Car tents were once ridiculously expensive ways for wealthy outdoors people to set up camp in the wilderness. Things like rooftop tents started off as niche products to let anyone with enough money set up camp anywhere where their car could go. Nowadays, however, car and SUV tents are available in all shapes and sizes, and prices, becoming accessible to a variety of campers.
Unlike a traditional tent, a rooftop tent mounts directly to your car’s roof crossbars. Forget about having to find a flat, soft patch of dirt to pitch your tent on. With a rooftop tent, you can practically camp anywhere. Most rooftop tents come with a foam mattress for added comfort, while they feature solid build quality with thick tent poles and durable fabrics.
Another type of tent that car owners can purchase to sleep outdoors is one that fits onto the back of your vehicle’s cargo area. These fit around your vehicle, acting as an extension. You’ll have to sleep on the floor, but you still get the comfort of being close to your car and even sleeping in it if you want to.
Before purchasing a rooftop tent, there are a few things you’ll want to consider. Car and SUV tents can be incredibly bulky. Most weigh around 100 to 200 pounds. Unless you’re a heavyweight lifter, getting these set up on your vehicle alone will be difficult. Rooftop tents can be big, also, so you’ll need a vehicle that’s large enough to carry the weight. Be sure to check your owner’s manual to see how much weight your roof rack can hold, because you could need to invest in an aftermarket one.
If, after considering whether you want to go with a rooftop tent over a traditional one, these are the six best options on the market.
Thule focuses on offering products that are all about helping people explore nature. While Thule is mostly known for its roof racks and cargo carriers, the company has quite a few rooftop tents on sale.
The Explorer Autana 3 has space for up to three people and is made from coated 600 denier and a 260-g poly-cotton blend to protect users from bad weather. This is a four-season tent thanks to large mesh panels that can be opened during warmer weather and closed for heat retention. When the time comes to turn in for the night, the built-in foam mattress is supposed to be just as comfortable as the one you have at home.
To help owners get into the tent, the Autana 3 has a telescoping ladder, so you don’t have to purchase an extension for vehicles that are lifted. For moments where you want to have a little privacy, the rooftop tent has an extended private canopy entrance with a removable annex.
If you’re wary of putting a tent on top of your car, and we can totally understand why, there’s the North East Harbor Universal SUV tent. It’s available in multiple sizes that include models with enough room to sleep up to eight people. Unlike other tents, this one connects to the cargo area of your vehicle, providing you with extra space and the added comfort of being able to sleep inside your car if that’s what you want to do. Since this has a universal fitment, it can connect to your SUV, wagon, crossover, or minivan.
The Universal SUV Tent from North East Harbor may not be as upscale as a rooftop tent, but it’s far more affordable. Its design makes it a lot easier to set up than a rooftop tent, too. You’re getting durable polyester taffeta fabric and a sturdy polyurethane floor to keep water and bugs out of the tent. When you’re ready to move on, all you have to do is disconnect the tent from your cargo area and let it stand on its own. You’ll want to make sure you’re in a nice area where your tent won’t be stolen before leaving it behind for a few hours.
For drivers who demand that their vehicles be able to tackle rigorous terrain without breaking a sweat, there’s the Smittybilt Overland Rooftop Tent. It has been designed to stand up to abuse and repetitive use and is built with the idea of being able to protect users from the elements, bugs, mud, and airflow. A heavy-duty 600D ripstop skin, a hefty frame, and an extended rainfly the rooftop tent all mean business.
The rooftop tent can sleep two or three adults and has a bunch of features outdoorsy people will enjoy. There’s a sunroof that you can fold back to let some rays in, built-in LED strips to light up the inside, and side windows with mosquito netting. These things might sound like overkill, but it’s better to have some extra goodies when you’re spending some time outdoors.
The Front Runner Rooftop Tent’s main selling point is that it weighs just 93 pounds and is shorter than 8 inches tall when packed on top of your car’s roof. These dimensions make the brand’s rooftop tent one of the lighter and lower profile ones on the market. While these may seem like small upsides, the tent’s small size means it will be easier to set up and will save you money on fuel when you’re driving around.
Because of its small size, the tent has room for two people. Like other rooftop tents, Front Runner’s option has a built-in mattress with a washable and mildew-resistant polyester Oxford fabric cover. There are skylight vent windows in the roof that can be unzipped for fresh air or a starlight view of the night sky. Getting to the top of the rooftop tent is easy thanks to a retractable aluminum ladder, while zippered privacy panels let you have as much privacy as you want.
Overland Vehicle Systems makes a few rooftop tents, but the Nomadic 3 Extended Rooftop Tent should be the best fit for most people looking to spend some time outdoors. The Nomadic 3 is the middle version of the Nomadic lineup, being a three-person tent. It offers some of the best waterproofing ability with a marine-grade 600D rip-stop polyester cotton canvas and a 420D polyester Oxford waterproof rain fly.
The rooftop tent also has a three-inch foam mattress, an insulated base, and breathable windows to keep things comfortable on the inside. The inside of the tent can be lit up with a strip of 40 LED lights that plug into a standard USB port. To help you organize all of your equipment in easy-to-access areas, the tent has six built-in storage pockets located throughout the inside.
Raptor Series claims that its Voyager Rooftop Tent is the lightest rooftop tent in its class, but doesn’t provide a weight figure for the tent. So, we’ll just have to take its word for it. The tent can be set up and closed in seconds, as the unique design, which isn’t the prettiest one available, results in a setup that doesn’t require a lot of wasted time to put things together. Setup is incredibly easy, as all users have to do is remove the PVC driving cover, erect the tent by pulling the deployment strings, and attach two hooks onto the vehicle. After that, you’re ready to lay your head.
Once set up, the tent offers space for two and a high-density foam mattress that’s far more comfortable than an inflatable camping pad. The tent features a built-in awning, which gives people on the inside a great view of the outdoors. The awning gives the tent a unique aerodynamic design that helps it guide air and water away from the inside. The downside to that is you’ll want to pay attention to the way the wind is blowing before setting the tent up.
Taller passengers may find rooftop tents to be troublesome. That’s when something like Napier’s Backroadz SUV Tent seems like a better fit. It’s a spacious ground tent that fits onto the back of your vehicle and offers a generous seven feet of headroom. In addition to giving people tons of headroom, the tent offers seating for up to five people. The Backroadz tent is also good at holding gear, as it has a pocket for small equipment and an overhead lantern holder for night-time.
The tent’s simple pole hub design means that it can be assembled in just 10 minutes. That’s not bad for a tent that has 100 square feet of space. That doesn’t include the space you’ll get when you connect the tent to the back of your vehicle. To keep the elements on the outside of the tent, the Backroadz comes with a full rainfly and storm flaps, as well as an awning over the entrance.
Buy a Backroadz tent and a tree will be planted through Trees of the Future, as if you needed another reason to purchase the tent.
- The best PHEV SUVs you can get right now (and we have a surprise favorite)
- The BMW Z8 is an underappreciated gem (and maybe the best Bond car)
- Forget the car wash: These are the best car soaps to get the job done yourself
- The 7 best sports cars under $50k: Get an amazing ride without breaking the bank
- Report: The car colors with the best (and worst) resale value