Getting a roof top tent that stays warm for winter camping can be a challenging and overwhelming process. There are so many companies vying for your time (and money) that once you run through all the blog posts and YouTube videos, you are left scratching your head and wondering of your now more confused than before you started. I get it, and because of that, I wanted to create this post to help clear this up.
As an owner of an outdoor business, an owner of 2 Roof Top Tents ( CJ and I), and someone who converses with industry professionals on a daily basis, I wanted to share my thoughts on what the “best roof top tent for winter camping” actually is as well as the one key detail when making a tent purchase that means the difference between freezing all night and staying warm.
All Season Roof Top Tent vs 4-Season Roof Top Tent
So, first things first, we need to iron out some details. To be honest, you may not even need a “winter” rated roof top tent. For example, if you live in Florida, and never head out west or up north, to be frank, you don’t need a winter roof top tent. I would imagine your winters are mild and most any roof top tent along with a good sleeping bag is all you will ever need. So, good new Floridians your shopping is easy!
For the rest of us who either live in a colder climate or travel to them in our adventures, a winter roof top tent becomes a big deal. How do I know? I just spent a January weekend in Moab, UT and WOW sleeping in single degree temps is a chilling experience. I learned a couple of things from that trip and the foundation of what I learned was a good 4-season roof top tent is a VALUABLE commodity.
Benefits Of Roof Top Tents and Why They Are Worth It
Look, it’s easy to say “just go buy one” when it’s not my money. However, I’ve spent my share of money on camping equipment and I can tell you that Roof Top Tents are definitely worth the money (for the most part). Aside from the technical details, just the convenience and fun factor.
First off, they lift you up off the ground. That means no spiders in your tent after you are gone all day from a hike. Being raised up also means no rain pooling up and in your tent as well as no bears poking thier head in at midnight looking for a snack. Also, you raised up for a MUCH better view of your camping location.
Some Technical Reasons Roof Top Tents Are Worth it:
- Easy Setup and Pack up. Literally from start to finish, your tent is ready to go in less than 3 minutes. you cant do that with standard ground tents. No you cant, stop lying.
- Internally supported aluminum Frame Bars rather than flimsy fiberglass tent poles
- It COMES WITH A GOOD MATTRESS, this alone is worth a gold bar when its 2am.
- It comes with a load bearing ladder
Difference Between All Season and 4-Season Roof Top Tents
If you have been shopping for roof top tents, you have likely encountered the wording of the tents ratings as “All-Season” and “4-Season”. First off, thats annoying, right? I mean, we only have 4 seasons, so a “All-Season” tent must be “4-Season”, right? Unfortunately, No. All-Season Tents are typically made with thinner material and are suited best for 3-Seasons of Spring, Summer and Fall.
A true 4-Season Roof Top Tent will have a “quilted” style layer in addition to the standard tent material and/or they will use a 600D rated material rather than a traditional all-season tent that has a 300-400D rated material. This quilted layer has a insulation sewn-in that will genuinely create a thermal barrier that not only will insulate well in the winter months keeping your tent warmer, but will also help keep the sun from baking your tent in the summer.
How Do You Keep A Tent Warm When Winter Camping?
You want the one detail? Its knwoing there is a difference between a “All-Season tent” and a “4-Season tent”. So many times I am told a tent needs to be “special” to be a true winter tent that stays warm. Look, “Special” is a special word. No, you don’t need a “special tent” but you will definitely benefit from a 4-Season tent in the deep winter months. Essentially, if your tent is not built for the winter conditions you will need to take lots of extra precautions to keep your standard tent warm enough in the winter.
For us, we ended up using a Jackery Power Bank with a 12V heated blanket plugged in and that made it most of the night. The downside to the heated blanket set up in a standard tent is that because the tent isn’t 4-season, the ambient air in the tent is still the same single-digit temps as the outside, so while your body may be warm inside the bag, any part of your body not inside the bag is freezing….its an odd feeling. While we are on the topic, check out our Guide To Winter Hiking Essentials
What Do The Tent Manufacturers Say About Winter Tent Camping and Staying Warm?
When I decided to research and write about this topic, my first stop was to the websites of all the big players like Thule Tepui, Yakima, Roofnest, ROAM Adventure Co, iKamper, FSR, and Tuff-Stuff 4×4. I’ve reached out for their comments on selecting a 4-Season Roof Top Tent and will update this as they reply (if they do).
Update: From The Account Manager At Tuff-Stuff Overland:
“When preparing for cold weather camping, be sure to keep your head and feet the warmest. Always pack double the socks as normal, be sure to have a comfortable beany to wear wile asleep, and always be cautious about the type of heat you plan to use inside of your tent. While an electric heater sounds great, the energy consumption it requires to continuously keep your tent warm may not be worth it, as you will burn through your auxiliary power within a couple of hours, if you want an effective heat source that can keep up with 30 something degree weather.
A propane powered heater, while very effective and it requires no actual power for use, the moisture it can emit tends to be the downfall to this method. We recommend using this in small bursts to simply heat the air inside, but be careful! Fire needs oxygen, and when you close up your tent, there is only so much oxygen to power this flame, so your breathing may become more labored the more it heats up. While this sounds counterproductive (and it is) try keeping a window open do you can better “fuel” the fire.
While there is a new method becoming more commonplace in the RTT community, the verdict is still out on the quality of the diesel heater. So far, our luck has been bad with these, as the 2 we’ve tested have both been duds and never produced any heat. If you can get your hands on a diesel heater that genuinely works, this is a great solution as it keeps warm air circulating, which is the most effective to mitigate moisture build up that occurs in a tent due to the extreme temperature differentials from warm body heat, hot breath and the heater inside of the tent.
A good analogy would be comparing it to drinking a cold glass of water on a hot day- the sweat will always occur at the warmest side. Inside of the tent… Another effective and most rewarding for some of us is just plain buying a good sleeping bag, and wearing thermals to sleep. A great 0 degree of better sleeping bag made of down (or similar fill) tents to work the best, and requires only 1 investment into your equipment.While a bunch of blankets tend to work well, they don’t technically keep your body heat inside to keep you warm.”
So, props to Tuff-Stuff Overland for even responding to this inquiry, with so many companies raking in cash this busy season, they could have easily ignored, and overall, its really good insider info.
How To Make Your Roof Top Tent Warmer
I did come across a great article resource from Roofnest that outlined some great ways to keep your standard All-Season roof top tent warm in those deep winter adventures. here is a quick excerpt and lits linked if you want to read more:
If you’ve never gone winter camping before, it’s not just for the outdoor pros. With a bit more prep and the right gear, you can have exciting and comfortable outdoor adventures all winter long. Once you’ve got your Roofnest, all that’s left is adding on a few cold weather camping accessories to keep your nest warm and cozy in even the chilliest winter months. Soon enough, you can add “camping in the cold” to the list of new hobbies you acquired in 2020. Here are a few cold weather camping essentials to make sure you stay nice and toasty on your next winter camping trip....read more.
Options To Warm Your Tent
- Obtain a true 4-Season tent (I know, low effort on my part BUT it’s true!)
- Get an Insulated liner (Check With Manufacturer)
- Use Heated Blankets with a Power bank like Jackery
- Use a Heater like the Little Buddy Heater (Be VERY Careful as this can end up in disaster if your not careful)
Best 4 Season Roof Top Tent
I hate saying the “best” but after exhaustive research and personal ownership, here are the “best” options for you, ultimately, your personal preference, budget, and lifestyle will make your true ‘Best” tent.
Pro Tip: The Industry has been exploding and most good tents are on backorder. I’m not one to rush a sale, but in this case, ordering in the cold season will ensure you have a tent when you’re ready to hit the road.
Yakima SkyRise Roof Top Tent
- 600-denier ripstop polyester fabric and a 3,000mm waterproof PU (polyurethane) coating offers 4-season weather protection
- Waterproof, 210-denier ripstop polyester rainfly also has a 3,000mm PU coating for complete protection against the elements
- Frame geometry offers more usable space
- The extra-large windows, doors, and mesh panel provide grand views and great ventilation
- Included 2.5 in. thick wall-to-wall foam sleeping pad provides cushy, all-night comfort; foam sleeping pad includes a removable cover for easy cleaning
FSR High Country Series
- 600D Poly-Oxford fabric and paired it with a 210D Poly-Oxford rainfly complete with a 2,000mm Polyurethane coating for maximum waterproof protection.
- For added comfort, this Freespirit Recreation High Country 55in Rooftop 2P Tent has a 2in EPE foam floor with a 2in high-density foam mattress so you can sleep soundly before embarking on the adventures of tomorrow.
- An aluminum alloy frame offers a sturdy structure without the weight of heavier materials.
iKamper SkyCamp 2.0
- Sleeps 4 People: The Skycamp features a comfortable king-size mattress.
- Aerodynamic and Lightweight Design: Looks great and fits on most vehicles.
- Customizable: Choose the color of your hardshell and the accessories you want for the best camping experience.
- Breathable: Insulating Poly-Cotton Canvas tent fabric.
Roof Top Tent Accessories You Will Be Happy You Bought
- Shoe Bag – Seems dumb but oh man are they handy, just try a few trips without one and then let’s talk.
- Annex– While not needed, it’s a great accessory that will help you hang out around camp in any weather condition.
- Condensation Mat– This keeps your tent mattress from growing mold and mildew when you are not using the tent.
- Light– Stop looking for your phone every time you need a light, these are easy to use, draw nearly no power, and light up the tent nicely.
- Power Supply – Charge your phone or run your heated blanket, these little devices do it all!
Why Are Roof Top Tents So Expensive?
I get it, I really do, dropping $1800 to $3500 on a tent seems crazy, right? Well, yes and no. You see, if you’re truly out there exploring all the time, the gear you use needs to be top quality and ready for these adventures. However, that just scratches the surface of why roof top tents are expensive. Roof Top Tents are actually a engineering masterpiece, well, maybe thats dramatic, but in reality, they are no average tent. Roof Top Tents have internal aluminum bars that support the tent, they have a hinge design to fold out from your vehicle.
Roof Top Tents also have a built-in mattress and a fully supportive base that houses you and your family. Additionally, rooftop tents have a built-in telescoping ladder that also is engineered to act as a load-bearing base for your tent and its cargo. not to mention all the mounting hardware attached to the base and included for the install to your roof rack. So, while it may seem like an overpriced tent, it’s actually a remarkably durable piece of gear that goes everywhere you go and does it well. Also, they are loads of fun!
Ultimately, it comes down to your budget, your lifestyle and determining if you truly need a four-season RTT or if you can get by with a all-season RTT and just insulate it for the colder days. It really is up to you, BUT, what does matter is that you grab the gear YOU love and just go GET OUTSIDE. See you on the trail!