How Long Should Roof Top Tents Last? A Maintenance Guide

When you buy a new roof top tent for Overlanding, it’s normal to wonder how long it is going to last. It’s a sizable investment and no one wants to dish out big bucks on something that won’t be able to withstand the tests of time. With proper maintenance and care, roof top tents can last even longer than you would expect.

How long should roof top tents last?  Roof Top Tents should last at least 3-5 years of heavy use if properly maintained. If you only use it once it a while it could last much longer. Beginner or entry-level tents may have shorter lifespans because they are made with lower-quality materials. The longevity of a rooftop tent will heavily depend on these factors:

  • Quality and brand of the tent
  • Hard Shell or Soft Shell
  • How frequently it is used
  • Conditions it is used in
  • Your maintenance of it

Roof top tents(RTT) are a unique way to camp with added safety and cleanliness by being elevated off the ground. The added features also tend to come with a higher price tag than a standard tent. So, maintaining and cleaning your tent regularly is crucial to its longevity.

How Long Should A Roof Top Tent Last?

Buying a Roof Top Tent That Will Last

While maintaining your tent correctly will help the tent last longer, the first step is buying the right tent for your specific uses. A roof top tent for the occasional camper that uses it 2-5 times per year will have different features from one intended to be used by someone who plans to use it a dozen times per year.

However, if you love a rugged adventure in extreme temperatures, wild weather, and venturing into the unknown – you need a tent that matches your spirit. 

If you buy the wrong tent for your specific purposes, the maintenance and how you care for the tent will help, but it still won’t last as long as if you purchased a more appropriate tent from the start. 

While you research new tents, you will want to look at durability factors and reviews. The purchase of a rooftop tent is a significant investment. While many times the price tag will reflect the quality of the tent, you can still find some steals on exceptionally durable rooftop tents.

How Do Different Styles of Roof Top Tents Stack Up?

The maintenance and lifespan of roof top tents often have to do with the style of the tent. Overlanding enthusiasts often debate about which tent is better. Each side bases their arguments on how they look at these features:   

  • Safety
  • Features
  • Size
  • Value

But when considering how long the tent will last, your goals play a decisive role in deciding which will be best. The winner will be the one that best matches your camping needs.  

Hard Shell Roof Top Tents

Hard shell roof top tents are typically made from either fiberglass or aluminum. There are small amounts of fabric generally used to connect the shells. The fiberglass will be the heavier option, while the aluminum offers a great way to still have that hard outer shell for durability while being a bit lighter.

iKamper Skycamp 2.0 Hard Shell Roof Top Tent
iKamper Skycamp 2.0 Hard Shell Roof Top Tent

Do not let the lightweight aluminum fool you, though. Any reputable brand will use a high-quality aluminum that is going to provide the support and reliability you need in the structure. 

Both fiberglass and aluminum options should be extremely durable options that could, ideally, last you a lifetime. This is with the caveat that you properly care for the tent and maintain the integrity of the structure. 

With that said, if you put your hard shell roof top tent through the wringer and you’re out exploring treacherous landscapes every other weekend, it could start to see some wear and tear that could eventually mean a curtain call for the tent. 

Hard Shells are typically also going to be more expensive because of the materials they are made of. But if you plan to use it a lot, and in harsh conditions, it may end up being the better purchase for you in the long run with a better chance of lasting longer.

Soft Shell Roof Top Tents

Just because these tents are made from a softer material does not mean they cannot be durable. The innovations that have come out of this industry in making soft shell tents more durable against the elements has been impressive.

The keys to durable soft shell roof top tents are in the material. It needs to be 100% waterproof and be thick enough. The use of ripstop technology to prevent tears or punctures is also something to look out for. Don’t forget about the rainfly when considering these features, either. You want the rainfly to be just as durable as the rest of the tent and to do its job in keeping water any type of moisture out.

If your softshell roof top tent is made from quality material and you properly maintain it, it should be able to last at least 3-5 years. That timeline can easily be extended for those not using it often or who don’t have it out in harsh conditions. But a reasonable expectation to set will be a few years at the minimum.  

There are quite a few levels of quality when it comes to softshell tents. If you are a beginner and want something easy, lightweight, but maybe not the most durable, it won’t end up costing as much. 

How to Keep Your Roof Top Tent Clean

One of the best practices you can have with your roof top tent will be regular cleanings of it. Both hard shell and soft shell tents will take a beating on trips. But roof top tents are in a class of their own for how much dirt, soot, and other debris that gets cakes onto them. The cleaning process will depend on the material and style of the tent. 

Always check your manual from the manufacturer. They will typically leave some instruction on the best cleaning practices. You can also check the manufacturer website for additional information specific to the brand, material, and style tent.

Cleaning Hard or Soft Shell Roof Top Tents

Frequent cleanings that use a mild cleaner will always be best. You do not want to wait until there are layers of dirt or grime that has built up. At that point, you may need to either use a heavy-duty cleaner that will be harsh on the material of the tent or do deep scrubbing that can be tiresome overtime for the shell. 

Using a mild detergent or cleaner will be enough to clean a rooftop tent that is used to receiving regular cleanings. The frequency of cleaning will depend on the frequency of use. 

A great habit to maintain is to wipe down the tent after each use. It does not have to be a thorough cleaning, but even just a simple wipe down. This means when you do want to do a full cleaning, inside and out, that the tent will already be in decent shape and won’t need as much attention.

It may seem redundant, but a quick wipe down with soft, clean cloths, warm water, and a mild detergent will help ensure your tent lasts longer and will make the cleaning efforts much more manageable.

Cleaning a Hard Shell Roof Top Tent

Whether it is fiberglass or aluminum, hard shell rooftop tents can be cleaned the same way. The mild cleaner, water, and cloth will be great for easy wipe downs.

For fiberglass models that you want to keep looking great and functioning at a high level, it’s smart to have some marine wax on hand. Most fiberglass rooftop tents will have a thin layer of a gel coating over the fiberglass Marine wax is the perfect solution for both materials.

After cleaning the surface with soap and water, a layer of marine wax will go a long way. It helps lock on that cleanliness, keep dirt off the surface, and it will even help add a layer of UV protection. For a rooftop tent that is constantly exposed to the sun’s rays, this is a great way to ensure a longer lifespan for the shell. 

Depending on the brand you go with, there will be instructions for the amount you will want to use and how long to keep it on before wiping it down again. Any reputable brand will be good, as they should all be geared towards fiberglass and gel coated surfaces. 

But here are some top brands we like for keeping the shell healthy:

Aesthetically, marine wax will also help add a nice shine, embolden colors, and can sometimes even help remove dullness or light oxidation as well. 

Cleaning a Soft Shell Rooftop Tent

Many of the same guidelines apply for soft shell tents, but it is even more important to stick to mild detergents and soaps for cleaning. Depending on the material of your softshell tent, you do not want to use any chemical that could potentially begin eating through the fabric over time.

Another good tip for soft shells will be in the drying process. This isn’t as important will hard shells that can easily air dry. After you wash down your softshell tent, you should use a dry sponge or highly absorbent cloth to dry it down. 

Softshell tents tend to collect mold when they stay wet for extended periods. So, always be sure to give it a thorough drying, and if possible, let it stay out in the sunshine on a nice warm day to help the drying process. 

How to Keep a Roof Top Tent in Great Condition

Aside from cleaning the tent regularly, you can also take other measures to ensure the longevity of the tent. These tents are out in the elements in some of the most extreme conditions. So, while cleaning and taking care of the tent in between trips is essential, it’s equally as important to make sure you are practicing proper use while out on every adventure.

Preventing Mold

A roof top tent’s worst enemy is mold, especially in the case of softshell tents. Mold can sneak its way into a tent without you realizing it if you’re not keeping careful tabs on the current condition of it after each trip.

Luckily, one of the perks of having a rooftop tent is that mold does become less likely as compared to a traditional ground tent. On the ground, you are also fighting additional moisture coming up from the ground that can easily cause mold very quickly without proper care and taking precautions.

Even when the rooftop tents bare elevated off the ground, there is still a good chance of the tent being infected with mold if it’s not cared for properly.

Here are a few ways to combat mold:

  • Store multiple absorbent cloths or sponges with you. After a rainstorm, give the tent a good wipe down.
  • If the sun comes out after a rain, make sure you are not in the shade and let the tent soak up all that sun to help the drying process.
  • If anything inside the tent got wet, remove it and allow it to dry outdoors before bringing it back into the tent.
  • If any of the tent itself got wet on the inside, wipe everything down and open the flaps to allow some sunshine and a breeze come through for natural drying.

If mold appears, make sure to address it immediately. Use a soft brush or toothbrush to scrub away the mold with a cleaning product specifically designed to fight it. Some great options are:

Preventing mold will extend the life of your tent by years, as well as nipping it in the bud if it does arise. 

If You Have to Store the Roof Top Tent

Typically, a roof top tent is going to stay on top of your car until you are ready to store it for the off-season.   

Once the decision is made to remove the tent and store it, make sure to adhere to all instructions on removal and dissembling the tent. Give all parts a good wipe down and ensure they are clean and dry before going into storage. 

Keep your roof top tent stored in an enclosed area that will be safe from moisture or extreme temperatures to allow it to sit without needing additional maintenance.

While Driving

A huge difference between the traditional ground tent and the roof top tent is that roof top tents stay assembled on top of the car even while driving. This means there are some additional rules and restrictions you will need to follow.

Always check with the manufacturer for guidelines on safety and security while driving. This may include speed limits you should not exceed, additional straps and connections to secure the tent further, and final checks to make sure it is secured before driving.

If it’s not attached correctly, not only do you face the more catastrophic outcome of it falling off, but there are also smaller repercussions. Allowing it to not be fully secure can cause additional wear and tear that will take years off the lifespan of these tents.

Some Additional Helpful Maintenance Tips:

  • Wipe down the ladder after each trip, removing additional mud and dirt.
  • Go easy on the zippers. Do not force them and do occasional cleaning of them to remove dust.
  • Avoid additional sun exposure. Unless you are helping the tent dry, or you simply wanted a little sunshine beaming into your tent, try to keep it out of direct sunlight. The UV rays will do a number on the tent over time.
  • Before each use, inspect the tent to ensure everything is functioning correctly and that all pieces are clean and ready to go.
  • If it is a softshell tent, always inspect the aluminum poles before each trip to ensure they are in good working condition, clean, and dry.

Roof Top Tent Warranties

Many roof top tent manufacturers offer a two-year standard warranty. But always check before purchase and ensure that you keep all pertinent information. Each company will offer slightly different options regarding what is covered and what is not.

But like many other types of warranty, it is there to cover damages that could not have been avoided that were the cause of some sort of malfunction with the tent and its making.

Your warranty will give you peace of mind for the first couple of years. But since these are investments anyone would hope to keep for years to come, it’s important to maintain the upkeep and maintenance of your rooftop tent.

Tip on Mold: Most warranties will not cover mold or mildew. So this is another reason to be careful about always keeping your tent dry after rain or moisture exposure.

The Longevity of Roof Top Tents

No matter the type of tent you have, many of the staples of good maintenance remain the same. Regular cleaning, maintaining the integrity of all components of the tent, and ensuring that the tent is dried off whenever it is exposed to wet conditions. If you maintain the tent properly and purchase the right type for your needs, you should be looking at no less than 3-5 years with your rooftop tent, but probably much longer.

James with daughter on the trails

About James...

Hi, I’m James. If I’m not working on this site, you can often find me outdoors roaming the trails. I’m an avid hiker, mountain biker, and overlander. I’m excited to share my passion for the outdoors with you.