Camping or traveling while camping is often easier when you have the right gear. However, it often takes some effort to find the right camping gear. With so many roof top tent options on the market today, the search for the right roof top tent can feel daunting. With some research, you’ll be able to find the best tent for your adventure.

Hard Shell vs. Soft Shell Roof Top Tents

Both hard shell and soft shell roof top tents are great for simply strapping a tent to your vehicle and camping on the roof. However, there are pros and cons to each type of tent.

It’s important to understand the differences between hard shell and soft shell roof top tents so you can choose the right tent for you. The aim of this article is to go a little deeper into this topic and find out whether you need to use a hard shell or soft shell tent for roof top camping.

What Features Do You Want In Your Roof Top Tent?

When buying a roof top tent, consider the following factors: design, ease of use, size, durability, price, etc. Some tents will check all the boxes, while others will only offer a few. It’s up to you which features are most important and which ones you can go without.

Do you want a spacious tent? Or is comfort more important? Perhaps, the design and weight are deal breakers for you. Everyone has their own priorities. It’s important to keep these top of mind as you research roof top tents.

Having a list of “must-haves” will help you evaluate tents, and will ultimately help you buy the best roof top tent for you.

What Type of Roof Top Tent is Right For You?

Once you have your must-have list ready, it’s time to decide which type of roof top tent to buy– hard shell or soft shell.

We recommend narrowing this down before looking at brands and specific models. Figuring out whether you want a hard shell or soft shell first, will help simplify your search. (There are a lot of options out there!)

So, let’s learn more about hard shell and soft shell roof top tents, so you can choose the right one for your camping adventure.

Hard Shell Rooftop Tents

Hardshell roof top tent, Roofnest
Featured Roof Top Tent: Roofnest Sparrow

One of the most common options to choose from is the hard shell roof top tent. These tents are more durable and many people also argue that they are easier to set up. While these tents tend to be more expensive, they typically offer more creature comforts than their soft shell roof top tent counterparts

Here, we will look at some of the pros and cons of these tents.

Pros Of The Hard Shell Roof Top Tents

As you will notice in this section, there are plenty of great things about hard shell tents. These tents are designed to give you excellent durability, are often of higher quality, and are great for all types of campers. Here are some of the main benefits you will get from using a hard shell roof top tent:

Aerodynamic Design

Aerodynamic hardshell roof top tent, iKamper Skycamp
Featured Roof Top Tent: iKamper Skycamp

One of the first things that many people neglect to look for is how the tent will affect their vehicle when it is driving. Because the tent is strapped to your roof, it will affect your gas mileage and range. The last thing you want on a camping trip is to have to spend hundreds of dollars on gas due to all the drag that your tent is creating on the roof.

Fortunately, most hard shell rooftop tents are designed to eliminate drag and give you a sleek design. These tents are aerodynamic, allowing you to drive without worrying about the tent falling off, poor gas mileage, or being slowed down while on the road.

Fast Setup

Featured Roof Top Tent: Roofnest Sparrow

One of the best features of hard shell is the fact that they are already set up for the most part. Yes, there are a few things you will need to do, but the tents often have a setup that is already effective for you.

Many of these hard shell tents will set up in less than 30-seconds! Yes, that’s right. Just 30 seconds. Most hard shell tents have built-in gas struts that make it easy to pop open the tent, or pull it closed. For many tents, one person is able to easily do it alone and in just a matter of minutes.

Durability

Featured Roof Top Tent: Roofnest Sparrow

While we could breakdown the durability into numerous subcategories, we have decided that we can group them all together. Hard shell roof top tents are made from durable materials, which make them much more solid than soft shell tents. Instead of canvas or polyester, which can allow water to penetrate, hard shell rooftop tents have a hard exterior material (hence the name).

These tents will also be quiet in the wind, which means that you don’t need to deal with windy conditions that could affect your trip. They will not be moved in the wind and if you close the windows, you might not even notice the weather.

And, the same applies to rain. Hard shell roof top tents tend to hold up better when it’s raining. Its hard shell provides a barrier so rain and moisture don’t seep inside the tent. This makes it far more appealing than soft shell roof top tents and traditional ground tents.

Cons Of Hard Shell Rooftop Tents

Even though these are some of the best tents on the market today, they still have a couple of flaws you will need to deal with. Fortunately, there are only a couple of cons that really should not be too much of an issue.

Size

Roofnest Sparrow Eye
Featured Roof Top Tent: Roofnest Sparrow Eye

Since these tents are stacked on top of the roof, they might not be as spacious as a soft shell tent. They tend to be limited to the size of the roof, which means you might only find one that is ideal for two people.

However, there are many companies that are coming out with “hybrid” tents that offer both the hard shell component as well as a large interior. Roofnest’s Condor series and iKamper’s Skycamp are both great tents that combine hard shell + soft shell elements to offer the best of both worlds.

Price

Due to the durability of these tents and the materials used in the construction, they are often more expensive than some of the soft shell tents. However, price is always subjective and you might still find one that fits in your budget.

Verdict

The hard shell rooftop tent is one of the best tents that you can strap to the roof of your vehicle for camping. They have incredible durability and offer great value for your money. Yes, they might be a little more expensive, but their positives far outweigh some of these minuscule drawbacks.

Soft Shell Rooftop Tents

Soft Shell Roof Top Tent, Smittybilt Overlander
Featured Roof Top Tent: Smittybilt Overlander

Soft shell roof top tents are slightly different in comparison to the hard shell alternatives. The tents have been around for the better part of the last decade and they are still popular.

These are also tents, but they take a little more time for you to set up and they can often be much better in terms of the overall living space. Here we have done a complete breakdown of the benefits and drawbacks of soft shell roof top tents.

Pros Of Soft Shell Roof Top Tents

Much like the hard shell roof top tents, you always have to consider the pros and cons before buying. Soft shell tents have plenty of benefits that will make them worth your time and effort. Here are some of the top pros to keep in mind:

Price

Featured Roof Top Tent: Smittybilt Overlander

Since these tents are not made from the same durable materials as hard shell roof top tents, their price tends to be lower. This means that soft shell tents tend to be the best option if you are on a budget.

However, there are a couple of factors that come into play when it comes to price. One of these is the size. Some larger soft shell tents can be just as expensive as their hard shell counterparts. But overall, you should notice that these soft shell tents are a little more affordable.

Living Space

Featured Roof Top Tent: Smittybilt Overlander

Soft shell roof top tents are often folded and this gives them a little more material for you to play with. Some of these tents can be folded and once you unfold them, they are bigger than your vehicle.

Soft shell rooftop tents tend to have a larger living space for things like mattresses and additional comfort. And many of them are said to sleep 3-4 people comfortably.

Cons Of Soft Shell Roof Top Tents

Having seen some of the benefits, you might also be wondering what the drawbacks are of soft shell roof top tents. Fortunately, we have experience with both types of tenets and know first-hand the major drawbacks of these tents.

Drag On Your Car

One of the biggest downsides to soft shell roof top tents is that they are not aerodynamic. They cause some serious drag when they are strapped to the roof of your car.

If you’ve seen any of these on the road, you will notice that they are very bulky and have a soft outer shell. The tent’s shape and soft cover cause more drag and ultimately lower your gas mileage and/or range. You can find some options that are a little more sleek, but soft shell roof top tents are often bulky and not aerodynamic.

Lacks Durability

While these tents are by no means fragile, they are not as durable as hard shell roof top tents. You need to keep in mind that they are made from lighter and softer materials. These include nylon and canvas, which might be durable enough, but not as strong as a hard outer shell.

If you’re worried about rain seeping in, you could add your own waterproof coating. And if the canvas rips or tears, you can always buy fabric repair patches to fix any holes in the outer shell.

Setup

Finally, the setup is another place that is often concerning to first-timers. If you are in a hurry, you might find that the setup can be a little harder when camping in a soft shell roof top tent. These tents don’t have gas struts and typically have a lot more material (canvas, polyester, etc.), adding a little complexity to the set up and take down.

Even though the set up can add a few minutes to your trip, it doesn’t have to be a deal-breaker. We recommend practicing opening and closing the tent at home before you leave for your trip. This will make you feel more comfortable when you are out in the wilderness.

Verdict

Soft shell roof top tents are still one of the top options for campers that need something that fits into their budget. Having a softer shell will give you additional living space, while not breaking the bank. However, these might not be the best tents that we would recommend for bad weather situations.

Hard Shell vs. Soft Shell Roof Top Tents – Which Is Better?

Now that you have seen some of the features for both these tent types, you might be wondering which of them we would recommend. To be honest, we would recommend both of these tents for different situations. It all comes down to your preference and what you need from the tent.

Remember, not everyone likes the same type of roof top tent. And that’s ok! There’s a roof top tent out there for everyone.

Here is a quick breakdown:

Hard Shell

The hard shell rooftop tent is the overall winner and when comparing pros to cons, it definitely stands out. These tents are ideal for a variety of situations and they should offer you the ultimate waterproofing. We would recommend them for almost any trip and especially in rugged terrains and bad weather conditions.

Soft Shell

The soft shell is the cheaper alternative and it is perfect for those family camping vacations in the summer. It is a budget option and the tent will take some additional time for you to set up. However, the extra living space more than makes up for it. We would ultimately recommend the soft shell tent for casual camping.

Buying A Roof Top Tent

By now, you should know which of these tents you will need and with this information, it should be much easier for you to find the right option for your needs.

However, we would like to encourage you to let us know in the comment section if we have missed any important features and what experiences you have with Hard Shell vs. Soft Shell Roof Top Tents.

And if you’re ready to buy a roof top tent, check out some of our buyer’s guides below! We’ve put together a list of the best hard shell and soft shell roof top tents on the market today.

Guide: The Best Hard Shell Roof Top Tents >

Guide: The Best Soft Shell Roof Top Tents >