Choosing Between a Hard and Soft Top for Your Jeep

One of the best things of owning a Jeep (Wrangler) during the summer is being able to take the top or doors off and open up to the great outdoors – even if it’s just around town. There’s just nothing like it – sunlight, fresh air, and perhaps, a tiny inner sense of rebellion.

However, there are times when a cover is necessary and desirable – during storms, long or short-term storage, to shield from heavy sun, and during road trips, just to name a few.

But what are your options? How do you decide which top is best for you? What will you need to switch between hard and soft tops? What kinds of materials and workmanship should you look for? Determining your needs and wants for a top will go a long way in helping you decide which top is for you.

Here are some ideas to get you started.

Basic soft top styles

There are two basic styles of soft tops available: full coverage and bikini (aka half top). Within those two categories, there’s a wide variety of options to choose from.

A full coverage soft top functions similarly to a hard top, comes with a frame and covers the interior of the Jeep from the top and around the sides. Windows are included, often tinted. These tops may come without a frame for a softer, more flexible look. Newer full coverage tops boast less road noise and flapping as well as better seals against wind, rain or snow.

Traditionally, soft tops require no drilling or special tools, are easy to install, and can be added or removed by one person.

Variations in soft tops can include full coverage (over the driver, passenger and rear passengers and comes with windows) and half tops (over driver and passenger and does not include windows). Some options have a Sunrider panel over the driver and passenger, so you can let some sunlight in. 

Bikini style tops are synonymous with half tops, generally speaking. Bikini tops cover the driver and passenger and are open behind the front seats. If being used in conjunction with a hardtop and a sunroof, these panels/covers can be modified to become a sunscreen.

Depending upon the year and dimensions of your Jeep, fit may vary, so be sure to shop carefully before you buy.

Curtains, Windjammers, & duster deck covers

A curtain between the front and rear seats can be added along with a bikini top to help reduce wind, along with dust and debris, while letting some air flow through.

Similarly, the addition of a pet hammock can function as a curtain and provide your pet with a comfortable ride and warmth or shade when necessary. The Kurgobrand sold through Extreme Terrain makes a suitable option.

A great way to minimize wind and dust in the cockpit and the deck where your belongings are stored, is the merger of a bikini top, curtain and deck cover in a specialty soft top that completely covers the driver, passenger, and cargo deck. Quadratecoffers a wide variety of options for this style.

Doors

Yes, doors do make a difference. You can remove them entirely and all soft tops will fit the vehicle just fine. However, if at any time you want to include the doors for greater protection, you’ll need to make sure they have the correct design to match the soft or hard top style you choose. You can buy two sets of doors, one for the hard top and one for the soft top, or you can buy conversion kits that work with both. It depends on your needs and the year of your Jeep as to know what’s available.

Hardware

The soft top(s) you choose will determine what hardware you need to secure the top and any specialty accessories you might need. The hardware will be included in the top purchase. However, if you’ve purchased a used Jeep and it wasn’t included in the sale or pieces are missing, hardware is readily available for all years.

Total coverage

Lastly, there may be times when you want total coverage for the interior of your Jeep. You may need to store the Jeep while you’re on an extended vacation or spending time in a particularly dusty or wet climate. If you’ve removed the hard top, you can get a cover for the interior without purchasing a complete soft top system.

Regardless of the style you choose, most brands will use high-quality grade material such as layered twill, waterproof marine-grade denim vinyl, or sailcloth vinyl. Be sure to look for 135 gauge or higher polyester thread, heat-sealed seams, and self-correcting zippers.

Recommended sites and brands to help you make your choice include:

Mopar

BesTop

Quadratec

Extreme Terrain

Sierra Off Road

Smittybilt

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