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Hard Tonneau Covers vs Soft Tonneau Covers

BAKFlip G2 TruXedo TruXport

Deciding between a soft or hard cover is the first step in finding the right tonneau cover. The type of cover that is best for you depends on a couple of factors, such as if you want your tonneau cover to lock and how easy it is to access your truck bed. The basic function of any tonneau cover is to protect the truck bed and any cargo inside, keeping your belongings out of the elements and away from prying eyes. To help make your decision between a hard or soft tonneau cover, we'll explore more differences and benefits of each style cover.

We'll consider the following questions as we break down hard and soft tonneau covers:

How Can I Lock a Tonneau Cover?

Hard Cover Installed

If the most important factor in purchasing a tonneau cover is security, then a hard tonneau cover is the way to go. Both hard and soft tonneau covers will keep your belongings out of view, but hard covers take security a step further.

Soft tonneau covers work to protect your truck bed cargo by keeping it out of sight and away from the elements. A soft cover will keep honest people honest and discourage those looking for an easy pick. However, if someone really wants to access your truck bed, a soft cover doesn't offer much resistance.

Hard tonneau covers are made from materials such as aluminum, polypropylene, and fiberglass that cannot be easily cut or pried from the side rails. These materials work best to stand up against would-be thieves. Paired with a locked tailgate, a hard tonneau cover keeps all of your belonging secure since the cover must be released from the underside.

Some hard tonneau covers include a built-in lock to keep the cover in place even if the tailgate is down. These covers, such as Retrax's retractable hard covers and the Extang EnCore tonneau cover, offer an extra level of security even when you need your tailgate down. This is great when carrying long cargo, such as ladders, lumber, canoes, or kayaks.

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What Will a Tonneau Cover Look Like On My Truck?

Hard and soft covers both offer very different looks for your truck. Soft covers provide a smooth, uniform look for the truck bed cover. Soft covers are made from materials such as canvas, polyester, or vinyl and are traditionally all black. Most hard covers feature panels that are much more textured, though some are covered with a vinyl layer to offer a look similar to a soft cover, such as BAK's BAKFlip VP or Revolver X2. Hard tonneau covers are great for making your truck look more rugged and durable. Some hard tonneau covers are even available in different finishes, such as Retrax covers that are available in either matte or glossy finishes, to provide you with the exact look you want to achieve.

The profile of the cover can also differ between hard and soft covers. Typically soft tonneau covers sit an inch to 2 inches above the truck bed side rails, falling in the standard profile category. Most hard folding and rolling tonneau covers offer a flush profile or a low profile, sitting only slightly above the truck bed side rails. For a more streamlined look, hard tonneau covers are a better fit.

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Can I Still Use My Whole Truck Bed with a Tonneau Cover?

Certain latching styles make it easier for you to access your truck bed than other latching styles. Soft covers with snaps require a good amount of work in order for the bed to be free of the cover and available for use. Folding covers that secure by latching to the tonneau cover side rails are much easier to use when trying to free the truck bed for cargo. For easiest access to the entire truck bed, tonneau covers that are hard, but roll-up or retract stand out as the easiest to use, such as those made by Retrax, BAK, or TruXedo. They can be rolled back with one hand and only require a single latch to be undone in order to start rolling the cover. Retractable covers can also be operated with a single hand, and some are even controlled with a handheld remote.

Other tonneau cover styles that allow for easy truck bed access are hard folding covers that allow you to fold the cover all the way up from the back and also allow the section behind the cab to be folded back for easy access to the front of the truck bed. Extang offers their EnCore hard cover that allows the front section to be folded back. Some soft covers, such as TruXedo's Deuce 2 soft, roll-up cover, also will allow the front section of the cover to be folded back for access. Soft, roll-up covers offer a great solution for an economical tonneau that will offer a nearly totally free truck bed when the cover is rolled up.

If you want to remove the entire cover to have total bed access, a cover that clamps directly to the truck bed sides without needing rails is a great option. These covers install and remove quickly and easily for truck bed access. Tonno Pro offers options in both hard and soft folding covers that can be installed and removed from the truck in a very short time because they do not require installation rails.

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Is There A Big Cost Difference Between Hard and Soft Tonneau Covers?

If you're looking for an economic way to help protect your truck bed, a soft tonneau cover is the best solution. Soft covers typically fall in a price range from $300 to $800, while hard covers typically start around $500 and can cost more than $2,500 when fully loaded. Hard tonneau covers offer a lot of bang for your buck, but if you don't need that extra layer of protection, on a budget, a soft tonneau cover fits the bill.

While the high-end soft covers and low-end hard covers are comparible in price, they don't match up as well when it comes to the covers' features. While these entry-level hard tonneau covers, such as Tonno Pro's Hard Fold cover, are offered at an economic price, they don't offer full bed access when the cover is folded up, sit higher off the truck bed side rail, and don't offer the same caliber warranty. Premium soft tonneau covers, like the Truxedo Deuce 2 for example, offer full bed access when the cover is rolled up, sit closer to the truck bed side rail, and allow for easy, one-hand opperation. The Deuce 2 is made in America, features a folding section to easily access the front of your truck bed, and boasts a lifetime warranty.

If the higher level of security offered by the hard cover is not a main factor, a soft cover can offer more features at a lower price point. Balancing the features and the cost of the cover is necessary when choosing a tonneau cover for your truck.

Soft Tonneau Cover Installed Hard Tonneau Cover Installed

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What About Other Bed Accessories with Tonneau Covers?

When it comes to tonneau covers, popular concerns relate to a tonneau cover's compatibility with other truck bed accessories. These accessories, such as toolboxes, ladder racks, or headache racks, can sometimes install in the same location as the tonneau cover, making them incompatible. Most tonneau covers will clamp to the inside edge of the truck bed side rail. This is the same place that many ladder racks and headache racks clamp to the truck. However, if the ladder rack installs using the stake mount pockets or drills directly into the top of the bed side rail, then there is a better chance the tonneau cover and accessory will be compatible.

The best solution when knowing that you'll want to use accessories like a ladder rack and toolbox with your tonneau cover is to use a system designed for compatibility. Many tonneau cover brands, such as BAK and TruXedo, offer toolboxes designed to fit with certain styles of their tonneau covers. TruXedo and DeeZee also offer a ladder rack and tonneau cover setup that are compatible together, the whole system using the same installation rails.

Tonneau Cover Ladder Rack Installed Tonneau Cover Toolbox Installed
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How to Choose the Best Tonneau Cover

Written by: Victoria B

Updated on: 11/8/2017

Steve T.


I have an '02 ford f-150 lariat supercrew shortbed (51/2ft) 4x4 and live in an area where it can snow heavily,so I think I need a hard, rather than soft cover. I don't want to spend more than $600 and don't care much about the other options. I have found a couple of covers which would work...if they weren't out of stock untill who knows when.Do you know of any in that price range which are "in stock"?

Les D.


@SteveT You are right - good quality tonneau covers are pricey. At the moment I do not have a hard folding tonneau for a 2002 Ford F-150 w/ 5-1/2 foot bed. Take a look at the Extang # EX94730. This is a folding soft tonneau cover that has three sections framed in aluminum which will offer great support for snow. It is not plain vinyl but rather vinyl over canvas.

John T.


Which fold hard folding bed cover gives the best water resistance

Etrailer Expert

Jon G.


What is the year/make/model of your vehicle and how much are you willing to pay for a tonneau cover? Typically tonneaus fall into the "you get what you pay for" category so the nicer ones tend to do better against water in the truck bed.

Dean B.


I am interested in the Bak Revolver X2 or Lomax Hard Fold Urethane. Do these (or any others) accomodate a Chevy Silverado 5.5' bed with a toolbox mounted on the side rails? THANKS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Etrailer Expert

Jon G.


What is the year and model of your Silverado?

Dean B.


@JonG I have a 2007 chev silverado crew cab 4X4
Etrailer Expert

Jon G.


@DeanB Would this be a Classic or New Body?

Gerald W.


Any ladder racks compatible with Leer HF650M on 2020 F150 short bed?

Etrailer Expert

Jon G.


From what I could find I believe you should be able to use the Adarac Pro Series, part # A4000964 for 5-1/2' or part # A4000946 for 6-1/2', with the Leer HF650M tonneau cover. This is due to the tonneau cover rails sitting on the very edge of your truck bed sides and the Adarac Pro Series installs using the stake pockets. If your cover is over the stake pockets at all then unfortunately we don' have anything that will work with it.

Robert W.


Would like to stay original with my snap style soft (Bk) tonneau cover..

Etrailer Expert

Jon G.


Are you saying that you have a BAK tonneau cover? Or that it's black? If it's a BAK cover then the only solution we have for you is to replace the whole thing with the Craftec Hatch-Style Tonneau Cover # 252108 as BAK doesn't have any fits that go back to 1985. If it's a different brand then you're going to need to reach out to that company to see if they can supply you with a replacement.



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