Best roof tents for 2024: Camping, elevated

The best rooftop tents offering a blend of convenience and comfort for all sorts of adventures.

Two models of best roof tents

by Chris Williams |
Updated on

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.

Roof tent of an estate car at a campsite at sunset
©Live For The Outdoors

Our shortlist:

Best roof tent: TentBox Classic – View on mountainswarehouse.com

Best value: RoofBunk Explorer Roof Tent – View on roofbunk.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

Best roof tent

TentBox Classic TentBox

Being called the Classic is very apt because this rooftop tent pretty much nails the concept. There is real thought that has gone into the design of the Classic, and it shows.   

Working from the outside in, the Classic tries to be as aerodynamic as possible when collapsed down, partly by having a hard ABS shell rather than folded fabric and partly by being just 27cm thick. Naturally, it attaches to a vehicle roof via roof bars, so you need to have these prior to fitting. Once you do, you can use the included TentBox fixing kit to install the Classic. 

The tent fabric is durable canvas, and the seams are silicone-taped. The zips are also sealed against water ingress. The frame is aluminium, while the hinges and fixings are all stainless steel, so resistance against weathering is sound – the Classic is rated up to wind speeds of 39mph.

Inside the Classic, there is a 6cm foam mattress, which is thicker than the competition. TentBox also offer a memory foam topper as an extra if you want even more comfort. This mattress covers the entire floor and measures 210 by 125cm, which is similar to that of a two-person hiking tent.   

The canvas walls offer good breathability, as users of old camping tents will know. There are also a couple of side pockets and a cargo net for storage. Aiding convenience even more, is the ability to leave your sleeping gear inside when you collapse the Classic down and continue your journey.  

The Classic is at the top-end of the roof tent price range, but we think it's worth if you want the very best roof tent.

Pros

  • Hard shell design
  • Gas struts
  • Sturdy
  • Useful accessories available

Cons

  • Heavier than soft shell models

Best value

RoofBunk ExplorerRoofBunk
Price: £1,049.00

roofbunk.com

We haven't yet tested the RoofBunk Explorer, but it's one that ought to be on your radar if you are on the hunt for a roof tent.

The Explorer boasts the same generous sleeping space (140 x 240cm) as the Latitude Pioneer, with the option of adding a porch/annex for more internal space if you want to. To expand space further, there is also a 3-4 person Explorer XL model.

At 50kg, the Explorer weighs the same as the TentBox Lite 2.0. This, plus roof racks, puts the Explorer well within the dynamic load limits of most cars, even hatchbacks. Though, of course, you need to check this beforehand in your vehicle manual.

The Explorer uses 280gsm polycotton body and a 600D polyester fly, which RoofBunk says have waterproof ratings of 3000mm HH and 5000mm HH, respectively. RoofBunk also says the Explorer can cope with winds up to 40mph.

It's important to note that it's not as sleek as hardshell models when packed down, using a heavy-duty PVC cover instead. We've no qualms about durability and protection, but it does make the Explorer a bulkier, less aerodynamic package.

Pros

  • Lightweight
  • Enticing value
  • Durable materials
  • Generous sleeping space
  • Larger XL model also available

Cons

  • A bit bulkier than a hardshell design

Best rooftop tent for small cars

TentBox Lite 2.0TentBox

The Tentbox Lite 2.0 makes better what was already an excellent model. To update and improve the original Lite, TentBox has added another skylight and enlarged the windows. It's also redesigned the rainfly to make it easier to set up and require fewer poles. TentBox has turned on the travel cover too, using non-fading Cordura-style fabric and replacing most of the Velcro with heavy-duty zips.

The model is a perfect starter option if you like the idea of a roof tent but don't want to fork out for a top-spec model straight away. At 50kg, it's the lightest option in the well-regarded Tentbox range (which also includes the higher-priced Classic and Cargo models), and that's because its feature set is much more stripped back. 

This is basically a pop-up canvas tent that unfolds on the roof of your car. Like most roof tents, the Tentbox Lite attaches very simply to your car's roof bars. Once you've got it all unboxed and attached, all you need to do is drive to your camping spot, remove the PVC cover, unbuckle a few straps, flip it open, drop the telescopic ladder, and you're good to go.  

The Tentbox Lite comes with a comfortable 6cm memory foam mattress that fills the whole interior of the tent. It also has plenty of options for venting and letting in light, with doors at each end, windows at the sides, and two skylights on the roof.

The original Lite sometimes built up a fair bit of condensation during the night. But the 2.0 has better ventilation and uses more breathable materials to reduce this. There is also that fact that when you don't want it on your car, you need a second person to help you safely remove it, and either a big shed or a garage to store it in. But that's the case with almost all other rooftop tents too. 

All in all, the Tentbox Lite is an impressive roof tent at a good price.   

Read our full Tentbox Lite roof tent review

Pros

  • Spacious sleeping quarters
  • Reasonable value
  • Suitable for smaller cars too
  • Larger 4-person XL version available

Cons

  • RoofBunk roof tent is even better value

Best roof tent design

Thule ApproachThule
Price: £2,499.99

www.thule.com

The TentBox Classic may have taken pole position here, but if you're willing to spend more, the Thule Approach is a roof tent jam-packed full of ingenuity.

Those who enjoy stargazing - and we'll take that as everyone - can make use of the four large skylights. Using ceiling windows is a clever touch because you essentially get a panoramic view but also some privacy at the same time.

Like the TentBox Classic, an insulator can be fitted to the Thule Approach, making it easily adaptable to cold temperatures and increasing its versatility. Adding to that is the Approach's rain cover. It boasts a few different configurations, including a Storm Mode for complete weather protection.

Other accessories include an impressive awning and even a shoe organiser. The Thule Approach is an expensive option, no doubt about that. But Thule always delivers on clever design and longevity, and the Approach proves that.

Pros

  • Neat accessories
  • Clever and unique design
  • Three sizes available

Cons

  • Most expensive option here

Best roof tent for mattress comfort

Latitude PioneerLatitude

We got our first look at Latitude's roof tents at a recent outdoor show, and it's fair to say they made a strong first impression. The Pioneer is the lowest-priced option in Latitude's range and is very close in price to the ever-popular TentBox Lite, which it shares a lot of similarities with.

Like many rooftop tents, the Latitude Pioneer will fit almost any vehicle, from hatchback all the way to SUV or campervan, as long as it has roof bars fitted. And once installed, the Pioneer can be set up in a matter of minutes by simply folding out and popping up into full tent form. It's very roomy inside and can officially sleep 3 adults, but that would be snug! Far better for a couple or maybe one parent with two young kids.

The Pioneer's mattress is 6cm high-density foam, and we can vouch for its comfort. The mattress dimensions are 140cm x 240cm, so it's bigger than a double bed, and you can even fold the tent down with sleeping bags and pillows already in position. Which means more space in your car and that your bed is ready to go as soon as you open the tent.

Most of the info above you'll already be familiar with from other roof tent reviews. But what made the Latitude Pioneer stand out for us was the high quality of the materials, the attention to small details, and the passion of company owner and founder Charlie, who gave us a tour of his creation.

The Pioneer is fully waterproof, with all edges double-stitched with a silicone sealant backing for extra durability. The stainless steel hardware and aluminium tubes all feel built to last, and the windows, doors, and skylights are well-positioned to give you great views when you want to lay back and admire the surrounding landscape. You also get a telescopic ladder, hanging shoe bag, internal stash pockets, and Velcro access panels so you can run cables from the car into the tent.

Is it as good as the TentBox Lite? Hard to tell without giving it a proper test drive, which we'll be doing this summer – stay tuned!

Pros

  • Spacious and comfy mattress
  • Lots of cool accessories
  • Fits almost any car
  • Quality materials throughout

Cons

  • 4kg heavier than TentBox Lite 2.0

Best inflatable roof tent

Dometic TRT 140 AIRDometic

Inflatable family tents have become a popular alternative to traditional pole-based models in recent years. Negating the need to assemble poles and insert them into sleeves is understandably appealing. But compared to roof tents with their self-propelled struts, what's the advantage of inflatable? It's a much more even playing field.

To erect the TRT 140 AIR, unfold the tent and inflate it with its 12V pump via the single inflation point. In terms of energy exertion, it's possibly even easier than regular roof tents.

The Dometic is made from a polycotton fabric. It makes the tent more expensive, but you see your return in the form of breathability and durability. Large windows all round help to further reduce condensation.

This is a very easy-to-use roof tent, and its big windows are a major bonus. However, it is expensive and doesn't pack down to a hard roof box-style shell.

Pros

  • Big windows on all sides
  • Small eaves let in more light
  • Good breathability

Cons

  • A lot more expensive than other soft shell models here

Best roof tent under £1000

OEX Vertex Lite Blacks
Price: £889 (RRP £1500)

www.ultimateoutdoors.com

We wanted to draw your attention to OEX Vertex Lite because it has a very eye-catching price tag of well under a grand.

We haven't tested it yet, but think it's well worth investigating by those considering a roof tent who may be understandably hesitant because of price.

Because of the Vertex Lite's low weight of under 40kg and because it folds out, it's suitable for any vehicle, including smaller hatchbacks.

It has a decent waterproof rating of 3,000mm HH and comes with a tough 600D cover. But we have noticed it is decidedly narrower than the other options here at just 110cm of internal width, which could be restrictive for some.

Pros

  • Lightweight
  • Very enticing value

Cons

  • Quite narrow

What to look for in a roof tent

Tentbox lite

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 allows 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.

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.

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