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How to buy the best rooftop tent for your ute

Experience the great outdoors in a top-quality rooftop tent. (image credit: Ironman 4x4)

Choosing your camping accommodation can be daunting. There’s a huge variety of swags – single and double – as well as tents – single, multi-person, family – but have you ever considered throwing a rooftop tent on your ute? (Provided your ute has a canopy or similar platform on which the tent can be seated, of course.) 

A rooftop tent is quick and easy to set up at camp and pack down – or at least it should be with gas-strut-assisted opening and closing – and that’s a huge bonus in terms of convenience and time spent establishing your sleeping quarters. It should also stow away neatly so it’s not a real burden to transport, beyond the extra-weight factor, which you can work around anyway.

A rooftop tent removes any need to lug around swags or tents on top or inside of your vehicle, thus leaving valuable cargo space for myriad other things. You can also leave pillows and sleeping bags in it while travelling.

Also of positive note is the fact that, by its very nature, a rooftop tent, being up high, keeps its residents safe from any wildlife that might have otherwise decided to investigate your lodgings while you’re sleeping.

For our tips on how to track down the best rooftop tent for your ute – or whatever you drive, really – read on.

What is a rooftop tent?

Do your research and buy a rooftop tent, built with high-quality materials. (image credit: ARB) Do your research and buy a rooftop tent, built with high-quality materials. (image credit: ARB)

In basic terms, a rooftop tent is a temporary structure that is attached to your vehicle’s roof-rack or roof-mounted platform and is transportable while closed (and latched shut securely) and then used as an elevated sleeping quarters when the vehicle is stationary. 

For set-up, its roof generally extends straight upwards – like a pop-top camper-trailer or caravan – or it opens diagonally, as an Alu-Cab rooftop tent does.

The ever-growing appeal of rooftop tents is largely due to their undeniable convenience: arrive at camp, find a level spot, set up your rooftop tent in minutes and – bingo! – you’re ready for bed.

There are plenty of options available, with seemingly something for everyone, ranging from budget-friendly soft set-ups through to weather-proof hard tops. Some rooftop tents are even able to be lifted and lowered via remote control.

Note: Before you get stuck into your search for a rooftop tent there are a few other mods you might want to invest in – such as a lift kit, for instance – but don't worry, give this yarn (below) a read and that'll put you on the right track.

As with any products, the materials used vary greatly and remember that if something seems too good to be true at the price, then it definitely is. Opt for high-quality Australian-made canvas/cotton/polycotton canvas (from 280gsm – grams per square metre – is a good measure), as well as a high-density foam mattress, YKK zips, stainless-steel hinges, and heavy-duty aluminium tracking and mounting hardware.

Also ensure your potential purchase has double-stitched, water-proofed seams, weather-proofing with internal tape, UV Stable and UPF 50+-rated fabric, corrosion-resistant hardware, a sturdy frame, internal storage, fire-resistant nylon insert screens, as well as a tough aluminium ladder with big steps for ease of entry and exit.

Bonus inclusions are LED interior lighting and a slide-out gear shelf.

Avoid getting stuck in a “false economy” scenario in which you buy something very cheap because it seems like a bargain but then, because the cheaper product breaks or reveals itself to be faulty in one or more ways, you have to replace it with a more expensive product anyway.

Doing you research and paying as much as your budget allows also ensures that you’ll avoid any misery brought about by suffering through sleepless nights in a leaking tent, being forced to sleep on an uncomfortable mattress, or having to deal with fading, torn, or broken materials.

A well-designed and -constructed rooftop tent will generally have windows – for plenty of ventilation – as well as a door/main opening and a ladder.

Remember: roof-top tents – or roof-racks, boat-loaders etc – require a reinforced ute canopy roof or similar. Some canopies are rated to carry 100kg up top but that’s only with an approved roof-rack/bar system. Rooftop tents can weigh upwards of 55kg.

Installing a rooftop tent impacts your ute’s GVM (gross vehicle mass) and may affect its steering, handling and towing ability. It may also adversely affect fuel consumption, depending on what you’ve been carrying around prior to this. A rooftop tent, no matter how light, is still extra weight on your vehicle, so take that into account when choosing one and also think about how it will affect how much you’ll be able to pack into your ute – including people, pets, tools and equipment.

Avoid throwing too much – if anything – on top of your rooftop tent, when it’s closed and latched for travel, unless it and the canopy have been specifically reinforced to cop the extra weight. 

Different types of rooftop tents

Alu-Cab rooftop tents are well regarded for their design and build quality. (image credit: Ironman 4x4) Alu-Cab rooftop tents are well regarded for their design and build quality. (image credit: Ironman 4x4)

The right rooftop for your ute depends largely on your style of camping and how many people you actually have to house in the tent and its additional structures while camping.

Some rooftop tents are minimalist style – basically the tent and fly and that’s about it – while others have an optional room/annex/verandah/awning and the capacity to sleep a few other people in that area, which may be covered but on the ground beside the vehicle, or that space can be used as a dining room.

There are cheap-as-chips second-hand, DIY, and ready-made off-the-shelf examples available, through to high-end rooftop tents that cost a lot more.

Australian companies are responsible for making some of the world’s most popular rooftop tents because we Aussies demand a lot of toughness and versatility from our gear.

In today’s aftermarket there’s likely a rooftop tent to suit every lifestyle, vehicle and budget. There are variations to suit every kind of ute and tub or a tray canopy.

The basic structure and operation of a rooftop tent is not markedly different between models – each has a soft or hard roof, soft walls, and a door and windows – but they may differ hugely in terms of the quality of materials and added features, such as awnings, lighting and storage.

How much does a rooftop tent cost?

Inside an Alu-Cab Generation 3 Expedition rooftop tent. (image credit: Ironman 4x4) Inside an Alu-Cab Generation 3 Expedition rooftop tent. (image credit: Ironman 4x4)

Rooftop tents are priced from about $500 upwards. A top-quality rooftop tent will set you back from $1295 (for an Ironman 4x4 rooftop tent), through to more than $5500 for a remote-controlled, 12V motor-operated Ascent Pro from Backtrax Australia, or an Alu-Cab Generation 3 Expedition rooftop tent.

Out camping — where an Alu-Cab Generation 3 Expedition rooftop tent belongs. (image credit: Ironman 4x4) Out camping — where an Alu-Cab Generation 3 Expedition rooftop tent belongs. (image credit: Ironman 4x4)

Warranties for a rooftop tent can range from one year, or two, three or five years, depending on the materials used and the brand/manufacturer involved.

Who are the leading brands & manufacturers? Best places to buy?

A rooftop tent can vastly improve your camping game. (image credit: ARB) A rooftop tent can vastly improve your camping game. (image credit: ARB)

Australia's well-respected aftermarket brands and manufacturers which sell rooftop tents include Ironman 4x4, ARB, Hannibal Safari Equipment, Opposite Lock, and TJM.

Contact any of these mobs for details on the rooftop tents they stock:

Find your nearest ARB store here.

Find your nearest Ironman 4x4 store here.

Visit Hannibal Safari Equipment for more details.

Visit Opposite Lock to find your nearest store.

Visit TJM for more details.

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