Pickup trucks are great...most of the time. Today's modern crop of crew-cab full-size trucks are as close to do-it-all machines as you can buy in a new car dealership today; they can carry up to half a dozen people, swaddle their occupants in luxury, tow and lug more than anything short of commercial trucks, and go places most passenger vehicles dare not tread.
But if there's one place pickup trucks fall flat, it's trunk space. Sure, there are some exceptions to the rule; the Honda Ridgeline, for example, has a small lockable cargo area carved out under its bed, and new electric pickups like the Rivian R1T and the Ford F-150 Lightning use their EV packaging to free up trunk space where gas engines reside in other pickups. But compared to the likes of other similarly sized vehicles — minivans, larger SUVs, even some station wagons — most pickup trucks come up severely lacking in the safe storage department.
Luckily, when the automotive industry closes a door, it opens a window — and in this case, a bevy of aftermarket solutions for the problem have flown in through it. Truck bed caps have been around for decades, but Flated is bringing something new to the table with its Air Topper. We strapped it to the top of two different pickups to find out how well it works.
What's Good About the Flated Air Topper?
It's sturdy enough for everyday use
The Air Topper's slab-sided surfaces are made out of the same sort of material as inflatable stand-up paddleboards, which gives them a rigidity you might not expect. It feels far more secure than a tent-type structure. It's sturdy enough to resist being banged up by real life, much like a metal bed topper — indeed, its pliable nature means it's probably better able to absorb impacts without permanent damage, so long as they're not sharp and hard enough to puncture its reservoirs. Punch it, and you won't break your hand, but it'll still hurt.
That solid construction means you can even use the Air Topper to support more gear on top of it, should you so desire. I wouldn't suggest loading an elk up there, but the quartet of tie-down rings mean you should be able to securely carry lighter loads like kayaks or surfboards.
It's easy to set up, and packs down for easy storage
The Air Topper's ace in the hole is its ability to be inflated and deflated as needed, so you're not left with an awkward pickup bed-sized apparatus clogging up your garage when not needed. Converting it from stowed to substantial is as simple as inflating it to 5-8 psi, either using an included hand pump or an optional electrically powered pump.
I was forced to use the hand pump, as the GMC Sierra Denali Ultimate tester I had at the time is the only vehicle I can recall in memory not to have the 12-volt outlet the electric pump uses. Nevertheless, inflating the Air Topper the old-fashioned way was easy enough, only taking around 15 minutes of pumping (which led to some curious looks, as I was doing so on a sidewalk in Manhattan during rush hour). Deflating it for storage was also fairly quick and easy — a matter of opening the valves and letting the air rush out in a matter of a couple minutes. (I may have laid atop it like a deflating mattress in order to speed the process.)
What's Not Ideal About the Flated Air Topper?
It doesn't feel quite as secure as a traditional bed cap
Over several hundred miles of driving at highway speeds, the Air Topper stayed firmly attached to the bed via its quartet of ratchet straps connected to the bed's integral tie-down points. (I also added a couple extra bungee cords for redundancy, but that's my own paranoia.) However, it doesn't always look firmly attached when you reflexively check your mirrors — and see it shaking and bouncing around atop the bed. Drag increasing with the square of speed and all, it grew worse the quicker I went; I didn't feel quicker going more than 75 mph.
Granted, I'd assume you want a bit of give in this sort of product; tighten the ratchet straps to the degree there's zero movement, and you increase the stress on them (and thus, presumably, the risk of an unexpected failure). Still, as with trailering or driving with a rooftop tent, it requires a bit of extra concern and diligence to make sure your add-on accessory doesn't go flying off and ruin someone's day.
It's still pretty bulky, especially with the accessories
Flated's website quotes the Air Topper at weighing in at 35 pounds, but in my experience, the only way that might be true is if you fill it with helium. When I weighed it, it clocked in at around 60 pounds — weighty enough to snap the shoulder strap of the carry bag during a three-block walk.
Speaking of that storage bag, Flated describes it as "small" on their site, but that's arguably only true in comparison to the size of the fully-inflated topper. While I didn't have a chance to break out the measuring tape, once the shell is in the bag, the package sits around three feet by two feet by one foot in dimensions. And even if your closet is big enough for the bag, you'll still also need to stash away the pump, the straps, and the repair kit, as well.
It's expensive for a soft topper
Turn your eyes over to our guide to the best truck soft toppers, and you'll find that — while the Air Topper has a well-earned place there — it's very much the most expensive model listed. It's the most versatile and the sturdiest, sure, but at around $2,000 after taxes, it's butting up against metal and fiberglass toppers — which can often be color-mated to your rig, offering a more seamless look. And that's not even considering that many truck buyers might be better served with a tonneau cover instead, which also provides concealment and cover for whatever's hiding in your bed. Sure, it offers less room, but even a short bed with a tonneau cover offers way more covered storage space than almost any passenger car or SUV.
The Flated Air Topper: The Verdict
The Air Topper occupies something of an odd space between traditional soft and hard truck bed toppers. If you're in constant need of an enclosed, watertight space around four feet tall in the back of your pickup, a metal or fiberglass model will likely be a better bet; if you just want something to stash away in the garage for the off chance you need to lug something big home on a rainy day, a traditional soft topper like the Softopper likely is a better value.
But if you're the type of pickup truck owner who occasionally-but-consistently needs to journey about a whole bunch of vulnerable gear around in the bed — say, for moving kids to and from college a couple times a year, or for quasi-annual car camping trips where you want to sleep in the bed — but also want the flexibility of, y'know, having a pickup bed in your pickup, and don't want to have to deal with the headache of storing a six-foot-long bed cap when you don't need it, the Flated Air Topper might be just the ticket. It's not for everyone, but it could be just right for you.