How to choose your roof tent?

How to choose your roof tent?

Does your thirst for freedom and adventure regularly make you want to hit the road and camp wherever your car takes you?
We guide you to help you choose the best roof tent for your needs, to give your nature getaways another dimension.

The roof tent is a lot more than just nice photos on Instagram or Pinterest:
it’s the freedom to camp (almost) anywhere you want, with a view that the finest hotels will envy. 
The good news is that this type of tent has become more accessible in recent times, with more and more brands and models. 
The downside is that there is so much choice that it's not always easy to find the right tent for you.
We'll help you to choose the right roof tent for your needs at the right price!

How to choose your roof tent?

1. What is the point of a roof tent to go camping?

Let's start at the beginning: why is a roof tent a great way to camp, no matter what type of trip or nature getaway you are planning?
If you are already convinced, go directly to point 2 if you have questions about your vehicle, or directly to point 3 if you want to know the criteria for selecting a roof tent!

How to choose your roof tent?

Why camp on your car rather than the ground?

One of the first advantages of going high up is to avoid all the insects and other creepy-crawlies that sometimes keep us company in a traditional tent. Or any other animal in general for that matter (hello campers who have been woken up by foxes, raccoons or even sometimes horses). Nothing very dangerous in our European regions... but it can become useful in countries with less "friendly" fauna.

Sleeping on high ground also avoids minor flooding on days of heavy rain.
Yes, the days when we dug our little trenches around the tents on the campsites are long gone. The soil must remain intact for the next ones (and in the end, that's good).
If you still remember that rock that prevented you from sleeping well last summer (the "camping" version of the story of the Princess and the Pea, in short), the advantage of sleeping on your roof is that you will sleep on a (really) flat floor.

Have you already mumbled "Oh, how low the earth is!" when getting up from your tent?
You don't think about it enough, but sleeping in a roof tent makes it easier to get up! Indeed, even though age can sometimes accentuate the effects of gravity on our bodies, with a roof tent, the height and the ladder lets you have a kind of bed edge to help the transition from lying down to standing up.

And for those who are still nurturing their inner child, sleeping in a roof tent is like the adult version of having the top bunk (or finally having your own "tree house").
If this last argument (in modelling clay) did not convince you, I invite you to consult our article to help you choose your tent (that’s all).

How to choose your roof tent?

The roof tent, an alternative to van life?

One of the advantages put forward by roof-tent campers is the freedom to camp wherever you want, or nearly so, with the best view. A similar advantage to van life, without having to fit out the interior of your van or truck, or simply without having to reinvest in a new vehicle. Even if the purchase price of a roof tent is not negligible, it’s nothing like the purchase or fitting out of a van, its maintenance and sometimes the parking space to be rented when you don't take it on holiday.

How to choose your roof tent?

Can you park and go camping with a roof tent?

Want to camp wherever you want when you want, does that sound too good? The roof tent opens up many new horizons to you, with few constraints. Simply put, you can open your roof tent where you park and spend the night, as long as no part of your tent is on the ground. However, even if there is no national or international legislation in place, this doesn’t mean that everything is allowed! There are a few exceptions such as: classified areas, the surroundings of historic sites or the seaside, and of course private property. You should look into it a little in advance.
To find out more, you can read our article on wild camping
The advantage of a roof tent is that you can go on the road and cross borders with your house on your back. You will need to find out about the regulations in each country. 
Oh yes! The adventure sometimes has a small organisational cost upstream, which will save you a financial cost later (what are a few minutes of online research compared to a fine in another language or even another currency?).

2. Which vehicle is best for a roof tent?

In general, you buy your roof tent after your vehicle, not the other way around. 
Fortunately, all roof tents are universal... as long as you have a roof rack!

Do you have to have a van, a truck or a 4x4 to install a roof tent?

No! Although it’s not possible to fit a roof tent to a convertible two-wheeler, most vehicles, from city cars to 4x4s and trucks to vans, will be able to support a roof tent and its occupants. However, be careful if your vehicle is already high: with the roof tent (even when folded), you risk changing categories when passing the motorway tolls or you may no longer have access to all car parks.

How to choose your roof tent?

Do you need a roof rack for installation?

This depends on your vehicle and tent model.
For example, at Quechua our inflatable roof tent for vans doesn’t need a roof rack. But it’s an exception! Our design teams wanted to create this model for vans that could not install a roof rack because of height and access issues. Our rigid roof tents for cars mount on a roof rack.

Not all standard roof racks are equal. Some roof racks, for example, are more decorative than utilitarian (the famous SUV look that has invaded our cities). Other roof racks will support the weight of your luggage but not a tent and its occupants. Check the weight of your current roof bars and change them if necessary. However, you may need to budget for stronger roof racks (although this will still be cheaper than buying a motorhome...).

For example, the Quechua MH500 2-person roof tent is compatible with approved roof racks with a minimum weight of 75 kg per bar and an effective width of 78 cm or more.

How to choose your roof tent?

3. What are the criteria for choosing a roof tent?

It's time to get to the heart of the matter: I’ve identified the criteria for selecting the roof tent of your dreams.
We're going to talk numbers, measurements, comfort and weather.
Let's get started!

How to choose your roof tent?

Depending on your vehicle and the weight it can support

As roof tents are universal, if you have a roof rack, you have already passed the first criteria (except for the van roof tent mentioned above... to be continued)! Check the data sheet of the roof tent for the minimum number of kilos that each roof rack bar should be able to support, and compare it with your vehicle.
For example, the Quechua MH500 2-person roof tent, with its cover dimensions of 46 x 123 x 35 cm and a total weight of 52 kg (tent 45 kg + ladder 7 kg), can be fitted to any vehicle that can be equipped with two roof rack bars that can support a minimum of 75 kg.
In any case, we advise you to refer to the manufacturer's logbook of your vehicle, where the maximum load supported is specified. We also advise against using a roof tent with glass roofs, as this reduces the mechanical strength of the roof.

NB: don't neglect the size of the closed tent and its design (rigid shell, aerodynamics) which will impact on your fuel consumption.

How to choose your roof tent?

Depending on the number of campers: 2, 4 or 5/6 people

As with a ground tent, there are several sizes of roof tents depending on the number of "beds". With roof tents generally sleeping from 2 to 5/6 people, you will normally have enough choice for a duo or a small tribe. Beware, however, that roof tents that claim to have a large number of beds are often based on a very small bed of 50 cm or less per person! If you like to have some space between you and your tent mate, look at the measurements of the tent instead.

In addition, for family-style roof tents, the size of the campers does count: generally count either 3 adults or 2 adults and 3 kids (teenagers of course fall into the "adult category", the important thing being size and weight). Also consider the interior volume (i.e. "living space").

The advantage of a roof tent used with a van or truck is that it lets you increase your sleeping capacity, with some campers inside the vehicle and others in the roof tent.

How to choose your roof tent?

Depending on the comfort level of the roof tent mattress

Each roof tent comes with a built-in mattress, which matches the exact measurements of the tent. Be sure to check the thickness, but more importantly the density of the mattress to see how comfortable it is. Some models even have an under-mattress to minimise condensation. When it comes to bedding (and investment products in general), the best thing to do is to try and test the models on display.

How to choose your roof tent?

Depending on the material and technical nature of the tent fabric

The material of the fabric will affect the quality of the tent and therefore its durability, but not only that! For example, a 100% synthetic fabric will be lighter than a cotton fabric. On the other hand, cotton and polycotton are better against UV rays! They are also more breathable but they are heavier and less compact.

Look for a tent that has been laboratory tested in heavy rain so that you are not surprised by a water leak during your night: look for the mention of a water column test expressed in Schmerbers. This measure of waterproofing is defined in two standards: EN 208111 and ISO 81.

Flysheets are also preferable, as they help the tent’s ventilation. 
By the way, if you're going camping in the summer and heat and waking up at the crack of dawn is not part of your vision of the ideal getaway, Quechua has designed the Fresh & Black fabric which promises 99% darkness even in the middle of the day, and also helps reduce the heat inside the tent. We have even patented it!

The little bonus: Some roof tents have a "window" so that, in dry weather and depending on the temperature, you can sleep "under the stars" in maximum comfort.
What more could you ask for?

How to choose your roof tent?

Depending on the pitch type and tent structure: inflatable or rigid

The good news about the roof tent is that it's usually the setting up on the roof that's the most laborious. After that, you can often just "unfold" it and it will take on its shape in no time, like a "pop-up" book.

For tents that consist of a shell that opens (like an oyster), without protruding from the vehicle, pitching and disassembly will be quick and easy. Open, they offer a rather small (or "very cosy", depending on your point of view) living space.

"Portfolio" tents are not free-standing. This means that the top of the tent is supported by the ladder. The ladder must therefore be securely locked. Otherwise, the platform will lean "into the void" and will not support any load. However, the ladder lock is essential for all types of roof tents that have one!

There are also roof tents with an inflatable structure, such as the MH900 Fresh & Black 2-person inflatable roof tent which inflates in 20 seconds. However, the ladder still needs to be secured.

The advantage of inflatable roof tents: more compact, they leave space to carry the rest of your sports equipment on the roof of your car, such as a surfboard or kayak. What's more, they are better suited to small vehicles.

How to choose your roof tent?

Depending on the roof tent accessories and extensions available

A roof tent is mainly used for sleeping. Small storage compartments are therefore all the more welcome to have everything you need at hand! The tent entrance and exit is essentially outside so if you forget something in your vehicle, you will have to go outside (in the dark, in the rain, etc.) to get it back. So look for roof tent models with at least one shoe pocket.

If you want to add comfort and have your own "terrace" that connects to your car, opt for a roof tent model that can be extended. It's like the camping equivalent of the famous "spare room". For example, the Quechua connected awning compatible with the MH500 roof tent protects you from the heat and rain when you go up the ladder, or simply sit on the ground and enjoy a drink of your choice.

4/ Roof tent: is it better to buy or rent?

Not sure if you'll be using your roof tent regularly?
Or are you on a tight budget but still want to go on an adventure? The solution to combining budget and fun might be to rent your roof tent!

How to choose your roof tent?

How much should you pay for a good roof tent?

The purchase price of a roof tent is not insignificant, although it’s justified. As a guide, prices can vary from a few hundred euros to over 4,000 euros. 
The price will depend on the size of the tent, its materials, where it’s made, etc.
For rental, you can find small roof tents from as little as €20-25 per day. A good solution to try and see if you want to make it a habit and invest in the longer term! Or rent from time to time, or as you feel like it.

Roof tent rental at Decathlon

At Decathlon, we try to make sport accessible, and camping is no exception! Go on an adventure without emptying your bank account (not everyone wants to do a remake of the film "Into the Wild"), we offer you the possibility of hiring your mountain sports equipment
As well as lightening your budget, this will also save you the headache of finding somewhere to store it all!

Now you know more about choosing the right roof tent for your needs, whether it's for regular getaways or an occasional micro-adventure, thanks to rental.

See more information 

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How to choose your roof tent?


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