One of the first choices people have to make when buying a roof tent is which type to get; a soft shell or a hard shell? We get this question asked to us all the time, so we thought we'd try and summarise the main strengths and weaknesses of both into one easy to read article!
Soft Shell Roof Top Tent Advantages:
Soft top roof tents tend to be cheaper than their hard shell counterparts by a fair margin. For a soft shell design you’ll be looking at paying between £850 - £2,000 ($900 - $2,500 or €900 - €2,200) depending on the quality and size. Whereas for a hard shell version it will cost you between £1,600 - £3,300 ($1,850 - $4,000 or €1,750 - €3,500).
2. Sky Views
Some soft top roof tents have a zippable window on the roof, allowing you to have sky or star views at night. Whereas the design of hard shell roof top tents restricts them from having this feature.
3. Larger Sizes
The soft shell designs come in both small and larger sizes such as 4 or 5 man tents, so they’re more suitable for those with larger families. Hard shell roof tents in contrast are restricted in how large they can be because of their design becoming too large and heavy when they get to a certain size.
Soft shell roof tents tend to be lighter, which makes them easier to lift on your car. Some hard shell versions aren’t as heavy and bulky as others though. Our RoofBunk hard shell roof tent for example is one of the lightest on the market for its size, which helps to reduce the lifting issue. It is still heavier than the vast majority of soft shells though, so it's definitely something to keep in mind!
Hard Shell Roof Top Tent Advantages:
1. Stronger Structure
Hard shell roof top tents have a stronger, more stable structure to them making them handle storms better than their soft shell counterparts. This is why they tend to have higher wind ratings as their structure means they don’t move around as much.
Hard shell tents are quieter in strong stormy winds because of there being less rustling of the canvas due to their solid design. Hard shell roof designs that are insulated on the inside of the roof also make rain less noisy, as it absorbs the sound of the droplets coming down better too. This is especially helpful when you’re trying to sleep in it at night during less than ideal weather conditions!
They’re warmer due to losing heat slower through the ABS/fibreglass hard shell roof top and some models are insulated at the roof too, which can be a particular advantage when camping on cold, wet and windy nights!
4. Faster To Unpack/Pack Up
It’s faster and easier to unpack/pack up hard shell roof tents, so can move onto your next destination straight away without having to spend the time and effort unpacking and packing it up each time. This is especially useful if you’re expecting to be moving around a lot during your travels or are planning on doing activities such as driving to walking routes or restaurants/pubs regularly. As a reference, hard shell roof tents take around 30 seconds to set up and 1 minute to put away, compared to it taking more like 5 minutes for soft top roof tents each time, which can add up if you’re moving around a lot on your trips as we said earlier.
5. More Aerodynamic
The more aerodynamic design of hard shell roof top tents when down means they’re more fuel efficient compared to a soft shell tent, even if the soft shells are slightly lighter. The aerodynamic design also makes them quieter when driving due to the shell not whistling in the wind as much as with soft shell models.
6. Pack Tent Down With Bedding Inside
You can pack down hard shell versions with lots of bedding still inside, unlike some soft shell designs that need to fold in on themselves when putting the tent down. This means with some soft top models you have the inconvenience of either taking your bedding out each time or using a thinner, less comfortable mattress to sleep on in order to make extra space!
7. Easier To Clean
If you’re planning on using your roof tent to go overlanding in the mountains or you're just a particularly messy camper, then you’ll find that cleaning hard shell roof top tents is way faster and easier than soft shells. This is because the dirt generally just comes off the shell material on top easier and due to there not being as many difficult areas to reach on the fabric of hard shells designs.
8. Less Likely To Leak
You can often get problems with the roof leaking because of pooling in soft shell versions. This is basically when rain water gathers or pools in certain areas of the tent during storms, it can eventually seep through the material. This doesn't happen with hard shell tents though because of the rain water being unable to soak through the ABS/fibreglass shell and it simply running off the vertical sides.
Overall we would say that if you have a large family that you’ll be camping with, then you’re best off picking a soft top roof tent despite their drawbacks compared to hard shell designs. However, if there’s only 2 or 3 of you and you expect to be driving to places regularly on your trip, then getting a hard shell roof top tent will probably be the best option for you, as the time and effort you save on packing and unpacking it each time should be worth the extra money!
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