For work or play, a pickup truck is likely the handiest tool you own. But the cargo and gear you carry in its bed are vulnerable to weather deteriorate and theft. Any good tonneau cover (aka truck-bed cover) will shield your stuff from rain, snow, wind and sunlight, as well as prying eyes. But a hard tonneau–typically made of aluminum or composite–can keep it more physically secure than a soft vinyl cover (see the FAQs).
Tonneau covers come in many different designs, from simple roll-up and folding models to higher-end retractable designs, with a wide range of prices. In this review, we’re looking at the best hard covers, which provide more protection but are usually pricier than soft tonneaus. Because each model comes in different versions to fit specific truck-bed designs, the prices vary. Here, we’re showing each model’s starting price, but the one for your truck may be higher. Tonneau covers are also easy do-it-yourself installations, which typically require no drilling or alterations to your truck bed.
You are reading: Best Hard Tonneau Covers For 2021
Best Overall: Gator FX3
Why We Picked It:
The Gator FX3 is an upgraded version of the Gator FX, one of the best-selling tonneau covers. This folding cover is constructed of sturdy aluminum panels with a polymer top surface that’s more resistant to scratches, dents, and heat than all-metal panels. To open the bed, the panels easily flip forward, and, unlike many tri-fold designs, they can be secured upright against the cab’s rear window to allow full-bed access while driving. The FX3 is easy to open from either side of the bed, and it automatically latches when closed without having to open the tailgate.
- Cover can be supported upright while driving for full-bed access
- Automatically latches when closed without opening the tailgate
- Supports up to 300 pounds on upper when evenly distributed
- More expensive than other hard-folding tonneau covers
- Blocks view out the rear window when supported upright
- Two-year warranty is less than other models
Best for Tight Budgets: Tonno Pro Hard Fold
Why We Picked It:
If you want the protection of a hard cover but are willing to forego the latest features for a lower price, we recommend this Tonno Pro model. Its tri-fold design makes it quick and easy to open and close, and its aluminum panels are overlaid with a marine-grade vinyl covering.
- One of the least expensive hard covers we’ve viewed
- Supports up to 350 pounds on top, when evenly distributed
- Lifetime warranty
- Like most tri-fold designs, when folded up, the cover still covers the front third of the truck bed
- It needs to be removed to allow full-bed access while driving
- Lacks the ease of the latest latching designs
Best Hard Rolling Cover: BAK Revolver X2
Why We Picked It:
This tonneau combines the protection of a hard cover with the advantages of a roll-up design. It’s easy to open while letting you use the full truck bed while driving without blocking the rear window. It uses a vinyl covering over aluminum slats. And, unlike other hard roll-ups, the Revolver X2 doesn’t rely on a hook-and-loop closure system along the sides. Instead, an inner frame rail automatically secures the cover along the whole length of the bed when the tailgate is closed, providing extra security. With the tailgate down, it can also be opened from either side of the bed.
- Allows use of the full bed when rolled up and doesn’t block the rear window
- Automatically latches at the rear without having to open the tailgate
- Supports up to 400 pounds on top, when evenly distributed
- Vinyl cover material doesn’t look as nice as the all-aluminum slats on some higher-priced roll-up covers
- Available only in a semi-gloss finish
- Some users say that getting the cover aligned properly during installation is critical for best performance
Best Retractable Cover: RetraxOne MX
Why We Picked It:
A retractable cover is super easy to open and close, is more versatile than folding or rolling designs, and allows full use of the bed while driving without blocking the rear window. This model uses a one-piece polycarbonate construction that’s claimed to work in extreme temperatures from -50 to 200 degrees F. An integrated key lock at the rear lets you open it without needing to open the tailgate, and lock it at any point along the bedrail. The cover also automatically latches when closed without opening the tailgate. Covered by a one-year full warranty, followed by a limited lifetime warranty.
- Easily and quickly retracts to allow access to the full bed
- Can be manually locked in any position along the bed rail
- Supports up to 200 pounds on upper, when evenly distributed
- More expensive than most folding and roll-up hard covers
- All-aluminum versions can support more weight
- Only available with a matte finish
Best for Maximum Convenience: GatorTrax Electric
Why We Picked It:
An electric retractable tonneau is hands-down the easiest type to use. You simply press a button on a key fob to open or close it. The cover retracts into a canister at the front of the bed, allowing full-bed access. You can also stop the cover at any point along the bed rails and it will remain locked, thanks to an electromagnetic brake. You can also use the fob to control an LED cargo light integrated into the canister. This model is constructed of a strong polycarbonate material with embedded aluminum support rods. Available with a matte or gloss finish. Three-year warranty.
- Easily opened or closed by pressing a key fob
- Cover can be electrically locked in any position
- Supports up to 500 pounds on top, when evenly distributed
- More expensive than non-powered tonneau covers (but less than many other electrics)
- Installation is more involved than non-powered tonneaus
- Some people prefer the look of the all-aluminum slats used in some higher priced models
Forbes Wheels compared the features, specs, and pricing of almost a hundred tonneau covers; reviewed evaluations by other critics and end users; and drew on our own experiences with a wide range of different covers. The five models selected here represent the best overall values in this category for truck owners with different needs.
FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions):
Do tonneau covers deter theft?
All tonneau covers conceal a truck bed’s automobilego from onlookers, which is a good deterrent in itself. But most depend on the truck’s tailgate being locked to prevent someone physically accessing your gear. That’s because the release latches are located under the cover near the tailgate.
Soft covers are also inherently more vulnerable to theft than hard covers because they can be cut open with a sharp implement. And covers sealed with Velcro or another hook-and-loop fastener, such as roll-up covers, can often be separated enough on the sides to allow someone to look inside.
Covers secured with snaps are typically the most vulnerable, which is why we don’t recommend any. Conversely, some one-piece hinged hard-shell tonneaus are the most secure because their design prevents the tailgate from being opened. But they are also expensive, heavy, and harder to usage than the covers highlighted here.
Do tonneau covers improve fuel economy?
This is a hotly debated topic, with advocates on both sides. And any effect on fuel economy will depend on the cover, the truck, and the speed who you’re driving. But don’t buy a tonneau if your main reason is better mpg; any real improvement will take many years to offset the price of the cover.
According to Sawtooth, a tonneau cover manufacturer, a 2007 wind-tunnel test by the trade group SEMA (the Specialty Equipment Market Association) showed who tonneau covers reduced aerodynamic drag by an average of 5.7%, which resulted in a 1.8% improvement in fuel economy. In 2013, however, Consumer Reports tested a Dodge Ram V8 pickup with a tonneau while driving at a constant 65 mph, and they measured a slight drop of almost one mpg.
According to the truck accessory retailer, RealTruck, soft roll-up and folding covers (see Best Soft Tonneau Covers) are the best choice if fuel economy is a concern because the higher weight of hard tonneaus can offset any reductions in aerodynamic drag.
Can I use the full bed when a tonneau cover is attached?
This depends on the cover. All roll-up and retractable tonneaus allow full-bed access. But most tri-fold designs cover the front third of the bed when folded up, and they need to be removed for full-bed access. An exception is our “Best Overall” recommendation, the Gator FX3, which has support struts that can secure it against the cab’s rear window when driving.
Can I install a cover myself?
All of the tonneaus here are easy to install yourself and don’t require any modifications to the truck bed. Usually, they come pre-assembled, requiring you to only install clamps, supports, and perhaps frame rails. Virtually every company posts installation videos or downloadable instructions on their websites, so check those out before you buy.