Roof tents – camping kit for masochists, or a perfect penthouse?

We camped alongside a couple of car-campers recently – at a respectful distance, of course. They had a great set-up, involving roof-tents and awnings.

So, are roof-tents a good camping option?

 
Latest update: November 2019

Roof tent

To have or not to have…a roof-tent

 “I’ve spent some time living out of my van,” says one camper who got in touch with us.

 

“It’s often involved stopping overnight in places like laybys and car parks. A roof tent would be a bit of a giveaway – plus a parasitic drag while driving. I’ve intentionally selected and adapted my vehicle so I can sleep inside in the warm, and get from bed to driving seat without unlocking the doors or exposing myself to rain. Roof-tents are for masochist freaks with old Land Rovers.”

At the opposite end of the argument, a roof-tent has turned out to be the perfect option for Liss Fenton and family, and there’s more from them later in this article.

Camping in your car could be the perfect option and more discreet than a roof-tent. Have a look at our article on how to go car camping.

Roof-tent advantages

  • You’re off the ground, out of the wet and dirt. Though a MUCH cheaper option is a bivvy hammock-tent. We love ours.
  • Modern roof-tents are super-fast to put up
  • Wild camping is easier, in that you only need space for the car (though see below)
  • Many let you pack up with the bedding still inside so there’s more space in the car for other kit
bivvy hammock

If your only criterion is being off the ground, there’s nothing as lovely as a bivvy hammock, especially if it’s flat-bed with a mosquito net

The best roof-tents

They need to be lightweight, streamlined, easy to fold out and pack away, and preferably have space to leave the bedding inside. 

 

Expect to pay upwards of £1,000 and at least double that for a top-quality model that will withstand severe weather.

Having said that, the most affordable one we found was under £800 and offered a 24-month warranty. It will fit a saloon car (with roof bars). Read on for a guide to the best roof-tents.

And the drawbacks?

  • They’re pretty expensive compared to a normal tent
  • You wouldn’t want to live/eat in them – more of a sleeping pod
  • You’re a bit obvious if trying to wild camp
  • You’ll have something strapped to the top of your vehicle, which could limit what else you take and affect fuel economy

If you’re not convinced….alternatives to roof-tents

Have a look at these quick-pitch tents. In some situations, a fast-to-put-up tent will give you a lot more flexibility than a roof-tent.

Berlingo mini campervan

 The ‘bed base’ ready to be filled. The mattresses then sit neatly on top.

Another serious option to consider is to turn your car into a campervan. Read how we turned a Citroen Berlingo into a part-time campervan for less than £350. Or even use a normal(ish) car for camping.

Here’s a start – a backseat bed might be all you need because, after all, a roof-tent is really only a place to sleep.

Tentbox

Literally a box! Perhaps the most untentlike model we’ve found.

Superstrong, designed in the UK and will fit on most cars, including hatchbacks. It has some nice features, such as a memory foam mattress. Very simple and streamlined, and costs around £1900.

You can also try Ebay where we found some good prices on new and preloved. Even better if you can collect rather than have it couriered to you.

Autohome

A sort of caravan-style rooftent. Different sizes and styles to choose from to suit different vehicles and space needs. From around £2500.

Ventura

The Deluxe 1.4 is VERY cheap. The question is whether it’s too cheap to be any good.

The makers claim it’s perfect for both cold and super-hot weather and it does have four good-sized windows and decent head height.

It has an aluminium frame for lightness and stability  and a waterproof canvas fabric that’s anti-tera and solar-reflective. The tents are tested in winds up to 120km/hr (74mph).

All fixings are included and so is a mattress and ladder. It can be fitted to most vehicles with roof rails, roof bars or roof racks and unfolds to 240×143x126cm. Around £900. Again, we found the best prices on Ebay

Howling Moon

Claiming to be the best tents in Africa, and available in the UK, these are serious-looking safari tents, all muddy khaki in colour and made out of durable materials.

 

There are Deluxe, Tourer and Stargazer models, plus awnings and accessories. One for the Land Rover lot, possibly. From around £1500.

Roof tent

Roof tent

Frontrunner

The lowest profile on the market? So they say, anyway – just 200mm high (excluding ladder). 

 

Still, it opens up to a comfortable two-person tent and weighs only 40kg. You’ll need the tent mounting kit to fit this to your roofrack. VERY affordable at around £850 on Ebay or at Amazon.

Skycamp

Roof tent

A Kickstarter innovation from $1900. It’s a modern-looking design, using strong and light materials and there are plenty of accessories, such as awnings and an annexe. While it’s definitely still aimed at an off-road vehicle, it will fit on some ordinary cars too.

Smittybilt roof tents

This one is a star. It’s a waterproof wonder that folds out in seconds and comes with a complete fixing kit.

 

It has some nice touches, such as stainless steel hinges and anodised aluminium frame poles. There’s an interior LED light, a high density foam mattress with removable cover, mosquito nets, sunroof, telescopic aluminium ladder and a UV-resistant travel bag. From around £900, though hard to find in the UK. Ebay again!

Tuff-Trek

Roof tent

BunduTop

Lots of options here in both soft and hard top. Specifically stated to fit almost any car with roofbars, not just 4x4s.

 

Prices range from around £1,000 to £2,500, but you’ll want the accessories too. Tuff-Trek also sell the BunduTop, electric opening roof tent for around £2,500. There are LED lights and a power point inside that one.

Buying on Ebay

Most of the roof tents we’ve recommended are cheapest on Ebay – that’s for both new and secondhand.

In fact, our favourite roof tent is the Ox Overland at around £1,300 + delivery. It fits on most vehicles and has a built-on annexe. Set-up takes less than 25 minutes.

Ideally, you’ll collect your roof tent in person, but that’s not always possible. We’ve had some very good service both from sellers and, where something’s gone awry, from Ebay themselves. 

Flatback truck tents

Here’s another idea for you. We don’t quite get how it would work, though, as the back of your truck is going to be full of kit, isn’t it? What do you do with all of that when you’re using the tent? Let us know if we’re being a bit dim!

Basically, though, these are tents that fit into the flatbed of a pick-up truck. They’re not too expensive and it gives you a home that’s a decent hop up from the ground but not too far to fall!

 The Ellanm two-person tent has no floor so you can set it up without removing your camping gear. Around £200.

 The Napier Backroadz has a sewn-in floor and 5.5′ of headroom Full rain fly and storm flap in door. Four shock-corded fibreglass poles. Around £200.

 SportZ also have a sewn-in floor. The shade awning secures to the tailgate so you can set it up anywhere. Around £400-£600, depending on size of truck bed.

Tips from a roof-tent owner

Roof tentLiss Fenton isn’t a tent camper. In fact, before buying her roof-tent, she’d only been in a tent once and swore never again.

“We sleep in our VW camper now, but we have the roof-tent as a perfect sleeping space for our 15-year-old. Teenage boys and all the associated smells – no thanks!,” she says. “We wild camp and book onto sites as wild camping is getting harder to do these days.”

How did you choose your tent?

We chose the tent through word of mouth and after doing a lot of research on the internet and YouTube.

We wanted quality, but at a decent price too. It’s big enough so that three extra people can come camping with us, and it certainly has the wow factor for our son. We hope we might get a few more years’ camping with him because he loves his ‘penthouse’ so much!

Roof tentThe drawbacks are that it isn’t easy to put up in a high wind. Perhaps the main disadvantage is that to put it away properly, everything needs to be folded in neatly. When one of you is just over 5′ and the tent is on top of a T4 with a roof rack, it can be quite challenging!

Any advice?

We have an extra large one that, to be honest, is bigger than we need. Don’t necessarily choose the biggest, if you don’t need the size. 

We had an issue with the ladder being wonky. It was replaced, but that was wonky too. Ours is covered by a bag, which is hard to take off and needs drying out, so we’d probably look for an alternative if we were buying again. Also check zips, because these take a lot of abuse.

Are you a roof-tenter? How did you choose it and how do you use it? Share your tips in the comments below.

And for some inspiration, have a look at this book all about using a rooftent in the Kruger National Park.

Does a roof-tent give you any advantage over our favourite quick-pitch tents or a small campervans? Let us know.

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3 Comments

  1. Hi, I have read a lot of reviews but none seem to answer my question, which are if you are at a ordinary camp site, say in the UK and if you wanted to go out for the day can you leave any of these roof tent behind so you don’t have to pack up etc like a tent or caravan? ED: if you mean can you take the rooftent off the car and leave it behind without taking stuff out of it, then probably no. It would be heavy and unwieldy. If you’re asking whether it’s safe to leave one up, it’s no different from leaving a tent behind for the day.

  2. After loads of research I bought a Tuff-Trek Canvas Roof Tent. So glad we did! 2 years of trips and it’s like new. Their help and advice throughout the process was just so much better than any else. They use their products themselves and invited us down for a full demo and explained how to use the tent etc. Highly recommended Amy and Mikey

  3. Matteo Cresti wrote to say:
    “When I was a kid, I’ve travelled several years with a Gabbiano roof tent around Italy with my parents and that was my very first camping experience. We moved to a motorvan only after a long night in the car on the Pirenees: it was raining and we didn’t want to open it as we’ve always been moving around every day and we were afraid that the tent would have get too humid for the remaining of the holiday. Apart from that, those were lovely summers!”

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