fabric and materials that don’t care about weight, these tents are designed to last. You can drive down the highway going 70 mph and never worry about the level of protection the tent is getting.


Again, since you aren’t carrying this on your back, it’s easy to make it incredibly comfortable. The fitted mattress allows for a proper night’s rest rather than a thin layer of foam between you and the ground.

Options to Sleep Anywhere

RVs boast the ability to take your home on the road and go anywhere. The problem is that they are typically huge and unable to travel to a lot of places you may want to go. A rooftop tent goes anywhere your car can. With the right 4×4, all mud and dirt roads become your playground.

Stay Dry

The heavy duty build of these makes them incredibly dry places to sleep. In addition to the build, there are anti-condensation pads that help keep everything dry as a bone without all the weight.


It’s likely that you already own a car. Buying a rooftop tent for your car is incredibly affordable when put up against buying something like a campervan or an RV.

Built for All-Weather

These can withstand torrential storms that may carry away a normal tent that isn’t weighted down with campers. They are securely fastened to the car, so unless a tornado picks up your car, the tent will stick around.

Rooftop tent disadvantages car camping beach

Disadvantages of a Rooftop Tent

While rooftop tents are dreamy, it’s important to point out the downsides that they inevitably have. There are few, but they are still necessary if you are considering buying one.

Necessary Camp Breakdown

With a tent on top of the car, it’s necessary that you break camp down to go anywhere. Normally, you can leave the tent set up and explore around for the day, but now any time you want to use the car, the camp needs to be broken down and set back up later.


While these are affordable when compared to an RV, they are rather expensive when compared to a classic camping tent. This is what pushes most campers away in the end, but a lot find it worth the cost.

Effects on the Car’s Performance

Strapping a tent on top of the car will drastically affect the gas mileage of the car. It also shifts the center of gravity upwards so you need to drive a bit differently on the more precarious roads.

How Much Does a Rooftop Tent Cost?

Most rooftop tents are an investment. They’ll last a long time, but the price can be intimidating at first.

On average, you can find rooftop tents that approach $4,000 and some that are a budget-friendly price of $800. In general, it’s best to expect to spend around $2,000-$2,500 to get a decent rooftop tent that is worth the purchase.

Rooftop Tent Compared to Campervan and RV

Campervans and RVs are what people buy when they want to bring every luxury of home along with them.

While a rooftop tent is a great pick for anyone that likes to stick close to their car, it doesn’t have all of the same amenities that the RV and campervan does.

In general, a car with a rooftop tent will be able to go everywhere that an RV can and then go further. They’re more portable and friendly to different roads.

Rooftop tent campfire off road car camping

Should You Buy a Rooftop Tent?

Start off by asking yourself what you’re wanting to use this tent for.

  • Are you trying to go on long hunting trips, overland touring adventures, festivals, or simply on weekend trips with the family

For a lot of these things, a classic tent can work well, but sometimes that rooftop tent makes it a better experience.

Also, try to picture yourself using the rooftop tent:

  • Is it better than using traditional tents?
  • Is your car fit for the job or will you need to upgrade from a Smartcar?

Like I mentioned, rooftop tents are incredible. They aren’t, however, for everyone. It takes a lot of time to consider the purchase and decide if it fits into your lifestyle.

You can look into trying them out and seeing if it’s great for you. A lot of companies rent vehicles with rooftop tents installed. This is a good way to practice owning one.

In the end, whether you end up with a rooftop tent or not, keep on adventuring and finding unique new ways to explore the world around you!


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