Primarily, roof top tent camping has been pioneered as an address to ideally all weather conditions. With it, it means that we do not have to worry about getting flooded on the ground. In line with this, it is important that our tents can withstand extreme wind and rainstorms. Thus, the ideal option when choosing a tent is typically the hard shell ones. These tents are typical of fiberglass or aluminum material, which is more durable than soft shells’ poly-cotton ripstop fabric. However, they can have quality differences that we ought to know to identify the best hard shell roof top tent.
Along the rise of the popularity of roof top tent camping is also the rise of models available on the market. This means that there are a lot of models competing for the title of best hard shell roof top tent as well. However, among the several are the following that we can consider:
- Alu-Cab Aluminium Rooftent Expedition 3
- Roost Explorer
- Autohome Maggiolina Extreme Model
- Tent-Box Tentbox Hard Shell Roof Top Tent
- Autohome Air Top Model
- Go Fast Camper Roof Top Tent
- Roofnest Falcon
- Roofnest Sparrow
Generally, hard shell tents offer already a great advantage by their durability, which allows them a lifetime’s worth of use. Typically, they cost around $3,000, which is quite a bit pricey than soft shell tents. Therefore, because it is quite an investment to purchase a hard shell tent, we might as well only invest in the best.
Elements to Consider in a Hard Shell Roof Top Tent
Generally, hard shell roof top tents have two outer shells – either aluminum or fiberglass. There is not much difference between the two. Fiberglass is a popular glass material for a lot of things, mainly for insulation or soundproofing. Aluminum, on the other hand, is a metal used for thermal conductivity as well for low-level temperatures.
Moreover, hard shells have simple designs with the shells opening either as a mouth or in a box-like shape. There is not much difference between the two designs. It’s just that the hard shell tents that open on a single side, in particular, obviously have smaller headspace. This means that we will have to place our feet on that side. Some models, though, can open up to 56 inches high on the side that opens.
Moreover, both hard shell roof top tent designs measure very similarly. Usually, their length fluctuates between 83 and 87 inches, and their width, between 48 to 57 inches. There might be a few, though, that may vary, especially when they are opened.
- Wedge-Mouth Shape
Generally, hard shell tents open in a minute or less. Wedge-shaped ones, specifically, have a hinge on one end, which we literally just pull up.
- Box Shape
The box-shaped ones, on the other hand, may take a few extra seconds. Some of them come with an electric motor, which automatically opens the tent for us. Others, conversely, have a crank-assist opening mechanism which opens the upper shell.
Shell material for hard shell roof top tents is a matter of fiberglass versus aluminum. However, there is not much difference between the two in terms of quality. Either way, a hard shell roof top tent is usually extremely durable and will last for a long time.
Hard shells are more aerodynamic compared to soft shells. They are very slim and can adapt better to any car shape. However, they are typically heavier than soft shell tents, which also means that our cars are to spend more gas.
Still, the weight will also depend a lot on the size of the tent along with other features like the roof rack and the like. For instance, four-person tents are obviously going to be bigger than two-person ones, and thus, obviously heavier.
This is probably one of the greatest considerations when buying the best hard shell roof top tent for us. It matters in terms of how much people we plan on sheltering our tents with. We would not want to buy a two-person tent only to end up sharing it with more than two people. Also, we do not want to spend thousands of dollars on another tent unit, right?
Some hard shell roof top tents come equipped with roof racks installed on the upper or outer shell. This feature makes for the best hard shell roof top tent as other camping gears can be placed on top of it. For instance, if our camping itineraries call for it, we can place our kayaks, surfboards, and the like.
Normally, the tents will take our car’s loading space. Thus, this means that we have to put everything in the trunk unless we are bringing a trailer.
Best Hard Shell Roof Top Tents
Alu-Cab Aluminium Rooftent Expedition 3
The Alu-Cab line is based in Cape Town, South Africa. They have been in operation since 2002, outfitting expedition vehicles and high-quality aluminum vehicle products. In fact, almost every big safari company on the continent uses its durable and high-quality vehicles and products.
Their Expedition 3, specifically, is probably their best hard shell roof top tent. It is made entirely of aluminum, which makes it capable of carrying a heavy load. It also has built-in crossbars and can be set up in only a matter of at least a minute. This tent is a wedge-shaped one and features gas-pressure springs as well as three entrances with mosquito nets.
Moreover, Expedition 3 is designed so that it keeps the rainwater out. Its upper shell is wider than the tent itself and the entrances, slightly undercut so the rain cannot drip in. In addition, the tent can be closed securely with padlocks. All of its seams, conversely, are reinforced and waterproof.
Additionally, the tent’s roof panels and floor are insulated with closed-cell polyethylene foam. This foam is one that helps in preventing condensation and regulating extreme temperatures. It also significantly minimizes wind and rain noises. Also, the tent comes with a high-density foam mattress, several roof pockets for storage, and two LED reading lights. All in all, the tent weighs about 170 pounds and costs around $3,999.
Roost is a line that also delivers the best hard shell roof top tent that is made in the USA. The Roost Explorer, in particular, is a tent that comes with several other convenient features for campers. These include a two-inch foam mattress, fabric hammock shelf for valuables, and side pouches for smaller items. Also, it comes with a standard aluminum ladder, heavy-duty rear latches with locks, and universal mounting brackets.
The Roost Explorer is generally easy to set up as it works well with almost any roof rack bars. Whether Yule, Yakima, or other crossbars, it is fitting for the Explorer as long as it is at least 58 inches long. However, the tent can be so heavy that it will need two people to set it up. But once placed, it only needs to get pulled up to open it in just less than thirty seconds.
Inside, two adult people can fit pretty well with one more small person or a kid. The two-inch mattress, however, can be a bit thin, but Roost can provide us another 3-inch for more comfort. Moreover, the tent has three doors – two on the sides that serve as windows for ventilation, and a large one. If we remove the mattress, the tent can also serve as a cargo carrier. It has 13 inches of closed height, which makes it capable of carrying some luggage and other stuff.
The Explorer, in addition, is wedge-shaped, weighs about 163 pounds, and costs $3,348.
Autohome Maggiolina Extreme Model
The Maggiolina Extreme model from Autohome is just one of their best-quality hard shells. It has a stylish and aerodynamic profile and comes with two adjustable load bars for additional gears on top. It is a box-shaped, pop-up style tent with a crank-operated lift system. This means that it can be set up or opened with minimal effort required of us.
Moreover, the tent’s floor panel is double-layered made of fiberglass, which sandwiches a foam layer. This makes it very strong, rigid, and well-insulated in cases of extreme temperatures. Also, it has a 3.5-inch closed-cell foam mattress that can be removed easily for easy cleaning. Generally, the mattress is 72 inches long and either 48 or 54 inches wide.
In addition, the tent’s crank design allows us to tension the tent’s side to minimize noise during windy conditions. Actually, it can even withstand winds of over 50 miles per hour. Aside from that, it also minimizes rain noise with the thermal and acoustic-insulated roof panels. Thus, we can make sure that we stay warm even in extremely low temperatures. For all these qualities, the Maggiolina Extreme only costs a fair price of $3,299.
Tent-Box Tentbox Hard Shell Roof Top Tent
The Tentbox by Tent-Box is a great fiberglass-shelled tent, with a traditional box-like shape. It comes upon purchase with a thick 4-inch mattress and a utility net on the interior tent top. It also comes with two double side pockets as well as two hanging hooks to place our valuables in.
Moreover, this tent can shelter two adult persons comfortably with its windows on every side. It means that it allows for good ventilation, breathability, and airflow. It weighs only about 144 pounds, which is fairly lighter than other hard shell roof top tents. Thus, it can be used on smaller SUVs or cars if we have such vehicles. Also, it has a fairly cheaper price of around $2,495.
Autohome Air Top Model
The Air Top model from Autohome is newer than the Maggiolina Extreme model. It is sold in two sizes and shell colors – black and white. The shell, in particular, is constructed out of reinforced double-wall foam core fiberglass on the bottom half. The upper half, conversely, is constructed with a fiberglass.
On the other hand, the tent fabric is made up of a waterproof ripstop Dralon. This material is specially chosen for its durable and weather resistant qualities. Moreover, the Air Top mainly features the gas-ram strut system. This system allows us an effortless opening through the release of but two buckles.
Other than that, the tent features dual side doors, a third rear door, and a small window at the front. This means that any person in it can sleep and breathe well with the tent’s good ventilation. Also, the windows and doors are equipped with a heavy-duty mosquito mesh to prevent our skin from bites and itch. Depending on the size and other elements, the Air Top can cost between $3,399 and $3,699.
Go Fast Camper Roof Top Tent
This hard shell roof top tent by Go Fast Camper is probably one of the super sleek and thinnest tents ever. In fact, when closed, it is only as thick as 6 inches. Aside from that, this tent features a special mounting kit for 5th Generation 4Runners. This allows us to delete the shark fin antenna and mount the unit only about half-inch over the factory sheet metal.
Moreover, this tent is wedge-shaped and opens to a good 4-feet high interior. It also weighs a fairly light 150 pounds. With that, it can hold about 75 pounds of additional weight for storage on the top rack. Additionally, it comes with a universal mounting kit, which means that it can work with almost any crossbars. We only need to take note that the bars are 56 inches in width. Also, it has a 2-inch multi-density foam mattress with a removable cover for easy cleaning. It just does not come with a ladder, though. However, for all its great features and qualities, it costs about $3,499.
The Roofnest line is based in Boulder, Colorado. They offer a wide variety of designs and models which are generally all comfortable and durable. However, the best of them is probably the Falcon model. It is sold in two sizes, the bigger one accommodating up to three persons. By adding crossbars to it, we are given a lot of flexibility. This means that we can place our other gears such as kayak, boards, or luggage on top of the tent.
This model is also interestingly slim, being just about 6.5 inches tall when closed. Although this does not allow much bedding space inside, it significantly minimizes wind noise. Moreover, the tent comes with a 2.75-inch foam mattress and a lightweight aluminum ladder. For all that, it only weighs about 135 pounds, which makes it safe on almost any rack system. Also, this wedge-shaped, aluminum hard shell roof top tent is priced at around $3,395.
This model from Roofnest is a perfect choice for medium to smaller SUVs or cars. It has a universal mounting system for crossbars that are only 38 inches long. It is box-shaped and can fit typically just two adults. It also comes with a 3-inch foam mattress, an 8.5-foot telescoping ladder, and an anti-condensation mat.
In addition, the tent has a stainless steel gas struts which automatically pops the tent up with only a touch. Its floor design, on one hand, can hold a weight of up to 650 pounds. Its ABS-fiberglass shell is coated on the interior with insulation and quilted fabric. This allows us to feel cozy and homey while inside the tent. Also, it is well-ventilated with two windows and two doors, with canvas and mesh layers for different temperatures. The doorways, in particular, can be converted into shade awnings with the poles they come with. For all that, this model is more on the cheaper hard shell prices, specifically at $2,795.
What are the advantages of hard shell roof top tents over the soft shell ones?
Generally, hard shell roof top tents are built more durable, stronger, and more reliable than soft shells. They can last in any season and weather condition and are better at resisting water and wind. Aside from that, they are also typically more aerodynamic when closed, which is great for saving in fuel. They typically have easier open-close systems, which are averagely just about 30 seconds. Moreover, they are easy to maintain as the shell makes it easy for us when we wash it. The fabric also can just be thrown into the washer. Lastly, they offer more storage space when set up than generally most soft shells.
What are the disadvantages of hard shell roof top tents compared to soft shells?
Of course, hard shells will cost more than most soft shells. Aside from the cost, they are also typically heavier with all their more advanced features and material. This also means that they can be a bit hard to place onto our car rooftop or onto the racks. Lastly, they offer less customizations, unlike the soft shell tents.
Moreover, soft shells are more advantageous on the part that they are ideal for newbie campers. Of course, it helps that they are greatly affordable and lightweight compared to the hard shells. Also, they fit newbies in the sense that they do not require extra accessories and can be used easily as they come.