We thoroughly researched over 25 models and purchased 5 of the best rooftops tents of 2020 to test side-by-side by our expert overlanders. A quality rooftop tent is a serious investment, and we put these tents through extensive field-testing to bring you a comprehensive breakdown of options across a range of price-points. We assessed these canopies based on critical criteria, such as ease of assembly and installation, and space and comfort. From identifying design flaws and durability issues to highlighting luxurious qualities and ease of conversion, our in-depth review identifies the best rooftop tent for your next 4WD adventure.
The Best Rooftop Tents of 2020
Top 5 Product Ratings
Best Overall Rooftop Tent
Tepui Autana 3
Tepui has proven to hold the crown in innovation and design, and the Tepui Autana 3 is the winner of our Editors' Choice Award. With a canopy that converts from open air to complete weather lock-down, this is easily the most versatile tent that we tested. The added awning above the entrance and an included annex makes it so that you'll never be climbing up and down slippery, wet steps, and the button-free ladder makes it so that conversion from camping mode to travel mode is done with minimum effort. This tent includes some subtleties that make a ton of difference like the beefy straps that hold the cover up when you're in camping mode, or the internal bungee system that helps the canopy fold while you're converting to travel mode. Add an easy to use travel cover, an incredibly comfortable memory foam mattress, and you have the best rooftop tent on the market today.
The main downside to the Autana (other than its high price) is that it takes a couple of extra minutes to convert to camping mode when compared to other models we tested. If setup time really is a deal breaker for you, it might make more sense to go with something a little more simple. But our testers found many advantages of this model that made the one to two extra minutes of setup well worth it.
Read review: Tepui Autana 3
Best Bang for the Buck
The Smittybilt Overlander is the least expensive RTT in our review. Although it's the least expensive, it does come with several included extras. The Overlander arrives with a very cool LED light system that includes 12-volt extension cords that go all the way from the tent to your 12-volt cigarette lighter in your vehicle or an external USB battery pack. Another added feature is the included rubber boot bag that hangs outside of the tent, which would be very convenient in poor weather conditions. It also has the widest, most sturdy ladder of any tent that we tested.
The Smittybilt model does have a few weaknesses. It's cumbersome. Weighing in at 144 lbs, it was substantially heavier than many of the tents we tested. Depending on the height of the rooftop on your vehicle, you may need to drill holes to get your ladder to the proper height. Drilling metal isn't the easiest task to take on even if you have the proper tools, and taking power tools to a brand new product is a bit unnerving. Also, the cover must be completely removed to convert the tent from travel mode to camping mode. In all of the other models, the cover either rolled up or was able to be tucked out of the way. While this tent might require a bit more effort, it's also going to save you a sizeable amount of money and still perform at a very respectable level.
Read review: Smittybilt Overlander
Best for Ease of Installation
Yakima SkyRise Medium
The Yakima Skyrise Medium is the easiest to assemble and install. Most of the bolts for the assembly are Allen wrench, which all come included with the tent. This RTT required the least amount of knowledge when it comes to tools and mechanics of any tent we tested. Once the clamps are properly aligned to your crossbars, installing the tent is a no brainer using the tool-free quick release system. Some people prefer to have their tent unfold out the back of the vehicle, Yakima considered this and made it so that their mounting tracks can be attached either perpendicular to or parallel with your roof. As an added feature, the Yakima system also locks the tent to your rack which could give you some extra peace of mind if you're leaving your vehicle at the trailhead or you live in a highly-populated area. If you want a tent that's easy to install on your vehicle, is secure once is on, but is also easy to take back off the Skyrise is the one for you.
However, along with the convenience of the mounting system come some limitations. The mounting rails have a limited length. For certain racks, especially 4x4-style custom truck bed or SUV basket type racks, this tent may not be compatible. For most cars, trucks, and SUVs, it is likely fine, but it's essential to check the tech specs before making a purchase. The quick release system adds a few inches of distance between the tent floor and your crossbars compared to the other mounting systems we tested, so it sits a little high. This can affect wind drag, body tilt, and braking power on your vehicle. Yakima chose to use very light canopy material for this version which helps shave some weight but also sacrifices durability. However, if it fits your vehicle, and you plan on installing and removing your tent frequently, the SkyRise is our top recommendation for you.
Read review: Yakima Skyrise
Why You Should Trust Us
Our rooftop tent review was taken on by Ross Patton. Ross grew up camping while living in Utah, Montana, Colorado, Nevada, and California. He now travels even further afoot, and has now spent countless nights in tents in Canada, Africa, Southeast Asia, Central America, and the Carribean. Ross has camped by canoe, whitewater raft, bicycle, splitboard, and snowmobile, so he's seen about every size and type of tent imaginable. He also has fifteen years of experience with technical R&D in the snowboard world, so he's no stranger to studying products down to the tiniest detail. With a love for 4x4 roads, exploring, and being an admitted gear nerd, he is our expert on rooftop tents.
We started this project with a genuine curiosity and interest as to what the rooftop tent (often referred to by its acronym, RTT) hype was about. What began with glancing at a few manufacturers websites quickly snowballed into hours and hours of browsing current reviews, installation tutorials, and any RTT or off-road forum we could find. After studying dozens of different designs and applications, we narrowed it down to five tents that stand out for specific features and price points but also were similar enough to make valid side-by-side comparisons. For several months, we assembled, installed, converted, and removed these tents from our test truck, camping in destinations along the Sierra Nevada. After months of research and testing, we've come up with a review to give you the best rooftop tent advice possible.
Analysis and Test Results
At OutdoorGearLab, we are very hard on our camping gear. Sleep is important, so when you depend on a tent to keep you warm, comfortable, and dry at night, you want to be sure that it handles a lot. Rooftop tents are technical products, and there are a lot of moving parts. We were sure to uncover every detail when determining the overall value and performance of these products.
The metric scores are meant to help you determine which tent is right for you. Some metrics, like Ease of Conversion, are going to encompass an average time along with other innovations or features that make this process easier. Other metrics, like Space and Comfort, combine quantitative measurements of the product, like maximum roof height, with a more qualitative description of how comfortable the mattress is.
The idea of forking over thousands for a tent can seem a bit daunting, but rooftop tents truly do live up to the hype for the right consumer. Sleeping on a memory foam mattress while elevated off of the forest floor makes camping as comfortable as sleeping in your bed. In general, the value of a rooftop tent is dependent on the price. Our Editors' Choice Award winner, the Tepui Autana 3,is the most expensive tent we tested but it comes with a four-season canopy, a large entrance awning, and an included annex which more than doubles the size of the tent itself.
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 regarding convenience and how much effort is required to assemble and install or remove the model. That said, though, you'll still get a quality tent that is built to last, as long as you can deal with a few less convenient parts of the process.
Space and Comfort
One of the best things about rooftop tents is their added element of comfort as opposed to sleeping on the ground. Humans tend to have the natural inclination to climb up and 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 comfort within itself. If you're going to go through the trouble to climb up a ladder to sleep on top of your vehicle, you're going to want enough space to move around and a mattress that is thick enough not to feel the floor.
Every tent we tested includes a foam mattress, which we find are much more comfortable than air mattresses or other sleeping pads. To compare the products, we took measurements of floor space and maximum interior height to give us some hard numbers to look at to determine space. As far as comfort we find that the best way to really gauge something that could be considered a matter of opinion is to get out and use the products in the field. To test comfort, we did what we do best - we went camping. We slept in each tent for a minimum of five nights, and we were sure to pack the sleeping space with lots of gear along with our 80-pound test dog to see how comfy and spacious they truly are. Another part of comfort is privacy. In a rooftop tent, a lot of what you're doing is up in the air for everyone to see, so we scored tents that came with awnings or annexes higher.
At the top of the list for this metric is the Tepui Autana 3. The Autana 3 has what we determined to be the most comfortable mattress. One of our favorite features about this tent is the large entrance awning that makes the interior of the tent feel even bigger. If the mattress and the awning were not enough, Tepui also included an annex that hangs down to the ground from the entrance that truly adds an entire additional room to the tent. Other models we tested like the Smittybilt Overlander and Yakima Skyrise have the option to purchase an annex at an additional cost, but the ladder is still on the outside of these models due to the lack of an entrance awning. The Autana 3 ladder is within the annex itself.
When you're purchasing a piece of equipment with a price tag like a rooftop tent, you want to be sure that the product is going to last. Remember, this isn't a tent that you take out of the trunk of your car and put in your garage after a camping trip unless you're going to get a friend and spend the time to help you remove it. Rooftop tents generally live on top of your vehicle, which means when in travel mode, they're going to constantly be exposed to the elements as well as the vibration and rattling around from driving. When it's time to camp, the conversion between modes isn't exactly a gentle process. Unlike most camping tents that get pitched 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, massive objects the wear and tear on the tent as a whole is amplified even more.
To test durability, we meticulously converted each tent from travel mode to camping mode and back 25 times. We also took on the time-consuming task of opening and closing every zipper 25 times each. In general, we weren't gentle with the tents. To put the floors to the test, we loaded the tents with more than 500 lbs of people, gear, and a large dog for at least five nights. To test the mounting systems we were sure to do some highway time at 60 mph, but more importantly, we made sure to do some 4wd missions on rocky, bumpy roads.
Except for one tent, all of the tents in this review passed our durability tests. Some do have features that we feel are going to hold up better than others. The Tepui Autana 3 and Kukenam 3 have thick straps that hold the cover in place with metal D rings with Velcro sewn into the straps to ensure they don't come undone or flap around in the wind. The metal D ring in combination with the straps is less likely to get broken than plastic clips. Both of the Tepui models that we tested are 4-season tents, so they have thicker canopies. Also, the three-sided zipper on the Tepui covers is likely going to hold up better in the long run than Velcro like the Skyrise Medium and Overlander has around the bottom edges of the cover, which is prone to wear out.
As an added feature, both of the Tepui models come with the option to purchase an additional interchangeable canopy so if you want to own something tough for gnarly adventures, but then a light canopy for warm weather you can have both without purchasing an entire extra tent.
Ease of Conversion
Another benefit to owning a rooftop tent is the convenience of setup when it comes time to camp. All of the tents that we tested produced an average of fewer than ten minutes each to convert from travel mode to camping mode. It may seem like we're splitting hairs when we say that one took a couple of minutes longer than the other, but when you're trying to set up in a storm that few minutes can make the difference between a happy camper or a cold, wet night. Converting the tents back to travel mode takes a few minutes longer per tent, but this could be even more critical time in certain situations. When you're tearing down camp, you generally have another destination, or it's just time to go home. In the event that you're packing up in the rain, it's helpful for this process to be as simple and painless as possible.
Converting the tents between travel and camping mode 25 times showed a significant difference in convenience depending on the tent and the application. We timed every conversion so that we could get an average and some hard data to compare. The ultimate determination for this metric is the type of ladder the tent uses. Tents with telescoping ladders are easier to extend and adjust to the proper height than sliding ladders which may not have the proper height at all. When it's time to go home the telescoping ladders are a breeze to collapse which will save you time and energy.
The Yakima and Tepui models come with telescoping ladders, but the Tepui is easier to use. They both set up with the same process, but when it comes time to fold the ladder up the Tepui ladder has an innovative self-collapsing system that only requires the user to push two buttons, then the lower steps push the rest of the release buttons on their way up.
The Tepui models, as well as the Smittybilt Overlander, have included bungee cords that string across the inside of the tent when it's time to convert from camping to travel mode that keep the canopy from bunching up or bulging out of the side of the folding floor. The Tepui Autana 3 includes an annex that hangs from the awning. It isn't a required part of the setup, but if you're going to use it, conversion gets a little more difficult and time-consuming.
Ease of Assembly and Installation
It may not be very intuitive to consider assembly and installation when thinking about buying a tent, but for a rooftop tent, this is a big part of the process. The lightest tent we tested weighs 93 lbs while the heaviest is 144 lbs. This is a lot of weight to be lifting on and off the rack of your vehicle. RTTs are also really bulky and awkward to move around. The size and weight make it so that you do not want to be making mistakes and having to undo things or do things twice.
How long it takes to assemble and install is important to many folks trying to move on to their next objective, so we timed everything that we did. For this metric, we made sure to measure, record, and take note of many different factors such as the included tools, the clarity of the instructions, and any speedbumps we found along the way.
How easy the product is to get out of the package affects how long it ultimately takes to mount on your vehicle. Where some brands like to make their packaging as small as possible, others add extra bubble wrap or Styrofoam to ensure that your tent shows up undamaged. The Front Runner ladder comes in a separate box altogether. This is not ideal because if the boxes were to get separated in transit, your tent would be useless until the ladder showed up if it ever did. The Tepui Autana 3, the Tepui Kukenam 3, and the Yakima Skyrise all come in boxes that slide off the tent sideways. The Smittybilt Overlander comes in a sandwich style box that is easy to open and protects the tent.
All of the RTTs in this review come with the tools that are necessary for assembly and installation. For the sake of an accurate comparison we tried using only the tools that were included with each tent rather than our own, even if using our own would have made installation easier. In some instances, using additional tools, and even power tools, was necessary. Most of the tents came with metric wrenches, and the two Tepui models came with ratcheting metric wrenches to make the installation even easier.
Yakima made installation a breeze by using Allen wrenches and by designing a proprietary tool-free mounting system. The Yakima mounting system even takes innovation a step further by offering the option to have your tent unfold off the back of your vehicle as opposed to off the side. Some people may prefer this way because it makes different access to your vehicle doors or truck bed. Out the back mounting also means that your camp will make a different shape of a footprint on the ground. Sometimes campsites, parking lots, and crowded festivals might not have the option for you to take up that extra space to the side of your rig. The Skyrise isn't the only tent you can set up out the back, but the other mounting systems will require you to cut the mounting rails.
A critical part of getting an RTT ready for camping is to mount it to a vehicle physically. If a tent is heavier, it is inherently harder to do this. If it requires tools, that is an added step as opposed to a tool-free system. The Front Runner required us to drill holes in the ladder to get it to a safe angle for our test vehicle. If your vehicle requires this modification and you don't own a drill, you're going to end up borrowing a tool or even having your ladder professionally modified before you can use the tent. Even for someone who has grown up using tools drilling precisely measured holes or cutting into metal, it can be a bit unnerving doing this to an expensive new product. Remember, always check with the manufacturer before making any mods to your rooftop tent, vehicle, or rack.
During our review, we were surprised to learn how different all of the cover designs are. The type and quality of cover can make a large difference in your experience. If they're easier to take off or put back on, this is going to add to your ease of conversion. Once you're in camping mode, then you don't need the cover, so it needs to be stowed away. It is important that it be stowed in a handy way so that it's out of the way for access to your vehicle and that it's out of the elements. When it comes time to put the cover back on, it's best if it's already attached to the tent floor on one side so that you aren't taking the time to try to orient a giant piece of rubber and you can quickly get back on the road.
During our testing period, each cover was taken off and put back on 25 times to get an idea of how difficult or easy they are to manage. They have three steps to attaching them for travel mode. First, you put the cover in place, then the bottom of the four sides are attached to the folded up tent using a zipper or Velcro, and finally, they are secured using straps, clips, or more zippers. To take the cover off, you take these three steps in reverse. We found that covers that use zippers and D-ring style straps are easier to use than ones that use Velcro and plastic clips.
The Tepui Autana 3 and the Tepui Kukenam 3 both have the three-sided zipper cover system that we like. Tepui also went the extra mile to include straps that keep the cover rolled up and out of your way while you're camping. The Yakima Skyrise Medium has included cover straps as well that are just barely more difficult to use than the Tepui models. The Skyrise cover system of zippers, velcro, and plastic clips is easy to remove, but a little bit harder to reattach.
With so many rooftop tents on the market, it can be quite challenging to choose which one is right for you. There are a whole lot of technical aspects that we discovered during this review that weren't originally on our radar. We take the time and consideration to gather information and insight on the most glaringly obvious pro and cons but also look at the tiniest details. This review will give you the knowledge to make the most informed decision possible.
— Ross Patton