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Hard shell vs Soft shell Rooftop Tents

Hard shell vs Soft shell Rooftop Tents

(Freespirit Recreation Odyssey Series Hard Top Tent (Black Top))

One of the hardest choices you may face when going to pick a Rooftop Tent for your Tacoma is deciding between a hard top and a soft top tent (hard shell vs soft shell). Although both offer the same relative concept of a rooftop tent, each has certain strengths and advantages.  In this article we will try to help make that decision a little easier for you. 

Main Differences: 

Aside from the obvious, hard shell tents have a hard top shell that protect it from the elements, and soft shell tents have just usually a material cover that is stretched over the tent to protect it from the elements... There are other major differences between these 2 types of tents. 



Mounting Space:

Hard top tents sometimes give you the ability to mount gear on top of the tent itself.  This could be something like a Roam case or a set of Maxtrax for example.  The design of most hard top tents lets them sit flat which means you have more mounting space on your roof rack. Soft top tents on the other hand because of their design do not have extra mounting surfaces because the fabric or material on top would not create a sound or mountable surface.   This means if you use a soft top tent it will have to be the only thing you want to mount on that surface of your roof rack. 



Another notable difference is typically speaking soft shell roof top tents are larger in size because they typically fold outward or expand, while hard top tents tend to be slightly smaller since they usually expand straight upward using the hard shell as a roof. 


Ease of set up:

For the most part, hard shell tents tend to be easier or faster to set up.  Usually they are spring loaded or they pop quite a bit faster than soft shell tents that usually need to be unfolded. 



Hard top tents also tend to be more expensive than soft top tents. 


Water Resistance:

Hard top tents tend to be slightly more water or element resistant, because the hard top acts like a shell.  Although you really shouldn’t ever take a roof tent through ANY automatic car wash (ever), A hard top tent would perform much better in this scenario.  Unfortunately roof tents can trap moisture and grow mold if they get wet or are not kept dry.  This is very rare and only happens with severe misuse, however it is a lot harder to have this issue with a hard top tent.  Impacts from things like rocks, trees etc, also are less likely to damage the roof tent if it has a hard shell, although that is a very specific scenario.


Looks and size when collapsed:

Many of you may not care as much about this part, however for a lot of people this is important, and the sleek size and look of hard top tents like the new ROAM Desperado is really hard to beat.  Many people prefer the look of hard top tents simply because they are more low profile and have those nice sharp edges and hard lines.



These 2 types of tents vary in these areas as well as in the material of the shell:

  • Size
  • Ease of set up
  • Price
  • Water resistance 
  • Mounting space 
  • Appearance


Which One should you Choose?


So now that we have covered the main differences it’s time to figure out which one might be best for you? The answer really boils down to what you prefer, and your situation. If you want a big tent that can fit you and your family or friends, then a soft top tent like the Roam Vagabond is right for you! 

If you prefer simplicity, speed or easy set up and take down then hard top tents like the free spirit odyssey or the Roam Desperado are definitely your move! 

If you are on a budget and want the best bang for your buck roof tent, soft top tents will absolutely not disappoint you and are definitely the move!

So there you have it! We have a lot of experience selling, using and reviewing these tents and just recently returned from a multi day trip testing out the new Roam Desperado Hard Top tent With ROAM themselves and we have A LOT of good things to say about the tent so if you’re interested be sure to follow us on Instagram and youtube where we will be publishing some of our thoughts on the tent, as well as a new article review coming soon! 

Ultimately what it all comes down to is what you want and prefer in a rooftop tent.  We only inventory tents that we like or trust and would recommend to our friends and family. So you have our stamp of approval on the soft shell and hard shell tents on our site! 

Hopefully this was helpful, and we'd love to hear your feedback!  Thank you for stopping by and be sure to check out our storefront where we stock and sell everything Toyota Tacoma!


Shop Rooftop Tents Here


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