Traditional ground tents have always dominated the camping experience, but with the rise and growing popularity of rooftop tents, the question awakes- rooftop tent or ground tent- which is better?
Both rooftop tents and ground tents have their pros and cons- but which is better for you? In this guide, I’ll be covering the advantages and disadvantages of each, ultimately helping you to decide whether a rooftop tent or a ground tent will be the best option for your camping and road-tripping situation.
In short- rooftop tents are more convenient than ground tents and feature better functionality, durability, and comfort overall. Ground tents, on the other hand, are still effective, lightweight, and much cheaper. You also don’t need a specific vehicle or roof rack pre-installed to use a ground tent.
Rooftop tent versus ground tent- the pros and cons of each.
To kick things off, we’ll be looking at the cost of rooftop tents and ground tents as that will probably be one of the biggest factors and entry points for many campers.
It’s no secret that rooftop tents are expensive, ranging anywhere from about $800-$1000 for most smaller base models, while bigger, higher-end rooftop tents can cost upwards of $3000 or more. You’ll also have to purchase a solid roof rack for your vehicle if you don’t already have one, which will usually set you back another $200-$300.
On the other hand, ground tents are far more affordable, with most decent models ranging between $100-$300 for relatively large tents, while you can get a good small ground tent for under $100 in many cases.
That said, there are also some more expensive ground tents made from thicker, premium materials more similar to rooftop tents, but even so, in many cases, these tents are still less costly.
Something to remember here is that rooftop tents tend to be much more durable due to their rugged designs, most likely saving you money in the long run as you won’t replace your rooftop tent as frequently as a ground tent (if ever)- but more on this later.
Furthermore, most rooftop tents will come with accessories and a decent mattress pre-installed, although you might decide to upgrade this at a later stage.
In contrast, most ground tents won’t come with any accessories- meaning you’ll probably have to spend some extra before you’ve got everything you need bringing up your total cost $100-$200 in most cases, although you could lower it if you have to.
Overall, if the price is a significant factor for you and you’re on a tighter budget, then a ground tent will be your best option. However, suppose you have a bigger budget, and you’re a more regular camper. In that case, you’ll probably want to consider opting for a rooftop tent if you can afford it since there are some nice advantages, as we’ll discuss later in this article.
2. Comfort and convenience.
Comfort and convenience will, for most campers, be the determining factor after pricing. After all, camping is about having a good time and enjoying the nature around you- and you don’t want setting up camp or dealing with other gear-related issues to take away from that.
When it comes to sleeping comfort, rooftop tents are by far the winners. As mentioned earlier, rooftop tents come with a built-in mattress, usually about 2-3 inches thick. These mattresses are similar to a full-sized bed, while bigger rooftop tents can feature bedding areas even bigger than king-sized mattresses. This is a luxury you will simply never have in a ground tent.
Sure, you can purchase a stretcher or a foam mattress for a ground tent- but even so, this will be nowhere as comfortable and spacious as a full-size 3-inch thick mattress. It also poses the hassle of transporting this extra gear, whereas, with a rooftop tent, the mattress simply stays nicely tucked away inside- with bedding and all.
Not to mention that rooftop tent mattresses are also upgradable to memory foam, high-density foam, gel, inflatables, or other options to suit your preferences. Upgraded mattresses can be significantly thicker, and you can install accessories like mattress toppers and other luxuries that you simply won’t have with a ground tent.
Set up time.
When it comes to setting up camp, a rooftop tent is by far the most convenient. You can easily set up most rooftop tents in under 5 minutes, while you can even set some up in less than 1 minute- almost always entirely by yourself.
On the other hand, ground tents are always a hassle to set up, especially bigger tents. A ground tent can take anywhere from 15-45 minutes to assemble and, in some cases, even longer. They also typically require more than 1 person to help set the tent up- or else you’re going to be in for a big struggle.
That’s not to mention having to wait for the bottom sails to dry after packing up if the floor was damp underneath your tent during your trip.
Overall, rooftop tents are faster and far more convenient to set up. So if you are going to move from campsite to campsite a lot or just prefer the convenience, then a rooftop tent is the better option. That said, if you’ll be mostly stationary, don’t mind spending an extra while setting up camp, and have a few helping hands nearby, then you might consider opting for a ground tent.
Similar to the set up, but not quite the same is installation. And this one is favored heavily on ground tents’ side. A ground tent doesn’t require installation- load it in/ on your vehicle, and you’re ready to go.
On the other hand, a rooftop tent requires installation on top of your vehicle, which requires some extra help and typically takes anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour to install. You’ll also have to go through the hassle of finding the right roof rack and making sure that your vehicle is compatible with rooftop tent usage.
If you require some guidance on weight limits and installation, you can consider reading my article- how much weight can a car roof support?
Ease of finding a campsite.
When it comes to picking your campsite, you’re probably not going to have much of a problem with a rooftop tent- park your vehicle anywhere relatively flat- and you’re good to go. It doesn’t matter if the ground underneath is rocky, muddy, filled with vegetation, or whatever else- your camping experience won’t be affected.
It will also remove the hassle of looking for a nice camping spot in overcrowded camping locations where all of the “nice” stands have already been taken. With a rooftop tent, you can even camp next to the road or in a parking lot if you have to. (Just make sure it’s safe around before getting some shut-eye).
On the other hand, ground tents can be a bit more of a hassle when it comes to finding a good campsite. You’ll have to make sure that the terrain isn’t too uneven and that the surface is desirable to lay out your tent- else, you might damage your tent or be in for an uncomfortable camping experience. With a ground tent, you also won’t be able to set up camp wherever you feel like it.
Warmth and insulation.
In most cases, rooftop tents are going to be better insulated and warmer than most ground tents. This is because they are designed from much thicker materials. You also get various insulation accessories and heaters designed specifically for rooftop tents. That said, you also get some thick and well-insulated ground tents- although these will probably leave a bigger hole in your pocket.
Even so, you can still make a ground tent work on colder nights as well- you’ll just have to make sure you have some warmer clothing, extra sleeping bags and blankets, and possibly a heater that will be appropriate and safe for usage in a ground tent.
All in all, when comparing the two, a rooftop tent will be more cozy and convenient for cold camping nights.
Vehicle usage while at your campsite.
If you plan to drive around a lot while at your campsite, the rooftop tent poses a severe drawback compared to ground tents. When using a rooftop tent, you won’t be able to drive without folding up your tent first, whereas with a ground tent, you are free to use your vehicle without having to pack up camp (unless you’re going home off course).
As mentioned, rooftop tents are easy to set up and don’t take a lot of time. But if you’re going to be driving around multiple times a day, that can add up to a lot of setup time throughout your camping trip. (Off course you don’t have to set it up everytime. You can set it up in the evening and take it down in the morning again if you have to).
Ladder vs. no ladder.
Another area where ground tents pose a possible advantage is the ease of accessibility. With a rooftop tent, you’ll have to climb a ladder every time you want to access your tent or something in it, whereas with a ground tent, you can simply quickly slip in and out of the front opening.
That said, being elevated above ground does have its benefits, as we will discuss later in the article. At the end of the day, this will be up to personal preference.
Critters are a part of the camping and outdoor experience. Some campers don’t mind them, while others dread them.
With a rooftop tent being elevated above the ground, you are less likely to have any creepy crawlies lurking around in your sleeping area compared to a ground tent- although the “creeps” will still be able to get in if things aren’t zipped up properly.
So if critters are something you demise and would like more security from in your sleeping area, then a rooftop tent will be the better option.
When it comes to the amount of space in your tent, ground tents are far more flexible than rooftop tents.
Rooftop tents are relatively limited in terms of their space in the sense that you can only install as big of a tent as your vehicle allows- usually not extremely big. That said, the biggest rooftop tents also only sleep about 3-4 people at most.
On the other hand, ground tents can be much bigger, easily allowing space for 8-10 people or even more. (You just need to make sure the ground tent will fit in your vehicle, but in most cases, it will).
So if sleeping capacity is an essential factor for your camping trips, then a ground tent is likely a better option. That said, if space isn’t a big problem and you’re mostly camping by yourself or with one or two other people, then a rooftop tent will be just fine.
Overall, the amount of space you’ll require is highly individualized, and everyone’s requirements will differ.
When it comes to the durability of these 2 types of tents, rooftop tents are the clear winner.
In most cases, rooftop tents are constructed from far more durable and rugged materials than ground tents and will last longer.
This is because rooftop tent manufacturers can use heavier, studier materials since weight won’t be an issue as that’s your vehicle’s responsibility to carry and not yours. Most rooftop tents also feature thicker 600 denier fabrics, while ground tents are built from much thinner 60-150 denier fabrics, making rooftop tents less likely to develop holes, tears, leakages, or other durability-related issues.
The fact that rooftop tents are elevated on a solid platform away from the ground also gives them a further durability advantage since they are less likely to be damaged by rough ground surfaces over time.
Not only that but rooftop tents generally also have sturdier zippers, floors, and poles compared to ground tents. For most campers, it’s safe to say that you’ll get more than a decade of heavy usage out of a rooftop tent, while a ground tent will last 3-5 years at most (and that’s for the higher-end ground tents).
That said, a rooftop tent’s durability may be cut short if it’s not stored correctly when out of use. Rooftop tents are a pain to remove from your vehicle since they’re so heavy- but not doing so will cause continuous sun exposure, which can damage your tent over time, reducing its durability.
We recommend implementing a proper storage solution. One easy option is a lift system or garage hoist- these systems make it easy to take your rooftop tent off and put it back onto your vehicle. That said, you can also consider opting for a hard shell rooftop tent or a proper rooftop tent cover to avoid this issue if you want to leave your tent on top of your vehicle for prolonged periods.
(Keep in mind, having a rooftop tent on your car at all times will, inevitably, increase fuel consumption).
When it comes to the safety of each tent against wild animals, both are relatively safe, and predators will, in most cases, stay clear of even easily accessible ground tents. That said, there is a clear safety advantage of being elevated above ground in a rooftop tent compared to being situated in a ground tent.
Although very unlikely, bigger animals such as bears, coyotes, and mountain lions (USA) or loins, hippos, hyenas, and leopards (Africa) are far less likely to be able to reach you when you’re elevated in a rooftop tent compared to a ground tent since you are both out of their sight and harder to reach. If you have a fear of snakes or scorpions, you’ll also be off much better in a rooftop tent.
That said, make sure always to know the area and be prepared to deal with any possible predators or dangerous animals. For example, if you will be camping in a bear-infested area, make sure to have some bear spray on hand.
One clear safety advantage, however, may come from our sleepy fellow campers. In a rooftop tent, you don’t carry the risk of getting run over by the vehicle of a drowsy camper on his way out early in the morning since you’re both elevated and more visible up in the air on top of a vehicle. In contrast, you may not always be as visible or protected with a ground tent, creating a more considerable safety risk.
When it comes to storage, both tents once again have advantages and disadvantages. Rooftop tents sit neatly packed away on your vehicle roof or cargo bed. This frees up valuable space on the inside for passengers and other gear.
That said if you are someone that stores goods on top of your vehicle, then you won’t be able to do that anymore since a tent has taken that space.
On the contrary, a ground tent will take up space in your vehicle trunk (or even the inside) or truck cargo bed that you could have used for passengers or other gear. But you’ll have the freedom of storing equipment on top of your vehicle roof when driving if you have a roof rack or roof box installed.
That said, always stay within your vehicle roofs’ weight limits and ensure that the load on top of your roof is aerodynamic for steering purposes. In most cases, you should consider installing a roof box if you want to store goods on top of your vehicle.
In many cases, the cleanliness of your tent will depend on circumstances. If it’s rainy, things are muddy and wet. If it’s dry, things are more likely to be dusty. And so on. That said, each tent does have some advantages and disadvantages in terms of cleanliness.
A rooftop tent is less likely to get dirty on the inside as it’s elevated, and dust, water, mud, and debris won’t as easily get into your tent compared to a ground tent located on the floor.
However, when it comes to cleaning your tent, as you inevitably will have to once in a while, ground tents have the upper hand. A ground tent will be easier to clean out on both the inside and outside than an elevated rooftop tent.
You may choose to remove your rooftop tent for cleaning, but that’s a hassle in itself. Taking the mattress out of your rooftop tent for cleaning may also be a pain.
8. The view.
When it comes to taking in your surroundings through the windows of your tent, a rooftop tent will almost always allow for a better view since they are elevated in the air. Rooftop tents feature large side windows and, in some cases, even roof-side windows allowing you to view the stars while comfortably lying in bed at night.
For the most part, many ground tents will also feature some nice big windows allowing for good views, but the fact that a rooftop tent is elevated really sets the viewing experience apart.
9. Fuel efficiency and steering.
The last aspect I want to cover is fuel efficiency and steering when you have a rooftop tent installed. This isn’t something you’re going to have to worry about with a standard ground tent tucked away in the trunk, back seat, or cargo bed which is why I am mentioning it as it might be a possible disadvantage on the rooftop tents part.
Rooftop tents are heavy. And they sit on top of your car. This can affect the steering dynamics of your vehicle and may also increase fuel usage due to extra wind resistance and weight on your vehicle.
This is just something to keep in mind- and a problem that you won’t have with a ground tent. That said, if you install a proper roof rack and stay within the weight limits of your vehicle, then you’ll most likely have nothing to worry about.
Our Top 3 Rooftop Tents and Ground Tent Picks.
Before we finish off the article and look at which option will be best for you, I want to highlight some of my favorite (and the best) rooftop tents and ground tents that you can currently purchase to give you some options to consider regardless of which tent option you pick.
Best rooftop tents.
Here are 3 of the best value for money rooftop tents you can buy.
1. Smittybilt Overlander rooftop tent.
The Smittybilt Overlander rooftop tent is a tremendously popular rooftop tent with a wide array of features and a solid overall design. It also comes in at a very affordable price.
Despite this tent being marketed as one of the best rooftop tents for Jeeps, is it not only suitable for most other vehicles due to its lightweight design and universal fit but will also make an excellent rooftop tent option and provide great camping and road-tripping experiences.
Smittybilt Overlander Rooftop Tent
Quick Overview: Weighing only 116 Ibs, this rooftop tent is a viable option for many vehicles. It includes a full-size foam mattress and can sleep 2-3 people.
Its heavy-duty polyester fabric and anodized aluminum frame poles provide a robust design and good durability, while the 600D rainfly ensures extra protection in bad weather.
Other features include multiple windows and skylights, mosquito netting, a telescopic ladder, built-in LED strips, and much more.
2. Raptor Series 100000-126800 Offgrid Voyager rooftop tent.
The Raptor Series 100000-126800 Offgrid Voyager rooftop tent is another popular rooftop tent with a more unique but still solid design as well as many additional features. The Voyager tent is slightly heavier but makes a great fit for most vehicles and will allow for unforgettable camping experiences. This tent also has an affordable price.
Raptor Series Offgrid Voyager Rooftop Tent
Quick Overview: Coming in on the heavier side at 159 Ibs, the Voyager is a good fit for slightly bigger vehicles. It includes a full-size foam mattress and can sleep 2 people.
The tent is built from durable materials and has an aerodynamic design to withstand harsh weather conditions, while the heavy-duty cover provides additional protection. It’s also very easy to set up.
Other features include storage compartments, air vents, netting, a heavy-duty telescoping ladder, a wide-panoramic window, and many other luxuries.
3. Smittybilt Overlander XL rooftop tent.
Once again, from Smittybilt, we have the Overlander XL rooftop tent. As you may have already guessed, this rooftop tent is very similar to the standard Overlander tent we discussed earlier- but bigger.
Consequently, it is also heavier and will be suitable for larger vehicles (hence a proper roofrack is installed) and trailers. Overall, the Overlander XL is a great rooftop tent with a sturdy design and excellent features. It’s also a very popular rooftop tent but does cost a bit more.
Smittybilt Overlander XL Rooftop Tent
Quick Overview: At 168 Ibs, this rooftop tent packs a punch in terms of size and features. It is suited for larger vehicles and trailers and has enough space to comfortably sleep 3-4 people. Keep in mind, it’s a larger tent, so you’ll have to make extra sure your roof rack is strong enough to support it.
The 600D Ripstop polyester and anodized aluminum frame poles ensure a solid design and will withstand rough weather.
Furthermore, this tent features multiple windows and skylights, mosquito netting, an aluminum telescoping ladder, interior LED lights, and much more.
Best ground tents.
Here are 3 of the best grond tents you can buy.
1. Coleman Cabin tent with 60 second instant set up.
The Coleman Cabin Tent is one of the most popular ground tents out there and is available in various sizes. This ground tent is designed to be as easy as possible to set up, although it, unfortunately, still won’t be as easy to set up as a rooftop tent. That said, it is much cheaper than any rooftop tent you can buy and features a great design.
Coleman Cabin Instant Tent
Quick Overview: Available in various sizes with one of the most robust designs out there, this ground tent is perfect for any camping trip. This tent can sleep 4-10 people and weighs 18-42 Ibs, depending on which size you get.
This tent features 150D Polyester with welded corners and inverted taped seams to ensure adequate protection in harsh weather. It’s also double layered for extra durability.
Other features include an integrated rainfly, enhanced ventilation, a quick and easy setup, and much more.
2. Moon Lence 4 person instant pop up tent.
If you are looking for a smaller, lightweight ground tent with a great design and some nice features, then the Moon Lence 4 person tent is a great option.
This tent is excellent for camping and hiking, although it features thinner fabric than the Coleman Cabin tent. It also comes in at a very affordable price and is a popular option among many campers.
Moon Lence Pop Up Tent
Quick Overview: This ground tent is suitable for comfortably sleeping up to 4 adults and weighs only 10.8 Ibs making it great for both camping and hiking.
The tent is designed using 190T PU Material and has a 210D Oxford ground cover providing up to 2000mm water resistance. The fabric is also great for UV protection. High-quality zippers ensure secure closure and provide good durability. Despite the material being thinner, this tent still offers great protection in harsh weather.
Furthermore, this tent features 2 large doors for a great view, built-in ground ventilation, and an easy setup.
3. Coleman 4 person easy set up dome tent.
Lastly, we once again have a Coleman tent- this time in the form of their 4 person Dome Tent. This tent is excellent for campers on a tight budget or looking for a very affordable ground tent.
The Coleman 4 person Dome tent is quite similar to the Moon Lence 4 person tent we discussed earlier but doesn’t have quite as many features. That said, it’s still a very popular option and will make a great fit for camping.
Coleman 4 Person Dome Tent
Quick Overview: Sleeping up to 4 people and weighing only 10.3 Ibs, this ground tent is excellent for camping and hiking. It also has a very affordable price.
The tent is constructed from durable Polygaurd 2X double-thick fabric with welded corners and inverted seams. It also includes an additional rainfly for harsh weather while the strong frame can withstand winds up to 35+ mph.
Other features include multiple large windows, a ground vent, e-ports for electrical cords, and an easy-to-setup design.
It’s clear that rooftop tents are a far more convenient and comfortable way to camp but do have a few drawbacks that might make them inaccessible or unattractive to some campers. On the other hand, ground tents are a much more cost-effective way of camping and more accessible to most people.
In the end, you have to decide what your priorities are when it comes to your camping experience. I genuinely believe serious campers will significantly benefit from having a rooftop tent accompany them on their journeys. In contrast, the average once-in-a-while camper will probably be better off sticking with a simple ground tent and some basic carry-on accessories.
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