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5 Best Cheap Roof Top Tents: A Wildlife Photographer’s Top Picks

a cheap roof top tent opens up a world of camping possibilities
Ett taktält av mjukskal-modell monterat på en Tiguan Allspace.-ElisabethStandár

The roof top tent trend has really taken off over the last five or so years. A combination of economic reasons (people are looking for more affordable trips closer to home) and an increased desire to spend time outdoors has prompted many people to invest in what is, for me, one of the best ways to camp out. 

Roof top tents can be incredibly expensive, but they don’t necessarily have to be. I’ve slept in some very expensive and also some really nice cheap roof top tents (affordable, not poorly made) over the years and for under a couple grand, you can get yourself something nice that will also last. 

With that in mind, below is my list of the 5 best cheap roof top tents on the marketing right now: 


Cheap Roof Top Tent #1: Raptor Series 100000-126800 Offgrid Voyager Rooftop Tent with Ladder

The Raptor Series is a great cheap roof top tent designed for two people. Made to fit either SUVs or pickups, I really like how quickly this roof top tent sets up (just a few seconds), which is quite remarkable given that a lot of these setups can take quite a while (especially on your trial run). 

The aerodynamic design is made to withstand heavy wind and wick away water and the built-in awning gives you a nice panoramic view of the surrounding area while providing a lot of shade. 

Specs

Materials:
polycotton, aluminium
Capacity:
2
Dimensions:
‎86 x 54 x 11 inches
Included:
Hardware to Install to Roof Rack, mattress
Seasons:
4
Ladder type:
Telescopic

Cons

Some owners have indicated that, despite loving this cheap roof top tent, the instruction manual could be a little easier to follow. Others have alleged that some of the components (e.g., the rubber at the bottom of the tent metal sticks required minor sanding in order to fit through frame sides) needed tailoring.  

The bottom frame is also quite heavy, which means you need quite a bit of upper body strength to install it on your own. 

Still, two-thirds of reviewers have given this great little cheap roof top tent 5 stars, commending everything from the sturdiness to the roominess to the quality of the materials.


Cheap Roof Top Tent #2: Overland Vehicle Systems Nomadic 2 Extended Roof Top Tent

The Overland Vehicle Systems Nomadic 2 sleeps 2+ (likely max 3) people (as opposed to the Raptor Series above), so it features an extended floor area. 

Because of the added capacity, it’s made with marine-grade stainless steel (i.e., greater corrosion resistance) and aircraft-grade aluminium (high corrosion and fatigue resistance) to withstand more weight. With great quality materials and an easy install, this is a really nice cheap roof top tent that will please both first-time roof tent buyers and long-time campers

Specs

Materials:
marine grade stainless steel, aircraft grade aluminium, 600D Rip-Stop Polyester Cotton Canvas, 420D Polyester Oxford Waterproof Rain Fly
Capacity:
2+ (750lbs)
Dimensions:
54” x 122” x 51”
Included:
3” High-Density Foam Mattress, LED Light Strip, Hydro-flask Holder (Pair), Floor Mat, Bonus Pack – Pillows, Lap Table & Wisk and Pan, Window Rod Holder, Storage Loft, Skylight, Portable Battery Pocket
Seasons:
4
Ladder type:
Telescopic

Cons

As far as cheap roof top tents go, there appear to be surprisingly few complaints about the Overland Vehicle System’s Nomadic 2. One person stated that the included mattress left something to be desired. 

The tent also sits pretty high on the rack, meaning more drag and potentially worse gas mileage for you. Something to consider in this era of high gas prices. 


All in all, a beloved cheap roof top tent that has two-thirds five star reviews and is commended by owners around the world for everything from the amazing quality for the price, and how easy it is to install to the comfort of the mattress.


Cheap Roof Top Tent #3: Smittybilt Overlander Tent

The Smittybilt Overlander is another great cheap roof top tent that comfortably sleeps two people. Smittybilt is one of the most storied and trust names in offroading and overlanding Jeep accessories, but their roof top tents also fit a wide range of SUVs and trucks. 

I love this tent because everything is self-contained. All of the bedding and the accessories are inside the tent, which makes it a breeze to set up and take down and really helps economize on storage space. 

Specs

Materials:
420D Oxford flysheet, 600D Heavy-duty ripstop polyester, waterproof and polyurethane-impregnated, 4mm spring steel durable poles and tension rods
Capacity:
2 (300kg max weight)
Dimensions:
95″W x 56″L x 51″H
Included:
foam mattress, mounting brackets, LED light
Seasons:
4
Ladder type:
Telescopic

Cons

A few reviewers indicated that the included mattress is not all that comfortable (which is, as these sorts of claims often are, contradicted by myriad other reviewers lauding the mattress). I, personally, never really trust the included mattress that comes with anything because my back is messed up, so I buy a third-party mattress that I know is going to do the job

Despite the few detracting comments, over 80 percent of people who’ve bought this cheap roof top tent can’t say enough good things about its quality and how much of a steal it is given the comparatively low price.


Cheap Roof Top Tent #4: Thule Tepui Kukenam Rooftop Tent

Thule is a Swedish company that has been making roof racks, carriers and luggage since 1942 and their Tepui Kukenam is a great cheap roof top tent that comes with the Thule design and engineering prowess. 

It’s a 3-person, four-season tent with nice mesh panels for good ventilation (something you want if you intend on sleeping three people) and a quick-release rainfly that makes it easy to adjust your weatherproofing in a hurry if need be. I also really like the annex accessory (sold separately) that lets you set up a sheltered, private entrance. Hold’s up well in storms and wind and is very easy to set up (especially after your first attempt). 

Specs

Materials:
260g Polyester Cotton; 600D ripstop fabric with water-resistant ventilate coating
Capacity:
3 (600lbs)
Dimensions:
‎96 x 56 x 52 in
Included:
quick release rainfly
Seasons:
4
Ladder type: Telescoping

Cons

The Kukenam has two-thirds five-star reviews, but one reviewer was really hating on the quality of pretty much everything (have a look yourself) with this tent. They detail non-stop calls to customer service and find fault everywhere. 

They suggest doing your homework before purchasing this tent (which you should always do regardless), but all of the many five-star reviews contradicting almost everything this one negative reviewer said leads me to believe that they either got a defective product (which happens) or they were being uncharitable. 

Read the reviews for yourself to see how many people are in love with this cheap roof top tent.

Check it out here

Cheap Roof Top Tent #5: Body Armor Sky Ridge Pike 2-Person Tent

For an entry-level tent under $1000, the workmanship on this cheap roof top tent is really impressive–great stitching. I, as a tall person, also appreciate the hell out of this tent because it has a lot of headroom (which is often at a premium with roof tents).

I also really like the number of hooks and attachment points the tent has inside. It’s great for wildlife watchers like me because that means places to hang flashlights, camera gear, bags, lanterns and whatever else I might be using. 

Specs

Materials:
canvas, Polyester, pvc, tarp
Capacity:
2
Dimensions:
‎48″ x 110″ x 50″
Included:
Just the mattress
Seasons:
not specified (likely 4)
Ladder type:
Telescopic

Cons

Some owners indicate that the installation is a real MF. As with most roof top tents, they weigh quite a bit, and you should really have two people for the installation. 

A couple of reviewers also indicated that they found the ladder slightly flimsy, despite it being around 350-pound weight capacity. Definitely something to keep in mind, as a stable ladder is key with roof top tents, especially if you are someone approaching the weight capacity limits. 

That said, over three-quarters of reviewers gave the Body Armor Sky Ridge Pike 2-Person Tent five stars thanks to its price, build, sturdiness and how well it stands up to the elements.


What Went Into My Selection Process for the Best Cheap Roof Top Tent List

If you’re from the West Coast of Canada (or anywhere close to some amazing nature and camping) like me, odds are you’ve done some roof top tent camping. I’ve been camping my whole life–on the ground, in hammocks and inside and on top of vehicles.

In addition to my own experience setting up and spending nights in roof top tents, I also spent a lot of time reading and watching reviews and set-up tutorials, browsing comment sections on YouTube and Reddit and talking to my avid overlander friends around the world about what they like in a roof top tent and their thoughts on the more affordable options on the market today. 

From this, I curated the above list that I think provides a good representation of the best cheap roof top tents on the market and why they are worth your consideration. 


Main Evaluation Criteria to When Choosing a Cheap Roof Top Tent

There are a few key considerations to keep in mind when buying a roof top tent: 

  • Vehicle compatibility
  • Extraneous gear
  • Hard or soft shell
  • Space-to-weight ratio
  • Ease of set up

Vehicle compatibility

Not all roof top tents are going to be compatible with every vehicle. It’s important to know 1) what your roof rack’s load capacity is and 2) the max spread of the roof rack bars so that you can determine whether a given roof top tent is going to fit. The bar’s spread is the distance between the front and rear roof rack crossbars. 

You should almost never mount a roof tent on a factory rack, or you risk breaking the rack and maybe even damaging your vehicle’s roof. These tents can weigh upwards of 150 pounds and feature aluminium and steel pieces. 

Extraneous gear

Some roof top tents fit entirely inside the travel case (ladder and all) and others require you to transport the ladder inside your vehicle.

You also need to consider what else you plan on taking with you. Some tents will leave you space for other gear like bikes or kayaks, and other hard shells provide storage space on top for gear. Some give you space to mount a storage panel. 

The bottom line is: get something that is going to jive with your traveling/camping style. 

Hard or soft shell

Hardshell tents usually look sleeker and are more aerodynamic (which tends to translate to less drag and better fuel economy for your vehicle).

The downside of hard shells, however, is that you usually don’t get panoramic views in them. Softshell tents, on the other hand, give you 360-degree views, which I prefer when camping in really open, scenic spots like beaches and large forest clearings. 

Space-to-weight ratio

Most of the cheap roof top tent options on the above list sleep 2 (sometimes 3) people, but there are others that can sleep up to 5. The larger ones are able to comfortably fit a king-size mattress.

Of course, the larger the occupancy, the more material, the bigger the mattress, plus more body weight, means you’re going to have to deal with a substantially heavier tent. You definitely need to consider what your vehicle can handle and how much help you are going to have in setting up a heavier piece of gear. 

Ease of set up

Some hardshell roof tents only require a small push to set up, while most of the softshells (including all of the cheap roof top tents on the above list) require manual opening and the insertion of awning bars. 

The weight of the tent is also something you will want to factor into your purchase. Most people buy a roof top tent to camp out with at least one other person, which means an extra set of muscles for putting the thing up. 

If, however, you are planning on setting it up on your own, bear in mind that there is some heavy lifting involved any time you set up a roof top tent. 


Additional Gear to Make Roof Top Tent Camping More Comfortable

All of the options I’ve chosen for my cheap roof top tents list come with built-in foam mattresses, but there are a few other things you’ll likely want to invest in to make roof top tent camping more comfortable (including potentially a third-party mattress if you don’t have a lot of confidence in the one included). 

A Good Third-Party Mattress

As mentioned, the options in the above review all have foam mattresses that come with the tent, but I personally would rather choose my own mattress. 

If you are looking for a highly-rated air mattress, consider something like the EZ INFLATE Double High Luxury Air Mattress

I prefer sleeping on memory foam over an air mattress. Yes, it’s more bougie, but they are much more comfortable in my experience (especially if you have a bad back). Something like the Matrix Air Cell Memory Foam Camping Mattress Pad is great. The biggest it comes in is twin, but a couple of them together is a great night’s sleep for two people.

A Camping Blanket

I don’t like sleeping outdoors without a blanket, even in hot climates. I feel exposed and I like having fabric in between my arms and legs because skin-on-skin can get really sweaty.

For warm weather, something like the DANGTOP Bamboo Cooling Blanket is really nice because it’s super comfortable and breathes nicely while still keeping you warm. 

For temperate and colder weather, something like the Utopia Bedding Sherpa Bed Blanket is really nice. 

A Hanging Lantern

Most roof top tents are going to have attachment points for things like lamps and lanterns. I highly suggest a lantern while camping, especially in a roof top tent. Not only is it nice to have some illumination inside your tent while you chill at night, but it’s also nice to be able to turn on a light when you need to descend the ladder at 3am to go to the bathroom etc. 

Something like the Sinvitron Rechargeable LED Lantern is a nice, inexpensive light that you can suspend from the ceiling. It’s got different light modes, so you can adjust the light colour and brightness as you see fit. 

Pillows

I don’t really have any suggestions for pillows because everyone has their pillow preferences, but I will say that if you are considering memory foam pillows for camping, be aware that the material really seizes up in the cold, and they can become quite hard.


Rooftop Tents are Not a Novel Concept

Roof top tents and overlapping, more generally, are very old. People have been using roof tents since at least the 1950s when they were made of cloth and people strapped them to the tops of cars (before the advent of the pickup or SUV). The first roof top tents supposedly originated in Italy. 

Overlanding has become quite fashionable again, and the technology and materials have progressed leaps and bounds to the point that you can now buy a high-quality cheap roof top tent for four-season camping.


Reasons to Get a Roof Top Tent 

I love roof top tents as an alternative to ground and hammock camping. In a lot of cases, I actually prefer it. Yes, your vehicle limits the places you are able to get into (or it can make it easier), but you also have the following advantages: 

  1. They are better at handling bad weather
  2. Better climate control
  3. The view
  4. Comfort

They are better at handling bad weather

When it comes to weather and season rating, roof top tents (even cheap roof top tents) are almost always rated for all four seasons. Ground tents, on the other hand, are usually only suited for spring, summer and fall camping. 

I also love the fact that I’m off the ground and away from the mud, snow, sand and creepy crawlies. Even great ground tents that have well-made, sewn-in polyethene bathtub floors with great waterproof ratings are not going to keep you as dry as a roof top tent. 

Better Climate Control

My experience in roof top tents has always been that they have better climate control. They are rated for four seasons, so they are made with thicker polyester/canvas and nylon for cold temperatures. And, because you are several feet off the ground, you tend to catch more breezes in warm weather. 

The View

This one’s pretty self-explanatory. The view you get from the top of an SUV or pickup, especially if you’ve got raised suspension for offroading, is going to be a lot nicer (particularly on a beach or anywhere with wide open space). 

Comfort

Being off the ground means being away from dampness, but roof top tents are also more comfortable because they come with built-in foam mattresses. You’re also sleeping on a solid platform, as opposed to potentially lumpy ground in the case of a ground tent.


Frequently Asked Roof Top Tent Questions and Answers

Can You Install a Roof Top Tent on a Car?

The short answer is: yes, but it varies. Many roof top tents will fit on cars–especially crossovers and CUVs, but not all.

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The most important consideration is whether or not the size and weight of a given tent are compatible with your roof rack. 

Why are Roof Top Tents Much More Expensive Than Other Tent Styles?

The materials and design that go into a roof top tent make them more expensive. They are a platform with a tent on top that fits to the top of your vehicle, which also require you to scale a ladder in order to enter the shelter. 

Also, because they are made to withstand harsher weather, the quality of the fabric increases the price. Even many of the cheap roof top tents use aerospace-grade aluminium and marine-grade stainless steel, which cost more than standard tent material. 

What is Considered a Cheap Roof Top Tent and What is Considered Expensive?

The cheap roof top tents that I chose to review in this article are all between $1000 and $200, with the exception of the Body Armor Sky Ridge Pike 2-Person Tent (which is under $1000). 

Yes, these are considered to be on the more economical side. More “luxury” models can run you $3-4K.


Why Investing in a Roof Top Tent Makes Sense

Overlanding and roof top tent camping are great, cheaper alternatives to something like an RV, camper or camper van (anyone can turn pretty much any vehicle into a roof top camping machine with a cheap roof top tent). With a roof tent system, you can turn your vehicle into a basic but very comfortable home on wheels at a moment’s notice. 

Even if you haven’t found anything you like in my above review of the best cheap roof top tents, at the very least, I hope I’ve opened your eyes to a great new way of camping and experiencing the outdoors.

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