The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of outdoor gear

How We Tested Rooftop Tents

By Ross Patton ⋅ Review Editor
Thursday July 4, 2019

For this review, we did what anyone testing a tent should do: we did a ton of camping. Northern California in the spring has proven to be the perfect place to test a rooftop tent. We spent cold nights in frozen high altitude meadows, hot nights in the mosquito-infested foothills of the western slope, and made a few 4x4 missions to explore the hot springs of the Eastern Sierras.

Our test vehicle- Toyota Tacoma with a Yakima Overhaul HD bed rack.
Our test vehicle- Toyota Tacoma with a Yakima Overhaul HD bed rack.

We started out by doing a ridiculous amount of research, reading forums, reading current reviews, and contacting manufacturers about specific questions we had. Once we narrowed it down to our five favorites, we hit the tech specs hard to cross reference the hard data in regards to size, weight, material strength, and other fine details. Finally, when the tents were delivered, we were able to do our hands-on testing. The assembly and installation time and difficulty were carefully documented and recorded. After the tent was installed we converted them from travel mode to camping mode and back 25 times each to gather data on durability, ease of conversion, and cover convenience. Testing for space and comfort was the best part, we took each tent camping at least five separate times.

Space and Comfort


To get an accurate number for the space of each tent, we broke out the tape measure to measure the floor sizes and maximum inside height. Comfort is much more subjective, so our testing team spent several nights in each tent and came up with a consensus together. We took note of whether or not our knees could feel the floor through the mattress during setup, how thick the mattresses are, and the area that the mattress takes up inside the tent compared to the total area of the floor.

The Frontrunner Featherlite has a thin mattress that doesn't fill up the entire floor of the tent.
The Frontrunner Featherlite has a thin mattress that doesn't fill up the entire floor of the tent.

Durability


The first thing we did to determine differences in durability was to look at the materials the tents are made of. A tent with a higher rated canopy scored higher than those made to be lighter, in general. To get a true hands-on reading of how durable these tents are, we converted each model from travel mode to camping mode and back 25 times. We also opened and closed each zipper 25 times and took the rain fly off and put it back on 25 times. We took notes and photos of any signs of wear and tear or complete product failure. We looked at the stitching, the floor, the ladder, Velcro, clips, and hinges.

Some tents had stitching that failed our tests.
Some tents had stitching that failed our tests.

Ease of Conversion


To measure ease of conversion, we timed each conversion from travel mode to camping mode and back 25 times. We also made a judgment as to the overall difficulty of the conversion process. The ease of use of the ladder was noted along with other smaller details like the action of the zippers and the struggle to install the poles. We looked for any ways that the manufacturer had made the conversion process less painful and frustrating such as the use of internal bungees to help the canopy collapse while folding the tent up.

Small details like bungee cords to help the canopy fold up while converting to travel mode made for higher scores.
Small details like bungee cords to help the canopy fold up while converting to travel mode made for higher scores.

Ease of Assembly and Installation


To gauge how hard the assembly of each tent was, we timed the assembly process but also noted many different elements that made it either harder or easier. The way that the tents were packaged and the quality of instructions were noted and photographed. The tools that came with the tent were recorded as well. Unless otherwise noted, we used only the tools that came included with the kits to get a true side-by-side comparison.

Once assembled and ready, we timed the installation process to get some numbers to compare, but we also noted which tent mounting systems were the easiest to use with the tools that they came with. A tent with a tool-free mounting system will be the easiest to install and remove. Tents that came with ratcheting wrenches also outscored tents that came with a traditional wrench. We also took note of whether or not the mounting system allows for you to set your tent up out the back of your vehicle as opposed to out the side. Some models come with mounting systems that allow for either way, others require modification if you want to go "out the back." We custom fit the track system on one tent to see how difficult it was.

Most of the rooftop tents that we tested require tools to install on your rack system.
Most of the rooftop tents that we tested require tools to install on your rack system.

Cover Convenience


For the cover convenience metric, we compared conversion times. Although all of the covers are fairly similar in their difficulty to remove, putting them back on was a different story. Some have Velcro that can stick before you want it to, others have clips and zippers that can make life much easier when it comes time to go home. Some tents have straps to keep the cover rolled up when not in use, others don't. One tent that we tested had a cover system where the cover comes off on all four sides rather than hanging from one side. Our process of converting each tent from travel to camping mode and back 25 times made it so that we noticed even the smallest subtleties.

Without straps to keep the cover rolled up and out of your way it is more difficult to access your vehicle.
Without straps to keep the cover rolled up and out of your way it is more difficult to access your vehicle.