There are several different kinds of hard-shell tents:
1. Pop-up – Hard-shell is the roof.
2. Pop-out – Hard-shell is one side/roof.
3. Pop-out expandable – Same as #2 but the soft side expands.
Why would you want a hard-shell rooftop tent?
A hard-shell tent provides more support in adverse weather. Strong winds which can accompany rain and thunderstorms can be a real challenge for soft shell tents. Hard shell rooftop tents have that hard shell on the roof for added protection. You might appreciate this more if you have been running around in the the middle of the night trying to secure your soft-shell tent with tie lines.
Another problem with high winds is that the often used rainfly slaps up against the tent making lots of noise. A hard-shell tent does not need a rainfly.
Biggest disadvantages: cost and weight. They are really heavy and really expensive. Heavy probably means a new rack system for you, and not a couple of cheap of crossbars. You may need to replace the rails and crossbars depending on the tent. That’s going to be really expensive. Then there is the cost of the hard-shell tent.
I like hard-shell tents but I’m generally not excited about big and heavy. If you need to go big and heavy then you need the right vehicle for it, or a trailer with rack, or maybe you need to rethink rooftop tenting. I think the best vehicle for big and heavy is an open bed track with heavy rack in the back. A small trailer with heavy rack performs the same function. Otherwise, center of gravity issues make me less than excited about other options.
Given that manufacturers are not exactly fountains of information about rooftop cargo loads, I would always keep the factory maximum cargo limit in mind. That limit only applies to vehicles in motion. Don’t stray far from that even with a rack that can hold a lot more. It’s the center of gravity problem. If you put an 175lb tent on a vehicle that originally could only hold 120lbs then what does that do to the center of gravity? How does it perform in high wind? What about off-road? What if you forget that you have a tent on top?
In the video below a couple got caught up in high winds in a CVT hard shell tent (Mt. St. Helens – cost $2,500.) Interestingly, the problem wasn’t the tent. It was the general noise of the wind and the rocking of their vehicle that caused them to drive to another location.
Roof Top Tent In High Winds At Night – We had to move – YouTube
Here’s a review of the CVT Mount St. Helens by another guy. He updates with even more information.
Here are his comments about the good and bad of the CVT Mount St. Helens hard-shell rooftop tent:
The Good: Much of what we felt in the original review is very much true. This tent is an absolute joy to have for us. We absolutely love:
The spacious interior. …
Speaking of setup, it is extremely easy. …
Sound, or lack there of, is something we learned about on our last trip. …
The tents profile has led to noticeably less wind resistance going down the highway. MPGs are up 1-2. …
No matter how terrible the weather has gotten on us, we still stayed high and dry with no water intrusion. …
Onto the BAD!
When camping in terrible conditions like mud, rain, and snow, the feet on the ladder, and the rungs inevitable get mud on them. You are then forced to store the ladder outside the tent. …
There are clips that hold the fabric material to the base. These clips come off too easily, and then the don’t ‘snap’ back into place. …
On the last night of our camping trip, the seam between the zipper and door pulled apart. …
Mostly good but not perfect. Still, it sounds pretty good overall.
In the video below a solo female traveler (YouTube channel: ManySoulfulMiles) showing how to setup her Tepui Hybox rooftop tent. Tent cost is $3,000. Weight is 155lbs (ladder (20lbs) is in trunk.) This tent is mounted on a 2013 Toyota RAV4 XLE AWD. Here is her rack information:
Tepui HyBox Rooftop Tent & Cargo Box Demo | Solo Female Traveler – YouTube
I cover the issue of mounting rooftop tents on the RAV4 here. Maybe she could have avoided the expensive aftermarket rack system.
The next video shows a different kind of hard-shell tent. It’s a fold out, expandable tent rather than a pop-up tent. The hard-shell is one side of the tent rather then solely the roof like in other hard-shell tents.
Tuff Stuff Alpha hard shell roof top tent walkaround – YouTube
This is the Tuff Stuff® ALPHA hard top, side open tent. It weighs 176lbs and has a maximum capacity of 1,100lbs. The cost is about $2,000. It holds up to 4 people.
The weight (176lbs) and maximum capacity (1,110lbs) are so much that this requires a whole new rack system including new rails. In the video it’s mounted on a 4Runner. The 4Runner has a maximum cargo load of 120lbs. Is that low maximum load just due to the factory rack or are there handling issues involved? We don’t know.
I’ve been seeing quite a few people with the Maggiolina rooftop tent. The one below is the Maggiolina Extreme rooftop tent. It costs about $3,700. It’s got an interesting hand crank system for opening and closing. The full range of tents by Maggiolina seems to run from about $3,000 to $3,700.
The Ins and Outs of the Maggiolina rooftop tent – YouTube
This tent weighs 152lbs but other Maggiolina tents are lighter. Most racks can handle 165lbs.
I like this Maggiolina Extreme rooftop tent a lot. It’s just so damn expensive.
Hopefully this small sample has given you something to work with.