The Smittybilt Overlander Tent is a high-quality rooftop tent that offers elevated rest in almost any environment. Although ostensibly built to fit many Jeep Wrangler models, you can also fit it on most other vehicles with a sufficiently strong mounting base or cargo bed.
While it’s not the largest vehicle-mounted tent around (Overland Vehicle Systems’ Nomadic 3 is noticeably larger), Smittybilt’s setup has several features that help it stand out from the crowd and make it worth considering over larger options.
In this Smittybilt roof top tent review, we’ll take a closer look at things to consider, the features and benefits, what other people are saying, some alternative choices, and some general information to know before you buy products like this one.
- Capacity: 2-3 people; also available in a 3-4 person XL size
- Open Size: 95” x 56” x 51”
- Load Capacity: 661 lbs. (299.8 kg)
- Packed Size: 58” x 49” x 13”
- Weight: 132 lbs.
Things to consider before buying a roof top tent
Rooftop tents are great when you want to stay off the ground and enjoy consistent comfort while you’re traveling. One of the key advantages here is that you can sleep almost anywhere — that is, anywhere you can bring a vehicle — without worrying about rocks or other issues on the ground.
Although this is ostensibly a rooftop tent, some people also install them in the backs of trucks and similar vehicles, so you don’t necessarily have to be too far off the ground when using them.
However, these tents still require parking on a mostly-flat surface because they don’t deal with angles too well. If you’re going somewhere exceptionally rocky, you may need to get creative to level your Jeep or look for alternative sleeping solutions.
Here are some of the main features of the Smittybilt Overlander tent.
Size and Comfort
The Smittybilt Overlander rooftop tent fits 2-3 people depending on their size or one more person if you get the XL variant. Unlike other overland tents, it also has some optional annex features that extend from the bottom of the tent down. This gives you plenty of room and a significant amount of additional space for dining, relaxing, or simply having a little quiet time away from others.
We particularly like the way this rooftop tent is well-balanced over the vehicle in its standard form. Some overhead tents lean heavily out over one side. That is fundamentally more difficult to work with, even if the structural elements are safely attached to the ground.
One thing to keep in mind here is that, like most tents, it’s not especially tall unless you’re in the middle. If you are on the short side, you may be able to stand, but if you’re tall, you might need to stay crouched or lie down while inside the tent itself. That’s rare, but it’s worth keeping in mind when you go shopping.
The other consideration for this product is its weight. At 132 lbs shipped, it is too heavy to mount by yourself — unless you are extremely strong. This is a two-person job, or even three people. So, don’t go shopping until you have a plan for getting it onto your vehicle.
Assembly and Installation
The assembly for this rooftop tent differs depending on whether you’re buying any of the many accessories that Smittybilt offers.
The Smittybilt Overlander roof top tent works facing either to the side or to the back of the vehicle, depending on the type of vehicle you’re installing it on. The manufacturer recommends going off the back for larger vehicles and off the side for smaller ones.
The actual installation process is relatively straightforward, although you may need to cut the mounting extrusions to size if you’re mounting it off the back.
The tent base mounts firmly to the bars on the top of the vehicle, but make sure you attach it in a place that gives plenty of support to the entire bottom of the structure.
If there’s not enough support in the central area, you may end up damaging the tent, so keep that in mind when you’re spacing it. Also, the tent will settle over time, so you may need to re-tighten components after leaving them in place for a while.
After attaching the Smittybilt Overlander rooftop tent, the actual setup is extremely straightforward. The main component is sliding the ladder out and using it as leverage to unfold the tent, which should pop up as soon as you’re done.
Extra components, such as the annex, may require additional work to drop down or put in place once they’re installed, but getting this tent into place is the hardest part of the process.
Tent Set up
Setting up the tent once you’re at your destination is noticeably easier than setting up most other types of tents. This makes it a good choice for using when you’re on a tight schedule or when you simply don’t want to take the time during your trip.
While installing this tent isn’t hard, it will take a little time and effort. Don’t expect to attach this at the last minute, before you leave for your trip. Ideally, try to install the tent a few weeks before you use it, so it has time to settle onto the rack.
The first is the anodized aluminum frame, which consists of one-inch bars. These bars are thicker than what many competitors offer and provide outstanding structural strength while still keeping the weight as low as possible. This isn’t a light tent by any stretch of the imagination, but it could certainly be heavier.
The frame is one of the critical factors that allows this tent to support over 650 pounds without damage. Given its size, that’s enough for almost any group to use without worry.
Another crucial part of its durability is the rip-stop polyester fabric, pictured above. This fabric uses a special sewing pattern that stops most rips and tears before they can progress too far. That significantly increases this product’s durability compared to similar tents that don’t use such fabric.
Ultimately, I think this fabric choice is one of the key selling points for this product. To put it bluntly, I do not want a product that’s going to fall apart after two or three uses if I’m spending more than a thousand dollars on it. That cost gets even higher if you start adding accessories to it.
Beyond the frame and the fabric choices, there are a few other things to keep in mind:
The first consideration is the nice rainfly on top, which provides outstanding cover from most types of rain. It’s not as good at protecting against the wind, though, so consider keeping things zipped shut if the air isn’t calm enough.
The second is that this is very much designed as a permanent tent. This is not something to slide on and off of your vehicle each time you plan to go out on a trip; constantly tightening and loosening things will fundamentally weaken the connections and reduce overall safety.
In short, you’re sacrificing some flexibility for your vehicle in exchange for an admittedly high-quality traveling rooftop tent.
Smittybilt’s Overlander rooftop tent is one of the most flexible traveling tent systems we’ve ever seen, and that’s saying something. The primary tent itself is a straightforward living space above your vehicle and isn’t especially distinct in that regard.
What is distinct is the number and variety of accessories for this tent. Up above, you can see an image of the optional annex. This is a relatively straightforward enclosure that mostly hangs down from the side of the tent and provides additional living space.
You can use the annex as an extra bedroom, a meal room, or simply a private chamber away from other people.
The Overlander also supports an awning mesh room on the opposite side from the annex, which functionally puts your entire vehicle under an arch-shaped tent area. You can use one, two, or both of these rooms when you’re out on a trip. However, it’s important to ensure they all end at ground level.
The awning side is available with or without mesh attachments that turn it into a room, too. We particularly recommend these if you’re having your tent go off the side because they can provide tons of additional space without compromising your access to your vehicle’s rear.
The first factor is the rainfly system, which we mentioned earlier. This nylon system extends out to provide excellent water protection in mild to moderate rainfall, and it’s more than enough for most users. It goes a decent way out from the tent, too, so angled rain is caught.
Below the rainfly is the polyester canvas, which is also quite water-resistant. 600D polyester cloth isn’t naturally waterproof, but Smittybilt isn’t overlooking the obvious here. The fabric has gone through waterproofing treatments to make it suitable for outdoor use.
You may need to occasionally maintain the fabric by adding additional waterproofing coatings to it. But that’s an easy and realistic maintenance investment if you plan to go camping regularly.
If you don’t go camping very often, the tent probably won’t get worn down enough to make that sort of maintenance necessary.
Despite all of that, there’s one more consideration here. All of the above applies when you’re using the tent, but the tent doesn’t stop existing when you get home. If you leave it out in extreme weather for a long period of time, it may get damaged.
In short, it’s better to remove it from your vehicle when you’re done for the year and store it in a dry, temperate area. Inside of most garages is fine, although a storage room inside your house would be even better.
Earlier, we said you shouldn’t constantly install and remove this tent, and that holds true. Moving it on and off of your vehicle once a year each is an appropriate amount of use. But it would be excessive to do that every time you come back from camping.
You may need to add extra blankets to stay warm on colder nights, but if you’re using this tent during the summer, you can expect plenty of airflow and minimal need for fans or other cooling systems. Even a light breeze should pass through this tent with no problems.
The same holds true for the annex and any other accessories. While you can close specific areas to reduce airflow and keep warmth in, this is a fundamentally well-ventilated product. You can’t get much more ventilated without sacrificing structural integrity.
Beyond those extensions, there are a few more accessories that the Manufacturer makes and recommends, although buying all of them will drive the cost of ownership up significantly.
The first of these is a tent ladder extension, which adds about one step of height to the existing ladder. This isn’t necessary for all owners, but if you’re driving a vehicle with larger wheels or raised components, you may need to get this to let your ladder rest safely on the ground.
Having the ladder on the ground is important because it provides some extra support and stability while propping up your tent. It’s especially important to have your ladder firmly on the ground whenever someone is climbing in or out of the tent, so don’t slack on getting this if you think you’ll need it.
If you’re in doubt, buy it along with the tent and return it later if you end up not needing it.
Smittybilt also sells some portable generators. Personally, I feel like this is straying a little too far from tent accessories to really be categorized as such, but Smittybilt includes one of these on their list of Overlander parts and components.
Their primary generator is a 2600W unit with various direct plugs in it that allow you to connect many types of devices. This is especially useful if you want to power some lights or entertainment devices on your trip, but because it’s entirely fuel-based, you’ll have to carry fuel for it on top of everything else you’re bringing.
If you want consistent electrical power for longer trips, consider towing a solar panel and battery system instead of bringing a portable generator. I find this accessory to be the least useful for long camping trips because of its fuel requirement.
The final accessory worth considering is Smittybilt’s Arctic Fridge/Freezer system. This is also straying somewhat from a true tent accessory, but it’s something you can at least put in your tent to run things as long as you have electricity to power it.
This is another case where having a solar setup is better than fuel-based generators for longer trips. Even with this cooler’s extremely high efficiency, freezers are power-hungry, and it’s better to have a reliable source of electricity for longer trips.
This could be necessary for some people, especially those who need to keep medications cold, so I think it’s the second-most-important accessory. It’s not as important as the tent ladder extension (if you need that), but it’s definitely more useful than the portable generator during long trips as long as you have a way to keep it powered.
Price-wise, this is a mid-range product. No overhead tent system is genuinely cheap, but this is far from a budget model, and it starts to get significantly more expensive if you begin buying all the extra accessories and components.
It’s actually much better than some roof top tents we’ve seen that are four or five times its price without any special features to show for it. Those products are often just trying to get your money by fooling you into thinking that they’re better than they really are. We like that the Overlander even comes in an XL variant if you want more space.
We won’t say this is the single best value on the market, but we do think that if you go too much past this product’s price point, you probably won’t be getting as good of a return on your investment.
The one thing some other tents have as a good selling point is a hard shell ceiling. This usually means you won’t have as much headspace as the Overlander offers, but there’s something to be said for a hard, damage-resistant tent case when you’re driving through the wilderness.
What Others Think About The Smittybilt Roof Top Tent
As part of reviewing the Smittybilt tent, we also looked around to see what other campers think of this rooftop tent. Here are some Smittybilt Overlander reviews from other people that we found.
Here are some major competitors to the Smittybilt Overlander.
This rooftop tent is a more expensive competitor that comes with an annex kit for extra space on one side. It also has an extra-long cover against rain on two sides, though you’ll have to angle your tent (and therefore your vehicle) against the rain to get the most advantage from it.
This is a good choice if you know you want the extra space from an annex.
Overland Vehicle Systems’ Nomadic tent is similar to Smittybilt’s XL version in that it’s extra-long on one side. It doesn’t require any drilling or vehicle modifications if you attach it to a standard roof rack, either. This is a great choice for anyone looking for a lot of space, but it doesn’t come with annexes.
Front Runner’s tent is a lightweight alternative to most other rooftop tents, coming in at about 88 lbs on your car. It also has loose rails when shipped, which gives it more flexibility to attach to different rack systems. Its external fabric is lighter than most other roof top tents, however.
- Pricing: Highest: ARB Simpson, Lowest: Front Runner
- Reviews: Highest: ARB Simpson/Overland Vehicle Systems (tie); Lowest: Front Runner
- Easiest Installation: Overland Vehicle Systems
We don’t like any of these alternatives more than the Overlander we’re discussing in this Smittybilt roof top tent review. However, it’s always worth looking at some other options before you buy something, so take a look at these products to see if any of them match your vision better.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can these tents tip over when you’re getting in?
This is the first question that came to mind when we first saw a rooftop tent because we were looking at an extended version where it went way over the vehicle’s edge. The simple answer is no, but only as long as you attach them correctly. There are two reasons for this.
The first reason is that the tent is anchored with most of its weight on your vehicle. The average SUV weighs about 4800 lbs, so a 200-lb human can’t tilt it with just a bit of weight on one side. The car may wobble slightly, but it’s doubtful that it will merely fall over.
The second reason is that the aluminum ladder acts as a stabilizer as long as it’s on solid ground. This props up the side of the frame and usually supports more than 200 lbs of the weight for the tent, moving the force down into the ground instead of out where it can eventually exert leverage on the vehicle.
With all of that in mind, one thing to remember is that roof tents are more stable if you attach them to a larger or heavier vehicle. They can get even more stable if you attach them so that the exit is to the rear of the vehicle and more of the car is under it.
How many people can fit in most of these tents?
Roof top tents don’t vary too much in real size. Standard models fit two adults comfortably, with some room left over for a pet or a child. Larger models may fit three adults or two adults and two children.
Note that these sizing guidelines don’t take into account the weight of the occupants. Decent models will usually support 600 lbs or more, but cheaper models can dip below that range.
Weight is one of the most significant factors when buying any roof top tent, and it’s just an important consideration for this Smittybilt roof top tent review. Generally, your vehicle’s rack needs to support the entire weight of the tent (usually 100 to 150 lbs) and most of the occupants’ weight aside from whatever the ladder can manage.
Are rooftop tents any good in windy environments?
Only sometimes. You’re probably not at risk of having your whole tent blown down even in moderately windy weather, but it’s normal to feel uncomfortable if you’re elevated and lacking a hard structure between you and the outside.
However, most of these tents have large rainfly systems to help keep the water off of you during the night. These have large flaps that can catch the wind, and they may break off if the wind gets too strong. This is why roof top tents are generally best in areas with little wind to worry about.
The exception to this is tents that have additional anchors that you can put in the ground. These aren’t universal, but a few strings and anchors can do a lot to secure your tent. You can often close windows and retract flaps if you expect wind, too, which goes a long way towards making things more comfortable.
This is an area where having a heavier tent is a good thing. Tents that have thicker fabric and metal pieces are fundamentally better at resisting the wind. However, if it gets too windy, drive to a sheltered area for safety.
One of the best things about roof top tents is that you can usually find somewhere that’s protected from the weather and still suitable for setting up your camp, so you’re not necessarily out of luck just because it’s windy out.
You may experience more wind chill if the breeze is blowing too much, though, which is why a strategy to keep warm is so important. We’ll get to that in a few moments.
How light are rooftop tents inside?
Roof top tents tend to be dark inside, even if you have a roof vent and relatively large windows. A lot of this has to do with the fabric that companies use to make the sides, which is usually 400D to 600D polyester.
This is a comparatively thick fabric that goes through waterproofing treatments to make it suitable for outdoor use. However, it’s also thick enough that it blocks most light from getting into the tent. Further, the overhangs that help keep the rain away from the windows block even more light from getting into the higher areas.
All of this means that lighting is a real issue in most roof tents, and you shouldn’t expect a well-lit environment unless you actively improve it. The good news is that manufacturers are aware of this and often take steps to help mitigate the darkness.
For Smittybilt’s Overlander tent, you can expect to find an LED strip for the inside of the tent that provides modest lighting. We particularly like the bulb choice here because LEDs are energy-efficient enough to last extended periods with minimal battery drain.
Some other manufacturers include flashlights, handheld lamps, or similar options. Roof top tents may even have a hook or velcro strap where you can attach the light so it illuminates as much of the tent as possible.
How warm are rooftop tents?
While rooftop tents are generally weather-resistant, they are not especially well-insulted. Three-season tents are best in 40-70 degree weather, while summer tents work best in 50-70 degree weather.
To put it another way, you’re going to need some warm sleeping bags or at least some kind of personal space heater if you want to maintain a comfortable temperature at night.
There are a few ways to get warmer if that’s what you want to do. First, you can enhance the bedding layer of your tent with something insulating, such as a thick blanket or a mattress pad. Second, you can hang other types of insulation up to cover the walls. This is rarely perfect, but it should make a noticeable difference.
Do not try to sleep in a roof top tent during the winter unless you are an experienced outdoor camper and have the appropriate gear, such as cold-weather sleeping bags, the right clothing, and excellent space heaters. Most tents, including Smittybilt’s Overlander, are not intended for winter use and will not keep you safe if it’s too cold.
(If you really want to camp in winter, check out this guide.)
Insulation is a particularly good choice if you buy a space heater to go with your tent. Otherwise, you’ll be radiating heat away all night, and that wastes a lot of energy. Camping in colder environments requires a lot of care, but it is possible.
Warmer areas don’t need to worry about this nearly as much. If the outside air remains at a comfortable temperature, then a good sleeping bag is all you need to enjoy the night.
How good are rooftop tents’ mattresses?
Most rooftop tents have relatively modest mattresses, usually 2-3 inches of foam or a similar material. They don’t like squeezing the mattress too much because you can’t let it inflate for a day before using it, and this is actually a significant part of the closed size of the tent.
In our experience, the first four inches of a mattress have the greatest impact on overall comfort. We’ve slept on the difference between a 2-inch pad and a 4-inch pad over an extremely firm base, and it’s almost impossible to overstate how big the difference is.
This is why we recommend bringing an additional mattress topper if space permits, regardless of which tent you buy. Alternatively, consider buying an extremely plush, high-quality sleeping bag. These will make roof top camping, and therefore your entire trip, considerably better.
How long does it take to set up a roof top tent?
Manufacturers would like you to believe that you can set up a roof top tent just by unfolding it and you’ll be ready to climb in and relax. That’s an exaggeration, but not by much.
Realistically, you can expect all of the setup for an average tent to take about five minutes. This includes unlocking things, pulling it open, connecting the rainfly, and generally preparing it for proper use. While this isn’t instant, it’s still significantly faster than most traditional tents, and having someone else helping can make it go even faster.
Putting it back down is usually a more involved process. Most experienced campers can do this in about 15 minutes, but amateurs may take up to twice as long. Consider practicing with your tent a few times before you go on your trip to be sure there are no last-minute surprises when you want to close it down and head out for the day.
This timetable does not include moving accessories up or down. That doesn’t usually take too long, but it is a bit of added time that you should account for when planning your day.
The Smittybilt Overlander is an excellent roof top tent for most people. It’s affordable and comes with several attractive features that set it apart from competitors, including numerous accessibility options and enhanced durability to ensure extended use.