How To: Fitting an Awning to your 4×4 and why you should
Whether you’re having a picnic on the beach or you’re parked up for lunch on a hot desert claypan, fitting an awning is the fastest and easiest way to set up some protection from the sun.
THE GREAT THING about fitting an awning to your vehicle is it’s always there when you need it. Whether you’re down at the park watching the kids play footy when it starts to drizzle, or you’re out and about in the scrub and you need to get out of the sun to enjoy some lunch, all you have to do is roll out your awning, extend some poles and voila… instant shelter. Awnings are also a great place to roll out your swag when the weather takes a turn for the worse.
There are a number of awnings on the market ranging in price from less than $100 to more than $550, and while some have unique features, they are all designed to perform the same function, which is to provide a quick and easy protection from sun and rain.
Awnings are easily mounted to any vehicle equipped with roof racks, whether just a pair of roof bars (using special L-brackets) or a welded full-length roof rack. And they come in various widths for fitment to a wide range of vehicles, from 1.25m to 2.5m. The narrowest awnings are designed for fitment to the back of a vehicle to provide protection around the tailgate area.
Awnings are also available in a variety of lengths, (the distance they extend out from the vehicle) to provide as little or as much cover as is needed. Lengths generally range from 2.0 to 3.0m.
What makes an awning?
Most awnings are mounted to an aluminium backing plate that attaches to a vehicle’s roof rack, and this usually incorporates a zippered PVC cover that houses the awning when not in use.
The awning itself will usually be made from a relatively lightweight PU coated rip-stop poly-cotton canvas. Material weight will vary slightly from brand to brand, but most awnings are around 260-300gsm. Beneath the PVC cover, the awning will usually be held in place with Velcro straps.
After unzipping the PVC cover, undoing the Velcro straps and rolling out the awning, two telescopic upright legs can be dropped down and set at the correct height thanks to an internal cam-lock system (just twist to set). Two horizontal supporting legs housed in channels in the backing plate can then be pulled out and extended to meet the upright legs. Once all four legs have been locked in place the awning will be self-supporting. This whole process takes as little as a minute or so.
Of course, if it’s a windy day, you’ll have to employ the guy ropes and pegs that are included with most awnings. If you intend to leave the awning up overnight, it’s always a good idea to peg it down in case the wind picks up while you’re asleep, or you could wake up to find bent awning legs and an awning flapping in the breeze; and as it’s attached to your roof rack it could result in damage to your vehicle.
Other than the awning material itself, different brand awnings have different joints where the legs fold out. This is often the weak point of an awning so you need to look after these joints; some are made from flexible nylon, while others are hinged and made from plastic or alloy.
Another slightly different design is ARB’s awning that’s housed in an aluminium case instead of a PVC cover; it looks smart and does away with the need for Velcro straps to hold the awning in place.
A completely different awning design to the one outlined above is the Oztent/Rhino-Rack Foxwing, which essentially swings out from its cover to provide 270° of shade, over the side and the rear of the vehicle.
Awnings are much more than the simple shade structures they once were thanks to a wide range of accessories that add versatility.
One of the first additions many people make is to fit LED strip lights. These can be permanently affixed to the awning backing plate so they’re ready to switch on as soon as the awning is unrolled.
Providing additional protection from the elements is simply a case of adding windbreaks to your awning. These separate covers simply attach to the top frame of the awning and are then pegged to the ground.
Another popular addition is a mesh tent, so you can sit beneath the awning without being attacked by mozzies, flies or other insects. Look for one that incorporates a floor so you have complete protection from nasties.
Many manufacturers also supply awning rooms (or tents). These are designed to provide complete privacy and weather protection utilising the awning as the roof component. Some awning tents incorporate a separate ceiling section, which not only makes them cooler but also means the awning acts as a tent fly, preventing internal moisture build-up. The great thing about a set-up such as this is you still have easy access to items inside your vehicle when you’re in the awning room/tent. And they take up less space when folded than a dedicated tent as there are no additional poles.
A slightly different tent option from Rhino-Rack is the Tagalong tent, which attaches to the outer edge of the awning. This leaves the covered area between the tent and the vehicle with no walls.
Sand bags that wrap around the awning legs are handy extras that make it easy to secure an awning when parked on hard ground.
When setting up and packing away awnings you should always take slow and deliberate steps. If you rush set-up you could over-tighten a cam-lock or over-extend a hinged joint, which could render the awning useless for the rest of you trip… and if it’s also your tent this could be a major problem.
If it’s raining when you pack away your awning, set it up again as soon as the weather is dry. If you store an awning for long periods when it’s wet or damp, the poly-cotton canvas can go mouldy.
Finally, check that your awning is properly secured to your vehicle, and that the L-brackets (if used) are in good condition. If you’re doing long stints on corrugated gravel roads or rough off-roading, make these checks part of your daily ritual.