Something people often want to know but may be afriad to ask is ‘What makes a good Roof Top Tent‘ ?
Over the years we’ve seen some varied answers, often about poor quality products (naming no names!) so we decided to answer a few common questions here and make a fun Roof Tent Buying Guide.
Who knows, our 2020 Roof Tent Buying Guide may even help you avoid an expensive mistake when buying your new Roof Tent!
What Style of Roof Tent Suits You?
Roof Top Tents can be divided into 2x distinct types – SOFT TOP style FOLD OVER models or more modern HARD SHELL ROOF TENTS . Each version has its own distinct PRO’s and CON’s and your needs may be quite different from another user so it’s a good idea to take a minute and think about what criteria matter to you?
- Speed / Ease of Use
- Weight on you vehicle?
- Space Required on your Roof?
Soft Top Roof Tents
The original roof tent style, invented back in the 1930’s these tend to be less expensive to buy with more inside space than Hard Top Roof Tents.
Ideal for longer stays (more than 1x night in each location) Soft Top’s lend themselves really well to couples or families, but be warned they do take longer to setup/close away. Soft Top Roof-Tents also need relatively fit owners, able to climb around to tuck them away/fit the elasticated travel covers.
These versions have large overhangs above each window, with steel rods to hold them up. This allows lots of ventilation and protects the inside from sun or rain. It also makes this type of roof tent feel very Open and Airy inside. On most models there will be a separate FLY SHEET made of tough rain and weather resistant material which keeps sun or rain off the top of the roof tent body.
Many includes a lower tent called an Annex Room/Shower Room, ideal for UK and European weather which can make your camping experience much more comfortable. Useful for sitting in if the weather is bad, getting dressed, storage or even as space to add a couple of extra beds for visitors or kids.
Annex Rooms don’t have to be used all the time, as most can be quite easily fited to the tent when needed but are great for UK and European weather and can make your camping experience much more comfortable.
Summary: Soft Top Tents always offer a lot more living space if the weather turns bad and feel more airy and spacious BUT take longer to open and close!
Hard Top Roof Tents:
This style of roof tent is very popular with serious travellers as they are quick and easy to open or close. This feature is especially useful when travelling from site to site every day, when the convenience of a quick setup hard top tent is hard to beat!
They are better suited to single travellers and couples as you normally only have the bed-space within the tent. This means there is only space to climb inside and sleep, so whilst they are ideal for serious travellers they are not ideal for families.
Hard Top Tents take up more space on your vehicle roof than conventional Soft Top Roof Tents. This might be important to consider if you have limited internal storage space in your vehicle and need to use your roof rack for jerry cans or other storage space. They also weigh more than most Soft Top Roof Tents.
One additional thing to consider Hard Top Tents need less space to open as they open straight upwards, not over the side or back like Soft Top Roof Tents. This means you can fit into smaller camping pitches in Europe (if you’re not into full on wild camping), and can also make them easier to open to dry at home or on the street.
Hard Top Roof Tents are normally made GRP (glass fibre reinforced plastic) or ABS plastic or less commonly in Aluminium(like the specialised OVERLAND Series built for extra harsh conditions) so they are tough and strong but crucially fast and easy to open or close. This style of rootop tent tends to be heavier than Soft Top Tents due to the hard upper and lower shells and many use sets of gas struts to help them open and close.
- Some Hard Top Tents offer the ability to strap or fix loads to the roof which can be very useful on long journeys or when you have limited interior space in your overland vehicle.
Hard Top Roof Tents are commonly available in 2x styles, and each has their own advantages so think which suits your adventure best?
Fully Opening: both the front and back lift up fully (normally with Gas Struts to assist)
The fully opening versions, like the James Baroud Evasion or BunduTec’s BunduTop Electric Roof Tent are very popular because they offer a very light and airy feel inside, with great views and abundant ventilation from the windows all the way round. You have more roof space above you so you can sit up at each end to get dressed or look outside.
Clamshell/Wedge style: front opening, shaped like a wedge or slice of cheese
Clam Shell styles tend to be the quickest and easiest to open or close of the Hard Top Roof Tents (the exception to this is the amazing 18x second BunduTop). Clam Shells are ideal for bad weather as there is less area exposed to rain or wind and only 1x fixed hinge so they tends to be best of them for bad weather conditions.
Summary: Hard Shell Roof Tents are quick and easy to open or close and suit singles or couples moving location every day!
Check the FABRIC first!
The most important thing with any roof top tent purchase? Check the FABRIC first!
Make sure it’s a breathable fabric – not cheaper polyester which just can’t breathe. Polyester style materials may be called Poly Oxford Canvas, Oxford, Sail Cloth, 420D, 610D Material etc. Beware – none of these are breathable.
- Breathable fabrics tend to be cotton or polycotton blends, or modern very expensive materials like TENCATE used on the James Baroud Hardshell Roof Tents
The best roof tent fabrics tend to be poly-cotton blends. These give features polyester is good for (low weight, abrasion resistance) combined with natural insulation and breathable nature of cotton.
- Why is it so important to be able to ‘breathe’?
Simply put it controls how much condensation you will get inside your new roof tent. A cheap polyester fabric results in lots of sweat and condensation. They are colder in winter, and hotter in summer whilst a decent polycotton blended canvas fabric will be far comfortable all year.
Summary: Avoid Polyester tents and stick with polycotton canvas for more comfort!
1st MYTH about Fabric:
Modern polycotton canvas fabrics don’t need to be heavy to work properly, unlike the old fashioned Army or Scout canvas which many of you might remember.
- Too heavy a weight just means it won’t dry quickly. This is especially true in our European climates.
For example 420D or 600D polyester/nylon oxford fabric is thick but totally unbreathable, like an old plastic anorak. So it’s really totally unsuitable for a roof tent but perfect for a fly sheet (designed to keep the top of your tent dry), or a tough annex room where you don’t sleep. No good for a roof top tent unless you plan to sleep with your windows open all night!
- Good quality canvas should be light enough to dry, and heavy enough to last.
From our 8 years of experience we found 280g to 320g is perfect for Europe, and South African made 380g canvas is great for Africa or other mostly hot climates but may take a little longer to dry in UK conditions.
Tuff-Trek Soft Top Roof Tents are made from 280g or 320g breathable Ripstop Polycotton blended canvas. Our hard top tents like the OVERLAND SERIES are made from 380g, as is the new extra Heavy Duty AFRICA series soft top model so we have an option no matter whereyou plan to explore.
Summary: Check the fabric weight & technical specifications!
Water should bead off the canvas nicely, without needing to block the pore space with heavy, often toxic waterproofing treatments!
- Some cheap tent fabric is treated with dangerous chemicals which can be harmful to your health!
Do I have to treat my new tent? You won’t need to treat a new tent. All decent quality Tents are made from pretreated canvas, ready to use straight out of the box! The only thing is real canvas tents need to be ‘weathered’ (not cheap polyester tents though!). Don’t worry ‘weathering’ just means you let them get wet and dry a few times. This lets threads in the stitched seams swell to fill any holes made by the needles.
Looking after your Roof Tent?
Don’t put your new Roof Tent away wet and leave it there for a long period of time. Like any tent you will need to Open it up and let it Dry out either before your trip ends or shortly after you get home from your last adventure (hence why we like canvas that dry quickly). Doing this will avoid any damp from packing away wet turning to mould which can mark or damage your roof tent fabric. Mould is not only unsightly but it can be bad for your health.
Over winter you should consider taking your roof tent off the roof (if you’re not going to be using it) and storing it safely somewhere (tip: check it regularly and watch out for MICE!). If you plan to leave it ON all winter then remember to check on it regularly, as condensation can still build up inside. You may want to remove your mattress and store it somewhere dry?
Fire Retardent or Not?
Tuff-Trek ® use fire retardant polyester for flysheets & annexes. This doesn’t make it Fireproof but it won’t burst into flames like a roman candle if exposed to flame. We don’t treat our polycotton canvas on the main body with this process as this will tend to block the pores therefore making it unbreathable.
Check your seller to see if their fabric is fire retardent? If not, think twice!
In all case – DON’T use any open flames (candles, lanterns, cookers or wood stoves) inside any tent or awning. Toxic gases are invisible, odourless and can built up quickly so please be safe. Tents should always be kept a safe distance away from open fires and watch for stray embers etc.
Lots of roof tents look the same now but the quality of the materials used to make them varies massively! Check things like:
- Thickness, strength, overall quality of the aluminium poles that make up your support structure
- General feel of components like roof tent tent bases, hinges and ladders. These can vary hugely in quality even though at 1st glance they look the same!
- Feel the fabric – is it ripstop? Is it polycotton or cheap thin Polyester Oxford?
- Does it breath or has it got a thick layer of pastic on it that will block the pores?
- Look carefully at the stitching, is it uniform and precise, and always check the seams are taped
- If possible compare with other similar products to get a ‘feel’ for how the quality varies between brands
Remember, cheap tents are usually cheap for a reason and often leak or fail when you’re in the middle of a trip with your family!
Be careful and look at different brands of tents to be sure you buy a proper one!
Who are you really buying from?
There are lots of cheap, poor quality roof top tents. Make sure whoever is selling your tent is a real company, not just passing off some cheap rebranded tents. Ask the seller some questions to see if they really understand what they sell!
If something goes wrong you want a company that has real support, stock of vital spares, and if possible product liability!
- Will they still be around in 6 months?
- What about in 12 months?
- How many tents have they sold?
- How long have their tents been around? Our oldest roof tents are now 8 years old & in many cases still going strong!
Sometimes it can be very hard to tell the difference just from pictures on the internet so we recommend doing some research. See what people have been saying about these products.
We always advise viewing a range of tents before committing to buy, consider attending a show like the Adventure Overland Show (September and April) where you can see lots of products in the flesh to compare! If you can’t view a tent in person then look for lots of online reviews from clubs and users?
A good Roof Top Tent will be a passport to Adventure so what are you waiting for?
Go find your perfect partner and explore in comfort!
The Team @ Tuff-Trek ®