Best Rooftop Tent 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 it's on, but it 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 Caribbean. 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 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.
For our durability assessment, we went through the process of converting each model from travel mode to camping mode and back 25 times. We then completed the arduous chore of opening and closing each zipper on every tent 25 times. We were not gentle with these products. To test the floors, we packed the tents with more than 500 pounds of humans, camping gear, and an 80-pound hound dog for at least five nights per tent. To put the mounting systems to the test we went on some serious, rugged four-wheel-drive crawls — sometimes for many hours to some very remote locations.
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 of 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 a 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
When you think about setting up a tent, you may remember them being kind of a pain the first time or two around. Rooftop tents are a whole different story. The lightest tent we have tested thus far is 93 pounds and very awkward to move around — installing one by yourself would be quite the feat. With a piece of camping equipment this big and heavy, you're gonna want to make sure that you do things right the first time, and with the help of at least one other person.
It's important to consider how long each rooftop tent takes to install, so we timed every step along the way. For this metric, we were sure to take careful notes about the various struggles and frustrations we experienced with the process of assembling each model and actually getting them onto the rack of our test vehicle.
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.
When it comes to assembling your tent and attaching it to your vehicle, all of the RTTs in this review include the tools required for the task. Even though we have a plethora of tools on hand, for the sake of conducting a true apples to apples comparison, we attempted to only use the various wrenches included with each individual tent. In a few instances, we had no choice but to use extra tools and even power tools. It's great that the Tepui models came with ratcheting wrenches to help ease the struggle to install these behemoths.
We love the Yakima system. Installing the mounting brackets only takes a couple of Allen wrenches that are included with the tent. Once everything is set up, everything else is tool-free. Unlike any other tent in our review, Yakima thought to have a configuration in the hole pattern on the tent floor to allow the user to set the tent up to open off the back of the vehicle instead of the side — most other models require a bit of customization. Having the tent open to the back has many benefits in certain situations. First of all, your overall footprint will have a long, straight shape rather than an awkward L shape which might work better at a lot of campgrounds, festivals, or between tight trees. Having both options, as the Yakima does, is nice.
The hardest part of owning a rooftop tent is mounting it to your vehicle. Obviously, this process is made more difficult if the tent is heavier. Tool-free systems are easier than those that require socket wrenches. We weren't very pleased to find out that we were going to need to drill into the Front Runner ladder in order to get it to the proper angle for our test vehicle. If you need to drill into your ladder and you don't have your own drill, you may need to go out and buy one which adds to the overall cost of the tent. Unless you are a seasoned machinist, it is never a good feeling drilling holes into a brand new product that you just spent a good chunk of change on. Just a reminder — it's always a good idea to check with the manufacturer before making any modifications to your rooftop tent, vehicle, or rack.
You might be astonished to discover how many types of rooftop tent covers there are. The quality and type of cover can have a significant effect on your camping excursion. There's no need for the cover when the tent is set up to sleep in, so it needs to be stashed out of the way. Ideally, it's rolled up and out of the way so that you can still use your truck bed or car doors. Once it's time to pack up camp, it's really nice when the cover can be reattached in the most painless way possible. We find that models that have the cover attached to one of the four sides of the folded tent are much easier to get back into travel mode than the types that get completely removed.
To assess cover convenience we removed each cover and then put them back on 25 times to gauge how much of a pain they are to deal with. There are three key steps to the procedure of putting the cover back on the tent when it's time to pack up camp. First of all, you unroll the cover and snug it back over the folded up tent, then you secure the cover to the outer edges of the bottom half of the tent floor using either a zipper or velcro. Finally, the whole system is secured using either straps or clips. During our review process, we found that a heavy-duty zipper around the lower edge of the cover partnered with D-ring style straps was the easiest system to use.
We are big fans of the three-sided zipper cover system that the Tepui Autana 3 and the Tepui Kukenham 3 both use. It's great that Tepui thought to sew in straps for keeping the rolled-up cover out of the way when you're in camping mode. The Yakima Skyrise cover straps aren't quite as beefy as the Tepui's, but they get the job done. The Skyrise cover system of zippers, velcro, and plastic clips is a no brainer to take off, but slightly more difficult 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. 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