Hardshell Rooftop Tents Vs. Softshell Rooftop Tents

Are you ready to make your purchase on a roof top tent? While we know we’ve got you covered, a common question many folks have is this: What are the benefits of a hard shell roof top tent vs. a soft shell roof top tent? Let’s weigh the options.

Hard shell roof top tents:

What do we prefer about this option?


Hard shell roof top tents are a relatively newer and improved upon product than their soft shell roof top tent counterparts. One of the biggest draws to the hard shell model is the aerodynamic capability when traveling. Soft shell roof top tents don’t collapse completely flat, which provides less stability among long, high-speed road trips and tight overlanding routes. Our Roofnest models are designed with an aerodynamic shape that allows you to drive without worry of losing your tent, hindering your gas mileage, or being slowed down on the road to your destination.

Living Space

Hard shell roof top tents tend to raise completely up, almost always allowing four entirely vertical walls. In comparison, many soft shell roof top tents have sloped walls inside the sleeping area due to the shape and design. Inside a hard shell roof top tent, every inch of livable space is optimized to provide as much room inside as possible for any sized camper to be able to sleep comfortably.

Setup and Takedown

Hard shell roof top tents provide a large advantage in the ease of setup and takedown. With our models specifically, its as simple as four clasps and two handles for the actual set-up and take-down. The built-in gas struts inside our tents make it incredibly easy to simply push up on the tent to open it, and a light pull down to close. One person is able to do it alone with ease and in minutes.

Soft shell roof top tents:

What do they offer in comparison?


Soft shell roof top tents are typically smaller in size for actual transport, but can open up and allow for extra quarters to be attached and essentially double in size. With this feature and depending on the specific model, you can often fit multiple people in the tent with ample room to move around.

Setup and Takedown

While they may be larger in living space size, this feature also adds some extra work for setup and takedown. These tents often require complex and multiple folds that can be somewhat difficult to get back into their outer casing for travel.  That being said, these tents do typically require less roof area when actually traveling. Additionally, if a soft shell roof top tent has an extended living quarter it may require stakes to hold it up off the side of the vehicle, which creates added steps for setup and takedown as well.

Living Space

As we mentioned above, the soft shell model typically allows more space for living and can accommodate for more people. An added feature to these tents is the small awning created by the landing that is suspended off the side of the vehicle. This covering can provide a small shaded place for lounging or setting up a prep area for food and cooking cleanup away from the elements.

The Verdict

Both types of rooftop tents provide a comfortable way to camp off the ground with different attractive features. Whether you value more living space or a certain amount of roof space to give on your vehicle, there is an option for you.  However, when it comes to versatility and user-friendliness, we can’t help but think Hard shell roof top tents are definitely the way to go. In minutes you can be set up or on the move, have the most utilized sleeping space, and are ready to hit the road without any hindered gas mileage or worry. So whatever your draw may be, let’s get out there and enjoy the outdoors.

Hard Shell Roof Top Tents

Hard shell Roof Top Tents are a whole new way to go car camping. Although they’ve been around for some time, they are really breaking onto the camping scene now in a big way. In 2019, you’ll likely start seeing them everywhere you go (if you don’t already). They are like a car-top storage box but they pop up to form an enclosed, protected, comfortable bedroom.

If you’re thinking about getting into the roof top tent game or you’re considering upgrading from a different kind of vehicle tent, one thing you’ll want to consider is whether to get a Hard Shell Roof Top Tent (HS RTT) or a Soft Shell Roof Top Tent (SS RTT). Here are some factors you might consider while making this decision:

Soft Shell Roof Top Tents:


  • Because they fold out from the footprint on your roof they often have more floor area when deployed and can sleep more people. If you have a family of four, this can be a critical PRO.
  • When deployed there is space underneath the extended tent which can provide shade and protection (the caveat is that if you have a smaller car this becomes a CON because the space become unusable and just makes it harder to get in your car if you need anything).


  • Significantly taller footprint on top of your car both in weight and aerodynamics. Most soft shell Roof Top Tents (SS RTTs) have very tall and very blocky when closed and affect gas mileage, road noise, and appearance much much more than hard shell Roof Top Tents (HS RTTs).
  • Significantly longer setup and take-down time. Because SS RTTs require a protective cover, must be folder out, and require tent poles they become much harder to setup and exponentially harder to take down (especially in any kind of bad weather – rain, wind especially, and snow).
  • Because the entire SS RTT is made from fabric they are not as waterproof as a Roofnest which made from plastic and/or fiberglass.
  • Noisier in the wind. SS RTTs have a lot more fabric close to a lot more poles and so the inevitable flapping occurs despite best efforts to secure everything.

Hard Shell Roof Top Tents


  • Aerodynamic and attractive shape. Saves you gas because on most cars the HS RTT sits within the slipstream of your car’s design so that, in many cases, they do not affect gas mileage at all.
  • Room inside to store bedding while the tent is closed.
  • Most take less than 30 seconds to set up – that’s right – LESS THAN 30 SECONDS. Just unlatch the Roofnest’s buckles and push up… you’re done. Closing the tent is only a bit more difficult – pull each side down and stuff the tent material between the shells, latch the buckles and away you go.
  • More weatherproof – that impermeable top combined with the taught, vertical tent walls make the tent virtually weatherproof and very quiet in the wind.
  • More comfortable. While some soft shell Roof Top Tents have mattress as thick as Roofnest’s 3 inch mattress, most do not because the mattress has to fold over on itself to close the tent. This is a big deal if you like sleeping in a comfortable tent!


  • Really the only con is the sleeping area size – this is the only advantage the SS RTTs have over hard shell roof top tents like the Roofnest. If you’re by yourself, with a friend, or have a couple and a small child then Roofnest’s hard shell roof top tent is going to be the right size.