Using Shade Cloth in the Desert


In my last post I gave you some ideas on how to stay cool in a van using Reflectix and an ADCO windshield cover to keep the heat from getting into the van at all. In today’s post I want to give you an example of how you can use shade cloth around your van to stay cool along with some other ideas.

Their are two reasons my time in the desert requires different strategies from me than when I travel in the summer:

  1. The main difference is the severe desert winds that would just rip the Reflectix right off  of my van if they came up all of a sudden–which they do frequently. And if not destroy it outright, the constant buffeting from the wind would  rub a blemish on my vans paint and a hole through the Reflectix.
  2. In the winter I move very little so how long it takes to set up or take down the shade cloth is no big deal. In the summer when I travel a lot it would become an extreme nuisance to have to constantly take it on and off multiple times a week–just ain’t gonna happen!


In the photo above you can see a typical setup for me in the desert. These are some of the things that help keep me cool:

  1. I have a ladder rack over the trailer and I’ve covered it with plywood so the roof is always in the shade.
  2. I cover my front windshield with an ADCO windshield cover that I just dearly love and very highly recommend to you!
  3. I have a black, 90% shade cloth tarp wrapped around the side of my trailer. Notice it is pulled away and staked down with bungee cords. The reason black is best is the heat accumulates at the cloth and because it is pulled away from the trailer, the heat stays away from the trailer.
  4. I created a “courtyard” between the trailer and the van by hanging shade cloth between them. That gives me a cool place to go and sit in the shade.
  5. I have dark tinted windows on the trailer. That allows ventilation when I need it and keeps the heat out when I don’t

Why do I like and use shade cloth and not a tarp?

  1. The main reason is that the wind in the desert is so bad that a tarp would have to be put up and taken down constantly or the flapping in the wind would either destroy the tarp or drive me crazy-both are bad! The shade cloth sheds the wind very well and I can have it out during all but the very worst winds.
  2. The second reason shade cloth is far superior is it allows the wind to blow through  it and into my open windows, giving me a cross-breeze in my trailer and van. A tarp would block the wind and I wouldn’t have any ventilation.
  3. The final reason is that there is very little rain in the desert so the one thing a tarp does far better than shade cloth (let you sit outside in the rain, almost never gets to happen.


In the above picture I am standing in the courtyard created by a 10×12 black shade cloth. I like the 10 foot wide but would have preferred it to to be 16 long because my trailer is 6 feet wide x 10 feet long. That way I could hang down the ends of the tarp either 3 feet on both ends or 6 feet on one end. This way I have to hang a separate tarp to cover one end.

Hanging all the tarps on the trailer is harder because it is so high, but I rarely move the trailer so it’s no big deal. But I often move the van so the courtyard could be a hassle. But it’s only attached by 4 bungee cords and I marked where the tires go so I always come back to the exact same spot.  I love the courtyard so much, it’s worth the little bit of work to me!


In the photo above you can see the plywood that covers the entire roof of the trailer, leaving in in shade all day. I haven’t noticed any problems at all with towing the trailer because of it. That is not treated plywood, next time I would buy treated Marine plywood (about $68 a sheet) and put multiple coats of good paint on it.


In the above photo I’m looking at the trailer from the south. I always orient the trailer due east-west with the tongue facing west so the door opens to the north and the sun never shines inside it. Then I cover the south wall with shade cloth. The trailer is 6×10 and the tarp is 10×16 so it wraps around and covers the front end (which faces west) of the trailer. The reason is because the desert has cold nights and so morning sun is a good thing. In the late afternoon it’s the hottest it will be so I want to protect the trailer the most from the direct hit of the suns brutal heat rays.

You can see the plywood on the ladder rack really well from this angle. Notice the shade cloth is staked out and away from the trailer so the heat can’t get to it. I use bungees for everything so it can give in the wind.

shade-cloth-frontLooking from the front you can see the shade cloth covers around the front of the trailer keeping it cool from the hot late afternoon sun. It’s all held together with bungees running everywhere!

shade-cloth-roof-ventsI’ve climber up on a ladder and you can see the roof is in shade from the plywood. You can barely see I have two roof vents and vent covers . At the top right you can see the shade cloth attaches by spring clips hooked to eye screws screwed into the 2×4 that holds the plywood.


The van is kept cool by an ADCO windshield cover up front, the courtyard shade cloth on the south wall and this Reflectix around the back door and windows.


I love the ADCO windshield cover and would not be without one!! The heat stays outside keeping the van as cool as possible, but it lets light in so it isn’t so dark.

This has worked extremely well for me but I’m aware it isn’t for everyone. If you move a lot it wouldn’t be worth the hassle and obviously you can’t do this in the city. But if you boondock in the desert then this may be a great idea for you, if not, then I hope you got some ideas here that you can use! Below I have links to Amazon to all the products you’ve seen here. If you use them I’ll make a small percentage of your purchase and it will cost you nothing, even if you buy something else.

Be sure and double check I’ve got the right link to the windshield cover you need.

I’m making Videos on my good friends James YouTube Channel. See them here:

I made a video of all the things you’ve read here, you can see the video here:

Thanks for supporting this site by using these links to Amazon. I’ll make a small percentage on your purchase and it won’t cost you anything, even if you buy something different.


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I've been a full-time VanDweller for 12 years and I love it. I hope to never live in a house again!

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