One of the more recent trends to create a private outdoor living space is to add a “Side Awning”. If you are unfamiliar with the term, we have a detailed guide which will share all the information about them. It is a method of shelter which attaches to any vehicle such a car, van or even truck. When deciding which product to purchase, you want to ensure the one you choose will work with your specific type of vehicle. For example, one that is designed for an SUV will work for most manufacturers; however, it would work poorly if you were attempting to attach it to a truck. They are most commonly used on vans, and are often called “Van Awning”.

Side Awning Material

These are nearly all a lightweight and waterproof polyester. They are perfect for outdoor adventures as they can be cleaned by wiping them down with a damp cloth. The material is usually coated with either a vinyl, laminate or acrylic coating. For average weekend use, the specific coating chosen by the manufacturer will have minimal impact on the overall product. That being said a coating will extend the lifespan of the fabric so we recommend a coated material over one with exposed and untreated polyester.

Open Awnings

These are least expensive and easiest to setup. These have a fixture which attaches near the roof of the vehicle, and sturdy arms attach to these fixtures which provide the backbone to the frame. The material is then slid over the arms to create the final structure. Most manufacturers include poles which support the end of the arm for additional support. The entire setup time can be accomplished by 1 person in about 5 minutes. While this is a great entry level option, there are usually upgrades such as mosquito nets or panel sunblocks to create additional shade. Both of these will be covered in detail in separate posts.

Enclosed Awnings

This product is occasionally called a “Side Tent”. While the previously described model offers open walls, this type has at least 3 fully built out walls. There is one side that is left open to provide access to the vehicle. This product is great for those looking for incremental space for their camping adventures. The frame of the vehicle creates an incredibly sturdy frame, and more delicate items can be stored inside the vehicle to fully protect them from the weather. These are about twice the price of the open models.

Opening Mechanism

Most of the awnings are stored in a bag which is permanently attached to the top of the vehicle. When the user is ready to set up the outdoor space, he only needs to open the bag and then extend the arms. For the more traditional square awnings, there will be three arms that are on some hinges. You merely pull the straight out from the vehicle, and there will be bolts that hold the hinge in place while the awning is up. Most of the DIY models use this type of opening mechanism.

The second design is the “Foxwing”. There are several companies that make versions of this style, and we have not seen any DIY plans for this layout. When opening the Foxwing, the user unzips the bag, and then merely walks around the vehicle while holding the first arm. The structural arms have built in spacers. Once you walk to the other side of the vehicle, you can simply attach the arm to the roof and that side. If bad weather is expected, there are tie-down straps and a single post for support. Using these is not required when no wind is present; however, if there is any significant wind then it is highly advised to use the additional support. We’ve included a video which shows how to open the Foxwing awning below:

Vehicle Mounts

If you are buying an off the shelf model, then it will be packaged with mounts, and we always recommend using all the material from the manufacturer. For the reader who is doing the DIY project, we strongly recommend using high caliber, strong mounting brackets. We have had good experience with Rhino-Rack mounting system, but they are just one of the top brands. We’re not steering you to one brand or another in this post. We may do a full review at a later time, but for presently whenever you are looking at the bracket system compare what you’re buying with specs of Rhino Rack to ensure you are comfortable with the specifications.