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To awning or not to awning—that is the big overlanding and car camping question.
With an ever-growing range of styles and functions paired with a steady increase in interest in slow travel and overlanding, it’s no wonder car awnings are one of the most talked-about topics in the motor-obsessed outdoor community right now. But what are they, and why would someone even consider buying one? Well, hold onto your butts, because we're about to deep dive into the world of car awnings and fill you in on everything you need to know before buying one.
What is a car awning?
Car awnings, car side awnings, and car sunshades are all awnings. Made for your car. Or truck. Or Airstream. Or any vehicle, really. Pretty straightforward, right?
Not exactly. Since these awnings need to be installed securely (read: permanently), you’ll have to have a roof rack (or cross bars, a rooftop tent, or something similar) to install the awning’s backing plate onto. Car awnings are rarely drilled directly onto your 4x4 or trailer. (Phew!)
Car Awning Features
While car awnings vary in size, most people purchase a square footage that runs from above their front driver or passenger side door to the rear of the vehicle. Rear awnings and awnings with side walls that create shade shelters for full UV protection are also an option. It all simply comes down to personal preference.
Besides the obvious perk of a car awning providing UV sun protection, other not-so-apparent perks include protection against the rain, especially when it’s time to cook, and a bit more privacy.
Car awnings vary in price—going from a couple of hundred dollars up to a couple of thousand dollars—as well as in weight. Weight is important to keep in mind if you’re trying to keep your adventure rig as light as possible.
So, when it comes down to it, do you really need a car awning?
In my overlanding experience, which is pretty vast, considering I spend each summer overlanding and car camping across Mongolia, I’ve come to decide that awnings are worth the investment. But it has to be the right awning for you. Otherwise, I understand where the great awning debate begins (and ends). Here are a few other things to consider when researching and buying a car awning.
What should I look for when buying a car awning?
The first three things to look for when considering which awning is the best choice for you are:
- How easy is it to open at camp? (Something under 60 seconds is preferred.)
- How easy is it to put away? (Again, this should be reasonably quick—especially if you have to do this in the rain.)
- What type of wind and weather will my awning be able to withstand?
Are car awnings waterproof?
Forget the sun, the time when you will most appreciate your awning will be when it’s raining. Having an awning that can shelter you while you’re cooking and one that can withstand wind thanks to tie-downs and guy lines and additional support poles will change the way you think about overlanding and prove that roughing it doesn’t always have to be so rough. Not all car awnings are waterproof though many are—just be sure to check the specs if that's a feature you're looking for.
What vehicles can I mount a car awning onto?
While most people who purchase car awnings own SUVs, trucks, trailers, camper vans, or minivans, any vehicle can be car awning-ready with the right rack system. You can even mount some over a truck bed for tailgate hangs. Just remember that the lower your vehicle is to the ground, the less space you’ll have for standing under your awning when it’s extended.
The 10 Best Car Awnings for Overlanding and Car Camping
What We Like: A three-second setup that you don’t have to set your beer down for
Blowing its Kickstarter goal of $10,000 out of the water within minutes, the Kammok Crosswing is an Austin, Texas-designed awning so easy to use you don’t even need to set your drink down to deploy it. With a three-second setup time, you simply pull out the retractable awning from its case and you’re ready to pitch your hammock or camping chair underneath. The aluminum alloy X-Frame design means the awning is self-supporting, so there’s no need to attach poles or get tangled up in tie-downs, and a PU-coated polyester fabric provides shelter from the weather. The Crosswing comes in two sizes—a seven-foot model with 42 square feet of coverage and a five-foot model with 32.5 square feet, and both are adjustable so you can go for full coverage or less.
Length: 7 ft
Shade Area: 43 sq ft
Weight: 45 lbs
What We Like: 270° of coverage from the OG’s of overlanding
When it comes to converting vehicles into overlanding machines ready to take on anything, Alu-Cab has long been one of the best and most reliable brands in the game. Founded in Cape Town, South Africa, Alu-Cab was the first company to introduce aluminum canopies to the world.
The not-so-long-ago introduction of their 270-degree Shadow Awning not only turned heads in the off-roading community, but it was a gateway drug for the overlanding-curious, as well. The Shadow Awning is excellent because there are no additional poles to pitch or pegs. You simply unzip the awning’s cover bag and swing the awning’s heavy-duty aluminum arms open in less than 60-seconds. For extra support, deploy a telescoping pole with quick-release lock and the included guy ropes.
Length: 8 ft 6 in
Shade Area: 107 sq ft
Weight: 53 lbs
What We Like: A heavy-duty 270° awning for remote road trips
Another favorite for its 270-degree coverage, the Quick Pitch Weathershade 20 Second Awning is sturdy, streamlined, and quick to open. Made from a high-quality weatherproof canvas, aluminum arms and stainless steel hinges, the Quick Pitch is simple to set up but also comes with a support pole and tie-downs for extra security. The canvas ceiling has a silver lining to reflect the sun and keep the area underneath the awning cool, making it a solid nominee for any overlanding wishlist.
Length: 4 ft 4 in
Shade Area: 161 sq ft
Weight: 60 lbs
What We Like: An affordable, easy to affix option if you aren’t sure awnings are your thing
On the simpler side of awnings, the name of this little guy says everything you need to know about it. Extending 2.1 meters from its mounting point, the awning stands up with the help of corner-mounted twist-lock telescoping poles. When not in use, the awning is protected by a durable, heavy-duty PVC coated 650g nylon storage bag. Add mosquito net siding to make this setup even more comfortable, and use Front Runner's Easy-Out Awning Brackets for best vehicle-awning compatibility.
Length: 8 ft 6 in
Shade Area: 56 sq ft
Weight: 30 lbs
What We Like: Affordable, lightweight, easy to set up with various vehicles and positions
The Moonshade is another straightforward car awning where simplicity is the key working factor. You don't need a roof rack to set it up, though you can certainly use one if you have it. Instead the Moonshade comes with suction cup anchors, but you can also get adhesive, magnetic, and rail mounts, plus a bunch of other accessories. It uses tension poles similar to a camping tent and two support poles for its structure, and voila, you're hanging in the shade by your vehicle. When you're done, the whole thing packs into a convenient carry bag. The original Moonshade has 63 square feet of coverage, but the company recently released an XL version that's currently available for preorder. You can also purchase an add-on wall for privacy.
Length: 9 ft
Shade Area: 63 sq ft
Weight: 8 lbs
What We Like: The most affordable 270-degree awning
Unzip. Swing. Cinch. And save? That’s right, at less than $1,000, this awning from Overland Pros is the most affordable 270-degree awning on our list. With a waterproof 280g ripstop canvas construction and 7.4 square meters of coverage, it’s also a sleeper favorite in the overlanding community. Choose to mount the Wraptor 4k to either the driver or passenger side—you have the option to choose from either when ordering. The Wraptor has optional walls to create an awning room, but mounting brackets and guy lines are included.
Length: 7 ft 2 in
Shade Area: 80 sq ft
Weight: 42 lbs
What We Like: Good for low-to-the-ground vehicles
Weather-proof and UV50+ protected, the Dome 1300 was built specifically with lower roofed vehicles and tall people in mind. Plus, the dome design adds for great water run-off in harsher weather conditions. The awning can be mounted to either side of your vehicle, or to the rear, which gives the Dome 1300 an edge over the other awnings on this list, which are too long for this option. While this car awning is tough enough to handle everything overlanding might throw its way, Rhino-Rack still promises a 1-year warranty. It comes with a $333 price tag to boot.
Length: 4 ft 4 in
Shade Area: 65 sq ft
Weight: 18.5 lbs
What We Like: Rooftop tent integration
Awnings aren’t just limited to your vehicle—rooftop tents now come with some pretty incredible awning options as well. Especially for the iKamper Skycamp tent ($4,199), one of our favorite rooftop tents on the market. The awning attachment quickly zips onto the Skycamper’s front window and sets up with support poles and guy lines, making an indoor/outdoor living space that's protected from the elements.
Length: 15 ft 5 in
Shade Area: 167 sq ft
Weight: not specified
What We Like: Unique awning-meets-tent design
Designed to mount on the side of a panel door van, this inflatable awning is the luxe king of awnings. The Rally Air Pro is more tent then awning, providing protection on all sides and a seamless transition from van to outdoors. It's also different from other awnings on this list because it requires inflating to set it up (manually or with an electric pump purchased separately). Anchor ropes provide support and give it is shape and you can set it up attached to your vehicle or in a drive-away mode if your staying at the same point for more than one night but heading off on adventures during the day.
Length: 8 ft 6 in
Shade Area: 72 sq ft
Weight: 71 lbs
What We Like: Extra car camping weather and wind protection without the weight
When you’re sleeping in a tent next to your car, the smallest added comfort goes a long way. Add an extra layer of sun and weather protection between you and Mother Nature thanks to this shade awning from overlanding legends ARB. With an LED light strip built in, the ARB awning makes moving around at night much easier and becomes even more versatile and protective with an added windbreak ($120 extra).
Length: 8 ft 2 in
Shade Area: 67 sq ft
Weight: 35 lbs