Best car tents for camping: compact rooftop designs from Thule, TentBox, Quechua and more

Rooftop tents that take camping to another level

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Jon Axworthy2 days ago
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A night out under the stars sounds idyllic, but traditional camping has drawbacks, from feeling every root and rock underneath the ground sheet to trying to get a good night’s kip on a slowly deflating airbed

But if you have your own set of wheels, there is an alternative: behold, the car tent.

The motorist’s camping hack uses a foldaway tent that attaches to the car’s roof. It means no frantic search for the flysheet and more chances to be spontaneous at the weekend.

Most car tents are straightforward to fix to your car using hardware that is supplied with the car tent (some manufacturers even offer an in-house fitting service), but you will need some form of roof bars fitted to your car first.


How to choose the right car tent

When choosing a tent that’s right for your rooftop, there are some similarities between traditional camping and car camping. The first is how easy the tent is to set up. This is one of the joys of car tents, which unfold in a single motion usually controlled by the telescopic ladder that you’ll climb up to get into bed. There are battery-operated models available too.

Either way, the tent is usually pitched in less time than it takes to say ‘fly sheet’ with base camp ready so you can crack on with building a campfire or exploring your new setting.

All car tents have built-in mattresses of various thicknesses and foam densities, which unfold with the tent, so when we were testing we paid particular attention to how comfortable they were and how restful our nights were.

Apart from these criteria, we were mindful of how easy the tent was to get into, how spacious it felt when inside, what the visibility was like from inside and what the storage options were for all your camping kit.

Best car tents at a glance

If you’re considering investing in a car tent for summer’s adventures - and beyond - we’ve rounded up the best options available right now.

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Thule Approach M


Best: overall

Many soft-shell car tents are house-shaped, but Thule’s Approach uses four struts to elongate and maximise space, making it more of an elongated box. It makes all the difference from the inside out and even with two adults and a child aboard it doesn’t feel cramped – if it’s just two of you then there’s plenty of room to swing a hiking boot and the big windows and skylights add to the feeling of spaciousness.

Pitching was super quick and effortless and the tent fabric was tough enough to put up with a bad forecast. It was also breathable and all the windows allow good air circulation to keep you nice and cool in the heat.

We really liked the bracket mounting system for the Approach, which made short work of the installation and for a three-person tent. Thule have kept the weight down to 58kg making it easy for two people to get it up on the roof of the tallest car.  

This may have one of the highest price points in our line-up but the Approach is such a versatile, comfortable tent that you’ll always try and find an excuse to use it. If you’re an avid camper, it should save you money on accommodation in the long run.

Buy now£2400, eBay

TentBox Classic 2.0


Best: hard-shell

The UK brand has made some improvements on its original Classic with the 2.0, which includes upgrades to the fabric that the tent is made from, making it more durable and breathable, as well as a thicker mattress and a redesigned, sleek matte black ABS shell that’s more robust and aerodynamic while driving.

The installation was quick and went without a hitch. To erect the tent, simply release the buckles at either end, push on the outer shell and the gas lifts will do the rest. As it doesn’t work with an integrated ladder mechanism, simply store the ladder in its bag inside the tent or in the boot and attach it when needed to allow access to the tent.

Two large side openings offer easy access and once you’re in, visibility is superb with two end windows letting in lots of light and offering 360° views. There are four large storage pockets, a roof mesh, and an integrated, rechargeable, dimmable LED light bar which is a useful detail. It’s great for low light if you need to read or plan tomorrow’s route.

When you are ready to go, the pillows, sleeping bags or duvet can all stay inside the pod making packing up a lot easier.

Available in black, green and orange colours.

Buy now£2195, Outdoor Roadie

Latitude Pioneer


Best: night’s sleep

This UK manufacturer produces high-quality, functional tents suitable for a wide range of cars. We enjoyed our time with the Pioneer which weighed in at 54kg and didn’t give us any trouble during the installation process, although Latitude also offers a free fitting service if you’re anywhere near their HQ in Frome, Somerset.

The spacious two to three berther is made from quality materials and is stitched well giving us confidence that it could stand up to almost anything the British weather can throw at it.

The clamshell mechanism worked brilliantly, both for pitching and breaking down, with everything orchestrated via the telescopic ladder. We even found that we could store all our sleeping kit (pillows, bags or duvet) within the folded tent without it getting in the way of the mechanism. It’s all right where you left if for next time.

We had no issues getting a good night’s sleep on the 6cm, high-density, foam, double mattress. The tent’s considered details include a shoe bag that hangs outside the tent with openings at the bottom so wet hiking boots can drip dry overnight. More interior pockets offer further storage opportunities and eliminate clutter, while the Velcro fastenings mean you can run power cables into the tent where necessary. 

Buy now£1295, Outdoor Roadie

OEX Vertex Lite Roof Tent


Best: lightweight tent

This is the first car tent from the Go Outdoors brand and it’s an excellent entry to the market.

Weighing in at just 37.5kg (including the ladder), it’s easy to manoeuvre and fix on to roof bars. The light weight means it can be used on smaller hatchback cars with bars too.

Setting up and breaking down the tent is a straightforward process thanks to a five-pole frame and easy, fold-out design. It took just under 20 minutes to pitch. Once you’re in, visibility is good with three windows and the tent opening itself, meaning that if you park at a scenic spot, you’ll be abe to make the most of panoramic views.

The ripstop outer is made from strong waterproof fabric, so you won’t need to worry about a sudden watery wake-up call in the middle of the night. To sleep, you’ll bed down on a plush mattress with a depth of some 8cm - one of the comfiest we slept on.  

This is a two-person tent but if it’s two of you sleeping in it, be advised that it’s going to get a little cosy. However, a lantern hanging point, two shoe bags and stash pockets will help you keep things functional and tidy.

Buy now£889, Blacks

Thule Foothill


Best for: active campers

This two-person tent won’t take up much room on your roof (it’s only 61cm in width), which means if you are just using the tent as a base camp for biking or kayaking adventures, there’s room on the roof for both tent and transport.

Weighing in at 55.5kg it wasn’t unwieldy to install and has an aerodynamic, folded profile. Set up is simply a process of unfolding and rigging the telescopic poles and we were pleasantly surprised to find how easy it was to enter and how spacious it was inside, even for two.

The tent fabric feels highly durable and subject to the manufacturer’s rigorous testing schedule so we had no concerns that the tent wouldn’t be able to stand up to the elements. 

There’s a big rear window and two long skylights, which are fantastic for stargazing. The 4cm mattress ensures that after a day out on the trails, rivers or lakes you’ll have no problem recharging overnight.

Buy now£1699, Thule

Tentbox Lite XL


Best for: families

As the name suggests, this is a tardis-like tent with a super-king mattress inside. There’s room for four adults, so you can lessen the impact if one (or more) of your camping buddies comes with the reputation for being a bit of a tent rhino.

For such a big tent, installation is straightforward for two people and once it’s in situ, it only took us around five to 10 minutes to get it ready to sleep.

There are two skylights and the rainfly is easily removed to take it into summer mode. In addition, the fabrics are breathable and there are a further four vents in the pod fabric to help you sleep on close summer nights. The tent will keep you dry if there’s a nighttime shower – just remember to close the windows!

The super-king 5cm mattress is crafted from dual-layer foam (with a soft layer on top and a harder layer beneath) offering a fantastic night’s kip. Other features include a multitude of pockets for essentials stashing.

There’s even a welcome pack included in the price, including fairy lights to give the tent instant ambience.

Buy now£1890, Outdoor Roadie

Dometic TRT120E Ocean


Best for: quick pitching

If the light’s fading fast and you’re in a rush to get base camp set up, the Dometic offers pitching at the push of a button thanks to the 12V powered set-up. Just plug the 12V battery cable into a power source and the rest is done from a simple key fob with up, down and stop buttons.

Inside, there’s plenty of room for two and good 360° visibility with fly screens that are integrated into the design so you can maximise airflow through the tent when it gets warm while ensuring any insects stay outside.

The 5cm thick, high-density foam mattress offers an excellent night’s sleep and there are lots of options for storage within the tent to keep things tidy.

Breaking down the tent is another push-button exercise so you can be on the road in no time.

Buy now£2000, Outdoor Roadie

B&Q Car Roof Tent


Best for: that bedroom feel

This is a good lightweight car tent that created no problems during installation. Like most hard shells, it unfurls thanks to helpful hydraulics which raises the roof in seconds.

You access the tent via a separate telescopic ladder and there’s plenty of room inside. The spacious design has enough room for a young family (two adults and one child) to sleep comfortably, or two adults who will have even more room. The 5.5cm mattress was comfortable and breathability was good throughout the night, but the tent also offers ample protection against any sudden showers, 

Four side pockets, roof mesh for storing bigger items, like jackets, and two exterior boot bags mean the tent is well set up for hikers and bikers. There’s even a solar-powered torch for illuminating the tent after dark.

The tent is available in camo, brown and grey but it’s an online exclusive so you won’t find it in store.

Buy now£1699.99, B&Q

Skycamp 2.0 Mini


Best for: smaller cars

This two-person tent proves that you don’t need a beast of a 4x4 in order to take advantage of the joys of car rooftop camping.

It weighs in at 57kg so is on the lumpy side for a smaller tent, but this didn’t hinder the installation process. We were set up and ready to go within half an hour.

The materials strike a good balance between durability, waterproofing and breathability and there’s good insulation on the interior that truly makes this a four-season tent. Speaking of the interior, although it offers enough room for two adults, it was one of the cosiest car tents we tested, thanks to its colour scheme and map of the world imprint on one of the side walls.

There’s a very nice Skyview window and there are two, three-layered canopy windows that incorporate an outer polyester window, a mesh layer and an inner see-through layer that can all be rolled up and installed for a clear view.  

The 4cm mattress was the thinnest on test but we still got a decent night’s sleep.

Buy now£2850, iKamper

Quechua MH500 Roof Tent


Best: summer tent

The Installation of the MH500 was more involved than the other tents in the edit and probably took us around an hour all in. Be patient, because you will be rewarded with an excellent rooftop experience when you finally pull over for the night.

The clamshell opening was easy (around 15 seconds) and a click from the telescopic ladder lets you know it’s in the right place and the tent is ready for occupancy.

Packing up was just as easy although some parts of the tent’s fabric don’t automatically tuck away as neatly as some of the other tents we tested.

What makes this tent so suited to warmer months is the brand’s patented Fresh and Black technology which uses fabric combinations that reflects and absorbs heat to keep you in a comfortable climate.

There are also plenty of side vents, which are always open, so you need to be sure that your rooftop getaway is going to be a dry one. 

Buy now£1149.99, Decathlon


The ingenious design of the Thule Approach M maximises the space that’s available on a car’s roof, which not only makes for a very comfortable night’s sleep but also means that the tent is a great place to hang out and have breakfast in the morning too.

Regarding a hard-shell tent, we couldn’t fault the TentBox Classic 2.0, which is supremely convenient in terms of installation and set-up and offers a wonderful overnight experience, including great little details, like the rechargeable light bar.