Which 4×4 roof tent to choose?

Comparative soft shell vs. aluminum vs. fiberglass

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Hello! We’re Olivia & Victor, authors of the OunTravela guides.

Over the years, our passion for adventure has led us to create original travel guides sold in over 70 countries worldwide. Our mission is to spread a travel philosophy based on adventure, freedom, improvisation and exploration. Our guides inspire travellers to explore the world’s forgotten paths, encountering wilderness and civilization.

We hope you find this article, based on our own experience, useful.

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Ground or roof tent? Ground tent or rooftent? It is sometimes interesting not to be on the ground: rocks, pebbles, roots, non-flat ground, mud, small floods will make you regret not having chosen a roof tent. Another factor to take into account is the animals that roam the camps at night, especially in Africa. Being able to put your nose outside the tent without coming face-to-face with a hyena is not negligible. They also offer good protection against snakes and scorpions, which sometimes tend to crawl under your ground tent. Being high up insulates you from the cold of the ground. And of course, what the pleasure of sleeping in a spacious roof tent with a panoramic view ! Without spoiling anything, here’s our favorite roof tent. In this article, we’ll only be talking about car-related equipment, so we won’t go into detail about the choice of ground tents. See our selection of floor tents here.

Criteria to consider when choosing a 4×4 roof tent

Size

Whether you’re traveling alone, as a couple or as a family, you’re bound to find something to suit you. If there are more than 4 of you, depending on the size of your vehicle and the first tent, you may also want to consider two roof tents.

Weight

Check that your vehicle’s roof bars can support the weight of the tent, both when stationary and when driving. The vehicle also has a maximum permissible laden weight, beyond which safety is no longer guaranteed.

The price

Before embarking on a comparison of different roof tents, it’s important to set a budget. You’ll be amazed to see prices ranging from 800 to over 5,000 euros. In fact, thehe price of roof tents depends on many parameters (dimensions, accessories, design material, brand…). Certain details can make all the difference to the price: storage compartments, repair kit included, adjustable ladder…etc.

New or used

If the tent you’re dreaming of isn’t in your budget, don’t hesitate to take a look at second-hand offers.

The materials

If the quality of the materials used by the manufacturer has an impact on the price, it also has an impact on your comfort and the durability of the tent. Your tent fabrics must be UV-resistant, waterproof and breathable.

Waterproofing: refers to the ability to prevent the penetration of water from the outside. It would be a shame to wake up to water seeping into your tent. Waterproofness in excess of 1500 Schmerber is the upper limit for minimum breathability.

Breathability: The breathability of the fabric prevents condensation forming in the tent. When we sweat or breathe, we generate a lot of moisture in the air, and this moisture has to be able to evacuate. The fabric of your tent has to be able to “exchange” with the outside and thus evacuate moisture. Breathability is therefore essential.

The balance between breathability and waterproofing is difficult to achieve, which is why some manufacturers opt for a non-breathable but totally waterproof “over-roof”!

Type of tent: flexible or rigid

There are two types of roof tents: The soft-shell roof tent and the rigid roof tent. Everything you need to know about these 4×4 tents is described below.

The soft-shell roof tent

Advantages and disadvantages of a soft-top tent

Soft-shell roof top tents are an excellent option for first-time buyers. They are often more spacious and affordable than their rigid counterparts.

Lighter, they also take up less space on the roof, leaving room for accessories such as water or fuel jerry cans. It’s also possible to put up two tents to sleep 4 people, which can be interesting if you’re going away as a family.

Folding/unfolding is mainly done manually. Bedding can be left in place when the tent is closed. The mattress is cut in two, but this is not generally noticeable. It generally takes a little longer to open and close than with hard-shell tents, but no more than 5 to 10 minutes, which is still reasonable.

Bactrian camel in Ladakh Nubra valley

You can’t put any accessories on top of the tent when it’s closed, so no solar panels or luggage. When unfolded, the tent forms a kind ofawning, useful in rainy weather or for shade. When folded, the tent is covered with waterproof canvas for protection.

There are two types:

The bi-fold tent: this is the most common model, with the entire tent sandwiched between the two floors. This means that in the event of deployment, the usable surface area is double the stored surface area.

The pull-up tent doesn’t fold in half. Only the roof supports are pulled up like a fan. The floor, and therefore the usable surface area, is the same whether the tent is stored or deployed.

“In South Africa, we opted for a second-hand Hannibal Safari 2-seater tent. We’re really happy with it! Of all the roof tents we’ve come across, it’s always the most spacious and sturdy. It’s a South African brand made for safari, so the canvas is very solid. We’ve never had any problems, which is certainly due to its simplicity. The mattress is very comfortable. Only once did we have a scare: we were in the desert in Iran and a sand tornado formed. The wind blew so hard that the tent folded up. Honestly, this had never happened before, even during storms.”

Tomorrow's craftsmen

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Les tissus de la tente

La toile de votre tente de toit souple doit être composée d’un tissu principal respirant,  imperméable et traité anti-UV, et d’un sur-toit totalement imperméable, plus lourd, pour protéger l’extérieur de la tente du vent et de la pluie. Un tissu lourd et épais est utilisé pour recouvrir la tente pendant le transport.

Dans la majorité des cas, les matérieaux proposés sont :

  • pour le tissu principal de la tente : un tissu respirant mais imperméable à l’eau, généralement en polycoton (mélange de polyesther et de coton), à partir de  220 gr/m² cela permet un bon compromis pour l’équilibre respirabilité/ imperméabilité. Attention au-delà de 320 gr/m² on perd en respirabilité, ce qui peut être compensé par des aérations.
  • pour le sur-toit : un tissu épais 100% polyester totalement imperméable à l’eau et protégeant des intempéries qui peut être installé ou enlevé en fonction des conditions. Les tentes haut de gamme auront des tissus plus lourds et plus résistant.
  • pour la housse de transport : une housse étanche et robuste en PVC imperméable avec fermetures à glissière étanches aux intempéries.

Soyez attentif aux finitions, plus particulièrement aux coutures. En termes d’étanchéité, les thermosoudures sont plus résistantes et plus efficaces. Les fermetures éclair YKK super strong garantissent un usage à long terme. Vérifier les avis clients quand c’est possible.

4x4 soft-top tent

Rigid roof tent

Advantages and disadvantages of a rigid roof tent

Hard-shell rooftop tents are made of a hard material on top and bottom which, when closed, forms a protective layer over the canvas and bedding sandwiched inside.

They come in two main styles:

  • The Wedge style opening
  • Vertical deployment or “Pop-up style

They can be opened mechanically using a crank handle or an assisted mechanism.

Fiberglass and aluminum are the main materials used to form the outer layer.

Bactrian camel in Ladakh Nubra valley

While the hard-shell roof tent is a little heavier and takes up more space on the roof, you can still fit accessories on top: solar panels, luggage or even mountain bikes and kayaks. Be careful not to exceed the weight recommended by the manufacturer. It opens and even closes in less than a minute. You can leave the bedding in place and find it exactly as you left it.

If there are 4 of you, you’d better bring an extra ground tent. It is not possible to install a second roof tent (even a “softshell” type). If you haven’t installed any accessories, you can use it as an observation platform, very useful on safari.

In the event of a strong gust of wind, we advise you to put the car into the wind, using the shell as protection. In the jungle, where you might be afraid of falling branches, the shell offers extra protection.

“In June 2018, I equipped my Jeep Commander with a hardtop tent to start a long road trip from Canada to Argentina. I’m completely satisfied. Being able to install my bed on the roof of the 4×4 gave me easy access to remote areas while keeping space inside the vehicle. Thanks to its rigidity, I was able to install solar panels above it. The interior is equipped with a few lights and sockets for plugging in a computer, telephone or fan when it’s hot. Simply push the back of the tent upwards, and the bed is ready in seconds. After a good night’s sleep in the heights, it only takes a few seconds more to close it and set off on your next adventure! On the downside, I’d say the humidity that penetrates after a few days of rain or the fact that it’s complicated to open in the city (discretion level…).”

Joffrey Maluski

Photographer

Wrap-around or vertical opening?

A horizontal opening takes a little longer than a fan-shaped one. However, this offers the possibility of opening all 4 sides of the tent, as opposed to 3 for tents with a fan-shaped opening, so generally more ventilation. In the event of strong gales, this tent has maximum wind grip.

AvantagesInconvénients
Ouverture en portefeuille ou "wedge style"ouverture rapide
plus d'espace en longueur
Déploiement vertical ou "pop-up style"plus d'espace en hauteurprise au vent maximale

 

photo-roof-hanging-mariole-trotters
roof tent with vertical or pop-up opening

“Before we left for Africa, we bought a James Baroud recovery roof tent with our vehicle. It’s a second-hand tent that’s over 15 years old, and we’re really happy with it! Unlike soft tents, which take 5 to 10 minutes to fold up, ours takes 30 seconds to close. It’s spacious, so you can sit down and change easily, for example. It’s perfect for Africa, because it’s airy. It’s much cooler than a converted van. For insects, this roof tent is really ideal: you can go in and out of your vehicle in the evening without letting insects into the tent, and you only have to open it when you go to bed. The fan or wallet opening is perfect for strong winds. You position the vehicle facing into the wind when there are gusts, and you don’t feel a thing, unlike with canvas or vertical-opening tents. We once had a problem with waterproofing during a huge storm, but we’ve never had a problem with seepage.”

The Marioles Trotters

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Aluminum or fiberglass?

AvantagesInconvénients
Coque fibre de verreplus légère
réparable mais coûteux
moins solide (fissures)
Coque aluminiumplus solide
peut servir de plateforme d'observation en safari
plus cher

Fiberglass makes for a lighter, yet sufficiently strong hull. Although structurally very strong, fiberglass is nevertheless susceptible to cracking when it comes up against an obstacle such as a tree branch on a path. While fiberglass cracking can be repaired, it can be costly.

Aluminum is also extremely hard-wearing. able to withstand much greater impacts without cracking or tearing than fiberglass. However, there is a trade-off in terms of extra weight. Unlike fiberglass roof tents, you can take advantage of its flat, solid surface to observe animals on safari.

 

4x4 roof tent aluminum shell

So, soft-shell or rigid roof tent? our comparison

AvantagesInconvénients
Tente de toit à coque dure - plus rapide à monter/démonter
- espace de stockage sur la coque pour panneaux solaires, roue de secours, paddle... (vrai sur la majorité des modèles).
- Revêtement extérieur plus durable
- protège mieux des intempéries
- lourde
- onéreuse à l'achat
- occupe plus d'espace sur le toit
Tente de toit à coque souple- légèreté
- moins onéreuse à l'achat
- facile à installer
- occupe moins de place sur le toit (possibilité d'une 2ème tente ou de jerricans).
- plus spacieuse à l'intérieur
- pas d'espace de stockage au-dessus de la tente
- plus fragile (déchirure..)
- matériau moins durable, usure naturelle plus rapide
- bruyante en cas de vent

Our choice: the NaïtUp Quatro

meilleure tente de toit naitup
meilleure tente de toit naitup 2
meilleure tente de toit naitup 3

Here are the criteria that were most important to us: we wanted a roof tent that was spacious, lightweight, quick to set up/dismantle and with the option of storing solar panels on the roof. Our choice should have been a hard-shell tent, but we finally heard about the brand
NaïtUp
a French brand specializing in semi-rigid Hussarde tents. What luck, because we finally managed to find a roof tent that fulfilled all these criteria, and to top it all off, it’s 100% French!

Victor is 1.90m tall, so it was important for us to have a certain ceiling height. We also like to have room to take a few things home with us in the evening (toiletries, a few valuables, extra sweaters, etc.). For the ground tent, we already had a very spacious 3-4-seater tent from Naturehike. Our choice fell on the most spacious of NaïtUp’s roof tents: the Hussarde Quatrö! With its immense dimensions of 170×220 cm, we can’t complain about the lack of space!

First, we tested the roof tent on our French city car, a Hyundai i30. Folded up, the roof tent looks like a roof box and goes unnoticed, even on the freeway at 130km/h. The Hussarde unfolds in 30 seconds and is extremely spacious. It weighs 80 kg and can support a roof load of 30 kg, enough to fit solar panels!

We then installed the hussar on the roof of our Mr Leloup expedition vehicle, our sturdy 80-series Toyota LandCruiser. And we’re delighted: a real room with the most beautiful view!

Find out more about this tent here: NaïtUp Quatrö tent

naitup hiver 1 scaled
crocoloup sacados 03

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which roof tent is right for travelling?

Many thanks to our adventurers for contributing to this article by sharing their experiences. If you’d like to take part in writing an article (mechanics, 4×4 equipment, motorcycles, etc.), please don’t hesitate to contact us! OunTravela is a collaborative resource center.

The Marioles Trotters

The Marioles Trotters

Youtubers

Joffrey Maluski

Joffrey Maluski

Photographer