Absolutely not, not all roof top tents are the same, despite a lot of similarities between them and a lot of brands copy-pasting designs. There are huge differences in terms of comfort, utility, material quality, build quality, ease of use and much more between most roof top tents. For the purpose of helping you differentiate and figure out what’s worth your money and what isn’t, we’ll deep dive into the most common differences between roof op tents and their pros and cons.
Difference #1: The Type, Size & Style of Roof Top Tent
Roof top tents come in various types, size and styles / colors, multiplied by a wide variety of materials and compatible accessories.
What are the types of roof top tents?
The vast majority of roof top tents fall into the soft shell or hard shell roof top tent categories. A third type would be the inflatable roof top tent, but it’s not exactly a popular solution. Pop-top or pop-up camper tents are a separate type of roof top tent that is integrated into the vehicle. As far as sizes go, roof top tents are classified into 1-2, 3-4 and 5 person roof top tents, with the option of expanding living space with an annex and usable space with awnings.
If you want to learn more about the types of roof top tents and the differences between them, we recommend our separate post on the topic.
» Read More: Types of roof top tents
At the same time, roof top tents can vary greatly based on their capacity and actual measurements when set up, meaning the number of people that can sleep in them at the same time (weight limitation and physical space limitation at the same time).
How many people can sleep in a roof top tent?
Most roof top tents are desgined and built to support 1 or 2 people sleeping in them, while some larger capacity can support up to 4 people. There are also various tent expansion accessories such as annex rooms and some tents in which you could squeeze in 5 to 6 people (realistically 4 adults maximum with a couple of kids), but you have to really be careful about calculating roof top tent weight limits and roof rack / road load weight limits at the same time, unless you want to wake up with a caved in tent floor or vehicle roof.
If you want to learn more about the capacity of roof top tents and how to calculate the number of people they realistically support, feel free to check out our dedicated post on the topic.
» Read More: How many people can sleep in a roof top tent?
Difference #2: Materials Used in Roof Top Tents
There’s a plethora of materials used in most roof top tents, ranging from aluminum & steel to polyester & cotton, each with its own advantages and disadvantages.
What are roof top tents made of?
Roof top tents are made from a surprising amount of different materials, mainly centered around aluminum, steel, custom alloys for the frame and combinations of poly-cotton, cotton, polyester, nylon and more for the canvas. Additionally, you’ll see a lot of fiberglass used for hard shells and baseboards due to its low weight and durability. For a comparison of RTT materials and in-depth analysis on what to choose, read our standalone article on the topic.
» Read More: What are roof top tents made of?
Difference #3: Compatible Accessories
Accessories that used to extend the utility of the roof top tent – mainly annexes & awnings – are extremely popular, but there are also lots of other accessories focused on making your camping trip safer, more comfortable and truly fun.
What roof top tent accessories do I need?
While a roof rack is the only mandatory accessory you need for a roof top tent, you might want to consider a matching awning and a compatible annex room to make the most out of your camping / overlanding trip. Most if not all roof top tents come with the necessary retractable ladder and a high quality mattress. Additionally, there are some extremely useful accessories such as a condensation mat (if not included in your RTT of your) and more that you may want to consider for a great camping experience.
» Read More: What roof top tent accessories do I need?
Difference #4: Customization Options
With overlanding and camping in general exploding in popularity over the past decade, more and more adventure brands have begun designing and building awesome products and roof top tent accessories you can purchase to further customize your experience and even make your roof top tent one of a kind.
How to Customize Your Roof Top Tent
» Read More: How to Customize Your Roof Top Tent
How can I make my roof top tent more comfortable?
» Read More: How can I make my roof top tent more comfortable?
Difference #5: Built-In Features
Roof top tents have various built-in features (depending on a per tent and brand basis), ranging from quick setup mechanisms and cool organization / storage options to multi-season insulation / covers and stargazing windows, which might feel a little overwhelming when it comes to choosing the right roof top tent. So, that’s why we have to ask…
What roof top tent features matter most?
From brand reputation, materials used, insulation level and ease of setup to the availability of various complementary accessories such as annex rooms and awnings, there are quite a few things that matter when purchasing a roof top tent. We go through at least 21 factors when ranking a specific roof top tent and our list can help you understand and identify the factors that matter most to you.
» Read More: Important Roof Top Tent Features?
How to Upgrade Your Roof Top Tent
» Read More: How to Upgrade Your Roof Top Tent
The Best Roof Top Tent Upgrades
» Read More: The Best Roof Top Tent Upgrades
Difference #5: The Brand
Yes, like it or not, the roof top tent brand matters quite a lot and there are a few considerations to keep in mind regarding build quality, compatible accessories, product lifetime, customer support, warranty conditions, resell value etc. While you might save a couple hundred dollars with “no-name” roof top tents, you’ll generally lose quite a bit on the aspects listed before.
What are the most popular roof top tent brands?
We’ve ranked over 50 of the most popular roof top tent brands and we’re pretty sure you’ll be surprised by how many brands have been built in the last few years, riding the overlanding industry’s explosive growth curve. Feel free to use this post to help your own research into what roof top tent to buy – we’ve put a lot of time so we can surface many niche and new RTT brands that most overlanders & adventurers won’t encounter in a casual search. Keep in mind that brands are ranked using a multitude of data points across the web (Amazon, Google, Facebook data combined with various signals on a brand and product level) and you might be surprised by the results. For example, the extreme popularity of some brands on social media is attenuated by weaker signals taken from other sources (ex.: number of public reviews).
» Read more: Most popular roof top tent brands
Not convinced yet?
If you’re not convinced yet, you should check out our post on the worth of roof top tents and, to do our best at an unbiased recommendation, also check out our community poll on the most common roof top tent regrets. We were surprised by some of the reasons campers regretted their roof top tent purchases.
Are roof top tents worth it?
If you follow any overlanding influencers and publications, most likely you’ve been flooded with images and videos of Jeeps equipped with roof top tents and other trendy accessories, making you ask yourself “Why are roof top tents so popular?” and wondering if they’re worth. Well, we absolutely believe they are, mainly because the cost / benefit ratio is extremely high compared to ground tents and even recreational vehicles. From offering you a great vantage point for amazing sightseeing to the extra freedom to roam and camp anywhere you want, roof top tents are definitely worth their price tag. For an in-depth list of advantages and disadvantages compared to other camping shelter solutions, check out our article below:
» Read More: Are roof top tents worth it?
What are the most common roof top tent regrets?
» Read More: What are the most common roof top tent regrets?
Granted, if after all this you truly feel that roof top tents are not the right choice for you, then you’re in good luck, as there are quite a few shelter options that function as alternatives to roof top tents, ranging from the humble classic ground tents to fully kitted out recreational vehicles.
What are the best alternatives to roof top tents?
» Read More: The best alternatives to roof top tents
If you now feel that a roof top tent is the right choice for you and your adventures, we recommend reading our guide on picking the right RTT so you can avoid spending too much on something that you don’t need or too little on something that doesn’t cover all your needs.
How do you pick a roof top tent?
Choosing the right roof top tent can be broken down into the following steps to ensure you get the most out of your budget:
- Decide on a budget for your roof top tent & accessories
- Pick a specific style & type of roof top tent
- Compare roof top tent features & specifications
- Find the right roof rack for your roof top tent
- Check the rack, tent, vehicle compatibility and weight limits
- Choose the right roof top tent accessories
- Order, install & go on an adventure!
As we love over-analyzing any purchase decision, we recommend reading further so you can make your own check list of priorities in terms of features and accessories for your ideal roof top tent.
» Read More: How to choose a roof top tent