Presentation of manufacturers of canvas-based (soft) rooftop tents, available series and models, their construction, basic parameters, pros and cons….
Below you will find basic information about RTTs manufacturers (including foreign companies) as well as presentation of available models of soft rooftop tents.
Please note that before you make the choice based on your needs and let's face it - feelings, you verify that your vehicle can take both the dynamic (on the road) and static (on the campground) load associated with the RTT!
Tepui Tents (Santa Cruz, California) is one of the largest and best-known US manufacturers of roof-top tents. Currently they offer the following series of soft (A-frame type canvas) RTTs:
This is probably the most popular line of Tepui RTTs. All models feature two built-in screened SKY panels offering irresistible views of the starry sky and surrounding trees (provided the rainfly is removed). This is on top of anyhow extended panoramic views through side windows and doors.
Kukenam ruggedized SKY model with visible diamond plate
The line of SKY tents includes:
Autana: Standard, Ruggedized and XL Ruggedized versions, Siberian Camo (Standard and XL Ruggedized version), XL Tan and the smallest model Ayer.
Kukenam: Standard, Ruggedized and XL Ruggedized versions, Camo (Standard and Siberian) versions.
This series represents lower-end RTTs and includes models: Ayer, Kukenam and Standard XL. In all Baja models, tent’s canopy is attached to the tent’s base by a zipper. It allows you to change the canopy depending on your needs (weather, climate zones etc..). The detachable rainfly protection is included as the standard feature. The selection choice includes:
Tepui standard tents are made from rip-stop waterproof fabrics (material with interwoven reinforcement threads in a crosshatch pattern preventing tears and their propagation). The canopy is made from polyester cotton with water, UV and mold - resistant breathing coating. The rainfly fabrics is made from polyurethane-coated polyester. The base is made from welded aluminum tubes with the layer of insulation, while the supporting structure from ¾” aluminum tubes. All tents come with the protective cover (Heavy-duty PVC), mosquito screens on all windows and doors, high-density 2.5” foam mattress with detachable cotton cover, universal mounting brackets and 8ft 6” telescopic aluminum ladder as well as with 2-years warranty.
Some models are designed for 4-season camping, but for improved experience, the manufacturer strongly suggest to purchase an optional Weather Hood.
Autana ruggedized SKY roof-top tent (here with the Annex room)
They are especially designed for demanding off-road, out-of-civilization adventures. The standard aluminum platform includes protective diamond plate. The main body is made with heavy-duty version of the fabrics while supporting structure uses heavier-gauge fully-wrapped tubes as well as includes extra rods and HD hinges. The list of standard features also includes an anti-condensation mat!
Note that the ruggedized RTTs are definitely heavier, and will require after-market racks with adequate dynamic-load rating.
The smallest models Ayer (SKY and Baja) are designed for 2 persons. On the opposite side of the “spectrum” – all XL models are designed for 4 persons (practically 2adults + 2 children). All remaining models can sleep 3 persons (2 + 1 child).
Tepui Hard-shell RTTs
Tepui Tents also offers one model of Hard-Shell (fiberglass) roof-top tent: White Lightning. It is the newest (and most expensive) addition to the impressive line of RTTs. It has an ultra-low profile (8” closed), highly aerodynamic design and includes built-in rack to carry up to 60 lbs of extra cargo (bike(s), kayak….). Interestingly, you can also keep the cargo on top of the shell while the tent is open! With 79” x 54” footprint it opens to 40” height at the entrance door.
The company was founded by two enthusiasts of outdoor activities with particular love for off-road adventures. The company operating from Santa Ana (CA) offers wide range of camping gear including off-road, recovery and overland equipment. The centerpiece of company line of products is soft roof-top tent Overland.
Overlander Elite - model designed for 4-5 persons is currently the largest on the market.
It comes in three models, correspondingly Ranger, Delta and Elite. All models share the following characteristics:
The model Elite is the largest on the market and can sleep up to 4-5 persons. It comes with 2 entry doors, two ladders and two separate mattresses with removable cover as well as split wall to offer some sort of privacy. The list of standard features also includes mosquito screens, PVC driving cover, mounting hardware, storage nets.... Interestingly, the Elite can unfold on either side of the vehicle (side or rear).
All Overland roof-top tents are reasonably priced.
Front Runner was born literally in the middle of nowhere (or more precisely, in the middle of South African bush). Legend has it that one night, a group of friends gathered around a campfire out of frustration by endless failure of their camping gear decided to take the “matter” in their own hands. Indeed, it did not take long before the new-founded company came up with line of roof racks, tents (including roof-top ones) and all kind of camping gear and accessories specifically developed for tough conditions of African bush.
Front Runner RTT: note unobstructed view from all windows
And closed (road configuration)
Today, Front Runner (since early 90’s operating from Johannesburg - South Africa) despite its relatively young age enjoys well-deserved reputation for quality, durability and “ingenuity” of their products. Undeniably, their ideas are coming directly from hard-way gained experience during off-road adventures into African bush. And their prototypes, before hitting the market, first go through severe tests in the same bush.
The Front Runner roof-top tent is the company’s flagship. It’s a soft (canvas) type model designed for 2 persons (49” x 53” x 7.9” closed and 134” x 53” x 55” opened) and weighting only 93 lbs! It has very low profile (<8”), however the ladder stored on top of the folded tent adds extra 4 inches so the whole box is 12” high and not really aerodynamic.
Manufactured with heavy-duty, PVC coated poly-cotton it is waterproof, UV and mold resistant and at the same time breathable. The aluminum base has layer of thermal insulation however the tent is not advertised as the 4-season one.
The tent comes with rainfly, 2” high high-density foam mattress wit detachable/washable cover, zipped privacy panels insects’ screens on all windows and doors, two interior storage pockets, overhead Velcro loops (to hang some stuff), retractable aluminum ladder with foot friendly treads, tent cover and mounting kit.
The tent can be mounted to open out over either side of the vehicle and the rear!
Please note that Front Runner is also well-recognized for its impressive portfolio of roof racks and bars. In other words, it is kind of one-stop/one-shop solution.
ARB was founded in 1975 by Anthony Ronald Brown - an enthusiast of 4WD expeditions into Australian Outback. Today it may be hard to believe, but back then such expeditions largely relied on standard commercial equipment and camping gear, definitely not designed for extreme conditions. Frequent failures of camping gear (broken roof racks and bars, damaged tents etc…) is never a fun, especially when it happens in the middle of nowhere. No wonder, this bad experience inspired Mr. Brown to make it better and that how the company ARB (A.R. Brown) was born.
Today, ARB is the biggest Australian manufacturers of 4WD accessories (including rooftop tents) with large international distribution network across the globe (in US represented by Arbusa).
Simpson-3 rooftop tent (here without the annex)
Simpson III Rooftop Tent – it’s a flagship of ARB’s touring and camping gear. The tent is made from high quality, UV and water resistant, breathable, “rip-stop” poly/cotton fabrics. 25mm anodized aluminum poles (corrosion resistant) guarantee strength and durability. The tent comes with Oxford polyester flysheet, retractable anodized-aluminum ladder (265 lbs load), high density 2.5” foam mattress (w/ removable cover) as well as insects screened doors and windows. While it is designed for mounting on ARB-made roof racks, it is also compatible with popular Thule or Rhino roof bars with suitable load ratings. All weather vents help to prevent (or at least to minimize) condensation, while all-weather entrance door protects tent’s interior from weather elements when open.
The tent can be unfolded on either side of the car as well as off its rear side. When it comes to folding the tent, the cleverly designed “bungee” cord system helps to speed-up the packing process.
It may be worth to mention that the Simpson III rooftop tent is also available as a Combo Package with an Annex.
In an open configuration, the Simpson 3 roof-top tent offers sleeping space with 55” x 94.5” (140cm x 240cm) footprint and 51” (130cm) height (max). The tent weights 154 lbs (70kg) including ladder.
Kakadu rooftop tent
Kakadu Rooftop Tent
Kakadu is the latest addition to the line of ARB’s touring equipment. While it shares many components with the Simpson III tent, it is specifically designed for warmer climates. Following the design goals, Kakadu features larger windows without exterior awnings allowing for better airflow and more natural light (panoramic views is an extra bonus). Protection from rain is provided by interior shutters and extended flysheet.
When opened it offers the same footprint and height as the Simpson III rooftop tent. When closed it measures correspondingly 55” W x 47.25” L (140cm x 120cm) and just 8” (20.3cm) height. Kakadu’s weight (including mounting rails and ladder) is about 130 lbs (59 kg).
To find the beginnings of Smittybilt you have to go back to 1956 when Mr. Basil Smith (known among friends as “Smitty”) started a small mashine shop in his garage. As an enthusiast of Jeep off-road adventures, he wanted to develop camping accessories for slowly gaining popularity 4WD lifestyle. New ideas as well as the current name Smittybilt was brought to the “garage” by Smith’s son Tom. The rest is history, and it is a prosperous one given the fact that today Smittybilt is an internationally recognized supplier of accessories for trucks and SUVs. Company’s product line includes series of Overland rooftop tents reflecting the latest trends in recreational industry.
Overlander rooftop tent comes in two models: XL 2883 (designed for 3-4 people) and its smaller version 2783 (for 2 +1 child). While not specifically designed as winter tents, Overlanders can be used year-round in moderate climate zones.
Overlander model 2783 Canvas rooftop tent
... and its interior
Open size W x L x H
Closed size W x L x H
Overlander’s main structure consists of base (1” thick aluminum and polyurethane) and anodized aluminum poles with stainless-steel hinges. Canvas are made from heavy-duty rip-stop polyester impregnated with polyurethane for waterproofness. The tent comes with lite waterproof oxford rainfly, 18” wide, anodized aluminum sliding ladder (extends up to 6’10”), mesh windows, 2.4” thick foam mattress w/removable and washable cover, water and UV resistant travel cover. The LED lighting strip built into the tent’s roof with lighter adapter (for charging phones, tablets ….) is also a standard feature. It runs from car’s standard 12V cigarette lighter.
As an option, Smittybilt offers an Annex that can be attached to the tent. It provides much needed “changing room” firmly standing on the ground.
Note that Smittybilt Overlander is one of the most affordable rooftop tents on the market.
It all started in 1979 when Steve Cole and Don Banducci purchased a small machine shop Yakima Industries. As enthusiasts of outdoor activities and true visionaries of future needs for recreational sporting equipment they gave new direction and new dimension to this pretty much unknown company. Today Yakima operating from Portland is well-recognized supplier of vehicle racks (for bikes, boats, roof tents…), cargo boxes, bags and baskets, small cargo trailers and since recently canvas-based (soft) rooftop tents
Roof-mounted SkyRise Medium tent
Currently Yakima offers two models of Skirise RTTs: correspondingly Small for 2 persons and Medium for 3 persons (2+1kid). These days it is difficult to distinguish yourself in the crowdy market of rooftop tents (RTTs) – Yakima’s main advantage is light but strong design. Canvas are made from rip-sop 210D nylon (lite, breathable) with mesh ceiling panel for better ventilation. The rainfly made from the same lite 210D nylon (but this time impregnated with polyurethane) provides protection from weather elements.
The tent comes with 2.5" foam mattress w/detachable and washable cover, aluminum ladder, travel vinyl cover and mounting hardware. Interestingly, the mounting process is easy (tool-free, no bolts required, instead some sort of clamps are used) so it can be quickly mounted/removed from the vehicle. Actually, manufacturer claims that it can be done in about 15 minutes what (if true) is a real advantage for owners of family cars used on a daily basis for commuting or business. In fact, Skyrise RTTs are designed for family cars rather than for off-road Jeeps and trucks.
For protection from theft, SkyRise tents are locked to racks with SKS Lock Core mechanism. Two of them are provided as standard features.
Yakima’s Skyrise rooftop tents are relatively inexpensive compared to similar products from competitors.
Mombasa Outdoor is part of Mombasa Brand name recognized in US for its mosquito nets and original bed canopy designs. It all started in 70’s with the trip of Mr. John Edgar to Africa. Inspired by the urgent needs for mosquito nets, he together with his friend came to the idea of designing and manufacturing these life-saving items. Soon after (although in more “romantic” forms and shapes), the nets (or rather canopies) captured attention of interior designers opening doors to residences of higher level society. Mombasa Outdoor (and their main product rooftop tents) was just the natural step towards the company’s roots - the Safari-inspired “outdoor living”.
We must mention however that throughout the years, Mombasa kept alive its belief that their mosquito nets (canopies) should not only be part of Hollywood luxury, but should also and may be first of all keep saving lives of those in need. That is why, Mombasa runs the program “One for One” (with every purchase of Mombasa brand canopy, the company gives for free a mosquito net to a child in need).
Model 9008 Expedition
Currently, Mombasa Outdoor offers three models of soft (canvas) rooftop tents, correspondingly 9008 Expedition designed to sleep 2 persons, 9009 Explorer (sleeps 3) and the largest model for 4 persons – 9011 Adventure.
All these tents are made from polycotton w/polyurethane coating offering first level of weather protection. Two mesh windows are protected from rain by external awnings. The rainfly from polyester fabrics w/PVC (Polyvinyl chloride) coating makes the final “layer” of rain protection. All tents have robust base from aluminum sheet. They come with telescopic aluminum ladder expandable from 45” to 81”.
On the negative side - almost everything else (mattress, mattress' cover, travel cover, straps etc (normally part of the standard features) seems to be optional at an extra cost :-(
Cascadia Vehicle Tents (CVT) located in Bend (Oregon) is a family-owned manufacturer of rooftop tents, vehicle racks and camping gear. Company’s motto: “Live life to the fullest and pursue your passion for the outdoors…” is supported by four series of rooftop tents correspondingly: Mt. Bachelor (smallest one), Mt. Shasta, Mt. Rainier and Mt. Denali (the largest one). Each of the mentioned series comes in two models: Summit (higher end) and Pioneer (lower end). And then each model comes in two versions: Standard and Extended.
The size and sleeping capacity is the same within the family of tents as shown below:
Model: Mt. Rainier Extended Stargazer Summit rooftop tent w/annex
a) Sleeping area is defined by tent’s footprint in an open configuration (W x L)
b) All “Extended” versions are 36 inches longer in an open configuration thanks to added overhang (the open length 132”).
All Cascadia’s rooftop tents are made from poly/cotton rip-stop canvas. They are breathable, mold resistant, UV-protected and waterproof thanks to PU (Polyurethane) coating. They all come with 2.5” foam mattress, aluminum ladder ( 2 for Denali) , travel cover, rainfly, removable PVC floor and Annex Room. Good news - they are all compatible with roof racks from Baja, Diamond Racks, Front Runner, Garvin, Gobi, Thule, Voyager (Standard Pioneer is also compatible with Smittybilt rack).
There are several differences between Summit and Pioneer tents. For example, Summit tents are made from “stronger/better quality”, a better finished and equipped with standard features. Following are the main differences:
Summit versus Pioneer
All Summit tents come with LED lights with ON/OFF and dimmer switch, 72″ Anti-Condensation Mat, two shoe rack/holders and two USB ports.
The extended overhang (part of all Extended models) considerably increases the area of the Annex Room. Thanks to this extension, annex not only offers extra sleeping or storage spaces but also covers the ladder and so protects from weather as you enter/exit the tent.
Note: CVT is an all-American manufacturer of canvas-based rooftop tents (currently 16 models). However, the company also makes one hard-shell model – Mt. St. Helens. With fiberglass floor and roof and typical rip-stop poly/cotton canvas it can sleep 2 to 3 persons.
Please note that this is a "Work in progress". Above we listed the companies making soft (canvas-based) rooftop tents so in the meantime you can do your own research. This way at least you know where to look for detailed information.
Did you change your opinion on soft RTTs? Well, may be you should look instead at --> Hard-Shell Rooftop Tents ?