a couple siting on the hood of a jeep with a rooftop tent

Rooftop Tent vs Trailer: Which One Is Right For You?

There are a lot of questions, but luckily we have a lot of answers. Sometimes, a good comparison is all it takes to make a final and wise decision.

Camping is in fashion now – which is awesome! – and with the demand of being in fashion comes the varied offer of the market.

The list of options for accommodation on wheels has been getting so long that it is only natural that you find yourself wondering what the best option is. Should you get a rooftop tent or a trailer? What are the advantages? And the disadvantages? How do you know which options better suit your needs?

There are a lot of questions about RV rentals, but luckily we have a lot of answers. Sometimes, a good comparison is all it takes to make a final and wise decision.

Rooftop Tent

Trailer

Maximum Speed

The recommended speed for a vehicle with a rooftop tent is about the same as for a car without one. While driving, you can get a sense of whether you should go slower or give it a little more gas. 

Do, however, consult the manual of the rooftop tent in advance, as any advisory speed is given there.

In general, when your car is towing something bigger than an average vehicle, it is best to go at least 10 mph (~15kmh) below posted. 

In the USA, speed limits for towing a trailer vary according to state law. Several states apply a maximum speed of between 45 and 55 mph. The maximum speed overall is 70 mph, so keep in mind to never exceed that limit.

Driver's License

There’s no need for a specific class or category. You only need a full car license.

You only need your regular operator’s license as long as the Gross Combination Weight Rating is below 26000 lbs.

In Europe, the standard driving license class B is sufficient for driving most vehicle-trailer combinations.

B is sufficient for combinations up to 3500kg; for heavier combinations, BE category is required (up to 7000kg).

Mobility

With an RTT, (almost) every place is an option. Because you do not have to worry about finding flat land or a big enough space in which both the vehicle and the trailer fit, you can sleep basically anywhere. 

On the other hand, you can never take the RTT off the car - not even for a quick trip to the shop.

Going on a trip on a camper trailer requires finding a place in which both the car and the trailer fit, meaning that there are a few times in which you can’t choose that amazing place you love.  

However, since the trailer does not have to be towed at all times, you can leave the it at the campground and go explore the surroundings.

Sleeps

The number of people that can sleep in a rooftop tent goes from 1 to 5, depending on the size of the tent and the “host” vehicle.

For example, the Roof top Sparrow XL, which is coming soon to Indie Campers on top of a Jeep Wrangler, accommodates 2-3 sleeps.

Camper trailers can roof 2 to 4 people. Some can fit up to 6, but no more than that.

Load Capacity

The payload capacity of RTT varies from 200lbs to 900lbs. Using the same example as above, the Sparrow XL has a maximum capacity of 650lbs.

Camper trailers’ weight can vary, and so can the load capacity. In general, it goes from 700lbs, which corresponds to models with reduced load capacity, such as the teardrop trailer, to 1100lbs.

Suitable For

Preferred by those who want to camp wherever, without geographical obstacles, and that plan on moving frequently, almost overnight.

Best for long-term trips and families with small children and pets that do not plan to move around a lot during the trip.

Cost

$1.000 (soft shells) to $5.000 (hard shells)

5.000$ (smallest, with few to no features) to 20.000$

Rooftop Tent

Climbing on top of the car and taking a nap sounds like something that could come right out of a child’s idea of a good afternoon. Well, it is definitely something our younger selves would have loved to do. A roof top tent gives you the chance to enjoy the roof of the car but in an adult form, without the silliness. 

An RTT is a tent meant to be fitted to the roof of almost any vehicle. The idea behind this type of tent is to make the life of campers who love to road trip on the spur of the moment easier. 

There are two main types of rooftop tents: hardshell and softshell.

Hardshell rooftop tents are the most durable, safest, easiest to set up, and, of course, more expensive. However, their footprint is smaller because these RTT do not fold – instead, they pop up from the car roof. 

On the other hand, softshell rooftop tents take up a little more time when it comes to the set-up, but they are usually more spacious since they are foldable. When unfolded, the footprint can be surprisingly big.

Going into nature or a campsite with a rooftop tent sounds like a lot of fun, and it might even provide you a unique experience – if you choose your destination well, you might end up sleeping with a beautiful view.

But what really makes it worth trying out a rooftop tent? So you can have an idea of what to expect from an RTT, we made a list of pros and cons.

rooftop tent on a wrangler

Pros

Rooftop tents make nature vacations more accessible – Rooftop tents make outdoorsy vacations more accessible for more people, since 1) almost every car can support an RTT and 2) prices start at $1000. Before buying one, just check all weight information available. Some RTT are pretty heavy and you have to be sure that your car can take it.

Set up is easy – It takes only a few minutes to set up. On top of that, most roof top tents allow you to leave your bedding in place even when the tent is packed, meaning that you don’t even have to worry about making your bed after a long day.

Moreover, you can sleep anywhere – you don’t have to find flat land to camp. Even if you find yourself in a place without wide flat places, your RTT will still function perfectly if you can level your vehicle with something like blocks, for example.

Safety and RTT go hand in hand – Sleeping above ground keeps you safe from animals, both the scary ones like crocodiles, lions, and snakes and the cute ones such as squirrels 

Rooftop tents are durable and easy to maintain – Despite being “just a tent”, most roof top tents have strong structures and don’t budge in bad weather. In strong winds, there might be flapping because some RTT have canvas sides that flap in the wind, but there’s no need for concern – you definitely will not be a Dorothy of Wizard of Oz if you catch a bit of wind. These canvases are rugged, thus durable. And if they’re flapping too much, there’s an option to crank the canvas more tightly.

Additionally, many rooftop tents have a solid fiberglass panel

The maintenance of these tents is also simple and overall cheap. Just keep them clean, check if lubrication is needed and let them dry completely before folding to avoid dampness. It is relevant to add that some RTT carry lifetime warranty covering damage to the external shell.

It’s really comfortable inside the tent – Sleeping above ground level makes it easier to catch a breeze so you can count on a cool night’s sleep inside the tent — well, as cool as it can get in warm and hot weather.

RTT simplify trips – You feel like going camping this weekend? Easy — just take a couple of minutes to set up the rooftop tent. And if you keep your bedding in place, you are ready to go! Well, sort of, you should need a few more minutes to pack some things you might need… 

Another thing that makes this type of camping trip simple is that you don’t have to worry about a special driver’s license class or category. 

Cons

Nightly bathroom trips – Having to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night can be challenging because of the ladders. While it might be an excellent way to get toned legs, it is not comfortable, easy, and at times it might even be dangerous, especially for small children. 

Not ideal for all more than 2 people – RTT are usually not for more than 3 people, so they are not ideal for all families, mainly families with toddlers. Rooftop tents are also not very pet friendly especially because of the ladder but also due to the space – or lack of – in the tent (if you own a smaller model). There are ways around obstacles, such as creating a different entrance for your dog with a board, but then it starts to get complicated, which is not the purpose of the roof top tent.

RTT are not welcome in all campsites – Due to height issues, some campsites do not accept vehicles with rooftop tents.

Sometimes, the storage space is not enough – Rooftop tents do not provide as much storage space as a camper trailer, meaning that you have to put a lot of the objects you want to take on the trip in the car. The decreased amount of space inside the car might make the trip a little less comfortable.

Trailer

Now, it is the trailer’s turn to shine — or maybe not.

First of all, it is important to understand exactly what type of trailers we are talking about. 

The word trailer includes a variety of homes on wheels, from the smallest teardrop trailers to Fifth Wheel giants in which you can take almost the entire family on a nightmarish but loving and fun vacation.

When we talk about trailers here, we are referring to compact camper trailers, such as pop-up campers and teardrop trailerms. 

Despite their reduced size, some of these compact models come with varied features that make road tripping fun and comfortable. It is not uncommon to see showers in pop-up campers and kitchens in teardrop trailers.

But before deciding that camper trailers are a good option for a trip in nature, it’s best to weigh the pros and the cons.

Trailer

Pros

Camper trailers can come with multiple features – Depending on how much you want to spend, a camper trailer can have several useful features such as a fridge, a bathroom, and A/C. Even pop-up campers (the pricier ones) can come with a well-equipped bathroom: toilet AND shower.

You can leave your home at the campsite – In case you want to get in your car and go somewhere, either to explore the surroundings or just to go to the shop, you can unhitch the camper trailer and leave it at your campgrounds. This is something you cannot do with RTT.

Plenty of storage room – With a camper trailer, you have more space to store gear, bedding, and clothes. This frees up space inside the car, making the trip more comfortable.

Cons

Trailers are more expensive – Camper trailers are more expensive than RTT. You can find a good quality new rooftop tent for $4000, but when it comes to trailers, a well-geared one will cost you at least double.

Fuel consumption is higher with trailers – The heavier the vehicle, the higher the fuel consumption. Fuel consumption increases with an RTT as well, but camper trailers are considerably heavier, making the fuel consumption higher. 

Takes time to set up – While it may not be the most complicated thing in the world, it sure takes longer to set up a camper trailer than a rooftop tent. 

Not adequate for every car – Most cars lack the hardware to tow, so you have to buy and install a trailer hitch. Although it is relatively easy to install, you will have to go through instruction manuals and videos and have specific tools at hand. 


Now that you have all the information you need to make a decision, there is no reason to be so tents

Roof top tents and camper trailers serve different needs, as you can see in the table at the beginning. Nonetheless, at the end of the day, the roof top tent allows you to be more free-spirited during your vacation, to spend less money, and to be able to enjoy places in nature that you cannot access with a trailer. 

Give RTT a go with our Jeep Wrangler’s Roof top Sparrow XL and then let us know if we are on the same boat – or better yet, on the same tent.

About the Autor

Inês Morais

Nature lover. If circling the world in an RV and exploring the most hidden gems spots was a job, probably wasn't writing this now...

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