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The Best Rooftop Tents You Can Buy

If you’ve always enjoyed the top bunk, you should invest in a rooftop tent.

roof top tent by front runner
Front Runner

Camping. American culture romanticized it long before it looked macho in John Wayne westerns. But bedding down on the ground and sleeping on a thin pad isn’t everyone’s cup of bucolic brew; it can be uncomfortable, and setup and breakdown is nearly always more time-consuming than expected.

Therefore, rooftop tents — boxes that live above the car and readily deploy to create a dwelling you clamber up into via a fold-out ladder — provide a more convenient solution for a lot of would-be, kinda-sorta semi-into-nature types (a.k.a. your significant other who’s not as into pine-scented goodness as you are).

Think of the best rooftop tents as relatively expensive gateway drugs to the outdoors. Sure, they’ll set you back four figures — but once purchased, you’ve got an instant AirBnB with you at all times. And it's cheaper and more convenient than buying a custom camper van or cool off-road trailer.

What to Watch Out for When Buying a Rooftop Tent

  • Make sure your tent fits your vehicle. Shorter-roofed compact cars cannot spread the weight of a heavy, 100-plus pound shelter the way that a longer SUV can.
  • How easy the tent is to install. Tool-free is better than tool-intensive. You may need a friend or partner to help with the initial mounting.
  • How easy the tent is to deploy and pack up. The point of a rooftop tent is to make camping quicker and easier.
  • How aerodynamic the tent is. Fuel isn't cheap right now. Lower profile tents have less of an impact on fuel economy.
  • Whether it might make sense to level up. Softshell tents tend to be lighter and more affordable. But they also require a cover when packed — and, frequently, a rainfly for foul weather.

    The Best Rooftop Tents You Can Buy

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    The Best All-Around Rooftop Tent
    Thule x Tepui Low-Pro 3

    • Low profile design for minimal drag
    • Lightweight
    • Foam mattress included
    • Spacious compartment holds up to three sleepers

    With a closed height of just 8.5 inches, the Low-Pro is, as far as rooftop tents are concerned, low profile. That helps you save on gas while minimizing the lift-off effect a rooftop tent can have on a small car rolling down the interstate.

    Like Yakima’s Skyrise, Tepui’s tent is also relatively light at 105 pounds, and uses the same mechanism to transform its clamshell design into a fully deployed shelter — you pry it open by using the telescoping ladder. As for differences, it’s slightly less finicky to work with the rainfly, but the mattress is a thinner two inches.

    The Best Rooftop Tent Money Can Buy
    Roofnest Condor

    • Easy setup - pops up in under a minute
    • Waterproof
    • Hardshell top can accommodate additional gear
    • Can be fitted with a solar panel

    The ultra-clever trick the Condor pulls is how it unfolds its “wings.” Like most hardshell designs, it pops up, but the lid forms one wall (very much like the iKamper Skycamp Mini). From that position, the tent unfurls like a soft clamshell design. This makes the Condor and Condor XL absolutely huge inside — over seven feet across when open.

    Interior height is also maxed-out at 50 inches, and the weight is reasonable too: 135 pounds for the smaller unit, and 160 pounds for the XL. There’s also a zip-open skylight for stargazing. Another bonus is a hardshell lid that lets you rack other gear on top, like kayaks, bikes, or skis.

    The Best Rooftop Tent on a Budget
    Front Runner Roof Top Tent

    • Lightweight design
    • Integrated memory foam mattress
    • Low-profile design to reduce wind resistance
    • Opens in a single motion
    • Side release buckles allow for easy install

    Front Runner Outfitters makes some of the best roof racks out there, offering sturdy, lightweight cargo solutions for a wide variety of SUVs and trucks, from the new Land Rover Defender to the Toyota Land Cruiser to...well, the old Land Rover Defender. But those roof racks also make a great foundation for the brand's rooftop tent.

    The tent only stands 13 inches high when folded up for travel, but deploys out to be almost eight feet across when it's time to sleep — yet it weighs only 95 pounds. It's waterproof and incredibly durable, but also comfortable, thanks to an integrated memory foam mattress. And if you want to easily pop it off to do other things with your roof rack, well, they make a quick-release tent mounting kit, too.

    Thule x Tepui Ruggedized Autana 3 + Annex

    • Made from durable, weatherproof 600D ripstop fabric
    • Telescoping ladder for easy entry
    • Removable annex for privacy and/or gear storage
    • Comfortable high-density foam mattress

    Even the biggest rooftop tent may not have enough room for everything you want to do in private while camping. For those circumstances, you want a tough tent with an annex like this Tepui. Both tent and annex that surrounds the telescoping ladder are made from tough, weatherproof 600D ripstop blend fabric, ensuring that you have a nice wind- and waterproof space to get dressed, make food or use the, uh, facilities.

    Yakima Skyrise Rooftop Tent - 3-Person 3-Season

    • Low-profile for reduced wind resistance
    • Includes two skylights for star-gazing
    • Mesh windows for extra ventilation
    • Tool-free mounting

    At just 101 pounds, the two-person Yakima Skyrise HD is light for this breed and is the most “tentlike” of rooftop units in this guide — by which we mean, it has a domed shape that allows you to sit up comfortably once inside.

    The clever opening system — you use the ladder as a giant pry bar to unfurl the unit and get it set up — is the same as several other clamshell designs in this guide. It’s a slight chore to anchor the rainfly, but ultimately not that challenging. However, if you want to use the tent’s top window for stargazing or to stand up through it (which is handy for getting dressed), you’ll have to remove the rainfly and gamble that no thunderheads roll in overnight.

    Roofnest Falcon 2

    • Newly redesigned for 2022
    • Accessory channels on all four sides for added features
    • Aerodynamic top shell
    • Easy setup and breakdown

    We loved testing the Falcon on a weekend camping trip. Setup and breakdown alike take seconds and the durable construction means it can handle whatever the weather has to throw at it. Accessory channels on all four sides are available to add features like awnings and it can support a set of crossbars for additional gear.

    The new Falcon 2 adds major upgrades, including another 150 pounds of gear storage, a smoother and more aerodynamic top shell and a redesigned rainfly zip that can cover all three entrances quickly if you encounter bad weather.

    The Most Important Pieces of Gear You Need for Car Camping
    toyota 4runner set up as campsite in field with an awning
    Courtesy

    Car camping makes getting away easy as pie. These items make it even tastier.

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