Soft tonneau covers provide an excellent combination of durable cargo coverage and large load versatility. Soft tonneau covers are also the easiest bed covers to install, with full attachment to your truck in as little as 10 minutes. While there are dozens of models available with several subtle differences, most parts of a soft tonneau cover are essentially alike.
Anatomy of the Soft Tonneau Cover
Soft tonneau covers shield your gear with a heavy-duty vinyl tarp. Typically offered in black, this tonneau material is expertly sewn to the dimensions of your vehicle’s bed and the tonneau frame. With reinforced seams and corners, vinyl tonneau cover tarps are built to last and usually carry a warranty for longer than the life of a typical truck.
For style and texture, most soft tonneau tarps boast a leather grain simulation pattern pressed into the top surface. When washed and shined with the right product, the look of your soft tonneau cover can be quite impressive.
Sewn into the edges of the tarp is part of the mechanism for sealing your cover closed. These attachments are fully-integrated into the tarp material to form a durable closure that won’t separate from the vinyl.
Soft tonneau covers feature 3 basic seal styles: heavy-duty snaps, industrial-strength Velcro-style “hook and loop” material, and quick “peel and seal” tongue and groove closures. Each soft tonneau cover seal type has its own pros and cons, and selecting a style from the 3 is usually a matter of preference.
These tough buttons are like regular jacket snaps on steroids. For complete durability, soft tonneau cover snaps are constructed from either heavy-duty fiberglass (as on the Extang Black Max Tonneau Cover), solid brass or stainless steel (the Extang Classic Platinum Tonneau Cover uses both metals). They’re evenly spaced in the tarp with black button tops that blend with the cover material. Heavy-duty snaps click closed with the other half of the snap, which is attached to the tonneau cover frame rails.
Because the vinyl tarp will expand or contract with the weather, snapping the buttons closed can be tricky at times. Many soft tonneau cover models using snap closures employ moveable buttons on the frame rail to make the seal easier in the cold. Another method used for these tonneaus is flipping bottom buttons for easier winter fastening and extra summer tonneau tension, as used on many Extang tonneau covers.
Velcro-Style “Hook & Loop” Seal
This isn’t your typical shoe or wallet Velcro. Soft tonneau covers employ industrial-strength material that’s sewn securely into the tarp and frame to prevent separation and increase the life of your cover.
Hook & loop soft tonneau covers, like the Access Lorado Performance Tonneau Cover, are fast to seal in any weather. Just press them closed around the edges and use the cover’s tension mechanism (either manual or automatic) to stretch the cover drum-tight. Soft tonneau covers with Velcro seals require less stretching effort in the bitter cold.
“Peel & Seal” Tongue and Groove Closure
Soft tonneau covers with peel & seal edges feature a flexible tongue edge sewn into the tarp that hooks into a groove in the frame rail. Peel & seal tonneau covers, like the Lund Genesis Seal & Peel Tonneau Cover (pictured), are incredibly fast to open, as they literally peel back in seconds for quick cargo access.
The rub with peel & seal tonneau covers comes in cooler weather. The tongue can be quite difficult to seal if the tarp material has contracted significantly. This problem is pronounced at the tail rail, which is terribly challenging to seal in the bitter cold.
Tonneau Cover Frame
Innovative frame designs make soft tonneau covers the easiest tonneaus to install, and completes the sturdy package for your vehicle’s bed. They’re designed to stand-up to the elements with all-weather metal frame rails. Soft tonneau covers also employ a number of bow styles for complete support and consistent tension.
Did you know?
Early tonneau cover models featured snaps drilled directly into the outer rim of the truck bed. Framed bolt-on models evolved years later.
Most soft tonneau covers employ hand-tightening clamps that grip your bed rails without marring the paint. The only tools you might need to install your tonneau are simple household hand tools. In fact, many soft tonneau covers include the tools you need. No drilling, cutting or other major modifications will be required for hassle-free mounting.
Soft tonneau frames don’t work with all bed caps or over-the-rail bed liners. See product notes for details and warnings for each tonneau.
While the tarp attaches to the rail behind the cab, along with any ties/straps for your rolled-up tonneau, the tail rail quickly fastens into the side rails. It sits independent of the tailgate, allowing full access without any tail rail removal or cover opening required. Advanced roll-up soft tonneau covers, like the Extang Revolution Tonneau Cover, feature a tail rail that’s integrated with the tarp, so it’s never in the way.
Tonneau frame mounting positions vary by model and manufacturer. Most soft tonneau covers mount to your vehicle’s bed rails and sit completely above the bed, creating a raised cover look (see the Lund Genesis Snap Soft Tonneau Cover). Also available are flush-mount covers that offer smooth style, sport a sleek appearance and sit nearly even with the bed rails (as seen with the Extang RT Tonneau Cover). It’s an awesome low-profile way to cover your cargo. These sit between your be rails, though, effectively narrowing your bed space by an inch or two on each side.
5 soft tonneau features that keep your cover and cargo safe from the elements:
- Durable lined vinyl tarp
- Strategic weather seals
- Tough metal frame construction
- Raised, arched bow shape
- Heavy-duty closures
Tonneau cover bows stretch from rail to rail across your vehicle’s bed, providing support and consistent tension. Each soft tonneau cover employs a different number of bows. Generally, the more bows the better. And, the longer your bed, the more bows in your tonneau cover.Certain tonneau bows feature a rectangular slat shape, while others employ round pole style. Each style stays securely in place and removes quickly for full bed access. Some soft tonneau covers even feature bows that are integrated with the tarp and roll-up at the cab with the cover.Slat-style tonneau bows are usually arched, increasing tarp tension and more effectively channeling water and snow off the cover. Truck owners who want less of that “covered wagon” raised bow look frequently opt for a low-profile soft tonneau cover like the Truxedo Lo Pro Roll-Up Tonneau Cover.
Though each model is different, soft tonneau covers employ strategically-placed weather seals to prevent moisture seepage and channel water away from your cargo. Though these seals don’t completely waterproof your cargo in fierce weather, they are incredibly effective at keeping your stuff safe and dry.
Soft Tonneau Cover Styles
Soft tonneau covers come in an array of styles to suit your truck bed cover taste. The main difference is in how they open for bed access: roll-up, lift-up and fold-up. And, there are toolbox tonneau covers designed with complete utility in mind.
Roll-Up Tonneau Covers
Fast opening, strong closing and ideal tension. Soft roll-up tonneau covers offer excellent versatility along with the added security and improved gas mileage of a tonneau cover. For full bed access, just peel back the cover, secure the roll at the cab with the attached straps, pop-out the bows and slip-off the tail rail. An excellent example of a basic roll-up tonneau cover is the TruXedo TruXport Roll-Up Tonneau Cover.
Folding Tonneau Covers
Folding tonneau covers feature sections (usually 3) that are linked together, yet fold back piece-by-piece for different degrees of access to your bed. They secure at the cab in a stack when you want the cover to stay open. And, because the entire cover is linked together, folding tonneau covers arrive at your door fully assembled and install in mere minutes, like the Lund Tri-Fold Tonneau Cover.
Lift-Up Tonneau Covers
Propped-up by heavy-duty gas shocks, lift-up soft tonneau covers operate like a standard trunk or “bed lid. “They secure closed with simple latches underneath the tailgate. Lift-up soft tonneau covers also offer alternate openings, including removing the tarp just like a roll-up tonneau cover. Plus, they lift up and close with just one hand. Two excellent examples: the Lund Genesis Hinged Tonneau Cover (pictured) and the Extang Full Tilt Tonneau Cover.
Toolbox Tonneau Covers
Toolbox tonneau covers are specially-designed to sit behind your truck bed toolbox, turning your vehicle into a versatile work station. Available as a lift-up tonneau cover or a roll-up cover with “peel & seal”, snap or “hook & loop” Velcro-style closures, toolbox tonneaus are cut to fit standard depth bed boxes. Pictured is the Extang FullTilt Toolbox Tonneau Cover.
Some advice on selecting a soft tonneau cover for your vehicle
When shopping for a soft tonneau cover, you’ll find more than enough choices to make your head spin. When trying to narrow down the field to the ideal soft tonneau cover for your truck, consider these features:
- The seal/closure type that best suits your needs
- The opening style you like best
- How you want your tonneau cover to sit on your bed
Which soft tonneau cover seal/closure type best suits my needs?
Tough snaps, “peel & seal”, “hook & loop.” Each is used to keep your tonneau tarp closed, but each behaves just a bit different than the other.
- When you live in an area where biting cold is the winter norm, select a hook & loop model like the Access Lorado Performance Tonneau Cover or an adjustable tough-snap soft tonneau cover like the Extang Black Max Tonneau Cover
- For rapid opening and easy closing in moderate temperatures, grab a “peel & seal” tonneau cover, like the Extang TuffTonno Tonneau Cover.
- When smooth edges around your tonneau cover are important, select a “peel & seal” or Velcro-style “hook & loop” model similar to the Lund Genesis Roll-Up Tonneau Cover
- If you want the most common tonneau cover seal on the road (and the most economical one), pick-up a snap-seal soft tonneau cover like the TonnoPro LoRoll Tonneau Cover
Which soft tonneau cover style works best for my truck?
Each soft tonneau cover style — from roll-up to lift-up to fold-up — has its own unique advantages. Though picking one is essentially a matter of personal preference, some styles are better than others.
- When you want the fastest, most complete access to your truck bed, select a roll-up tonneau cover, like the TruXedo Lo Pro QT Soft Roll-Up Tonneau Cover
- Like the lift-up lid style best? Pick a lift-up tonneau cover that opens by lift or roll-up style (see the Extang Full Tilt Tonneau Cover)
- When fast folding is more your style, grab a folding tonneau cover (like the Extang Trifecta Tonneau Cover) for your truck
Which soft tonneau cover look would I like on my truck?
Even among like closure types, the way a soft tonneau cover sits on your bed rails can vary drastically. Spend some time thinking about the style you want on your truck.
- When you want the classic soft tonneau cover look, select a raised cover with arched bows, comparable to the Lund Genesis Snap Soft Tonneau Cover
- When smooth and low-profile matters most, get a tonneau cover that mounts flush with your bed rails that’s similar in style to the Extang Classic Platinum Original Snap Style Roll Up Tonneau Cover
- Want something different than the arched “covered wagon” look? Grab a low-profile soft tonneau cover with straight bows (the Truxedo Lo Pro Roll-Up Tonneau Cover would be an excellent choice)
- If you want a tonneau cover with smooth edges and corners, select a “peel & seal” or Velcro-style “hook & loop” closure soft tonneau cover model
How much soft tonneau cover installation can I handle?
No truck owner should have to pay for installation of their soft tonneau cover — they’re just too easy to put on your truck (most can be mounted in 20 min. or less). But, there are varying degrees of soft tonneau cover installation difficulty. If installation is a big factor in the soft tonneau cover you choose, steer toward the style that best suits your install skills.
- When you want the easiest installation of any tonneau cover made (no tools required, 3-10 min. project), select a folding tonneau cover, the Extang Trifecta Tonneau Cover being our easiest to install
- If you can handle turning a screwdriver or wrench and have 20 minutes for installation, select any snap, “peel & seal” or Velcro soft tonneau cover that mounts above the bed rails
- When installation is no object in your soft tonneau cover decision, pick a smooth tonneau with rails that mount inside the bed rails, like the Access Lorado Performance Tonneau Cover