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 also 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 hard shell roof top tents’ design 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 both easier to lift and more fuel efficient as there isn’t as much weight on the roof of your car. However the less aerodynamic design of soft shells compared to the hard shell roof top tents does mostly cancel the fuel efficiency advantage out. Plus some hard shell versions aren’t as heavy and bulky as others. Our RoofBunk hard shell roof tent for example is one of the lightest on the market for its size, therefore helping to solve the lifting issue.
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 on to 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 regularly. As a reference, hard shell roof tents take around 30 seconds to set up and put away compared to it taking more like 10 minutes for soft top roof tents each time, which can add up if you’re moving around a lot on your trips as 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 of the same or similar weight, but as we’ve mentioned earlier most of the soft shell roof tents are lighter, so they pretty much cancel each other out for this. The hard shell design does make them quieter when driving though due to the canvas not flapping around in the wind like with soft shell models.
6. Pack Tent Down With Mattress Inside
You can pack down hard shell versions with a thick mattress still inside, unlike some soft shell designs that often 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 mattress out each time or using a thinner, less comfortable mattress to sleep on.
7. Easier To Clean
If you’re planning on using your roof tent to go overlanding in the mountains or are 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 of a combination of dirt generally just coming off the shell material on top easily and the fact that there aren't many difficult areas to get to on the fabric of hard shells due to the way they’re designed.
8. Less Likely To Leak
You can often get problems with the roof leaking because of pooling in soft shell versions, which you don't get with hard shell car roof tents. This is basically when rain water gathers or pools in certain areas of the tent during storms, leading to it eventually seeping through the material and getting you wet! This doesn't happen with hard shell tents though because of the rain water being unable to soak through the plastic 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 will be worth the extra money!
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