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As a kid from Manhattan, the idea of camping never quite made sense to me: sleeping on the ground, exposed, vulnerable, uncomfortable? It wasn't until I discovered roof and truck bed tents that my eyes were opened to the possibility that camping need not be a torturous experience akin to that of our hunting and gathering ancestors.
Whether you love or loathe camping, roof- and truck bed–mounted tents provide a safe, comfortable place (away from scorpions) to rest your head. These clever shelters transform your truck into a mobile haven, allowing you to camp wherever your wheels take you.
Truck bed tents are typically very similar to one another, but each has its own separate set of pros and cons. To glean a bit of insight into which truck bed tents are best, we spoke with Chris King at RealTruck. RealTruck is one of the top retailers of pickup-truck camping gear and, in particular, truck tents. Who better to consult than a group of folks who deal exclusively with trucks?
Things to Consider
Truck bed tents can be fairly rudimentary, similar to ground tents in design, but they can also be complex shelters that can sleep several adults and are more like tiny houses. With that in mind, here are a few things to consider when purchasing your first or next truck bed tent.
Most tents will require some sort of rack system for mounting. "Mounting systems for these tents are universal; they'll fit just about any roof rack with cross bars," King says. "However, shoppers do need to consider both the static and dynamic load rating of the rack they want to attach it to." This means that you need to know the weight of your tent, its occupants, and how much weight your rack can hold, both stationary and while on the go.
For example, say your tent weighs 200 pounds and the rack's static capacity is 500 pounds. Add another adult, perhaps a child, and all your collective gear, and you could easily surpass that weight limit. "That could lead to rack or vehicle damage if the rack is overloaded beyond its recommended dynamic load range," King says.
Types of Tents
Different styles of tents all come with their own sets of pros and cons. Some are bare-bones while others feature lights and even ports to hook up heat or air conditioning. Some are set up in the bed of the pickup, while others require a rack mount and a platform.
"The traditional folding style of tent is most popular, as they're fully-featured tents that tend to be more affordable," King says. "However, they're also taller when stowed, so depending on how they're mounted, they can generate more noise and wind resistance while driving."
King prefers wedge pop-ups or other slim/hard case tents. "These tend to have a smaller profile and more streamlined design, mitigating some of the aforementioned issues," he notes. "They also tend to be much faster and easier to set up and take down compared to folding tents.
Prices for truck tents range from a couple hundred bucks to a couple thousand. Also, consider additional costs, such as roof-rack modifications or accessories.
Given that some of these tents can be heavy and are often mounted high on your vehicle, it's important to keep in mind how they may impact the way your truck handles on the road. "[Truck tents] will noticeably change your center of gravity," King points out. "Mounting a tent on cross bars just above the bed will have the least impact, but mounting tents higher up or on the roof will be noticeable both on and off-road, especially on off-camber trails," he says.
Ready to shop for a truck bed tent? Here are some of the best on the market, according to the experts at RealTruck.
Best Truck Bed Tents
"The classic rooftop tent design, and one that I've spent many nights in personally," says Chris King. Designed for any pickup, Jeep, or SUV with a tent-compatible rack system, the Rugged Ridge Roof Tent is as straightforward as a roof tent can be. It's made from durable poly-coated polyester and features an extra-wide extending ladder, door and window flaps with mosquito netting, an aluminum base, and a high-density foam mattress. For even more space, an optional annex room is sold separately.
It's simple to set up and take down, and while expensive, "this is a great value in the category for a full-feature truck tent from Rugged Ridge," notes King.
Because of its ease of use and affordability, this is one of the more popular truck tents on the market. What sets the Backroadz from Napier apart is that where other tents require some rack or bar system, the Backroadz fits directly in the truck bed. It's also relatively inexpensive and available at a variety of retailers.
At only 16 pounds it's also lightweight, and despite the low price, it still includes some nice features like a full rainfly, storm flaps, a sewn-in floor, and mesh windows. It sleeps up to two adults and has a center height of 58 to 62 inches. If you choose to opt for a truck bed tent such as the Backroadz, you'll also likely want to invest in a truck bed mattress.
When it comes to rack systems and other outdoorsy gear, Swedish manufacturer Thule is always in the conversation. The Basin Wedge tent is, according to King, the easiest and fastest setup out there. "Simply undo the latches and push it open," he says. "Extend and hook the ladder, and you're set." King notes that the other benefit of wedge-style tents is their profile when closed. "Less frontal area in the wind will have less impact on mileage," he says.
The shell is made from a UV-protected ABS plastic with a polyester-coated cotton canopy. It includes a foam mattress with a removable cover, a telescoping ladder, and mosquito screens. It is expensive, but Thule's quality is unquestioned.
The Bushveld II from Overland Vehicle Solutions is one the most compelling on RealTruck's list of truck tent recommendations. It features one of the largest sleeping areas on the market and is designed to be four-season capable.
The list of what is included with this tent shows that Overland Vehicle Solutions has thought of just about everything. You'll get an insulated base with a built-in anti-condensation layer, adjustable aluminum universal mounting channels, a quilted memory foam mattress and pillows, a skylight, blanket, and LED lighting. You can also opt for a zip-on awning for additional all-weather protection.
Hard Shell Roof Tent
If you're looking to reap the benefits of a hard shell tent without shelling out the big dollars they command, Naturnest is a solid option. It features a hard ABS plastic outer, and the tent itself is made from waterproof-coated polyester. All seams and sealing rings are waterproof. It also comes with a bunch of goodies like a three-layer mattress, two LED light strips, and waterproof shoe storage bags.
The Naturenest sets up easily and sleeps up to two adults and one child.
Smittybilt's second-generation Overlander takes all the things that worked well with its first-generation tent and steps up the overall quality. "Smittybuilt adds a vestibule to the entry area, which is nice if you're frequently caught in inclement weather," King says.
It's available in two sizes, the standard 2–3 person unit and a larger 3–4 person XL version. Both are made from heavy-duty 600-denier ripstop polyester, a covered high-density full foam mattress, a telescopic anodized aluminum ladder, and LED interior lighting.
You can even opt for a full drop-down vestibule for additional weather protection and privacy.
Condor Overland 2 XL
The Condor Overland 2 XL is a hard-shell tent that can sleep three to four adults. What separates it from the pack is that rather than an ABS plastic shell, it's constructed from aluminum. You'll also get waterproof polycotton fabric with an additional blackout coating, a high-density foam mattress, three integrated dimmable LED lights, a ceiling-mounted gear organizer, and two HVAC ports for your portable tent heater or air conditioner.
You can also use the crossbars with the tent closed for transporting up to 150 pounds of gear like bikes, boards, or boats. This is a serious tent (with a serious price tag).
Are there different-size truck bed tents or are they universal?
As King notes, "The mounting system typical to most truck tents is agnostic to rack brand or style; they're designed to fit most aftermarket rack systems. However, tents that sit in the bed require vehicle info to ensure they fit the width and length of the bed."
A good rule of thumb: Assume everything is model-specific—unless it isn't. Manufacturers typically provide compatibility charts or guidelines specifying which pickup truck tents fit which models. It's essential to follow these guidelines or contact the manufacturer directly to confirm that the tent you're interested in is suitable for your truck.
Do I need anything to install a truck bed tent or will everything I need be included?
It depends on the type of roof rack you buy, but in general, yes, everything you'll need is included. "In-bed tents require nothing but the truck (and perhaps a mattress)," King says. "Rooftop tents require a rack system, but in general, everything needed to mount and use any kind of truck tent is included; typically this means a ladder, rain fly, mattress, standoffs for the rain fly, etc. Add your sleeping bag, and go!"
What features are most important when looking at truck bed tents?
If comfort is a priority then you'll want to be sure your tent comes with a mattress. Lights can also be very helpful. Chris King lends a bit of insight on this question: "The most important features to compare are interior space/volume and set-up time, as there seems to be some correlation between the two (the fastest tents to set up do lack some of the interior space of other options). Checking to see if floor liners come with or are available for your tent is important as well—condensation can be a common issue under the mattress without an insulating layer"
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Car and Driver and its sibling publications at Hearst Autos represent three of the most influential automotive publications in the world. We rely on decades of experience in the automotive and gear spaces to help readers make informed purchasing choices.
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Why Trust RealTruck?
With over 5000 employees and 35 locations across North America, RealTruck is one of the premier truck, Jeep, and off-road parts and accessories companies in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. It's headquartered in Ann Arbor, Michigan. RealTruck designs, develops, manufactures, and sells truck, Jeep, and off-road products with more than 570 patents and growing.
RealTruck's 5000-plus employees are made up of truck and off-road lovers, and its RealSource blog is a fantastic destination for information and insight into products, parts, modifications, and fun.
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