In the last post we talked about how extremely important it is to a survivalist-vandweller to stay warm in the winter and cool in the summer. But it was pretty long so I only took a quick look at awnings. I want to back come to them and cover them in more depth because an awning is tremendously helpful to staying comfortable in bad weather.
There are two keys to being comfortable in the tiny space of a van:
- The ability to spend time outside of it.
- The ability to leave your door open during bad weather.
While most people can’t understand living in the tiny space of van, for some reason we vandwellers find it cozy and comforting instead of claustrophobic. I’ve never really understand that, but I know it’s true for me. However, what I do not enjoy is being cooped up inside during bad weather with the door closed. If the door is open I am totally happy inside, but once its shut I start to feel closed-in. That raises the question, how can we keep the door open during bad weather, or be able to go sit outside during bad weather? The answer is an awning to create a “front porch.”
Of course that isn’t going to work if you live in a city and need stealth; putting out an awning is a dead-give-away that you are living in your van so you can’t do it. Awnings are strictly for people who boondock or spend much of their time in campgrounds or RV Parks. But as a survivalist, I assume that is going to be the situation. It also isn’t going to work much of the time in the winter in the desert. My first year of living in the desert I tried to put out my tarp awning and leave it out but we kept getting these big windstorms that would practically destroy it. After constantly putting it up and down I decided it was more hassle than it was worth and gave up on an awning in the desert. Basically I’ve never used one in the desert since.
However, in the summer when I am camped in the National Forests I’ve found them to be essential. In most forests you get regular periods of rain when you can’t be outside without an awning. I quickly got tired of being forced inside and decided I had to have one
There are five options for awnings:
- Build a porch onto the camper.
- Rig up a tarp awning for very little money.
- Buy an awning designed for small vehicles
- Buy an RV style awning.
- Carry a pop-up style awning that is independent of the van or RV.
Let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages of each:
1) Build a porch onto the camper. When I first retired and started living in a home-built plywood camper on my Ford F150 4×4 pickup I got a job in the Colorado Rockies as a campground host. In the Rockies during the summer we had thunderstorms virtually every day in the afternoon of the summer and then we would get storms blow through and it would rain for a few days at a time. Being forced into my tiny camper by the rain was unpleasant. Since it was made out of plywood I added a simple “porch” onto it by adding a 3 feet piece of plywood over the rear door and tailgate. That way I could leave the door open while I was inside in the rain. It made my summer much more pleasant. It would only work on campers with a door on the back wall and if you had some way to attach the plywood.
2) Rig up a tarp awning for very little money. Last summer I was in the National Forest around Flagstaff, AZ and the summer monsoons brought a tremendous amount of rain! We went over 3 weeks with heavy rain every day and without seeing the sun. Without a tarp to spend time outside I would have been totally miserable but with it a bad situation became bearable! And best of all it cost less than $30! Here’s how:
- Buy a tarp. Mine was10 x16 and cost $20, but you can get any size you want.
- I already had “Eye” screws in the plywood cover over the roof of the trailer so all I had to do was clip the tarp to the screws. If you are in a van you can use spring clamps to clamp the tarp to the gutter. Or to make it permanent you could put “eye” bolts through the gutter or through your ladder rack if you have one.
- There were tons of trees around my camp so I used some para-cord to tie the tarp off to nearby trees. Viola, an instant covered front porch! It would not have stood up to much wind, but my experience has been that in the summer there is very little wind in any of the National Forests I’ve been in.
- Use PVC legs if there aren’t any trees around to tie the tarp to. All you need is two legs to hold the two ends of the tarp upright. I like it because it’s easy, cheap and durable. They need to be pretty big to be strong enough so I use 2 inch PVC tubes. You can cut them down to any length you want but mine are 6’ 3”tall so most people can walk under the tarp. I drill a hole through the end of the tarp and tie a piece of rope through the hole. Then I clip the tarp to the loop with spring clips.
- You have other options for legs. 1) A painters extension pole works very well because they are variable length and very strong. One that is 4 to 8 foot is ideal because it closes down to 4 foot so you can carry it easily but you can extend it to as long as 8 foot. There one problem is they are expensive, good ones are around $20. 2) Coleman makes a variable length tent pole you can buy at WalMart that works fine.
- Finally, stake out your legs to keep them upright. Buy quality stakes not the little cheap ones. You can use para-cord here as well, but I prefer to use a ratchet strap because they are easily adjustable for length, and I get bright colors so they are easily seen; making it less likely I will trip over them.
3) Buy an awning designed for small vehicles. As great and cheap as the tarp awnings are they are a pain in the butt to set up and take down. If your van is your only vehicle that means you have to drive it fairly often, so many people end up not using their tarp awning because they get tired of the constant up and down. What you need is something permanent and easier to set-up. For that I have an ARB 8 foot awning that mounts permanently to the side of my trailer and rolls out to set it up. I paid $250 for it on Amazon.com. You may have never heard of ARB but they make extremely high quality components for the Off-Road and Jeep community. Mine is 8 foot long and I am very happy with it. It can be set up by one person but is much easier with two. At the end of the post I’ll describe in pictures how to install it. Here is a link to the mesh tarp you see in the pictures: 6 x 8 (70% shade) Desert Tan Mesh Tarp
You can buy one from Amazon. If you click through this link I will make a few cents and it won’t cost you any more: ARB A Brown 8′ Awning
4) Buy an RV style awning. They make these small enough to go on a van and while they are really great they are also very expensive; they usually start at around $900. Fiamma is the main brand on van sized awnings. http://www.fiammausa.com/products/awnings.asp?Fam=F01
5) Carry an EZ Up style pop-up canopy-awning that is independent of the van or RV. You can get these in 10 foot by 10 foot sizes for $100 or less. They also have the advantage that you can get walls made of mosquito netting so you get both shelter from the rain and from the bugs. They also have the advantage that you can set them up and drive away on errands without taking it down. Their disadvantages are: 1) they are fairly large and difficult to set up; 2) they are also very susceptible to wind damage. I’ve seen several of them destroyed by the desert winds and I’ve seen them picked up and blown a mile away only to be stopped by a tree. You can buy an EZ UP from Amazon.com here: E-Z UP 10 by 10 Canopy, Blue
Nearly all of us boondockers have enough room and can afford to buy an 8 x 10 tarp, some PVC tubes and para-cord to a make a tarp-awning. I think it is the best $30 you can spend to make your lives more comfortable!
Here are photos describing how I mounted the ARB awning on my trailer: