By on March 14, 2019

extang solid fold hard folding tonneau cover

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It should be no surprise to anyone reading this post that pickup trucks are popular in this country, to put it mildly. Such is the market for these machines that manufacturers are ladling more and more luxury items on them, searching for the upper limit of opulence and price. By all accounts, they haven’t found the ceiling yet. Silverados, Rams, F-150s … nearly 1 in 5 items to roll off a dealer’s lot with a new-car smell has an open box attached to it.

That open box (whether it’s five-and-a-half, six, or eight feet long) is the indisputable king of cargo. Need to haul a tree home from the arborist? No problem. How about that grandfather clock at the estate sale? Toss it in. The amount of detritus one can handle with a pickup is legendary. Thing is, though, that open bed is – well – open.

Fortunately, there’s a solution. Tonneau covers have been around for ages and are designed to cover up the box of your truck, essentially sealing it from weather and prying eyes. There are a ton of options out there, so it behooves the smart customer to ask themselves a few questions before plunking down the cash.

Decide what type of tonneau cover you want. They are constructed of either hard or soft material, each with their own advantages. The hard covers are generally made of metal or hard plastic while soft covers are fabric-based. Metal units are more robust and resistant to skeets trying to steal your gear but, logically, they are more expensive than their fabric brethren.

(Editor’s note: As noted above, this post is meant to both help you be an informed shopper for automotive products but also to pay for our ‘90s sedan shopping habits operating expenses. Some of you don’t find these posts fun, but they help pay for Junkyard Finds, Rare Rides, Piston Slaps, and whatever else. Thanks for reading.)


Editor’s Pick: Extang Solid Fold 2.0 Hard Folding Cover

extang solid fold hard folding tonneau cover

This is your editor’s pick because it is the one I installed on my own pickup truck. After night upon sleepless night of research, this cover was selected based on its looks, construction, and positive feedback. Fully assembled right out of the box, this hard cover folds up into thirds, allowing your author to load a snowblower or other smaller piece of equipment aboard the truck bed without needing to remove the entire cover.

Installation is straightforward, with the cover’s leading edge clamped to the bedsides using robust metal fasteners which don’t require tools to adjust. Its edging provides a tight seal to keep out the weather, while easy-to-use spring-loaded fasteners keep the tailgate end of the cover secured tightly to the bed even with frequent opening and closing of the truck’s ‘gate.

Pros: Dead simple to install, robust construction, slick good looks

Cons: Expensive, weighs about 50 pounds

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Highly Rated: Tyger Auto T3 Tri-Fold

tyger auto t3 tri-fold truck bed tonneau cover

This vinyl unit attempts to marry the convenience of a tri-fold hard cover with the budget-friendly nature of a soft cover. Made of marine-grade vinyl, its frame is composed of aluminium and comes with stainless steel clamps. Preassembled crossbars provide a rigidity not found in a roll-up soft cover, while its tri-fold action allows for partial access to the truck bed without having to leave the entire unit back home in the garage.

One of the most highly rated tonneau covers on Amazon, it has earned an astounding 4.8/5 rating based on over 1,000 customer reviews. That’s a remarkable vote of confidence from a very large sample size. No drilling is required for installation as the works of it simply lays on top of the truck’s bed rails and is secured in place with the aforementioned stainless steel clamping system.

Pros: Affordable price, tri-fold functionality, aluminium crossbar system

Cons: Vinyl construction is easily foiled by knife-wielding thieves

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Budget Pick: North Mountain Soft Vinyl Roll-up Tonneau Cover

north mountain soft vinyl roll up tonneau cover

If all you seek is a cheap way to keep your gear out of the weather, this budget-priced soft tonneau cover may just do the trick. This one-piece unit rolls up like a window blind toward the truck’s cab when its owner desires unfettered access to the bed area. Made of tear-resistant double-sided vinyl, a system of aluminum frame rails keep the thing from sagging like a dead houseplant.

ALSO SEE: Buyers Guide: Top 9 Best HID Headlight Bulbs for Your Car’s Next Upgrade

Like the other tonneau covers mentioned in this post, this soft vinyl unit rests atop the bedsides which is great for the evacuation of water and other sloppy precipitation. Be aware that this cover seems to require the installation of a track system on top of the bedsides in order for the rolling action to work properly. These tracks are affixed with metal clamps but will definitely require some precise measurement to line up properly.

Pros: Cheap way of buying into the tonneau cover game, three-year warranty

Cons: Installation will require maths

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BAK Industries 26505 BakFlip G2 Folding Tonneau Cover

The primary issue with most tri-fold covers, including the one in use on your author’s pickup truck, is that only two of the three panels can be flipped open. The third panel, up near the pickup’s rear window, generally serves as the cover’s main clamping point and cannot be moved. This BAK Industries unit solves that vexing problem with a pair of hydraulic struts.

This BAKFlip G2 cover folds all the way forward and up against the truck’s cab window, giving users access to the entirety of their bed without removing the cover. Its low profile design avoids the muffin-top look plaguing some tonneau units. Its solid core panels with aluminium skins permits up to 300 lbs of evenly distributed weight to bear down on the cover, so don’t feel the need to rush out in the middle of a blizzard to clear it free of snow.

Pros: All three panels can be flipped open, doesn’t interfere with stake pockets, slick looks

Cons: More complicated install than some, eye-watering price

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LEER Latitude Soft Tri-Fold Truck Bed Tonneau Cover

leer latitude soft tri-fold truck bed tonneau cover

This brand bills itself as “America’s #1 Truck Cover” and, given the sheer number of truck accessories one sees bearing the Leer name, they may have a point. This particular option is a soft tri-fold unit, flipping forward in thirds to reveal the truck bed underneath. Drivers can safely travel with the cover open thanks to security straps and buckles located at the front of the bed.

Made of commercial-grade reinforced vinyl, this cover won’t provide the security of a hard cover but is a good option if one doesn’t want to break the bank. A specially designed self-tensioning frame helps keep the truck bed cover in place while a support framework with rounded corners and beveled edges keep water out of the truck bed. The latching system near the tailgate is of a one-handed pinch design, not a bulky handle on which to yank. Leer’s solution is certainly lower profile but may be hard to grab, especially in the dark.

Pros: Well-known brand name, light weight, no-drill installation

Cons: Fiddly opening latches, costly for a soft cover

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GatorTrax Retractable

gatortrax retractable tonneau cover

This list would be incomplete without mention of a retractable tonneau cover. Merging the benefits of a hard cover and a roll up soft cover, this unit opens up to uncover the truck’s bed in the same manner as one opens a kitchen bread box or fancy-pants rolltop desk.

Constructed of Lexan polycarbonate, allegedly the same stuff that is used in fighter jet cockpits, this cover can bear about 300 lbs of evenly distributed weight. Sliding on maintenance free sealed ball bearings, this cover is lockable with a key and can actually be locked in any position. When retracted, the cover resides in an “11 x 11” canister which lives at the head of the truck’s bed up by the cab. This does eat up some box space but is certainly compact enough to largely stay out of harm’s way.

Pros: Adds secure storage to your truck, clamp on rails for easy installation

Cons: Mechanism can jam if cover is not kept reasonably free of debris

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GatorTrax MX Electric Retractable

gatortrax mx electric retractable tonneau cover

Attentive readers will note this unit is very similar to the one listed just above but with a key difference – it is power operated. Retracting into its canister with the touch of a keyfob button, this GatorTrax MX also has a LED cargo light integrated into the unit. Since it has a power assist, the cover includes a safety auto shutoff feature to avoid nipping wayward fingers or protruding cargo.

ALSO SEE: Buyers Guide: Top 8 Best LED Headlights for Your Car

An electromagnetic brake allows the cover to lock in any position along the rail, permitting a great flexibility with hauling gear in the bed. This retractable cover has sealed ball bearings and a spiral-style canister with no moving parts, reducing the fiddle factor to a near-zero level of maintenance. Its heavy duty construction apparently allows it to bear 500 lbs of weight. The included keyfob controls both the retracting action and the LED light mounted on the canister.

Pros: Power operation to wow your buddies, robust construction, low-profile looks

Cons: “Say What?” price, takes an hour to install

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GM #19302798 Premium Cover by Fold-a-Cover

gm premium cover by fold-a-cover

Yes, this tonneau cover is specifically for GM trucks but is getting a mention thanks to one unique feature: its ability to fold up from either the front or the back of the truck bed. No other tri-fold cover on this list allows users to flip open the segment that’s closest to the cab without first folding away the rest of the unit. This is an incredibly handy feature which permits truck owner to access gear stored up at the front of the bed with ease.

Technically a four-panel design, this cover is an OEM accessory available through Amazon retailers. This helps to explain its eye-watering price, as manufacturers aren’t exactly known for their restraint when pricing their accessory list. At least buyers will know it’ll fit their truck to a tee, since it was designed by the manufacturer.

Pros: Allows access to the front of the bed, quad-fold flexibility, compatible with other GM accessories

Cons: Laughably expensive

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Installation Tips and Thoughts on Tonneau Covers

Installing either type of cover is a breeze, with tri-fold covers (both hard and soft types) being held in place with robust metal clamps tucked away out of sight inside the truck bed. Most tonneau covers can be installed on a truck in less than 10 minutes without any tools.

Experience has taught your author that if your truck has a bed liner, check to make sure it is of the type which tucks underneath the sides of bed. This means the areas onto which the cover will clamp are accessible and not concealed by the liner. Ninety-nine percent of plastic drop-in bed liners are of this variety. Modern spray-in liners generally don’t affect the installation of a tonneau cover at all.

ALSO SEE: Buyers Guide: The 8 Best Windshield Wipers You Can Buy

Be sure to measure your truck’s bed before buying a cover to ensure a proper fit and think about how you plan to use your pickup. All tonneau covers provide a mail-slot of access into the bed when you drop the tailgate but beyond that, some can pose limitations if you’re frequently hauling tall gear in the bed.

Roll-up tonneaus can be easily trundled up against the truck’s cab when you need the whole bed to haul an ATV. Some tri-fold tonneaus will also flip forward and provide access to the bed but often leave a portion of the bed covered up, scuppering your plans to haul a load of furniture or dirt bike. Either way, you’ll likely have to remove the cover in order to load tall items, so plan ahead.

Aftermarket truck accessories are a huge business, unsurprising since almost 20 percent of all new vehicles sold are pickup trucks. Trucks that are sold to deeply loyal owners who want to protect their purchase. A tonneau cover is a great way to clean up the lines of your truck and increase the amount of lockable storage space. Do your research, select the one that fits your needs, and you’ll have a practical accessory that adds value to your truck.

[Images courtesy of the manufacturers]

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20 Comments on “Buyer’s Guide: The Best Tonneau Covers for Your Truck...”


  • avatar
    kkop

    Only folding panel soft covers? I like my roll-up soft Access cover; covers the bed but still allows me to load my motorcycle without having to store the cover.
    Also, DiamondBack for hard cover should be mentioned as a good option for a heavy duty, load-carrying cover.

  • avatar
    JMII

    Years ago I had something similar to GatorTrax called Roll-N-Lock. It was made from aluminum slats and rolled up like hurricane shutters common to hi-res condos down here in FL. It locked in several positions and thus was super secure. Tank like construction and never gave me any trouble. The slats fit very tightly together, it wasn’t water proof but very close to it.

  • avatar
    James Charles

    I own a 3.2 diesel Ranger. I put a soft cover on my truck and found it to be a nuisance.

    I do a lot of camping and fishing and found the best solution is those poly trunks, not the cheap plastic bins with those flimsy rollers on the bottom.

    These trunks can be locked and come in half size like Lego, and when stacking lock together like Lego.

    I bought a new fridge a couple of years ago and it only cost $25 to be delivered. It was unpacked, cardboard and styrofoam removed and taken away, put into postion and plugged in. They even removed the tape and packing that retains the the shelves and drawers during transport.

    Why would I use my pickup for that?

    I suggest before buying a tonneau look at the other storing options for your truck. Tonneau can be a pain in the ass when you use your truck bed often.

    • 0 avatar
      Carlson Fan

      ” suggest before buying a tonneau look at the other storing options for your truck. Tonneau can be a pain in the ass when you use your truck bed often.”

      Really????? I had an Access soft tonneau cover on the bed of my 2004 GMC Sierra HD for all of the 13 years I owned it. You name it, was probably hauled in the bed of that truck at one time. NEVER and I mean NEVER did that cover prevent me from hauling anything in the bed of that truck or even get in the way. You sure you’ve ever even owned a PU? A closed bed keeps the snow and rain out, prevents things from blowing out and keeps things safe from thieves….out of sight out of mind. To me they are as important and useful as the tailgate which means my next PU will have another Access cover the day after I bring it home.

      • 0 avatar
        James Charles

        Yes, Carlson, I’ve owned a number of pickups and I found the most versatile had flatbeds and sideboards, You have a 6’6″ wide by 8′ long perfectly flat bed, very useful and you have less chance of bulking out with tie downs completely around the perimeter.

        As for the tonneau, our pickups carry considerable weight for their size (some over 3 000lbs) and I found you must remove the tonneau when loading up against the front loading board. This is dangerous.

        Have you ever loaded a cubic metre of blue metal (gravel/aggregate) in a pick up? The gravel weighs 1.5 tonnes and is loaded with a front end loader, I have seen tonneau covers broken from sand and blue metal.

        The only pickups with tonneau covers are high end pickups that are rarely used for work. Many work pickups in Australia have purpose built beds. Canopies are far more common here than tonneau covers. Tarps are more common if you are worried about the weather. Tarps can be used on any size load.

        From my perspective tonneau covers created extra work, tarps are cheap and its easy to learn how to handle rope.

        • 0 avatar
          Vulpine

          It all depends on how often you load that bed down with stone, aggregate, mulch, etc. If you bother to look around in the US, trucks that are used like yours rarely have covers over them of any kind and are usually pretty badly beaten up by carrying such loads. Most owners now use their pickup trucks as tow vehicles to haul a dump trailer or other such to tow those bulky, heavy, otherwise unmanageable loads, leaving it to second or even third owners to beat up their trucks.

          Now, keeping in mind that I purchased a mid-sized truck (a Colorado), I have a four-panel folding top but carry outsized (but not necessarily heavy) loads regularly enough that an SUV is just not large enough. I haul things like recyclables and bulk trash like bush and tree trimmings as well as landscaping materials from bagged mulch to plantings to paving stones and bagged sand. And yes, I also use it as an outsized trunk when carrying holiday gifts and luggage for traveling. And since I’m of an age where I am no longer comfortable lying on the cold, hard, bumpy ground, I intend to do all my camping inside some sort of trailer, whether it be a pop-up camper or a full-on travel trailer.

          I have a need for a light-duty truck, not a full-on working truck; which is characteristic for almost 2/3rds of American pickup-truck owners. The flat-bed style you use in Australia is typically a farm truck or a rollback here in the States. Different societies; different needs; different ways to do the same things. Do I agree with all the differences? No. I think the majority of American pickup owners could get by with something smaller with those who actually NEED the capabilities needing trucks more like yours. Our pickups are more like your Utes, even if they share an approximately common chassis as your working trucks. A flatbed, even with side rails, doesn’t allow you to just toss a load on the bed and drive away; you still have to tie it down or it will slide all over that flat floor. The high sidewalls of our ‘Utes’ at least keeps things from falling off–assuming they don’t blow out in the wind of driving 55mph or faster with those things loose in the bed. (You might be surprised how FEW loads you will see actually tied down in a pickup bed here.)

          Just remember, Americans tend to do things differently. Think as you will about the society; just remember that we’re not all the same and there are some of us who seem to care a little more about their fellow person than others. Stereotyping any society ignores the minority that exemplify what their country should be like rather than what it is.

  • avatar
    James Charles

    I own a 3.2 diesel Ranger. I put a soft cover on my truck and found it to be a nuisance.

    I do a lot of camping and fishing and found the best solution is those poly trunks, not the cheap plastic bins with those flimsy rollers on the bottom.

    These trunks can be locked and come in half size like Lego, and when stacking lock together like Lego.

    I bought a new fridge a couple of years ago and it only cost $25 to be delivered. It was unpacked, cardboard and styrofoam removed and taken away, put into postion and plugged in. They even removed the tape and packing that retains the the shelves and drawers during transport.

    Why would I use my pickup for that?

    I suggest before buying a tonneau look at the other storing options for your truck. Tonneau can be a pain in the ass when you use your truck bed often.

  • avatar
    Canary

    You overlooked another Extang hard cover…the Encore.
    Stout, easily removable, locks with your truck key and OPENS AT THE CAB!

  • avatar
    jatz

    Accept what has come to pass with American family vehicles and put trunk lids on 4-door pickups at the factory.

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    I’ve got the GM Fold-a-Cover on my ’19 Colorado and it includes the lockable storage box at the front of the bed (where I store my cargo management straps and bungees.) Note also that with the included straps and snaps, the folded cover STAYS folded and doesn’t flop around in the wind.

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      The Foldacover is the pick of the litter, quality and execution wise. Doubly so if you have the box up front, under the front opening panel. In snowwy climates, covers that ride on top of the bedrails, beat ones riding between them, and hence needs little water channels and tubes for drainage, any day.

  • avatar
    David Mc Lean

    Take a look at Weathertech. I have their folding vinyl cover on my ’17 Colorado. Very easy installation, cross bars are built into the top and roll up with it. Excellent fit and warranty. Kind of spendy for its type (about $500).

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    My ‘bad take’ (unpopular opinion): If you have a tonneau cover on your truck, you chose the wrong vehicle to start with.

    This is my current opinion and it might change someday, and I understand that some people use their truck differently than I use mine.

    Hey OEM’s – little-known fact: Plywood and drywall measure 4×8 (48″ by 96″). But MDF and melamine and some other engineered products are 49″ by 97″ (extra inch both directions). If I can’t fit several sheets of 49×97 MDF in the bed of my truck, flat on the bed, in between the wheel wells, with the tailgate closed, it’s not a full-size truck. Oh and you gotta allow clearance for a spray-in or drop-in bedliner with those dimensions, please. So I’m showing ~50 inches between the wheel well inners – can you do that?

    Bonus consumer factoid: My loads almost always ‘cube out’ before they ‘weigh out’ so I care a lot less about payload capacity than about the actual size of the bed.

    Extra bonus reality check: On my old pickup, I could stand at the side of the bed and unload mulch over the side of the truck using a pitchfork. Can I do that with your truck?

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      ” If I can’t fit several sheets of 49×97 MDF in the bed of my truck, flat on the bed, in between the wheel wells, with the tailgate closed, it’s not a full-size truck.”

      — You do realize that you just eliminated roughly 90% of modern Road Whales™ as full-sized trucks, despite their bulk. Finding ANY pickup with an 8′ bed today is difficult at best and even when pickups were truly trucks and not oversized sedans, the 8′ bed wasn’t that common (though far more so than today.)

      The funny thing is that even mid-sized trucks can carry a sheet of MDF flat–by just using a pair of cut 2×4 boards–and leaving the tailgate down. And modern tie-down straps are far more effective than creating a webwork of cord that may not be knotted well enough to hold the load in or strong enough to handle the stresses of a shifting load

      As for your, “extra bonus reality check,” on that I agree whole-heartedly. That’s why I call modern trucks “Road Whales™”

    • 0 avatar
      BunkerMan

      I use my truck “as a truck” to haul trailers and ATVs, or dirty stuff back and forth to my piece of property. The hard cover on mine is ideal for camping or long trips. It allows me to lock up bikes, coolers, and various other items overnight, to hide them away from prying eyes.

      When I don’t need it, I just take it off and store it in my garage.

  • avatar
    BunkerMan

    I have the original Solid-fold cover on my 2011 F-150 and it has been on there pretty much since I bought the truck new.

    Because of the design of the bed side caps on that generation of F-150, the pressure exerted on them by the clamps holding the bed cover on cracks the paint.

    As it stands right now, the bed of my truck needs a repaint due to the paint flaking off. It’s not under warranty because of the bed cover.

    Maybe they have addressed this issue in version 2 of the solid fold, but buyer beware.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      While I can’t speak to Ford, the bed’s edges on my Colorado were covered with liner material specifically because I had also ordered the tonneau. Or at least, that’s how it appears. I don’t recall seeing liner material on top of the bed sides when you just order the lining, though policy may have changed.

      Of course, whether you use a tonneau or a cap–even with a rubber ‘seal’ to protect the paint, those bed side rails seem to see a lot of wear anyway. About the only way to prevent it is to have something like that spray-on material down first, to let it take all the wear. The liner is easy to touch up compared to ordinary body paint.

  • avatar
    Sobro

    I like my Extang trifold soft. I carry small bits of lumber, stepladder, small compressor, and other power tools in the F-150 bed. Rarely tall stuff. The Extang came with a stuff bag to protect it if you have to remove it for bed length tall stuff and it has a lock after two folds. It cost under $230.00.

  • avatar
    CKNSLS Sierra SLT

    I have had two BakFlip (hard fold) tonneau covers. The first one was an F1 and now I have a G2.

    Hard Tonneau covers make a pickup bed semi secure-verses soft ones that can be readily cut with just about any sharp instrument.

    However-at $800.00plus dollars these things are not cheap.


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