Buy Now, Pay Later with Afterpay & Zip

Buy Now, Pay Later with Afterpay & Zip

Buy what you want now. Make your first payment today and the rest over six weeks. And best of all, there are no additional fees if you pay on time.

30 Day Returns & Exchanges

Complete peace of mind when buying online

See Returns Policy

Join The Bushbuck Club & Save

Join for free today and enjoy everyday Club discounts, earn reward points on every dollar you spend and gain access to exclusive member-only offers.

Join the Club
Rooftop Tent Guide | Thumbnail

A Complete Guide to Buying a Rooftop Tent: Everything You Need to Know

Overview

Whether you’re an avid camper, 4x4 adventurer, or weekend warrior looking to escape the hustle and bustle of city life, a rooftop tent can be your ticket to freedom.

Given the increasing popularity of off-roading, overlanding, 4x4ing (or whatever you call it in your neck of the woods), it’s no surprise that rooftop tents are on the rise.

Rooftop tents have revolutionised the way we camp, offering a unique vantage point that traditional ground tents can't match.

They're more than just a place to rest your head; they're a gateway to stunning locations, added safety from wildlife, and a seamless camping setup that eliminates the need to find a level campsite.

Imagine waking up in your favourite wilderness location, off the beaten track, not another soul in sight, surrounded by spectacular scenery, with adventure right on your doorstep — also known as “just another weekend” among roof tent enthusiasts.

Sounds tempting, right?

But choosing the best rooftop tent for your needs isn’t as simple as it used to be and it’s easy to become overwhelmed by all of the options on the market today.

That’s why we put this article together — to help guide you through the process of choosing the best rooftop tent for you.

Bushbuck Armourdillo® Rooftop Tent Tour

Bushbuck Armourdillo® Rooftop Tent Tour

What is a Rooftop Tent?

Rooftop Tent Guide - What is A Roof Tent? (Armourdillo)

Rooftop tents are a type of camping shelter that is mounted on the roof of a vehicle, such as a car, SUV, or truck. Unlike traditional ground tents that are set up on the ground, rooftop tents are designed to be attached to roof racks or roof bars on the top of a vehicle. When not in use, they are compactly stored on the vehicle's roof, and when needed, they can be easily opened and set up, providing a comfortable sleeping space that is elevated off the ground. These tents typically feature a foldable design, allowing them to be collapsed when not in use and expanded when it's time to camp. Rooftop tents come in various sizes and configurations, accommodating different numbers of occupants.

Why are Rooftop Tents so Popular?

Rooftop Tent Guide - Outlook (Armourdillo)

Most people assume rooftop tents are a relatively new innovation, but they first emerged in Western Europe in the 1930s. Back then, it was known as “auto camping” or “air camping” and was marketed as a way to avoid crowded hotels and save money. Fast forward a few decades to the 2000s, and it seems like rooftop tents have suddenly exploded in popularity. So what’s been driving the new wave of adventurous “auto campers”? You only have to look at the types of vehicles on the road today to understand a major reason why rooftop tents are trending. In New Zealand, Australia, and other parts of the world, more people are buying 4WD vehicles — utes, trucks, SUVs and station wagons. As a result of this, off-roading and overlanding is also becoming an increasingly popular outdoor activity. It’s fair to say that rooftop tents have benefited from both of these trends as roof tents are most commonly fitted to 4WD vehicles. But rooftop tents didn’t just hop on the 4WD bandwagon and ride it all the way to the bank. There are several key reasons why rooftop tents have captured the imagination of adventurers the world over.

1. Convenience: easy to set up and pack away

A well-designed rooftop tent can be set up in just a few minutes and packed down in the same amount of time. For a lot of people, this is much more appealing than mucking around with tent poles, pegs, and guy ropes that never seem to work how they’re supposed to.

2. Cheaper than caravans, campervans, and hotels

A good roof tent costs a fraction of a campervan, caravan, or motorhome — and after a few years of use it probably works out cheaper than hotels, Airbnbs, and holiday parks. While the initial investment is nothing to snivel at, you’re essentially transforming your vehicle into your very own Airbnb on wheels.

What’s better is, the more your use, the faster it pays itself off. As if you needed another excuse to go on adventures.

3. Always ready for adventure

One of the best things about roof tents is that they’re always set up and ready to go. After work on a Friday, you can chuck some clothes in a bag, buy some groceries, and head off into the wilderness for the weekend. All of your bedding and essentials can be conveniently packed away inside the roof tent, which means less time spent on planning and making sure you’ve got the right gear.

4. Better access to remote locations and campsites

Roof Tent Guide - Remote Location (Armourdillo)

A rooftop tent allows you to camp in some of the most stunning, remote locations on earth. While it’s often possible to hike to these places with a normal tent, it takes a lot more time. With the roof tent, you can use 4WD tracks to access these areas faster. The best part is, you get to escape the crowds and noise of busy campgrounds. Hard to put a price on that.

5. Safer, and stronger than a ground tent

If you live in a country with dangerous wild animals or insects, then a rooftop tent provides extra peace of mind. As a roof tent is screwed into your vehicle's crossbars and features more heavy-duty hardware than a tent you carry on your back, it’s also more secure and durable in wild weather conditions. This is especially true if you have a hard-shell rooftop tent, like the Bushbuck Armourdillo®.

6. Elevated outlook: “A room with a view”

Of course, a rooftop tent provides superior views to a regular tent. Having that extra elevation helps to eliminate any obstructions to your outlook. You could pay hundreds of dollars a night for a fancy hotel or resort with a scenic view, or you could get a rooftop tent and treat yourself to a “room with a view” whenever you want.

7. Warmer and drier than a ground tent

Another benefit of elevation is that you’re not sleeping directly on the damp, cold ground. You’ll also avoid the possibility of surface flooding under and around your tent in heavy rain. Some rooftop tents, such as the Bushbuck Armourdillo®, have insulation in the hard shell, which provides additional warmth and protection from the wind.

How to choose the best rooftop tent for you

If you’re already convinced you want to buy a rooftop tent, the most pressing question on your mind will be: What’s the best rooftop tent for me?

There are several important factors to consider when making this decision, including:

  • Vehicle Compatibility Rooftop tent weight Vehicle load capacity Rooftop tent size

  • Design and Layout Floorplan Doors and windows Storage Ladders and access

  • Material Quality and Durability Tent material Waterproof rating Hardware specifications

  • Hard Shell vs Soft Shell Roof Tent Pros and cons of each

  • Accessories and Add-Ons Extra features Annexes, awnings, tents

We’ll cover all of these considerations in more detail below. Let’s dive in.

Is the Roof Tent Compatible with Your Vehicle?

Rooftop Tent Guide | Why Rooftop Tents (Armourdillo)

This is probably the most important question when you’re looking to buy a rooftop tent. It’s much cheaper to find a roof tent that fits your vehicle than to change your vehicle to fit your favourite roof tent. If you’ve got a decent SUV, 4x4 or utility vehicle, chances are it will be compatible with most rooftop tents on the market today. But it’s always a good idea to double check. The two numbers you want to check are:

  • Vehicle roof load rating (dynamic and static)

  • Crossbar (roof rack) load rating

As long as the roof tent weighs the same or less than your vehicle’s dynamic (moving) roof load capacity, it should be compatible. We recommend having roof racks with a load rating of at least 100kg and encourage our customers to use Rhino Rail Tracks (or roof racks of similar quality), especially if you’re planning on taking your roof tent off-road. Of course, you want to make sure the roof tent is compatible with the dimensions of your roof, not only its load capacity.

What Size Roof Tent is Best for You?

There are two main considerations when it comes to size:

  1. The size of your roof and roof racks — both crossbar length and the distance between them

  2. The size of the roof tent itself. Is it big enough for your needs?

Most roof tents will specify roof rack size requirements. For example, for the Bushbuck Armourdillo® Rooftop Tent we recommend a minimum crossbar length of 100cm and a minimum distance between the bars of 75cm (recommended distance: 90-110cm). Choosing the right size for your needs depends on how many people will use the tent and personal preference. Most rooftop tents are designed for 1-2 people and allow around 700mm per person. So, if you’re after a 2-person roof tent, a width of about 140cm or 1.4m should be comfortable. If you’re planning to bring a child or dog along, you may want to consider something slightly bigger. The other size considerations are length and height. The average height of a man in New Zealand, Australia and the United States is 178cm, so most people will be looking for a roof tent that’s longer than that — around 2m is a safe bet as it allows extra space for gear. As for height, most rooftop tents will be designed to allow you to sit up comfortably, get changed, and get in and out quickly. We’ve found the optimal height to be around 1.1-1.3m. Obviously, a rooftop tent can’t be too big, or it will be too heavy. There’s always a balancing act between size and weight.

Rooftop Tent Design and Layout

Rooftop Tent Guide - Design and Layout (Armourdillo)

The design and layout of a rooftop tent has a significant influence on your camping experience. You want your roof tent to be functional, comfortable, and ultimately, to feel like home on the road. Here are some things to think about.

Side Opening vs Rear Opening Roof Tent

One of the main design considerations is how your roof tent opens. A side opening roof tent has its entrance on the passenger or driver’s side of the vehicle, whereas a rear opening roof tent has its entrance at the back. If your vehicle has a trunk, boot or rear door that opens upward, then a rear opening roof tent may prevent you from accessing it. However, a rear opening roof tent allows you to set-up at narrow campsites or roadsides. A side opening roof tent generally provides a wider sleeping area, suitable for two or more people. If you combine your roof tent with an annex or awning, you can access your vehicle from inside the annex. There’s no “better or worse” option when it comes to roof tent openings, but in general, people seem to prefer side openings as they’re more versatile.

Storage

There’s often not a lot of space for storage in a rooftop tent (that’s what the vehicle’s for), but you want to have easy access to the core essentials, such as clothes, shoes, outdoor gear. A simple and effective solution is gear bags fitted to the outside of the tent on either side of the ladder. You may also want to look for internal pockets. If you’re just using a roof tent for one person, there will always be plenty of storage space.

Windows and Airflow

One of the greatest benefits of a rooftop tent is the elevated view you get from your “bedroom” so you want to make sure there are windows that allow you to appreciate it. Also, it can get pretty toasty when you’re camping in summer so having insect mesh fitted in the door, windows and air vents is essential for airflow.

Lighting

Obviously, you can use a head torch when you’re camping, but it’s much more convenient to have built-in lighting in your rooftop tent. With the Bushbuck Armourdillo®, we included both internal and external LED strip lighting, which can be plugged into a USB power bank. This is a ‘nice to have’ not a ‘must have’, but it adds a touch of homely comfort to your roof tent experience.

Hardshell vs Softshell Roof Tents: Which is Better?

Rooftop Tent Guide - Hardshell (Armourdillo)

Another important consideration is whether to buy a hard shell or soft shell rooftop tent. We’re a bit biassed here, but if you have the budget and your vehicle’s compatible, a hard shell rooftop tent is the way to go as they provide superior all-round performance. However, there are many decent soft shell roof tents on the market, too.

Hard Shell Roof Tent Pros

  • More durable: Built for off-roading

  • More aerodynamic and fuel efficient

  • Easier to set up and pack away

  • Warmer: Hard shell can be insulated

  • More weatherproof: Better protection from wind and rain

  • Mountable: You can add racks or solar panels etc on top

  • You can leave your bedding set up

  • Sleek and stylish

Soft Shell Roof Tent Pros

  • Lighter weight

  • More affordable

  • Can pack down smaller

  • Can be more spacious

Most roof tent experts would agree that hardshell is the way to go if you budget allows, but make sure to do you own research and see what looks best to you.

What are the Best Rooftop Tent Materials?

Rooftop Tent Guide - Armourdillo Accessories

We’ve got this far without even talking about the tent itself. When you’re buying a roof tent, the materials and quality of the tent are essential to how well it performs. Most rooftop tents will be made from a durable material, usually ripstop polyester, nylon or canvas. However, cheaper tents may not use quality fabrics. We recommend looking at the detailed specifications of the fabrics used and doing a Google search to understand how suitable they are for camping in a wide range of conditions. The fly and tent fabric should be waterproof, but may have different waterproof ratings (it’s more important for the fly to have a higher waterproof rating). The materials should also be UV-resistant as they’ll be exposed to plenty of sun on camping trips. If you’re serious about choosing the best rooftop tent, you’ll also want to take a close look at the hardware — mounting bars, bolts, screws, rivets, zips, latches etc. This is something we pride ourselves on at Bushbuck.

Roof tent accessories and add-ons

When you’re buying a roof tent, it pays to take a look at the accessories and add-ons you can purchase down the line, such as an annex, awning, wall body, or additional ground tent. All of these things can take your camping experience to the next level. You might buy a rooftop tent for yourself and a partner to begin with, but if you have kids in the future you may want extra space to bring them along. Or you may buy a roof tent with the intention of taking it on hardcore outdoor missions, but may also want to use it on more laidback family camping trips. Having the option of add-ons that increase the living space of your rooftop tent gives you the freedom to expand and adapt over the years. As an example, the Bushbuck Armourdillo® Rooftop Tent has an Annex, Wall Body, and Airbeam Tent that can transform your roof tent into a multi-room camping set-up with kitchen, dining, storage and two extra bedrooms.

Ready to Start Your Rooftop Tent Journey?

Rooftop Tent Guide - Armourdillo Conclusion

If you’re someone who already enjoys camping and the outdoors and you’re wanting an excuse to go on more adventures, a rooftop tent is a great way to make it happen. Having a “home away from home” attached to the top of your vehicle, always ready to go, reduces the friction between thinking about a weekend away and just doing it. Rooftop tents provide a convenient, comfortable, functional camping experience, whether you’re overlanding to rugged, remote locations, or simply heading to a campground with the family. While there are quite a few considerations when choosing the best rooftop tent for your situation, hopefully this article has provided some clarity around your decision. If you have any questions about the Bushbuck Armourdillo® Rooftop Tent, please feel free to get in touch with us at sales@bushbuck.com

Jonathan-Carson
Jonathan Carson

Jonathan Carson is a Content Writer and Copywriter at Bushbuck. He's a wordsmith who handles most of Bushbuck's website, marketing copy and oversees our blog, The Campfire. 

Outside of work, he's big on hiking and dabbles in surfing and bouldering. His favourite wilderness area in New Zealand is Nelson Lakes National Park, particularly the Blue Lake, home to the clearest known freshwater in the world.

Explore more articles from The Campfire

View all articles