Van Updates & Upgrades
THe ARB Awning is a great addition to my Syncro and provides shade and cover from the rain and snow. The awning is attached to the rain gutter using a ARB/SUNSEEKER MOUNTING KIT FOR VANAGON from Rocky Mountain Westy/Van Cafe and has been rock solid. The awning is even further enhanced with optional accessories, such as the 3-Wall Tent and Screen Room. My awning is the 2500x2500 size, which is about 8', 2" x 8' x 2". The tent and screen room size must correspond to the size awning you have. The 3-wall tent does not have a floor, which is preferrable by me since I use my Winnerwell wood stove in there and really don't want to burn any holes in the floor. I'm not even sure ARB still makes the 3-wall tent and screen room anymore and may have replaced both with their newer ARB 813108A Awning Room (Deluxe w/Floor 2500mm x 2500mm Heavy Duty - Left), which is a combination tent and screen room. This was on the market when I purchased mine, but I also worried about the wall, and wondered how would I cut a hole in the side for the stove pipe, cutting through both the tent fabric and the screen and have it usable when not incorporating the stove. I'm sure I could have figured it out. Anyway, the awning, tent and screen room have been great and are a fantastic addition to my camping setup. Both the tent and screen room come with their own storage bags and I keep them in the front luggage rack inside a waterproof MAXXHAUL 70209 Cargo Carrier Bag, along with other gear.
The main issue with the awning, especially with the tent or screen room attached is wind. Extreme care must be taken when staking down the awning and accessories to keep it safe during mild winds. With heavy winds, it is advisable to remove any accessories and roll the awning back up into the storage bag. I learned this the hard way during a winter storm camped at around 9,000 feet. I woke up to a horrible flapping noise and found the tent had come loose and was acting like a sail. I managed to bend all four poles on the awning, as well as ripping off one of the stake down areas on the tent. I was just glad I didn't have a fire going in the wood stove, which would have added another horrific layer of calamity to the situation. Fortunately the replacement poles are relatively inexpensive and I was able to repair the damage for less than I thought it would cost.
Now I try to pick a campsite with some protection from the prevailing winds, like a good bank of trees, and I also spend a good amount of time making sure I have staked the entire system down as securely as possible. To further secure my awning to the ground, I invested in the ARB Guy Rope Set, which inorporates a spring to help absorb the energy produced by the wind and helps prevent damage to the awning.
I also found some similar springs on Amazon (see left) which I'll use to augment the ARB versions and these are much less expensive. The ARB versions come in a two pack and are around $22. The springs I found on Amazon are five for under $15. Even these probably won't help much if I find myself in another storm with 70 mph wind gusts, like I experienced during my unfortunate incident describe above, but I think it's good insurance for more moderate and typical winds. I also puchased a bunch of good stakes to replace the cheaper stakes that come with the awning and accessories.
The 3-wall tent is in three individual sections (see images below), which zipper together to fully enclose the van. But they can also be used individually if you only want to put up one or two sides, preserving an epic view or for some privacy from nearby campers. By the way, the fourth wall is the van in case you were wondering.
To further enhance the usability of the tent, I got a portable wood burning stove. It's stainless steel so it won't rust or ever need painting and it all fits into a nice storage bag which I keep on the roof rack while traveling. I had to cut a hole in the tent for the stove pipe, which was a bit intimidating, but I too my time and did several mock setups to make sure I had all my measurements correct before committing to cutting a hole in my beautiful tent. I'll create another page dedicated to using this stove in the near future, so stay tuned.
The screen room is a four wall mesh room with a zippered entrance on the front side. It also has a zippered entrance to the vehicle. There is no floor, but the way it stakes down, there is very little chance of bugs gaining entrance via the wall. Using it with my Vanagon, a little extra care is needed to seal it against the body of the van. I use neodymium magnets to seal up any gaps, as seen in the video below. Since I don't have a removable screen for the sliding door, this more than makes up for it, while adding a great deal of bug proof living space. I have really enjoyed hanging out in the screen room on one of my comfy folding chairs, free from pesky insects.