From my first car–a red 1996 GMC Jimmy–to my last car, every vehicle I have ever owned has been either an SUV or a hatchback. One of my favourite add-ons for this type of vehicle is SUV tents–tent and tarp setups that let you convert an SUV or hatchback into a super comfortable camping vehicle.
SUV tents are gaining in popularity as an alternative to campers and rooftop tents. They are convenient, and I would even go so far as to say a luxurious way to camp out. You’ve got the safety and comfort of your vehicle if you need it and a lot more room and functionality than your typical floor tent.
The main difference between SUV tents and rooftop tents is that SUV tents, as a general rule, fit to the rear of the vehicle and sit on the ground, giving you both trunk space and ground area for sleeping, as opposed to roof tents, which are attached to the top of a truck or SUV.
With that in mind, below are 5 of my favourite SUV tents on the market right now:
- Best SUV Tent for Big Families or Friend Groups: North East Harbor Universal SUV Camping Tent
- Most Convenient SUV Tent: Rightline Gear SUV Tent
- Most Roomy Trunk Tent (best for bigger people): Napier Backroadz SUV Tent
- Best SUV Tent for a Single Person: Hasika Tailgate Shade Awning Tent
- Best Overlander Shelter: Slumberjack SJK Roadhouse Tarp
Best SUV Tent for Big Families or Friend Groups: North East Harbor Universal SUV Camping Tent
The North East Harbor Universal SUV Camping tent is one of the best SUV tents for families for the simple fact that it sleeps up to 8 people. 2 adults can fit in the vehicle cargo area, and 4-6 adults can have the floor space. You probably want to subtract at least a couple of people from the manufacturer’s suggestion (at least I always do), but you still get a ton of space.
This is also one of my favourite SUV tents on the market because it is a great multi-purpose trunk tent. You can fit this onto crossovers, minivans, SUVs, Wagons, Jeeps or Pickups no problem.
It’s got sewn-in, raised “bathtub” floors for added leak protection, full-size ventilated doors and a large car access sleeve that lets you convert your entire car plus the tent into a protected, comfortable, private camping area.
High-Quality Polyester Taffeta
|Sleeps (official suggestion):|
6 (8 if you include SUV trunk space)
8ft W x 8ft L x 7.2f H
rainfly, hardware bag, poles/straps/stakes, carry bag
A recurring theme in the reviews is that people agree that this is one of the best SUV tents for the money but contend that it’s hard to set up.
There are also some owners alleging that the sleeping capacity specifications aren’t accurate–i.e., that it won’t comfortably sleep eight people. My first thought when I saw the 8-person claim was that it was likely an overestimation (at least if you don’t want to be sleeping/living cheek-to-jowl in there). I like my personal space, so I tend to subtract at least one from most capacity specs or get something larger.
All in all, still one of the best SUV tents for families and friend groups.
Most Convenient SUV Tent: Rightline Gear SUV Tent
Of all the SUV tents I’ve come across, I’ve labelled the Rightline Gear SUV Tent the most convenient because it was designed with a lot of features that I really like in any tent–for SUV camping or otherwise.
Glow-in-the-dark zippers are always a nice touch so that you aren’t fumbling around in the dark, a lantern hanging hook makes the tent a lot homier, storm cover doors are nice peace of mind (and privacy), and mesh windows are designed to keep out no-see-ums are invaluable to someone like me who seems to attract insects everywhere I go.
I also think this is one of the best SUV tents for convenience because of how easily you can detach it from your vehicle if you want to leave it behind while you drive around. These are great little trunk tents to take on camping road trips where you leave the tent at the campground and drive and explore the surrounding area. I used to do this on the islands off the west coast of British Columbia in Canada, and it’s a fun and handy way to explore.
Polyester fabric, polyethylene floor, mesh windows
|Sleeps (official suggestion):|
8’ W x 8’ L x 7.2’ H
A few reviewers have indicated that, while they love the tent, the quality of the poles and stakes have left them a bit disappointed. One reviewer even went as far as to suggest that if you get this SUV tent, you should invest in some better third-party stakes.
I tend to think third-party stakes, poles, carabiners, etc. are usually better than what comes with a lot of products, anyways, but it would be nice if everything that came with a tent set-up was great quality.
Despite the (allegedly) less-than-amazing poles and stakes, still one of the most convenient SUV tents and setups for road trip camping.
Most Roomy Trunk Tent (best for bigger people): Napier Backroadz SUV Tent
The Napier Backroads is the roomiest of the SUV tents on the list because it’s got a 10×10 foot base, as opposed to the 8×8 of the Rightline and the North East Habor. The occupancy specifications say 5 people, and I personally would be much more comfortable sleeping 5 in a 10×10 than an 8×8.
I’ve also chosen the Napier Backroads as the roomiest of the SUV tents on the list because of the size of the vehicle sleeve. Once again, as with most trunk tents, this is also designed to fit CUVs, SUVs and minivans.
polyester taffeta and polyethylene waterproof floor
|Sleeps (official suggestion):|
Tent Skin, Poles, Straps, Gear Loft, Rain Fly, Guide Lines
Some of the recurring complaints with this trunk tent are that it’s not designed to stand up to heavy wind and the tent poles are not the strongest. A few people indicate that they broke one of the poles during the initial set-up.
Still, two-thirds of owners gave it five stars (with a few indicating that they support the idea of buying stronger poles/stakes, which I think is always a good idea, almost regardless of the tent).
Best SUV Tent for Single Person: Hasika Tailgate Shade Awning Tent
There are SUV tents, shade awnings, and then there are shade awnings that are also SUV tents. The Hasika Tailgate tent falls into the third category.
It’s a 3000mm waterproof shade awning for tailgating that also doubles as a nice little one-person trunk tent for vehicle camping. It comes in small and large, with the small optimal for cars, small SUVs and CUVs, while the large is better for mid to full-size SUVs, CUVs, and mini-to-mid-size vans.
I also really like these types of SUV tents because of how quickly they can be set up. 5 minutes and you have this thing up, which is great if you get to a camping spot and those storm clouds start rolling in.
The whole thing only weighs a couple of pounds, and it packs up small (16.3 x 6.6 x 4.7 inches), so it’s something you can just leave in the car. These are great SUV tents to have around in the summer because in the event you go to a house party or bbq and have a few drinks, you have somewhere safe and comfortable to spend the night.
2 people (in the cargo space)
the dimensions of your trunk
Just the tent and awning
It doesn’t come with tent poles, but a lot of people (myself included) prefer after-market poles to the ones that come with a lot of tents. You also need to make sure that your car has areas on the hubcaps where you can hook a couple of bungee cords.
There are some people in the reviews section who aren’t happy with the quality, but all in all, two-thirds of the 200+ reviews are 5-star, and owners seem really happy with this little SUV tents ability to keep them dry, shaded and protected from the bugs and elements.
Best Overlander Shelter: Slumberjack SJK Roadhouse Tarp
Overlander shelters are not SUV tents per se, but they are a good additional piece of kit to use with an SUV tent or, if you are summer camping somewhere without a lot of bugs, good enough to keep you dry and protected without needing an additional tent.
The Slumberjack SJK Roadhouse Tarp is a tough, versatile overlander shelter that you can configure a few different ways, depending on what you need it for. It can be a roof for open-trunk camping, an A-frame without the vehicle, a roof for a dining or wildlife-watching area or a sun cover for the vehicle while you are out hiking and exploring.
160″ x 192″
Two heavy-duty, 96″ tall steel poles,
carry bag and 8 super-duty 10″ steel stakes
The guy lines that come with the set-up are not the strongest, so it is probably better to buy some paracord when you purchase the Slumberjack. Nylon paracord is really strong and very cheap, so for an extra 5-10 bucks, you don’t have to worry.
A few reviewers also felt misled when it came to this awning’s origins. The product info says made in USA, but a few owners have stated that the box actually says Vietnam.
Still, more than three-quarters of reviewers gave the SJK Roadhouse 5 stars, indicating that, as long as you give it a trial run setup before heading out, this thing does exactly what you expect it to do.
What Went Into My Selection Process While Curating My SUV Tents List
I was lucky enough to get a hand-me-down vehicle as a teenager that just so happened to be an SUV (a 1996 GMC Jimmy). It was a solid little mid-size SUV that I quickly turned into a portable home with my SUV tent and used to explore the gorgeous Pacific coast and interior of British Columbia, Canada.
SUV tents have saved me a lot of hassle on road trips when there have been no more vacancies at hotels. I’ve used SUV tents to sleep off one too many beers at backyard parties, and I’ve had many cozy nights inside the cargo space of a vehicle, with plenty of room for my long legs, while it poured down outside. With so many Millennials buying in SUVs, SUV tents are increasingly a no-brainer for my generation.
In addition to my personal experience, I also spent many hours perusing camping forums on places like Reddit, watching setup tutorials and reading the comment sections on YouTube and talking to my avid camper friends and family about what they like and dislike about SUV tents.
What’s The Difference Between SUV Tents and Roof Tents?
Basically, what an SUV tent does is convert your SUV, CUV, or minivan’s cargo space into an extension of your tent, providing you with an elevated, protected space to sleep, as well as plenty of additional surface area and vertical space.
To set up an SUV tent, you pop your vehicle’s trunk, attach the tent according to the instructions (typically to the rear bumper, hubcaps and/or wheel wells, and then set up a rainfly over top.
The main difference between roof tents and SUV tents is that the former sit on your roof (and also sometimes include a covered tent area on the ground) and that is where your sleeping platform is, while SUV tents use your vehicle’s interior space.
Main Evaluation Criteria When Choosing SUV Tents
There are a few things I look for when evaluating SUV tents:
- Vehicle compatibility
- Seasonal specifications (aka seasonality)
- How easy it is to set up
All SUV tents on the above list can be more broadly classified as general-purpose trunk tents. They are designed to fit the bodies of different-sized SUVs, cross-overs and mini-vans.
While you don’t necessarily need an SUV to use an SUV tent, you do need to pay attention to whether a particular tent is compatible with your vehicle. Some SUV tents have different sizing options (the small fits mid-size SUVs and CUVs while the large is made for minivans and full-size SUVs).
One of the recurring complaints you see in the reviews of this type of outdoor gear is that the tent doesn’t fit a buyer’s vehicle, and it’s probably because they weren’t looking closely at the compatibility before purchasing.
Any tent, SUV tent or otherwise, is rated for a certain number of seasons. The most common is 3 (spring, summer, fall), meaning that they are appropriate for warm and temperate weather camping but probably shouldn’t be used for below-freezing temperatures.
All of the SUV tents I’ve chosen for my list are 3-season tents. I’ve made the mistake of testing how winterproof three-season tents are before (without the right kind of sleeping bag and insulation), and I do not recommend it.
is usually indicated by the “mm” rating of a tent (e.g., 3000mm, meaning that 3000mm of water would need to fall before a tent’s waterproof coatings would start to allow in moisture).
You also want to look at whether a tent comes with a rainfly and what reviewers say about the quality of the included rainfly. Sometimes it’s better to buy a third-party rainfly than go with what the manufacturer includes.
Weatherproofing also refers to the design of the tent’s floors (Is it a sewn-in, polyethene floor designed “bathtub” style with upturned edges to keep out water?).
Most good tents are going to be made from robust polyester or nylon (or a combination of both), with polyethene floors for waterproofing. The poles are typically fibreglass but sometimes steel.
Tent camping can look glamorous, but anyone who has crawled into a tent in hot climates knows that without the proper ventilation, a tent can become a sauna. Some of my worst, sweatiest night sleeps have been tent camping in the tropics in tents with just one tiny mesh window for ventilation.
For SUV tents, I like multiple full-size bugnet windows with mesh netting that is fine enough to keep out no-see-ums and sand flies (which, of course, will also keep out the mozzies). Windows in either side (and preferably a roof window) create a nice cross-breeze.
Tips for SUV Tent Camping
- Park on flat ground. This is especially important for anyone sleeping on the ground and not in the vehicle’s cargo area.
- Always put your emergency brake on. Even if you’re not parked on an incline, the safest thing to do is to put your vehicle’s e-brake on before bedding down.
- Park far away from the high water mark on beaches. One of the best ways to SUV camp is to pull up on a big, deserted beach with the trunk facing the ocean. Just make sure you are parked far enough from the high tide mark that you aren’t going to find yourself flooded with seawater.
- Switch off your interior lights to avoid using your battery and avoid attracting insects.
- Consider investing in an awning to go over your SUV tent.
Many SUV tents include rainflies, but I’ve found that a big awning like the Slumberjack SJK Roadhouse Tarp provides better rain cover, while also functioning as an adjoining dining/relaxation/wildlife-watching area.
Additional Gear That Makes Trunk Camping More Enjoyable
If you’re going to sleep in an SUV tent, you’ll probably want to invest in a few additional pieces of gear to make the experience more comfortable.
The cargo area of your vehicle is certainly going to be more comfortable (in most cases) than sleeping on the ground, but whether you’re in the trunk or on the ground, you’re going to need something to sleep on.
You can either get an air mattress like the Wey&Fly SUV Air Mattress, or (if you’ve got a bad back like me) you can get something like the Matrix Air Cell Memory Foam Camping Mattress. Honestly, there is nothing like bedding down for the night in the back of your SUV, parked on a deserted stretch of beach or deep in the forest, lying down on a memory foam mattress. Cozy town.
The best part about trunk camping is that you can bring pillows from home and sleep like a baby (that is to say, waking up every few hours hungry and screaming, jk).
But seriously, get a pillow for SUV camping. When sleeping in the back of a vehicle, you can use a couple of pillows (any pillows you like), OR you can use a body pillow like the DOWNCOOL Large Body Pillow.
I like the idea of body pillows for SUV camping because it covers the entire width of the trunk space, so you don’t find yourself sleeping with your head on the mat in the middle of the night.
I usually go for two-person bags like the TETON Sports Celsius Mammoth Double Sleeping Bag when it comes to blankets/warmth when vehicle camping because they double as really nice quilts.
Depending on the weather, you might only need a top sheet. The sleeping bag is more for temperate camping.
I love fall camping in North America and Europe because it’s wonderful being in nature when all those fall colours are out. Something you might consider investing in if you plan on doing any autumn (especially late autumn) camping in more northerly latitudes is a space heater.
SUV tents are ideally designed for space heaters because ideally, you are sleeping in the trunk space with ample outside tent space available. This is a great spot to put a small space heater (provided it’s not touching the polyethene flooring, and you are confident it’s not going to burn anything or start a fire.
I like the Mr. Heater Little Buddy Safe Propane Heater. It’s made for small spaces like tents, and it has a low-oxygen auto-shutoff feature, so you don’t have to worry about asphyxiating yourself. Set it on the floor of the outdoor space, and you’ve got a warm retreat for the evening.
Why Investing in Good Quality SUV Tent Makes Sense
SUV tents are really underrated and underutilized in my opinion. They’re a great alternative to ground and hammock camping and awesome pieces of gear for road trippers and people who live permanently on the road, especially for people who don’t have the budgets for big rooftop rigs or for full-on camper van setups.
Having an SUV tent handy makes life on the road a lot more versatile and, if you do a lot of camping, a lot more comfortable. Even if you haven’t found anything you like on my list, I hope, at the very least, I’ve opened your eyes to the possibilities of SUV tents and why any camper or nomad on wheels should think about investing in one.
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