Camping. American culture romanticized it long before it looked kind of macho in John Wayne westerns. But bedding down on the ground and sleeping on a thin air mattress isn’t everyone’s cup of bucolic brew. For one thing, it can be uncomfortable. For another, setup and breakdown is nearly always more time consuming than you guesstimate, especially because unless you’re a professional dirtbag, you’re always re-learning the process.
Rooftop tents — boxes that live above the car and readily deploy to create a dwelling you clamber up into via an included foldout ladder — provide a more convenient solution for a lot of would-be, kinda-sorta semi-into-nature types (a.k.a. your significant other who’s not as into pine-scented goodness as you are).
Think of rooftop tents as relatively expensive gateway drugs to the outdoors. Sure, they’ll set you back between $1,500 and $4,000, depending on the model, but once purchased, you’ve got an instant VRBO with you at all times.
Still, there’s some important fine print to understand. You need the right tent for your rig, and shorter-roofed compact cars cannot spread the weight of a heavy, 100-plus-pound shelter as far as the rails of a longer SUV; getting that wrong could damage your car or truck. So note our recommendations for matching the right tent to your car or SUV. You’ll need a friend to help with initial mounting, too.
Lastly, we’ve organized this guide around sophistication and price, and you should know that while softshell tents tend to be lighter and more affordable, they also require a cover when packed and, frequently, a rainfly for foul weather. Their soft surface is less sleek, so it creates more drag, too...
While iKamper started by making four-person hardshell tents, this downsized model fits better on smaller cars, and at 125 pounds, it isn’t much heavier than softshell models (though it is more expensive). Advantages include a sleeker design and quick setup, and if you’re not running it on a compact car, more remaining roof real estate than other hardshell models allow. Also, a clamshell opening allows for a higher peak roof height of 45 inches.