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Tonneau Cover vs Camper Shell: What is the Ultimate Winner?

When you have a truck or a van, and you frequently use it to carry or transport cargo, the question ultimately arises: what’s the best way to protect my stuff? 

Of course, there’s the option of tonneau covers, which are the most popular and widely used covers for your vehicles with a truck bed. Tonneau covers are available in different shapes, sizes and materials, and they can be used perfectly to keep any kind of cargo you are carrying or transporting safe. 

However, there’s one other option for truck owners to consider. This might not be such a widely popular option, but it is also possible to use a camper shell as a cover for your truck bed to protect what’s inside. In fact, in some ways, a camper shell might be a better choice for you. 

So, when it comes to choosing between tonneau cover vs camper shell for your truck bed, what should you consider? 

First of all, let’s learn about what tonneau covers and camper shells are, and what they can do for your truck bed and your cargo. 

What is Tonneau Cover? 

Tonneau Cover vs Camper Shell

Tonneau covers are basically external covers that you buy separately and install to your truck bed, and use to cover up your cargo when you need to protect them. There are a few different types of tonneau covers available in the market based on how they need to be opened and how sturdy they are.

Tri-fold tonneau covers, for example, come with a sturdy frame that can be folded back into three parts, giving you complete access to the truck bed. Roll-up tonneau covers, both the standard and the premium ones, can be rolled up – manually or automatically – to one side for the same reason.

Tonneau covers are usually made from vinyl or plastic, with a sturdy aluminum frame that is easy to install on most truck covers. 

What is Camper Shell? 

Camper shells are also enclosures made for truck beds, but they are different in one very important way: they are usually cab-high. 

Camper shells are also installed on truck beds but they create a higher space over the truck bed and come complete with a door for access, side- and rear windows. In fact, camper shells can turn any ordinary truck into a camper van, giving enough space inside for not just cargo but multiple passengers, if needed. 

Camper shells can turn any truck bed into a camper without having to buy anything other than the shell. With this, your truck can be used both for carrying cargo or sleeping inside, storing food or camping supplies, or even for a living space when on the road. 

Tonneau Cover vs Camper Shell: How are they Different? 

While both camper shells and tonneau covers are used to keep whatever is in your truck bed safe and protected, they are nevertheless very different from each other. 

Tonneau Cover vs Camper Shell


Tonneau covers, even the sturdiest ones, are made from canvas fabric, held together by a sturdy aluminum frame. Some of them, i.e. the tri-fold tonneau covers, might be completely made from aluminum as they need to be folded into segments instead of rolled up.

Besides, the tonneau covers that are sturdy enough to carry weight on the top are usually made from aluminum sheets with metal frames. The roll-up tonneau covers, on the other hand, are usually made with canvas fabric stretched over an aluminum frame. 

Camper shells, since they are supposed to be sturdier and stay up erect without any support, are made from fiberglass, aluminum, thermoplastic, and steel.

The ones made from aluminum and steel are used more commonly since they are sturdier and more suitable for 4-wheelers on rough roads, as the ones made from fiberglass or thermoplastic may develop some cracks due to stress. 


Tonneau covers are designed so that they cover up the truck bed, keeping the cargo inside safe. They do not create any additional space inside the truck bed but simply cover it up. 

Camper shells, on the other hand, almost double up the space inside the truck bed. With a camper shell installed, there should be enough space inside the truck bed not just for storing more cargo, but also for living or sleeping inside, carrying furniture and large objects, and keeping them safe and protected. 

Tonneau Cover vs Camper Shell

Air Circulation 

Tonneau covers keep the entire truck bed completely covered. Unless a portion of the tonneau cover is kept open or unfolded, there isn’t enough gap in between the truck bed and the cover for air to pass.

This makes it almost impossible to ride inside the truck bed or to carry live animals without keeping a section of the truck bed uncovered. 

On the other hand, most camper shells come with side windows and rear windows, as well as a gate that needs to be locked. This provides ample air circulation inside the truck bed at all times, which makes it possible for someone to ride inside the truck bed or to carry live animals. 

Ease of Use 

Tonneau covers need to be opened and closed every time you use it, i.e. you need to roll it up or fold it out before using, and again bring the cover back before locking the sides. This takes time, strength and effort, especially when dealing with the manual tonneau covers that need to be manhandled. 

Camper shells, on the other hand, need to be installed only once, and then used whenever needed. There is no need to remove the shell or fold it in any way, except to open and close the rear door for the cargo to be loaded and unloaded.

With camper shells, you’ll only need to open and close the door once you’re done using the space inside without having to fold or unfold, roll or unroll the cover. 

Installation Process 

Tonneau covers are actually easier to install and uninstall. They are lightweight and easily removable, and most of them come with the tools that you’ll need to install the tonneau cover to your truck bed the first time.

Since they don’t require any professional expertise to install, anyone can simply buy a tonneau cover from their local hardware store and install it if they have the right tools. It doesn’t take more than half an hour or an hour for the entire process to be successfully finished. 

Camper shells are much heavier, and they will definitely require more than one person to install. In fact, it is better for camper shells to be installed by a professional in a workshop if you don’t have enough experience with hardware and tools. 

They are also not very easy to uninstall or remove, as well, if you want to carry or transport something that’s taller than the space inside. Sometimes, the whole topper of the truck bed needs to be taken off if you want your large cargo to fit on your truck bed. 

Which One is Better: Camper Shell or Tonneau Cover?

Tonneau Cover vs Camper Shell

Apart from the complicated installation and uninstallation procedure, a camper shell is always a much better option for your truck bed to carry or transport cargo.

They might be comparatively more expensive, but a camper shell doubles up the space in your truck gives it ample air circulation and breathing space. It is also easier to use without having to spend time and strength in folding or rolling up the cover every single time you need to use the space inside. 

Besides giving you more space and storage, a camper shell on your truck bed makes your vehicle the ideal one to ride out for camping, spend your nights on the road, as well as live inside it temporarily. 


All things considered between camper shell vs tonneau cover, a camper shell installed on your truck, unless you regularly need to carry large and tall cargo is a much better option for storage and transportation than a tonneau cover. 

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