7 things to consider BEFORE you buy a Rooftop tent!

There are many different Roof Top Tent options out there these days, so how do you know which is the right one for you?

 After personally using rooftop tents ourselves for over 10 years we’ve learned a few things which might help you in your search for the perfect setup.

Here are the topics we’ll cover:

  1. Why do we prefer to use a Rooftop Tent (RTT) over a traditional camping tent?
  2. What are the different types of Rooftop Tents (RTT) available?
  3. What are some critical features I should look out for?
  4. How do I know which brand to buy?
  5. Which Rooftop Tent (RTT) will fit on my car?
  6. What type of racks do I need?
  7. Additional considerations like Annexes, awnings, shower tents and lighting.
  1. Firstly, why do we prefer to use a rooftop tent over a traditional camping tent?

The short answer here is comfort and convenience.

 We’ll get deeper into the specific pros and cons of different styles of rooftop tents later but one thing they all have in common is that, once mounted to your vehicle, setup and pack up is much faster than a traditional camp site and is usually more comfortable, drier, easier to keep clean and often warmer than sleeping on the ground.

 They also generally remain fitted to your car over the camping season, so come Friday night, all you need to pack is some cold beer and you’re ready to tackle the weekend!


     2. What are the different types of Rooftop Tents available?

 There are two main categories of rooftop tent, and then some sub-categories within these two main groups.

  • Softshell Rooftop Tents
  • Hardshell Rooftop Tents


Let’s look at Softshell tents first.

This style of tent is the most common and it’s the style you’ve likely seen whist driving around. They appear as a square box fitted to roof racks, measuring approximately 1.2mx1.5mx0.35m wrapped in a canvas cover which is usually grey or black.

These tents fold open to the side or rear of the car, opening the tent as you unfold. (A little bit like those awesome pop-up birthday cards you had as a kid)

Model sizes can vary but are usually intended to sleep 2-4 people.

They will have an adjustable ladder attached which is used to assist with opening and for access once the tent is setup.

They will also have a foam mattress stored inside which unfolds automatically with the tent.

Softshell tents usually take around 5 minutes to setup and pack up in their most basic configuration.

These RRTs are generally cheaper in price and lighter in weight than their Hardshell equivalents. They can be used on a wide variety of vehicles from small cars to large 4x4s, SUVs and vans. 



Now let’s consider Hardshell tents.

This type of tent is rapidly growing in popularity. As the name suggests the casing with which the tent is contained is a solid shell. This shell is generally made from either aluminum or plastic and can present itself in a variety of different styles.

 Again, let’s consider two of these styles:

  • ‘Clamshell’ or ‘Wedge’
  • Fold-Open

Clamshell or Wedge style hardshell tents, as the name suggests, are hinged at one end and have gas struts to assist with their opening. These are by far the fastest and simplest RTTs to use. Operation usually consists of releasing 2 latches and watching the gas struts open the tent into its fully setup position. This type of tent can easily be setup by one person, regardless of size or strength, in a matter of seconds. These tents usually measure around 2.1mx1.5mx0.2m so are generally better suited to larger cars, 4x4s, SUVs and vans. If you have one of these vehicles and are looking for the fastest and easiest to operate RTT available this style might be a good option for you.  This style is also the thinnest when packed up meaning they look less ‘boxy’ and are much more aerodynamic.

Fold-open is the second type of Hardshell RTT. This style is very similar in concept and size to the traditional Softshell style tent but with the addition of a hard plastic or aluminium shell. Their operation is usually assisted with gas struts to open the shell itself and then the internals of the tent can be folded out to the side or rear of the vehicle. This style of Hardshell tent packs up to a smaller footprint than the clamshell or wedge style so can often be suitable for smaller vehicles. They take a little longer to setup than a Clamshell, but are faster than a Softshell and have the added durability of the protective outer.

Hardshell tents in general offer ease and speed of setup and great long-term durability.  An additional bonus of this type of tent is that some models allow accessories to be fitted directly to the tent, expanding your campsite or allowing you to carry more gear on your roof. Awnings, shower tents and roof racks are some of the options available.



  1. What are some critical features I should look out for?

 Not all the tents you see online are created equal. You'll see a variety of similar looking products spread over a large price range and it can be hard to tell which ones are rubbish, which ones are over-priced and which ones are a practical combination of value and quality.

So here’s a few things we’ve learnt after years of using all types of Rooftop Tents.

In our opinion, comfort is the most important aspect of your purchase.

If you don't sleep well then your tent isn't serving it's number one purpose. If this happens you'll hate sleeping in it and so will you wife/partner/camp buddy. Make sure which ever tent you choose has a good quality high density foam mattress which is at least 60mm thick. Not only does this provide more comfort, especially for side sleepers, but it also creates a greater thermal barrier from the cold outside. You are more likely to get a good night’s sleep and wake up feeling refreshed and ready for the day's activities.

Useable functionality is the second most important consideration.

Does it work in a simple, reliable and well thought out fashion day after day and trip after trip? If you're like us you've probably spent more time sleeping at campsites than in hotel rooms.  That's our preference every time, but let's be honest, camping is not always seamless. There's the pre-trip packing to sort out, followed by what is usually a long drive and then the inevitable en-route delay or un-forecast rain shower on arrival. These things all add to the flavour of the adventure, but there are some things we can do to make our lives easier, such as choosing well thought out reliable equipment which has been thoroughly tested by real people in your local environment. With a quality Roof Top Tent strapped on your roof your camp setup will be quick, easy, stress free and comfortable.

  1. How do I know which brand to buy?

Well, we’re a little biased, but you should obviously buy a SMRT Tent…. HA. But seriously, this is an important consideration.

 We understand buying a RTT is a big purchase. It can be tempting to do a quick scroll through the various options online and simply choose the cheapest product… after all, they all look the same, right..? Well yes, and no. There can be a large difference in the quality of the materials used, from the bolts to the brackets to the quality of the fabric and everything in between. We prefer to use stainless steel and aluminium for all of our fixings and brackets, we like 25mm covered poles for durability, telescopic ladders which suite all types of vehicles straight out of the box, quality shoe bags to keep the dirt out of your tent, lots of pockets, quality fabrics and zippers, mesh windows to keep the bugs out and a quality mattress is a MUST! The last thing you want is a cheap product letting you down when you’re off grid.

At SMRT Tent we provide products which we believe are right in the sweet spot, balancing great features and quality with reasonable pricing.

No matter which brand or model you choose just make sure you do a little research. It’s worth taking the time to investigate the detail and quality of each tent to ensure you’re getting the best product for your money.  We’d also suggest reaching out to the company you’re considering buying from and see what response you get.  Ask questions about your specific needs. You want to be sure you are comfortable with the support you’ll be getting both before you buy and in the years ahead.


  1. Which Rooftop Tent (RTT) will fit on my car?

This is a critical question!  Ideal fitment and specific roof carrying capacities can vary dramatically across vehicle types, but before we get into choosing our favorite tent there are a couple of terms we should get comfortable with.

  • Dynamic Weight Capacity – This refers to the amount you can carry on your roof WHILE YOU ARE DRIVING. You will need to verify this specification for both your vehicle AND your roof rack. These limitations are independent of each other. For example, you might have purchased some aftermarket roof racks which have a dynamic carrying capacity of 130kg. Awesome you say,  I can load up the biggest tent I can find along with all my gear and off I go! Not so fast! You still need to consider the maximum dynamic roof carrying capacity of the car you’re fitting the rack to. If you have a small car this maximum load might be around 70kg. In this situation the car's capacity is the limiting factor and no matter which racks you choose the maximum you can carry on your roof is 70kg. Keep in mind the weight of your racks must also be taken into account.  Again, lets consider the example above. If your car’s maximum dynamic roof load is 70kg and your new racks weigh 7kg, then you have 63kg left over to carry your tent and accessories. This is the number you’ll need to keep in mind when choosing your tent.

As a general rule, larger cars, 4x4s, SUVs and vans have a larger roof carrying capacity than smaller passenger cars.

  • Static Weight Capicity – This refers to the amount you can load onto your roof WHILE YOU ARE STATIONARY. This is the amount of weight which will be on you roof when you’re parked up at the campsite and will include the weight of the roof rack, your rooftop tent and everyone inside the tent. This number needs to be considered but is generally not an issue.  The static capacity of most vehicles is usually hundreds of kilograms.

 Both the dynamic and static limitations of your vehicle and your rack will be listed in their respective owner’s manuals. (If the static load is not listed, a general rule of thumb is 3 x the dynamic capacity) 

It is critical for both safety and insurance purposes that you comply with these limitations!

 Once you’ve established how much weight you can carry, you can start choosing a tent!

If you have a ute with a tub rack, a van or a large SUV then you have all options available to you and can choose based on your preferences and budget.

 Larger hardshell tents, with all the accessories, are a popular option on these vehicles.

If you have a smaller vehicle a light weight hardshell tent could be a good option.  

 The most popular option however, due to it’s flexibility and lower cost, especially for smaller vehicles or twin cab utes is the Softshell fold-open style tent.


  1. What type of racks do I need?

This can be a more complicated question than it initially seems on the surface.  Firstly you’ll need to ensure which ever rack you choose can carry the weight required.  Refer to the topic above on dynamic and static weight capacity.

 Then there are some other considerations depending on which tent you want to use.  Some tent models require support across their entire width, therefor requiring roof rack cross bars of a minimum width.

We would strongly recommend contacting you Rooftop Tent supplier prior to ordering your new racks to discuss your best options. 

Once you’ve confirmed the correct type of rack for your chosen tent, you will need to find a rack with the correct fitment for your vehicle.  There are plenty of online and shopfront stores selling racks across NZ so we recommend googling ‘roofracks’ in your local area to find a suitable supplier. The rack supplier will be able to guide you on the correct model to fit your vehicle.

It is also worth noting that supply of roof racks in New Zealand can be a little patchy. If you are considering getting your mobile campsite setup for summer we recommend getting your racks sorted ASAP.  You don’t want to have your holiday plans ruined by a lack of availability!

  1. Additional considerations like Annexes, awnings, shower tents.

 There are many add-on options available to take your RTT experience to the next level. Some tent models, particularly fold out style tents, have optional annex and room extension attachments which connect to the tent itself. If you have a larger family, if the weather is poor or if you are planning to stay in one location for a few days these extensions can be a great addition.  They will add an additional 5-10 mins to you setup time but can be well worth the effort!

 Another option is a universal quick-setup annex, which can be mounted and operated independently of the tent for some quick sun or rain protection.  This type of annex only takes a couple of minutes to setup.

There are also shower/toilet specific tent options which take 15 seconds to setup and give full height privacy at the campsite.

As you can see there are a lot of things to consider when planning to setup your mobile campsite, but we hope this has made things a little clearer.

As always, we are happy to chat so if you have any questions or need some advice feel free to reach out, we’re always here to help! dan@yellowmountain.co.nz