You’re driving down the road and you see this SUV with boxy looking thing mounted to the roof. You realize it’s a roof top tent, and you think “I need on of those”. After a quick search your eyes are wide with sticker shock.
Dang! Why are roof top tents so expensive?
If you’re like me, that’s the exact thoughts I had.
Roof top tents are the ultimate companion for overnight adventures because they provide ample protection and comfort on your travels. With all the features and benefits they provide, rooftop tents can be incredibly expensive. Most top models will waiver in the $3,000-$5,000 range, which is quite an investment for a tent.
Roof top tents are expensive because they use innovative engineering, design, and features not found in regular tents. Roof top tents are made with higher quality materials designed to withstand being on top of a vehicle while driving. Additional hardware such as mounting brackets and access ladders will add to the cost.
Let’s dive further into these. It will help you break down what’s important when choosing a rooftop tent and which areas you might be willing to go without to get a tent at a more comfortable price.
Quality Features of Roof top Tents
Rooftop tents have become increasingly popular because they offer a much wider range of features than ground tents. The higher price point can be directly tied to many of the additional capabilities and comforts provided by this on-the-go shelter.
Here are some of the standard features that separate a rooftop tent from traditional ground tents:
- Off-ground shelter: Rooftop tents mean you don’t have to sleep on the ground and away from nearby animals or bugs. It also keeps you away from groundwater or floods that might ruin your overnight experience. Rooftop tents also also tend to offer more insulation than traditional tents.
- Included mattress: Unlike a traditional tent, a mattress is included with rooftop tents. The comfort level will vary, depending on the make, model, and pricepoint of your tent. Obviously, higher-end tents offer more plushy, comfortable mattresses.
- Easy setup: Rooftop tents pop up with minimal effort. Setting up your campsite will only take a few minutes.
- Weatherproof: Most models are made of very durable materials that make them suitable for use throughout the year and even in severe weather conditions.
- Set up anywhere: Because you don’t need to find a level space on the ground, you can camp anywhere as long as your car can get there.
- Storage: To maximize space, rooftop tents offer additional storage compartments to hold all your gear.
Higher-end tents are built with higher quality and offer more advanced features, but there are many cheaper tents that offer enough durabiltiy and features to support even the most hardcore overland adventurers.
Increased Durability and Quality
Rooftop tents are more durable and stable compared to traditional tents. They’re built with quality materials that help the tent stand up to even the toughest abuse and weather out on the trail. The better fabrics and structural materials will drive the price up but will also ensure longevity:
- Mattress: While most rooftop tent mattresses are thin to reduce weight, the additional hardware and comfort add to the value of the product. You can consider upgrading the mattress if the installed one isn’t comfortable enough, but this’ll also increase the price.
- Ladder: You’ll need a ladder to climb from the ground to the tent. Durable ladders are necessary for increased safety.
- Baseboard: The baseboard needs to accommodate the weight of all users, so it needs to be built out of sturdy materials.
- Poles and hinges: These boost the structural integrity of the tent and the secure connection to the roof rack.
- Tent Material: Especially for waterproof and weatherproof tents, the material will need to be heavy-duty and reliable.
- Cover: A strong, well-designed cover will keep the tent safe while traveling and driving.
Using higher quality materials in these categories will make your tent hold up better in the long run but also increase production costs. Because of their superior design and materials, even cheaper rooftop tents are going to be more expensive than their traditional, ground-based counterparts.
Roof top Tent Niche Customer Base
A roof top tent is a specialty product that caters toward a much smaller customer base. Because fewer consumers take advantage of this product, and it is not mass-produced like a standard tent would be, the production cost is higher. Simple supply and demand.
What to Look For In a Roof top Tent
When choosing a rooftop tent, there are some key considerations to help you choose the one that’s right for you. Prioritizing the features that are important to you will help dictate the design, style, and price point.
Here are a few things to consider when choosing a rooftop tent:
- Quality and additional features
- Size of tent
- Safety and build
- Compatibility with vehicle
- Convenience and quick setup
Let’s look at these categories in a bit more detail, so you can make a better rooftop tent purchase.
Quality and Additional Features
Naturally, the higher quality and more features you want in a tent, the higher the price is going to be.
Set priorities for which features are most important to you. Look for a tent that offers your “required” features but still fits into your price range. If you can’t find anything, sacrifice a few of the less necessary features and get into a lower price point.
Size of Tent
Most rooftop tents are not going to be able to sleep more than 3-4 adults. There’s only so much weight a rooftop tent can safely handle. Be sure to look at sizing and desired spacing when making a purchase.
Think about how many people will need to sleep in the tent and choose one with the proper size and weight capacity. Larger tents are more expensive, so if you don’t have the budget to play with, choosing a tent larger than you need can be a waste of money.
Safety and Build
While cheap tents may be easier on your budget, you still need to make sure they’re constructed properly to keep yourself safe during use. Make sure you look at product reviews, warranties, and safety features, so you can continue to use it for years to come. Look specifically at the hinges and baseboard, as these are responsible for structural support.
It’s not always easy to determine the quality of the build, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the products or purchase one online. Online reviews are the best way to learn about the safety and build of a rooftop tent.
Compatibility with Vehicle
Before making any purchase, ensure the tent you choose is compatible with your overland rig. Some tents are designed to fit a specific type of roof rack, while others are more universal. If you don’t already have a roof rack on your vehicle, make sure to choose one that can support the weight and size of your tent.
Many tents come with universal hinges and clamps so that they can be used by almost any vehicle. Check with the manufacturer so that you buy one that works for your vehicle.
Convenience and Quick Set-Up
Certain rooftop tents are easier to set up than others. If you’re traveling alone or just like when things are simple, you may be drawn to certain models over others because of the simple setup. Typically, more convenience means more cost.
These are some of the factors that influence ease of set up:
- Size and weight: Smaller and lighter models are going to be easier to build and break down, especially if you have to do it yourself.
- Tools required: The number of tools you need you install the tent is a good indicator of how difficult it is. Many tents include the tools needed for convenience. Make sure you check what tools you’ll need for installation (and if they’re included) before purchasing a tent.
- Extra pieces: Tents with more pieces might have more features, but they’ll also be more tedious to install and setup.
If you don’t mind taking your time during setup (which is still minimal compared to traditional ground tents), this category may not be a priority for you.
Top Choices for budget Roof top Tents
If price is your number one concern, our top recommendation is the Smittybilt Overland Tent because it offers the best value for the quality, features, and comfort provided.
- Standard size tent (sleeps 2-3) with high-density 92" x 55" foam double/full mattress and 661 lb. max load
- 600D heavy-duty waterproof top and rain fly; sunroof; side windows with mosquito netting; anodized aluminum tent frame poles; telescopic ladder; interior LED strips
- Easy to set up and take down; heavy duty PVC cover keeps tent dry and free from UV rays when not in use
- Smittybilt Tent Annex with removeable floor can be attached with heavy duty zippers for privacy
- Mounting brackets included
The Tepui Explorer Ayer 2 Roof Top Tent is our second favorite choice because it packs a lot of great features. You can use this tent year-round, it’ll stand up to even the worst weather conditions, and it’s compatible with vehicles of any size. If you want the winner across almost all categories, look at this tent!
- Can accommodate up to two people
- Constructed from coated 600 denier and a 260g poly-cotton blend made to withstand the elements of any season
- Tent fabric is UV resistant and withstands the elements of any season
- Mesh panels offer plenty of ventilation and open for more airflow
- Four, large internal pockets for storing gear and camping accessories
- Includes a high-density foam mattress for added comfort
All the tents on our list fall well below the average rooftop tent price range, giving you plenty of options for a tent that’ll work for you and your family. Cheaper tents can still provide you with an ideal overlanding experience. You just need to find the one with the right features to suit your overlanding style.
Roof Top Tents are a little more expensive that your average run of the mill ground tent. With that extra cost you’re going to get a high quality tent that is packed with innovative features and engineering. Plus, you’ll be well off the ground and away from a lot of the elements that come with camping. If it’s something you’re thinking about I highly recommend giving a roof top tent a try.