Roll-Up Vs. Tri-Fold Tonneau Covers
Tonneau covers are one of the most popular pickup truck accessories, providing much-needed protection to your truck’s primary cargo area: the bed. Bed covers solve one of your pickup’s most significant shortcomings, offering exceptional weather resistance and theft prevention. However, while you may assume that selecting a tonneau cover is simple, you’d be mistaken!
The bed cover market is extensive and flooded with various styles, materials, features, and prices. If you’re considering a new tonneau cover for your pickup, it’s helpful to narrow your selection by, at the least, style; and in this article, we’re doing just that!
The experts at RealTruck are comparing two of the most popular bed cover styles on the market–the venerable roll-up and tri-fold tonneau covers–to determine which best suits your needs. We’re tackling a variety of factors, ranging from simple pros and cons to an in-depth look at each cover’s weather resistance, installation difficulty, security, and more! Read on to streamline your tonneau cover purchase.
Tri-Fold Tonneau Covers
To begin, we’re kicking things off with the tri-fold tonneau cover–the most well-known member of the folding tonneau cover family. Tri-fold tonneau covers are offered in two primary sub-styles: hard and soft. Hard covers feature three heavy-duty panels manufactured from impact-resistant polycarbonate, composite plastic, or aluminum. Alternatively, soft covers consist of panels constructed from marine-grade vinyl or canvas stretched over a rigid aluminum frame.
In either sub-style, each panel is adjoined to the next by a pair of hinges, allowing the rearmost panel to fold onto the middle and the middle onto the frontmost, thus exposing your pickup’s cargo area. While most soft tri-fold covers expose a maximum ⅔ of the bed, several hard tri-fold covers feature an additional set of hinges at your pickup’s bulkhead, thus allowing the cover to pivot against the rear window for complete bed access. Hard tri-fold covers also feature rubber bumpers to prevent damage to the rear window and cab in the upright position, as well as integrated prop rods to prevent the cover from collapsing while driving. Respectively, soft tri-fold covers feature nylon straps to secure the cover in the ⅔ open position while driving.
Hard and soft tri-fold covers can vary significantly in price, depending on the cover's construction. Soft tri-fold bed covers typically inhabit the bottom end of the tonneau cover market, ranging between $150 and $300. However, hard tri-fold covers fall into the mid-range price point, typically starting around $400 and reaching upwards of $1,000 at the higher end!
Soft covers are relatively affordable
Stylish low-profile designs
Can be pricey (hard covers)
Some models limit cargo access
Soft covers are less secure
Roll-Up Tonneau Covers
Next, let’s take a look at our challenger: the roll-up tonneau cover. Like tri-fold tonneau covers, roll-up bed covers are offered in two distinct sub-styles: hard and soft. While both styles typically feature a marine-grade vinyl or canvas outer shell, hard roll-up covers include an interlocking aluminum, polycarbonate, or composite slat system for additional reinforcement; soft roll-up covers rely exclusively on the soft outer shell for protection.
Both sub-styles operate similarly, featuring latches at the base of the rails (near the tailgate) and roll-up operation; release the latches and roll the cover toward the bulkhead whenever you need access to your pickup’s full cargo area. Both sub-styles include premium nylon straps to fasten the cover in the rolled position when transporting oversized cargo like furniture, appliances, etc.
Hard and soft roll-up bed covers, like tri-fold covers, can vary significantly in price. While soft roll-up bed covers tend to make up the bottom end of the bed cover market (between $250 and $400), hard roll-up bed covers fill out the mid–high range ($800-$1200).
Soft covers are relatively affordable
Offer uninhibited bed access
Sleek, low-profile designs
Can be expensive (hard covers)
Soft covers are prone to cuts, tears, and punctures
Roll-Up Vs. Folding Tonneau Cover Comparisons
Now that we have a basic understanding of what constitutes roll-up and folding tonneau covers, let’s take a closer look at each cover's performance across some essential categories.
On occasion, you may be tempted to load some cargo onto your truck’s tonneau cover when unloading or traveling short distances. While some covers can handle a substantial amount of weight, others are best left unloaded.
Roll-Up Tonneau Cover Weight Limits
Roll-up tonneau cover weight limits are entirely determined by the construction of the cover. For instance, it isn’t advised for a soft roll-up tonneau cover to carry over 15–30 pounds evenly distributed, let alone in one spot! Exceeding this limit can result in serious structural damage. On the other hand, hard roll-up tonneau covers can typically carry between 200–400 pounds evenly distributed, or 50–100 in a single location.
Tri-Fold Tonneau Cover Weight Limits
Tri-Fold tonneau covers come in at similar weight limits to roll-up tonneau covers, also dependent on the style of tonneau cover in question. Soft tri-fold tonneau covers max out around 20–30 pounds, considering the nature of the canvas or vinyl outer shell. Any higher may damage the cover. However, hard tri-fold tonneau covers can support approximately 400 lbs evenly distributed, allowing them to easily handle lumber, snowboards, skis, and other gear.
Security is one of the key factors of a tonneau cover, ensuring your valuables are guarded against potential thieves. Let’s see which style offers the best protection against theft!
Roll-Up Tonneau Cover Security
Like weight, a tonneau cover's security depends on its construction. For example, soft roll-up tonneau covers are less secure than hard roll-up covers due to the soft outer shell. Even when paired with a locking tailgate, it only takes a thief with a sharp blade slicing through the outer shell to gain access to your cargo.
Hard roll-up tonneau covers are far more secure, featuring cut, impact, and puncture-resistant aluminum, polycarbonate, or composite interlocking slats. While finding a key-lockable roll-up hard tonneau cover is rare, most feature rolling lock rails that secure the sides of the cover to the bed. Your cargo will be safe and secure beneath a hard roll-up tonneau cover, especially when paired with a locking tailgate!
Tri-Fold Tonneau Cover Security
Tri-fold tonneau covers also vary significantly in security. Soft tri-fold covers are theft-deterring rather than theft preventative due to their soft vinyl or canvas shell. Like soft roll-up covers, a pocket knife or box cutter can cut through soft tri-fold covers. However, hard tri-fold covers are far more secure. Though they aren’t typically equipped with locks, the integrated slam latches secure the cover in place. With the tailgate locked, your cargo in the bed is safer than in the cab!
While some pickup owners keep their tonneau covers installed year-round, others may take them on and off numerous times throughout the year. As a result, it’s essential to weigh the difficulty of installing each tonneau cover style.
Roll-Up Tonneau Cover Installation
Roll-up tonneau covers are typically quick and easy to install, featuring clamp-on, no-drill side rails. Once you install the side rails, secure the cover to them, align the latches, and you’re good to go!
Tri-Fold Tonneau Cover Installation
Tri-Fold tonneau covers also offer a simple and intuitive installation on most applications. Soft tri-fold covers often feature quick-release tool-free clamps, allowing you to install and remove the cover in seconds without requiring any tools!
Besides theft protection, weather-resistance is one of the primary benefits of installing a tonneau cover. Whether caught in a rainstorm or giving your pickup a quick wash, tonneau covers prevent damage from excess water intrusion; but how do roll-up and tri-fold covers stack up against one another?
Roll-Up Tonneau Cover Weather Resistance
Roll-up tonneau covers feature excellent weather resistance in both hard and soft sub-styles. Hard roll-up tonneau covers feature four-sided rubber or water-resistant foam seals, including the bulkhead and tailgate. When closed, the cover thoroughly protects your cargo from moisture.
Soft roll-up tonneau covers feature four-sided seals as well; however, the side rails are sealed to the bedsides with foam-rubber strips, while angled hook-and-loop strips keep the cover sealed against the rails. Rubberized bulkhead and tailgate seals keep moisture from penetrating the front or rear of the cover, keeping your valuables dry.
Tri-Fold Tonneau Cover Weather Resistance
Tri-fold tonneau covers are also highly weather-resistant in both hard and soft configurations. Hard tri-fold covers feature moisture-proofing between every panel, while bulkhead and tailgate seals keep moisture from penetrating the front or rear of the bed. The cover’s side rails feature EPDM rubber seals to prevent water intrusion; however, if any water happens to sneak past the seals, integrated rain channels and drain tubes redirect it outside of the bed.
Soft tri-fold covers typically feature integrated foam-rubber seals at all four sides, preventing moisture instruction.
Our Favorite Tri-Folding Tonneau Covers
The Gator SFC Tri-Fold Tonneau Cover is our favorite soft tri-fold cover for numerous reasons, including the durable marine-grade vinyl construction, weatherproof seals, innovative Speed-Klamp mounting system, and heavy-duty aluminum supports.
The cover features a rugged marine-grade vinyl outer shell, providing years of moisture protection, stylish looks, and exceptional performance. Weatherproof seals grace all four sides, keeping your cargo clean and dry during transport, even in the harshest conditions. No matter the amount of snowfall or rain, the cover’s monster support bows prevent excess sagging or strain on the soft outer shell. Installation is also a breeze with Gator’s patented Speed-Klamp design, featuring a tool-free installation that you can install and remove in seconds!
As a bonus, the Gator SFX is backed by a limited lifetime structural and 10-year vinyl warranty, as well as the “love it or swap it” Gator Guarantee.
Introducing the BAKFlip MX4 Tonneau Cover from BAK Industries–a premium hard tri-fold bed covering that’s as secure as it is stylish!
The BAKFlip MX4 features three rugged aluminum panels, offering lightweight protection against impacts, abrasions, and thieves. A sleek, matte-black finish guards the aluminum against corrosion or oxidation, adding to the cover’s low-profile aesthetics. EPDM rubber seals are positioned at all four sides while integrated rain channels and drain tubes redirect water out of the bed, keeping your valuables clean and dry.
Whenever additional bed access is required to load oversized cargo, fold the cover onto itself and forward for full cargo access. The BAKFlip MX4 features a straightforward tool-free installation, requiring no more than the included clamps and conventional hand tools.
The BAKFlip MX4 features a 5-year warranty.
The Gator EFX Hard Fold Tonneau Cover features rugged aircraft-grade aluminum panels with a sleek black powder coat finish, offering a low-profile design and excellent durability. Waterproof EPDM rubber hinges and seals allow the cover to fold onto itself, exposing ⅔ of the bed for hauling oversized cargo. If full bed access is required, you can unscrew four tool-free knobs at the bulkhead of the cover, allowing you to lift it from the rails. Are you worried about water intrusion? Gator has you covered! Integrated rails and drain tubes redirect water out of the bed, keeping your cargo dry.
The Gator EFX offers a 3-year warranty.
Our Favorite Roll-Up Tonneau Covers
The Gator SRX is our favorite soft roll-up tonneau cover, offering several premium features at an entry-level price point.
This cover features an ultra-low design, featuring low-profile aluminum rails and a vinyl outer shell, offering water resistance and keeping your valuables out of sight. EPDM rubber seals provide further moisture resistance, while an integrated tension control keeps the cover taught at any temperature.
Installation is quick and easy with the Gator SRX. No-drill rails clamp directly to your pickup’s bed, requiring nothing but common hand tools and under an hour of your time. Whenever full bed access is required, roll the cover towards the bulkhead and secure it using the integrated nylon straps.
As a bonus, the Gator SRX is backed by a limited lifetime structural and 10-year vinyl warranty, as well as the “love it or hate it” Gator Guarantee.
The TruXedo TruXport is a high-quality soft roll-up bed cover blending excellent cargo protection and budget-minded pricing. Featuring a low-profile marine-grade vinyl shell over a rigid aluminum frame, the TruXport is lightweight, durable, and stylish. Operation is a breeze with the TruXport; whenever full bed access is required, release the rear trigger latches, roll the cover toward the bulkhead, and secure it with the nylon straps. You can install the cover in under an hour using nothing more than common hand tools, thanks to the TruXport’s clamp-on rail system.
The TruXedo TruXport features a 5-year warranty.
The BAK Revolver X2 is a sleek, durable, and secure hard roll-up tonneau cover, offering simple roll-up operation paired with a durable, aluminum-reinforced cover to guard your valuables against thieves.
The BAK Revolver X2 is constructed from heavy-duty marine-grade vinyl stretched over interlocking aluminum slats. When the cover is closed, rotational lock rails secure the cover from the sides, preventing would-be thieves from prying up the cover. Automatic slam latches secure the rear of the cover, locking it in place for secure cargo protection. EPDM rubber seals protect your valuables from moisture intrusion, keeping your cargo clean and dry.
Whenever full bed access is needed, roll the cover towards the bulkhead and secure it in place, providing uninhibited bed access for loading oversized cargo. And even if the bed is full, the BAK Revolver X2 can carry up to 400 pounds of evenly-distributed cargo!
The BAK Revolver X2 is backed by a limited 5-year warranty.
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