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Which one should you get?

The question Overlanders always face when they start looking into buying a new roof top tent (sometimes abbreviated as RTT) is whether they should go with a soft top or a hard top tent.  Well the answer is actually quite easy if you know a few things about roof tents.  The first being that there is a significant price difference between hardtop and soft top tents.  This is typically the biggest factor for a lot of people.  Hard top tents are typically a little more expensive, with soft top tents usually being the more affordable options.  However there is a lot more to what makes one better for your specific situation, so let's dive into the main differences between them.  

roof top tents overlanding in utah desert



Aside from the Obvious fact that one has a hard top typically like a large plastic shell or roof of some kind, and soft top tents being a material of some kind, typically like a water resistant tarp that stretches over the tent when it’s collapsed, there are also big differences in the design and the benefits. 

overlanding roof top tent phoographed in the utah desert

Mounting Space:

Hard top tents sometimes give you the ability to mount gear on top of the tent itself.  This could be something like a Roam case or a set of Maxtrax for example.  The design of most hard top tents lets them sit flat which means you have more mounting space on your roof rack. Soft top tents on the other hand because of their design do not have extra mounting surfaces because the fabric or material on top would not create a sound or mountable surface.   This means if you use a soft top tent it will have to be the only thing you want to mount on that surface of your roof rack. 

 Hard top tent mounted to toyota 4Runner with overland mounts on top, maxtrax and roam cases

Water Resistance:

Hard top tents tend to be slightly more water or element resistant, because the hard top acts like a shell.  Although you really shouldn’t ever take a roof tent through ANY automatic car wash (ever), A hard top tent would perform much better in this scenario.  Unfortunately roof tents can trap moisture and grow mold if they get wet or are not kept dry.  This is very rare and only happens with severe misuse, however it is a lot harder to have this issue with a hard top tent.  Impacts from things like rocks, trees etc, also are less likely to damage the roof tent if it has a hard shell, although that is a very specific scenario. 

a photo of a Water proof roof tent hard top overland camping tent on a 4runner in southern utah.  


Soft top tents tend to be larger.  Because hard top tents typically pop up so the hard shell is used as a part of the roof somehow, they usually only match the footprint of the tent on the roof rack in internal size.  Soft top tents however typically fold out like the Roam Vagabond which effectively doubles its footprint when it is set up.  The Roam Vagabond and other soft top tents create a very large interior tent size which is much much better for people with families or friends that will all be sleeping inside the roof tent (Or if you just like a big space to sleep in)

a photo of a soft top tent on top of a toyota tacoma in the utah desert.

Ease of use:

Both hard top tents and soft top tents are relatively easy to set up (None of that running poles or putting stakes in the ground so many of us have boyhood ptsd of doing) However hard top tents are typically speaking easier to set up and take down.  Although the difference isn’t super significant if you are a very time oriented person or you just want things to be as easy as possible, hard top tents tend to be faster and easier to set up.  That’s because you simply need to pop them up, where oftentimes soft top tents need to be folded out.

Hard Top tent mounted to a toyota 4runner set up in the desert during a camping trip

Looks and size when collapsed:

Many of you may not care as much about this part, however for a lot of people this is important, and the sleek size and look of hard top tents like the new ROAM Desperado is really hard to beat.  Many people prefer the look of hard top tents simply because they are more low profile and have those nice sharp edges and hard lines. 

hard top tent mounted on a toyota 4runner driving in a slot canyon in southern utah



And obviously Hard top tents tend to be more expensive because of the material and the design of the tents, so for those of you on a budget, soft top tents may be the way to go! 

Which should you Choose?

So now that we have covered the main differences it’s time to figure out which one might be best for you? 

The answer really boils down to what you prefer, and your situation. 

If you want a big tent that can fit you and your family or friends, then a soft top tent like the Roam Vagabond is right for you! 

If you prefer simplicity, speed or easy set up and take down then hard top tents like the free spirit odyssey or the Roam Desperado are definitely your move! 

If you are on a budget and want the best bang for your buck roof tent, soft top tents will absolutely not disappoint you and are definitely the move!



And there you have it! We have a lot of years of experience selling, using and reviewing these tents and just recently returned from a multi day trip testing out the new Roam Desperado Hard Top tent With ROAM themselves and we have A LOT of good things to say about the tent so if you’re interested be sure to follow us on Instagram and youtube where we will be publishing some of our thoughts on the tent, as well as a new article review coming soon! 

Ultimately what it all comes down to is what you prefer, and we don’t inventory roof tents that we don’t like so you have our vote of confidence (and nearly every roof tent we sell someone here at the shop has owned personally at some point) so you know it’s at least something one of us has in fact slept in and can vouch for as a solid option! 


We hope this was helpful and that if we missed something or you still have questions, please let us know in the comments below!  Happy Friday and we will catch you guys on the trails! 🤙

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Marcie - May 5, 2023

Very helpful thank you!

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