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?
Latest Update: September 2021
In a hurry? If you don’t have much time using the links below to quickly find our favourites. You can be assured we only choose the best products…
To have or not to have…a roof-tent
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
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
- Consider how to best use your camping toilet
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.
Our Favourite Roof Tents
Tuff-Trek Roof Tents
Tuff-Trek are 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. They all come with a two-year warranty and are designed and tested in the UK.
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 £995 to £2,500, but you’ll want the accessories too.
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.
It's one of the best value roof tents with awning that we’ve found.
There’s also a ‘ruggedised’ version with some fantastic features, including big side windows and even more protective flysheet.
The new skytop shape
The TT-03 is a new beauty from Tuff Trek and they claim it’s their most luxurious yet. It a great price too for what you get.
It has a curved roof so that rain and snow don’t settle and has the same opening skylight for star-watching as the TT-01. This one also has an end window over the ladder to make the annex brighter.
All the inside poles have a lining to stop condensation from dripping and the fabric is a quality-weight breathable polycotton – cool in the heat and warm in winter.
Oh, and the height of the annex can be adjusted. It’s 2m x 2m at the base.
Tuff-Trek’s new TT-01 Ultralite roof tent is the company’s most affordable model ever. It’s perfect on almost any sort of car or van and super-quick to set up and pack away.
We loved the sky window in the top. Unzip it and you can stargaze from bed.
It’s made from breathable and quick-drying polycotton and comes with a 7cm deep mattress, midge net windows, a telescopic ladder, a travel cover and a lower cargo net.
Closed, it measures just 1.2m by 1.4m and opens to 2.4m by 1.4m. It weighs 48kg and can be mounted on roof bars or roofracks.
Best of all, it comes from a supplier with a good track record and great service. Second best of all it's a fantastic price!
The lowest profile on the market and only 43kg in weight, the Frontrunner Featherlight is a great price too – 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.
Other rooftop brands to look at
This is a super easy set up and down box which comes with 2.4" thick 94.5" x 55" foam double/full mattress, it is very neat when folded down into a hard case roof top box and has mesh window for good ventilation, a little more money but very solid.
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. We found the best prices on Ebay.
Decathlon have just brought out their own Quechua roof tent…but is it really a roof tent?
It’s inflatable, very affordable, has a proper slatted bed base and packs to a carryable size, but you can’t drive with it attached and it only works on a van roof – not on cars and NOT on roof rails or bars.
They say its point is that you could leave your sports gear, bikes and what-not inside the van and sleep on top rather than having to unpack everything to make up a bed inside. Plus, it’s advantage over a ground tent is that you don’t need to find a flat place to pitch.
It comes with a ladder and fixing kit and has the nice Fresh & Black dark interior as well as plenty of light when you want it thanks to the opening windows.
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.
The ‘bed base’ ready to be filled.
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!
If you do have a truck this tent could be a great option at a fab price too! Easily fits 2 people in with an awning you can prop up to put your table and chairs under, includes flooring and 2 mesh windows too.
Tips from a roof-tent owner
Liss 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!
The 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!
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.
For some inspiration, have a look at this book all about using a rooftent in the Kruger National Park.