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Best Rooftop Tents & Awnings - The Buyers Guide to Help You Decide

Best Rooftop Tents & Awnings - The Buyers Guide to Help You Decide

8 minute read

Rooftop tents have fast become an off-roaders' shelter-of-choice on overlanding treks, rock-hopping weekends, and any time outdoor adventures “keep” you away from home for the night. This lets you create a campsite anywhere you put it in park, and manufacturers are helping complete that campsite with awnings, storage, cooking, and entertainment accessories designed to make roughing it a whole lot more fun and comfortable with your friends. With more and more options hitting the market every day, it can be hard to choose the right camping set-up for your roof. Taking a few moments to evaluate your vehicle’s camping needs can go a long way toward pointing you in the right direction.

Getting To High Ground

Rooftop tents are perfect for offroading. There’s no need to find a clear patch of ground free of rocks and roots. Setting up is easy. In minutes you can be ready to climb into bed under the stars with critters, crawlers, and flooded campsites a thing of the past. It’s no wonder why so many off-roaders are choosing to put their roof racks to use rather than loading up that trusty hand-me-down dome tent.

Choosing Your Camping Gear

The biggest perk of building out an off-road vehicle with aftermarket accessories and add-ons is the flexibility to decide what works best for you. That means your customized truck lets you personalize your camping experience to fit your lifestyle. To do that, you have to know what you want most in a rooftop tent.

Sizing Up Your Tent

One of the biggest limiting factors in choosing a rooftop tent is the vehicle supporting it. Your tent is supported on either a rack , steel cap/topper or load bars that are engineered to handle the load and disperse the weight of the tent and its occupants into the support structures of the vehicle. There are tents to fit any off-road vehicle, rack, load bars or cap that is designed to support an appropriate amount of weight, but smaller or narrower vehicles may need smaller tents, like the iKamper Skycamp Mini.

Soft Or Shell

Next, you need to look at the style of your tent, or rather the style of your tent when it’s stowed for travel. Rooftop tents come in a few styles, each with its own benefits and drawbacks.

Hard Shell Tents - Clamshell-style rooftop tents like the Mamba from Overland Vehicle Systems are popular because they’re light, sturdy, and easy to set up. Open them up, brace the top, and find your pillow. The downside is that they lack the space–especially headspace–other options offer.

Soft Cover Tents - The Freespirit Recreation High Country is a good example of this expansive style. While it folds down neatly for travel, safely protected from the elements in a softcover, it lacks the rigid protection and the rigid dimensions that come with a hard shell tent. It does fold out to offer an impressive amount of space for both people and gear when the sun goes down.

Hybrid - The latest additions to rooftop tents, such as the iKamper Skycamp 2.0, offer the best of both worlds. You get a hard travel shell that offers minimal restrictions to space, but those restrictions are offset by a fold-out style that gives an impressive amount of room from such a small package.

Climate and Countryside Considerations

How do you like to get off-road, and what are your camping trips going to look like? Just about any rooftop tent will get you through a gentle spring breeze on a warm evening under the stars. If you love the frigid weather of a December in the northern Midwest or plan on roughing it through sleet and hail, you may have higher expectations. iKamper’s Insulation kits and similar accessories help you modify your tent to be ready for the challenges you intend to face.

Priced Right

Cost isn’t last because it’s not important–it definitely is. It’s also the factor that is easiest to work with. You want to make sure the rooftop tent you’re looking at fits your budget, but it’s easier to save one more paycheck than shiver through a night as a pretzel because you went with a tent that was too small and light for your camping. Tent costs have a wide range, and that’s before you consider add-ons you may need to finish out the build. Always have a firm idea of your budget and minimum necessities before pulling the trigger on a purchase.

Building Out Your Kit

The tent, by itself, is just the start of your mobile campsite. Once you’ve picked out the right shelter, it’s time to get down to the real work of making sure your vehicle is outfitted for not just the tent but also the experience.

Rack it up

A serious set of load bars or a heavy-duty rack is needed for rooftop tent support. Along with the weight of the tent itself, your vehicle has to support the weight of the campers, their clothes, gear, and accessories. It’s not for the faint of heart, and you have a few options to choose from.

Load Bars - These bars are installed across the vehicle’s body to carry and distribute weight down into the vehicle’s support posts. Rhino Rack makes strong, universal-fit load bars that fit a range of trucks, truck caps, and SUVs. If you’re looking for a basic rooftop cargo support option, this can be an efficient and budget-friendly choice.

Bed Racks - Perfect for smaller tents, bed racks, like this gem from RCI Metalworks, give you a raised, load-capable platform above your bed, which is then left to hold whatever gear, accessories, or motorsports vehicles you’re hauling along with you.

Canopy And Roof Racks - If you like to spread out, then you should look at rack options that give you the length of the vehicle to work with. Aside from making some good rooftop tents, Front Runner also makes racks designed for truck canopies, beds, and full rooftops.

Caps and Canopies - The ubiquitous camper shell that has adorned the back of camping and overlanding vehicles for decades has evolved into an off-road workhorse able to keep gear organized, dry, and offer additional support for your rooftop tent. Canopies like those from RSI/SmartCap have redefined the popular truck accessory into a must-have part of any long-term overlanding build. Built to withstand the rigors of the African plains, SmartCaps are constructed from the same type of stainless steel in most truck body panels, offer an array of outfitting options, and use a modular design that seals tight but offers plenty of flexibility for removal or repair if needed. Whether you want to keep your gear secured and dry or have a fallback plan for torrential downpours before camp is set up, a good canopy literally has you covered.

Going Big

Modern rooftop tents may give you a decent amount of sleeping space in a small, efficient package, but that doesn’t mean you can’t give yourself a little elbow room. Adding on to your camp space can be as simple as finding the right accessories.

Annexes - An annex is designed to give your tent a little more–well–tent. For example, this annex for the iKamper Skycamp Mini zips directly onto your tent entrance to extend your home-away-from-home to the ground level for relaxing, easier dressing and undressing, or additional tent space for unpacked gear.

Awnings - Rather than tent space, awnings provide shelter from the sun, rain, or other precipitation without any walls blocking out nature. They range in size from small enough to give your 2-person tent a porch to large enough to provide coverage all around your vehicle. There are even stand-alone awnings that just provide shelter when you’re out in the field but don’t intend to camp or aren’t ready to set up camp yet.

Finishing Your Camping Build

Finally, you’ll want to look at other gear that can help elevate your camping. Adding storage and organization racks can be a great way to make sure there is a place for everything and everything is in its place at your base camp. There are also plenty of set-ups for safely toting camp tables, cooking accessories, and even the next best thing to a full kitchen. Your campsite is what you make of it, and there is no limit to what you can do with your customized off-road vehicle.

Escape Without Compromise

There’s no reason you can’t build out a camping experience that’s comfortable, convenient, and downright fun for your off-roading, and we’re here to help. As truck enthusiasts ourselves, we know how important gear you can count on is, which is why we run what we sell in our own builds. If you have any questions, give us a call anytime–days, nights, or weekends. Get your rooftop tents, awnings, and camping accessories from Offroad Alliance today.

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