Riley Kooh / March 13th, 2022

Rooftop vs. Ground Tents

Everything You Need to Know

PC - @londonharmon

Rooftop tents have been popular among campers for decades, with the first renditions appearing in the 1950s! Although material options have come a long way since then, many modern-day rooftop tents maintain the same core designs. If you’re new to the camping game, you may be curious about the reasoning for rooftop camping vs. traditional ground tents. While both are incredible shelter options for the great outdoors, they have some key major differences. After reading this article, you should be able to confidently identify the pros and cons of each and decide which is right for you!

What is a Rooftop Tent?

Rooftop tents, just like the name entails, are camping shelters that set up on a vehicle roof, roof rack, pickup truck back rack. Rooftop tents became popular in the 1950s, as vehicles became the primary mode of transportation. Originally designed as an alternative to hotel rooms, rooftop tents offer an experience in between an RV/trailer and a traditional ground tent. Initially taking around an hour or two to setup, rooftop tents can deploy in minutes once installed.

Types of Rooftop Tents

Fold Out

This style of rooftop tents is typically designed to increase the sleeping space by folding out beyond the vehicle roof. The overhanging portion is reinforced to ensure stability, and also utilizes a sliding ladder for additional support. This overhang is an extremely enticing feature for couple campers or for those who just enjoy some additional space. In some instances, the overhang actually has a drop-down ground tent portion to pack in even more campers.

The downside to this increased size of a fold out model, is the weight. More material makes for more room, but inevitably will be added bulk to your vehicle, resulting in decreased mileage or even lack of compatibly vehicles for the larger models.

PC - @drewpeden


Pop-up rooftop tents do exactly as the name suggests, they pop up! This tent style requires the same initial installation as a fold out tent, but once fixed to the vehicle rack, can set up in seconds. Rather than unfolding the tent out, pop-ups are unlatched at each corner and pop straight up to a standing tent.

The draw back for pop-ups comes down to tent volume. Without utilizing any overhang like a fold out tent, the tent is restricted to the size of the roof rack. While this offers benefits for mileage and vehicle compatibility, the reduced size restricts campers to two adults maximum.

Photo by Nadezhda Moryak from Pexels

What’s the Difference Between Rooftop and Ground Tents?

Sleeping Off Ground

The most obvious difference between ground and rooftop tents, is the ability to sleep elevated from the ground. This comes with both pros and cons. A major benefit of sleeping off ground is the protection from the elements. Being 4-6 feet off the ground means that mud and rain are none of your concerns (beyond getting stuck in your campsite).

The negative of sleeping off ground is that this can limit accessibility for elderly campers or persons with physical disabilities. Rooftop tent ladders are typically steep, making them difficult for anyone with a history of knee issues.

PC - @londonharmon

Set up Time

While you can certainly find ground tents that can set up quickly and easily, the vast majority of ground tents land somewhere in the 10 – 30 minute setup range. With a rooftop tent, the bulk of the installation is done at home with the initial attachment to the roof rack. Afterwards, setup drops to just a few minutes or less.


There are different considerations when choosing a campsite for a rooftop tent vs. ground tent. Smaller ground tents can weigh just a few pounds and are excellent choices for backcountry camping where driving isn’t an option. Rooftop tents on the other hand, weigh 100lbs+ and can’t be used when detached from their vehicle. They are excellent options for road trips, off road adventures, or standard drive-up campsites, but are limited to capabilities of your vehicle.


One barrier to the world of rooftop camping is the cost. Depending on the size and quality of a rooftop tent, options generally land in the $2,000 – $4,000 range. This may seem like a shocking up-front cost in comparison to the $300 – $700 range of ground tents, but for the avid camper, this is a long-term investment.


Ground tents can range in size all the way from one-person backpacking tents up to 15-person cabin tents. With tons of different styles and sizes, ground tents provide excellent flexibility for a variety of camping situations. Since rooftop tents are built for road travel and quick setup, styles typically range between two and four people.

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