Roof top tents (RTTs) are becoming more and more popular, and for good reason. With a tent mounted on top of your vehicle, you have the advantage of being off the ground, which means you will not be as susceptible to flooding or critters getting into your tent. It also means that less dirt and mud will be tracked into the tent, and you have more airflow for improved ventilation.
Roof top tents are designed to be more durable than ground tents and they are generally quicker and easier to set up too. Plus, RTTs often include a built-in mattress so you don’t have to mess around with uncomfortable air mattresses that are difficult to inflate.
Hard shell RTTs have some definite advantages over soft shells. Here’s a few more reasons we love them:
- To start, they are much better insulated than soft shell tents which means they stay a more comfortable temperature throughout the year and, due to the smaller amount of fabric involved, they are much quieter to sleep in, especially in windy conditions.
- Often the mattresses in hard shell RTTs are thicker and more comfortable than in soft shell tents as well.
- Setting up and stowing a hard shell tent is much easier and quicker and can be done by one person even in adverse weather.
- Due to the more rugged construction, they often last longer than soft shells.
- Finally, with many hard shell tents, you have the option to add storage on top of the tent, which can still be used even when the tent is deployed.
Our 10 Favorite Hard Shell Roof Top Tents
Ready to dive into the list of best hard shell roof top tents? We’ve compiled a list of our favorites, including several different styles and price ranges. This list is in no particular order as all 10 of these options are outstanding!
1. Alu-Cab Expedition 3
Alu-Cab is based out of Cape Town, South Africa, and they have been outfitting expedition vehicles as well as building high-quality aluminum vehicle products since 2002. Nearly every large safari company in Africa uses Alu-Cab vehicles, which gives you a good idea of the durability and quality of their products.
The Expedition 3 Roof Top Tent is made entirely of aluminum, which allows it to carry a heavy load on the built-in crossbars and means that it can be set up very quickly. This wedge-style tent features gas-pressure springs and three entrances with mosquito nets.
The tent is also designed to keep the rain out, with the upper shell being wider than the tent itself, and all the entrances are slightly undercut so rain doesn’t drip in. The tent can be secured closed with padlocks as well. All of the seams of the tent are reinforced and waterproofed.
The floor and roof panels are insulated with closed-cell polyethylene foam which helps prevent condensation, regulates against extreme temperatures, and minimizes rain and wind noise. The tent comes with a high-density foam mattress, and there are several pockets built into the roof for storage, as well as two LED reading lights. This tent weighs in at about 170 pounds.
2. Autohome Maggiolina Extreme
The Maggiolina Extreme has a stylish and aerodynamic profile and comes with two adjustable load bars on the top that can carry additional gear. This pop-up style tent features a crank-operated lift system that allows you to smoothly open the tent with minimal effort.
The floor panel of this tent is a double layer of fiberglass that sandwiches a layer of foam, which makes it very strong, rigid, and well-insulated against harsh temperatures. A 3.5-inch closed-cell foam mattress is removable for easy cleaning. The Extreme mattress is 72 inches long, but there are two widths available: small (48 inches wide) and medium (54 inches wide).
One of the main complaints with RTTs is that the wind noise can be disruptive to sleep, but the Maggiolina Extreme guarantees a quiet night’s sleep due to the crank design which allows you to tension the sides of the tent to minimize flapping.
They can withstand winds of more than 50 miles per hour! Thermal and acoustic insulation in the roof panel means that you won’t be disturbed by rain noise either, and you’ll stay warm even in the coldest camping locations.
3. Go Fast Camper RTT
If you are looking for a super sleek RTT, this is your tent. It is the thinnest RTT ever made at 6 inches thick when it’s closed. GFC even makes a special mounting kit for 5th Generation 4Runners that allows you to delete the sharkfin antenna and mount the tent just half an inch above the factory sheet metal. Talk about a low profile!
This wedge-style tent opens to an impressive 4 feet of interior height and weighs in at only 150 pounds. It can hold 75 pounds of additional storage weight on the top rack, and comes with a universal mounting kit that will work with nearly any crossbars on the market as long as they are 56 inches in width. A 2-inch multi-density foam mattress with a removable cover is included, although a ladder is not.
Go Fast Campers are built in Bozeman, Montana, with all the components sourced from the U.S. and most of them machined or fabricated in-house by the GFC team.
4. Roost Explorer
The Roost Explorer is another wedge-style RTT, but it has the interesting option of removing the mattress and tent material so that it can function as a roof top cargo carrier instead, with 13 inches of height at the back and 5 inches of height at the front. This is a great option for transporting skis and other unwieldy pieces of equipment.
This RTT is quite roomy, with an inside height of 59 inches when deployed, 90.5 inches of length, and 57 inches of width. It can sleep three adults if necessary, or two adults very comfortably. The standard mattress is 2-inch high-density foam, although you can upgrade to a 3-inch mattress for extra comfort.
Each of the three doors has a screen door layer as well. It comes with an 8.5-foot telescoping aluminum ladder that stows at just 27 inches long. The tent has heavy-duty lockable rear latches that secure the tent shell tightly together to minimize vibration noise. Gas lifter shocks easily open the lid.
5. RoofNest Sparrow
This 130-pound pop-up style RTT is a perfect option for medium to small cars, with a universal mounting system and requiring a crossbar length of only 38 inches. Two adults can fit comfortably in this tent, which includes a 3-inch foam mattress, an anti-condensation mat, and an 8.5-foot telescoping ladder.
The tent has stainless steel gas struts that pop the tent up with just a touch. The strong design of the tent floor means it can support up to 650 pounds.
The ABS-fiberglass shell is coated on the inside with a layer of insulation and covered with quilted fabric to give it a cozy and homey feel. The tent has two windows and two doors, all with canvas and mesh layers so you can zip up in a storm or feel a cool breeze on warm nights. The doorways can be converted into shade awnings with the included poles as well.
6. BunduTec BunduTop
BunduTec was started in Johannesburg, South Africa, and launched its USA branch in 2013. These RTTs are made with designs and materials that have withstood the harsh conditions of South Africa and Botswana. The BunduTop is a pop-up style tent that comes in three sizes: standard, king, and super king. Alternatively, you can order a custom tent of any size up to 63 inches wide and 118 inches long.
The design of this tent allows you to enter from any side and provides a 360-degree view of your surroundings. It has two pockets inside for storing small items, an LED light, and a cigarette lighter plug so you can charge devices. Solar wiring is included in case you choose to add a panel.
The roof is a raw aluminum sheet which is extremely efficient at reflecting heat, keeping you cool and comfortable inside even in direct sunlight. A 2000-pound winch motor raises and lowers the tent using a rope and pulley. The tent is designed to withstand 50 mile per hour winds and holds up well even in snow.
7. Eezi-Awn Stealth
Another South African-made tent, this aluminum RTT is unique in that it combines wedge-style and pop-up style tents. When deployed, it has the classic wedge shape, but at the front end of the tent, there is a patented scissor mechanism that raises the roof panel up by nearly a foot, providing extra foot space at that end.
Gas struts allow you to open the tent with just a touch. An integrated awning at the back entrance gives you protection from direct sunlight and rain as you enter and exit your tent. A telescoping aluminum ladder is included. This tent features large storage pockets on either side, a 12-volt socket and USB port, plus an LED light.
8. iKamper Skycamp 2.0
The Skycamp 2.0 is another unique RTT: it combines elements of hard shell and soft shell tents. When closed, this tent resembles any other hard shell RTT, with locking double-layered FRP top and bottom panels. However, it opens lengthwise, with the hinge along the driver’s side of the vehicle.
Like a soft shell tent, it then folds out over the opposite side of the vehicle, essentially doubling the floor space and allowing four people to sleep comfortably. By parking strategically, you can have the rigid roof panel take the brunt of any wind or adverse weather, although this tent will be more exposed to the elements than the other hard shell RTTs on this list.
The gas struts have a locking feature though, so you don’t have to worry about the tent collapsing around you if the wind picks up.
The tent is made of insulating poly-cotton canvas, but you also have the option to switch to a lighter weight Airflow Summer Tent (which is sold separately) if you find that you get too hot with the canvas tent in warm weather. This South Korean company promises that you can set up this elaborate RTT in less than 60 seconds!
9. Tepui HyBox
The HyBox has the dual function of a pop-up RTT and a cargo box: simply zip the tent portion off or on to suit your needs. When used as a cargo box, it offers a substantial 23 cubic feet of space. You can open both ends to easily access all your storage, or just pop one end (so it opens like a wedge) to quickly grab something.
This tent has a universal mounting system so it can go on almost any vehicle. The interior of the hard shell is lined with reinforced quilted insulation which minimizes sounds and extreme temperatures. The tent comes with an 8.5-foot telescoping aluminum ladder and 3-inch foam mattress with a removable cover for easy washing. You can remove the entire mattress for extra cargo space as well.
10. Cascadia Vehicle Tents Mt. St. Helens
This luxurious pop-up RTT comes with the option of hydraulic gas or electric actuators to deploy the tent. It comes in both a standard and extended option. This tent can be installed on a variety of vehicles and features built-in awnings over both windows and both doors.
The Mt. St. Helens is quite customizable as well, from the shell color to the fabric color of the tent. It comes with a 3-inch foam mattress and a telescoping ladder.
Soft Shell Vs. Hard Shell Roof Top Tents
There are two main types of RTTs: hard shell and soft shell. Let’s take a look at the differences and some pros and cons.
Hard Shell RTTs – Hard shell tents have rigid top and bottom pieces (usually aluminum or fiberglass) that essentially sandwich any soft parts (tent walls, mattress, bedding, etc.) between them when the tent is closed to create a protective barrier.
The advantages of this style include the fact that they generally close down smaller and are more aerodynamic than soft shell RTTs. This also means that they have less of an adverse effect on gas mileage and they won’t alter your vehicle’s center of gravity as much.
There are two basic hard shell RTT designs: the wedge style and the pop-up style. The wedge style involves a hinge at the end of the tent that’s closest to the front of your vehicle (where your feet go), and the back end of the tent then opens up several feet, giving you lots of headroom.
Since these types of RTTs require a less complex opening mechanism that takes up less room, they are often longer and more spacious when compared to pop-up versions. Additionally, wedge-style tents tend to fare better in inclement weather, since they can divert wind and shed rain or snow more effectively.
Pop-up style RTTs have a roof portion that raises equally all over, creating a box-shaped tent. They tend to be shorter in length since there’s no unusable space at one end like with the wedge style. Pop-up tents often feel more spacious though, especially if you have two people camping in one.
Soft Shell RTTs – The main benefit of soft shell RTTs is that they can expand to double or even triple their original size due to platforms that fold out and optional additional vestibules. They also tend to be cheaper than hard shell RTTs. Most soft shell tents require manual unfolding, so they take slightly longer to set up than hard shell tents.
As with hard shells, there are two main styles of soft shell RTTs: bi-fold and pull-up tents. The bi-fold design is more common and it works by sandwiching the entire stowed tent between the two floorboard plates, so the footprint of the packed tent is half the size of when it’s deployed.
These can be somewhat difficult to pack up however, since there is a lot of fabric to be folded and tucked away between the two plates.
The pull-up style of soft shell tent looks more like a ground tent but functions like a wedge-style hard shell, where the support poles are simply pulled up into place, which stretches the fabric walls taught. These are simpler to set up and easier to stow than the bi-fold options.
Feature image (top): bundutecusa.com
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Cat is originally from Seattle, WA but has traveled around the US and Canada full-time in a self-converted school bus with her boyfriend Aaron since April of 2018. She enjoys rock climbing, paddleboarding, hiking, and generally being outdoors!