ARB Awning

My old tried and true ARB awning has worked and held up fairly well over the six years I’ve owned it. Apparently I’ve never taken a ground level picture of mine deployed so grabbed this one off it’s page at Amazon to give you an idea of what it looks like in action.

Not Me Under An Awning Washed Out By Professional Photographer’s Lighting

When I look back through other posts where it is mentioned I find I have regularly used the phrase “tried and true” when mentioning it. It has been through (and survived) many adventures. Some of those highlights include a night of sustained 40 knot winds on top of a butte near Badger Creek Utah,

Butte In Utah Showing Doubled Guy Lines On Awning

… an early spring overnight dumping of snow while camping in the Emigrant Gap area of the Sierras that collapsed one of the legs…

This Was A Dry, Sunny Spot The Day Before

… and a 2-day dust storm on the playa of the Alvord Desert in southeast Oregon. In the Alvord its anchors got ripped out of the ground and it flipped over the Tacoma smacking me in the head and badly bending one of the arms enough that I replaced it. It does well in the rain too. We spent a wet few Days in North Cascades National Park and had the awning out for a small spot of “dry.” When in rainy environments I often find myself lowering one of the legs so that the water runs off in that direction and can be collected in a container then filtered and used. Works great. Other than the broken arm and the seam tape coming loose in a few areas it held up great even through those occasional bouts of willful neglect.

Now that I’ve spent so much time with it it seems as good a time as any to give it the review that is long overdue. The short version is: it works, it is tough, it can be deployed and stowed by one person and it was relatively inexpensive. It has essentially nine main parts: three aluminum extrusions (I’ll call them mounting, main and front), two “arms” (horizontal bars), two “legs” (vertical bars), the fabric canopy itself and the zippered vinyl bag that secures and protects all the rest of it when not in use. The front and main extrusions are exactly the same style and length. The mounting extrusion is a different style. All the arms and legs are exactly the same, ARB just refers to them differently depending on where they are mounted. The arms attach to the main extrusion and fold out, the legs attach to the front and fold down.

The Mounting extrusion is where the entire awning assembly is attached to the roof rack. The mounting and main extrusions are attached lengthwise to each other with the back of the vinyl bag sandwiched between them.

Mounting Extrusion Attached To Back Of The Vinyl Cover
Mounting Extrusion Attached To Back Of The Vinyl Cover

I used two pairs of stainless steel bolts to attach the mounting plate to the L brackets that I attached to the Yakima roof rack. Their heads slide into the slots in the extrusion and fit loose enough to fine tune their placement but tight enough to not rotate when screwing on the nut that secures the whole system to the brackets. The entire assembly is light weight and short enough that I never worried about undue stress on the roof rack or brackets when out in the desert slamming around playing Ivan “Iron Man” Stewart offroad racer.

Its ends are very sharp as I found out when I was pulling myself up onto the tailgate and slipped forward, head first against the rear end of the mounting extrusion.

Forehead Gash After Cleaning It Up

Bloody horror show mess but I pretended to be an MMA “cutman” and crammed it full of a vaseline-based antibiotic and it stopped bleeding and eventually healed up nicely… can’t even see it unless looking at it close up.

Front Extrusion (Flipped Upside-Down With Stored Legs
Front Extrusion (Flipped Upside-Down With Stored Legs
Main Extrusion With Arms Stowed
Main Extrusion With Arms Stowed

While it can be set up and taken down by one person it really helps if you are taller or have a friend help. During setup you first unzip the bag which is problematic if the large but 2nd rate zipper, made by (republican trigger warning) “Trans” is at all coated in any material other than air. It became a twice yearly chore to get it unstuck by getting an old toothbrush and cleaning all four sides of both parts of the zipper for its entire length and then either wax it or carefully spray it with some graphite-based lube.

Next you detach the two Velcro straps holding everything together and then hold that whole roll as you pull the two arms out from their spots in the main extrusion and swing them out of the way past the width of the roll as you then unroll the awning material itself which is covering the front extrusion. Now that you have an unfurled 5 m2 (square meters) piece of fabric in your control is inevitably when the wind will decide to make an appearance and make the remaining tasks more difficult. Next you twist the interior tube of each arm until loose and pull the end out far enough to insert the aluminum dowel into the hole present on each end of the front extrusion and push or pull out, away from the vehicle to tighten the awning fabric. Once that is taut you twist the interior tube of each arm to retighten and lock that arm into place. Now the legs need to be pulled from their spot tucked into the front extrusion, twist the interior tube of each leg and pull the end out far enough to reach the ground and set the awning at your preferred height and then retighten each leg. There are then velcro straps lining both sides of the awning that can be wrapped around the arms and attached to tighten up the awning and lessen flapping in the wind. That was a textually dense rambling so here are ARB’s online instructions with included pictures or a relatively quick video of the process by a youtuber with the one size bigger version.

The two provided guy lines then should be pulled to an appropriate spot and staked well into the ground or secured with the appropriate type of anchor for the ground type. For dirt/grass I use old-school, longer (at least 12″) “metal nail” style with a hook or loop at the end. For rocky areas I use a set of Snowpeak Forged Stakes. For sandy conditions I like the MSR fabric style sand anchors but some people prefer the screw type. Depending on wind conditions it’s also a good idea to stake the “feet” of the legs too as it is possible for the wind to pull them out of the ground where they flop to one side and stop performing their required function.

To stow it you essentially do all the deployment steps in reverse order.

In the literal hundreds of times I’ve deployed and stowed it I did find a couple glaring shortcomings. Besides the aforementioned cheap zipper issue there was the fact that its 5 m2 of coverage was inadequate during those months having a low winter sun which reduced the shade to a veritable and variable sliver at different points of the day. While you can set it up without using guy lines it is not recommended. On more than one occasion I have walked through the area, not seen the guy lines and tripped flat on my face. Annoying when that causes you to spill your beverage. The fabric has no reflective properties so you can be sitting in its shade but still feel oppressive heat radiating through it and onto you. Sunburn protection but not necessarily “comfortable.” I experienced that numerous times from Canada down to Baja, most memorably in Cabo Pulmo, in June, when it was 104F/40C. This is one of the main reasons I decided to upgrade to my new Alu-Cab awning.

I just sold this ARB awning to a fellow on Tacomaworld and he seemed happy with it so I expect it will have many more and different adventures than what it experienced with us…and that makes me happy.

For what I consider a “beginning awning” it was a good learning experience and proved to me the usefulness of that type of gear in many of the areas Willow and I enjoyed over the years. If you find yourself regularly overlanding to places where you can enjoy the sun (or rain) it is a valuable piece of kit to have at your fingertips.

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