Roof Top Vs Trailer Camping

In this era, camping is not just about mounting tents on the ground. It includes a variety of outdoor experiences available all across the US and the world. Tree camping for example, requires us to sleep in hammock-like tents. RV camping on the other hand, allows us to make a home inside more or less similarly towed structures. And there is roof top camping, which is sort of a cross between ground and RV camping. When roof top camping people often put tents on top a vehicle.

As roof top camping is a cross of ground and RV camping, its significant advantage is its flexibility. We can make use of any of our existing vehicles for our own base camps in almost any location. In addition to that, roof top tents boast of more comfort than ground tents. They are also economical, going for atleast a thousand dollars, compared with trailers that cost tens of thousands.

On the other hand, trailer camping, despite relatively disadvantaged flexibility, offers better mobility. Unlike roof top tents, we can just detach the trailers from our vehicle as we arrive in camp. Then, we can use our vehicle, perhaps to run errands to a nearby store. Also, trailers are better built with hard walls and enclosed space. These give us, thus, better privacy and security.

Roof top camping is usually compared with RV camping if not ground camping. The thing is, these different camping opportunities are pioneered for various purposes. Also, they offer us options to address our different outdoor aspirations.


roof top camp on car



The thing about roof top camping is that it enables us to work with almost any four-wheeled vehicle. Cars, sedans, or hatchbacks, we can throw a roof top tent on top of them as long as they match. Ideally, though, the best bets for roof top camping are trucks or SUVS as a rule.

Moreover, roof top camping also offers flexibility in terms of choosing a campsite. Our options range from the urban area to the rugged backcountry. Basically, it is our privilege, but we need to keep applying the “Leave No Trace” principle. Moreover, the privilege of driving in the backcountry is one that roof top tents can boast over trailer campers. Since trailers require towing by another vehicle, driving along obstacle roads will be quite a challenge.


As mentioned, roof top camping is sort of a cross between ground-mounted tent camping and trailer camping. Of course, the cheapest among the three is the ground camping, the most expensive being the trailer camping. In the middle, thus, is roof top camping – relatively more costly than ground camping but more comfortable. Also, its cost is considerably more reasonable than trailers but for an almost similar sleeping experience.

Comfort and Safety

Due to the mounting design of roof top tents, it makes us less accessible to lurking wild animals. A lion or a bear, perhaps, will have to climb onto the vehicle to access us while we are sleeping. Also, the elevation makes the sleeping quarter comfortable as it opens for the breeze to get in. Most roof top tents open 360 degrees for the best ventilation and breathability.

Low Maintenance

The elevated property of roof top tents offers this advantage. The elevation protects the canvas from getting all the dirt and mud, especially during unfavorable weather conditions. The primary among the maintenance routines of roof top tents is the lubrication of metal or moving parts. In addition the tent’s fabric can be washed with a mild detergent and treated with a waterproofing product.


Wind Susceptibility

This is not that much of a concern as most roof top tents are actually built for extreme weather conditions. It’s just that some roof top tents may make too much noise when the wind hits. This noise can be very annoying, especially when we are inside, trying to catch a relaxing sleep. However, most hard shell roof top tents are free of this drawback; we can just opt for them.


Roof top tents are typically heavy, unlike ground tents that are compact and portable. Roof top tents typically weigh over a hundred pounds. This means that installing it on top of a car requires more than a single person to do the work. Also, upon using, we will have to constantly climb up and down a ladder to function around our campsite.




Privacy and Security

Trailers are basically like portable homes which we tow with our cars. In terms of construction, they are as sturdy as our cars, with reinforced walls and roof. This means that we can be confident about being protected from rain and strong winds—this while reducing the wind noise and impact, unlike some roof top tents. The closed construction also makes the camp less visible to other people from the outside.


Upon arriving at a campground, we can just detach the trailer from our vehicle as it can stand alone. Then, we can use our vehicle to drive around the area for some errands, perhaps to a nearby store. This is one to boast over roof top tents by which our vehicles become our base camp essentially. In case we need a drive down for some errands, we will have to fold our tents down first. Depending on the tent, though, folding it away and setting it back up will only take a few minutes.


The space with roof top camping highly depends on the frame of our vehicles. Meaning, small cars require small tents, and thus, a small camping space. Depending on the design, some tents have small head and living space. But with trailer camping, we have these types of space almost similar to that of actual homes. Entry from the outside is just as easy as entering the front doors of our homes. We also have the luxury to stand inside and walk around to do our chores.



Of course, we should expect trailers to be immensely more expensive than roof top tents. We can say good tens of thousand dollars for a single trailer unit. Roof top tents, on the other hand, cost only at least a thousand dollars for not a far off difference. It is just a matter of preference. We can invest a reasonable amount for a trailer that offers more comfort than adventure and labor.


Towing trailers behind our vehicle  makes driving down rugged routes more challenging. Trailers are typically bulky and often reduce cars’ off-road performance while standard vehicles are usually narrower and built to purpose. It is also a major concern that trailers are an immense load to carry compared to roof top tents. On average, roof top tents only weigh about one hundred pounds, as trailers weigh about five thousand pounds.

Related Questions

Can we go roof top camping and trailer camping at the same time?

Trailer campers are built with hard walls and roof, so we can mount a roof top tent on top of them. This is an excellent solution if we want enough room for our family while we are out in the wilderness. However, the trip to the campground should have us considering some variables. Roof top tents folded on our car tops are an additional weight – about three hundred pounds, including the rack. Trailers, on the other hand, average to about five thousand pounds. Therefore, we have to expect a massive load when driving to our desired campground.

If a trailer is not necessary, though, a roof top tent is a strong candidate for camping. The thing is, with or without a roof top tent, dragging a trailer will require a lot of power. It can be a relative liability on our trails. It is not always exactly a big deal, but we have to be open about its potential of becoming one quickly.

How do roof top tents and trailers affect the fuel economy of vehicles?

Gas mileage is the distance or number of miles that a vehicle can travel using a certain fuel amount. Both the roof top tent and trailer will limit our car’s fuel mileage capacity. For instance, the roof top tent affects the center of gravity of the vehicle. Because of this, it creates wind resistance, affecting the fuel usage of the car for the energy it consumes.

On average, with a roof top tent over a car, about a 15 percent decrease in mpg occurs. Towing a trailer, on the other hand, can result in approximately a 10 percent decrease in mpg. The decrease rate, however, will vary on the size and weight of the different roof top tents and trailer models.

Eni Gordove

is an outdoor enthusiast. She loves the thrill of the challenges that nature brings.

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