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How to Choose a Roof Top Tent for Overlanding

How to Choose a Roof Top Tent for Overlanding

Explore, examine, experience! Just like in overlanding, these three X’s can be used as a guiding method for outdoor enthusiasts in searching for the best roof top tents for your next adventure. Roof top tents are the upgraded versions of traditional camping ground tents, which give overlanders (literally and figuratively) an elevated off-grid sleeping experience.

Mounted on vehicles, roof top tents are like mobile basecamps that are ready to go wherever your next escapade will take you. They are easy to set up, durable, and comfortable to sleep in. They can be attached to different types of cars—including but not limited to SUVs, crossovers, wagons, pick-ups, vans, and trailers.

Why Get a Roof Top Tent?

Roof Top Tents (also known as car top tents or overland tents) are essential add-on overlanding gear that can keep campers protected from unforeseen bad weather and curious wildlife. They are safer and sturdier options compared to ground tents. They provide finer sleeping arrangements, a better view from the top of the campground, and bigger storage for sleeping bags and other camping gear and tools. They also come with their own mattresses that can accommodate 2-5 people, depending on the type of roof top tent. While roof top tents do not come cheap, to most overlanders, they are an investment worth the price.

What to Consider When Buying a Roof Top Tent?

With a long list of roof top tent options available right now, the ultimate decision lies on which one works best for you. This means considering things like the number of people sleeping in the tent, the condition of the environment you will be camping in, storage availability for bags and gear, pet accommodation, and so on.

If you are already convinced to buy a roof top tent, you might as well get the best there is available for you. Easier said than done? Not really. Choosing a roof top tent can be tedious but as long as you know what you need and want, narrowing your choices should be easier. For a starter, we have compiled some of the most common factors that buyers weigh in when getting a new roof top tent.

Here are 15 things to look for when purchasing a roof top tent.

  1. Tent’s weight
  2. Living space or mattress size
  3. Budget
  4. Rack and car compatibility
  5. Mounting system and installation procedure
  6. Shipping costs (we have free shipping on most all tents)
  7. Tent material
  8. Accessories included
  9. Ventilation
  10. Design and color
  11. Brand name
  12. Service and warranty
  13. Annex availability
  14. Weather conditions 
  15. Tent type: soft-shellhard-shell, or hybrid

Visit our roof top tents comparison chart for an in-depth look at the various styles, makes, and models of tents we have to offer….


We will tackle some of these factors in detail throughout the rest of this article.

Styles of Roof Top Tents 

While there could be hundreds of roof top tent styles in the market, they are generally classified into three types: soft shell, hard shell, and hybrid. The names themselves should give you an idea of what each certain type looks like, but let’s dive into details by discussing them one by one.

Soft Shell Roof Top Tent

Soft shell roof top tents are basically ground tents installed on the top of your vehicle. They are foldable tents that use manual or electronically-assisted unfolding procedures that expand the internal support frame (usually made up of aluminum poles) that give the tent its form. They typically consist of a waterproof material (canvas, nylon, or polyester) for the body and overhead shelter, a hardened floor, and a mattress. 

Soft shell tents offer advantages and disadvantages. Below are some of them.




Slower to set-up and take down


Gives vehicles the most aerodynamic drag


Noisy when there’s wind


Less durable

Better airflow and visibility

Driving cover n

Hard Shell Roof Top Tent

Hard shell roof top tents are collapsible box-like tents that consist of two hard bases at the top and bottom. These bases are commonly made up of fiberglass, aluminum, or solid plastic. They serve as the roof and floor of the tent when deployed, as well as protective storage for the beddings within the tent when closed. They easily open up by just releasing a few safety hatches then, using pressurized gas struts or crank mechanisms. Hard shell tents typically come in two styles: pop-up or wedge. The Evolution from Freespirit Recreation is an excellent pop-up style tent for overlanding.  

Pop-up tents work by raising the top shell equally, creating a rectangular or square form for the tent; while wedge tents (also known as clam shell tents) open up by creating an angle roof that gives one area more vertical space. 

We’ve listed below some of a hard shell tent’s benefits and drawbacks.



Built-in Storage

Initial installation in the vehicle requires more than one person

Sturdier and quieter


More resistant to UV rays

Can be heavier

Versatile and aerodynamic

Less customization

Easy and fast to deploy

Can only hold a limited number of people

More fuel-efficient for your vehicle

Completely waterproof

Hybrid Roof Top Tent

Hybrid roof top tents are those that fall in between a soft shell and a hard shell roof top tent. A hybrid tent has a hard shell, waterproof fabric walls, and a fold-out section that gives extra space when set up. These tents are easier to set-up than soft shell tents and just as fast as hard shell tents to take down.

This specific roof top tent style carries the advantages that are not present in both hard and soft shell tents. But just like any other products, it also has a few downsides to watch out for. See the pros and cons below.



Plenty of living space

More expensive than soft shell tents


Taller than a traditional hardshell tent when closed

Has integrated canopy or the option to attach one

Compact when folded

Soft Shell Vs Hard Shell Vs Hybrid

To summarize the main differences of all three styles of roof top tents, we’ve created a table that shows the important features that set each one apart.

Soft Shell

Hard Shell



$1,000 and up

$2,000 and up

$2,400 and up




Just right

Setup and pack-up time





2-5 persons

2 persons

2-4 persons

Annex attachment





Light to heavy

Light to heavy


Aero drag




Who is it best for

Those who put budget as their top consideration

Those who are into durability, convenience, and reliability

Those who want the best features of a soft and hard shell tent

Roof Top Tent Annex

While style is one of the biggest considerations overlanders take into account when buying a new roof top tent, another major factor often looked into scalability. This is particularly important especially to families who camp together. The good news is that accessories and extensions are available to give you that much-needed extra space.  

Awnings and annexes are the most common extensions you can attach to your roof top tents to give more room. Some models of roof top tents already include extended living spaces, while some don’t but give you the option to add should you wish to. The Tuff Stuff Ranger is a great soft shell tent that offers an optional annex.

Annexes serve a lot of purposes. They can be used as an extended sleeping area, changing room, pet’s sleeping quarters, or storage room for your bags, kitchen needs, or other camping essentials—like internal shelves, LED lights, and tools. 

Most annexes can go as tall and as wide as 80” x 90”, while awnings can be as huge as 240” x 78.5” when opened. A lot of annexes come with removable floors, although not all as they come at an additional cost. Annexes are priced from $160 and up, while awnings costs start around $250.

Annexes are a great addition to your overlanding essentials. They are useful, handy, and spacious. Their price also compensates a lot for the benefits that come with them. However, just like any other product, they also have downsides. Annexes actually take some time to install. They also occupy extra storage space and put additional weight on your vehicle when on the road.

Roof Top Tent Sizes

Deciding the size of the roof top tent to buy is another important thing to think over. You will have to think of the amount of space you want for your tent. For instance, what a family of five needs may not be the same as what a solo camper or a couple has in mind. 

Another element that needs to be taken into account is the type of vehicle you own. Roof top tents for jeeps or heavy truck top tents can be too much for smaller cars. Also, the size of the tent will determine the kind of mounting tools (roof racks and crossbars) to be used. 

Moreover, preference on getting either a hard shell or soft shell tent also affects the size of the tent since the former mostly has smaller accommodation and is limited to up to 4 occupants only. To help you, we’ve put together a straightforward comparison of roof top tents, their dimensions, materials, etc.

Small Roof Top Tent Vs Large Roof Top Tent

Small Roof Top Tents

These types of roof top tents are perfect for solo adventurists and couples. They are easier to raise and fold down. Most smaller tents have a height of up to 3.5ft when raised. They also weigh less at 100-115 lbs. This is due to the fact that they are often made of lightweight fabrics and materials. They are just as durable as larger tents but a lot cheaper because of the size difference and the space they offer. Smaller tents can typically accommodate 2-3 people. Additionally, they fit almost all sorts of vehicles.

Large Roof Top Tents

Large tents are ideal for big groups or families as they can hold up to 5-6 persons. They have headspaces that can be as tall as 5ft with an interior dimension of 7ft x 6.9ft. There are also tall clam shell roof top tents that are great for taller people. Larger tents can weigh in somewhere between 100 to 250 lbs with weight capacities of 750 lbs to 1,100 lbs. Pick-up trucks and large SUVs are best suited to carry larger roof top tents. 

Some tents are also designed with specific car models in mind. Examples would be the Toyota 4Runner roof tents and Tacoma roof top tents. These kinds of tents make car owners’ lives a lot easier as they guarantee compatibility.

Roof Top Tents and Your Vehicle

Speaking of compatibility, last and probably the most important part of the decision-making process is checking if your car works with the roof top tent. It is very essential to match the size and style of your tent to your vehicle so it fits securely. 

In line with this, knowing the right roof bar, roof rail, or roof rack is a crucial part. Moreover, each car model has its own load rating capacity—whether in stationary or in motion. Furthermore, roof top tent installation may also differ from vehicle-to-vehicle. It is highly recommended that you refer to your vehicle manual, as well as to the roof top tent’s specs to see if they are compatible with each other before making the purchase. 


There could be a lot of points to weigh up when buying a new roof top tent. There’s the overall performance, budget, user preference, car compatibility, and so on and so forth. Roof top tents are investments. So, before making a decision, it is worth the time and effort of doing the research and shopping for the best deals around. 

You may check out our wide range of roof top tent selections to see which one is the right one for you. You may also read our latest blog posts to see more helpful tips for roof top tents and anything overlanding.  Finally, feel free to call, text, chat or email us with any of your questions. 

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