A tonneau cover, or truck bed cover as they’re sometimes called, attaches to your truck bed and keeps your gear out of direct rain and snow. Depending on the design, they also provide outstanding security and even options for additional accessories. This simple buying guide will help you learn the differences between all the various tonneau cover designs so you choose the best truck bed cover for your Ford F-150.
The most obvious benefit of choosing a soft truck bed cover is affordability. Starting around $200, soft covers give your cargo ample protection from rain, snow, and other elements at an affordable price. If you’re building your F-150 on a budget, a soft tonneau cover should be one of your first additions. However, not all soft covers are created equal. There are a few different designs to be aware of.
Perhaps the most common tonneau cover on the road today, soft rolling tonneau covers pack several features into one valuable truck accessory. Most designs use hook-and-loop fasteners to secure the tonneau when it is closed. Once opened, the cover provides full access to your bed. Soft covers often include a fastening system to keep the cover open while driving if desired. Installation involves clamping a pair of rails to your truck bed and attaching the cover to the rails, a simple process that can usually be done in less than an hour with basic hand tools.
Choose a soft rolling tonneau cover if: you want an affordable cover that keeps your gear out of sight and out of the rain while providing full bed access when necessary.
This truck bed cover is made of vinyl or canvas material stretched over an aluminum frame in a one-piece design. The clamps that attach the cover to your truck bed are part of the cover as well, and they can usually be installed with no tools required. The biggest selling point for a soft folding cover is the ease of installation: simply line it up on your bed, attach the hand-tightened clamps, and you’re done. To open the cover, simply detach the rear clamps and fold it toward your bed for 2/3 bed access. If you need full bed access, the cover can be quickly removed and reinstalled.
Choose a soft folding tonneau cover if: you want to spend minimal time on installation and protect your cargo from the elements.
A hard tonneau cover transforms your truck bed into a secure, lockable vault that not only keeps rain and snow at bay, but also dramatically improves truck bed security. In fact, a truck bed equipped with a hard tonneau cover and tailgate lock is more secure than your cab. While they do start at a higher price point than soft bed covers, the peace of mind that comes with a hard truck bed cover is often worth it. Popular styles include:
Popularized by manufacturers such as BAK, Extang, and Advantage, hard folding tonneau covers are versatile, easy to install, and easy to use. There are two common designs: covers such as the Advantage Hard Hat are similar to soft folding tonneau covers, but a hard substrate made of composite material is used under the vinyl to increase security and weight rating. Designs from BAK and UnderCover use separate rails with an aluminum folding cover, which results in a lower, sleeker profile and the ability to fold the tonneau upright for near-total bed access.
Choose a hard-folding tonneau cover if: you need security, excellent water resistance, and the ability to haul large items when necessary.
While not as well-represented as some other categories, hard rolling tonneau covers have become a popular alternative to folding designs over the last several years. The tonneau itself is made of interlocking aluminum slats, which are covered by a heavy-duty vinyl or canvas material. This results in a truck bed cover with no visible hinges that provides ample shielding for items in the bed. Like a soft rolling tonneau cover, opening one of these is as easy as pulling a latch and rolling it toward the bulkhead.
Choose a hard-rolling tonneau cover if: you like soft cover looks but need hard cover security.
Not to be confused with rolling or roll-up covers, a retractable tonneau consists of a hard cover made of aluminum or composite material, which retracts into a canister mounted at the bulkhead when bed access is needed. Depending on which retractable truck bed cover you choose, you may be able to lock it in position anywhere between open and closed. Other designs use set, intermittent locking points. You can even get an electric retractable tonneau cover that opens via a push-button keyfob. No matter which way you go, a retractable tonneau cover provides excellent security and weather protection. It’s also one of the easiest covers to use, especially if you have a lifted truck that makes folding or rolling difficult. Just keep in mind that you’ll lose approximately 10 to 12 inches of overall bed length due to the canister.
Choose a retractable tonneau cover if: you don’t mind sacrificing a little bed space for convenient operation, particularly on highly lifted trucks.
So far, we’ve categorized tonneau covers according to what they’re made of and how they’re operated. So why do painted covers get their own mention? Well, the vast majority of painted tonneau covers also use a one-piece hinged design, which we haven’t discussed yet. Rather than folding or rolling open, this design lifts open, often with the assistance of lift supports or scissor hinges. Available with composite or fiberglass construction, the painted tonneau cover is prized for its unparalleled security and weather resistance, a direct result over its overlapping design. Of course, having the cover painted to match your truck’s OEM paint code also results in an unbeatable look. The one drawback to this design is bed access. To haul large items, you’ll probably have to remove the tonneau cover first. This often requires two people due to the weight and size of the cover.
Choose a painted tonneau cover if: you need maximum rain and theft resistance, a color-matching finish, and you don’t plan on hauling large items on a regular basis.
Trucks primarily used for daily driving will greatly benefit from any of the previously mentioned tonneau covers. However, some trucks just work harder or play harder than others. Whether it’s construction work or extended off-road trips, a heavy-duty tonneau cover is the best choice when utility is everything. These bed covers run the gamut of design an operation, with some folding open and others using a one-piece hinged design similar to painted covers. What they share is high weight ratings and the ability to be accessorized with tie downs, cargo bars, headache racks, and other must-have items for the most demanding truck owners. All of these covers are made of a hard material, so you’ll get hard cover security in addition to tons of customization options.
Choose a heavy-duty tonneau cover if: your truck serves as a mobile work station or an overlanding vehicle.
First off, let’s clear up some potential confusion. Tool box tonneau covers do not come with a tool box (with the exception of certain retractable covers from Truck Covers USA). Rather, the cover is cut short so it can fit on a truck bed equipped with a standard profile, 20-inch tool box. They can run the whole gamut of tonneau cover designs including soft, hard, folding, and rolling.
Choose a tool box tonneau cover if: your truck is equipped with a standard 20-inch tool box.
If you have questions about these or any other tonneau covers, just let our team know.