Pickup truck owners have an important decision to make when it comes to getting a tonneau cover – choosing between a soft cover or a hard cover. Both types have advantages and disadvantages, so it’s crucial to understand the key differences between soft and hard tonneau covers.
What is a Soft Tonneau Cover?
A soft tonneau cover is made from flexible materials like heavy-duty vinyl, canvas or leather. The cover stretches over the truck bed and secures to the sides with snaps, Velcro, buckles or bows.
Soft covers roll up or fold for easy access to the truck bed. When rolled or folded back, they allow complete use of the bed without having to remove the cover.
Advantages of Soft Tonneau Covers
- Cost – Soft covers are generally the most affordable tonneau option, ranging from $200-$800.
- Weight – Vinyl and canvas soft covers are lightweight, adding little weight to the truck. This leaves more cargo capacity compared to hard covers.
- Easy to Use – Soft covers roll or fold up for quick, easy access to the full truck bed whenever needed.
- Low Profile Aesthetic – With a smooth, low-profile look, soft covers integrate cleanly into the truck bed without standing out.
- Variety – Soft covers come in roll-up, tri-fold, snap, and automatic retractable styles. This provides buyers with options to choose the style they prefer.
Disadvantages of Soft Covers
- Durability – Soft covers are prone to rips, punctures, fraying and wear-and-tear over time. Vinyl and canvas covers have a shorter lifespan than hard covers.
- Security – Soft materials can be easily cut into, offering less theft protection. The tailgate also remains exposed when the cover is rolled or folded up.
- Weather Protection – Soft covers seal less tightly against the weather. Rain, snow and dust can still intrude into the bed.
- Wind Noise – Flapping vinyl and canvas can be noisy at high speeds and needs to be tightened properly.
- Storage Size – When removed, soft covers take up more space than low-profile hard covers.
What is a Hard Tonneau Cover?
Hard tonneau covers are made from solid, rigid materials like aluminum, fiberglass, reinforced polymers or ABS plastic. The panels create a stiff, sturdy lid over the truck bed.
Hard covers open in different ways – folding, retracting, or tilting open on hinges – but do not roll or fold up. The bed is fully accessible only when the cover is completely removed.
Advantages of Hard Tonneau Covers
- Durability – Hard covers are extremely durable, designed to handle any weather condition and last for years. The rigid panels resist dents, punctures and damage.
- Security – With their impenetrable panels, hard covers offer maximum theft protection. The truck bed stays fully locked down when the cover is closed.
- Weather Protection – Hard covers seal tightly against the bed, keeping out dust, snow and rain. Condensation is less likely to form underneath.
- Appearance – The smooth, glossy finish of most hard covers provides a custom, upscale look. The panels integrate cleanly into the bed.
- Variety – Like soft covers, hard covers come in retractable, folding and hinged styles. There are options between metal, plastic and fiberglass.
Disadvantages of Hard Covers
- Weight – The thick composite panels add significant weight, up to 100 pounds. This reduces payload capacity compared to soft covers.
- Price – Starting around $500, hard covers are more expensive. Higher-end models with retractable functions can cost over $2,000.
- Limited Bed Access – Hard covers must be fully removed to access the entire bed, unlike soft covers that simply roll up.
- Installation – Hard covers are more difficult for DIY installation. Adjusting and aligning the panels often requires professional help.
- Appearance – The utilitarian, industrial look of some hard covers detracts from the truck’s style for certain buyers.
- Storage Size – Hard covers are bulky and hard to store when removed. Their large footprint can take up significant garage space.
Key Differences Summarized
|Soft Tonneau Covers
|Hard Tonneau Covers
|$$ More affordable, starting around $200
|$$$ More expensive, starting around $500
|Vinyl, canvas or leather
|Aluminum, fiberglass, reinforced polymers, plastic
|Very light, minimal added weight
|Heavy, can add over 100 lbs
|Less theft protection
|Maximum theft protection
|Moderate protection from rain/snow
|Total protection from weather
|Glossy, custom appearance
|Roll or fold up for full access
|Must be fully removed for access
|Easy DIY install
|Can require professional install
|2-4 years average lifespan
|Extremely durable for 5-10+ years
|Storage When Removed
|Can be bulky to store
|Compact but heavy panels
Questions to Consider When Choosing Soft or Hard Tonneau
Choosing between soft and hard ultimately comes down to weighing your priorities as a truck owner. Here are some key questions to help decide:
- How much theft protection do you need? Hard covers offer maximum security.
- What’s your budget? Soft covers provide the most affordability.
- How often will you need full bed access? Soft covers allow access without removing.
- How durable does the cover need to be? Hard covers withstand years of abuse.
- Do you care about appears or want a custom look? Hard covers have a more upscale style.
- How much weight can your truck’s payload handle? Hard covers add significant weight.
- Is easy DIY installation important? Soft covers are simpler to install yourself.
- Is saving space when storing the cover removed a concern? Hard covers take up minimal room.
- Will you drive in extreme weather? Hard covers seal out snow, rain and dust best.
- Do you need to cover an unusual bed like a RamBox? Soft covers have more flexibility.
Getting the Best of Both Worlds
If you need certain advantages of both soft and hard covers, there are a few options that provide a middle-ground:
- Retractable Hard Covers – These provide the security of a hard cover but retract open for full bed access like a soft cover. However, the mechanisms add cost.
- Hinged Hard Covers – Hinged covers allow access to part of the bed without removing the entire lid. But they cost more than standard hard covers.
- Vinyl Wrapped Hard Covers – Some manufacturers vinyl wrap their hard covers to offer a softer, quieter exterior surface that protects the solid panels underneath. Prices are in the middle.
The Bottom Line
There are excellent reasons to choose both soft or hard truck bed covers. Consider how you use your truck and what your priorities are when deciding between these two popular options. With either soft or hard, a tonneau cover will provide years of extra utility and protection for your pickup.