If you’ve searched online for rooftop tents, odds are you’ve come across prices that exceed your budget. Whether you’re a seasoned camper or new to the game, it’s reasonable to be surprised at the cost of rooftop tents. Almost everyone agrees that rooftop tents are a serious investment–but their appeal is infectious.
Rooftop tents have exploded on social media. However, even if traditional tents don’t fit your lifestyle, or if you’re an experienced overlander, rooftop tents are popular.
It’s important to remember that rooftop tents are highly specialized pieces of equipment. Compared to the internal mechanisms that undergird ground tents, the engineering that goes into rooftop tents is a marvel of science.
When purchasing a rooftop tent, many factors may help you decide which is the right one for you. So, let’s take a look at the seven reasons why rooftop tents are so expensive!
Price Caveat: Soft Shell vs. Hard Shell
First off, it’s important to remember that rooftop tents have been called invaluable by serious travelers and overlanders the world over. There’s a reason why these portable dormitories have been trending on social media recently, exponentially increasing the number of buyers.
However prohibitive the cost of rooftop tents may be, there have always been good reasons why these tents must be called investments and not one-off purchases. The primary reason why rooftop tents are so expensive is the material.
Rooftop tents come in two varieties: soft shell and hard shell. Softshell tents have a folded architecture which allows for quicker assembly and more generous space for maneuverability once you’ve extended it. The canvas material’s flexibility also allows for multiple uses, mainly if users position the tent off the vehicle’s side. The effect is like an awning.
However, soft shell tents are less expensive than hard shells for a reason. Assembling softshells is laborious. Fixing stays and supports to the cover of the tent is time-intensive.
Hardshell tents provide a multitude of advantages over soft shells. Its internal mechanism for assembly comes fully-automated. Some of the better hardshell tents you can buy include internal struts with hydraulically assisted extensions.
Hard shells consist of fiberglass and synthetic siding. To set up these tents, you simply unlatch four buckles, and the tent springs into position all by itself. Assembly usually takes 60 seconds or so.
Hardshell tents are also lighter. They contribute to a lower gas mileage for cars carrying them. Since they’re not as flexible as softshells, tall campers should not expect as much sleeping space. Obviously, the material making up a rooftop tent is critical to the cost.
Factor #1 Third-Party Racks
Unfortunately, one of the most immediate costs that potential rooftop tent purchasers will encounter is that of a third-party rack. If you’re purchasing a rooftop tent, you will more than likely also be required to purchase a roof rack for your car to fit the baseboard of your chosen tent.
Regardless of hardshell tents (which tend to sit directly on the roof of the car) or soft shell (which often hangs from the side of the vehicle), rooftop tents’ structure demands a secure anchor to the roof rack.
However, once compared to the uneven rocky surfaces that field tents commonly sit on, you will undoubtedly be thankful for the stability rooftop tents afford. The cost of a third-party rack to attach your tent to your vehicle is usually one you do not want to skimp on.
Factor #2 Durability
Another element to keep in mind when considering the price of a rooftop tent is durability.
While most hard-shell rooftop tents carry lifetime guarantees covering damage to the external shell, soft shell varieties will often need repair over the tent’s lifetime.
Softshell tent material is very durable. While conventional field tent seams come sewn once, soft shell tents are frequently sewn three times. Stronger seams increase the rooftop tent’s lifetime.
However, due to the complicated construction of rooftop tents, their design, and the inclusion of any accessories, companies will increase costs to preserve durability.
Factor #3 Convenience of Set-Up
Ok, you might say rooftop tents offer a greater range of tent material, their durability is better, and they’re more secure to the ground thanks to the strong racks on your vehicle. I understand the appeal. But my field tent is smaller, lighter, doesn’t need complicated racks, and is more convenient for weekend camping trips. And it’s cheaper.
Conventional cloth field tents were indeed more portable and lighter than rooftop tents in the past. However, technology has developed recently to make many rooftop tents more convenient than conventional camping tents.
Softshell tents are flexible enough that you can leave sleeping bags and bedding inside the tent so you can get a move on first thing in the morning without having to put everything away.
Plus, since the tent is permanently attached to a vehicle, all that stands beside you on the campsite and you on the move is set-up and take-down speed.
Although hardshell tents may require a longer disassembly time than softshells, hydraulic components in many higher-end models easily make up for the lack of convenience.
Factor #4 Comfort
Conventional tents require a lot of time commitment when the day is over and everyone’s ready to tuck in. By comparison, both experienced, and novice campers won’t need to spend longer than a few minutes assembling rooftop tents.
First of all, most rooftop tents come with a built-in, wall-to-wall mattress. There’s no need to huff and puff over your air mattress, gathering the air compressor and all the other equipment necessary to make a bed for the night.
According to the NY Times, rooftop tents have their origins in the African bush and Australian outback. With a history as celebrated as that, there’s no need to question why rooftop tents are so expensive–they’re comfortable!
Factor #5 Safety
The first difference one might make between conventional tents and rooftop tents is their distance from the ground. Once an integral part of the camping experience, sleeping on the cold ground no longer needs to disturb campers on the go.
The cost of sleeping off the ground, warmed by thick mattresses and snug vertical walls, is priceless.
But why are rooftop tents so expensive? Primarily because they are so comfortable!
Many include sky windows, down mattresses, and sturdy walls to enhance their comfort – albeit at an added cost.
Besides, who’s to account for the difference in comfort between sleeping snug and safe on the roof of your vehicle and, on the other hand, sleeping on the ground with other creatures?
For more information about safety, make sure to take a look at my dedicated article covering roof top tent safety.
Factor #6 Baseboard
With the price of many hard shell rooftops nearing closer to RV costs than high-end field tents, there must be other design elements that contribute to a high price. Underneath the fiberglass structure of many rooftop tents lies strong baseboards that connect the roof rack of your vehicle to the tent.
The baseboard is the solid ground that provides stability to your tent. Depending on the size of your rooftop tent and the number of sleepers fitting the size, the baseboard is what supports multiple people in a centralized area.
By comparison, a standard field tents doesn’t require a baseboard. However, the uneven surface of the ground often interrupts comfortable sleep.
Investing in a strong baseboard for your rooftop tent will contribute to an optimum camping experience unmatched by conventional tents.
Factor #7 Accessories
When you purchase a field tent, there are rarely any optional accessories for you to add or supplement to the tent. It’s not a piece of equipment made to fit you in particular.
Rooftop tents, since they are more expensive, often come with accessories. Users can purchase tents to fit their weight requirements. Modular accessories like extra awnings, storage shelves, and rooms are also available.
There is more in rooftop tents to accessorize than you might imagine. Buyers willing to spend a little more than the baseline price can include cargo boxes, customize the shape of the tent, and choose shell materials to fit their specific needs.
Are Rooftop Tents For You?
For some people, rooftop tents are a clear winner over conventional canvas field tents. They allow for greater functionality, lift campers off the ground, and serve as an excellent intermediary choice between RVs and tents.
Other campers may find that rooftop tents provide fewer amenities than expected, relative to the price tag. For those who want to retain close contact with the earth and their camping sites, the comfortable detachment from the elements which rooftop camping provides might not fit.
Expert overlanders who are considering the purchase of a rooftop tent should take the price into account. Experienced campers accustomed to traditional roll-up tents should also look into rooftop tents. As manufacturers reduce costs and popularity grows for the rooftop camping lifestyle, more potential customers are attracted.
However, rooftop tents are expensive, and the reasons are clear. Why are rooftop tents so expensive?
They are expertly engineered with durable materials, safer, more secure, more convenient and portable, and much more comfortable than traditional camping tents.
The best recommendation for potential buyers is to consult your local dealer. Yes, rooftop tents are expensive. But for many overlanders and interested buyers, rooftop tents will provide a lifetime’s worth of value.
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