Which is Best – Tri-Fold or Retractable Tonneau Covers?

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Tri-folds are best if you are on a budget and retractables are best if you want it to be easy to open and close, so it’s up to your personal taste and needs.

Is it time to replace your battered and torn-up tri-fold tonneau cover with a retractable cover, or are you just wondering which one suits you best?

Understanding the difference in the styles of the tonneau covers is essential when deciding on a tonneau cover.

Retractable tonneau covers a.k.a. collapsible tonneau covers are better for convenience and security, whereas a tri-fold requires more effort to operate.

Tri-folds typically don’t take up as much space in the bed if the last section stands up against the back of the cab.

Here are some tips for you to consider when choosing which tonneau cover is best for you.

Retractable Tonneau Covers

White pickup truck with a retractable tonneau cover

The good

Retractable tonneau covers roll underneath themselves in the space at the bulkhead and are out of sight like a hard roll-up cover but instead of rolling up above the truck bed retractable covers roll down and hide in the truck’s bed.

You could also call it a sliding tonneau cover, they can accommodate racks to carry tents, mountain bikes, and kayaks above the cover, allowing you to use the truck’s bed to keep other cargo safe, dry, and out of sight.

The weight rating of the cover is a non-factor because the rack doesn’t attach to the cover it sits on the truck’s bed.

If you like gadgets, you’ll be happy to know that you can get an electric retractable tonneau cover. Using a remote, you can stop retractable covers at any position you need, and if your truck’s battery dies, you can open it manually in case you need to access your bed for, say, jumper cables in your toolbox.

There isn’t a tonneau cover made to cover the entire truck’s box when your 5th wheel is loaded. Still, unlike any other tonneau cover, retractable covers can protect from the bulkhead to the hitch and offer some protection from the elements.

Unfortunately, this leaves your cargo open to thieves, and you’ll need to remove your valuables in some situations.

That being said, they are the best tonneau cover for fifth-wheels because they can close right up to the pin. 

The bad

The downside to retractable tonneau covers is most of them take up about 6″ of space at the front of the box. So you won’t be able to front-load anything taller than your truck’s bed like furniture or dirt bikes. They are NOT easily removed and usually leave hardware attached to the truck when they are removed.

Installing a retractable cover takes two people about half an hour, whereas a tri-fold cover can be installed in 5 or 10 minutes by one person.

Tri-fold Tonneau Covers

Tri-Fold Tonneau Cover vs. Retractable - Truck upgrades advisor

The good

Tri-fold tonneau covers are three flat sections of material that are hinged together and can fold up to offer access to the bed of the truck. 

They are the most popular style, simple, secure, and versatile. They come fully assembled, and as I just mentioned, they are effortless to install and remove by yourself. 

You’ll face a choice of soft tri-fold or hard tri-fold tonneau cover? A soft tri-fold is less costly, but you sacrifice security because a thief can easily cut through the vinyl or canvas. On the other hand, a hard tri-fold cover is not as easy to break into but will cost more.

Most tri-fold tonneau covers have three different positions where they can be folded—some flip up the last section giving access to the entire truck bed. The problem is, it stands up, blocking the rear window and making backing up a little more challenging.

Tri-fold tonneau covers can be used with a 5th wheel hitch as well; however, they will not cover as much of the truck’s bed as a retractable cover would. 

The bad

Some tri-folds don’t fold up the last section and leave a third of the bed unusable.

Tri-fold covers are not always going to be able to use other accessories like truck bed racks. Depending on the style of the rack, it might stop the tonneau cover from folding over.

Hard tri-fold tonneau covers are a little harder to install and remove because they weigh more than a soft roll-up cover.

Soft tri-folds are typically not recommended for towing on the freeway because the wind will wear them out prematurely. But instead used for city driving because soft tonneau covers tend to stretch out over time and end up flapping in the wind. Read our article “Do Tonneau Covers Make Noise?


The right type of truck bed cover is essential for you. It all comes down to your taste, budget, and what you plan to do with your truck. 

If you are ready to make a purchase, remember that not all truck bed covers are created equal. You will get what you pay for, so don’t be afraid to spend a little extra to get a quality product that will last. And remember, it’s not just a matter of looks; it’s also about durability and functionality. 

I hope this article helped you figure out which is best for you tri-fold tonneau cover or a retractable tonneau cover. 

If you’re leaning towards a retractable here is my breakdown of the 9 best retractable tonneau covers on the market.

If a roll-up tonneau cover has been on your radar too, read Which is Better Roll-up or Tri-fold Tonneau Covers?

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