Monday, November 9, 2020

Awning Update: Free Soldier Tarp Long Term Review

You know that

when this happens, your awning has been up for too long!

About two years ago I bought this $40 tarp because I was (still am!) too cheap to spend $1200 on a proper van-awning.

About a year ago I published this post about how I am using it, but not how much I am using it.

Because I use The Van as an extra room, a man-cave if you will, when at home, (Where we live in a single 380 sq. ft. room in a corner of the barn) unlike the typical RV awning which gets deployed a handful of times per year, my awning is up most days (and nights) of the year.

And that is a lot of abuse here under the Central Texas sun!

Here I've got a corner of the tarp turned up so you can compare what is close to the original green color on the bottom side of the tarp to the decidedly greyish color of the top-side of the tarp well faded after 2 years of solar exposure. And lately, after all this UV abuse, I'm pretty sure that when the tarp is billowing in the wind it sounds more brittle, more crinkly, than when it was newer.

And this area is showing the abuse of the top rear corner of The Van's side door when I fully open it. (For the photo I pulled the door partially closed.)

But so far the rip-stop construction of the tarp has kept the destruction localized.

Here's another example of blatant abuse. In this case, when I didn't bother taking the awning down in the face of some feisty weather, which - you know - I should do but don't always get around to, the wind ripped one of the corner stakes out of the ground and, still connected to the guy-rope, flipped it up over the tarp where the tip of the steel stake made a surgical incision right over where I sit while doing my daily Spanish lessons.

It's virtually impossible to see in the photo, but when this happened I took the awning down, laid it on a clean wood surface and burnished a length of clear packing tape to the bottom-side, "stitching" the slice together and waterproofing it again.

So far so good. The awning has been up every day since and the tape looks as good now as when I first put it on.

In fact, the manufacturer sealed up the center seam the same way, except with a narrower version of the tape, which has started to separate now just under one of the tie-points that is sewn onto the topside.

Being right in the center of the awning this drips on me during hard rains, and also acts as a drip-initiation point on those dew-laden mornings when the underside of the awning is carrying a good coating of condensation.

I keep threatening to reseal the entire center seam with my own tape, but what the hell. Contrary to what some may think, a little water isn't going to melt me into a gooey green puddle like the Wicked Witch of the West, so I'll get to it - - eventually - - maybe - -

If we have serious winds in the forecast I might - once in a while - if I remember - take the awning down, but to be honest, as you've already seen, I'm pretty slack about doing that, and as anyone that's lived with tents or awnings long enough knows, tremendous strains can be put on them by the wind.

But despite the abuse the construction of the Free Soldier tarp has proven to be very robust

and I am impressed by how well it is holding up.

I've had this $40 tarp for about 2 years now and it has been up as my awning for - let's say 500 days out of those 2 years. That works out to - crap! where's my calculator? - to about 8 cents per day. It may not be pretty, but it's thrifty, and I think I can live with that!

Especially since, in order to get down to anywhere close to that daily cost, a $1200 awning would have to last 15000 exposure days, or about 30 years the way I'm using my tarp. - - - Yeah, can't see that happening - - -

Of course I know I'm pushing my luck and this tarp is not going to last forever, so I'm thinking about ordering a replacement so I have it in hand when this one does finally give up on me.

Maybe this time I'll try the grey version, although that could be a crap-shoot since my current tarp, which I think you'll agree has a decidedly green cast to it where it is protected from the sun, is called brown by the manufacture, so who knows what color "grey" really is.

Since the tan, or brown if you will, para-cord I use for some of the guys on my awning are showing quite a bit of sunburn after two years while the black para-cord I use for the rest of the guys is showing no sign of sunburn, maybe that means the grey tarp will hold up to the UV better than my "brown" one?


  1. Now I know how you could afford those fancy batteries. I’ve read so many accounts of $1000 awnings getting damaged/wrecked that a tarp is about the only way that I would ever go. Yours has served you well.

  2. Priotities man! Batteries before shade.