Tonneau Cover vs Camper Shell: Which One Should You Consider to Buy?

Pickup trucks are getting more and more popular each year because of their higher durability than regular cars and how they can carry more cargo.

But, as you already know, the backside of a pickup truck remains exposed. This can attract unwanted attention and lots of other issues.

This is why pickup truck drivers tend to cover their cargo beds to keep their cargo safe and secure. But the confusion arises when you go out shopping. You have two options. Tonneau cover or camper shell. You can choose only one.

In this article, we will tell you the differences and the pros and cons so that you can make up your mind about which one to buy for your precious pickup truck.

Tonneau Cover vs Camper Shell: The Differences


We will give you detailed information about both the tonneau cover and camper shell so that you can have a better understanding.

If you get all the details, you will identify the differences and which one to go for.

What is a Tonneau Cover?

What is a Tonneau Cover

Both tonneau covers and camper shells are made to accomplish the same goals: to cover and protect your cargo. This is their primary purpose. But, of course, they have different designs and materials.

A tonneau cover is more of a part-time solution to your problems. That is not a bad thing. It's a good thing.

You can roll or fold up your tonneau cover whenever you feel like it. This comes in handy when you have a tall cargo.

Tonneau covers come in two versions depending on the materials used to make them. The first one is soft, which is made out of industrial vinyl. This allows them to be seamless and lightweight.

The hardcovers use thick and strong structural materials such as aluminum. Yes, the hardcovers are more expensive, but they provide better security.

They also come in two types of opening: folding and rolling. But you won't get any advantages over one another. So, buy whatever opening system you prefer.

Moving on, tonneau covers are a lot easier to install than the counterpart, camper shell. Depending on the tools you use, it will only take about 20 minutes to install a tonneau cover.

And you can fold or roll up the cover within a few minutes. That means you can get your cargo bed just like it was in a matter of minutes. How cool is that?

Soft covers are not very durable, but they are easy to handle. On the other hand, the hardcovers can easily hold up to 600 pounds.

So, if the cargo bed is full, you can place items on the cover itself. Not sure about the security, but just letting you know what they are capable of.

Probably the best part about these covers is that you can increase the mileage of your pick truck. Kinda seems crazy, right? Well, let us explain. The tonneau covers are super aerodynamic.

This means your cargo bed will generate less air drag while driving. This can increase your mileage by 5%.

Some of the expensive covers can extend this to 10%. So, we would recommend covering the bed while driving even when you don't have any cargo in it.

Now let's talk about the cons. Tonneau covers limit your cargo space. Because they sit on top of your cargo bed, you won't be able to place something taller than your bed.

If you want to do it anyway, you will have to roll or fold up the cover, which is pointless because this isn't why you bought a tonneau cover, did you?

Rolling it up even makes your cargo vulnerable to thieves or weather conditions such as snow or rain. So, if you want to use a tonneau cover, you have to put only the things that fit the bed.

The soft covers provide less security because someone can easily use a knife to slice open the cover and steal your cargo.

Now let's look at the pros and cons at a glance.


  • Ease of installation: anyone can easily install a tonneau cover by themselves within 30 minutes.
  • Lightweight: as the soft tonneau covers are made out of strong vinyl, they are lightweight and easy to carry. They also do not add any extra weight to your vehicle.
  • Mileage: because of their aerodynamic design, they generate less air drag in the cargo bed which helps increase gas mileage from 5% to 10%.


  • Thieves: the soft tonneau is made out of vinyl, making them easy to slice up or cut open.
  • Limited space: because the tonneau covers sit on your cargo bed, you cannot put anything taller than the bed itself.

What is a Camper Shell?

What is a Camper Shell

If you love to travel a lot with your pickup truck, you will love camper shells because they are more practical. To be honest, they are also the solution to 99% of the problems pickup truckers face.

You can get three types of camper shells, depending on the size. The lower ones are not recommended because they closely resemble tonneau covers.

You shouldn't get the high ones either, which we will talk about in a minute. The mid-height is the perfect one.

The main problem with tonneau covers was the limited space due to the height. Well, camper shells have lots of room.

But the problem is that tonneau covers were removable, meaning you can just roll or fold them up. On the other hand, camper shells are sort of a permanent attachment to your pickup truck.

Yes, you can remove them, but this takes a lot of time. So, when you install a camper shell, you are stuck with the height and space provided by it.

Speaking of installation, you will require professional help when installing a camper shell. It also takes a lot of time. Don't worry, though. Most of the time, the dealer you are buying it from will install it for you.

Unlike tonneau covers, you get windows with camper shells. You can get a fixed window which isn't very good, or a slider window that can slide sideways to increase ventilation of your cargo bed, or you can get "windoors," which is the best one.

These are vented windows that you can raise completely to get full access to your cargo. They also have sliding windows. So you get two-in-one.

The windows feature makes it perfect for travelers who bring their pet animal with them. You can keep your animals in the cargo bed.

The windows also come in handy if you sleep on your cargo bed. You can just open the windows to get fresh air.

The interior of most of the camper shells has fabric headliners. It adds a little bit of insulation and keeps the noise low. And if you are camping at a low temperature, it keeps your belongings warm and cozy.

The security part is a hit and miss. You get security and lose security as well. We know it sounds weird.

You get security because camper shells are made out of durable construction. But you lose security because of the windows. You know windows are easy to break.

Remember when we told you not to buy high height camper shells a few minutes back? If the shell is higher than the pickup truck itself, it generates more air drag, lowering your fuel mileage.

Let's look at the pros and cons now.


  • Weather-resistance: if properly installed, they can withstand just about any weather condition.
  • Ventilation: because of the windows, you can get more air inside the camper shell.
  • Space: as camper shells have a higher height than tonneau covers, you can keep more cargo.
  • Fabric interior: because of the fabric headliners, your belongings stay warm even when the weather is cold.


  • Windows: because of the fragility of windows, anyone can break into your cargo bed.
  • Installation: unlike tonneau covers, installing a camper shell needs professional assistance and more time.
  • Mileage: if you buy a high height shell, it might decrease the mileage because of air resistance.

Final words

As more people are getting interested in traveling, the popularity of pickup trucks is also increasing because of their rugged construction, durability and versatility.

And you know, you can travel alone, but you cannot ever travel without bags, camping materials and luggage.

Just throwing your stuff on the back bed can attract unwanted attention. Furthermore, keeping your cargo without some sort of cover can get them ruined or damaged when it rains or snows.

This is why using either a tonneau cover or a camper shell is necessary. Now that you know the pros and cons of both of them, we hope you can make the proper decision of which one to go for.

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