Survivalist -Vandweller-Putting up an Awning

An awning is one of the most important thing a boondocker can have. It lets you have a "front porch" so you can go outside to cook and relax in bad weather. If you have a dog, it lets him go outside as well and not get totally wet and muddy.

An awning is one of the most important thing a boondocker can have. It lets you have a “front porch” so you can go outside to cook and relax in bad weather. If you have a dog, it lets him go outside as well and not get totally wet and muddy. This is my new ARB awning.

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:

  1. The ability to spend time outside of it.
  2. 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.”

This is my friends E-Z Up style canopy awning (this one is a WalMart brand). Even in the rain he can have his door open.

This is my friends E-Z Up style canopy awning (this one is a WalMart brand). Even in the rain he can have his door open.

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.

i spent a summer in the "monsoons of Arizona and they literally were monsoons. Without this 24 x 16 tarp allowing Homer and I to be outside, we would have gone crazy!

I spent a summer in the “monsoons of Arizona and they literally were monsoons. Without this 24 x 16 tarp allowing Homer and I to be outside during them, we would have gone crazy! You can just barely see the rope that goes off and ties to the trees around it. I let it hang down low so less rain would splash inside the “dry zone!”

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

My camp during one of the rare breaks in the rain! I really loved that awning!

My camp during one of the rare breaks in the rain! I really loved that awning!

There are five options for awnings:

  1. Build a porch onto the camper.
  2. Rig up a tarp awning for very little money.
  3. Buy an awning designed for small vehicles
  4. Buy an RV style awning.
  5. 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.

This is the awning I built into my camper. It was three feet wide so my 24 inch door could be open n the rain. You can see it gives some shade but the rain was the main issue.

This is the awning I built into my camper. It was three feet wide so my 24 inch door could be open n the rain. You can see it gives some shade but the rain was the main issue.

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.
this is a spring clip and an eye screw. You can also get them as bolts instead of screws.

This is a spring clip and an eye screw. You can also get them as bolts instead of screws.

 

This is how I use a PVC tube as a leg. I drill a hole through the end and tie a rope through it. A spring clip holds it to the tarp and a rope goes down to a stake in the ground.

This is how I use a PVC tube as a leg. I drill a hole through the end and tie a rope through it. A spring clip holds it to the tarp and a rope goes down to a stake in the ground.

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

This is my ARB awning deployed off my trailer. So far, I love it!!

This is my ARB awning deployed off my trailer. So far, I love it!!

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

When you live in a tiny space (like this tear-drop trailer) you have to be able to get out of it during bad weather. A Pop-Up awning makes that easy.

When you live in a tiny space (like this tear-drop trailer) you have to be able to get out of it during bad weather. A Pop-Up awning makes that easy.

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:

here we are preparing to mount it. I needed to mount mine to a 1.4 board that was 10 foot long because the ladder racks on my trailer were 8 feet wide. Normally you would just mount it directly to the ladder rack on your van or SUV. They are sold mainly to Jeep and Off-Road guys but they work great for Vans as well.

Here we are preparing to mount it. I needed to mount mine to a 1×4 board that was 10 foot long because the ladder racks on my trailer were 8 feet apart. Normally you would just mount it directly to the ladder rack on your van or SUV. They are sold mainly to Jeep and Off-Road guys but they work great for Vans as well.

There is a channel at the bottom of the ARB where the heads of the blots slide through. You use it to bolt it to whatever you are mounting it to. So It an be bolted to any ladder rack on a van or SUV. The channels lt you adjust the bolt to match the width of the ladder rack. Since I was mounting mine to a 1x4 board, I had to go to Ace Hardware and get longer bolts.

There is a channel at the bottom of the ARB where the heads of the bolts slide through. You use it to bolt it to whatever you are mounting it to. That way it can be bolted to any ladder rack on a van or SUV. The channels allow you to adjust the bolts to match the distance between any ladder rack. Since I was mounting mine to a 1×4 board, I had to go to Ace Hardware and get longer bolts.

My friends Wayne and Bryce mounting the ARB.

My friends Wayne and Bryce mounting the ARB.

The ARB mounted to my trailer. Because it is on a 1x4 board, I can just take it off the trailer and mount it to my van when I leave the trailer behind.

The ARB mounted to my trailer. Because it is on a 1×4 board, I can just take it off the trailer and mount it to my van when I leave the trailer behind. You can see it has a zipper at the bottom. To set it up you unzip the bottom, and roll out the fabric awning. Then you fold out the sides from the top and the legs from the bottom and adjust them to the right length. Finally, you connect them together and stake it down so it doesn’t blow away and you are all done!!

The ARB awning has extendable arms that fold out from the top and make solid sides for the awning. At the bottom of the awning it has extendable legs that fold out to become it's legs. So it is solid on all 4 sides.

The ARB awning has extendable arms that fold out from the top and make solid sides for the awning. There are Velcro straps to attach the fabric to the sides. At the bottom of the awning it has extendable legs that fold out to become it’s legs. So it is solid on all 4 sides. The fabric strikes me as very high quality. I added the mesh tarp for more shade but it still gives air flow.

here you can see the joint from the outside. The mesh tarp is held on bungee cords and the ratchet strap holds it down from blowing away in the wind. One arm comes down from the top to go into a slot in the bottom where the other arm goes down.

Here you can see the joint from the outside. The mesh tarp is held on by bungee cords and the ratchet strap holds it down from blowing away in the wind. One arm comes down from the top to go into a slot in the bottom where the legs go down. 

The ARB deployed.

The ARB deployed. I love it and highly recommend it





Bob
About

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

25 comments on “Survivalist -Vandweller-Putting up an Awning
  1. gary green says:

    HEY NOW BOB, I CAN’T TELL YOU HOW MANY POP-UP AWNING I HAVE LOST DO TO HIGH WINDS, IN FACT I THINK YOU FOUND ONE OF MY AWNING HALF A MILE FROM CAMP!!!!! NOT UNTILL I GOT SHADE CLOTH,THAT HAVEN’T LOST A AWNIND SINCE, YOU HAVE SEEN MY SHADE CLOTH AT VICTORVILLE, WHITE IN COLOR AND 70% SHADE, P.S. IF YOU GET SHADE CLOTH GET 90% IF OFFERS MORE SHADE.

    • Bob Bob says:

      Gary, I had your awning in mind when I wrote that!! It flew a good 1/2 mile didn’t it! I think we had an awning destroyed every year of the RTR except this one. This year we had perfect weather every day!!

      I was thinking about just putting two mesh tarps together to get a lot of shade and some ventilation. I’m not covering a lot of surface.
      \Bob

  2. Openspaceman says:

    Thanks for the post. I’m sure I’ll get a better understanding once I get closer to leaving the city.

  3. sameer says:

    My last awning blew away and ended up in the Columbia River. Since then I have been using tarps. I love creating a “Front Porch”. It is my extra room. I think of my van as my bedroom and den, and my ‘front porch’ as my living room and kitchen. I even put down one of my older tarps as a rug. Hahahaha!
    sameer recently posted…Survivalist -Vandweller-Putting up an AwningMy Profile

    • Bob Bob says:

      I agree totally Sameer. :) If the wind blows away or rips up a tarp that isn't too big a deal. If it blows away your awning or canopy that really is a big deal! I think you made the right choice!
      Bob

  4. Linda Sand says:

    We had an RV awning unroll as we were driving down the highway. Very scary. My current van does not have a standard RV awning for that reason. Plus, when I sit at my desk I have my back to the door so I don’t feel secure leaving it open. But, I have a couple of times wished I had an awning to reduce the solar heat on my door so I may use one of your ideas someday. Thanks for your willingness to help us learn about options.

    • Bob Bob says:

      You’re very welcome Linda! We all have different needs and fears so we all require different options. I try to present as many as I can so long as they are in my experience.
      Bob

  5. Bill from NC says:

    Hey Bob thanks for the awning info. I really like the whole concept. I am going to go with the pvc pipe and tarp method for now but agree with you that its a lot of time to set up. Saving for a factory one is definitely in the works!!!
    Bill from NC recently posted…Rollin Coal, Po Boys, Bajou Good Cookin!!!My Profile

  6. Ming says:

    Hi Bob,

    thanks for this post. I’ve been debating getting an ez-up for fast deployment and was wondering about their wind-worthiness. Your post answered that question for me. I’ve been car camping with a screen tent and tarp, but they are both a bit of a pain to put up for overnight or lunch stops. How long does it take you to put up your new ARB awning? Perhaps I can make something similar.

    • Bob Bob says:

      Ming, the ARB is fairy fast to set up. I just got it so I’m still not good at it yet and I haven’t timed it. It’s faster than a tarp though. Bear in mind none of them will stand up to much of a wind. Even the expensive ones that come on RVs won’t take much wind.
      Bob

      • Ming says:

        Thanks Bob, I will look forward to seeing what you think after you’ve lived with it for a while.

        What do you think of this tipi design for the budget minded desert traveler that needs a tent? Would it stand up to the winds? It sounds like the tarps would be easily and cheaply replaceable. And for travel use one could make/ buy collapsible or take-apart poles of the proper length.

        http://wildernessguide.wordpress.com/2013/06/23/quick-tarp-tipi/

        Ming

  7. larry says:

    Bob I have been using ez-up tents for 8 years as a street vender. the key to keep them from blowing is to use a 20 or 24 inch stake at each corner about 12 in from each leg and a rachet strap on the fram and not the tarp. I have went through some 40 or 50 mp streight line winds an never lost one.

    • Bob Bob says:

      Larry, the winds here in the desert are pretty impressive. I’ve seen them staked down just like you describe and they didn’t fly away but the wind tore them apart so bad that they were just throw-aways.

      These aren’t just your average winds 50 mph winds. They are steady 50+ MPH winds that last for days.
      Bob

      • Ming says:

        in years and years of forest and coastal tent camping, I never experienced winds like I have in the desert. I am trying to find something that will serve in the desert until I save up enough for the truck camper.

        A 4 season geodesic might make it, with a cheap tarp tied over top to protect the fabric from wind damage. I have done that in the past, but don’t use such a tent now.

        Ming

  8. Bill from NC says:

    Hey Bob you know what amazes me? Amazon amazes me! Before starting to read your website I was a big Ebay man, I knew about Amazon but never really explored it. I tell you I dont think you can beat their prices, especially no shipping charges! I wont go into customer service in depth but it is totally awesome and over the top. Since reading about stuff you have from Amazon I have ordered several hundred dolllars worth of boondocking gear from Amazon and we had one bad item shipped, they fixed the problem like you could not believe!!!! Thanks for the Amazon.links and your personal reccomendations, Bill
    Bill from NC recently posted…Gators, Cajun life, Hot sauce and MYSTERY!!!!My Profile

  9. CAE says:

    I am a fan of tarps because you can really tie them down and they come in very strong materials. Not as fancy looking at awnings, but stronger and cheaper. I can also carry spares.

  10. There are places online where you can get whatever color, shade percentage and dimension shade cloth you want. There’s some that’s metallic for extra reflective properties.
    Al Christensen recently posted…Storm’s a-comin’My Profile

  11. Drew says:

    I have the 8′ ARB awning as well. It is attached to the tall cap on my pick up truck.
    But I came across this awning:

    http://www.rvworkshop.com/concession-stand-awning

    Me thinks it might have been a better choice…

    • Bob Bob says:

      Drew, I didn’t see prices, do you know what they are? It’s a good looking awning but I find I almost never use mine so I might very well sell it.
      Bob

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

CommentLuv badge

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.