What Is a Tonneau Cover? Here’s Why You Need One

The essential truck accessory for any discerning truck owner that wants substantially more usability from their open-bedded beast.

byChris Rosales|
What Is a Tonneau Cover? Here’s Why You Need One


We may earn revenue from the products available on this page and participate in affiliate programs. Learn more ›

Pickup trucks are an American obsession, and with good reason. They’re big, powerful, utilitarian, luxurious, and infinitely useful vehicles that can tow, off-road, or haul a bed full of bricks. That fantasy is the foundation of owning a truck. But there is one thing that can make a pickup truck exponentially better: a tonneau cover.

Besides fuel economy, the one big issue with pickup trucks is the lack of dry storage, apart from the Honda Ridgeline. By their nature, truck beds are open-topped allowing for maximum usability but this leaves anything in the bed exposed to the elements. On a dry day or in a consistently dry climate this isn’t much of an issue. But a surprise rainstorm or a wet climate can easily leave sensitive cargo in ruins. This is especially limiting on road trips through multiple states, where inclement weather is a guarantee. A tonneau cover is a cap for the open bed that protects it from the outside world.

Thus, the tonneau cover is the ultimate solution to all pickup truck problems. There are a variety of covers, each with its own compromises and benefits. Some can roll up out of the way, allowing the truck to work as normal. Some are more permanent hard covers that provide more secure storage and even a second storage deck at the cost of vertical load height. It’s a balance, and we’re here to help you find that balance.

The Drive and its partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links. Read more.

The Different Kinds of Tonneau Covers

Tonneau covers represent a colossal portion of the pickup truck aftermarket. Because of this, the selection can be dizzyingly broad. But there are only a few important differences between all of the choices, mostly to do with the materials chosen for the cover. There are two routes to choose: soft or hard tonneau cover.

Soft Tonneau Covers

Soft tonneau covers are any tonneau cover that can roll up, fold up, or otherwise be moved without any tools to allow the pickup bed to be open. This kind of cover can be as simple as a canvas, vinyl, or any weather-resistant material that folds or rolls toward the cab of the truck. There are even folding metal covers that provide a little more security and weather resistance.

Some soft covers have mechanized roll-up functions that allow for extremely easy operation. These covers are best for somebody who needs dry storage while also having the ability to use the truck bed as normal. 

For folks who tow with a gooseneck or fifth wheel, this is the most convenient option. Soft tonneau covers also tend to be less expensive than their hard counterparts due to the simplicity of the design. 

Here are a few soft cover tonneau covers we recommend.

A hard tonneau cover. Leer

Hard Tonneau Covers

On the other hand, hard tonneau covers present a different set of use cases and compromises. These are installed semi-permanently, depending on the maker of the cover. Some hard covers are designed to be removed quickly with hand tools, but will require a place to store them. Some might consider them different from bed caps, but it's all in the same cinematic universe. Soft covers can be stowed on the truck without much fuss. This means you lose your ability to have an open truck bed in a pinch, which might be a deal breaker for some. Some tonneau covers fold up in sections and are considered hard tonneau covers, but that's more of a hybrid.

The big benefits of a hard cover is an increased resistance to weather, more secure storage against thieves, and the ability to have an extra storage deck. Not all hard covers are designed to bear weight, but some can carry a few hundred pounds. This opens up the usability greatly, allowing for dry storage in the bed and tall things to go on the cover, like bicycles. 

Here are a few hard cover tonneau covers we recommend.

Why A Tonneau Cover Is An Essential Accessory

The options for tonneau covers are fairly simple, even if there are dozens of companies making covers. It’s all down to your use case and whether you need vertical cargo space or the flexibility of an open truck bed. Regardless of the use case, this is a rare accessory that can seamlessly integrate into your truck without compromising practicality.

At a minimum, trucks with a soft tonneau cover can be much more useful than those without. Suddenly, it becomes a viable road trip vehicle or something you can make the grocery run in. Leaving valuables in the open bed for anyone to grab isn’t exactly rock-solid security. Having the privacy of your things out of view is also worth the cost of the tonneau cover. We have covered a few tonneau cover deals, and plenty will still be around.

There’s a tonneau cover for every truck owner out there. It’s just about finding the right one. Hopefully, this helped you make your choice.


Video thumbnail

More From The Drive