Tonneau covers are an excellent way to protect your cargo and your truck bed and help keep things safe. However, with the variety of options for tonneau covers, how do you decide which is best for your truck? Hard tonneau covers vs. soft tonneau covers is the place to start before picking out a truck bed cover and there are several factors to consider.
Below we’ve organized the advantages and disadvantages of both hard and soft tonneau covers so you can clearly weigh your options, ensuring you make the right choice for your truck. Read on and discover what’s best for you below.
Pros and Cons of Hard Tonneau Covers
Hard tonneau covers are typically hinged and have lid-like joints, functioning like panels with and without hinged bulkheads. They are typically built of fiberglass, aluminum, or polypropylene, all strong materials that are difficult to cut through or pry into.
- Easy to open
- Hard material construction for security
- Low to mid profile above bed mount.
- Cost: Usually double the cost of a premium soft tonneau cover.
Pros and Cons of Soft Tonneau Covers
A soft tonneau cover has either a snap system or a roll-up structure for opening and closing. The cover is made from vinyl with supports or bows to keep the covers rigid and with the help of an aluminum frame. ACCESS and TRUXEDO use an over-centering principle to keep the cover taut.
- Easy to use: Tonneau covers that are soft are a popular option among truck owners because they are so easy to use. All you have to do to access the truck bed is roll up the cover. A soft cover is lightweight, making it easier for those who need to unload and load cargo often.
- Cost-effective: A soft tonneau cover is much less expensive than the hard one and still gives a smooth, finished appearance without the additional cost.
- Fit: soft covers easily clamp on the truck bed
- Premium soft tonneau covers will hold deep and heavy snow loads and don’t contract in freezing temperatures.
- Blends well with today’s factory pickup black plastic bed caps.
- Fabric can still be cut open with a knife.
- Some low cost soft tonneau covers can be difficult to close in extreme weather.
Hard tonneau covers are more durable and secure for your truck bed, but are heavier, more expensive.
Soft tonneau covers are more cost-effective, but less secure and some types are more susceptible to malfunctioning in rougher weather.
Types of Soft Tonneau Covers
There are multiple types of soft covers to consider.
Snap Style Soft Cover
These covers usually are constructed using light, single-sided fabric (Black on the top, white on the bottom). The bows are arched so that water doesn’t pool on the cover. Snaps are installed on the tarp which connect to the snaps in the channels of the extruded aluminum rails mounted on the sides of the truck bed. When temperatures are above 70 degrees fahrenheit the tarps can expand making the tarp loose. When temperatures are below 70 degrees fahrenheit, the tarp can constrict making it very difficult, if not impossible, to snap all of the snaps.
- Cost effective
- Slow to open and slow to close
- Difficult to manipulate snaps
- Does not hold up well in the long-term
- Lengthy installation
- Snaps tend to get lost out of the rails
- Noisy on the highway when warm
Premium Soft Roll-Up Tonneau Cover
The premium covers they build use 18 ounce polythene material that has a nylon weave inside the fabric. This material is nearly impossible to tear, even with a large hole cut in the fabric. The fabric does not contract with cold weather and does not become brittle, even at 20 degrees below zero. The material remains stable and only tightens at temperatures over 80 degrees fahrenheit.
Properly adjusted, the cover remains taught year round and bows cannot be seen unless traveling at highway speeds.
There have been many manufacturers of soft roll-up covers over the last 25 years. Many companies no longer produce Premium Soft Roll-up Covers. There are offshore companies copying manufacturers like ACCESS and TRUXEDO who manufacture their products in the Dakota’s. Both of these companies originated as truck tarp manufacturers that grew into tonneau cover manufacturers.
Aluminum rails clamp to the inside of the pickup box using a variety of clamps and hardware. Velcro bonded to vinyl strips slide into the channel of the aluminum rail above the side of the bed. The tarp assembly has a header bar that attaches to the front of the installed rails. The rear of the tarp has a nearly identical aluminum bar that has the latch mechanism built into it for locking and unlocking the tarp. When unlatched, the rear bar is used to roll up and stow the tarp at the front of the truck bed. When unrolled, the rear bar latches into nylon brackets at the rear of the installed rails. Around 15 pounds of pressure is needed, on a properly adjusted cover, to push the roll bar down to engage the latch assembly. This over-centering principle makes the cover tight front to back. Side to side tensioning is accomplished by pulling the sides tight and engaging the velcro. This process will ensure your tonneau cover will have no wrinkles in it. Only double coated material works well in this system (Black on both sides). A Premium Soft Rollup Cover will withstand the weight of a 200 pound person standing on top of it. If a person stands directly on the bows, they will bend and though they can be straightened, do not try this!
- Easy to use
- Cost effective
- Full use of truck bed
- Stays taut year round
- Quiet on the highway
- Durable fabric
Tarp material can be cut.
What it comes down to is what you use your truck bed for, the concerns you have, and what you’re looking to gain from purchasing a tonneau cover.
We at Ultimate Truck have you covered on all you need to know to protect your truck and how to select the best equipment to get what you want out of your truck. Explore our selection of truck accessories and more guides to help you choose what’s right for your truck.