One way to define the best rooftop tents in 2020 is to look at the most highly rated models at Amazon.Com. If you do that then you’ll find that there are not a lot of reviews for most rooftop tents. It’s not hard to understand why given the quantum leap in prices as compared to regular tents. A good rooftop tent will set you back at least $850 and probably more than that. I’ve focused on models with at least 10 reviews which leaves us with only four models: Smittybilt Overlander, Tepui Ayer, Tepui Kukenam and the Raptor Series Offgrid Voyager.
In addition to Amazon.Com, I also follow REI.Com because I know and trust it. For outdoor gear, I trust REI.Com even more than Amazon.Com.
Smittybilt Overlander Rooftop Tent
By far the Smittybilt Overlander Tent is the most popular rooftop tent. That’s probably because it’s also one of the cheapest at about $900. This model will fit just about any vehicle that can support the weight and allows for a roof rack.
Smittybilt Rooftop Tent FULL REVIEW – YouTube
A four season tent that sleeps 2 to 3. Base footprint: 56 x 95 inches. You’ll need the XL version for sleeping 3 to 4 people with base footprint: 92.5 x 74.8. Tent weight is 117lbs. Load capacity is 661lbs. Rating at Amazon.Com: 4.6 stars out of 199 reviews. You can get answers to 601 questions. Smittybilt customer service seems to work well for most people but there are some issues here as some Amazon.Com reviewers reveal. Why do some people give it a bad review? Difficulty in installation. Damaged item(s) and no replacement.
Some people complained about the hard floor. This was solved by using a 2in foam mattress topper.
The base is constructed of 1in aluminum. Is there a temperature problem with the floor? I didn’t pick up any problems with a cold floor in the reviews.
Probably the worst two points with this tent are the installation procedure and the ladder. The ladder works but is kind of crappy compared to the other models on this page.
How do you install a Smittybilt Rooftop Tent?
Watch this couple struggle through installation.
You can find more installation videos here. Watch some videos and get a ratchet wrench. Note: the bolts attaching the rooftop tent to the car rack can work their way loose. Use Loctite (threadlocker) to prevent that.
Once you get the rooftop installed on the top of your vehicle, everything else works pretty well. People seem to really like it. Note that the set up and put away mentioned below apply after the tent is already installed on the top.
One reviewer wrote at Amazon.Com:
Great purchase for anyone who loves road trips ! The set up and put away is so simple. We leave all our pillows and blankets folded in the tent while traveling. Makes you want to get out an explore more. We have had many rainy nights with no leaks, i would recommend a anti-condensation mat though.
A useful comparison measure is the weight divided by base footprint: 117lbs/(55×92 ins²) or .0231 lbs per square in. I’ll be using this measure (tent density) with the other tents below. Comparing this measure between tents forces an explanation, like why are they different? Sometimes there are errors in the data.
Now Smittybilt has come out with another model: Smittybilt GEN2 Overlander Tent – 2583. Check out the video:
This tent is available at 4WheelParts.Com for $1,150. This next generation tent has solved the crappy ladder problem. The fabric is the same but the color is different. Overall, this tent looks to be very similar to the prior model, although there may be some minor issues addressed like the poor straps.
Tepui Rooftop Tents
Out of the four most popular rooftop tent models at Amazon.Com, two of them are built by Tepui. The Tepui Explorer Ayer Rooftop Tent is about $1,200 at Amazon.Com, and the Tepui Explorer Kukenam Rooftop Tent is about $1,500 (list price) at Amazon.Com. REI also sells those two tents: $1,150 and $1,500 respectively.
The Tepui Explorer Ayer Rooftop Tent
Gear review – Tepui Ayer 2 – 6 month review
A four season tent that sleeps up to two people. Base footprint: 48 x 84 inches. Its closed footprint is 42 x 48. It weighs 95lbs. Note that the weight on Amazon.com is incorrect. Load capacity is 400lbs. Amazon.Com rating: 3.9 stars out of 28 ratings. If you’re looking for something to fit a smaller SUV then this might be a good option.
Tepui Roof Top Tents | Installation Video – YouTube
What’s the difference between the Tepui Ayer Rooftop Tent and the Smittybilt Overland Tent?
Besides the size and price, what else is different? Tent density is 95/(48×94) or .0211 lbs/in². This compares to the Smittybilt tent density of .0231. Why is the Smittybilt tent heavier? They both use aluminum poles and have the same tent fabric – 600 denier poly/cotton. The Ayer base construction is welded aluminum tube with insulation and aluminum cap sheet. Smittybilt uses 1″ aluminum/polyurethane for the floor. The difference in floor construction plus Smittybilt’s bigger floor size probably needs stronger (heavier) material. Notice the difference in load capacity: 661lbs (Smittybilt) vs 400lbs (Tepui.)
Tepui Ayer Sky 2 vs. Smittybilt Overlander 2783 Roof Top Tent Comparison & Review – YouTube
He summarizes the video near the end with a nice comparison sheet that is too difficult to read. I took a screenshot and blew it up. Basically, the Smittybilt overwhelmingly wins the comparison. The Tepui wins in smaller closed footprint size, lighter weight, ladder (much better), air vent ( 2 vs 1 one each side) and the travel cover attachment (zipper vs velcro.) Smittybilt won or tied everything else. At the end of the comparison he says he would buy the Smittybilt even at the same price as the Tepui.
The only real reason to get a Tepui Ayer is if you want the smaller size and/or weight.
The Tepui Explorer Kukenam Rooftop Tent
The Kukenam is the the big brother of the Ayer. Similar construction only bigger. A four season tent that sleeps up to three people. Base footprint: 56 x 96 inches. Weight is 125lbs. Load capacity is 275kg or 606lbs. Amazon.Com rating: 3.9 out of 12 ratings.
Kukenam tent density is 125/(56×96) or .0233. Compare to the Smittybilt .0231. In this case the increased weight of the Kukenam is probably due to the much better ladder.
Tepui Explorer Series Kukenam 3 Blue Roof Top Tent Overview – YouTube
Why didn’t some people like the Kukenam? Out of 12 reviews, 2 people said their tent came with some defective materials. One person said it was too cold in the winter.
Installation issues are going to be similar to the Ayer.
Raptor Series Offgrid Voyager Rooftop Tent
This tent is different from the other three tents. It’s base doesn’t fold. You sleep over your vehicle instead of at a right angle to it. You’re going to need a vehicle that can accommodate a 7 foot long tent on top. Also, the ladder is not needed for tent support, like the other tents.
Current price at Amazon.Com is $850. Amazon.Com rating: 4.5 out of 14 ratings. Sleeps 2. The shipping weight is 159lbs, so assume an actual weight (not given) of about 149lbs. That makes this tent heaviest here. Base footprint: 52 x 83 inches. Max height: 48in. Load capacity: 750lbs.
A look at the Raptor Series Offgrid Voyager rooftop tents
What about that 7 foot length issue? Well, some overhang is allowed. You need a roof rack rated for 160lbs. Somebody asked this in the Amazon.Com questions section:
“Can this tent fit on a two door jeep wrangler with congo roof rack?”
There will be some overhang in the front and more overhang in the back but it works. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. I wonder what this configuration drives like?
I like this very simple tent configuration. If it doesn’t overwhelm your vehicle, you may want to consider it.
Should you buy a rooftop tent?
One problem with rooftop tents is that you can’t mark your campsite if you want to drive somewhere. When you return your campsite will be occupied by someone else. You’ll need to get two red collapsible traffic cones to help with that. You could also stretch yellow flagging tape between the cones for added insurance. This also solves the problem of how to find your campsite in the dark.
Weight distribution is something to think about. A lot of weight high on a vehicle is not a good thing for stability reasons.
Another thing is decreased gas mileage due to the wind resistance of the rooftop tent.
Ground Tent versus Vehicle Roof Tent. The Overland Workshop
If you’re set on a rooftop tent then the Smittybilt Overlander is the best way to go. Just be aware of the issues. If your vehicle can accommodate it, I would seriously consider the Raptor Series Offgrid Voyager. If money isn’t an issue, I would consider the Kukenam. If you have a small vehicle then the Ayer might be a good fit.