Reviews | The Drive Tactical & Outdoor

Best Car Camping Tents: Indoor Comfort in the Great Outdoors

Create your comfortable home away from home with a car camping tent.
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My version of camping involves either a boat anchored at a sandbar or car camping tents hooked to a vehicle at a drive-up beach. You don’t have to live in Florida and go to the beach to use a car camping tent, though. These convenient tents are perfect for those who love camping but don’t necessarily want to rough it. They are easier to transport, set up, and take down. All it takes is waking up one morning and enjoying the elevated view, and you’ll understand why these tents are so popular. Plus, you never have to deal with rocks and sticks jamming you in the back as you lie in your sleeping bag, so no more crappy night’s sleep.  

Embrace an easier way of camping with one of best car camping tents that will keep you comfortable.

Best Overall

Thule x Tepui Explorer Kukenam 3

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Best Value

Napier Backroadz 19 Series Truck Tent

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Honorable Mention

Yakima Skyrise Rooftop Tent

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Summary List 

Our Methodology

Reliability is paramount when you’re camping. You can’t risk having your gear break or fail while you’re far from civilization. That’s why The Drive takes creating these lists seriously. The first step was focusing on brands with a reputation for quality and a history of reliability. No risking your safety with a cheap imported knockoff. From there, it was important to consider a variety of styles because not all designs work with all vehicles. Finally, the best of the best were identified by comparing the quality of the materials, construction, and features. An included mattress, internal storage pockets, and mosquito mesh helped specific tents stand out. 

Best Car Camping Tents: Reviews & Recommendations

Best Overall

Thule x Tepui Explorer Kukenam 3

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Best Budget

Napier Backroadz 19 Series Truck Tent

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Honorable Mention

Yakima Skyrise Rooftop Tent

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Best Eco-Friendly

Vaude Drive Wing Unisex Outdoor Tent

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Best Two-Person

Thule x Tepui Explorer Ayer 2

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Best Four-Person

Roam Adventure Co Vagabond XL Rooftop Tent

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Best Eco Pick, Most Sustainable

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could buy and use environmentally friendly products while you’re out communing with nature? Finding an eco-friendly or sustainable tent is a bit of a challenge, and you’ll want to consider buying internationally. While the North Face does make an effort to take environmentally friendly steps, their UK site is much better at explaining which products qualify over the U.S. site. While they have made steps, they are more at the starting phase of sustainability, which applies more to their gear than the tents. Another lesser-known American brand is Nemo Equipment. The company boasts a commitment to positively impacting people and the environment. If you are willing to purchase from an international brand, Bergans of Norway and Vaude have reputations for taking sustainability seriously.

Our Verdict

My top pick for the best car tent is the Thule x Tepui Explorer Kukenam 3. It’s a well-known, trusted brand with a history of quality. This tent has an adjustable rainfly, an included mattress, mesh panels, and internal pockets. This gives you usability and comfort. 

For a more affordable alternative, the Napier Backroadz 19 Series Truck Tent is ideal for those who occasionally go camping. While you’ll need a truck to use it, the affordable price makes it perfect for those on a tight budget.

Consider Secondhand

When we start shopping for tools and products, we never overlook the secondhand market. In fact, it’s usually the first place I look. Whether you’re scrolling through Amazon’s Renewed section, eBay for car parts or tools, or flipping through the pages of Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist, you have hundreds of thousands of used tools, parts, and gear ready to be shipped to your doorstep. Refurbished to like-new status, they’ll be willing to give you many more years of faithful service, all while saving you money. 

If those options don’t have what you need, your local salvage yard is great for car parts, while swap meets are a great resource you should tap. Just Google either and head on down.  

Secondhand Tips

To make your secondhand search easier, here are two tips to finding the best deals and making sure your new-to-you stuff wasn’t destroyed by the previous owner. 

  • Check the stress points on the tent for signs of wear and tear. 
  • Test the poles as the cabling can break down with use and lose elasticity. 

Things to Consider Before Buying Car Camping Tents

Vehicle Compatibility 

Rooftop tents are cool, but they only work if you have a vehicle strong enough to support the weight of the tent combined with the weight of you sleeping in it. People think because vehicles are made of metal, that they can support a ton of weight. While this is partially true, there are limits. Rooftop tents can weigh 80 to 200 pounds. Combine that with your weight, and there are several hundred pounds of dead weight just sitting on top of your vehicle. Look up the static weight capacity of your roof rack and vehicle. Alternatively, there are tents with an open side that really only work well with vans, despite people trying to use them with SUVs or Jeeps. A third style is a tent that’s essentially freestanding but has a tunnel that connects to the back of the vehicle. These are more forgiving with broader vehicle compatibility, but also less like car camping and more just a tent with an extra flap. 

Hardshell or Softshell 

There are two basic types of roof tents: hardshell and softshell. Hardshell is more durable and protective from inclement weather. They are also crazy fast to pop up. Their drawback is that they tend to lack ventilation, making them hot and stagnant. They also can feel more confining. Softshell is more common and can be much bigger. While they can take a bit longer to set up, you can get ones with annexes and awnings for more protected space. 

Awnings and Annexes

If all you need is a place to sleep, then you can keep things simple with a basic rooftop tent that’s just large enough to sleep in. However, if you want to make your camping trip feel more like home, consider buying a tent with an annex and/or awnings. If you’re familiar with camping, then you should already know what an awning is. It’s the extra fabric that creates a covered open space. An annex is like having two tents in one. In addition to the tent on the roof, the annex is an enclosed space underneath the tent and next to your vehicle. This gives you an additional sleeping space, changing room, or small kitchen. 

Car Camping Tents Pricing 

If your budget is small, you can find a used or basic car tent for under $1,000. However, if you’re looking for a large car tent, a hardshell tent, or one with extra features, expect to pay more than $1,000. Extra-large tents or ones that use innovative materials can easily cost $2,000 to $3,000. Hardshell tents are more expensive than softshell tents because you’re paying for the extra material used to make the shell. Rooftop tents are also more expensive than tents that sit on the ground next to the car because there is an additional framework required to mount the tent on the vehicle’s roof. 

FAQs 

You’ve got questions. The Drive has answers.

Q: Is car camping safer than a tent?

A: There are several advantages to camping in your car versus a stand-alone tent. Your car is more secure than a tent, giving you an increased level of security. It’s also easier to make a fast getaway when your tent is attached to your vehicle. You are also limited to campsites that are less remote, which allows for easier access to emergency aid. 

Q: Are car camping tents warmer than regular tents?

A: Yes, car camping tents tend to be warmer than regular tents. Because they are set up to be attached to your vehicle, there is a natural wind blocker, which reduces the pull of warmth away from the tent. Being off the ground means the cold earth isn’t pulling heat away from the tent. Additionally, in some cases, the tent is smaller. The smaller space is easier to get and stay warm. 

Q: What are the best tents for family camping?

A: There is no best tent for families looking to go car camping. The best tent for your family is one that’s large enough to comfortably fit everyone and meant for the climate you are camping in. 

Q: Where do I recycle my car camping tent?

A: If your tent is in good condition and still usable, you can donate it to a local charity that can use it. Alternatively, you could repurpose the individual parts for your own use. For example, use the poles as plant stakes and sew the tent material into repair patches, stuff sacks, or reusable shopping bags. If the parts aren’t worth reusing, aluminum poles are recyclable. Unfortunately, fiberglass poles and nylon material with w