Roof top tents are so expensive mainly due to their limited production per unit, complex design, expensive materials, complex assembly requirements and a multitude of other factors we’ll dive into to help you decide if you should investing in an RTT for your vehicle.
As with many things in life, you pretty much get what you pay for and roof top tents can vary wildly, between $500 for an entry level / possibly used or refurbished roof top tent (a truly rare, lucky find that’s a 50% – 50% gamble in terms of getting something you’d consider of a minimum acceptable quality for that price) and as much as $7,500 for a premium roof top tent with all the bells, whistles and gizmos (think NASA level insulation, solar panels, carbon fiber panels and more).
Back to the point…
Why are roof top tents so expensive?
From our experience in manufacturing and sourcing products, coupled with a few discussions with various industry experts working for a few roof top tent brands, we’ve identified 10 factors that contribute to (at times) these eye-watering price points:
1.Limited Product per Unit
While economies of scale (explainer via Investopedia) worked out wonderfully for us when it came to highly standardized products such as the iPhone, they’ve worked against us overlanders simply because most roof top tents come in various shapes & sizes, may fit a specific list of vehicles, are built with multiple accessories and features in mind, designed to satisfy and incredibly diverse list of needs. In the end, the real challenge is designing and manufacturing a roof top tent that fits as many vehicles as possible, has most features thata overlanders and campers deem to be essential and at the same time satisfy aesthetical expectations of most people.
2. Market Fragmentation
Let’s be realistic – the roof top tent market is still young and it’s a very fragmented market (manufacturer and consumer side as well). We’ve identified over 50 brands that are operating as of today and it’s hard even for companies the size of Thule / Dometic to grab a big enough chunk of the market to start leveraging economies of scale. As things stand today though, we expect to see a few (3-4) clear winners rising through the ranks in terms of market share in the next couple years.
3. Supply Chain Complexities
When you break down a roof top tent into various components and start looking at the materials used, then try to trace where these materials & components are produced – you’ll realize how complex it can be to put one RTT together. One canvas supplier gone or one country blockaded for any kind of reason and you’re now scrambling to deliver the products that were pre-ordered.
4. Expensive Materials
While cost cutting is always possible, there are very many hard limits in terms of cutting costs when designing and manufacturing a roof top tent. Brands that cut too deep into material quality (canvas, frame, baseboard etc.) might make a quick buck selling below market average for a little while, but they’re not likely to survive for long once the RTTs start failing or – let’s hope not – customers start getting injured or cause accidents due to mechanical failure.
Consider the baseboard of roof top tents, for example. That’s one vital component of the tent’s structure that’s pretty expensive to source and needs to be very durable to support the weight of multiple persons (up to 5 for some models).
5. Complex Manufacturing & Assembly Operations
Regardless of how complex the roof top tent is (soft shell / hard shell for example), even the most basic models require a lot of time consuming, tedious work and quality control to deliver an acceptable end product. Just think of the seams on a ground tent vs. what you see on a roof top tent – it’s a whole new level of detail and quality.
For example, here’s a video on the manufacturing of a (humble, yet very high quality) ground tent:
Unfortunately we didn’t find a relevant How It’s Made video for roof top tents, but you’ll at least get a sense of complexity from this short HIM on tent trailers:
6. Cross Bar / Roof Rack Inclusion
One other factor you might want to consider is that many higher priced roof top tents come with their own mounting system – be it simple cross bars or more complex roof racks and that’s another accessory that’s adding up to the final price.
Decent cross bars / roof racks that fit most vehicles can amount to hundreds of dollars and that’s included with some roof top tents. Keep in mind that lately that’s more of an exception than a rule, though, so make sure to check with the seller if you need to purchase anything else to install your roof top tent and confirm that your vehicle is or isn’t supported.
7. Multiple Accessory Inclusion
When you consider a ground tent vs. a roof top tent, the RTT is usually built with most required accessories in one package, so you won’t need to spend extra $ for a good mattress for example. Just looking at the prices of high quality camping mattresses makes you more appreciative of what you get when you buy a quality RTT from a reputable brand.
To take it a step further, keep in mind that most RTTs come with ladders included in the final price.
8. Safety, Liability & Insurance
Roof top tent brands have some very different concerns compared to ground tent manufacturers for example and need to spend time & money to ensure that their products don’t cause injuries, accidents or other issues that might make them liable. And with all business risks, risks carry extra costs that get passed on to you, the customer.
9. Premium Features, Premium Price
At the end of the day, you’re also buying a status symbol that offers you a whole lot more comfort, security, convenience and freedom than the usual ground tent. On top of that, we’re now looking at some really awesome features like quick-release, integrated solar power, integrated ventilation / heating / cooling and a lot more you won’t get from a classic tent. Of course, it comes at a cost, but from our point of view it’s worth it.
10. Good Old Price Gouging
Unfortunately we’ve seen some cases where most reputable brands run out of stock or end up with a 3+ month lead time and some less reputable stores and brands start raising the prices well beyond what is reasonable, further distorting the market.
Extra: Did you research all your options?
You might have been in a rush and . Considering that there are over 100 online stores selling roof top tents and over 50 individual brands manufacturing, sourcing or just slapping-a-sticker on standard RTT, you might want to check our Top 50 Most Popular Roof Top Tent Brands list.
Post-Sticker Sock Thoughts
With the causes explored and explained, we hope this post helps you decide for yourself if you should or shouldn’t spend the money to buy a roof top tent.
If your decision is “not really”, then maybe it’s time to explore the best alternatives to a roof top tent.