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 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.
Still, there’s some important fine print to understand about these car-top residences. You need the right tent for your rig; shorter-roofed compact cars cannot spread the weight of a heavy, 100-plus-pound shelter as far as the rails of a longer SUV. You’ll likely need a friend or partner to help with initial mounting, too. And while softshell tents tend to be lighter and more affordable, they also require a cover when packed — and, frequently, a rainfly for foul weather.
The Best Rooftop Tents On Sale:
Thule x Tepui Low-Pro 2
Best All-Around Rooftop Tent
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.
Best Upgrade Rooftop Tent
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.
Yakima Skyrise HD
Best Affordable Rooftop Tent
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.
Front Runner Roof Top Tent
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.
iKamper Skycamp Mini
While iKamper started by making four-person hardshell tents, this downsized Mini model fits better on smaller cars — and at 125 pounds, it isn’t much heavier than softshell models (though it is more expensive).
Advantages include a sleeker design and quick setup, and if you’re not running it on a compact car, more remaining roof real estate than other hardshell models allow. Also, a clamshell opening allows for a higher peak roof height of 45 inches.
Thule x Tepui Ruggedized Autana 3 + Annex
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.
As we discovered during a weekend camping trip with the Falcon (read our review here), this clamshell tent is a delightful way to spend time in the great outdoors. Setup and breakdown alike take only seconds, while the durable construction means it can handle whatever the weather has to throw at it. Plus, not only does it have accessory channels on all four sides to add features like awnings, it can even support a set of cross bars, so you don't lose your roof rack's functionality with the tent attached.