The 6 Best Rooftop Tents of 2023 | Tested by GearLab
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thule tepui foothills
The best reason to buy the Thule Tepui Foothill is that it only takes up about half the shelf width of most roof top tents, thanks to its long rectangular design. This model flips to the side of the vehicle like most rooftop tents, but you sleep parallel to your vehicle instead of perpendicular. This innovation leaves extra room on the roof for cargo boxes, bikes, kayaks, or anything else you want to attach to your remaining roof rack space. We were also pleased to find that the mounting tracks come installed on the shop floor right out of the box, so you can fit them directly to your vehicle in a matter of seconds, and secure them in a matter of minutes with the included ratchet wrench.
The slender design of the spur brings some drawbacks. For one thing, the ladder has to be attached every time you convert the tent from travel mode to camping mode because it has to sit parallel to the top of the tent during transport; otherwise it would be too wide for the cover to fit. This didn’t bother us as Thule Tepui designed a handy quick release system, but it’s an extra step nonetheless. In addition, the inner poles must be extended when going from travel mode to camp mode and collapse when converting back. the other small flaw we found is that the mattress is slightly less comfortable than some of the better models, but still much more comfortable than any standard camping mattress. These little caveats are still worth it if you need to keep your shelf space clear for hauling extra toys and gear.
Reading: Car top tent reviews
read more: Thule Tepui foothills review
why you should trust us
we started this project in 2019 with a genuine curiosity and interest in what the rooftop tent (often referred to by its acronym, rtt) was all about. What started with browsing a few manufacturers’ websites quickly turned into hours of searching for current reviews, installation tutorials, and whatever RTT or off-road forums we could find. After studying dozens of different designs and applications, we narrowed it down to tents that stand out for their specific features and price points while being similar enough to make valid side-by-side comparisons. We assembled, set up, converted, and removed these tents from our test truck over several months, camping at destinations from the California foothills, up the Sierra Nevada mountain range, across the Great Basin, and into southern Utah. After several summers of research and testing, we’ve put together a review to help you find the best roof top tent possible.
- space and comfort (30% weighting of overall score)
- durability (25% weight)
- ease of conversion (20% weight)
- Ease of assembly and installation (15% weighting)
- desirable coverage (10% weighting)
ross patton took over testing for these beasts. Ross grew up camping while living in Utah, Montana, Colorado, Nevada, and California. he now travels even further afield and has spent countless nights in tents in canada, africa, south east asia, central america and the caribbean. Ross has camped by backpacking, canoeing, whitewater rafting, biking, splitboarding, and snowmobiling, so he has seen tents of every size and type imaginable. Ross has spent four summers spearheading the roof top tent category for gearlab, learning the ins and outs of these products and what makes them great. With a recent location change from Lake Tahoe to South Central Utah, you’re closer to nature than ever. With a love of 4×4 offroading, exploring and being an admitted gear nerd, he’s a true rooftop tent connoisseur.
analysis and test results
We are very hard on our camping gear. Sleep is essential, so when you depend on a tent to keep you warm, comfortable and dry at night, you want to be sure it can handle a lot. Rooftop tents are technical products and have many moving parts, so we were diligent in figuring out every detail when determining the value and overall performance of these products.
The metric scores are intended to help you determine which tent is right for you. some metrics, such as ease of conversion, will include an average time along with other new features or features that facilitate this process. Other metrics, such as space and comfort, combine quantitative product measures, such as maximum ceiling height, with a more qualitative description of how comfortable the mattress is.
The thought of shelling out thousands of dollars for a gazebo may seem daunting, but rooftop gazebos truly live up to the expectations of the right consumer. Sleeping on a memory foam mattress while rising off the forest floor makes camping just as comfortable as sleeping in your bed. the general rule is that hard models are substantially more expensive than soft models. The main tradeoff between the two types is that hard cases are very easy to install, and converting them from travel mode to camp mode is extremely quick and simple, whereas most soft cases require assembly and take a few minutes longer to set up. become. That said, because most hardshells don’t fold, they’re generally much bulkier than their soft, bi-fold counterparts when in travel mode. Which model is right for you depends on your individual wishes and needs.
If you’re willing to spend the extra money, the roofnest falcon 2 is as comfortable as most models we’ve tested, but it has an ultra-slim construction that reduces wind resistance and looks great. good. Our favorite hardtail model, the Roofnest Sparrow Eye, is a bit cheaper than the Falcon 2, but offers ample under-shell storage while on the go and additional gear storage on the roof.
If you don’t mind the extra conversion time or dealing with rain flies, you may find the cheaper price tags of the soft-shell models attractive. the thule tepui kukenham 3 and thule tepui foothill cost substantially less money than our favorite rigid versions. The Kukenham offers commendable comfort, excellent durability, and a fairly easy conversion process. The foot of the hill “hot dog” instead of “hamburger” folding style allows you to fit more gear next to your tent on the same rack.
If you’re shopping on a budget, the Smittybilt Overlander offers a very comfortable mattress and some great accessories, like a rubber boot bag and led lights. With the lower price tag, there are some downsides when it comes to convenience and how much effort is required for assembly and installation. That being said, as long as you can deal with a few less convenient parts of the process, you’ll still get a quality gazebo that’s built to last.
The thule tepui autana 3 is quite expensive, but it comes with a four-season awning, a large entrance awning and an annex included, which doubles the size of the tent. For these reasons, we consider this a high-value option if it’s affordable for you.
space and comfort
one of the best things about rooftop tents is their added element of comfort instead of sleeping on the ground. humans tend to have a natural inclination to climb up and climb into bed because it makes us feel more secure from things that go bump in the night. Rooftop tents bring this luxury to your campsite, which is an added convenience in itself. But if you’re going to the trouble of climbing a ladder to sleep on top of your vehicle, you’ll want plenty of room to move around and a mattress that’s thick enough that you won’t feel the floor.
All of the tents we tested include a foam mattress, which we found much more comfortable than air mattresses or other sleeping pads. For comparison, we took measurements of floor space and maximum interior height to give us some hard to look at numbers to determine space scores.
When it comes to comfort, we find that the best way to gauge something that might be considered a matter of opinion is to get out in the field as much as possible. To test the comfort, we did what we do best: camping. We slept in each tent for a minimum of five nights and made sure to pack the sleeping space with plenty of gear along with our 80-pound test dog to see how comfortable and roomy they really are. privacy is also factored into the comfort metric. In a rooftop tent, a lot of what you’re doing is up in the air for all to see, so we rated tents that came with taller canopies or attachments.
the tepui autana 3 is at the top of the list for this metric. It has a very comfortable mattress, and one of our favorite features of this tent is the large entrance canopy that makes the interior feel even bigger. As if the mattress and canopy weren’t enough, Tepui also included an annex that hangs to the ground from the entrance, adding up to a whole other room. The tepui kukenam lacks the extra spaciousness of an annex, but otherwise has the same great mattress and internal dimensions as the Autana, making it a thoroughly comfortable option. Other models, such as the Smittybilt Overlander and Yakima Skyrise Medium, offer an aftermarket addendum for additional cost. however, the stairway is outside due to the lack of an entrance awning, while the autana stairway 3 is inside the annex itself.
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The two hardtail models we tested are considered two-person models, but they feel very roomy. With the sandwich wedge construction, the ceiling on one side of the tent is high enough to sit upright, but the other end barely has room. however, we found the lower end to be the perfect place to store bags of clothing and gear, never experiencing the area being too small for our feet and legs. The Roofnest Falcon 2 has an especially tall maximum interior height of 60 inches.
the roof nest sparrow eye has a slightly lower maximum height, but we didn’t find this to be a problem at all. both tents come with interior gear nets, and the falcon 2 has boot bags that hang from the exterior of the tent. Both Roofnest models also include LED strip lights that can be powered by the USB source of your choice.
we had heard that the sparrow eye had enough space inside to leave blankets, pillows or sleeping bags inside the tent while in travel mode and our team was pleasantly surprised to find that this rumor was true. . This model has plenty of space inside, a cargo area outside the tent, and an included weatherproof bag to store even more gear. this area is rated to store up to 50 pounds, so it could also be a place for water or an auxiliary gas tank.
When it comes to two-person soft-shell models, the thule tepui explorer ayer 2 and the cvt pioneer series bachelor are nearly identical in floor dimensions, headroom, and mattress thickness . Sleeping with two people in these tents feels a little tight, especially around the waist where the frame poles converge inside the tent. the thule tepui foothill sacrifices a bit of mattress thickness to keep its low profile design, so it’s not as comfortable as some, but it’s still much more comfortable than other camping mattresses that we have judged When the poles are fully extended in camp mode, there is ample clearance to change or set up and pack bedding.
While the footboard doesn’t offer the most space inside the tent, it does free up space on your rack, which can often be more valuable than sleeping space if you’re traveling in a larger vehicle. small or a truck that is full to the brim. This model offers maximum cargo space for couples or solo travelers to bring as much gear as possible.
When buying equipment with a price tag like a rooftop tent, you want to be sure the product will last. Remember, this is not a tent you pull out of the trunk of your car and put in your garage after a camping trip. Rooftop tents typically live on top of your vehicle for a while, which means that when they’re in travel mode they’ll be constantly exposed to the elements as well as vibration and rattle from driving. When it’s time to camp, converting between modes is trickier. Unlike most tents that sit on the ground, these are mechanical pieces of equipment with moving parts like ladders and hinges, so there’s a lot more to consider than the durability of the canopy, zippers, and poles. . Because these are such bulky and massive items, the wear and tear on the store as a whole is amplified.
To assess durability, we apply various test methods. we went through the process of converting each model from travel mode to camp mode and back 25 times. then we completed the arduous task of opening and closing each zipper in each store 25 times. we were not kind to these products.
To test the floors, we filled the tents with over 500 pounds of humans, camping gear, and an 80-pound hunting dog for at least five nights per tent. To put the mounting systems to the test, we did some serious rugged four-wheel drive treks, sometimes for many hours in remote locations.
all the tents in this review passed our durability tests except for one. some have features that we think will hold up better than others. some also have features that will reduce wear and tear on doors and screens, such as rings and hooks to get them out of the way. this helps ensure that they are not hit when entering or leaving the store.
the autana 3, kukenam 3, explorer ayer 2 and foothill have thick straps that hold the cover held in place with metal D-rings and Velcro sewn into the straps to make sure they don’t come undone or move in the wind. The metal D-ring, combined with the straps, is less likely to break than plastic clips. the kukenam, autana and ojo de gorrion are also 4-season tents, so they have thicker canopies. In addition, the three-sided zipper on Thule Tepui covers is likely to hold up better in the long run than Velcro, which tends to wear out.
As an added feature, many tepui models come with the option to purchase an additional interchangeable canopy. So if you want to have something for gnarly adventures that’s sturdier than a lightweight hot weather canopy, you can have both without buying an extra full size tent. We did notice that the canopy on the thule tepui explorer yesterday is a bit thin, but this may be ideal for warmer climates.
both rigid versions scored fairly well for this metric. the hardtop means they are virtually bombproof while in touring mode. even so, we found that the material of the roofnest sparrow eye and the falcon 2 are made from a 320g poly/cotton blend that just doesn’t compare with the 420d and 600d fabric offered by other models. That being said, we do appreciate the large metal clips that ensure the tent stays shut while you’re traveling. the metal ladders and slots for the ladder hooks easily withstood our wear tests.
ease of conversion
one of the main benefits of having a roof top is that, once installed on top of a vehicle, it’s amazingly quick and easy to convert from travel mode to camping mode. Even the models that take the longest to change only take a few minutes to go from driving to snuggling up in a warm and cozy bed. It might sound like we’re splitting hairs when we say one took a couple of minutes longer than the other, but when you’re trying to get set up in a storm, a few minutes can make the difference between a happy camper or a cold, wet night. For each model, it took us a little longer to go from camp mode to travel mode. Again, a minute or two might not seem like much, but if you’re setting up camp in the rain, you’ll want to make this process as painless and simple as possible.
we converted each tent from travel mode to camp mode and back 25 times. we time each conversion and take an average to get some hard data to compare. the main determinant of this metric is the type of stair used by each store. telescopic ladders are the fastest and easiest to handle, except for models with telescopic ladders that must be completely detached from the tent to travel. sliding ladders are not ideal because they only have certain adjustments and sometimes you need to dig into the ground to get the ladder at a safe angle or, in extreme cases, drill holes if the shortest adjustment is still too long.
the roof of the nest sparrow eye is the champion of this metric. Going from travel mode to camp mode is as simple as removing two metal clips, releasing a safety strap, and gently applying pressure to the bottom of the tent roof. Hydraulic pistons lift the tent open with the same effort as opening the tailgate of an SUV.
Then you need to spread out and set up the ladder, but the whole process takes less time than removing the canopy from a soft tent. There are two poles for the front door of the tent to be used as an awning, but this step is entirely optional.
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To convert sparrow eye back to travel mode, simply reverse the steps. There’s a big strap to help you close the tent, but it doesn’t take a lot of energy because gravity is on your side.
the process to convert the roofnest falcon 2 is very similar to the sparrow eye . the main difference is that the hawk awning is not part of the door, so it must be unfurled, or it will flap in the wind all night. Additionally, this model requires a little more effort to tuck all of the tent fabric under the canopy while converting back to travel mode due to its super-snug, low-profile construction.
Yakima, thule tepui, cvt and roofnest models come with telescopic ladders. they all extend using the same process, but when it’s time to fold the ladder, the Thule tepui and roofnest models have an innovative self-folding system that only requires the user to press two buttons. the bottom steps push the rest of the release buttons on their way up.
the thule tepui and the smittybilt overlander models have included bungee cords that are threaded through the length of the tent to prevent the canopy from bunching up or sticking out the side of the folding ground when it’s time to switch from camping mode to travel mode. the tepui autana 3 includes an annex that hangs from the awning. It’s not a required part of the setup, but the conversion becomes a bit more complicated and time consuming if you’re going to use it.
The thule tepui foothill ladder should be removed and repositioned for each use so that it can sit on the folded tent in a parallel position to maintain the slim profile of the overall folded tent with the cover on. this adds an extra step when converting between travel and camping modes and vice versa.
Ease of assembly and installation
Setting up a basic tent can quickly become a confusing nightmare until you learn the process. the rooftop tents are in a league of their own. While most come partially assembled out of the box, the last bits attached can be quite a pain. the lightest tent we’ve tested weighs in at 93 pounds, while some can be over 150 pounds. It goes without saying that assembling and installing them correctly on your vehicle is no easy feat. While it is possible to put up a tent on the roof of a vehicle by yourself, it takes a lot of muscle strength and a bit of ingenuity with an emphasis on personal safety.
We time each step of the installation process and note anything more frustrating or difficult during assembly and connecting to our test rack.
The ease with which the product is removed from the package affects the time it takes to finally mount it in your vehicle. While some brands like their packaging to be as small as possible, others add extra bubble wrap or Styrofoam to make sure your tent looks intact. autana 3, kukenam 3, explorer ayer 2 and yakima skyrise all come in boxes that slide out of the tent sideways. The Smittybilt Overlander and Thule Tepui Foothill come in a sandwich-style box that’s easy to open and protects the tent. As an added bonus, the Foothill comes with the mounting rails already installed on the base of the tent, making it one of the easiest to install.
When putting up your tent and attaching it to your vehicle, all of the rtts in this review include the necessary tools. Even though we have a lot of tools on hand, we just try to use the various wrenches included with each shop for a true apples-to-apples comparison. in some cases, we had no choice but to use additional tools, and even power tools, to modify the non-telescopic ladders to the proper height.
the roofnest sparrow eye, the roofnest falcon 2, and the yakima skyrise were the easiest tents to assemble and set up. Both Roofnest models require no assembly at all – just take them out of the box and place them on your shelf. Once in the rack, complete the installation process by sliding the hardware into place and tightening it all down with the included ratchet wrench. The only reason we didn’t give the two rigid models a perfect score for this metric is that they are so bulky that they require two strong, able-bodied people to load them into any vehicle, especially a truck or SUV.
We love the yakima skyrise system. Installing the mounting brackets only requires a pair of allen keys included with the shop. once everything is set up, everything else is tool free. After assembly, no tools are required to get this model on and off your shelf, which is a huge plus. With an extra pair of hands, you can have Skyrise installed in your rack in less than five minutes. taking it off is just as fast or faster.
unlike any other tent in our review, yakima thought to have a setting in the hole pattern in the tent floor, allowing the user to set the tent to open in the rear of the vehicle. on the side most other models require a bit of customization if you want to rotate the inlet 90 degrees. having the tent open to the back has many benefits in certain situations. First, your overall footprint will be a long, straight shape rather than an awkward L-shape, which might work better at many campsites, festivals, or between narrow trees. having both options, as the yakima skyrise does, is nice.
The hardest part of having a rooftop tent is mounting it to your vehicle. this process becomes more difficult if the tent is heavier. tool-less systems are easier than those that require socket wrenches. We weren’t too pleased to discover that we would need to drill holes in the front corridor stairway to get it at the proper angle for our test vehicle. If you need to drill your ladder and you don’t have your own drill, you may need to go out and buy one, adding to the overall cost of the shop. And unless you’re a seasoned machinist, it’s never a good feeling to drill holes in a new product you’ve just spent a good chunk of change on. Just a reminder: It’s always a good idea to check with the manufacturer before modifying your roof top tent, vehicle, or roof rack.
There are a wide variety of types of roof top tent covers. some are made of thick rubber; others are made of sanity. some are attached with velcro and clips; others are closed. some come off completely, while others only come off on three sides and are then rolled up and tied out of the way. types that come off completely can often require two people to reattach. even the ones that roll up can be a pain if you’re on your own, while some are very easy for one person to handle.
We removed each cover and then reattached them 25 times to assess cover suitability and measure ease of use. There are three key steps to the procedure of putting the cover back on the tent when it’s time to pack up the camp. First, you unroll the cover and place it back over the folded tent. then secure the cover to the outer edges of the bottom half of the tent floor using a zipper or velcro. finally, the entire system is secured by straps or clips. We found a heavy-duty zipper around the bottom edge of the cover, along with D-ring-style straps, to be the easiest system to use.
We gave the roofnest sparrow eye and roofnest falcon 2 perfect scores for this metric because they have no cover to contend with. The way these two models are built, a couple of buckles or straps are simply undone, and the rigid shell that covers the tent doubles as the roof of the tent.
We’re big fans of the three-sided zippered cover system found on the autana 3, kukenham 3, explorer ayer 2, and foothill all purpose. It’s great that Thule Tepui thought of sewing in straps to keep the rolled up cover out of the way when you’re in camp mode. The yakima skyrise deck straps are not as robust as the tepui models, but they get the job done. The skyrise cover system of zippers, velcro, and plastic clips is easy to remove, but a bit more difficult to reattach.
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