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

We camped alongside a car with a rather nice roof tent last summer.

As dusk fell, the campers scampered up a ladder, disappeared inside and the lovely warm glow from their lantern made it look very cosy indeed.

But are roof tents really a practical camping option? And which are the best roof tents to buy?

 

Roof tent

Latest update: July 2020

To have or not to have…a roof-tent

Roof-tent advantages

The ideal roof tent is lightweight, streamlined, easy to fold out and pack away, and preferably have space to leave the bedding inside. 

 
 
  • You’re off the ground, out of the wet and dirt.
  • Modern roof-tents are super-fast to put up
  • Wild camping is easier, in that you only need space for the car.
  • 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

And the drawbacks?

  • Roof tents can be expensive compared to a normal tent. Expect to pay upwards of £1,000 and at least double that for a top-quality model that will withstand severe weather
  • 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.

Tuff-Trek roof tents

Our favourites by a long chalk. One of the problems with roof tents generally is the quality. Dara at Tuff Trek uses a roof tent himself, so he makes sure that what he sells won’t let anyone down.

 

There are lots of options in both soft and hard top and they’ll 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.

 

TT-02 1.4m roof tent

A UK specification touring canvas roof tent with a lower annex room included.

It’s designed to fit all vehicles, has space for a double bed and quick set-up. The polycotton breathable canvas dries quickly and keeps weight to a minimum.

Price is around £1,200, so one of the best value roof tents we’ve found.

There’s also a ‘ruggedised’ version for around £1,400 with some fantastic features, including big side windows and even more protective flysheet.

Bundutop electric roof tent

Tuff-Trek also make the BunduTop, an electric opening roof tent starting at around £2,500.

Set up in 20 seconds and with insulation, a 10cm thick mattress, LED lights and a power point inside. Yes, please!

Frontrunner Featherlight roof tent

The lowest profile on the market and only 43kg in weight, the Frontrunner Featherlight costs around £1,000 – making it the most affordable high-quality roof tent. 

It mounts to your roof-rack and all the hardware and fittings are included. Opening skylight vents, lots of weather protection, plus ladder and comfortable mattress too.

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. The Tentbox has some nice features, such as a memory foam mattress. Very simple and streamlined, and costs around £1900.

Ventura roof tents

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.

The Ventura 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 £800. We found the best prices on Ebay

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.

 
 
And this is how we turned a Citroen Berlingo into a mini camper for less than £350.
Berlingo mini campervan

The ‘bed base’ ready to be filled.

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 (around £150-£300) and it gives you a home that’s a decent hop up from the ground but not too far to fall!

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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4 Comments

  1. Mags and Danno

    We bought a Venturer and were so excited to go on our 1st big trip to Scotland. My partner and I set up 1st night near Lake District in dry weather but woke up soaked. Rain had come up while we slept and totally soaked through the tent. Our mattress and bedding was soaked. We contacted Venturer who said it would be fine but it happened every night it rained. The strap on the fly sheet tore off too one night for no reason, and we had to cut our break short and go home. He said he’d refund or replace our tent but never did. Total waste of money. We sold it on ebay and bought a much better one by tuftrek and have used it for a year now in all weathers. Be careful what you buy!

  2. 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.

  3. 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

  4. 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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