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Jeep Soft Tops versus Jeep Summer Tops. Which to choose

  
  
  
  
 This blog post is being written to answer the question "Should I get a Jeep soft top or a Jeep summer top for the nice weather?" and is really written for the new, confused Jeep owner (just like I used to be... and sometimes still am!)  I will try and answer all the questions people ask on the phone when they call about this topic. My Jeep came with a hardtop and as summer approached, I wanted, of course, to be able to be topless in the Jeep. But what top to get --- a soft top that you can fold back or a summertime top like a Bestop Bikini Top or Bestop Safari Top? It can be very confusing. Hopefully, after this short blog post, you'll know everything you need to know to make a decision.

One note. Readers, please chime in with any additional information that can help others. 

Jeep Hardtop owners who want to go topless in the summer have 3 choices and I've listed my pros/cons on each choice.

1.    Remove your hard top. Replace it with nothing. Enjoy.

Pros:

  • Doesn't cost you anything.
  • You enjoy the open air feeling all the time.
  • You don't need to fiddle with setting up any top.
  • People smile at you when you drive by. (They're jealous.)
  • It's a chick or guy magnet.

Cons:

  • When it rains, you get wet.
  • When it's cool, you'll need to bundle up.
  • When it's cold, you'll wish you had a top.
  • People laugh at you when you drive by. (They're glad it's you, not them, getting soaked in the storm.)
  • Other Jeep owners empathize.

60 degrees and sunny feels a lot cooler traveling in an open air Jeep at 30-40mph and when the sun goes down, it can feel actually cold.

2.    Remove your hardtop. Replace it with a Jeep Soft Top.

Pros:

  • Flexibility. You can get the open air feeling by removing your side windows and rear window or enjoy a true topless experience by folding the top all the way back.
  • When it gets cold, the mosquitoes and black flies are attacking, or when it rains, you can fold the top back up, pop in the windows and you will be fully enclosed again.

Cons:

  • A soft top is expensive. It will run you $500 - $1200 depending upon the year/model Jeep you have.
  • Until you are a pro at it, the process of folding the top up and down, and zipping out/in the windows will take you 15-30 minutes.
  • If you are short, it is virtually impossible to do alone. (I have to climb up onto the Jeep or sometimes IN the Jeep to manage this alone and if someone is around, I'll always beg for help.)
  • When you do fold the top down, you first have to take out the windows and store them somewhere. If you don't store them safely in a clean, dirt free area, pretty soon you won't be able to see out of them. It's amazing how scratched up they can get. [ Shameless Plug for a product we carry: The Cloverpatch Window Roll for Jeeps is a simple, affordable solution that lets you take your windows with you, but keeps them safely stored, rolled up and out of the way. ]

NOTES: If you've never had a soft top before, make sure you choose one that comes with all the hardware - the "bows" that act as it's moving frame (or "skeleton"), holding the fabric on. In the Bestop Line, this is the Bestop Supertop product line. (If you already have the soft top hardware and just need the replacement fabric, you would choose the Bestop Replace-A-Top, which uses existing hardware.)

3.    Remove your Jeep hard top. Replace it with a Jeep summer top.

Think of a summertime top as simply a "tarp" or "sheet" that connects to your Jeep's frame and covers the area above your head. Given that the area on the sides of you is completely open, a summer top doesn't offer much protection from anything other than a hot sun or light rain. It shades your head and eyes.

There are 2 styles of summer top.

Material sized to cover JUST the 2 front seats of the Jeep. Bestop calls this their Bikini Top (and they've trademarked that name, even though it's become a universal term for this type of top). Rampage Products calls theirs the "California Top" or the "Brief". Vertically Driven Products calls theirs the "Brief Top".

If you have passengers in the backseat and want to be considerate, then you can choose the style that covers the area above the front seats and the back seats. This is a larger area to cover. This is Bestop's Safari Tops, Rampage Products "Island Topper" or Combo Brief (love that product!) or Vertically Driven Product's "Full Brief". Every vendor names their product differently but the main point is coverage for just the front seats or coverage for both front and back.

Ok, now, with a summertime top you will need an attachment point up at the top of your windshield. They don't use the attachment points your hardtop or soft top did. That means you need to purchase an additional piece of hardware called a Jeep Windshield Channel and attach it to your Jeep. This is nothing more than a long piece of metal that screws (older Jeeps) or clamps (newer Jeeps) onto your windshield, and provides a channel for the summer top to slide into.

So, here are my thoughts on the pros and cons of a summer top.

Pros:

  • A true open air feel, while avoiding sunburn and some light raindrops. You'll see a lot of summer tops out on the trail, when the folks know they'll be out in the sun all day and want some protection.
  • A summertime solution that will cost you under $200 (top and windshield channel), and often much less.

Cons:

  • Cold, mosquitoes, sudden rainstorms.
  • Also, when you want to remove the top and replace it with a hard top or soft top, you need to remove the windshield channel too. (Windshield channels and soft tops can't be used at the same time.*)

Frankly, we sell a lot of summer top to these types of Jeep owners:

  • Jeepers who live in dry climates where is rarely rains.
  • Folks who can house their Jeep in the garage when the weather stinks.
  • Owners whose Jeep is not their daily driver, but just a fun vehicle to take out on nice, sunny days.
  • And finally, to those hardcore Jeepers who don't give a damn about the weather, the bugs, etc. Their motto is, "If you wanted to be comfortable, you should have purchased a Honda." (I love those guys!)

* One of our favorite products is the Spiderweb Shade Top which does not require a windshield channel and can stay on your Jeep even when you put your soft or hard top back on. This shadetop bungees to your rollbar. Pretty neat.

Personally, here are my stats:

-live in New England with extremely unpredictable weather

-my Jeep is my daily driver

-I have yet to snag a parking space in the garage

Thus, I have a soft top on my Jeep and can enjoy the weather when it's great, and stay warm and dry when it's crappy out.

But if I moved to Arizona or Nevada where it rains 2 days a year, I'd go bikini top all the way (sorry passengers in the back seat. Get your own Jeep!)

Hope that helped a little bit. Post your questions/comments here and we'll try and answer them for you. Which top do you have and why?Written & Sponsored by www.AllThingsJeep.com and its employees.

Comments

<have only a soft top with half doors... 
 
<have a bikini top also... 
 
<don't use the bikini top at all anymore... just drop the soft top (or remove it completely) and who cares about a little rain?  
 
<have water-proof seat covers (acts like a diaper, holds the water back from the cloth seats). 
 
<rolls or removes the back window, removes the door halves and back side windows when top is not down or off. 
 
<just as cool.
Posted @ Monday, July 20, 2009 1:16 PM by JazzCatGuido
....and yes, I've been MANY heavy down pours with the top completely off MANY miles from home or shelter. It's a Jeep thing, some don't understand.
Posted @ Monday, July 20, 2009 1:19 PM by JaccCatGuido
thank you! i am one of the "newbie" jeepers that wasn't clear on the difference between tops. I have a soft top, live in Nevada, it stays off and if it rains, who cares I drive a Jeep! I will be getting the spiderweb, looks perfect! 
thanks again for the great article! 
cassie
Posted @ Monday, July 20, 2009 1:21 PM by cassie
...look at it this way, you're down in the Caribbean, white sand and a cold one, Margaritaville playing in the background. It suddenly starts to rain, chances are, if you are a true Jeeper, you're not leaving that tiki hut, you'll stick your finger in the bottle to keep it from becoming an ultra, ultra light, and just enjoy what mother nature dishes out. In short, if we wanted prissy urban push button comforts, butt warming seats, and total isolation from sun and wind, we'd have bought Hummers.
Posted @ Monday, July 20, 2009 1:30 PM by Patrick Hughes
Never. We'd have NEVER bought Hummers!
Posted @ Monday, July 20, 2009 2:27 PM by jeep girl through and through
I live in New England and have the factory soft-top plus a spiderweb shadetop. Oh yeah, and no garage. Frankly the windows are too damn hard to put in so they come off in April and go back on in October. What's a little water between friends?
Posted @ Monday, July 20, 2009 3:06 PM by sjmorton
Problem solved !!!I have matured into a complete Jeep fanatic ! I now actually have 3 Wranglers in my driveway. One with a hardtop for winter or rainy weather, one with a softtop which can be modified in a few minutes to match the weather and one with a bikini top for days when the sun is beating down ( uncommon occurence in western New York) Now life is much simpler, get up ,check the weather report and drive the proper Jeep !Note: All 3 Jeeps are of YJ vintage so tops are interchangeble if needed!
Posted @ Monday, July 20, 2009 6:35 PM by Steve Townes
so glad you understand! My jeep is my daily driver AND I'm in New England - love my soft top though.
Posted @ Tuesday, July 21, 2009 6:29 AM by shari
My stats: 
 
Also in New England (well Jersey...) 
 
Also haven't snagged a spot in the garage 
 
Also own my Jeep as a daily driver. 
 
 
 
That being said, I have the Bestop Sunrider. It is the top that can either fold all the way down like a normal top, or just flip back the front section for some open air-ness in the front seat. 
 
 
 
Overall, I don't like the top. I have had to replace it 3 times in the past two years due to defects (each time, it took nearly a day to remove all the hardware, and reinstall--time I could have spent working on other parts of my jeep!). It leaks, it doesn't fit right, and it is a PAIN to take off by yourself. I could take my normal top off by myself, this one is a two-person job. Flipping just the front back is nice when you need a burst of air or when there is a chance of rain, but that pro does not outweigh alllll the other cons of this top.
Posted @ Wednesday, August 19, 2009 6:47 AM by Dana
Question: I'm a new jeeper entering my first winter in Buffalo, NY and I was told the soft tops don't fare well in the snow - they stretch under the weight - and I'll need a hard top for the winter. True?
Posted @ Saturday, October 10, 2009 7:27 PM by Steve
Don't know about the JK but my '04 TJ has been through three New England winters so far, without ever seeing the inside of a garage, and the soft top is none the worse for wear.
Posted @ Saturday, October 10, 2009 7:34 PM by Simon
I live about 60 miles southeast of Buffalo and I have been selling Jeep Wranglers,(new and used) for over 10 years. Most Jeep soft tops are made of a durable but very strong material that allows it to expand and contract with varible weather conditions. The construction of the top and mounting hardware provides a very strong platform that, may stretch slightly under weight but, I have never heard of a top stretching under snow to a point of requiring replacement. The perils of western N.Y. weather will take it's toll but, with proper care your soft top should give you many years of service before needing replacement.
Posted @ Sunday, October 11, 2009 6:56 AM by Steve Townes
Does anyone have any experience with the California Top?? I read that it has a good fit and doesn't leak, and that it was better than the Sunrider. I'm looking to get a new soft top for my 94 and would like something that would be easier to take on and off than the factor top and the California top looks like a good possibility. Any feedback on the different tops would be appreciated. 
 
Posted @ Saturday, October 17, 2009 8:22 PM by Margaret
I really want to have a convertible jeep but I live in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Since winter is about 9 months of the year I want a top that will keep the air in in winter so I won't freeze to death. But at the same time, the summers are so beautiful and its so much fun to cruise around with the top down and the Tetons in the backdrop. I guess my question is just: What is the best option for me while spending the least amount of money?
Posted @ Monday, March 29, 2010 11:22 PM by kaljuli
My stats: 
 
02 Wrangler - Sahara hardtop 
 
live in northeast PA 
 
claimed a garage spot - bumped Jeep Cherokee 
 
fight w/ 4 kids as to who gets to drive it  
 
 
 
wan to get get a soft top, a bit concerned about all the zippers ... what do you use to lubricate for smooth - long lasting use?
Posted @ Thursday, April 08, 2010 10:15 AM by Doug
Do they make a summer top that ONLY covers the back seat? My husband & I love riding with no top but have a toddler who will be accompanying us this year in the back seat & he needs to be shielded from the sun. I've looked EVERYWHERE and all I can find are summer tops that cover only the front seat or the front & the back together....nothing that covers just the back. We're looking to purchase a summer top immediately- please help!
Posted @ Friday, April 16, 2010 2:18 PM by Jenna
Do they make a summer top that can be folded back to only cover the back seat. I have an unlimited. We have a 2 year old in the back seat. We typically take the front doors off and the top off, but I want to be able to provide shade for her. We have a hard top and a lift kit in the garage, so I prefer to take the hard top on and off rather than purchasing a soft top. Thanks!
Posted @ Sunday, July 04, 2010 4:34 PM by Venus Thorne
I have a 2000 Jeep Wrangler, I'm thinking about purchasing the Rampage soft top but it will be on my jeep in the winter months in Michigan. Does anyone have one that has been through the cold & snow with it?
Posted @ Tuesday, September 07, 2010 5:24 PM by Wendy
Comments have been closed for this article.