When it comes to the classic camping feel, it's hard to beat a soft shell roof top tent. These tents are often made of canvas or a similar material and offer a more affordable price point. During a recent trip to Australia, I spent six months living in a soft shell roof top tent and really appreciated the space and airflow it provided in hot climates. The tent could also fold over onto itself, which meant it took up less space on the roof rack and left room for storage cases, maxtrax, or fuel cans.
But there are definitely trade-offs to consider when it comes to soft shell tents. While they may offer a more traditional camping experience, they don't offer the same level of protection from the elements as hard shell tents. And while they can be lighter and easier to transport, they're also generally not as sturdy or durable.
There are a few brands of soft shell roof top tents that I particularly recommend. Eezi Awn is known for its durability and heritage as the choice of outfitters in Africa. Go Fast Camper Superlight is a great company with good ethics and their tent is the lightest roof tent on the market. IKamper and Roof Nest are also worth considering. On the other hand, I'd avoid brands like Smittybilt and Overland Vehicle Systems, as they tend to just rebrand other products with little product development of their own. If a roof top tent looks the same as one from another company, it probably is.
On the other hand, hard shell roof top tents are constructed with a solid, weather-resistant material such as fiberglass or polycarbonate and offer greater protection from the elements, as well as better aerodynamics when driving. They're also typically more sturdy and durable than soft shell tents. However, they come with a higher price tag and can be more difficult to set up.
For hard shell roof top tents, I recommend Alucab for its great mattress and nice interior. Eezi-Awn also makes durable hard shell tents. James Baroud is known for their quality of manufacture in Portugal and ease of setup. Go Fast Camper's hard shell roof top tent is made in the USA and doesn't require a roof rack for mounting.
It's important to be careful when buying a roof top tent, as many companies simply go to Alibaba and choose an existing tent to rebrand with their own logo. This means that you might not be getting the quality or features you expect, and often times manufacturers will merely specify the color of trim piping and the grams per square meter of the canvas—dozens of roof top tents currently for sale are exactly the same product with those changes made. That's why it's always a good idea to do your research and read reviews before making a purchase.
In terms of overall cost, hard shell roof top tents tend to be more expensive than their soft shell counterparts. However, if you're willing to invest in a more durable and weather-resistant tent, a hard shell roof top tent could be a worthwhile choice. Ultimately, the right roof top tent for you will depend on your priorities and budget.
As a final tip, be sure to consider the size of your vehicle and the load capacity of your roof when selecting a roof top tent. It's important to choose a tent that will fit comfortably on your vehicle and not exceed its weight limit. Remember that adding weight to the very highest point of your vehicle makes it easier to roll, and will change how it handles. Keeping the load within your vehicle's limits will ensure that your tent is safe and secure while driving, and won't cause any damage to your vehicle. In addition, make sure to follow the manufacturer's instructions for installing and using your roof top tent to ensure that it is properly secured and safe for use.