To pick the right roof top tent, it’s best to basically set a budget, choose the type of tent, compare specs & features, figure out vehicle compatibility, select a roof rack and decide what other RTT accessories you might need for a great camping experience.
Ok, so it’s pretty clear that choosing the right roof top tent can be an extremely time consuming and frustrating task. We want to make it a bit easier by helping you figure out the most important factors and evaluate between advantages & disadvantages of various options instead of telling you “buying this, this is perfect”.
Step #1: Ask yourself “How much am I willing to spend?”
How much do roof top tents cost?
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 tent that’s possibly used or refurbished (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), $1,100 for the cheapest one from a reputable brand 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).
We break down the costs of various types of roof top tents and their accessories in a spearate article, which may help you figure out what’s best for your needs:
» Read More: How much do roof top tents cost?
Why are roof top tents so expensive?
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. If you want to dig further into the factors that make roof top tents much more expensive than ground tents, read on below:
» Read More: Why are roof top tents so expensive?
Disclaimer: keep in mind that in most cases the price of the roof top tent doesn’t cover everything you need. While they come with stuff like mattresses, covers and other little things, you need to allocate part of your budget to a roof rack at least and a lot more if you’re in the market for various accessories like annex rooms, awnings etc.
Step #2: Pick a specific type & style of roof top tent
What are the types of roof top tents?
Roof top tents come in 4 distinct types, mainly soft-shell, hard-shell, inflatable and integrated pop-top tents. but for 95% of overlanders and campers, the choice comes down to soft shell vs. hard shell roof top tents. Soft shell and hard shell tents are by far the most popular because they offer the best features for the price, with the fewest possible downsides and they are compatible with most vehicles on the market, requiring minimal customization.
» Read more: What are the types of roof top tents?
Step #3: Comparing roof top tent features & specifications
What are the most important features of a roof top tent?
There are also a few things to consider, in order to figure out what other accessories you might want for your RTT setup:
- Do you care about specific features like skylights?
- Do you want all sorts of storage and organization solutions?
- Are you worried about humidity and climate control options?
- Do you plan on using it in different environments in multiple season?
- Are you going to mount it and remove it very often?
Sometimes the little things make a world of difference. For example, a roof top tent with skylights might be great for stargazing and if that’s a must for you – add it on your “must-have” features list. It’ll make the hunt for the ideal roof top tent much easier.
Step #4: Finding the right roof rack for your roof top tent
Do I need a roof rack for a roof top tent?
Yes. There’s not much else we can say other than “you’re not likely to find a roof top tent with an included roof rack”.
Choosing the right roof rack: we always recommend checking if the tent you’re buying has official compatible / recommended kits or roof racks. Additionally, it’s always a good idea to ask the manufacturer directly to confirm if their tent will work with a specific roof rack if you’re having any doubts.
Step #5: Checking rack, tent, vehicle compatibility and weight limits
Although your roof may support the weight of your roof top tent, the rack you mount it on might not. Keep in mind that you shouldn’t “guess” if your factory installed (if relevant in your specific instance) crossbars / siderails / gutters / racks will or won’t support the tent. To avoid potentially damaging your vehicle, we recommend going through the required steps to figure out exactly how much load you can put both on your roof and on the rack itself.
How do you know if your car can handle a roof top tent?
You’re a couple of searches and a simple calculation away from figuring out if your car can handle a roof top tent safely and without risking any damage during actual usage. In most cases, if you own an SUV, Jeep, van or truck, you’re good to go, whilst sedans, hatchbacks, coupes are almost never a safe fit for a roof top tent. On top of that, you can pretty much rule out putting a roof top tent on any vehicle with a rooftop load limit under 165 lbs.
But let’s jump to the steps you should take to be absolutely sure you can buy, install and safely drive with a roof top tent.
» Read More: How do you know if your car can handle a roof top tent?
Step #6: Choosing the right roof top tent accessories
Now that you have a good idea on how much you’re willing to spend and what type of roof top tent you’re set on, it’s a good time to figure out if you need two complementary products:
- Do you want an RTT extended with an annex room?
- Do you want an RTT with a matching awning?
Your best bet is to buy matching annex rooms and awnings from the same brand. While it might make sense to get a separate style or type of awning, annex rooms are almost never compatible between different brands of roof top tents and the price differences don’t really justify any kind of improvisation. As for other comfort, organization and utility accessories you might want to consider, check out our list below.
Of course, it’s only normal that you’ll ask yourself: “What are the most useful roof top tent accessories?”.
» Read More: What are the most useful roof top tent accessories?
Step #7: Order, install & go on an adventure!
While ordering the roof top tent might be very straightforward, you may have the surprise that your preferred option is backordered for a few weeks, depending on the season. As for installing the roof rack and the tent, all rack & tent brands have clear installation guidelines and most likely you won’t need to go to an installer.
We hope this post was useful and that you’ll be adventuring soon enough with your new roof top tent! If you’re left with more questions than answers, we recommend going through our complete roof top tent guide which covers everything from roof top tent materials & features to installation, maintenance and repair concerns: