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Roof Top Tent Trailers for Overlanding: Pros and Cons

Looking for a trailer that will allow you to explore the great outdoors? A number of options are available for off-road camping and overlanding. One of the more popular options is the roof top tent trailer. These rugged trailers are a great choice for those who enjoy venturing deeper into nature to explore more remote areas.

In this guide, we explain what a roof top tent trailer is. We’ll also outline the pros and cons of using a rooftop tent trailer for off-road camping. We’ll cover amenities, storage space, cost, comfort, maneuverability, and much more. Hopefully, this guide helps you decide whether or not a rooftop tent trailer is right for your style of camping.

What is a Rooftop Tent?

A rooftop tent on a small SUV
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A rooftop tent is a camping accessory that traditionally mounts directly onto the roof rack of a vehicle. It can also mount on top of an off-road trailer (roof top tent trailer). The tent lifts you up off the ground away from insects and other critters.

Rooftop tents fold or collapse down into a flat, aerodynamic package that stays mounted to your vehicle or trailer while you drive. When you reach camp, you simply unfold the tent or pop it up, depending on the design. 

There are two types of rooftop tents: soft shell and hard shell. Softshell rooftop tents have a fabric roof and walls. They typically fold open so part of the tent hangs off the side of the truck. They fold down to a lower profile when not in use. These look just like ground tents.

Hard shell and soft shell rooftop tents

Hard-shell rooftop tents feature a robust and durable shell that makes up the ceiling. The walls are made from soft fabric. These tents pop up either vertically or into a clamshell design with the help of hydraulic pistons. A hard top tent offers quicker setup and take-down times.

The inside of these tents typically features a high-density foam mattress that covers the entire floor space. Other amenities can include windows for ventilation, a skylight, a built-in awning, and storage pockets. Some higher-end models even have LED lighting and USB chargers.

One defining characteristic of a rooftop tent is the access point. Since the tent sits up off the ground, access is usually via a sturdy, often telescopic, ladder. Most rooftop tents come with a ladder.

For more in-depth info, check out my guide: Rooftop Tents Vs Ground Tents.

What is a Rooftop Tent Trailer (Overlanding Trailer or Off-Road Trailer)?

An off-road trailer or overlanding trailer is a specialized type of travel trailer designed to withstand the rigors of rough terrain. It provides storage space, utility, and various amenities for outdoor adventurers. Larger models may include a sleeping space, like a standard travel trailer.

Off-road trailers come equipped with features for off-road travel such as reinforced chassis, knobby tires, higher ground clearance, and even independent suspension systems to handle rough terrain. These trailers are designed to be pulled through rugged off-road conditions. They can stand up to the abuse.

Now, imagine combining the comfort of a rooftop tent with the utility of an off-road trailer. That’s what a rooftop tent trailer is. A roof top tent trailer is an off-road utility trailer with a roof rack on top where you can mount a rooftop on top of the trailer. This gives you the benefits of a rugged off-road trailer with the elevated sleeping and living space and comfort provided by a rooftop tent.

With the rooftop tent mounted directly onto the off-road trailer, you gain a portable, elevated shelter that’s easy to set up. The rooftop tent provides a comfortable sleeping area away from ground-based elements such as insects. The trailer offers added storage for all your adventure gear, and the tent provides a cozy and dry sleeping space after a long day of exploration. It’s a convenient setup for those seeking to venture off the beaten track while maintaining a level of comfort and convenience.

A rooftop tent trailer allows you to create a mobile overlanding base camp. They combine the robustness of an off-road trailer with the comfort of a rooftop tent. The combination is a game-changer for outdoor enthusiasts and overland adventurers, promising unmatched versatility and comfort.

Why Use a Roof Top Tent Trailer?

Roof top tent trailers are popular among outdoor adventurers for several reasons. First, they provide the convenience of a portable shelter, the comfort of an elevated sleeping area, and the practicality of an off-road trailer all rolled into one. These are versatile RVs.

One of the main reasons people use rooftop tent trailers is for enhanced mobility. These trailers allow you to camp virtually anywhere your truck can reach, freeing you from the constraints of designated camping sites. They provide a unique opportunity to experience off-the-beaten-path destinations.

Roof top tent trailers also offer convenience and speed in terms of setup and take-down. They’re designed for easy and quick deployment, allowing more time for exploration or relaxation instead of wrestling with tent poles and stakes. A good rooftop tent can be set up in just a couple of minutes. Hooking and unhooking a small off-road trailer is also easy.

The added storage space offered by the trailer is another major advantage. Having a dedicated place to store your camping gear, food, and other essentials keeps your truck clutter-free and allows for more organized packing.

Rooftop tent trailers are a great choice for various types of campers. Overlanders who undertake long-term trips through diverse terrains appreciate the ruggedness and convenience they provide. Weekend warriors also love the ease and speed of setup that rooftop tent trailers offer. The trailer is always ready to go. You never have to load and unload gear.

Pros of Rooftop Tent Trailers

In this section, I’ll outline a few major benefits of rooftop tent trailers.

A Roof Top Tent Trailer Gives You More Space for Storing Gear

One major benefit of rooftop tent trailers is the additional storage space they provide. Most models come equipped with a substantial storage box. This can significantly expand your packing capacity.

The storage box on a rooftop tent trailer varies in size. On average, it can provide anywhere between 40 to 60 cubic feet of storage space. This space can be utilized to pack away your camping gear, food supplies, clothes, cookware, a generator, and other adventure essentials.

In addition, many rooftop tent trailers offer mounting points on the outside. You could mount recovery gear such as a shovel and traction boards. You could also mount some canisters with extra fuel and a spare tire. This frees up some more space in your vehicle.

With the ability to carry more supplies, you can extend your overlanding adventures. This allows you to spend more time in the great outdoors without worrying about running out of essential items. For example, without a rooftop tent trailer, you may only be able to pack enough supplies into your truck for a one-week trip. With a rooftop tent trailer, you may have enough space to stay out for 3 weeks before you have to resupply. You could carry extra food, water, fuel, and other supplies to keep you going for longer.

The additional storage in the roof top tent trailer can also free up space in your truck. This can increase comfort. Having a dedicated and secure place to store your gear also helps you keep your camping gear organized. You don’t have to have camping gear cluttering up your home. You can leave your trailer packed and ready to go.

An additional advantage of using a roof top tent trailer is that it frees up your vehicle’s roof rack. With the rooftop tent mounted on the trailer, your vehicle’s roof rack becomes available for other uses. You could use this space to haul more gear in a rooftop box, carry spare tires, transport recreational equipment like kayaks, or even mount solar panels for off-grid energy solutions.

You Can Set Up a Base Camp and Leave it Set Up

Rooftop tent trailers allow you to establish a base camp. You can set your camp up once and leave it set up until you’re ready to move on to a new destination. You don’t need to pack up your tent each time you venture out.

Setting up a base camp with a rooftop tent trailer is as simple as disconnecting the trailer from your truck, lowering some jacks to stabilize the trailer, and setting up the rooftop tent. Your camping gear can stay organized and in place, awaiting your return at the end of the day. You can lock up your valuables in the trailer’s storage box so nothing gets stolen.

If the rooftop tent was mounted directly to your vehicle’s roof, you would need to collapse the tent each time you wanted to drive and then set it up again when you return. Constantly having to set up and take down the tent can be time-consuming. It’s also a bit of a hassle. Some rooftop tents take a bit of effort to set up. It also takes time to set up your bedding each time. It’s far more convenient to leave everything set up at camp.

With a rooftop tent trailer, your base camp remains ready for use, saving you considerable time and energy. Whether you’re out hiking, fishing, or just exploring the scenic trails, it’s a comfort to know that you can return to a ready-made campsite, without the hassle of daily setup and take-down.

Many Off-Road Trailers Have a Kitchen

Many rooftop tent trailers come equipped with an outdoor kitchen setup. This allows you to enjoy the comforts of home cooking even in the most remote locations.

The kitchen on a roof top tent trailer usually includes a gas stove, a small refrigerator, a sink, and some countertop space for prep. The kitchen is usually located under a hatch on the back of the trailer or in a slide-out drawer.

The stove allows for on-site meal preparation, freeing you from reliance on pre-packaged foods or having to build a fire for cooking. The refrigerator provides convenient storage for fresh produce, meats, drinks, and other perishables.

The inclusion of a sink is another bonus. It makes dishwashing much more manageable. The sink also helps you maintain better hygiene while camping. You can wash your hands more frequently and wash your food before cooking. This reduces your chance of getting sick. There are also built-in holding tanks for fresh water and gray water. This ensures that you have a fresh water supply for cooking and cleaning and a separate storage for wastewater.

Having a built-in kitchen in your rooftop tent trailer significantly upgrades your camping experience. It eliminates many of the hassles associated with meal preparation and clean-up when camping. It also offers the potential for more varied and healthier meals. This enhances your overall nutrition and enjoyment during your overlanding adventure.

Whether you’re a gourmet campfire cook or simply want to prepare a quick hot meal after a long day, a rooftop tent trailer with a built-in kitchen can add a new dimension to your overlanding adventures.

Rooftop Tent Trailers are Cheaper than Other Types of RVs

Rooftop tent trailers are cheaper than other types of RVs such as motorhomes and travel trailers. The average cost of an off-road trailer ranges from $10,000 to $20,000, depending on the make, quality, and features. Entry-level models are available for $6,000-$10,000. A good quality rooftop tent could cost you between $1,000 and $5,000. Combined, the total cost of a rooftop tent trailer can range anywhere from $7,000 to $25,000, depending on the specific configurations and amenities included.

To compare, a comparable travel trailer or small RV could cost around $25,000 to $30,000. Entry-level models start at around $15,000. Premium models can cost $80,000 plus. These aren’t really comparable to a rooftop tent trailer.

On top of the cost of the trailer, you also need to consider the cost of the tow vehicle. One of the distinct advantages of a rooftop tent trailer is that it does not require a heavy-duty truck for towing. Most off-road vehicles, including small pickups, compact SUVs, Subarus, and Jeeps, are capable of towing off-road trailers. These aren’t heavy trailers. This makes rooftop tent trailers an appealing option for those who already own such vehicles.

This can save you the additional cost of buying a more powerful tow vehicle that may be required for larger RVs or travel trailers. For example, to pull a regular travel trailer, you may need a full-sized pickup. These start at around $40,000. You can buy a vehicle that’s capable of pulling a rooftop tent trailer for $25,000. Of course, you can also buy used for less.

Rooftop tent trailers aren’t always the cheaper option. A premium rooftop tent trailer, particularly when paired with a high-end off-road truck, can rival or even exceed the cost of a basic RV. Of course, using a rooftop tent trailer is more expensive than simply mounting a rooftop tent on your vehicle’s roof.

You Can Build Your Own Rooftop Tent Trailer

If you’re on a tight budget, it’s possible to build a DIY rooftop tent trailer. These trailers are basically just large metal boxes bolted to a frame with wheels. You can build one from scratch if you have some welding skills.

It’s also possible to convert an existing cargo trailer into a roof top tent trailer. You could start with a small cargo trailer and then build a metal rack and weld it on top. You could also weld some jacks onto the sides for stabilization. Next, you could install a basic rooftop tent on top. You might be able to build your own rooftop tent trailer for just $2000-$3000 if you have some tools and skills. Check out this great guide for some inspiration.

It’s Easier to Stay Organized When You Use an Off-Road Trailer

Rooftop tent trailers are a great way to keep your camping gear organized and readily accessible. They offer practical benefits for both your camping trips and everyday life.

With a rooftop tent trailer, you can store all of your camping essentials directly within the trailer, even when you’re not on a camping trip. This means your gear can be pre-packed and ready to go at a moment’s notice. This saves you valuable time during trip preparation.

It also helps in keeping your home and truck free from the clutter that often accumulates with camping equipment. Everything stays neatly packed away in the trailer.

The spacious storage offered by rooftop tent trailers also allows for better organization of your gear while you’re camping. Bulky items such as camping tables, chairs, your generator, and cookware can be easily stowed away in the trailer. This frees up room in your truck for clothes, personal items, or additional passengers.

The clear division of storage spaces also makes it easier to locate items when you need them. You can divide your gear between your truck and trailer to keep everything organized.

Moreover, having your camping gear neatly organized in the trailer reduces the risk of forgetting important items at home. Everything you need is already packed, allowing you to hit the road faster and ensuring that you’re fully prepared for your adventure.

A Roof Top Tent Trailer Gives You More Comforts

Rooftop tent trailers bring a few additional comforts and luxuries to the camping experience. Having a few simple comforts can make the camping experience much more enjoyable. You don’t always have to rough it, even when you’re in the backwoods.

A rooftop tent is substantially more comfortable than a traditional ground tent. The tent lifts you off the ground. Being elevated off the ground not only keeps you warmer by avoiding direct contact with the cold ground, but it also minimizes the chance of creepy crawlies making their way into your sleeping quarters. An added bonus is the enhanced view you can enjoy from an elevated position, whether you’re stargazing, appreciating the morning sunrise, or enjoying a mountain view.

Rooftop tents also come with comfortable mattresses. Rooftop tent mattresses are thicker and more comfortable than sleeping pads that you would use with a ground tent. Most rooftop tents include a 2 ½-3 inch thick foam mattress that offers plenty of support. The large size of the mattress allows you plenty of room to spread out and move around in your sleep. The mattress is much more spacious than a 20″ sleeping pad. Large rooftop tents feature mattresses that measure about 87″ by 96″. This is larger than a king-size mattress.

Upgraded rooftop tent mattresses are also available. For example, you can get layered rooftop tent mattresses with memory foam, high-density foam, gel, or extra insulation. High-end mattresses measure up to 6 inches thick. These can rival the comfort of your mattress at home.

Beyond the tent, rooftop tent trailers often come packed with additional amenities that further increase comfort and convenience. The built-in kitchen facilities allow for more elaborate meal preparation, making the dining experience more satisfying. Water storage solutions simplify tasks like washing dishes or even taking a shower.

Some roof top tent trailers go the extra mile by offering features such as an awning for shade and rain protection, creating a versatile outdoor living space. Some models may even include an outdoor shower setup, providing a refreshing rinse after a long day of adventuring. All of these amenities improve comfort.

When you’re comfortable, you’ll enjoy your trip more. You’ll wake up feeling rested. You’ll have energy to enjoy your tirp. You can stay out longer.

You Can Use Your Vehicle Normally

Rooftop tents are heavy and bulky. They do affect your vehicle’s performance somewhat. The weight can reduce your vehicle’s off-road performance. Rooftop tents make your truck more top-heavy. The tent also creates drag, which reduces your gas mileage.

You can use your vehicle normally when you use a roof top tent trailer. This is possible because a rooftop tent trailer allows you to disconnect your truck from your camping setup. This gives you unrestricted use of your truck.

Whether you’re going out for a quick grocery run, planning a day trip to nearby attractions, or venturing on off-road trails, your truck remains fully functional and unburdened.

When you’re not out camping, your vehicle reverts back to its everyday role as a commuter without the extra weight or aerodynamic challenge of a rooftop tent.

This setup is ideal for those who use their off-road vehicles as their daily drivers. It means not having to constantly mount and unmount a rooftop tent based on your camping plans. You don’t have to drive around with your rooftop tent unnecessarily.

A rooftop tent trailer provides a balance between your camping needs and everyday vehicle use. It enables you to swiftly transition from an outdoor adventure setup to a regular vehicle setup.

A white Ford pickup truck
When you unhook the trailer, you have a normal vehicle to drive around

Cons of Rooftop Tent Trailers

Rooftop tent trailers aren’t for everyone. In this section, I’ll outline a few drawbacks to consider before you go out and buy a roof top tent trailer.

Rooftop Tent Trailers Make Your Vehicle More Difficult to Maneuver

Adding a trailer to your truck can make it more cumbersome to drive. Particularly while reversing or executing tight turns. There is a learning curve to driving with a trailer. If you’ve never done it before, it will take you some time to get comfortable.

Backing up with a trailer attached can be tricky. The trailer adds significant length to your vehicle. Its movement is also inversely related to your vehicle’s direction when reversing. You need to have a good understanding of how the trailer responds to your steering input. It often requires more space to execute a successful reverse maneuver. It takes some skill to back a trailer up.

Maneuvering a truck with a trailer in tow also demands careful attention to the swing of the trailer, which can extend into adjacent lanes or off the roadway. You need to turn wider when you’re pulling a trailer so you don’t drive over a curb or hit another car when you turn.

Turning around, particularly in narrow or congested areas, is another challenge. The added length and the pivoting nature of the trailer require wider turns and careful planning to avoid clipping other vehicles, pedestrians, or objects.

While these challenges may seem daunting, it’s important to note that driving with a trailer is a skill that can be learned and mastered with practice. It’s a good idea to spend some time familiarizing yourself with the unique handling characteristics of your truck with the trailer attached before heading out on a camping adventure. Drive around in an empty parking lot and practice backing up. You’ll feel confident in no time. Off-road trailers are small. They are pretty easy to tow. It’s not like towing a 40 foot 5th wheel.

Rooftop Tent Trailers Reduce Fuel Efficiency

Pulling a roof top tent trailer reduces your vehicle’s fuel efficiency. The decrease in fuel economy is the result of two factors: aerodynamic drag and rolling resistance.

Aerodynamic drag is the resistance a vehicle encounters when moving through the air. An off-road trailer, with its size and boxy shape, creates more air resistance. More energy is needed to overcome this drag, thus reducing the vehicle’s overall fuel efficiency.

Rolling resistance comes from the additional wheels on the road and the increased total weight of the truck plus the trailer. The extra weight and friction from the trailer wheels make your truck work harder to move and maintain speed, which in turn burns more fuel.

As for the actual impact on fuel efficiency, it varies based on the specific truck, trailer, and driving conditions. You can generally expect a reduction of 1-4 miles per gallon when towing a rooftop tent trailer.

Over the course of a long trip, this can add up. For instance, on a 1,000-mile trip with an average fuel cost of $3.50 per gallon, you could see an increase in fuel expenses of around $20 to $30 if your fuel efficiency decreases by 1-4 miles per gallon. This isn’t that much but over the lifetime of the vehicle, it can add up.

Check out this great thread from Expedition Portal to read about the personal experience of some campers regarding the fuel economy of off-road trailers vs rooftop tents.

You Have to Store the Trailer

Where you’re going to store your roof top tent trailer while it’s not in use is an important factor to consider. It’s a bulky item that requires a significant amount of space to store. This can be a challenge for those living in apartments or houses in urban areas with limited parking or storage areas.

If you have a garage, your trailer will fit. It’s important to consider that it will take up a considerable amount of room. This might limit the space available for other items. For example, if you park it in a two-car garage, you may not be able to fit a second car in the garage with the trailer.

Street parking could be a viable alternative, depending on local regulations and the safety of the neighborhood. However, this could also potentially expose your trailer to the elements and risk of theft or damage. In some cities, it’s illegal to park a trailer on the street. Sometimes you can only park on the street for a few days at a time.

If your own premises don’t have sufficient space or if street parking isn’t an option, renting a storage unit might be the solution. The problem is that this introduces an additional monthly cost that can quickly add up. A storage unit can range from $50 to $200 per month depending on size and location.

If you own a large piece of property, storage probably isn’t an issue.

A Trailer is More Expensive than Just a Rooftop Tent

While rooftop tent trailers provide a wealth of amenities and conveniences, these additional benefits come with a higher price tag compared to a standalone rooftop tent. Several factors contribute to this increased cost, including the price of the trailer itself, regulatory fees, and maintenance expenses.

Firstly, the purchase of the rooftop tent trailer will be your most significant expense. The cost can vary considerably depending on the brand, model, size, and features, but you can generally expect to pay anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000. This is a substantial investment compared to the cost of a standalone rooftop tent, which typically ranges from $1,000 to $3,000.

Beyond the initial purchase, you’ll need to account for the cost of licensing, registration, and insurance. These costs are part of trailer ownership. They add to the yearly cost of owning a rooftop tent trailer.

Maintenance of a roof top tent trailer is another recurring expense that owners must consider. Trailers require regular check-ups and servicing to ensure their longevity and safety. For example, the tires will eventually need replacing due to wear and tear. You may spend anywhere from $50 to $200 per tire. Your trailer’s suspension system will need to be replaced at some point. Repair work also contributes to the total cost of owning a rooftop tent trailer.

While rooftop tent trailers offer an enhanced camping experience with their added comfort and convenience, these benefits come with higher costs. Prospective owners should carefully consider their budget and the long-term expenses involved in owning a rooftop tent trailer.

It Takes More Time to Set Up the A Rooftop Tent Trailer

A hitch for a trailer

A rooftop tent trailer requires more time and effort to set up and break down compared to a rooftop tent mounted to the vehicle. This process involves a few more steps.

Firstly, you’ll need to disconnect the trailer from your truck. This step involves unhitching and ensuring the trailer is stable.

Next, you need to use the jacks to stabilize the trailer. These prevent it from rocking or tilting when you’re in the rooftop tent. It’s important to ensure a firm and stable footing for these jacks for your safety and comfort. You wouldn’t want the trailer to shift in the night.

Setting up the rooftop tent is the next task. Whether it’s a soft shell or hard shell tent, you’ll need to unfold it, secure any poles or supports, and arrange the interior for sleeping. While many rooftop tents are designed for quick setup, it still requires some time. Particularly if you’re doing it alone. The best rooftop tents set up in less than 3 minutes. Some models take around 15 minutes to set up.

When it’s time to leave, the process is reversed. The tent needs to be folded back down and secured. Then, you’ll need to retract the stabilizing jacks. Finally, you’ll hitch the trailer back up to your truck. This can take a bit of time to get right if you’re alone.

For those considering this type of setup, it’s important to keep these time considerations in mind. It will probably take you an extra 15-20 minutes to set up and break down camp when you use a rooftop tent trailer. With practice, these steps can become more streamlined. It’s still not as easy as setting up a rooftop tent that’s mounted to your truck.

You Have to License, Register, and Insure the Trailer

Owning a rooftop tent trailer involves more than just the cost of the trailer itself. It also includes the cost of licensing, registration, and insurance.

Licensing and registration are legal requirements for trailers in most jurisdictions. The process of registering and licensing a trailer involves providing documentation, such as proof of ownership. You’ll also need to pay the relevant fees. Registering a trailer might involve some paperwork.

The annual cost for trailer registration can vary widely based on the state, weight of the trailer, and other factors. In most places, trailer registration cost ranges from $20 to $100. This is also another piece of paperwork you have to deal with every year.

Insurance is another component of trailer ownership to consider. Just like any other vehicle, a rooftop tent trailer should be insured to protect you against potential loss or damage. Coverage can vary but typically includes protection against theft, damage from accidents, and liability.

The cost of insuring a rooftop tent trailer can range from $100 to $500 per year. The exact cost depends on various factors such as the value of the trailer, your location, and the coverage level. In most cases, you aren’t required to insure your trailer but it may be a good idea.

The Trailer Makes Your Vehicle Less Off-Road Capable

When venturing off-road with a rooftop tent trailer, it’s important to consider the changes in your vehicle’s maneuverability and ability to handle rugged terrain. Your truck won’t be as off-road capable with the trailer attached.

One of the key considerations is maneuverability. While modern trailers are designed to follow the tow vehicle’s tracks closely, they can’t replicate the sharp turns a standalone vehicle can make. This can prove challenging when navigating narrow paths, switchbacks, or tight camping spots. The additional length of the trailer also requires more space when reversing or making U-turns. This could slow down your progress in certain off-road scenarios. If you make a wrong turn, you might have a hard time turning around or backing out.

Towing a trailer can also limit your vehicle’s ability to traverse rugged landscapes. A solo off-road capable truck can navigate steep inclines, rocky paths, and small streams with relative ease. With a trailer in tow, you may find that the same routes are more challenging. Your truck will need to exert more power to pull the trailer up steep hills and the trailer’s ground clearance may not be suitable for rocky trails.

Trailers can also impact the balance and stability of your vehicle, especially on uneven terrain or when traversing obstacles. The extra weight behind the truck can affect your vehicle’s center of gravity, potentially making it less stable in some situations. The trailer can also pull your truck around or bounce it up and down when you drive over an obstacle.

Driving off-road with a trailer takes some getting used to. There is a learning curve.

There is a Smaller Living Space Than Other Types of RVs

Unlike an RV, a rooftop tent trailer doesn’t provide much in the way of indoor living quarters. In fact, the tent portion of the trailer is the only living area. It’s really only designated for sleeping purposes. While many rooftop tents are spacious enough to comfortably sleep two to four people, they are not large enough for standing or walking around in.

Additionally, with a rooftop tent trailer, you won’t have an onboard bathroom, which is a standard feature in most RVs. While some rooftop tent trailers come equipped with an outdoor shower, toilet facilities usually require a separate portable camping toilet or reliance on campground facilities.

To compare, an RV typically offers substantial interior space, including separate areas for sleeping, cooking, dining, and lounging. Most models include built-in bathroom facilities. There is much more living space in an RV.

It’s worth noting that there are off-road travel trailers available. These offer more living space and amenities than a rooftop tent trailer while still being robust enough for rugged terrain. These trailers usually come equipped with a bed, indoor seating area, kitchenette, and sometimes even a compact bathroom.

Finding a Campsite Can be Difficult

When planning an adventure with a rooftop tent trailer, an important consideration is the size of the campsite you’ll need. The footprint of a rooftop tent trailer setup is significantly larger than that of a regular vehicle or a simple ground tent.

With the tent unfolded and any additional features like an awning deployed, you’ll need ample space to comfortably set up camp. You need a relatively wide space.

The combined length of your truck and trailer is also greater than that of a standalone vehicle. You’ll require more space for parking and maneuvering when a trailer is attached.

The larger footprint of rooftop tent trailers can sometimes make finding a suitable campsite a bit more challenging, particularly in popular areas or densely wooded areas. Planning ahead and reserving a large enough campsite is always recommended when possible.

It’s also crucial to consider the impact of your camping setup on the natural environment. Rooftop tent trailers, with their larger footprint, have the potential to disrupt more ground area. To minimize your impact, follow the principle of ‘Leave No Trace’ camping.

Try to camp on durable surfaces. Set up your trailer on designated campgrounds or previously disturbed areas. Avoid camping on vegetation or soft ground that can be easily damaged. Also, be sure to dispose of waste properly. Pack out all trash, leftover food, and litter. If you’re using a portable toilet, dispose of waste in designated dump stations. You should also minimize campfire impact. Use established fire rings, fire pans, or portable fire pits. Keep fires small and always fully extinguish them before leaving the site. Also, be sure to respect wildlife. Keep your camping area clean and secure your food to avoid attracting animals.

You Need an Off-Road Vehicle That is Capable of Pulling a Rooftop Tent Trailer

You need a reliable, sturdy, and capable truck, especially when off-roading. While many vehicles have the towing capacity to pull a small, lightweight trailer like a rooftop tent trailer, not all are designed to handle the demands of towing. Particularly on challenging terrain.

Most off-road vehicles, such as 4×4 SUVs and pickup trucks, come equipped with adequate towing capacity and rugged capabilities to easily haul a rooftop tent trailer. They have the power, torque, and structural strength to handle both the weight of the trailer and the demands of off-road conditions. Plus, they often come with a built-in tow hitch or the option to fit one.

Among the popular choices for towing rooftop tent trailers are the Jeep Wrangler, the Ford F-150, and the Toyota 4Runner. These vehicles offer plenty of power for towing. They are also off-road capable. Smaller SUVs, such as the Subaru Outback can also effectively pull a rooftop tent trailer. Smaller vehicles offer a great balance between off-road ability, towing capacity, and fuel efficiency.

Jeep Wrangler driving off-road
A Jeep Wrangler is a popular choice for towing a rooftop tent trailer

If your vehicle isn’t designed for towing or off-road use, it might struggle to haul a rooftop tent trailer, especially on uneven terrain or steep inclines. Always ensure you check your vehicle’s towing capacity before hooking up a trailer, and consider any additional weight from gear and supplies in the trailer. Ideally, your vehicle’s towing capacity should be at least 10%-20% greater than the weight of your fully loaded off-road trailer.

While the majority of off-road vehicles are capable of towing a rooftop tent trailer, it’s important to consider your specific vehicle’s capabilities and limitations. Whether you’re tackling rocky trails or serene forest routes, selecting the right truck for your rooftop tent trailer will ensure a smooth and enjoyable adventure.

There are a few ways to increase the off-road performance of your truck. You could install a lift kit to increase the ground clearance. You could mount knobbier tires for extra traction. Another option is to fit additional protection gear, such as a skid plate.

It’s also a good idea to always pack recovery gear such as a shovel and traction mats, just in case you get stuck. You might also consider adding a winch to your truck.

Rooftop Tent Trailers Don’t Have a Bathroom

Unlike many RVs, rooftop tent trailers do not come equipped with a built-in bathroom. When camping with a rooftop tent trailer, there are three options for bathroom facilities.

First, you can use the bathrooms provided by the campground. Many campgrounds have toilets or at least outhouses. Not all camping locations offer bathrooms. For example, you won’t find bathrooms while you’re disperse camping. Most free campsites don’t have bathrooms.

Your second option is to bring a portable toilet or “portapotty”. Composting toilets are popular among campers. These portable units can be very compact and easy to clean. They do require some level of comfort with outdoor toilet use. For some privacy, you could use a pop-up privacy tent like this WolfWise Portable Pop Up Privacy Shower. One advantage of this setup is that it can be used in more remote camping locations.

Of course, you can also go in the outdoors. Bring a shovel to dig a cathole. Check out this guide to going to the bathroom in the woods for more info. This isn’t always legal. Check the local laws before you go to the bathroom outside.

It’s also important to note that nighttime bathroom trips with a rooftop tent can be a hassle. If nature calls during the night, you will need to navigate your way down the tent’s ladder. This could be challenging in the dark or in inclement weather. Once done, you’ll need to climb back up into the tent, which might disrupt your partner’s sleep. It’s also cold and uncomfortable to go outside during the night.

Pulling a Trailer Puts More Wear and Tear on Your Vehicle

It’s important to understand the additional strain and wear and tear a trailer can place on your vehicle. Regular towing can accelerate the aging process of some of your vehicle’s components. Your truck will require more frequent servicing. Towing can potentially impact the longevity of your truck.

For example, towing a trailer of any type puts an extra burden on your vehicle’s engine. The additional weight demands more power, which means your engine has to work harder. This may lead to increased wear on components such as belts, filters, and coolant. Over time, this could possibly shorten the lifespan of your engine.

Your vehicle’s braking system is another area that endures more wear and tear when towing a rooftop tent trailer. With the added weight of the trailer, the braking power needed increases. This puts extra stress on your brakes. Your brake pads may wear out faster, and the brake system overall will need to be serviced more regularly.

The vehicle’s transmission will also take on more strain when hauling a trailer. Towing can cause additional heat to build up. If you don’t tow properly, you can damage your transmission. This can require more frequent maintenance. Your transmission also won’t last as long. It may need repairs over time.

These factors add to the cost of ownership. You’ll need to pay for more repairs. A rooftop tent trailer is a very lightweight trailer. It won’t cause as much wear and tear as a heavy travel trailer but your vehicle will require some additional maintenance when you tow regularly.

Parking is More Difficult with a Trailer

When you tow a trailer of any kind, you can’t fit in a normal parking spot. The trailer makes your rig too long. Even though roof top tent trailers are small, you have to take up two parking spaces. Sometimes, it’s difficult or impossible to find two parking spaces together.

This makes it harder to be spontaneous. You can’t just pull into any parking lot. If it’s too small or too crowded, you might not be able to find parking. Sometimes you just want to pull over and grab a coffee stop for food. It’s annoying having to look for parking.

Considerations When Choosing a Rooftop Tent Trailer

Before buying a rooftop tent trailer, consider the following:

Where Do You Like to Camp?

Your camping setup can be heavily influenced by your preferred camping location. If you enjoy backcountry camping in secluded, off-grid locations then a rooftop tent trailer could be your perfect companion. An off-road capable truck and trailer allows you to reach much more remote locations.

However, if you’re more inclined towards the amenities and convenience offered by designated campgrounds, you might not need a rooftop tent trailer. You don’t need an off-road capable truck to access these sites. You could mount a rooftop tent on your car. Alternatively, you may be better off with a motorhome or travel trailer.

How Many People Do You Camp With?

When planning your camping trip, the number of people in your party plays an important role in determining the best camping setup for your needs. Specifically, if you’re considering purchasing a rooftop tent trailer. These setups are typically designed for small groups or solo adventurers.

Most rooftop tents comfortably accommodate two people. There are larger models available that can sleep up to four people. You will feel pretty cramped in a rooftop tent with 4 people.

The limited sleeping capacity doesn’t work if you regularly camp with larger groups. If you don’t have enough space in the tent, some members might have to resort to traditional ground tents. Alternatively, you’ll need an additional vehicle equipped with another rooftop tent.

For larger families or groups who enjoy camping together, an RV might be a more suitable option. RVs provide larger sleeping quarters and additional amenities like a kitchen and bathroom, which could make the camping experience more comfortable and convenient for everyone involved. A large travel trailer, fifth wheel, or motorhome can accommodate 8-10 people.

Which Amenities Do You Need?

One of the most important considerations before investing in a rooftop tent trailer is determining what amenities you need. Rooftop tent trailers don’t offer all the conveniences you’re used to if you usually camp in a motorhome or travel trailer.

The basic amenities often found in rooftop tent trailers include a comfortable sleeping space, a compact kitchenette, storage for your camping gear, and sometimes an awning for shade. That’s about it. The most basic trailers only offer some storage and a rack for a roofotp tent.

There are a few comforts that you won’t find in a standard rooftop tent trailer setup. For example, they do not come equipped with a bathroom.

When camping with a rooftop tent trailer, you’ll need to use campground facilities, bring a portable outdoor shower and portapotty, or in the most rustic settings, dig a cathole. This could be a major drawback. You won’t be taking hot showers in your trailer.

In addition, there is no indoor living space in a rooftop tent trailer. Unlike in a motorhome or a travel trailer, there’s no sheltered area to stand up, walk around, or hang out when the weather is inclement. If it rains, you’ll either be sitting under an awning or confined to the tent. This lack of indoor space can be a limitation, especially in adverse weather conditions or for those who prefer more room to move around.

If these amenities are vital to your camping experience, a traditional travel trailer might be a better choice for you. They often come equipped with bathrooms, living areas, and even heating or air conditioning, making them a more comfortable option. If you don’t need these comforts, a rooftop tent trailer might be the right option for you.

How Often Do You Camp?

Another important consideration before buying a rooftop tent trailer is how frequently you camp. If you’re an avid camper, a rooftop tent trailer can be an excellent option. Frequent campers find rooftop tent trailers to be extremely convenient. They allow you to haul more gear. They are easy to set up and break down. Everything is always ready to go. Rooftop tents are also much more comfortable than ground tents. These trailers also offer the mobility and flexibility needed for regular trips.

If you only venture outdoors a few times per year, the cost of a rooftop tent trailer might outweigh its benefits. Consider that the investment includes not only the initial purchase of the trailer but also ongoing expenses such as maintenance, insurance, and possible storage costs.

Instead, you might find that traditional camping gear or even renting a trailer or RV for those few times a year provides a better cost-benefit balance. Budget-friendly options like ground tents can be equally enjoyable and fulfill your needs for those occasional outdoor excursions.

Do You Actually Need a Trailer for Your Rooftop Tent?

The final significant consideration to make before purchasing a rooftop tent trailer is whether you actually need a trailer for your rooftop tent. Rooftop tents are designed to be mounted directly to the roof of a vehicle. There might not be a need for a trailer in all circumstances. There are a number of cases where a rooftop tent trailer may not make sense.

For example, if your camping trips are typically short, a rooftop tent mounted directly to your truck might suffice. With shorter trips, you’ll likely carry less gear and supplies, reducing the need for the extra storage that a trailer provides.

Second, towing a trailer isn’t for everyone. It requires a certain level of skill and comfort in maneuvering a larger, longer, and bulkier setup on the road. If you’re unfamiliar with or uncomfortable towing, it might be best to stick with a vehicle-mounted rooftop tent. This option is also beneficial for those who are not comfortable with the added maintenance, licensing, and registration that a trailer entails.

Next, your camping style plays a role in deciding whether a rooftop tent trailer is necessary. If you prefer to move around rather than establish a basecamp at a single location, a trailer might not be ideal. By mounting a rooftop tent on your truck, you retain the ability to move freely between locations without the hassle of disconnecting and reconnecting a trailer.

Also, if you don’t use your off-road truck as a daily driver, you might not require the detachment flexibility that a rooftop tent trailer offers. In such cases, you can keep your rooftop tent mounted on your truck without it being an inconvenience.

Lastly, keep in mind that some of the amenities often associated with rooftop tent trailers, such as a camp kitchen, can be added to your camping setup without a trailer. Many car campers build efficient systems for cooking and storage without the added expense and size of a trailer. For example, you could build a kitchen into the back of your truck. You could also simply set up an outdoor kitchen on a folding table.

Who Are Rooftop Tent Trailers For?

  • Adventure seekers: For those who love to explore off the beaten path, frequently venturing into remote areas where traditional RVs cannot easily go, the off-road capability of a rooftop tent trailer and 4×4 truck is a major advantage.

  • Frequent campers: You can leave all of your camping gear in the trailer so you’re ready to go at any time. This is incredibly convenient if you like to go camping often. You can spend more time enjoying the outdoors and less time packing and unpacking.

  • Small families or groups: A rooftop tent trailer is usually ideal for 1-4 people. It’s perfect for a solo traveler, couple, small family, or a group of friends who enjoy spending time outdoors together.

  • Minimalist campers: If you enjoy the simplicity of tent camping but want a little more comfort and convenience, a rooftop tent trailer could be a perfect choice. It provides a comfortable sleeping area off the ground and basic amenities, such as a kitchen, without going overboard. It’s not as extravagant as a motorhome or travel trailer. You still feel like you’re camping when you use a rooftop tent trailer.

  • Nature enthusiasts: If you love to wake up to a bird’s-eye view of the great outdoors, there’s nothing quite like a rooftop tent. Being elevated gives a unique perspective of the surrounding environment. A rooftop tent trailer also allows you to travel further into the backwoods than a standard RV.

  • Budget-conscious travelers: For those who want some of the comforts of an RV without the hefty price tag, a rooftop tent trailer is a great alternative. It offers many of the same amenities at a much lower price.

  • Multi-activity adventurers: If your camping trips often involve other outdoor activities like mountain biking, fishing, hunting, or kayaking, a rooftop tent trailer can offer extra storage space for all your gear without cramping your sleeping area. In addition to the trailer, you can also use your truck for storing gear.

  • Those who already own an off-road capable vehicle: If you already have a 4×4 truck, you can use it with a trailer and rooftop tent setup. This is much more economical than buying an RV.

Who Should Not Use a Rooftop Tent Trailer?

  • Large families or groups: Rooftop tent trailers typically have a limited sleeping capacity. Most models can accommodate a maximum of four people. If you’re camping with a large family or group, an RV or multiple ground tents might be a more practical solution.

  • Campers seeking luxury: If you’re expecting all the amenities of a full-sized RV, such as a bathroom, an indoor living area, or a full kitchen, a rooftop tent trailer might disappoint. While they provide more comfort than a ground tent, they’re still quite basic compared to an RV. You will have to rough it a little bit.

  • Those with mobility issues: Climbing up and down a ladder to access the tent can be challenging for some people, especially for those with physical limitations. Elderly campers or those with certain disabilities or mobility issues might find this inconvenient.

  • Infrequent campers: If you only camp a few times a year, the cost and upkeep of a rooftop tent trailer might not justify its use. Renting camping gear or opting for a simpler ground camping setup might be more cost-effective.

  • Urban campers and those who camp in established campgrounds: If you primarily stay in well-established campgrounds with good facilities, a rooftop tent trailer might offer more off-road capability and ruggedness than you need. A traditional RV or a simple tent setup might be more suitable. A pop-up camper might also be a good fit.

  • Small vehicle owners: If your car isn’t capable of towing a trailer, a rooftop tent trailer might not be the right choice.

  • Those who aren’t comfortable driving with a trailer: If you don’t have the skill or knowledge to drive and park with a trailer, using a rooftop tent trailer might be more hassle than it’s worth.

  • Those with Limited Storage Space: If you live in an apartment or have limited storage space at home, storing a rooftop tent trailer when not in use can be a challenge. Storage fees can add up.

FAQ About Roof Top Tent Trailers

In this section, I’ll answer a few frequently asked questions about roof top tent trailers.

Can A Roof Top Tent Go on a Trailer?

Yes. A rooftop tent can be mounted on a trailer. Rooftop tents are often mounted to off-road trailers or overlanding trailers. Both of these trailers are often designed for this purpose. They have a built-in roof rack.

These trailers are designed to handle the rough and unpredictable terrains that you might encounter during your off-road adventures. Their robust construction, high ground clearance, beefy suspension, and off-road tires make them the perfect base for your roof top tent.

When you’re mounting a roof top tent to a trailer, you’ll want to ensure the trailer is designed with a suitable rack system. This is where the tent will be attached. The racks should be sturdy and able to support the weight of the tent and its occupants.

Rooftop tents are heavy. They can weigh 100-200+ pounds. When they’re occupied, they can weigh 600+ pounds. It’s a lot of weight that the rack needs to support.

The rack needs to support the dynamic load of the tent alone while driving down the highway. It also needs to support the static load of the tent and everyone inside while you’re at your campsite.

Before buying a roof top tent trailer, check the static and dynamic weight limits of the rack. Make sure your roof top tent and occupants won’t go over those limits. Furthermore, the rack should provide a stable and level platform for the tent.

It’s important to note that not all trailers are designed to accommodate a roof top tent. When choosing a trailer for this purpose, look for models specifically designed for overlanding or off-roading. They’re built to withstand the additional weight and the dynamic loads that come from driving over uneven terrain.

How Much Weight Can Rooftop Tents Take?

A rooftop tent can handle between 400 to 1000 pounds, depending on the size and design. This weight includes not only the occupants but also the bedding and any additional items stored in the tent. It’s crucial to check the specifications of your particular rooftop tent model to know the exact weight limit.

As for rooftop tent trailers, the weight capacity depends on the trailer’s construction, the strength of the tent rack, and the trailer’s suspension system. Generally, off-road trailers can handle a significant amount of weight, but the exact figure will vary based on the design and make.

When choosing a roof top tent for your trailer, you’ll want to take this into consideration. A key component to consider is the roof top tent rack. It should have a robust construction to bear the tent’s weight, occupants, and gear. You need to consider both the static weight load and the dynamic weight load.

The rack’s static weight load, the amount of weight it can support when the vehicle is stationary, needs to be higher than the combined weight of the tent and its maximum capacity of occupants and gear.

The dynamic load is the amount of weight the rack can support when the vehicle is in motion. This is typically lower than the static load because of the forces exerted during driving.

Consideration should also be given to the roof top tent’s weight. While most tents weigh between 100-150 pounds, some high-end models or larger tents can weigh up to 200 pounds or more. It’s essential to account for this weight when considering the overall capacity of your vehicle or trailer’s roof rack.

Safety should always be a priority. Overloading a rooftop tent can lead to structural damage to the tent, rack, or vehicle, and can pose serious safety risks. Always ensure that your tent, its rack, and your trailer are capable of handling the weight you intend to place on them.

Can my Car Handle a Rooftop Tent?

Whether or not your car can handle a rooftop tent depends on the weight of the tent and occupants, the vehicle design, and where you’re going to mount the tent.

If you plan to mount the tent on your vehicle’s roof, you’ll need to consider your car’s roof load limit. This refers to how much weight your car can safely support on its roof. This limit varies widely among different vehicles.

You can usually find this information in your vehicle’s manual or on the manufacturer’s website. If you can’t find it, call up the dealership and ask. On average, the roof load limit of most cars ranges from 100 to 200 pounds. This refers to the dynamic load (the load when the vehicle is in motion)

Rooftop tents are considered ‘static’ loads because the bulk of the weight is added when the vehicle is stationary. Hence, most cars can handle a significantly higher weight in static conditions, often upwards of 600 pounds. Yet, you still need to ensure that your roof rack system can handle the weight of the rooftop tent itself plus the weight of its occupants.

If you’re considering a roof top tent trailer, your vehicle’s towing capacity comes into play. Every vehicle has a manufacturer-specified towing limit that should never be exceeded.

Smaller cars, like sedans, often have a towing capacity of around 1,000 to 1,500 pounds. Mid-sized SUVs and trucks can typically tow between 3,000 to 8,000 pounds. Full-sized SUVs and pickups usually have a towing capacity of around 10,000-14,000 pounds. Remember, this includes the weight of the trailer, the roof top tent, and all your gear. Ideally, you should keep your trailer well below this the towing capacity.

To determine if your vehicle can handle a roof top tent trailer, check your vehicle’s manual or the manufacturer’s website for its specific towing capacity. Pulling a trailer that weighs close to your vehicle’s maximum towing capacity may put unnecessary strain on your vehicle’s engine and brakes, and reduce its lifespan.

Can You Put a Roof Top Tent on a Cargo Trailer?

Yes, with a bit of modification, you can install a roof top tent on a cargo trailer. A small cargo trailer is an ideal platform for building a roof top tent trailer.

The process of converting a cargo trailer into a roof top tent trailer involves mounting a roof rack system on the trailer and then securing the roof top tent to the rack. It’s crucial to ensure that your rack system is strong enough to hold the tent and the occupants.

Cargo trailers are designed to handle substantial loads and are typically robust enough to support a roof top tent. The exact weight a small cargo trailer can handle will depend on its specific size and build. Many can handle loads of up to 1,500 to 3,500 pounds. This is more than enough for a roof top tent, which typically weighs a maximum of around 900 pounds with occupants inside.

In addition to providing a place for your roof top tent, a cargo trailer also offers ample storage space for all your camping gear.

A rooftop tent on an SUV

My Experience With Roof Top Tent Trailers

I got into off-road camping a few years ago. I enjoy exploring the backroads and finding free campsites. My goal was to have the ability to set up a base camp and then go out and explore during the day. I also wanted to have the ability to carry more supplies. I also wanted a kitchen. A roof top tent trailer seemed like the perfect option.

I enjoy some aspects of roof top tent trailers but there are some things I don’t like about them. I do really enjoy using a roof top tent. It’s far more comfortable and convenient than a ground tent. Having an outdoor kitchen with a sink is also really nice. It makes cooking and cleaning much more pleasant.

Having to tow a trailer is annoying. I always have to think about where the trailer is going. It makes parking more difficult. I also don’t really like the additional cost and hassle of licensing, registration, and insurance for such a small trailer.

Overall, I like roof top tent trailers. I will probably upgrade to an off-road RV at some point. I think a 4×4 camper van or a 4×4 pickup truck with a small camper would be ideal for me.

Final Thoughts About Roof Top Tent Trailers

Rooftop tent trailers can add some comfort and convenience to your overlanding or backwoods camping trips. The elevated sleeping platform adds comfort. Having a detachable basecamp and outdoor amenities, including a kitchen, is extremely convenient.

There are some drawbacks to consider before you buy a rooftop tent trailer. Factors like reduced vehicle maneuverability, reduced fuel efficiency, and the additional costs of maintenance, storage, and insurance need to be considered. Also, the lack of a spacious indoor living area and bathroom facilities might not suit everyone’s camping needs.

A rooftop tent trailer could be an excellent choice if you’re an avid camper who regularly ventures off-road. If you don’t plan to drive off-road, you’re better off with another type of RV such as a motorhome, travel trailer, or truck camper. Roof top tent trailers also aren’t ideal for those who camp infrequently, prefer larger group outings, or need more luxury features.

Ultimately, the right camping gear depends on your personal preferences, your vehicle’s capabilities, and your budget. Whichever camping setup you choose, I hope this guide has helped you in making your decision.

Do you use a roof top tent trailer? Share your experience in the comments below!

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