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Awnings

Selecting the Perfect Awning For Your Vehicle

Heading out on an overlanding journey or outdoor adventure, there's a sense of freedom that fills your soul. But let's not forget, nature's got its surprises, and being prepared is key.

An awning, while it might seem like a luxury, can quickly become your best friend out there, providing a slice of comfort and shelter when you least expect it but need it the most. It is a piece of equipment that can easily sit on your adventure rig for a long time without you ever using it…and all of a sudden, you find yourself using it all the time! 

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When you're gearing up, choosing the right awning is like picking a trusted travel companion. It's gotta be compatible, durable, and functional. This guide is here to help you navigate through the choices, ensuring your awning is a worthy addition to your adventures.

Four Steps To Understanding Your Awning Needs

1. Compatibility And Installation

Generally, awnings are pretty straightforward, but the foundation of awning selection lies in compatibility. Not every awning fits every vehicle, making it crucial to start your search by identifying options that are compatible with your vehicle's make and model but also with the crossbars or the roof rack on your rig. 

Many manufacturers supply universal mounting brackets or L-brackets included with the awning, while others offer a range of adaptor brackets that will make installation possible on almost every vehicle. For the uncommon scenario where installation proves to be a challenge, you can always have custom brackets made locally as long as they comply with the restrictions and limitations of your vehicle, crossbars, or roof rack. 

If you want a seamless awning installation on your vehicle, we recommend that you go for a manufacturer that makes both roof racks and awnings. When buying both from the same brand, you will typically find the ease of installation to be much better and often a direct bolt-on solution.

Also, consider mounting your awning as close to the bodyline of your vehicle as possible so it does not interfere with brush, branches, or trees when driving off the beaten track. This is also something to consider when choosing the size of your awning. The bigger the awning, the more bulky it becomes.

2. Sizing Up the Coverage 

Balance is key when considering the size and coverage of your awning. An awning should provide sufficient shelter without overwhelming your vehicle's structure or risking changing its center of gravity by adding too much weight up high. 

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Consider the dimensions of your vehicle, the intended coverage area you need, and the positioning of your doors and back hatch so they do not interfere with the poles when the awning is deployed. What’s the point of installing a standard pull-out awning at the rear of your vehicle or a 270-degree awning if you can’t open your back hatch without it interfering with it?

3. Quality And Longevity 

The rigors of overlanding and adventure vehicle camping demand equipment that withstands diverse weather conditions and usage. High-quality awnings are characterized by thick, durable materials such as rip-stop fabric, sealed or welded seams, sturdy aluminum frames, and protective coatings against UV rays and moisture. The thicker the material, the cooler the awning will feel when in extreme heat areas, while with thinner and cheaper material, you will still feel a lot of heat going through the fabric. 

The rule of thumb is that you get what you pay for. This is an investment in your comfort and the longevity of your gear, so it’s often worth spending the extra pennies, especially if you are a frequent camper or if you camp year-round in extreme climates.

4. Ease of setup

This is a factor that is often overlooked. However, it is as simple as this. An awning has to be easy to set up! If you need to go out of your way to set it up, it is very unlikely that you will ever use it. 

Exploring Awning Types And Features

Choosing the right awning type is pivotal to aligning with your overlanding or outdoor lifestyle and the demands of your adventures. Each type offers unique benefits tailored to different needs and preferences.

Freestanding vs. Integrated Poles 

The debate between freestanding awnings and those with integrated poles hinges on convenience versus stability, safety, and risk of damaging your equipment or vehicle. 

Freestanding models offer versatility in positioning but should only be used in calm conditions, while awnings with integrated poles offer unmatched stability in windy conditions when secured properly. 

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Remember, the safety and integrity of your setup and vehicle depend on proper deployment and anchoring. You can see the rain approaching, but not the wind! There are countless stories of people damaging their roof racks, crossbars, and vehicles because a sudden gust of wind grabbed their awnings because they couldn’t see the wind approaching before it was too late.

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Standard Awnings And Bag Awnings 

The natural choice for simplicity and efficiency, standard awnings attach directly to the vehicle's side or rear, using cross bars or a roof rack, providing straightforward pull-out shade. Ideal for quick stops and those who value light weight and ease over complexity, their simplicity belies their utility, offering robust protection against sun and rain without the frills.

Hard Case Awnings

Encased in a durable hard shell, often made of aluminum, these awnings are designed for the long haul and provide superior protection against the elements when not in use. The hard case ensures the fabric and mechanisms remain protected from the environment, UV degradation, and the wear and tear of travel. Perfect for those who traverse rugged terrains and demand durability, hard case awnings combine sleek aesthetics with practical, long-lasting use.

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180-Degree Awnings

Offering a compromise between coverage and convenience, 180-degree awnings cover one side of your vehicle (passenger or driver side), providing a substantial shaded area. 

They are well-suited for individuals and small groups needing coverage for relaxation, cooking, and protection from the elements. Due to their aluminum frame construction, these awnings are heavier than standard pull-out awnings but are particularly appreciated for their balance, offering more coverage than standard awnings without the commitment of a 270-degree model. 

Even though it is not recommended, the 180-degree awnings can be used freestanding in calm conditions but often come with integrated drop-down poles, stakes, and guide robes that must be deployed in windy conditions to avoid damage to the roof rack, crossbar, or even your vehicle. Many manufacturers also offer optional sidewalls or awning rooms for individuals requiring complete shelter or more privacy.

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270-Degree Awnings 

The ultimate in coverage, these awnings wrap around the vehicle, covering the side and extending around the back, providing almost complete surround shade. 

Ideal for extensive overland travel where your vehicle is your home for long periods in all types of weather or for those who require extensive outdoor living space, 270-degree awnings create a substantial sheltered area for cooking, dining, or relaxing. 

Though they offer unparalleled coverage, they are slightly heavier than 180-degree awnings and require more space to deploy, making them a choice for the more experienced overlander or outdoor adventurer who values space over simplicity. 

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Just like the 180-degree awnings, many 270-degree awnings can be used freestanding in calm conditions, even though this is not recommended. However, most 270-degree awnings come with integrated drop-down poles, stakes, and even guide robes, which we strongly recommend you always deploy regardless of the weather. Sidewalls or awning rooms for individuals requiring complete shelter or more privacy are options that most manufacturers offer as an optional add-on.

Passenger Side vs. Driver Side Installation

The decision on which side to install your awning is more significant than it might first appear, influencing accessibility, convenience, and safety during your adventures.

Passenger Side Installation

The most common choice among overlanders and outdoor adventurers, installing the awning on the passenger side offers several advantages. 

Primarily, it aligns with the layout of campsites and picnic areas, facilitating easy access and social interaction. In countries where driving is on the right (approximately two-thirds of the global population), this placement also means the awning opens up away from the road, enhancing safety and convenience when parked. 

For those who frequent established campsites or travel with families, passenger-side installation is often the preferred choice.

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Driver-Side Installation

Less common but equally valid, driver-side installations offer specific advantages in certain scenarios. 

For overlanders and outdoor adventurers who find themselves driving vehicles where the rear door is hinged at the right side, this would be the logical choice, so you have direct access to the back when the rear door is open. 

Driver-side installation can also be particularly beneficial in countries with left-hand traffic (approximately one-third of the global population) or for those who prioritize ease of covered access from the driver’s seat while camping or overlanding.

Summary

The choice of awning type and installation side is a reflection of your overlanding style, preferences, and the specific challenges you anticipate facing in the great outdoors.

Whether you prioritize simplicity and efficiency with a standard awning, require the rugged protection of a hard case model, or need the extensive coverage offered by 180-degree or 270-degree awnings, understanding the nuances of each option will guide you to the best choice for your adventures. 

Similarly, considering the practical and safety aspects of whether to install your awning on the passenger or driver side will ensure that your setup aligns with your overlanding lifestyle, enhancing your experience with every journey.

Expert Recommendations

  • Prioritize Compatibility And Size: Begin with a focus on products that fit your vehicle, comply with your size requirements, and offer the durability needed for your level of adventure
  • Consider Your Adventure Style: Let the nature and frequency of your adventures guide your choice between awning types and features
  • Don’t Overlook Usability: Ease of setup and the practicality of your awning are crucial factors that affect overall satisfaction
  • Consider Investing In Versatility: Optional features like detachable walls and awning rooms can significantly enhance the utility of your awning, adapting to various conditions and needs, but it also means carrying more weight on your adventures
  • Seek Value In Quality: While budget considerations are important, investing in a higher-quality awning can offer better long-term value through durability and enhanced protection
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