The 5 Best Van Awnings: A Wildlife Photographer’s Picks

a van awning (or vehicle awning more generally) is an essential piece of camping and van life gear
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      Whether you’re #vanlife or you have a campervan as your main mode of travel and leisure, a van awning is a necessary piece of gear for getting out there and enjoying the great outdoors.

      Whether you want a respite from the rain or sun, or a way to escape the confines of a van for a bit, regardless of the weather, it’s always good to have one handy, especially if you’re doing something more intense, such as overlanding. 

      My first experience with roof rack awnings was the one I used to use as a kid when we’d take the ferry to Vancouver Island from mainland British Columbia. If you entered the lineup and missed a sailing, you were stuck until the next one, often with the sun (or rain) beating down, so the awning was nice to have. 

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      Since then, I’ve used and sheltered under plenty of vehicle awnings, whether it was a picnic at the park or a more serious camping trip. 

      One thing to note is that while they are definitely a nice piece of gear to have if you are about that van life, if your m.o. is stealth camping in urban areas, then a campervan awning might not be the right purchase at the moment.

      The same is true if you are on a tighter budget, as most roof rack awnings will run several hundred bucks. 

      Best Camper Van Awning for Casual Van Life: Tuff Stuff Overland Rooftop Awning, 170G, 6.5′ x 8′

      Tuff Stuff is a reputable overlanding brand that manufactures things like winches, roof racks and, of course, campervan awnings. 

      It’s your typical L-bracket roof rack awning that installs quickly and is compatible with basically any roof rack you already have or are currently using. These are definitely the easiest awnings. 

      8 x 6.5 feet is a decent amount of cover for 1-3 people (and a dog), as well as a small card table, RV grill etc. Smaller camper awnings like this are also nice because you can set them up at the back (tailgate) or the side door.

      If you wanted to, you could use the Tuff Stuff awning on your tailgate and another (similar sized or larger) awning over side doors for additional coverage.

      Because it’s not massive, it’s also a nice car awning, and the polyurethane-coated poly-cotton ripstop fabric does a good job of both wicking away water and keeping the wind at bay.


      280G poly-cotton Ripstop fabric 
      8 x 6.5’
      26 lbs
      1000D PVC driving cover for transport


      The biggest con I could find with the Tuff Stuff camper van awning is that it’s a bit tricky to set up on your own, especially the first time around. 

      You should also bear in mind that this likely isn’t going to be able to stand up to winds over 20mph.

      Other than that, most people who’ve invested in this mid-size, durable and affordable awning have nothing but great things to say about it.

      Best Economic Option: Smittybilt (2784 8.2′ x 6.2′ Tent Awning)

      Smittybilt is another well-respected offroading (Jeep-oriented) gear manufacturer and their 8.2 x 6.2’ campervan awning is roughly the same size as the Tuff Stuff Overland awning covered above, at a bit lower price. 

      This great Smittybilt awning also uses the same 280g poly-cotton mix as the Tuff Stuff, combined with good aluminium poles, while being compatible with most standard roof racks. A greally nice budget awning 

      Great UV protection, simple installation and breakdown and suitable for campsites, tailgating, or the beach, Smittybilt makes a good product for van-dwellers and campers looking for something lightweight and affordable.

      I like that Smittybilt is quite upfront about what you can expect out of its product. It explicitly states that its product is self-standing in “calm conditions,” which is to say, don’t expect it to withstand galeforce winds and be prepared to remove some water if rainfall reaches torrential levels.


      Polyester, cotton, steel
      8 x 6.2’
      28 lbs
      Waterproof storage bag


      Some reviewers have indicated that the mounting hardware that comes with the Smittybilt van awning left them wanting to jerry-rig their own, including some drilling in order for it to fit properly on the roof rack.

      Some people were sceptical of the durability of the material, while also indicating that they still believed they would likely get at least a couple of years out of it. 

      All in all, nearly two-thirds of the 68 reviewers were happy enough with the Smittybilt van awning to give the product 5 stars, making it one of the best camper van awnings for those on a budget.

      Alternative Inexpensive Portable Awning: HASIKA Versatility Teardrop Awning


      Polyester, Alloy Steel
      23.62 x 5.91 x 5.91 inches

      An additional awning that you might consider if you are on even more of a budget is the Hasika Versatility Teardrop Awning

      Hasika is another reputable name in camping and overlanding gear and their teardrop awning is essentially a dome tent that provides a great covered gazebo-style living space that attaches to the rear of your vehicle.

      Manufacturer’s photo

      It’s a nice alternative to the moonshade awning and one of the best awnings if you’re looking for something inexpensive, lightweight, not permanently mounted and compatible with a bunch of different vehicles. 

      Best Aluminum Van Awning: Thule Hide Away Awning

      If you’re going to go all in on a campervan awning for your van conversion, it’s hard to beat an aluminum one, and the adjustable Thule Hideaway awning (8.5 or 10’) is a great option if you have the budget for it. 

      Both lightweight and corrosion resistant, the Hide Away is really easy to use thanks to the hand crank, and the spring-loaded tension arms ensure that you always have optimal water and wind resistance.

      While it is designed to mount to flat, vertical surfaces, an adapter (not included) is available so that you can mount it to most roof racks.


      8 x 6.2’
      39 lbs
      Flat heavy duty mounting brackets (roof rack adapter not included!)


      For me, the biggest con of the Thule Hideaway awning is that the roof rack adapter is not included, and since this is a list of camper van awnings, it restricts the types of vans and camper vans you can use this with (unless you want to purchase the adapter).

      Other than that, over half of the reviewers/purchasers of this product loved it enough to give it five stars.

      Best Hard Core Van Awning: Rhino Rack Batwing Awning

      The Rhino Rack Batwing Awning gives you 270 degrees of sun, wind and rain protection that extends around both the side and the rear of your vehicle, making it one of the best campervan awnings out there, for me. 

      Rhino Rack products are made with good quality water and UV  resistant (UPF 50+) ripstop materials, so you can spend a lot of time under this large awning without worrying about burning or getting wet.

      It’s durable and well-designed enough to withstand heavy rainstorms, which makes it a better option for those who plan on getting out into actual wild areas a bit more, especially if you’re doing all-weather camping/van life stuff. 

      I also really like the Rhino Rack Batwing Awning because of all the accessories Rhino Rack gives for you.

      You can get side walls, extensions and flooring, letting you turn this thing into a full-on overlanding/camping shelter.


      Polyvinyl Chloride,
      118.5 Square Feet of Coverage
      47 lbs
      Poles, pegs and guy ropes, Plus a Fitting Kit for Roof Rack Mounting. Use the Heavy-Duty PVC Bag when not In use


      You need to buy Rhino Rack’s proprietary roof rack system. Not the end of the world because it’s a good rack, but kind of annoying if you already have a perfectly good rack (that will work well with the other options on this list). 

      Plastic attachment points. Given that this is a bit of a heavier piece of gear, you would think that Rhino Rack would have manufactured metal ones. The attachment points are simple to replace, and you get some replacement hinges with the purchase, but you really shouldn’t need to do this.

      Still, nearly two-thirds of the 32 reviewers/owners love Rhino Rack’s Batwing Awning enough to give it 5 stars.

      Best Van Awning for Evenings: ARB 2500×2500 Retractable Awning

      A self-standing retractable camper van awning that is compatible with most roof racks and bars that is deployed and up in 30 seconds.

      It was made by ARB specifically to withstand demanding outback conditions, and its 300 gsm poly-cotton ripstop canvas and UPF 50+ rating are a testament to this. 

      I think the highlight of this great little camping awning for me is the included 1200-lumen LED light strip with a digital dimmer switch that lets you switch between cool white or amber light. 1200 lumens is a lot of illumination.

      Bear in mind that this sort of illumination is bound to attract insects.


      poly-cotton ripstop canvas
      2500x2500mm (8.5×8.5’)
      39.9 lbs
      LED light strip


      The mounting brackets aren’t included. C’mon ARB! The company recommends 3 units of 813402 Awning Brackets, which are simple enough to find and install, but it’s kind of irritating that you have to buy them separately. 

      Still, over three-quarters of reviewers/owners gave this ARB awning 5-stars for this product.

      What Went Into My Selection Process for the Best Camper Van Awnings

      As a wildlife photographer and someone who spends a ton of time in nature, I spend a lot of time around parked vehicles–eating, waiting to head out, surveying the surroundings or taking shelter from the sun/rain.


      Too much time in a vehicle can be maddening, and an portable awning lets you turn anywhere into your living room.

      I’ve set up my fair share of canopy awnings over the years, and I’m pretty good at spotting defects and flaws as well as, importantly, good value for the money.

      In addition to my first-hand experience, I also spent a lot of time perusing forums and comment sections–of Reddit, YouTube, and the eRetailer sites looking to see what people have to say (both good and bad) about the van awnings I wanted to include on my list. 

      All in all, I’m confident that there is something on the above list for any van camper/dweller.

      Main Evaluation Criteria For Choosing/Buying a Roof Rack Awning


      I avoid insultingly self-explanatory buying criteria in my gear reviews, and a camper van awning is a pretty straightforward piece of gear, but there is a handful of purchasing criteria that I personally would apply to anything I was interested in:

      • Fit
      • Ease of set-up
      • Waterproofing/windproofing/UV protection
      • Roof Rack Compatibility



      First things first, is a given campervan awning actually going to fit your vehicle? To find this out, you need to know the height of your van. Get a tape measure and measure from the ground to the awning rail (if you have a camper van with one of these on it) or to the top of your vehicle where the roof rack would be. 

      Van awnings tend to fall into two categories: 

      1. Low designs: around 240cm
      2. High designs: around 290cm 

      Camper vans and other large-size vans usually require a low design, while motorhomes and larger vehicles (like a commercial high roof van) will need a high-design awning. 

      Ease of Set-up

      Some campervan awnings are much easier to set up than others (just look at the reviews). Even if a product contends that you can get it up in under a minute, or thirty seconds, or whatever it is, survey the comments to see if that actually holds true. 

      Manufacturers exaggerate things in their marketing copy all the time, so I always take some time to see how many people complain about the installation/set-up. 

      Waterproofing/Windproofing/UV Protection

      All of the camper van awnings I’ve covered in the above list feature some degree of waterproofing and windproofing. The waterproofing is usually indicated as either a mm rating (e.g., 3000mm, meaning 3000mm of water would need to fall before the waterproofing falters), or an indication that the awning material has been coated in something like polyurethane. 

      Windproofing is hard to estimate, but look at the comments. Owners will often indicate the kinds of winds that their awning has been able to stand up to. Keep in mind that if something is free-standing and not anchored deep in the ground, there is only so much wind it can withstand. 

      A lot of people assume that UV protection is a given with most fabrics simply because the sun isn’t directly on your skin, but different fabrics offer different UV protection. I’d try and look for a camper van awning that has at least UPF 50+.

      Roofrack Compatibility

      All of the camper van awnings on my list are more or less universally compatible (they’ll attach to whatever roof rack you have, perhaps with some minor manual adjustments required), save one: the Rhino Rack.

      Rhino Rack makes you buy its roof rack. It’s a good rack, but it’s a bit coercive: take it how you will. 

      If you are looking to economize, then roof rack compatibility is important; otherwise, you’re stuck paying whatever the manufacturer feels like charging you for a rack. 

      Aftermarket roof racks

      One of the main things to keep in mind with a roof mounted awning is that standard roof racks and stock roof bars might not be appropriate for your particular product. 

      Make sure you know whether or not you might need to invest in a different roof rack or, conversely, whether the particular manufacturer forces you to buy their rack. 

      Tips for Setting up a Camper Van Awning 


      Following the manufacturer’s instructions is a good start, but in my experience, there are a few little tips that I always employ to make sure I set it up the right way the first time around and don’t have to readjust in the middle of a downpour etc.: 

      1. Make use of natural shelter when possible 
      2. Park in a circle with multiple people
      3. Dig holes for the legs 

      Natural Shelter

      The golden rule of living and especially sleeping outdoors: use what’s around you to your advantage, especially the landscape.

      If you are parking somewhere in order to pop your van awning, whether you’re in an urban jungle or out in nature, use the structures around you to protect you from the wind, rain, sun, etc. 

      Yes, the awning is supposed to act as a shelter, but it’s always a good idea to augment your man-made shelter with whatever environmental features you have at your disposal, whether it’s a rock face, a grove of trees, or a building.

      Park in a circle with multiple people

      If you are vehicle camping or living with multiple people and vehicles, a good way to insulate yourself from the wind is to create a protective circle with your camper vans/cars/SUVs. Ideally, in the above image, the vehicles would be a bit farther apart and all facing the centre, but this is generally a good way to park, especially when overlanding. 

      Dig Holes for the Legs

      All of the van awnings I’ve covered in the above list are designed to have the legs just rest on the ground and, for the most part, that’s fine. I like to dig a small hole for the awning legs, however, for a couple of reasons. 

      The first is that I think it improves the wind resistance if the legs are anchored a little in the ground.

      Second, it lets you position the roof at a bit of an angle so that water doesn’t pool as much if it starts to rain. You lose a little of the view (but not much) and it avoids you having to climb onto the roof of your vehicle to remove water or trying to dump it off while standing underneath.

      Most awnings have telescopic legs so they are adjustable to various camper vans. 

      Why Investing in Van Awning Makes Sense 

      A van awning is a great investment and, in my mind, a crucial piece of gear for van livers, vehicle campers and overlanders.

      Life in camper vans, even the nicest, most kitted-out van, is always a lot nicer when you are able to extend your cover over your outdoor space. The extra room to set up some camping chairs and bust out the van cooler is crucial. 

      A van awning allows you to turn anywhere into your living room, and if you do your research and buy something high-quality, you should have an accessory that will last you quite a while. 

      I hope the above list, at the very least, encouraged you to do some more research into a van awning so that you can better enjoy life on the road. 


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