Best Rooftop Tent of 2021
|Price||$2,300 at REI|
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$1,190 at Amazon
|Check Price at REI|
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$1,800 at REI
|$1,400 at Backcountry|
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|Pros||Very comfortable, durable, has entrance awning, weather protection, included annex||Wide/Sturdy ladder, boot bag, LED light strip, spacious||Durable canopy, telescoping ladder, versatility, quick conversion||Rectangular design allows for more room on the rack, quick installation, durable canopy||Light, affordable, breathable|
|Cons||Longest conversion time (though not by much), side window awnings don't roll up, price||Ladder may require drilling, Velcro cover not the most efficient cover system, heavy||No entrance awning, no added extras||Thin mattress, longer conversion time, Cordura cover may be less durable||Questionable durability, bulky for a two-person model|
|Bottom Line||A versatile rooftop tent that offers maximum comfort no matter what Mother Nature decides to do||With a durable design and many handy features, this model competes with the top models while costing significantly less||Our top recommendation for most people provides excellent quality and comfort across all four seasons||A rooftop tent that leaves lots of room on the rack for extra toys||A decent two-person rooftop tent with a breathable canopy|
|Rating Categories||Thule Tepui Autana 3||Smittybilt Overlander||Thule Tepui Kukenam 3||Thule Tepui Foothill||Thule Tepui Explore...|
|Space And Comfort (30%)|
|Ease Of Conversion (20%)|
|Ease Of Assembly And Installation (15%)|
|Cover Convenience (10%)|
|Specs||Thule Tepui Autana 3||Smittybilt Overlander||Thule Tepui Kukenam 3||Thule Tepui Foothill||Thule Tepui Explore...|
|Weight (in lbs)||130 lbs||144 lbs||130 lbs||122 lbs||106 lbs|
|Max Inside Height||52 in||51 in||52 in||38 in||38 in|
|Windows||3 side, 2 roof||3 side, 2 roof||3 side, 2 roof||3 side, 2 roof||3 side, 2 roof|
|Floor Dimension||56 in x 96 in||56 in x 96 in||56 in x 96 in||87 in x 40 in||84 in x 48 in|
|Floor Area||38 sq ft||38 sq ft||38 sq ft||24 sq ft||28 sq ft|
|Vestibule Area||26 in x 56 in||n/a||n/a||n/a||n/a|
|Packed Size||12 in x 48 in x 56 in||12 in x 48 in x 56 in||12 in x 48 in x 56 in||9.5 in x 24 in x 83 in||11 in x 42 in x 48 in|
|Floor Materials||Aluminum||Aluminum||Aluminum||Welded aluminum||Aluminum|
|Main Tent Materials||420 D||420 D||420 D||600 D||260g polyester cotton|
|Rainfly Materials||600 D||600 D||600 D||600 D||600 D|
|Number of Poles||6||8||8||6||8|
|Pole Material||Aluminum/spring steel||Aluminum/spring steel||Aluminum/spring steel||Aluminum/spring steel||Aluminum/spring steel|
|Pole Diameter||1/4 in||1/4 in||1/4 in||1/4 in||1/4 in|
|Extras||Awning over ladder||Interior LED, extension cords, boot bag||n/a||Double level pockets, loop inside for hanging lights and gear||n/a|
Best Overall Rooftop Tent
Thule Tepui Kukenam 3
Throughout testing, the Thule Tepui Kukenam is the model that stood out as the best option for the biggest audience. Tepui has a strong reputation for producing high-quality rooftop tents, and the Kukenam is no exception. The 600-denier cover and 420-denier rain fly (with taped seams) provide reliable waterproofing layers when packed up or deployed and survived every beating we gave it during testing unscathed. This model is made for handling four-season use, and we found no reason to doubt that claim. This tent nails the details, too, that can help make the difference between liking and loving it. The memory foam mattress was one of our favorites in the test group, and the interior dimensions were among the most spacious. The attached telescoping ladder makes deployment easy, and the internal bungees proved to be incredibly convenient when breaking camp, keeping the canopy tucked inside the frame nicely. It doesn't sound like much, but it helped this model become our favorite model to set up and break down. Tepui also includes a ratcheting wrench with each Kukenam for installation atop your vehicle.
We have no major grievances with this model. Being 130 lbs, though, it might require up to three people to get this model installed on a rooftop. It also doesn't have any extras like a boot bag, lights, or an included annex, but these options can be purchased after-market. And while this isn't the most expensive option in our line-up, it does cost more than most. In our opinion, though, Tepui gets right the details that most people seeking a rooftop tent care about most. If a friend asks us which rooftop tent to purchase, the Tepui Kukenam is almost always our first recommendation.
Read review: Thule Tepui Kukenam 3
Best Bang for the Buck
Though the Smittybilt Overlander is the least expensive RTT in our review, it still comes 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 or an external USB battery pack. Another added feature is the included rubber boot bag that hangs outside of the tent, which is very convenient in poor weather conditions. It also has the widest, most sturdy ladder of any tent that we tested.
However, the Smittybilt model does have a few weaknesses. It's cumbersome, and weighing in at 144 lbs, is substantially heavier than many of the tents we tested. You may need to drill holes to get your ladder to the proper height, depending on the height of your vehicle's rooftop. Drilling metal isn't the easiest task to take on even if you have the correct tools, and taking power tools to a brand new product is a bit unnerving. Also, the cover must be removed entirely 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
Thule Tepui Autana 3
Tepui has proven to hold the crown in innovation and design. With a canopy that converts from open-air to complete weather lock-down, the Thule Tepui Autana 3 has more coverage than any model 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 is handy. This tent includes some subtleties that make a ton of difference, such as the sturdy 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 one luxurious rooftop home away from home.
The biggest drawback is easy to see here — the price is high, and there are great options that cost significantly less. Besides its high price, the main downside to the Autana is that it takes a couple of extra minutes to convert to camping mode compared to other models we tested, most notably if you decide to deploy the annex. It might make more sense to go with something a little more straightforward if setup time is a deal-breaker for you. However, our testers found many advantages to this model that made the one to two extra minutes of setup well worth it.
Read review: Thule Tepui Autana 3
Best for Fitting More Gear
Thule Tepui Foothill
The best reason to purchase the Thule Tepui Foothill is that it only takes up roughly half of the width of most roof racks thanks to its long rectangular design. This model flips out to the side of the vehicle like most rooftop tents, but you sleep parallel with your vehicle rather than perpendicular. This innovation leaves extra rooftop space for cargo boxes, bikes, kayaks, or whatever else you’d like to attach to the remaining room on your rack. We were also pleased to find out that the mounting tracks come installed on the tent floor right out of the box so you can literally put it straight onto your vehicle in a matter of seconds and have it attached in a matter of minutes with the included ratcheting wrench.
The slender design of the Foothill does bring a few drawbacks. For one, the ladder must be attached every time you convert the tent from travel to camping mode because it has to sit parallel on top of the tent during transport otherwise it would be too wide for the cover to fit. This is not a big deal — Thule Tepui designed a handy quick-release system, but it is an extra step nonetheless. Also, the inner poles need to be extended while converting from travel to camping mode and collapsed when converting back. The other small flaw we found is that the mattress is a bit less comfortable than some of the top models, but still vastly more comfortable than any standard camping mattress our lead tester has ever slept on. These small flaws are well worth it if you’re looking to haul extra toys and gear on your rack.
Read review: Thule Tepui Foothill
Best for Frequent Installation and Removal
Yakima SkyRise Medium
The Yakima Skyrise Medium is a great rooftop tent that has the advantage of being the easiest to attach and remove from a roof rack. Most of the bolts for the assembly require Allen wrenches, which all come included with the tent. The Skyrise requires the least amount of knowledge regarding the tools and mechanics of any tent we tested. Once the clamps are correctly 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 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, secure once it's on, and 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. This tent may not be compatible with certain racks, especially 4x4-style custom truck beds or SUV basket-type racks. For most cars, trucks, and SUVs, it is likely fine, but it's essential to check the tech specs before purchasing (which we recommend for any rooftop tent 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, the SkyRise is our top recommendation if you plan to install and remove your tent frequently.
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 spent countless nights in tents in Canada, Africa, Southeast Asia, Central America, and the Caribbean. Ross has camped by backpack, 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 and is no stranger to studying products down to the tiniest detail. With a love of 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 swiftly snowballed into 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 tents that stand out for specific features and price points while being similar enough to make valid side-by-side comparisons. We assembled, installed, converted, and removed these tents from our test truck for several months, 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
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 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. Like Ease of Conversion, some metrics will 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 daunting, but rooftop tents genuinely 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. The Thule 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.
The Smittybilt Overlander offers a very comfortable mattress and some great accessories, such as a rubber boot bag and LED lights, if you're shopping on a budget. 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, as long as you can deal with a few less convenient parts of the process, you'll still get a quality tent that is built to last. If you want the comfort and convenience of sleeping in a rooftop tent, but you aren’t willing to give up your rooftop bike or kayak rack, we think the Thule Tepui Foothill is a fantastic deal.
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, 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 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 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.
The Tepui Autana 3 is at the top of the list for this metric. It 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 tent's interior 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. The Tepui Kukenam lacks the added spaciousness of an annex, but otherwise has the same great mattress and internal dimensions as the Autana, making it a completely comfortable option. Other models, like the Kukenam, Smittybilt Overlander, Yakima Skyrise, have the option to purchase an annex at an additional cost. However, the ladder is still outside due to the lack of an entrance awning, while the Autana 3 ladder is within the annex itself.
When it comes to two-person models, the Thule Tepui Explorer Ayer 2 is the most comfortable model we’ve tested thanks to its thick memory foam mattress. It is also surprisingly spacious considering that it is a two-person model and doesn’t feel much smaller than the three-person models we tested. The Thule Tepui Foothill sacrifices a bit of mattress thickness to maintain its low profile design so it isn’t quite as comfy as the others, but it is still much more comfortable than other camp mattresses we’ve assessed. When the poles are fully extended in camp mode there is ample headroom for changing or setting up and packing up bedding.
While the Foothill doesn’t offer the most space inside the tent, it frees up room on your rack which can often be more precious than sleeping space if you’re traveling in a smaller vehicle or a truck that’s packed to the gills. This model offers maximum cargo space for couples or those traveling alone to bring as much gear as possible.
When you're purchasing a piece of equipment with a price tag like a rooftop tent, you want to be sure that the product will 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 delicate 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 canopy's durability, 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 assess durability, we applied several test methods. 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 in remote locations.
All of the tents in this review passed our durability tests, except for one. Some have features that we feel are going to hold up better than others. Some also have features that will reduce wear and tear on the doors and mosquito screens such as hoops and hooks to roll them out of the way so they aren’t getting beat up while getting in or out of the tent.
The Tepui Autana 3, Tepui Kukenam 3, Thule Tepui Explorer Ayer 2, and Thule Tepui Foothill 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, combined with the straps, is less likely to get broken than plastic clips. Both of the Tepui models tested as well as the Thule Tepui Foothill are 4-season tents, so they have thicker canopies. Also, the three-sided zipper on the Tepui and Thule Tepui covers will likely 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 Tepui models come with the option to purchase an additional interchangeable canopy. So if you want to own something tough for gnarly adventures, then a light canopy for warm weather, you can have both without purchasing an entire extra tent. We noticed that the canopy on the Thule Tepui Explorer Ayer is a bit thin, but this may be ideal for warmer climates.
Ease of Conversion
One of the primary benefits of owning a rooftop is that, once installed atop a vehicle, they are impressively quick and easy to convert from travel to camping mode. Even the models that take the longest to change over only take a matter of a few minutes to go from driving nestling up into a warm and cozy bed. 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. For each model, it took us a bit longer to convert from camping mode to travel mode. Again, a minute or two may not seem like a big deal, but if you’re breaking down camp in the rain you’re going to want this process to be as painless and simple as possible.
We converted each tent from travel to camping mode and back 25 times. We timed every conversion and took an average to gain some hard data for comparison. The main determining factor for this metric was the type of ladder each tent uses. Telescoping ladders were the fastest and easiest to deal with except for models with telescoping ladders that need to be completely detached from the tent for travel. Sliding ladders are not ideal because they only have certain settings and sometimes you have to dig into the ground to get the ladder to a safe angle or in extreme cases drill holes if the shortest setting is still too long.
The Yakima and Thule Tepui models all come with telescoping ladders, but the Tepui and models are easier to use. They all extend using the same process, but when it comes time to fold the ladder up, the Tepui and Thule Tepui ladders have 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 Thule Tepui models and the Smittybilt Overlander have included bungee cords that string across the inside of the tent that keep the canopy from bunching up or bulging out of the side of the folding floor when it's time to convert from camping to travel mode. The Tepui Autana 3 includes an annex that hangs from the awning. It isn't a required part of the setup, but conversion gets a little more complicated and time-consuming if you're going to use it.
The Thule Tepui Foothill ladder must be detached and reattached for every use so that it can sit on the folded tent in a parallel position to maintain the slender profile of the overall folded tent with the cover on which adds an extra step while converting between travel mode and camping mode and vice versa.
Ease of Assembly and Installation
Setting up a basic ground tent can quickly become a confusing nightmare until you learn the process. Rooftop tents are in a league of their own. While most of them come most of the way assembled out of the box, the last few parts to attach can be quite the pain. The lightest tent we have tested weighs 93 pounds while some of them can weigh more than 140 pounds. Needless to say, getting them properly assembled and installed on your vehicle is no easy feat. While it is possible to get a rooftop tent onto a vehicle by yourself, it takes some serious muscle power and a bit of ingenuity with an emphasis on personal safety.
We timed each step of the installation process and also noted anything that was extra frustrating or difficult during assembly and attaching them to our testing rack.
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, the Thule Tepui Explorer Ayer 2 and the Yakima Skyrise all come in boxes that slide off the tent sideways. The Smittybilt Overlander and the Thule Tepui Foothill both come in a sandwich-style box that is easy to open and protects the tent. As an added bonus the Foothill comes with the mounting tracks already installed on the base of the tent which makes it one of the easiest to install.
When it comes to assembling your tent and attaching it to your vehicle, all RTTs in this review include the tools required for the task. Even though we have a plethora of tools on hand, we attempted only to use the various wrenches included with each tent for the sake of conducting a true apples-to-apples comparison. In a few instances, we had no choice but to use extra tools and even power tools. It's great that the Tepui and Thule 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. The fact that after assembly there are no tools required to get this model on and off of your rack is a huge bonus. With an extra set of hands you can install the Skyrise on your rack in well under five minutes. Taking it off is just as fast or faster.
Unlike any other tent in our review, Yakima thought to have a configuration in the hole pattern on the tent floor, allowing 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 if you want to rotate the entrance 90 degrees. Having the tent open to the back has many benefits in certain situations. First, your overall footprint will have a long, straight shape rather than an awkward L shape, which might work better at many 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. 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 would need to drill into the Front Runner ladder to get it to the proper angle for our test vehicle. If you need to drill into your ladder and don't have your own drill, you may need to go out and buy one, which adds to the tent's overall cost. Unless you are a seasoned machinist, it is never a good feeling to drill 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.
There is a larger variety of rooftop tent cover types. Some are made of thick rubber, others are made of Cordura. Some are attached by velcro and clips, others are zipped on. Some are completely removed while others only come off on three sides and are then rolled up and strapped up out of the way. The types that are completely removed can often require two people to reattach. Even the ones that roll up can be a pain if you are alone, while some are a breeze for one person to handle.
We removed each cover and then put them back on 25 times to assess cover convenience and gauge how much of a pain they are to deal with. There are three key steps to the procedure of placing 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. 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 Autana 3, the Kukenham 3, Explorer Ayer 2, and Foothill all use. It is great that Thule 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 models, 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.
It is our mission to provide our readers with the best information possible so that you can purchase the perfect products for your needs and budget. During this review, we realized that rooftop tents are a lot more diverse and complicated than a fancy-looking box sitting on top of your vehicle. We took the time to look at the tiny intricacies that separate them from one another by carefully inspecting them and testing them over and over again in a variety of conditions and situations. We hope that having read this review, you will know exactly which rooftop tent to buy. Happy camping.
— Ross Patton
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