In general, rooftop tents are a more durable and plush alternative to ground tents. They keep you off the ground and guarantee a flat surface for sleeping. They also minimize campsite impact and offer privacy that ground tents cannot.
Let’s start with the basics. A hard-shell tent has exactly that, a hard-shell, oftentimes made out of plastic, fiberglass, or aluminum. They travel like roof boxes, but open into fabric tents with the hard shell as the roof. A soft-shell roof top tent on the other hand, resembles a traditional ground tent and sits atop a metal frame that extends past your roof.
Soft-shell Rooftop Tents are the original rooftop models. They are made with a full canvas or nylon body and attached to a platform frame which hangs off of the roof of your vehicle.
Soft-shelltents are the most spacious option. This added space makes soft shell tents ideal for family camping trips, accompanying pets, and offers storage for extra gear. If you’re caught in inclement weather, the added space gives you an area to take cover. While hard-shell tents are limited to the area of your car’s roof, soft shell tents go beyond the roof, and add-ons, like awnings or annexes can be added for even more room.
Because soft-shell tents hang over the side of your vehicle’s roof they also provide a covered area below the tent for cooking and relaxing. In desert climates especially, this shaded area is a huge added bonus. The opportunity for added awnings and annexes make soft shell tents perfect for longer trips with larger groups.
Despite being larger once set up, soft shell tents pack smaller than hard shell tents, making them compatible with smaller vehicles. The fabric build also makes them lighter than their hard shell counterparts which demands a less heavy-duty roof rack and less man power for lifting. The weight difference is especially crucial for smaller vehicles carrying rooftop tents and can improve vehicle performance on tough roads.
Soft-shell rooftop tents are generally less expensive that hard-shell tents. On average, these all fabric tents will run at around 1.5x-2x less than hard shell tents. If you’re new to camping or on a budget, this price difference may be a determining factor.
Like traditional ground tents that are made from fabric, soft-shell rooftop tents are vulnerable in strong wind storms. The fabric is durable enough to hold up in inclement weather, but the noise from the wind hitting the fabric is more substantial than with a hard-shell tent.
Unlike hard shell tents that pop-up into their final form, soft shell tents require setup. It is similar to setting up a ground tent, but you’re above the ground and removing a heavy cover that can be challenging solo. Unlike their hard-shell counterparts, you’ll have to remove your bedding from the tent every time you close it, which also increases set up time.
This new take on rooftop tents looks like a roof case, but lifts up into a tent in either a wedge or box style with fabric tent walls and a hard-shell roof.
One of the most obvious advantages of a hard-shell rooftop tent is the setup time. Hard-shell rooftop tents can take less than a minute to setup, thanks to the popup or lift mechanism most of them use. Once the tent body pops up it just has to be locked in. This makes hard-shell tents ideal for solo travelers. Another added advantage is that you can leave your bedding setup inside a closed hard-shell tent and avoid set up every time you camp.
The top shell of a hard-shell tent provides more protection and durability than a full-fabric tent. Naturally, aluminum and plastic are more waterproof than nylon or canvas, which makes the roof portion of these tents more compatible with wet or snowy climates.
Hard-shell tents are limited to the size of your vehicle’s roofs. This makes these models less accommodating of larger groups and also limits the opportunity for add-on’s like awnings and annexes. If you are camping in a desert or non-shaded area, you will not have the added benefit of shade that you get from the soft-shell model.
Hard-shell tents are significantly more expensive than soft-shell tents and also require a heavier, likely more expensive roof rack.
If you drive a smaller vehicle or a lightweight vehicle that may be challenged with suspension changes, the extra heft from the hard-shell may not be the right choice. Overall, hard-shell tents are more compatible with SUVs and large trucks. It is also good to keep in mind that they are less compact when closed than soft-shell tents and may be difficult to store at home when camping season is over.
Both the soft shell roof top tent and the hard shell roof top tent are great options for camping in the outdoors. While the soft shell tents take more time to set up initially, they are best for those looking for a spacious night sleep under the stars. Alongside this, their area coverage allows for an easy addition of a covered annex for inclement weather. Hard shell roof top tents are great for their easy set up, but for the price and the tent space, we recommend the soft shell rooftop tent.
Check out our selection of ROAM Roof Top Tents and start ROAMing.