Monday, August 5, 2019

Awning On a Budget

On one of my previous rigs, this one based on the Ford E-350 van, I had one of those Fiamma awnings. It was permanently mounted, very expensive; and rarely used.

When it came time to build The Van, my current rig based on a 2010 Sprinter, I saved a ton of money by not installing an awning.

Two years later I retired and instead of living in The Van during the week in the parking lot at work, I was spending my time in her out camping, or using her as a man-cave when at home, and this change in circumstances re-generated the desire for some sort of awning.

Initially I took care of that, at least the out camping part, with a slightly modified E-ZUP, which I wrote about here.

But this fell short in two key areas. It didn't allow me to keep the side door open during light rains, and to avoid the hot westerly sun pouring in the open side door (which is open a lot when I'm camping and at home) I would, if even possible, have to make sure to park The Van in the proper orientation.

Being a cheap SOB I wasn't really interested in the usual awning options, which start at about a grand and go up from there, (the awnings-in-a-bag are less expensive but don't work because The Van is too tall to deploy and stow them without a ladder) so I decided to experiment with a tarp.

OK, now that you've judged me with derisive cries of despair; I'm not talking about a ratty old blue tarp that explodes into shreds at the first wind after a couple weeks in the sun, though they are temptingly inexpensive.

No, instead I did some homework and came up with a sturdier, less obtrusive, and lighter version that promises to survive more than a few weeks, though it did cost me about $40.

There are other options out there but I chose the Free Soldier tarp and teamed it up with a couple of sturdy, collapsible 8 foot poles, ($7 each) some lengths of para-cord (A couple of bucks) and some ground-stakes. (About a dollar each for 4 of those sturdy steel nail type stakes.)

The UV and waterproof tarp, though weighing in at just a shade over 2 pounds, is really well built and can take some punishment.

And it has a load of tie-points, like 19 in all, including 5 down the ridge-line that each include pole-tip grommets.

 With a little experimenting I found that I could tie off the front van-side corner of the tarp by taking a line across The Van and tying it off through one of the holes in the front-left wheel, (It took a few tries to get the length right but now it's easily repeatable.) then stand in the open rear door, take the line tied to the rear van-side corner, reach up high and pull it up over the top of The Van, give a few tugs to coax the awning to slide up the windshield and into position, then step back down and tie off the rear line to the left-side door-hing. (The hinge actually acts as a jam-cleat so I just wrap the line around it once and I'm done.

At this point the near-edge of the awning has slipped up over the roof and under the edge of the solar panel which keeps it in place.

Now I stake out the two far corners, then the two mid-line ropes, and prop the mid-line up with the adjustable poles.

And I'm done.

Once I got the routine down, it takes me about 10 minutes each to put up and take down. Probably 5 minutes longer than deploying or stowing a Fiamma, but at about 5% of the cost I think I can afford an extra 5 minutes.

It's not a perfect solution. That would be a free-standing awning with no ropes and stakes, that, in addition to being UV and waterproof, is also storm proof, a radiant barrier, and self deploys/stows.

If anyone ever comes across something like that for less than $100 please let me know!

When it isn't raining, and I'm camped under shady trees, I don't really need the awning.

Except sometimes those trees are constantly showering anything underneath them with debris and little black bugs. (Too small to see here)

In that case it does a great job of keeping unwanteds out of my dinner. . .

When it comes time to stow everything away the awning with ropes still attached and stakes go into a small kit-bag which gets hooked to one of the D-rings that the collapsed poles get strapped to just inside the rear door to keep them from wandering around as I drive.

For the purpose of this photo I removed the E-ZUP and the camp chair which normally get strapped vertically in the space to the right, between the awning/poles and the rear door with the dangling blue bungee. I'm thinking I may not put the heavy E-ZUP back, at least for a trip or two.

Update: I have decided  the E-ZUP just isn't necessary anymore in The Van and have relegated it to the barn where it will be pulled out to provide project-shade on occasion, such as next time I have to dig up the septic-tank hatches. . .

As an added bonus, instead of buying a high-end one-man tent that weights about the same for the very few occasions when I might do an overnight backpacking trip, (I don't have the passion for backpacking that I did when I was younger, but I know of some hot springs in New Mexico that are a little too far to reach on a day-hike and doing the Dog Canyon Recreation Trail over two days instead of trying to cram it all into one would certainly make it less intimidating.) I can throw the tarp and 6 light-weight aluminum stakes in my pack.

Combine that with the two hiking sticks I always have with me anyway, and for a two-day one-nighter excursion (About all the food/water I can comfortably carry without spending an inordinate amount of my life staying in tip-top shape, and with nothing more to prove at this stage in my life, what's the point of hiking miserably?) the tarp,

makes a very serviceable shelter.

Mate that up with my heavy-duty poncho, also always carried, used as a ground-cloth, and my sleeping pad and bag, and I'm good to go!

If the weather warrants, and with pole-tip gromets on each of the 5 ties along the ridge-line, the tarp is long enough that both ends cans be rigged as in the photo above to  provide a bit more protection.

Not as elegant as an actual tent, but considering the budget savings I can rough it for the occasional night. Besides, a little roughing it once in a while is probably good for my pampered ass.


  1. Great idea and definitely serves multiple tasks. Where did you buy the tarp and poles?

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