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Which Is The BEST Rooftop Tent: Fold-Out Vs Wedge Vs Clam Shell?

Updated: Aug 25, 2023

How to choose the BEST roof-top tent from the FOUR main options.

Roof top tents are the answer for many adventurers who prioritize comfort and versatility. Compared to ground tents, roof top tents offer warmth, security, and fast set-up in as little as one minute. Compared to RVs and larger truck campers, roof top tents provide a comfortable bed with universal application across a wide range of vehicles with the option of off-road travel (when mounted on a 4x4). All of this is at a savings of thousands of dollars over any other form of camper.

These advantages have spurred the development of many innovative styles of roof top tents. In addition to the original rooftop tent that fold outward, you can now choose from models with a hard shell that opens straight up or into a wedge shape. Read on to uncover the design features best for you!

For many reasons, the BEST rooftop tent for the majority of campers is still the fold-out fabric style.

The reason for the continued popularity of this fold-out design is the combination of the latest high-tech materials delivered at a bargain price. You simply get the most tent for the money, with prices staring at only $1,349.99.

Our favorite rooftop tent is the OVS Nomadic 2 Extended. This RTT has a rain fly that overhangs the ladder. The compact folded tent is only 55" long by 47" wide so it fits on smaller vehicles as well as larger SUVs, trucks, and trailers. But the BEST feature of this fold-out design is that the stored dimensions MORE than double, expanding out to 55" by 122" deep. (The mattress is slightly narrower but longer than queen size, at 55" x 94.5".)

The other HUGE advantage of this fold-out rooftop tent is the ability to add an "annex" under the extended bed platform. This added room more than doubles the protected, usable space - for ONLY $250 more! Learn more about the Nomadic 2 Extended rooftop tent in the full review article - CLICK HERE.

Modern engineering has now provided several "hard-sided" alternatives to the soft fabric RTTs.

The first option combines a hard cover with the fold-out tent. This hard shell also provides the “roof” for one side of the open tent. Like the soft tent version, the floor plan doubles in size as the RTT is unfolded. The biggest advantage of this fold-out design is that the hard shell eliminates the separate cover on the soft fabric versions. Many campers feel that this speeds up the packing process. The expanding design makes it possible to build both two and four person versions that fold to fit on a vehicle or trailer. Models like the Bushveld IV (shown below) include a mattress that measures 78" wide by 84" long! Best of all, you can sleep a family of four for only $2,799.00.

The cantilever Fold-Out design - soft fabric or with a hard top cover - provides the most bed space. Models are available with full-size up to king-size mattresses. Because these tents fold outward (normally towards the passenger side) to extend the bed, the folded RTT installs "sideways" with the width of the bed running the length of the truck bed or SUV roof or trailer. When installed on a pickup truck, the fold-out tent can be mounted lower compared to longer tents that mount above the roof of the vehicle. This allows a lower entry height and lower overall profile, which can add miles per gallon on the highway and may permit you to store your vehicle in the garage.

The Bushveld II rooftop tent has the same design, but with a 84" x 64" queen-size bed.(shone below with the OPTIONAL annex.)

Don't need a king size bed? Your definition of the "best rooftop tent" is more compact? Another option is the "clam shell" design.

In this tent, the roof opens to form the back wall. Unlike the fold-out models above, the size of the RTT footprint does not expand. The Sidewinder RTT shown below opens to form a rooftop tent with one hard wall, a huge entry on the opposite side, and two large windows on the ends. The closed dimensions are the same as the open dimensions, 91" long by 55.5" wide, in this model.

This platform provides a spacious full-size bed for two campers. The main advantage of this design is that the hard cover/back wall is constructed of aircraft aluminum. The top cover also has side tracks with removable cross bars. This hard cover with the roof rails and side tracks allows for the transport of bikes, storage boxes, kayaks, and more. Many overlanders also use the flat aluminum roof to mount solar panels, and then position their vehicle with the slanted roof facing South to catch the maximum exposure.

Still not convinced these are the "best rooftop tents" for your style of camping? Then consider the fourth design option, the wedge shaped RTT.

The Mamba RTT shown below shares the same 86" x 50" bed platform with the Sidewinder. But the raised wedge roof yields over a foot more headroom at one end. The price of the higher profile is a tighter area at the foot end of the bed, but this is offset by adding doors on the sides. Regardless of where you are camped, you now have access through the end door or side doors. The stored Mamba wedge RTT has the same dimensions as the stored Sidewinder clam-shell design. Like the Sidewinder, the Mamba has an aluminum hard shell roof with roof rack cross bars for added gear.

The wedge design dates back to the original VW minibus camper. Modern technology has updated the fabric, windows, mattress, and lift mechanism. But the concept remains one of the best innovations in comfortable camping. Pop-up roofs are still installed on modern camper vans, but at a cost of $10,000 or more! For only $2,699 now you can turn a minivan or SUV into a “split level” camper with room inside for a kitchen and gear, and a comfortable bed on top.

It is great to have choices! What is YOUR Best Rooftop Tent?

Each camper and family will have different requirements, and one of these design options will “check” most of the boxes. The good news is that all of these rooftop tents share many premium features, adding to their competitive advantages. Regardless of the model that you choose you will receive:

  • Premium breathable, water-resistant oxford canvas sidewalls

  • Waterproof rain flies

  • Heavy-duty, quality zippers

  • Windows with zippered doors, zippered screens, and ties to secure the rolled up layers

  • Memory foam mattresses

  • Organizer pockets for convenient storage.

  • Detachable shoe bags

  • LED light strip for USB battery (not included)

  • Exterior ladder mounts that can be positioned to work around your vehicle doors.

  • Full warranty for FOUR years

At The Great Out There, we test multiple brands so that we can reject the inferior models and save you time, money, and frustration. You invest in a rooftop tent to provide a comfortable bed at the end of the day, along with a secure camp that sets up quickly and then stows just as fast the next morning. To open and close effortlessly, day after day, requires an assembly that is up to the stress of overlanding. The package needs to withstand rugged trails, then deploy to provide a stable bed and a protective shelter.

The old adage is still true: Pay for quality once or suffer with inferiority forever. The best manufacturers stand behind their products with robust warranties AND spare parts.

Our search has brought us to endorse and sell roof top tents from Overland Vehicle Systems. Unlike the generic alternatives from nameless companies, OVS doesn’t cut corners. For this reason, The Great Out There is proud to offer these tents to our retail customers as well as package these rooftop tents with our overland trailers.

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