Many truck owners find themselves wondering if it’s possible to mount a camper shell over an existing tonneau cover. After all, both accessories serve to protect the truck bed in different ways. Wouldn’t it be convenient to get the benefits of both products in one setup?
Unfortunately, the answer is no. Mounting a camper shell over a tonneau cover is not recommended or possible with most truck bed configurations.
What Exactly Are Tonneau Covers and Camper Shells?
Before diving into why you can’t combine these two popular truck accessories, let’s review exactly what tonneau covers and camper shells are individually.
What is a Tonneau Cover?
A tonneau cover is an accessory that goes over the truck bed, like a lid. Tonneau covers come in two main styles:
- Hard tonneau covers – These are made from aluminum, fiberglass, or plastic. They turn the truck bed into a locked, rigid storage space.
- Soft tonneau covers – These use vinyl, canvas, or other fabric over a frame. They roll or fold up to allow open bed access.
Tonneau covers offer many benefits for truck owners:
- Keep cargo dry and secure from weather or theft.
- Allow truck bed access by rolling or folding the cover up.
- Improve gas mileage by streamlining airflow over the bed.
- Can be locked for security.
- Protect cargo from UV rays and scratches.
What is a Camper Shell?
A camper shell is a small, rigid camper unit that sits over the truck bed. Camper shells are also known as truck bed caps or toppers. Camper shells have:
- A high-walled, hard-shell exterior made of fiberglass or composite.
- Lockable side doors allow access to the bed.
- Windows on the sides and rear to allow light in.
- Living amenities like beds, storage, lighting, ventilation.
Camper shells turn a truck into a mini-RV for camping, road trips, and sleeping. The benefits of camper shells include:
- Turn the truck bed into a lockable, weatherproof living space.
- Offer stand-up headroom and living amenities.
- Provide extra storage with access from inside the shell.
- Improve gas mileage like a tonneau cover.
Now that you understand what these two popular truck accessories are, let’s look at why you can’t mount one over the other.
Why You Can’t Mount a Camper Shell Over a Tonneau Cover
There are a few key reasons why installing a camper shell over an existing tonneau cover won’t work:
Tonneau Covers Must Be Fully Removed
The first obstacle is that tonneau covers must be fully removed before installing a camper shell. Here’s why:
- Camper shells replace the entire open truck bed and fundamentally change the shape and structure.
- There is no way to integrate a flexible or hard tonneau cover underneath or around a camper shell.
- Camper shell side doors would be blocked by a remaining tonneau cover.
So the tonneau cover needs to come off completely before mounting the camper shell.
Camper Shells Have Special Mounting Systems
Another issue is that camper shells have specialized mounting systems and seal to the truck bed:
- They use rubber seals, mounting brackets, and clamps to securely attach.
- This flush, sealable system wouldn’t work over a tonneau cover lip or railings.
- Camper shell doors must align perfectly with the bed, which wouldn’t be possible over a cover.
Significant Height and Weight Added
Finally, camper shells add considerable height and weight:
- Extra weight and force on a tonneau cover could damage the cover.
- The camper shell’s roof would hit and couldn’t clear a hard tonneau cover when installed.
- Soft covers aren’t designed to support that much load weight on top.
In summary, camper shells fundamentally transform truck bed structure, must integrate directly with the bed rails, and add too much height and weight for a tonneau cover to support underneath.
Can You Install a Tonneau Cover on a Camper Shell?
The opposite question we sometimes get is can you install a tonneau cover on an existing camper shell? The answer is maybe, but likely not. Here are the considerations:
- You would have to custom cut any fabric tonneau cover to fit around camper doors and windows. This is difficult and ruins cover integrity.
- Low profile hard covers may physically fit if precisely cut around doors and windows. But they won’t seal well with the camper’s roof and gaps.
- Adding another layer on top slightly reduces MPG benefits and adds weight.
- You still have the issue of access being blocked between camper doors and the tonneau cover.
Overall, installing a tonneau cover over a camper shell is very difficult and provides little added benefit. It’s better to choose one or the other truck bed accessory rather than trying to combine them.
What Are Some Alternatives to Enjoy the Benefits of Both?
We know the idea of getting the advantages of a tonneau cover and camper shell together sounds very appealing! While you can’t physically mount one over the other, here are some alternatives:
Choose a Topper with a Built-In Cover
Some camper shell manufacturers offer “combo” models with a built-in retractable tonneau cover. This gives the benefits of both while designed to work together. The integrated cover rolls away under the shell when not needed.
Add a Roof Top Tent
Roof top tents mount to the roof rather than over the bed, so are compatible with tonneau covers. RTTs pair nicely with a tonneau’s security and weather protection below.
Use a Shell and Tonneau at Different Times
One option is to have each accessory and switch between them as needed. Use the tonneau cover for everyday security and MPG. When camping or hauling tall cargo, switch to the camper shell.
Choose Locking Bed Covers
If security is your priority, choose a locking hard tonneau cover or camper shell. There are also other locking truck bed options like bed slide drawers.
Use a Topper and Cargo Carrier
Carry extra gear and belongings in a cargo carrier basket on the camper roof. This adds enclosed space below plus external storage.
In summary, camper shells and tonneau covers both have excellent benefits for truck owners. But it is not structurally possible to mount one over the other in most situations. To get the advantages of both, look into integrated combo models, roof top tents, or switching between the accessories as needed. With some creative thinking, you can find a solution that provides the enhanced utility, security, and weather protection you seek!