Hard Shell Vs. Soft Shell Toppers

Hard Shell Vs. Soft Shell Topper - Softopper Vs. GFC Platform Topper

Breaking Down The Age-Old Debate: Which Is Best For Your Truck?

When I first got my truck, it only took one bad storm to immediately send me into the Tacoma forums to find out which style of bed topper was the best for keeping my gear protected from the elements. I quickly realized there was a clear divide between the hard shell vs. soft shell.

Now, after a few years of ownership, I’ve had experiences with both styles. The choice for me between the two is pretty clear-cut.

In this article, we’re going to break down the hard shell vs. soft shell debate. I’ll point out some of the key differences to help you better understand what each option has to offer and provide you with the information you need to decide where to spend your hard-earned cash.

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Setup & Installation

Lifted Army Green 3rd Gen Tacoma With Tan Softopper

Let’s start with how each of these is installed and set up.

The Softopper can be easily set up in your garage using just a standard toolbox.

First, there are two rails with a small strip of insulation tape on the bottom, which are held down against the truck bed with a set of clamps. The Softopper skeleton is then placed onto two pins. The tension of the skeleton is adjusted using two straps that hook onto the Softopper rails at the front and rear. Finally, the canvas top is placed onto the skeleton and secured using a series of snap fasteners, Velcro, and zippers.

Stellar Built (GFC Satellite Installation Shop) - Installing GFC Topper On 3rd Gen Tacoma

In the case of the GFC, your topper will either be picked up locally at GFC headquarters (Belgrade, MT) or shipped to the closest GFC satellite shop for installation. The installation cost is included in the price, so there’s no need to worry about additional fees. In my case, mine was shipped to and installed at Stellar Built in Sacramento, CA.

First, your installer will lay down seals around the perimeter of the truck bed. There’s some butyl tape as well. Then, it is hoisted up and placed on top of these seals, creating a solid seal. Finally, it is clamped down using a few billet clamps. Having a shop do all the heavy lifting certainly makes life easier!

Gear Protection

Topper Options - Hard Shell Vs. Soft Shell

The main reason why most people buy a topper is to protect their gear from the weather.

The Softopper generally does a good job of keeping your gear protected, but due to its design, some dirt, dust, and water may still find its way into the bed. The front panel of the Softopper, closer to the cab, is divided into two flaps at the bottom. One flap goes into the interior of the bed, while the other goes over the outer side of the bed. Unfortunately, this creates a crevice where water can leak during bad weather or while washing the rig.

Additionally, the corners of the soft topper are slightly open, so during heavy rain or while washing, water tends to seep through the corners and into your bed as well.

Green GFC Camper

The GFC is sealed at every edge, providing closer to complete protection. Even the panels have seals on them to further minimize the chance of water or dirt entering the truck bed. I did a quick test with my power washer to see how well the topper sealed off the bed, and the only area where water was able to get in was through the bottom of the tailgate.

Now, it’s good to note that unless you take your truck bed apart and seal every last little intrusion point for water or dust, the cab will not be completely water/dust proof. Stopping ALL the elements entirely is easier said than done, and that’s just the nature of your truck bed. Does the GFC do a better job than the Softopper? No question. Side-by-side comparison in terms of element resistance, the GFC is so much better, it’s not a competition. Is it perfect? No, nothing is and you shouldn’t expect a 100% complete seal. But there are advanced methods to get you close. You would need to spend some time sealing certain points with silicone.

To clarify one last time, it’s not the GFC that’s the issue, any elements that squeak through enter the truck bed through OEM connections, trim, etc. The GFC itself does not leak or have any water/dust intrusion to note.


Softopper Vs. GFC Platform Topper

Another key point to consider is security, which is a significant difference between the two.

The Softopper primarily provides the ability to conceal your gear from the public but offers no real security. The one can be easily slashed with a sharp object. To be honest, if someone was determined enough, they could steal your entire Softopper in a matter of minutes.

Let’s just say when I had the Softopper setup, I never parked my truck in the city for an extended period of time.

Hard Shell Vs. Soft Shell Topper Pros & Cons

On the other hand, the GFC topper not only provides the ability to conceal your gear from the public but also offers excellent security features. Each panel is equipped with two locks and is constructed from 5000 series aluminum. I’ve seen a video of the GFC guys throwing a boulder at one of the side panels, which showed just how much force a panel could take.

For those seeking the ultimate security setup, windowless panels are available as an option. Some companies sell covers as well. I personally opted for the front and rear windows with lesser security, just so I could see what my pup is doing.


Softopper Pros & Cons

Many people overlook the fact that adding a tonneau cover, bed rack, or topper to their rig, may make it harder access their gear. This is especially true if your gear rolls to the front or to the side of the bed. This forces you to have to crawl into the truck bed to reach items at the front.

This is somewhat the case with the Softopper. In most cases, you’ll find yourself needing to crawl into the bed to access gear at the front. While it is possible to remove a few of the side buttons to reach through the side, the positioning of the skeleton makes it pretty hard to pass most gear through the gaps. Then, you’ll have to snap those buttons back in place, which can sometimes be difficult to align properly.

GFC Benefits

With the GFC, accessing equipment and gear at the front or to the side of the bed is a breeze. Unlock the two latches, pop open the panel, and your gear will easily fit through the gaps in the skeleton. This topper comes with three door panels, so access to you bed is available from every angle. This is one of my favorite features since fishing gear, camping supplies, and range bags tend to slide to the front.

Mounting Gear

Softopper Review For 3rd Gen Tacoma

Overlanders love to mount things; this is an undeniable fact.

Unfortunately, the Softopper doesn’t provide you with any way to mount gear. I would occasionally hang a lantern or light from the top of the skeleton, but I wouldn’t put any substantial weight on it. You can still mount gear on the bed rails, but the clamps do take up some space.

Also, if you plan on sliding anything into the bed rails, you’ll need to remove the clamps.

GFC Platform Topper Review

The GFC has multiple built-in mounting positions on the skeleton, allowing you to mount and hang accessories easily. I’ve also seen bags designed to be attached to the skeleton behind the side panels. There is a good amount of aftermarket support available, with more to surely come.

The topper features a full 360-degree mounting track system along its upper outer perimeter. By using GFC track nuts and mounts, you can attach virtually anything you can think of. Personally, I also have three GFC beef rack bars, each capable of adding 200 pounds of dynamic carrying weight. They provide even more mounting options for gear or a tent.

Similar to the Softopper, the GFC clamps do take up some space on the bed rails. However, GFC offers bed rail nuts specifically designed to allow you to mount gear to the bed rails without having to remove the clamps.


Softopper Cost - PROS & CONS

The price points for these two toppers are on opposite sides of the spectrum.

The Softopper won’t hurt your pocket as much at $900, not including taxes and fees.

GFC Cost

The GFC topper, in its base form, starts at $3995. Relatively close to higher-end fiberglass versions. Mine was around $5500 (including taxes, shipping, and installation when shipped to Stellar Built). On a related note, GFC products hold their value pretty well. If you ever do decide to change your setup, you can find a local to recover a good chunk of costs. The same applies to selling your truck, the GFC adds solid value to your build.

This price may seem steep, but it’s fairly competitive when compared to other hard-top brands. It’s also worth noting the price could be lower if you pick up for free at GFC headquarters. But you need to factor in gas, time, vacation leave, etc. The trade-off is the huge convenience factor when it comes to picking up closer to home.

Final Thoughts

Why Hard Shell Toppers Are Better Than Soft Shell Toppers

This was a tough pill for me to swallow. Ever since I installed my Softopper, I had always said that I would never get rid of it. In the end, the GFC is by far the better choice. It’s a living example of the saying – ‘Buy once, cry once.’

In the debate of the hard shell vs. soft shell topper, I have to side with the former.

The GFC Topper outperforms the Softopper in every aspect and then some. Not only does it keep your gear concealed from public eyes, but it also provides actual protection for your valuables. With its fully sealed design around the bed’s edges, it also does a great job of keeping your gear safe from the elements.

Accessing gear becomes effortless with the opening side panels. For the overlanders out there, there are so many mounting options for your awnings, axes, shovels, lights, and more!

The GFC is simply the complete package when it comes to truck toppers. I would wholeheartedly say that it’s worth the investment.

If you’d like to learn more about this topper or see more examples, be sure to follow @gfc_usa on Instagram and if you happen to be in Northern California, make sure to swing by @stellarbuilt too!

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4 months ago

They are apples and oranges. They are so wildly different it’s impossible to compare. The GFC price is 6x that of the softtop.

2 months ago
Reply to  Meee

They are very obviously different. The only intention is to compare (as much as possible) the utility and function of two different bed setups. Purely educational, especially should you consider going one way or the other. Plus, it answers some valid questions someone might have when thinking about buying either/or.

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