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 2020
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
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.
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.
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 costs only £995.
TT-03 1.4m roof tent – the new skytop shape
The TT-03 is a new beauty from Tuff Trek and they claim it’s their most luxurious yet. It still costs under £1500, though, which is pretty reasonable 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. Not bad for less than £1500.
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 £1,300, so one of the best value roof tents with awning that 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.
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.
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.
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
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.