Skip to main content

7 Solid Reasons Not To Buy a Rooftop Tent

Rooftop tents (RTTs) are the darlings of the overlanding world right now. It seems nothing gives you more social media cred than showing off a new rooftop tent on your latest epic, off-grid camping expedition (bonus points if it’s captured with drone footage). It’s no surprise that Instagram and YouTube are full of rooftop tent videos. That’s all with good reason: They’re versatile, comfortable to sleep in, and look damn cool to boot. Plus, they provide most ordinary street vehicles with travel trailer-esque utility without the sky-high price tag of actually buying an RV. But, there are downsides, especially for softshell rooftop tents. Some are obvious, some not so obvious, especially for first-time buyers.

If you’re shopping for rooftop tents right now, you no doubt know all the pros of owning one. You don’t need us to convince you to buy one. Before you drop $3,000 on the best rooftop tent you can find, however, consider the cons, too. We’re not trying to talk you out of buying one, but it’s worth understanding what you’re getting into.

Related Videos
A couple camping by a campfire with a jeep with a rooftop tent.

Rooftop Tents Are Expensive

If you already own or are shopping for a rooftop tent, you’re aware of the most obvious drawback: The price. Rooftop tents are expensive. Some of the best camping tents on the market cost less than $400, while even entry-level rooftop tents start north of a thousand dollars. For upgraded models that are lightweight, made with better materials, and boast integrated features like LED lighting, solar panels, and heated back massagers, that price balloons quickly to several thousand dollars or more. Pickup owners will likely need to purchase a special rack to mount a new RTT in the bed of their truck. Some car and SUV owners may also need to buy a roof rack or additional hardware to mount a new RTT to their vehicles. It adds up fast.

A couple relaxing inside a rooftop tent.

They “Trap” You

This fact is perhaps the best reason not to buy a rooftop tent, and the one most prospective buyers overlook. Camping or overlanding with an RTT means that your shelter and transportation are one and the same. Once you make camp and set up your tent, you can’t explore the surrounding area with your vehicle without breaking it all down first and resetting it up later. That might not seem like a big deal, especially with many RTT owners on social media highlighting their (completely unrealistic) sub-60-second breakdowns. In reality, many of the best rooftop tents take ten to 20 minutes or more to completely break down and another ten to 20 minutes to set up again. Depending on your exploration style, this can easily waste an hour or two every day.

A first-person view of a man's legs in a rooftop tent in the mountains.

Rooftop Tents Are Loud

If you’re a light sleeper, know that sleeping in a softshell rooftop tent can be loud — very loud. It’s not surprising since they’re elevated off the ground by design and made of a complex web of overlapping fabric. Wind buffeting, especially in high-wind areas, can cause that fabric and rainfly to flap violently to the point of being downright deafening. For most of us who escape into the backcountry for peace and quiet, that fact alone can be a dealbreaker.

A parked vehicle with a rooftop tent at dusk with trees in the background.

They Require Level Ground

Unless you’re a bat or a tree sloth, you enjoy sleeping in a reasonably level position. Leveling a ground tent is easy. Before pitching, just move it around in the dirt and lie down to check for level. Leveling a rooftop tent means leveling your entire vehicle, which requires leveling blocks, a bubble level (if you want to save yourself some serious headaches), and potentially driving and reversing for a while every time you make camp. It’s not difficult, but it is tedious.

A man climbing a ladder to set up a rooftop tent on top of his vehicle at a campsite.

They Don’t Come Off

More specifically: They won’t come off. Technically, they’re not permanent. But, most models weigh between 100 to 200 pounds. Add to that they’re clunky and cumbersome, which means you’ll almost certainly need a friend or two to help with the uninstall. Realistically, once you install yours, you’re unlikely to ever take it off, even when you don’t need it. It’s more convenient and back-saving to leave it on all the time. That leads to the next point.

A Toyota 4Runner overlanding with a rooftop tent.

Rooftop Tents Kill Gas Mileage

No matter how lightweight or streamlined the RTT, your gas mileage will take a hit after installing one. It’s simple physics. Your vehicle will be less aerodynamic, especially on the highway, and forced to move more weight than usual. From a gas mileage perspective, it’s like having an additional adult passenger in your car at all times. Losing a couple of miles-per-gallon might not seem like much, but for gas-hungry trucks and SUVs, even a minor hit to fuel efficiency stings at the gas pump.

A silhouette of a man, tent, and vehicle with a rooftop tent in the wilderness.

They Don’t Actually Protect You From Critters

One apparent benefit of rooftop tents over traditional camping tents is being off the ground and away from critters. Truthfully, anything that crawls on the ground has no problem climbing the side of your vehicle and onto — or into — your tent. Depending on where you’re camping, that includes spiders, ants, mice, squirrels, wolverines, and most certainly bears. It might feel more secure than a typical tent. In reality, it’s not.

With all of this said, we don’t hate rooftop tents. They’re awesome for the right style of camper with the right discretionary income. But, if you’re considering buying one, don’t rely solely on overlanding influencers for your research. It’s just not as simple as they make it look.

Editors' Recommendations

The 7 Best Mobile Camp Kitchens for an Epic Camp Cookout
Friends sharing a meal while camping by a lake

A fresh, hot meal is usually out of the question when it comes to camping or hiking in the wilderness. Most people usually munch on trail mix, sandwiches, or beef jerky for sustained energy. But what if we told you that foods like fire-roasted hot dogs, seared steaks, and even spaghetti with meatballs are all possible to cook in the great outdoors? Well, thanks to the magic of camp cooking gear, you're able to cook almost any type of food in any location. So check out our top picks below that will guarantee a gourmet meal for your next camping adventure.

Read more
Here Are Some of the Best Van Life Tips and Gear

In recent years, one hashtag has gained such an enormous following that it has literally resulted in a new (or at least newly popularized) lifestyle: #vanlife. While, admittedly, people have been living in vehicles in one form or another ever since the invention of the automobile, the van life movement is characterized less by necessity and more by the attempt to make van living as comfortable -- and in some cases even luxurious -- as possible.

There was a time when van life was referred to -- somewhat more humbly -- as “living in your car.” But these days the lifestyle has gotten significantly more sophisticated and comfortable. To that end, let’s take a look at everything you need to know about embarking on your first van life this summer.

Read more
Tent Buying Guide: How To Find the Best Tent for Your Trip

Choosing the right tent is a big decision. When purchasing a camping tent you have to consider the variety of models, features, and purposes. To make it easier, we composed this convenient and practical tent buying guide to help you find a good shelter, so you can get off the computer and be back outdoors.

The main thing to consider is what you'll be doing. Will you be car camping with lots of space and no weight limits? Or will you be backpacking with limited weight and space? You don’t want to discover you’ve made the wrong choice while camped above tree-line in inclement weather. Fortunately, there’s a perfect tent for every type of adventurer – whether you’re a fast-and-light backpacker, a dedicated car-camper who prefers to travel with a cache of creature comforts, or still in the process of planning your very first night out under the stars.

Read more