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The Complete Roof Top Tent Guide – This Is What You Need to Know

The complete roof top tent guide

This Is What You Need to Know

Investing in a roof top tent is a fantastic idea. They free up space inside your vehicle for other essential items, you get a great view when you wake up and they tend to get less sand and dirt in them.  More importantly, they stop unwanted critters from visiting in the night.

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But now that every man, woman and dog knows just how awesome roof top tents are, they have exploded in popularity. As a result, there are LOTS of different options on the market.  

So, how do you know which roof top tent to buy? Well, as a self-confessed roof top tent fan, I’ve created this guide to take the guesswork out of it. This is what you need to know before you go out and buy one!

The main types of roof top tents

Soft shell

A soft shell roof top tent is the most affordable option and it basically looks like a standard tent perched on top of your vehicle.  It’s lightweight and has the potential to be roomy enough for families. Although it’s still quick, it’s the slowest option to set up and pack up. Particularly when it comes to packing up as you have to walk around the car tucking all the little bits in and then try to wrestle the protective cover over the whole thing.

Soft shells are a popular choice for families as they are affordable and tend to have more room. You also have the ability to put an annexe underneath. I use a softshell and while it’s not without its cons, I have twice now lived in it for four weeks at a time (two adults and two kids) while we explored Central Australia as well as many other shorter trips.

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Pros

  • Affordable
  • Lightweight
  • Can get an annex room to sleep more people (great for families)

Cons

  • Slowest option to set up and pack up
  • Can be noisy in a storm as it flaps around a little 
  • Not the most aerodynamic option
  • Overhangs the car when set up
roof top tent
The ARB Simpson III soft shell roof top tent

Hard shell – pop up

Hard shell pop up roof tents are quick to set up and look like a big cargo box on top of your car when unpacked. They have either gas or spring struts that hold the walls taught so it’s a little quieter in a storm. The hard top protects you from weather and drop bears… just kidding, nothing will protect you from a drop bear. Unfortunately, they are more expensive and less roomy than a soft shell roof top tent.

Pros

  • Quick set up and pack up
  • Can usually close it with your pillows and blankets inside
  • The walls are not as flappy and therefore quieter in a storm
  • Can house a thicker mattress as it doesn’t need to fold over to close
  • Some models can have solar panels mounted on top
  • No overhang when set up

Cons

  • Head height is often reduced
  • More expensive
  • Heavy
  • The moving parts are inside the fabric making it harder to repair
  • Less room
roof top tent
The Kings kwiky pop up roof top tent

Hard shell – clam

Clam shell tents are the fastest to set and pack up and look like a big triangle on your car when they are set up.  The hardware (hinges etc) are all mounted on the same tracks so it’s easier to repair when they need maintenance. Like the pop up, the fabric is stretched tight so it’s also less flappy in bad weather but it also has the added benefit of being able to angle the roof to deal with the weather by moving your car.

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Pros

  • Quick set up and pack up
  • The walls are taught and not as flappy in a storm
  • Moving parts are easier to access
  • Can angle the roof to deal with weather by moving your car

Cons

  • No head room up one end
  • Expensive
  • Heavy
roof top tent
the ironman swift 1400 clam shell roof top tent

Other roof top tent types

There are some less common types of roof top tents on the market but the most notable is the blow up tent. It’s roomy and just like the name suggests, it’s erected by pumping air into it.

Pros

  • Very lightweight
  • Compact
  • An option to sleep up to 5
  • They float! (although its not recommended you do this)
  • Some can be used like a normal tent on the ground

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Not the quickest set up option
  • Have to pump it up
the gt pickup blow up roof top tent

Important things to consider before buying a roof top tent

How many beds do you need?

If you only need to sleep 1 or 2 adults then you have the most options. Any more than that and options are limited. It’s hard to find a roomy hard shell roof top tent that is affordable which means that families are often limited to a soft shell.  This is because they fold out over the side of your vehicle, effectively doubling the sleeping space.  You can also add an under awning tent to a soft shell creating a whole new room at ground level.  This is how we travel with two adults and two kids. It also means if one of the kids are sick or wets the bed, they can sleep in the room downstairs where it will be easier to clean up any messes. 

Hard shell tents fit two people easily so singles and couples should have no problems. They can of course, still get a soft shell tent for its affordability and extra space but a single person may have trouble packing it up solo as sometimes you need someone to hold it down while the other zips up the cover.

How much weight can your vehicle and roof racks handle?

Roof top tents weigh from 49kg to upwards of 90kg so you will need to make sure that when it’s installed, the vehicle does not weigh over its GVM (the maximum your vehicle can weigh when fully loaded).

Equally just as important is your roof rack’s maximum static and maximum dynamic load.  The static weight is how much the racks can hold when the vehicle is not moving and the dynamic weight is how much it can hold when the vehicle is moving. Often the roof racks that come standard with a vehicle just don’t cut it and an aftermarket roof rack will be required. 

Comparison of roof top tent brands

BrandPrice*TypeWeightSleepsMattressOpen
mm
Closed
mm
MaterialNotes
Kings Tourer
$849Soft57kg2 (up to 6 with annexe)75mm1340H
3100W
1450L
350H
1250W
1450L
320 GSM polycotton ripstop canvas4-man & 6-man annexe available
Kings Kwiky
$1299Hard73kg250mm1050H 1270W
2120L
320H
1270W
2120L
320 GSM polycotton ripstop canvas + polymer top
Kings Grand Tourer
$2495Hard93.5kg275mm1700H
1476W
2355L
295H
1476W
2355L
320 GSM polycotton ripstop canvas + aluminium topAwning wall is available
TJM Yulara
$1499Soft64kg265mm1300H
1400W
3200L

280H
1400W
1200L
280 GSM polycotton ripstop canvasAnnexe is available
TJM Boulia
$1349Soft58kg265mm1300H
1400W
2400L
280H
1400W
1200L
280 GSM polycotton ripstop canvasAnnexe is available
ARB Flinders
$1679Soft56kg250mm1400H
2400W
1400L
300H
1200W
1400L
300 GST polycotton ripstop canvas
ARB Simpson III
$1784Soft81kg365mm1300H
2400W
1400L
Polycotton ripstop canvas
Ironman Soft Shell
$1485Soft62kg21380H
1400W
3150L
360H
1240W
1450L
Annexe is available
Ironman Swift 1400
$3499Hard88kg21630H
1400W
2300L
190H
1400W
2300L
Ironman Nomad 1300
$3499Hard68kg21200H
2050W
1700L
370H
1300W
1600L
Darche Intrepidor 1400
$1699Soft49.3kg265mm1250H
1400W
2400L
350H
1215W
1435L
260 GSM polycotton ripstopAnnexe is available
Darche Ridgeback
$4799Hard85kg255mm1720H
1360W
2560L
280H
1360W
2160L
280 GSM polycotton ripstop canvas
Thule Tepui Explorer
$3999Soft69.5kg31320H
1430W
3100L
310H
1430W
1220L
260 GSM polycotton ripstop
Thule Tepui Foothill
$2999Soft55.5kg21016H
2140W
1190L
240H
2108W
610L
600D polyester ripstop
XTM
$1399Soft77kg275mm1300H
1420W
3200L

320H
1480W
1250L
Polycotton ripstop
GT Roof
$3900Blow Up25kg21300H
1500W
3300L
150H
1000W
1000L
Outer tube is double ripstop & tent is polycottonCan be used on the ground. Annexe available.
GT Pickup
$4900Blow Up27kg270mm2200H
1400W
2200L
180H
1000W
1000L
Outer tube is double ripstop & tent is polycotton
GT Skyloft
$5500Blow Up49kg51480H
2100W
4300L
150H
1450W
1650L
Outer tub is double ripstop & tent is polycotton
Canyon Off-Road
$1599Hard71kg275mm1050H
1270W
2120L
260H
1270W
2120L
320 GSM polycotton ripstop + polymer top
Canyon Off-Road 4-Man
$2699Hard82kg450mm1050H
1900W
2020L
240H
1230W
2020L
320 GSM polycotton ripstop + polymer top
* Cost at time of writing

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