Over the past few years, campers and other outdoor enthusiasts in the U.S. have been taking cues from the overlanding crowd in Africa and Australia by sleeping atop their vehicles. Rooftop tents were originally developed to keep folks at a safe remove from apex predators, poisonous snakes, and creepy-crawlies. Americans took notice because they’re easy to deploy, are super comfortable, and look damn cool to boot. RTTs require a bit of work to install—you’ll probably need an aftermarket roof rack rated for your shelter’s weight, which can exceed 150 pounds—and they come in two flavors: hard and soft shell.
Roofnest Sparrow ($2,495)
Hard-shell tents are the burlier and more aerodynamic of the two, and they’re easier to set up. They pop open like the roof of a Westfalia (either straight or at one end, in a sideways V). Our favorite, the Roofnest Sparrow, has a fiberglass shell that collapses to just 10.5 inches tall; it was the most aerodynamic RTT we tested. The polyurethane-coated polyester-cotton walls are waterproof, and assembly takes less than two minutes.
Alu-Cab Gen 3 Expedition ($4,000)
Alu-Cab’s Gen 3 Expedition, with an aluminum shell, is even hardier and has built-in lights and charging ports that connect to a car battery, if you plan to spend a lot of time on the road. Hauling tons of gear or camping in the cold? Put a rack on top and get an insulation kit ($495). Bonus: both tents come with a plush foam mattress.
Tepui Baja Series Kukenam ($1,275)
Soft-shell tents are the more affordable option, and their familiar shape makes them more flexible and space efficient. Tepui’s Baja Series Kukenam sleeps three, and the design lets you swap canopies based on how much ventilation you need.
Yakima SkyRise Small ($1,100)
At 95 pounds, Yakima’s SkyRise Small is the lightest RTT we tested, making it easier to install and better suited to smaller vehicles. It also attaches to your roof rack without tools, thanks to a simple clamping system that lets you tighten the bolts by hand. Both models offer more headroom than their hard-shell counterparts.