The roof tent is a reasonably recent phenomenon. It's an alternative tent option for backpackers and agile campervanners alike. Let's have a closer look at why that is.
This alternative involves you driving from point to point, completing hikes by day and returning to your mobile roof tent base camp at dusk. It allows you to cover a lot of landscape at the pace you wish but without the need to carry so much gear on your back.
Roof tents also come with the bonus feature of not being on the lumpy, bug-covered ground. Each roof tent in this list has a solid, flat floor, and most come with a built-in mattress, though you may still want to add a sleeping mat. And with a car just below you to store all your muddy gear and clothes, a roof tent can be used solely as a mess-free bedroom.
The best roof tents at a glance:
Best in test: TentBox Classic – View on tentbox.com
Best Value: Front Runner Roof Tent – View on frontrunneroutfitters.com
Best inflatable roof tent: Dometic TRT 140 AIR – View on frontrunneroutfitters.com
Best roof tent design: Thule Approach – View on thule.com
Another use for roof-mounted tents is the quick weekend getaway. Because they're so easy to pitch and collapse, roof tents are a very alluring form of shelter for almost anyone. We're not the only ones that think so. Roof tents are booming in popularity, similar to homemade campervan conversions, except roof tents are more affordable and practical.
The best roof tents in detail
Being called the Classic is very apt because this rooftop tent pretty much nails the concept.
- Hard shell design
- Gas struts
- Useful accessories available
- Very hefty
The TentBox Classic might be the ideal roof tent, but it's expensive. Going a long way to address
- Good value
- Durable fabrics
- Generous internal headroom
- Quite bulky when packed down
The Tentbox Lite 2.0 makes better what was already an excellent model. To update and improve the
- Spacious sleeping quarters
- Reasonable value
- Suitable for smaller cars too
- Larger 4-person XL version available
- Front Runner roof tent is even better value
Inflatable family tents have become a popular alternative to traditional pole-based models in
- Big windows on all sides
- Small eaves let in more light
- Good breathability
- A lot more expensive than other soft shell models here
The TentBox Classic may have taken pole position here, but if you're willing to spend more, the
- Neat accessories
- Clever and unique design
- Most expensive option here
We got our first look at Latitude's roof tents at a recent outdoor show, and it's fair to say they
- Spacious and comfy mattress
- Lots of cool accessories
- Fits almost any car
- Quality materials throughout
- 4kg heavier than TentBox Lite 2.0
We wanted to draw your attention to OEX Vertex Lite because it has a very eye-catching price tag
- Very enticing value
- Quite narrow
What to look for in a roof tent
Roof load limit: Vehicle roofs all have a dynamic roof load limit. You need to know what this is before putting any significant weight on your car roof. Specifically, the dynamic roof load limit refers to the maximum weight a roof can bear while being driven. When parked, the load limit is several times higher.
Size: Rooftop tents vary in size, and some are suitable for bigger vehicles only. Roof tents that have folding bases can often be fitted to small cars, while single-piece roof tents might require at least a medium-sized car.
Mounting system: Most roof tents must sit on lateral roof bars (not just factory-fitted side rails!), so you'll need these too. It's easy to find the correct ones for your car by using the online search filters provided by retailers like Halfords. Another trusted retailer would be Autodoc.
Installation: Though roof tents try to be as light as possible, they also have to balance that with durability. Therefore, they tend to weigh between 45 and 70 kilograms. You're not going to want a roof tent permanently affixed to your roof, so bear in mind you'll want a helping hand getting these things on and off your car.
Internal space: Roof tents tend to have about the same bedroom space as a two-person hiking tent, give or take a few centimetres. Some models have extra niceties like skylights too.
Durability: This is usually what price reflects most. High-quality fabrics are more durable but inevitably cost more. Even if you're a first-timer, it pays to invest in a top-quality roof tent. You'll ultimately have a better experience, which counts for a lot. Plus, if you decide to sell it down the line, you'll get a reasonable second-hand price for it.
Hard or soft shell: Roof tents that collapse down into a sleek hard shell are more aerodynamic and aesthetically satisfying than those that sit under a heavy-duty soft cover. The latter will also save you a little bit on fuel too, but they cost more to buy.
Access: Roof tents come supplied with a telescopic ladder that allow you to easily and safely access the tent. Though, if you're climbing and descending in the dark, you might want a head torch.
How we tested these roof tents
We test tents as thoroughly as any other piece of outdoor equipment we use. Given tents come in a wide variety, we test each against its intended use, whether that be 3-season wild camping, summer backpacking, or high-end roof tents.
To test these roof tents, we hit up a series of (legally approved) wild parking spots across the UK and pitched in a range of weather conditions – from high summer to late autumn. We wouldn't recommend most roof tents for winter camping.
Not only do we take notes on the ease of pitching and obvious features, we also spend a long time examining how the materials stack up against varied conditions, as well as the overall liveability of each roof tent. If we aren't comfortable, or it can't hold up, then it won't make our 'best of' list.
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Chris Williams is a Digital Content Writer for Live For The Outdoors. He trained as a journalist in New Zealand and has been working on Live For The Outdoors since 2021.