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A Guide to Different Types of Truck Bed Covers

When you’re scoping out your options, you’ll probably want a guide to different types of tonneau covers. In this blog post we’ll break down some tonneau cover basics, review the best truck bed cover styles along with their pros and cons, and finally help you to evaluate the different types. We’re here to help you find the best tonneau covers for your needs!

What are the Benefits of a Tonneau Cover?

Buying a tonneau cover is a no-brainer for most truck owners. They offer lots of benefits that help you get more out of your truck. Plus, there are so many tonneau options that everyone can find one to fit the specific needs they are looking for. Here are some of the most common reasons that tonneau covers are worth it:

  1. Protection for your cargo: Rain, sun, and snow can all do a number on your cargo. Why let your gear wear out quickly when you could just invest in a tonneau cover that can protect and secure your things?
  2. Keep everything clean: You don’t want to deal with a truck bed full of dust, mud, or leaves. Keep nature where it belongs: out of your truck and off your cargo.
  3. Enhanced security: Prying eyes and potential thieves pose a real threat to your belongings, too. Instead of worrying about someone walking off with your camping gear, you can keep your items out of sight and out of mind with a tonneau cover.
  4. Organization: Tonneau covers can help you keep your cargo in place and well-organized so you don’t arrive at your destination with a messy truck bed.

red pickup truck without tonneau cover

Things to Look for in a Truck Bed Cover:

  • Easy-to-use: We suggest looking for a tonneau that can be installed quickly, removed easily when needed, and doesn’t require any drilling or other tools. Being able to install it by yourself is another perk to look for.
  • Versatility: There’s a lot you can carry in your truck bed, and you don’t want your tonneau cover to limit you in any way. When you carry large items you’ll want a cover that can be moved out of the way (or even better: expand to cover those items). Some styles need to be removed entirely before you can haul anything big. That takes away versatility and means you could get less use out of the truck bed cover.
  • Warranty: You’ll probably put your tonneau through its paces and you don’t want to have to worry about a sudden defect that puts it out of commission. We recommend looking for manufacturers that offer a solid tonneau warranty against any defects, even if they arise a few years after your purchase. 
  • Ruggedness: Some tonneaus are built to be durable for the long haul. Look for tough materials, water resistance, and high-quality craftsmanship that can withstand some wear and tear.
  • Security: You’ll want a tonneau that can keep your belongings out of sight and have sturdy closures that deter a thief looking for something easy to steal. 
  • Budget: Tonneaus can range from a couple hundred dollars up to the $2,000 range. Luckily you don’t need to spend a fortune to snag a truck bed cover that will be reliable for years.

Different Types of Truck Bed Covers

This is where things get interesting: there are many styles and varieties of covers to choose from. You don’t need to drown in a sea of reviews in order to choose a tonneau that you’ll love. You can break them down into a few main categories based on their style. Once you understand the different types of tonneau covers, and the associated pros and cons, you’ll be able to evaluate the best types of truck bed covers for your lifestyle.

Roll Up Tonneau Covers

Often made of soft materials, roll up tonneau covers are one of the most popular styles and can be broken down into two categories: soft and hard. Most roll up tonneau covers are made of soft vinyl and use velcro on the sides to secure the tonneau in place. Some of the more rugged roll up truck bed covers are made of either hard plastic or lightweight metal slats such as aluminum. 

Pros:

  • Some can offer good security: Although they come in varying materials, some roll up tonneaus are made up of aluminum slats covered in vinyl. These are typically tear-resistant, sometimes locking, and can often support light weight on top.
  • Roll out of the way of large items: If you’re carrying tall or awkwardly-shaped cargo, you can just roll this cover all the way up to the bulkhead and tie it down. In this way, it’s similar to the next type: a folding tonneau cover.

Cons:

  • Obstructed view: Your rear view can be blocked when the tonneau cover is rolled up since they tend to be bulky.
  • Soft rolling covers aren’t very strong: Soft roll up tonneau covers are not as heavy-duty as their hard counterparts. They may be vulnerable to sagging when rain or snow pool on top. Also, the velcro sides tend to wear out quickly while driving.

broken tonneau cover

The Drive has a great list of the best roll up tonneau covers: including both soft and hard options in a range of prices.

Folding Tonneau Covers

Folding truck bed covers usually have either 3 or 4 panels, although tri-folds are the most popular style. These can also be either soft or hard tonneau covers. You can leave all the panels down covering the truck bed, or fold them up out of the way to leave some or all of your truck bed exposed. 

Pros:

  • Lots of options: This style is made by many manufacturers and comes in different materials so you won’t be limited in styles to choose between. From a low-budget soft folding tonneau, to a high-end expensive aluminum panel cover, you can find a folding model at your ideal price.
  • Easy to use: Some of the best tri fold tonneau covers can be easy to use. You just need to fold up and tie down the panels if you want full access to your truck bed. However, you will still need two people to install a folding tonneau.

Cons:

  • Less water resistant: Due to their folding points and moving parts, these may leave gaps where water can enter your truck bed. This is especially true as they get older.
  • Heavy and expensive: Hard folding covers can be on the higher end of the price range. They also weigh more, meaning they are harder to install and remove.

trifold tonneau cover

Are you looking for the best tri fold tonneau cover? You might want to check out the BAKFlip G2 Tonneau Cover, which comes highly recommended due to its security and ability to bear weight up to 300 lbs. Prices range from $800 - $1,000.

Retractable Tonneau Covers

Retractable truck bed covers open and close automatically when you hit a button. They require little effort to operate and can be left in various ranges of open/closed.

Pros:

  • Effortless opening and closing: Simply touch a button to operate this tonneau cover. If you’re looking for a low effort option, this may be a good fit. They also tend to look sleek.
  • Partial truck bed coverage: These covers can be left partially open if you have a large item that doesn’t allow them to close fully.

Cons:

  • Can be pricey: Since retractable tonneaus are typically made from aluminum or steel and sometimes electric powered, they can be on the higher side of the price range.
  • Takes up space in your truck bed: Even when it’s fully retracted, the storage canister for this cover will occupy some space right behind your cab. If you need to carry cargo that fills your whole truck bed, you may have to uninstall a retractable tonneau.

broken retractable tonneau cover

Single-Piece Solid Tonneau Covers

Hinged truck bed covers are made of one single piece that attaches alongside the cab of your truck. These are considered to be the most heavy-duty covers since they are usually made of hard, durable materials. Fiberglass covers are often painted to match the body of your truck so they are one of the best truck bed covers if you are going for a painted streamlined look.

Pros:

  • Sleek appearance: These tonneaus can look like an extension of your truck, especially if they are fiberglass and painted to match.
  • Super secure: Solid tonneau covers usually have built-in locks that can give you an extra measure of security.

Cons:

  • Installation is no joke: These are heavy and require multiple people to assist with installing, or even a small crane.
  • Hard to remove: Just like installation, removal takes a lot of effort. Since they can’t be left open when you’re hauling a large item, you have to remove the tonneau cover entirely. These are the best tonneau covers for people who never need to carry large or tall cargo.
  • Expensive: Count on spending a few thousand dollars for one of these tonneaus, and maybe even more if you want to get it painted with factory-match paint.

white tonneau cover

Snap-on Tonneau Covers

Snap-on tonneaus are the original and now an entry-level style consisting of an aluminum frame that you attach to your truck bed rails, and a vinyl cover that attaches to the frame with metal snaps. These soft truck bed covers are not a favorite of most pickup truck owners, but they can be a good version to try out for a short time if you need something at a lower price point that does the job.

Pros:

  • Affordable: Snap-on covers are typically the lowest-budget style you’ll find. 
  • Easy-to-use: Simply snap or unsnap however much of the cover you need to access your truck bed.

Cons: 

  • Not very weatherproof: Since these aren’t fully attached to the frame, there are gaps where water can enter your truck bed.
  • Not heavy duty: These are soft tonneau covers often made of thin vinyl, and aren’t made to last long.
  • Can be difficult to use: During winter conditions vinyl tends to shrink. If you remove the cover to place something large in the bed, it may be impossible to get the cover snapped back on. 

grey snap on tonneau cover

Expandable Tonneau Covers

This is the newest type of cover, and is only licensed to be made by one manufacturer: Sawtooth. Expandable tonneaus solve the problem of cargo that sits above your bed rails, but still needs to be protected. Plus, they won’t break the bank.

Pros:

  • Protects the widest range of cargo: No other tonneau variety can protect large and tall cargo. In order to carry large items like a kayak, simply stretch the cover over the item and rest easy knowing it’s secured in place and protected from the elements. That’s what makes this one of the best tonneau covers.
  • Sturdy, durable, and warrantied: The Sawtooth STRETCH tonneau is built with a patented textile that is roughly 7 times thicker than other competing soft covers. Unlike other types, it can come in contact with your gear without voiding its lifetime limited warranty. Its matte black appearance keeps it looking clean and streamlined even when your truck is dirty.
  • Easy installation: One person can install the Sawtooth Tonneau in under 6 minutes. Just install the rails (no drilling or other tools required), and attach the tonneau with secure J-hooks.
  • Most versatile: The Sawtooth STRETCH tonneau cover is the world’s most versatile tonneau cover giving you the greatest flexibility and increased utility for your pickup truck. 

Cons:

  • Not as many options on the market: Right now, Sawtooth only manufactures the expandable tonneau for the most popular makes and models of pickup trucks.
  • No locking device: Expandable covers, like other hard tonneaus, don’t offer a built-in lock. However, they still help you prevent theft by keeping any items in your truck bed out of sight.

red toyota tacoma with sawtooth tonneau cover

Looking for the best tonneau cover for Chevy Colorado 5'-2" bed, or the best truck bed cover for Chevy Colorado 6’-2” bed? Check out the Sawtooth STRETCH. There’s a reason this expandable truck bed cover is award-winning.

What are the Best Types of Tonneau Covers?

At the end of the day, the best tonneau cover is the one that checks your boxes. Different truck owners will have different budgets and priorities, so there’s not a one-size-fits-all answer to this question. There is definitely a best tonneau cover for you out there: It’s just a matter of choosing which types of truck bed covers you like best.

We hope this guide has been helpful in giving you the information you need to compare different types of covers so you can make a decision. If you have any questions about tonneau covers, our truck experts are ready to help! Give us a call at: 801-692-3368. Ready to join the expandable tonneau movement? Shop Sawtooth STRETCH Tonneau Covers today.