A Car-Top Tent Changed The Way of Camping

Hard top Roof top tent are a relatively new genre of camping gear in North America. They are essentially tents that pop-up, or fold out, from on top of a vehicle.

After a month on the road, I’ve come to love the style of camping for some situations. Rooftop tents are a neat new tool for campers.

Call it a rooftop tent, car-top tent, or pop-up, these new-fangled camping rigs are making ripples in the media. If my experience over the last month is telling, you can expect to see them at a campground near you very soon.

A tent on your car or truck may seem a little counterintuitive. Why not just set it up on the ground? After driving from Colorado to Alaska with a Hard Shell Rooftop Tent, I’m a believer.

The  Centori rooftop tent has changed the way I camp and opened up new alternatives. It has plusses and minuses, but it is the greatest new product I’ve found in years to get a great night’s sleep in the outdoors.

This post is meant to explain rooftop tents, providing background on these contraptions and answering some of the questions my fellow campers have asked. We’ll update this article as needed to stay in front of the genre.

And no, I won’t be giving up my backpacking tent. But if I’m car camping… there’s a pretty good chance I’ll be popping the top regularly for the foreseeable future.

Rooftop Tents: Pros

Car-top tents are pretty new in North America. In Australia, and other places with more nasty bugs and critters on the ground, they caught on years ago. But here, they still are pretty novel, and you’ll get looks when setting this thing up.

But the curiosity is warranted; it looks nuts, and folks will wonder how it doesn’t fall off your truck. The answer is you need a darned good roof rack, and at least the Centori model I tested is built like a tank. Read their Google Reviews(search: Centori Outdoors) for more, but so far it’s withstood winds in excess of 50 mph with no problem.

Setting up the rooftop tents is really easy, and one of the positive points.  the tent has a built-in memory foam mattress, which is more comfortable than any sleeping pad I’ve used.

Once set up, you access the tent from a ladder. It is pretty similar to a normal, heavy canvas camp tent in many ways, just sitting on a flat steel platform on top of your vehicle. On my truck, I’m set up about 7 feet off the ground on my topper. 

with windows open, this really gives  you a wild and different perspective over the views, you can never see that when you sleep on ground.


Rooftop campers exist in a weird intersection of RVs and tents, and you’ll immediately find yourself asking if you need to pay an RV rate or a tent rate at campgrounds. Seeing as I do not use electricity or water, I’ve settled on the usually-cheaper tent rate.

But the setup has some of the advantages of RVs, notably the ability to camp in places you’d never want to pitch a tent.

A Night In The Walmart Parking Lot

A pleasant quirk of Walmart, many allow you to sleep in the parking lot. I never considered it as a tent camper. The Walmart was an hour closer than the next campground, which would likely be closed anyway as it was early May and most facilities were still shuttered for the winter. Walmart it was.

Trust me, most of Walmart allow you spend overnight on their parking lot, it is awesome!

Rooftop Tent  Cons

You can’t set up your tent and drive away. That is the biggest negative for the rooftop system. If you want to set up a week-long camp and then use your car to go on excursions, well, you have to pull down the tent each time. You may also need to leave something in your campsite to hold your spot.It is the reason lots of overlander buy an OFFROAD trailer, yes, it is good to solve the Cons. 

Price is another factor. Rooftop tents aren’t cheap (ranging from around $2,000 to $4,000 or more, and a rack system can add several hundred dollars to the package). When compared with a high quality tent and sleeping pad package, the price difference shrinks, but the rooftop system is still considerably more pricey.

Rooftop, Or Ground?

A rooftop tent will really benefit those on extended trips that are largely on the move. It was perfect for the Alaska Highway, and would be perfect for campgrounds and nasty weather.

It’s also great if you plan to spend a lot of days in your vehicle. Those living weeks or months on end on the road and in campgrounds will really appreciate the added comfort of this setup.

Those on a budget or who only camp a few days a summer will be better served with a traditional tent. In addition, people who want to set up a tent for several days and move the car in the meantime will also find a standard tent easier to manage.


By  Sean McCoy
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