7 of the best vehicles for rooftop tent camping (2024)

Rooftop tent camping has exploded in popularity thanks to social media-friendly photo ops and a renewed interest in outdoor adventures. But unlike some trends, this style of camping is showing no signs of slowing down.

After all, turning your car into a mobile campsite has several advantages. While many SUVs have roomy cabins, they’re not all equipped with fold-flat, second row seats that are comfortable for sleeping. Tents are economical, compact, and can fit a lot of people, but they aren’t always great during inclement weather—especially during shoulder seasons where the turf may be frozen, soggy, or even flooded.

RelatedThe ultimate guide to car camping

Though not foolproof, a rooftop tent perched several feet off the terrain and on your vehicle’s roof solves a lot of these problems. Plus, it may deter some of nature’s more curious critters, and in the right location, a rooftop tent can deliver better views.

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The list of vehicle types best suited for rooftop tent camping is a lot longer than the list of those least suited—namely convertibles and models with roofs that won’t support roof rails at least 30 inches long. However, owners should do some research first to ensure they’re pairing the right tent with their vehicle.

Dynamic and static weight

Even if a roof has been reinforced, bare roof panels aren’t designed to support cargo directly on top of them. At the very minimum, a vehicle intended for rooftop tent camping needs to have roof rails and crossbars to mount and secure a tent platform. Each vehicle has a maximum amount of weight it can support strapped to its roof while it’s in motion at highway speed, which is known as its dynamic weight limit. Manufacturers typically list this specification inside the owner’s manual, but the amount could differ by model year, trim, and brand.

A vehicle can typically support between 100 and 165 pounds of evenly-distributed dynamic weight securely strapped to its roof. There’s also a maximum amount of static weight it can support while the vehicle is stationary, and that number includes the tent, its occupants, and all the bedding and gear inside.

According to a Honda spokesperson, not every manufacturer will publish the amount of static weight the vehicle can support because the roof rails are designed to hold cargo and luggage while the vehicle is in motion. However, many rooftop tent installers use a rule of thumb to estimate a vehicle’s static weight limit, and advise that roof rails can typically support three times the amount of dynamic weight.

Exceeding either the dynamic or static limits of the factory-installed roof rails should be avoided for safety reasons, and yet, upgrading the factory-installed roof rails to reinforced after-market products isn’t usually recommended by the manufacturer. That’s because taller or heavier roof rails and crossbars may alter the vehicle’s center of gravity and can affect its stability, especially when loaded with gear and traveling at high speeds or along uneven roads.

RelatedRooftop tent camping: A beginner’s guide to gear, installation, and more

Important features to look for in vehicles for rooftop tents

While nearly any car with roof rails can be used for rooftop car camping, there are some that are better than others. Nick Jaynes, an overlanding and off-road adventuring expert whose clients include rooftop tent manufacturer Roofnest, recommends looking at the following features when shopping for a vehicle for rooftop tent camping.

Long, strong, and flat roof

While sloping rooflines improve aerodynamics and look sporty, they’re less ideal for a good night’s sleep when rooftop tent camping. Most tents have a platform of at least 30 inches, and longer rooflines will increase your tent options and minimize the effect of a sloped roofline. The flatter the roof, the fewer adjustments you’ll have to make for a comfortable sleeping surface.

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Sturdy roof rails and cross bars

While many vehicles come equipped with roof rails (and some are available on certain trims), many manufacturers charge an additional fee for crossbars. Ideally, the crossbars should be retractable to improve aerodynamics and reduce wind noise and fuel efficiency when not in use. In addition to well-supported rail footings, they should have multiple—if not infinite—points to anchor a tent.

Large cargo area

While most soft-cover tents weigh less than 165 pounds, a low maximum dynamic weight means that you won’t be able to store extra gear on top of the collapsed tent while traveling. Instead, campers need to store bedding or other extra supplies inside the cargo or potentially need to tow a trailer if the cabin is full of passengers and supplies.

Off-road capabilities

While not everyone is going to be crawling over rocks to get to their camp, having a vehicle with all-wheel-drive is an advantage for traveling over dirt roads or getting unstuck.

Related20 overlanding essentials: Gear and gadgets for the ultimate off-road camping adventure

Best vehicles for rooftop tents

Outside of the convertible segment, there are few vehicles that aren’t capable of supporting roof rails. However, if you’re in the market for a new car, truck, or SUV that’s well-suited for a rooftop tent, here are a few to keep on your radar:

  • 2023 Subaru Outback Wilderness
  • 2023 Mazda CX-50 Turbo Meridian Edition
  • 2023 Honda Passport TrailSport
  • 2023 Kia Telluride
  • 2023 Toyota Sequoia i-FORCE MAX
  • 2023 Ford Ranger
  • 2023 Porsche 911 Dakar
7 of the best vehicles for rooftop tent camping (1)

2023 Subaru Outback Wilderness Edition

SPECS
Passengers5
ChassisUnibody
Dynamic weight rating220 pounds
Static weight rating700 pounds
Fuel range21 to 26 miles per gallon
MSRP$38,445 (plus destination fee)

FEATURES AND OPTIONS WE LOVE:
Subaru has become so synonymous with outdoor activities that it introduced a Wilderness trim designed with camping in mind. In addition to standard all-wheel drive with torque vectoring, this compact SUV is equipped with a 260-horsepower turbocharged BOXER engine, higher capacity fixed roof rails that can support up to 220 pounds of dynamic weight and 700 pounds of static weight, and 9.5 inches of ground clearance to help traverse unpaved backroads. It also adds a host of rugged interior and exterior upgrades to ward off some of the dirt, dings, and scratches encountered snaking through tight trails and setting up camp.

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More information on this vehicle can be found here.

7 of the best vehicles for rooftop tent camping (2)

2023 Mazda CX-50 Turbo Meridian Edition

SPECS
Passengers5
ChassisUnibody
Dynamic weight rating165 pounds
Static weight rating600 pounds
Fuel range23 to 29 miles per gallon
MSRP$39,950 (plus destination fee)

FEATURES AND OPTIONS WE LOVE:
The Mazda CX-50 Meridian Edition is primed for the outdoor adventurous lifestyle with all-wheel drive, off-road and towing modes, as well as standard roof rails. It’s targeted toward those who relish the journey as much as the camping destination. In addition to its superb handling and responsive 227-horsepower, 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, the rugged compact crossover can tow up to 3,500 pounds when properly equipped. Should the crew arrive at night, the cargo area features a light to help campers find items stored in the 31.4 cubic-feet available behind the second row. Mazda also sells its own rooftop tent and other accessories for the CX-50.

More information on this vehicle can be found here.

RelatedThe adventure-ready 2023 Mazda CX-50 Turbo Premium Plus picks up where Subaru left off

7 of the best vehicles for rooftop tent camping (3)

2023 Honda Passport TrailSport

SPECS
Passengers5
ChassisUnibody
Dynamic weight rating165 pounds
Static weight ratingN/A
Fuel range19 to 24 miles per gallon
MSRP$43,600 (plus destination fee)

FEATURES AND OPTIONS WE LOVE:
Easy drivability and polite road manners belie the rugged capabilities of the 2023 Honda Passport. All models of this midsize SUV use a 280-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6 engine and come with a traction management system with modes for snow, sand, and mud—but the two-row, five-seat TrailSport trim is meant for outdoor adventuring. This trim equips the Passport with 18-inch wheels and beefy tires, roof rails, and torque-vectoring all-wheel drive. Plus, it comes with a handful of rugged exterior styling changes and interior upgrades.

More information on this vehicle can be found here.

2023 Kia Telluride

SPECS
Passengers7 to 8
ChassisUnibody
Dynamic weight rating220 pounds
Static weight ratingN/A
Fuel range18 to 26 miles per gallon
MSRP$35,890 (plus destination fee)

FEATURES AND OPTIONS WE LOVE:
In addition to boasting one of the highest reported roof weight capacities of 220 pounds, the 2023 Kia Telluride has a lot going for it as a rooftop tent camping vehicle. The midsize SUV’s three-row cabin is available with lots of charging ports for powering small appliances and electronics in the wilderness. On the road, its front row is well designed with deep center console storage, and can be equipped with an available 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster that uses cameras to display whatever is in the driver’s blind spot when the turn signal is engaged.

More information on this vehicle can be found here.

7 of the best vehicles for rooftop tent camping (4)

2023 Toyota Sequoia i-FORCE MAX Hybrid AWD

SPECS
Passengers7 to 8
ChassisUnibody
Dynamic weight rating104 pounds (roof rails only); 154 pounds (roof rails and crossbars)
Static weight ratingN/A
Fuel range19 to 22 miles per gallon
MSRP$61,365 (plus destination fee)

FEATURES AND OPTIONS WE LOVE:
The Toyota Sequoia is a no-compromise, full-size SUV that gives campers the roominess and comfort of a family hauler combined with the off-terrain capabilities of a truck to bring the perfect camping spot within easy reach. Its cabin offers flexible storage and seating arrangements, including fold flat second row captain’s chairs and an adjustable rear cargo shelf. And with seating for up to eight passengers and a maximum towing capability of nearly 9,000 pounds (when properly equipped), all toys and people can come along for the ride.

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It comes standard with a hybrid 437-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6 hybrid engine, which means that roadtrippers will use less fuel while adventuring.The factory-installed dash-cam option not only helps keep an eye on the car when unattended, but also captures on-road action that you can download to share your travels.

More information on this vehicle can be found here.

7 of the best vehicles for rooftop tent camping (5)

2023 Ford Ranger

SPECS
Passengers5
ChassisBody-on-frame
Dynamic weight rating125 pounds (cargo bed rails)
Static weight rating600 pounds (cargo bed rails)
Fuel range21 to 26 miles per gallon
MSRP$27,400 (plus destination fee)

FEATURES AND OPTIONS WE LOVE:
Trucks offer a lot of flexibility when it comes to rooftop tent camping, but installing a tent on the roof isn’t typically advised by any manufacturers—even on extended cab models. Rather, they offer factory-authorized accessories that are designed to fit over the cargo bed instead of on top of the cab.

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The midsize Ranger truck seats up to five, is equipped with a 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, and offers the robust payload and towing practicality that makes it a worthy option instead of a full-sized competitor. In fact, its smaller footprint makes it a camping favorite, enabling it to traverse tighter trails and consume less fuel getting there. For off-road newbies, its available trail control system is like cruise control for challenging roads.

More information on this vehicle can be found here.

7 of the best vehicles for rooftop tent camping (6)

2023 Porsche 911 Dakar

SPECS
Passengers2
ChassisUnibody
Dynamic weight rating165 pounds
Static weight rating309 pounds (without roof rails); 419 pounds (with roof rails)
Fuel rangeTBD
MSRP$222,000

FEATURES AND OPTIONS WE LOVE:
With a starting price well-above the average MSRP of an RV, the 911 Dakar isn’t an obvious choice for rooftop campers. However, rally and race enthusiasts may appreciate the 473-horsepower, 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged six-cylinder engine. The Dakar trim is available with an optional, custom rooftop tent to support two well-heeled people on roadtripping adventures. While its speed is electronically limited to 149 miles per hour, it takes only 3.2 seconds to reach 60 miles per hour from a standstill. Plus its Rallye Design Package exterior styling will leave onlookers with whiplash watching you get there.

More information on this vehicle can be found here.

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7 of the best vehicles for rooftop tent camping (2024)
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