If you want to get up off the cold, uncomfortable ground and away from predators, a roof top tent is the way to go.
Of course, roof top tents come in all shapes and sizes from manufacturers large and small. With so many options, it can be a frustrating and time-consuming process to sift through all the junk and find a high-quality rooftop tent.
That’s where this REI roof top tent buyer’s guide comes in…
Now, there are two things I want to clarify about this guide.
First, buying a roof top tent (or any gear, for that matter) from a reputable retailer is critical to your success. You’ll often find better customer service, a more forgiving return policy, and other customer support features when you shop from a respected store with a long-standing reputation of success. REI roof top tent certainly fits the bill as a reputable retailer!
SMRT Summit Suite
And second, I got my new roof top tent – the SMRT Summit Suite – from REI. For the purposes of this guide, I’ll use my experience in researching and purchasing this tent to make recommendations for your roof top tent search.
So, without further ado, let’s get to it!
Table of Contents
- REI Roof Top Tent Search – Do Your Due Diligence
- Size and Weight Considerations
- Should You Get a Hard Shell or Soft Shell REI Roof Top Tent?
- Consider the Amenities
- The Build Quality is Hugely Important
- What is Your Budget for an REI Roof Top Tent?
- Take Time to Make Your Decision
- Recommended Overlanding Gear
REI Roof Top Tent Search – Do Your Due Diligence
SMRT Summit Suite
The first step in the process of finding and buying a roof top tent is to simply do your due diligence.
I get that spending hours and hours researching the specs and features of something before you buy it might not be the most fun experience. But as I’m sure you know, when you thoroughly research gear before you buy, you usually end up with gear that stands the test of time.
So, from a quality standpoint, doing some research will go a long way in ensuring you get a REI roof top tent that is well-made and has the features you need or want.
But spending time doing research also allows you to spend your money wisely…
Now, notice that I did not say “save money.” As with so many types of overlanding and off-roading gear, you really do get what you pay for when you invest in a roof top tent. Sure, you can limit your search to “DIY roof top tents” or “cheap roof top tents,” but in my experience, doing so usually ends in all sorts of troubles down the road.
I spent six months researching roof top tents before ordering the SMRT Summit Suite.
A cheap roof top tent, for example, will likely not have the same level of waterproofness that a well-made one will. It likely won’t have zippers that are as robust or a ladder that’s as sturdy or a mattress that’s as comfortable (if it even comes with one), either.
So, part of the task of doing your due diligence is to spend your money wisely – to invest in a roof top tent that provides you the highest level of functionality, utility, comfort, and longevity that you can afford.
The keyword here is invest. Getting a good night’s sleep after a long day of overlanding is paramount. You need to be comfortable so you can rest well and be recharged for the next day’s activities. Because sleep is so important, I always recommend that you invest in the best tent you possibly can. So, with that in mind, what features should you look for in your REI roof top tent search?
Size and Weight Considerations
SMRT Summit Suite
As I mentioned before, roof top tents come in all sorts of sizes, which means they vary widely in their weight, too.
For example, the SMRT Summit Suite weighs 160 pounds. By contrast, the smaller SMRT “The” Softshell Tent weighs only 128 pounds.
SMRT “The” Softshell
Weight is important for a couple of reasons.
First, you have to consider the dynamic weight rating of your vehicle’s rack. Dynamic weight refers to the amount of weight the rack can support while in the act of driving. Obviously, having a tent that exceeds this amount is a major safety concern as it can make your vehicle top-heavy and more prone to rollovers.
This means that before buying a roof top tent or even buying an REI roof top tent, you need to check the owner’s manual of your vehicle to find out the dynamic weight rating of the factory rack. Alternatively, if you have an aftermarket rack on your vehicle, consult its owner’s manual for dynamic weight information. In most cases, aftermarket racks will have a higher dynamic weight rating.
“The” Softshell Tent from SMRT has a static weight rating of 661 pounds.
The second component of this is the static weight capacity. This refers to the ability of the vehicle’s roof and rack to safely support the load of the tent, all the gear inside, and the people sleeping in it when the vehicle is not in motion. It also refers to the weight that the tent itself can safely hold.
Again, this is a safety issue, so knowing ahead of time how much weight your vehicle and rack can accommodate will help you avoid buying a tent that simply won’t work with your vehicle. It’s worth noting that not all racks are compatible with rooftop tents in the first place, so perhaps start your research there!
Should You Get a Hard Shell or Soft Shell REI Roof Top Tent?
The SMRT Summit Suite is a hard shell tent that has a roof capacity of 175 lbs. for adding additional gear like bikes or solar panels.
In terms of the design of the roof top tent, one of the biggest decisions you need to make is if you invest in a hard shell or a soft shell tent.
As I discuss in detail in this guide to hard shell and soft shell tents, there are pros and cons to both types.
On the one hand, hard shell tents are fast to set up and allow you to add a rack on top for carrying additional gear. On the other hand, soft shell roof top tents can be roomier and more affordable.
The SMRT “The” Softshell sleeps up to four people.
For example, the hard shell SMRT Summit Suite sets up in about a minute. But “The” Softshell tent from SMRT is larger and can accommodate up to four people compared to three people in the Summit Suite.
It’s worth noting that hard shell tents tend to be better from an aerodynamic standpoint as you drive down the road. By closing down into a low-profile design (the Summit Suite is just 6.3″ tall when closed), you reduce drag and will improve your gas mileage.
Consider the Amenities
The SMRT Summit Suite has a roomy interior for up to three people (or you and your dog!).
Whether you’re shopping for an REI roof top tent or using another reputable dealer to find the right tent for your needs, you should take some time to explore the various amenities that the tents offer.
For example, I talked earlier about the need for a good night’s sleep, so comparing the types of mattresses you can get in a roof top tent is a great place to start.
My SMRT Summit Suite has a 59” x 81.5” high-density EPS open cell foam mattress. The open cell construction enables mattress airflow so you don’t wake up gross and sweaty at night. And while it’s firm to the touch, it also adapts to your body for excellent support for your weary bones after a long day of trekking.
The SMRT Sky Loft has a 52″ x 82″ mattress for one to two people.
Consider the size of the mattress, too. For example, my Summit Suite can sleep up to three people. By contrast, the SMRT Sky Loft’s mattress – which is the same build and materials as the one in the Summit Suite – is slightly smaller at 52″ x 82″. That size is more conducive to sleeping one or two people.
My tent’s mattress came with a removable polyester mattress cover, which is a Godsend after a long overlanding trip. Just pop it off, clean it up, let it dry, and it’ll be ready to go for the next adventure. I highly recommend keeping an eye out for that feature as you shop for a tent.
If you have your eye on four-season camping, be sure the tent comes with either an anti-condensation mat or quilted upper and lower components, that way you don’t have to worry about moisture and you can stay dry whether it’s summer, winter, or somewhere between.
The SMRT Summit Suite has a 7.5-foot telescopic ladder.
Look at the ladder for the tent, too.
While it might seem like roof top tent ladders should all be about the same, this could not be further from the truth.
I’m a big guy and weigh about 220 pounds, so when I step on a ladder, I want it to feel like there could be two of me on that thing with no issue! Now, obviously, if you buy your roof top tent online, you can’t exactly test out the ladder. But you can read reviews and see what other folks think before you buy. And, of course, if you get a tent and the ladder just won’t cut it, you can always send the tent back.
The SMRT Sky Loft pictured with a rear access ladder.
Look for tents that have adjustable-height ladders and different mounting points for the ladder as well. Having the ability to mount the ladder in different locations is a great feature of my tent and allows me to tailor my camp setup based on the terrain around my trailer and tent.
The SMRT Summit Suite and SMRT Sky Loft (pictured above) come with two shoe storage bags.
On the inside of the tent, you want some kind of storage for keeping your sleeping quarters a little more organized.
What I like about SMRT tents is that you get multiple pockets. In my Summit Suite, for example, there are two internal pockets for smaller items like my cell phone or flashlight, plus a large pocket on the ceiling of the tent for bigger items, like my son’s tablet.
The SMRT “The” Softshell has mesh panels that cover the windows to allow for airflow.
Ventilation is key as well. Check the tent’s specifications to see how many windows and doors there are, and that there are mesh panels that allow for airflow without letting bugs in.
Another key feature to think about is the interior dimensions of the tent. Since I’m tall, I look for tents that have good headroom.
The SMRT Sky Loft has 48″ of headroom.
The Summit Suite, for example, has a high point of 54″ inside. While I can’t stand up straight, it is more than enough room for me to crawl into the tent and have lots of headroom as I’m sitting down.
Even the smaller SMRT tents offer excellent headroom – the Sky Loft has a high point of 48″ while “The” Softshell has a high point of 47″.
The Build Quality is Hugely Important
SMRT tents have impeccable build quality, as shown by the materials in “The” Softshell tent.
Naturally, you want to invest in a tent that offers excellent build quality and durability for years of use. This means that you need to inspect the materials that are used in the construction of the tent.
A good indication of the quality of a tent is in the hardware. If it’s stainless steel or aluminum – as is the case with my Summit Suite – you’re good to go. The aluminum handle, for example, is lightweight yet strong. The hardware is stainless-steel for weather-resistance and smooth functionality for years and years of use.
But if you find a tent that uses other materials – plastic, in particular – buyer beware. Plastic hardware can become misshapen in extreme heat, crack or break in extreme cold, and will certainly wear out much faster than metal hardware.
The SMRT Summit Suite has a heavy-duty outer shell for durability.
As for the tent materials, you want something that’s heavy-duty and designed to hold up to all sorts of weather elements.
For example, the SMRT Summit Suite has a powder-coated heavy-duty honeycomb and extruded aluminum outer shell, which makes it supremely durable while also being resistant to punctures.
SMRT uses materials like 280gsm ripstop polyester cotton canvas for long-lasting durability.
The body of the tent is made with 280gsm ripstop polyester-cotton canvas that has a PU coating of 2000mm and a UPF of 40 plus, which gives it excellent weather resistance while also maintaining breathability. The same material is used on the Sky Loft tent body, while the “The” Softshell is made of 320gsm poly-cotton canvas with a 420D polyester Oxford rainfly that’s mold and mildew resistant.
Additionally, “The” Softshell’s seams are all coated for UV protection and waterproofing.
In other words, all three of these tents have been built with the highest-quality materials to ensure you are protected from the elements when you’re inside – just what you want when looking for an REI roof top tent or even from any other brand!
What is Your Budget for an REI Roof Top Tent?
The SMRT Summit Suite is well worth the investment!
REI Roof top tents or from any other brand run the gamut from ultra-cheap to extremely expensive. As we’ve already discussed, going the cheap route is not recommended because you just won’t get much durability and longevity out of the tent. Why buy two or three cheap tents over the years when one high-quality tent will last longer?!
So, with that in mind, I’ll repeat my earlier advice – invest in the best tent you can afford.
Now, I realize that not everyone can afford the $3,595 price tag for the SMRT Summit Suite. But if it’s possible to accommodate that price, I can’t recommend this tent enough.
The SMRT Sky Loft is a great option if the Summit Suite is too big for your needs.
Priced in the middle is the SMRT Sky Loft at $2,895. With many of the same amenities as the Summit Suite, this is a great option if you don’t need quite as much space and need to save a little money without sacrificing quality.
Get more space on a smaller budget with the SMRT “The” Softshell.
“The” Softshell tent from SMRT is the most budget-friendly at $2,600. It’s also the largest of the three options and sleeps up to four people.
Clearly, I’m a little biased here since I have an SMRT tent. For my purposes, there isn’t an REI roof top tent that meets my needs as well as the Summit Suite. And after so long researching roof top tents, there isn’t a company that I felt does as good a job of developing and manufacturing tents as SMRT. While there are cheaper options out there, in my opinion, SMRT tents are well worth the price of admission.
Take Time to Make Your Decision
Taking your time to research tents like the SMRT Sky Loft will ensure you get the right tent for your specific needs.
As I discussed earlier, it’s better to take more time researching what you want and need in a roof top tent than quickly pulling the trigger on something that ends up not working out.
I’m not telling you to do six months of research like I did, but give it a good amount of time before you invest in an REI roof top tent or from any other brand.
Of course, reading guides like this will hopefully help, too. After all, running 4WDTalk requires that I field test a lot of gear. As such, I’m constantly getting new stuff to test and swapping out the gear that I use on my trips, which is done in large part to provide you with as much hands-on experience as possible.
So, as you work towards finding an REI roof top tent, I hope my recommendations regarding an REI roof top tent will help guide you toward the ideal option. To help in your search, try Googling “roof top tent dealers near me.” You never know how close a dealer might be that allows you to check out roof top tents in person.
Recommended Overlanding Gear
- Portable Power Station
- Portable DC/AC Refrigerator
- First Aid Kit
- Camp Grill
- GMRS Radio
- Camp Chair
- Camping Lantern
- Camping Table
- Small Axe
- Camping Cookset