Off-Road 4Runner rock crawling with rooftop tent.

Are Rooftop Tents Worth it?

Rooftop tents have become a hot commodity in the off-road community. They are easy to deploy and turn your ordinary car into a camper.

Today most people employ a ground tent set up when camping. They are compact, easy to carry, and provide protection from the elements.

With the invention of the roof top tent, another mode of camping has arisen. As the off-road community grows and more people choose to camp in the backcountry in their 4x4 vehicles, rooftop tents have become increasingly popular.

This guide is meant to help you consider the pros and cons of each option and determine whether it is worth it to buy a rooftop tent.

Ground Tent

Ground tents are the tried and true method for camping. Usually transported in a compact bag and easy to carry, ground tents fit in easily with your other cargo. Usually they take up no more than 2 square feet of space, some even less depending on the size. Once as you reach camp it is easy to unpack the tent, but it takes a bit of work to set up.

Some hate the hassle of setting up a ground tent and view it as on of the major downsides to camping. However, certain tents are made to be quickly set up which makes the job easier, although they still take some work.

Ground tents are compact and, in my opinion, more secure than rooftop tents as they have a low center of gravity. This makes them more stable in high winds, given that you have securely staked in the tent and used the guy ropes.

Additionally, sleeping on the ground leaves you more exposed to bugs and critters and does not provide the security of being elevated above your vehicle.

You can get a good ground tent for 100-200 dollars that will last you years of camping trips.

Coleman Steel Creek Fast Pitch Dome Tent with Screen Room, 6-Person

I personally use the Coleman Steel Creek Fast Pitch Dome Tent with Screen Room, 6-Person and it works great for my situation.


  • Compact and easy to transport
  • Lower cost
  • More stable in wind
  • Traditional camping feel


  • More work to set up
  • Exposed to ground critters

Rooftop Tent

The rooftop tent has some great features. Rooftop tents are quickly deployable from the top of your car for instant shelter. This is very helpful for camping as it avoids much of the hassle of setting up your tent using stakes and tent poles. Additionally, a roof top tent is attached to your car, so you do not have to spend time packing each trip. You can just leave it on for easy deployment.

Another great perk to rooftop tents is that you are sleeping several feet off the ground. This leaves you less susceptible to critters and bugs and provides an added security to it. If it rains, there is no risk of flood water seeping into your tent.

The biggest downside to the rooftop tent is its price. Most range from $1,000 - $3,000 which is significantly more than a standard ground tent. This is the biggest downside to rooftop tents.

Additionally, rooftop tents take up a lot of space, much more, on average, than a standard ground tent, which is something to consider when storing overland gear. A rooftop tent will usually take up all the space on your roof rack. Finally, a roof top tent will add extra height clearance which can make it harder to fit your vehicle in some garages or buildings. It also makes it harder to avoid obstacles on the trail, so make sure to be aware on how much height clearance your car needs.

If you are interested in rooftop tents, I recommend the Smittybilt Rooftop Rent for a quality but affordable option.


  • Quickly deployable
  • Always attached to your car
  • Security sleeping above the ground
  • Overland points


  • Expensive $$$
  • Takes up a lot of space

For a list of other roof rack attachments, check out our article Best Roof Rack Accessories.


Ground tent on vast open desert playa with a beautiful, colorful sunset.

It is important to choose the right tent for your specific needs, which can vary based on where you live, your vehicle, and what type of overlanding you do.

For those who need to park their car in a garage, the rooftop tent may cause issues with height clearance. Additionally, if you need more space for gear on your trips a rooftop tent may take up too much space and you may want to opt for the ground tent.

For some it may be worth dropping the extra $$$ on a rooftop tent. If you spend a lot of time camping and move spots often, it can be easy to have the rooftop tent ready for action along the way. Additionally, you may feel more secure camping on the roof opposed to the ground

A rooftop tent is a big investment, so consider your needs and how well the rooftop tent fits those needs. Consider the benefits as well as the drawbacks before jumping into the purchase.


For a complete list of camping setups, check out our article Shelter Options for Overland Camping.


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1 comment

My husband loves off-roading with his friends and he has mentioned that his tent is wearing out. I like that you mentioned that rooftop tents are quickly deployable and can make a quick shelter. I think this will definitely be something that I could save up to buy him as a surprise.

Eve Mitchell

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