Made in the Shade: Awnings for Rigs Big and Small

Made in the Shade: Awnings for Rigs Big and Small

by Stephan Edwards

Quick confession - until recently I've never installed an awning on any of my overland vehicles. The extra expense, weight, and even the perceived hassle of putting it up and taking it down every time we stopped just seemed like too much to deal with for a minimalist like myself. An unnecessary luxury. Our soft sided roof tents always offered a little patch of shadow when were were camped anyway.

However, the more I traveled in especially sunny places like Utah and southern Africa, the more I found myself eyeing with envy smarter overlanders who lounged under their awnings, and weren't chasing slivers of shade all day in camp. Camp should be relaxing, not a constant struggle to find comfort where there isn't any. That's exactly why I finally got one for my newest overland vehicle.

Toyota with awning


For a relatively small investment, an awning transforms your camping set up from primitive outpost to a luxurious home away from home in just a few minutes. They're not just for shade and shelter from the rain, either. Your awning can be a tent, a screen room, and a windbreak, all in one tidy package.

Awning Basics

There are a number of awning designs on the market for overlanders, but they all have one thing in common. They need a sturdy and reliable mounting surface. For most of us, that means a roof rack. We've covered some of the main considerations you'll need to take into account when choosing a roof rack for your vehicle here

Adding an awning to the mix in your roof rack strategy changes your weight calculations, and possibly the way you plan to store your other gear. Many manufacturers, like Eezi-Awn, offer awning-specific mounting hardware both for their own branded awnings and rack systems, as well as others. Awnings are subject to a surprising amount of force, especially large, 270 degree models (more on those below), not only from their own weight, but also in high winds. A robust mounting solution is a must. In fact, Prinsu makes an incredibly beefy universal awning mounting system that will fit nearly any rack and any awning on the market.

XO team member setting up awning


The other variable to consider when choosing where to mount your awning is its orientation on your vehicle or adventure trailer. How do you access your roof top tent? Where do you like to set up your kitchen? How and which direction does the rear hatch of your SUV open? Do you tend to hang out near the rear of your rig, or the sides? Which mounting option will give you the most utility from the shelter your awning creates? These factors will also determine how large an awning you can install - brands like Eezi-Awn build awnings in many different sizes.

XO team member setting up awning


For example, the rear door on my Land Rover Defender is side-hinged and opens to the right. Mounting an awning on the right side of my vehicle would mean when the door is open, I would have to walk around it every time I needed to access gear or my fridge. However, mounting it on the right also makes it really easy to stop on the road for a quick snack break by setting up the awning well away from traffic (at least in countries where you drive on the right). You'll need to decide what works best for your particular rig. Maybe an awning will have you rethinking the rest of your camping set-up.

Choosing an Awning

Awnings are more versatile than they might appear at first glance. Yes, they provide shade where there isn't any and give you a convenient place to hide out from the rain. However, many awnings can also double as a fully-walled shelter, creating an additional sleeping space for bigger crews, a screen room for keeping insects at bay, and a windbreak. Many come equipped with LED lighting built right in, especially convenient for wrangling up those late dinners after a long day of adventure.

ARB Screen Room for awningARB's screen room accessory

The traditional awning design comes in several lengths to match the size of your vehicle and mounting surface. It extends outward on tension from a fabric or aluminum cover, and is supported by two adjustable legs for uneven ground or to create a tilt for rain water to drain. Guy lines and stakes keep it steady in harsher weather. ARB's 2500 series awning and Eeezi-Awn's Swift are great examples of this staple piece of gear that overlanders have been using for decades. They set up quickly, even with only one person, though two people will have an easier time particularly in inclement conditions.

XO team members set up awning


Looking for more space for the shadow seekers in your adventure family? 270 degree awnings, like Rhino-Rack's Batwing unfold far from the vehicle on a beefy hinge to lend shelter to both the side and the rear of your vehicle. It's the champion in terms shade square footage, and it matches perfectly to Rhino-Rack's modular roof rack systems. While a little on the bulkier side and more expensive compared to traditional pull-out models, if you're looking to build the ultimate base camp, a 270 degree awning is hard to beat. They also create more shade throughout the day without having to reposition camp. (Not to mention your rig automatically becomes the Batmobile...)

Rhino-Rack Batwing 270

Rhino-Rack Batwing 270

There are also some awnings out there that are fully supported by the frame of the awning itself, negating the need for legs and guy lines, and others that are even electrically powered. These options tend to add considerably more weight and size, so plan accordingly. 

Made in the Shade

So, unfurl that awning, grab a couple of comfy camp chairs and a frosty beverage, and the enjoy the view. I know I'm going to have mine on order soon, no more chasing shadows for me. 

What's your shade solution? Any awning hacks to share with the Overlander community? Let us know down in the comments!


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