A Beginner’s Guide to Van Roof Tent Camping

5 min

Are you thinking about purchasing a van roof tent?

There are many ways to improve your camping experience, from the gear you are using to your sleeping quarters. One of the ways to tweak your camping experience, and something that’s become popular for campers in recent years, is by setting up your tent on your car or van’s roof. While car camping is not necessarily new, adding a tent to your car, van, SUV, or pick-up truck is a relatively new experience.

If you want to try out this van-camping style, there are a few things you should consider before making a purchase. While conducting your research on a van roof tent, it's crucial that you determine if you need a soft-shell tent or a hard-shell tent. While there is a variety to choose from, we compiled the top 7 best roof tents to browse.

Soft-Shell Tents vs. Hard-Shell Tents: What’s The Difference?

Picture a typical tent, a triangular-shaped structure made from soft fabric, held together by cylinder pieces. While these tents may vary in terms of size, space, and even design, the basic structure stays consistent. While there are different styles of rooftop tents to choose from, there’s not much to think about when selecting which tent to buy, aside from the type of shell.

If you are planning to buy a van roof tent, you need to understand the two main types: soft-shell tents and hard-shell tents.

Soft-shell tents are similar to a typical tent – their structure depends on their structural poles, and just like a traditional tent, they often come in a triangular shape. This shape allows for more space inside the tent. Also, soft-shell tents are mainly covered with fabric, much like the same as the traditional tent.

Pros of Soft-Shell Tents:

· Larger space – because of this tent’s flexibility (structure-wise), soft-shell tents can offer larger spaces. In some tents, they can even offer a tent on the roof and on the ground. It can provide extra shade as well and is perfect if you have a large group such as a family or a group of friends.

· Small size – Because soft-shell tents are only mainly made up of fabric and its structural poles, they are usually smaller when folded (and yet, once you opened it, it can offer you large space).

Cons of Soft-Shell Tents:

· More fragile against external conditions such as the weather. Soft-shell tents are mainly made up of fabric, making them more fragile against external conditions such as the weather. For instance, soft-shell tents are usually not waterproof.

· Longer set-up and take-down time – it will take a while to set up (and fold back) soft-shell tents due to their shape. Not to mention, if you have a bigger soft-shell tent, you will need to do a lot of folding!

Hard-shell tents, on the other hand, have a solid roof instead of a soft fabric. They can give you more protection against external conditions such as rain. However, because they have a solid roof, they are less flexible structure-wise and mostly come in four vertical walls – meaning, they offer lesser space compared to soft-shell tents.

Pros of Hard-Shell Tents:

· More protection against external conditions – because hard-shell tents have solid roofs instead of fabric, they are naturally more resilient and protective against weather conditions and other external conditions.

· Simpler to set up and take down – basically, you just need to lift the upper (roof) part of the tent on both sides to set up this tent. When folding back, simply pull the roof down on both sides, and you’re good to go!

Cons of Hard-Shell Tents:

· Small or limited space – because of the hard-shell tent’s structure, it is inherent that its space will be limited compared to a short-shell tent. But if you camp alone or with a partner or friend, hard-shell tents will be enough space for you.

· You need a vehicle with a larger roof area – unless you already own one, you will need to buy such a vehicle. Otherwise, hard-shell tents will be less suitable for you and won't fit on top of your car.

Top 7 Van Roof Tents

Now that you know the two main types of van roof tents, you can wisely choose which type of tent you should buy. Needless to say, there’s no “right” or “wrong” type of tent. The type of tent you choose totally depends on your needs, preferences, and wants.

Whether you opt for a soft-shell or hard-shell tent, we have hand-picked some of the best tents you can choose from. Here are the best van roof tents you can buy for your next camping adventure.

Soft-Shell Tents

1) Front Runner Feather-Lite Rooftop Tent

As its name suggests, Front Runner Feather-Lite Rooftop Tent is a lightweight soft-shell tent. But aside from being lightweight, Front Runner boasts a durable fabric material. 

Whereas soft-shell tents are known to be less durable to weather conditions, Front Runner can relatively withstand strong winds and even heavy rains. This rooftop tent has a sleeping capacity for only two 2 people, but there’s extra room for your belongings as well.

Price: $1,099

Website: https://www.frontrunneroutfitters.com/en/us/front-runner-roof-top-tent.html

2) Yakima SkyRise Rooftop Tent

Yakima SkyRise Rooftop Tent is another soft-shell tent that is very lightweight. Aside from that, it has a sleeping capacity for 3 people. Yakima’s fabric is waterproof, and this tent is relatively easy to set up.

The only downside to this van roof tent is that its ladder can have minor issues. Other than that, this is a cozy tent you can have for your camping trip.

Price: $899, used

Website: https://yakima.com/products/skyrise-tent-small

3) Tepui Tents Kukenam Ruggedized Sky 3

Unlike the first two soft-shell tents, Tepui Kukenam Ruggedized Sky 3 prides itself for being a heavyweight tent! You don’t need a heavyweight tent for your car, but if you like to camp in the wilderness, then this tent will fit better.

This tent is heavier because of its added durability – Tepui Ruggedized Sky 3 can endure fierce winds and even snow. It is on the pricier side, but that is because it is one of the most durable tents. Lastly, it can also accommodate up to 3 people for sleeping capacity.

Price: $2,750

Website: https://tepui.com/collections/ruggedized-roof-top-tents

Hard-Shell Tents

1) Autohome Maggiolina Roof Tent

The Autohome Maggiolina Extreme is a great option for those that are interested in hard-shell tents over soft-shell ones. With an aerodynamic profile and a stylish exterior, this option is well-loved by many adventurers.

The crank operating system makes it easy to open and adjust, even if you don't have experience with one.

The base of the roof tent is made from a double layer of fiberglass and has a 3.5-inch closed-cell foam mattress.

Price: $3,299

Website: autohomeus.com

2) Roofnest Sparrow

Roofnest Sparrow is a sleek and quick hard-shell tent. Whether you’re going for a camping trip or just want to have a good roadside tent for the night, Roofnest Sparrow can be beneficial for you.

Roofnest Sparrow is very easy to set up and very easy to take down, so this is an on-the-go roof tent. It also has two doors for your convenience. Like most hard-shell tents, Roofnest Sparrow can accommodate up to 2 persons.

The only downside of this tent is that it needs 2 people to install it.

Price: $2,795

Website: roofnest.com

3) Bigfoot Tents Explorer Series Hard Shell Rooftop Tent

Bigfoot Tent is a compact, hard-shell tent that can accommodate 2 persons. Life Roofnest Sparrow, Bigfoot Tents can quickly set up as well.

Bigfoot Tent can also fit into almost any roof rack, so it may fit your car’s or van’s roof rack, regardless of what car or van it is.

Price: $2,476

Website: https://www.bigfoottents.com/

4) Ikamper Skycamp

Unlike other hard-shell tents, Ikamper Skycamper can accommodate up to 4 persons, making it one of its main advantages! So, if you happen to sleep alone or with another person, you’ll have more space inside.

Ikamper Skycamp is very durable. It is made up of quality material and you can use it for any season of the year – yes, including winter! Like other hard-shell tents, it is also quick to set up.

Price: $3,899.00

Website: https://www.ikamper.com/pages/skycamp

Pros and Cons of Van Roof Top Tent Camping

If you have decided to try out van roof tent camping, then you’re probably really into it, which is a good thing! Nevertheless, it is wise to know some of the advantages and disadvantages of this camping or roadside lifestyle.

Pros of Van Roof Tent Camping

· You’re safe from ground problems – since you’re on the roof of your car, you’ll avoid ground problems such as dirt, mud, and possible wet grounds if rain unexpectedly comes.

· Less space consumption when setting a tent. Whereas traditional ground tents require space to set up, van roof tents don't because you set them up on your car’s roof. This is especially true if you use hard-shell tents as they tend to be more compact compared to soft-shell tents.

· Comfortable roadside nap or sleep – instead of trying to nap or sleep inside your car, these rooftop tents give users the ability to sleep in a comfortable, spacious area.

· A more affordable version of RV – if all you really want is mobility and sleeping grounds, having a rooftop tent is more affordable than having an RV.

Cons of Van Roof Tent Camping

· You’re not mobile once you’re set up (soft-shell tents) – This mostly applies to soft-shell tents as they are less compact compared to hard-shell tents. If you want to move from one place to another, you’ll need to fold your tent again. For hard-shell tents, since setting up (and folding down) is relatively quicker, this won’t be a problem.

· It can affect your driving experience – an added weight can mean a difference in a normal car and a car that has a built-in tent on its roof. The effects may not be noticeable, though. Also, some manufacturers find their way to make their tents for streamlined and compact to lessen its effect on your driving and road handling.

· More expensive than ground tents – although van roof tents are cozier than ground tents, they come at a big price tag.

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