270 Awnings: The Ultimate Camping Upgrade
One man’s search for a spot of shade next to his truck
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There are two tricks to camping more often: comfort and speed. Knowing that you can cook and hang out in a protected area lets you enjoy camping in less certain conditions. Being able to assemble a protected area quickly—even in the dark—means you can arrive at camp late or set up a pop-up base camp during a pit stop. Enter the 270 awning. Add one of these to your car or truck, and I guarantee your next camping trip will be a lot easier.
Vehicle-mounted awnings have a couple key advantages over their freestanding counterparts. They’re faster to set up, have more stability and resistance to high winds, and don’t take up room inside your vehicle.
Unfortunately, vehicle-mounted awnings also come with some downsides. They tend to be expensive and heavy, adding weight to the worst spot on your truck. If you don’t have a fancy roof rack, they can be challenging to mount. They can add noise from both the wind and rattles and squeaks. And they’re exposed to the weather, so if your awning isn’t made well, it’ll wear out awfully fast.
In other words, it’s really important to find the right one. When I set out to build a Ford Ranger for our wedding trip to southern Baja and back last year, a dream awning was high on my list of must-haves. It took me a while to find one that’s nearly perfect, and I learned a lot along the way.
Compared to a straight awning, which simply unfolds to form a rectangle covering one side or the rear of your vehicle, a 270 awning wraps around the side and rear of your vehicle, providing continuous coverage. Two hundred and seventy degrees may not sound like a huge step up from 180, but having such a large area of unified coverage from sun and rain gives you way more space to unpack, cook, and hang out. Think of it as your very own portable camping cabana.
Creating such a structure that also folds flat enough to carry it on the side of your vehicle gets complicated really fast. There are multiple arms and hinges, a ton of fabric, poles, guylines, a storage bag, and a zipper. In other words: there are multiple points of potential failure.
And that was the problem I ran into with the first 270 awning I tried, a Rhino-Rack Batwing Compact Awning ($688). One reason that product is more affordable is its nonfreestanding design—the awning requires vertical poles to support each horizontal arm. The poles adjust in length through an internal twist-to-tighten cam; screw them clockwise to loosen, slide the outer pole over the inner pole to find the right height, and twist counterclockwise to tighten. But the very first time I set up the Rhino-Rack in the driveway, that mechanism broke. I had to remove the entire pole assembly from the awning, disassemble it, refit the cam, and remount the pole. The whole process took 20 minutes and a fair amount of swearing. With practice, I got that time down to ten minutes. Better, but still pretty annoying given that the thing broke every time I set up the awning.
On my first camping trip with the Rhino-Rack, I discovered another problem. If my tires splashed any mud into the awning’s zipper, it would jam shut, requiring a blast with a hose to clean it before the zipper would work again. I’ve never been happier about the ten-gallon water tank and extra-long hose I carry in my truck than I was on that first night, after dark, in the pouring rain. I may have soaked myself to the bone in the process, then had to dismantle, repair, and refit a support pole and stake down guylines, but half an hour later, I did have a nice, dry spot to hang out.
Thirty minutes isn’t quick. And pulling out tools in the dark isn’t convenient. So, for my next attempt at fitting an awning to my truck, I created a list of wants: something that wouldn’t fall apart, was fast and easy to set up and put away, and didn’t require support legs, at least in very mild conditions.
A recommendation from a friend led me to the Eezi-Awn Bat 270. At $1,300, it’s considerably more expensive than the Rhino-Rack, but it also comes from a South African brand that’s synonymous with high-quality overland gear. It ticked all my boxes and came with a bonus: at just 46 pounds, it’s the lightest 270 awning out there.
Instead of cheap steel tubes, the Bat 270 uses boxed aluminum for its arms and legs, which weigh a lot less. And while the awning is capable of standing on its own in mild weather, poles hide inside the arms that allow you to support the awning when needed. The poles include external knobs for length adjustment, and they hold the awning down rather than up, since enormous fabric structures act like sails in the wind. Where other awnings rely on guylines, the Bat 270 requires you to simply pound stakes through holes in the pole feet. Once staked, the Bat 270 will remain stable in any wind conditions you want to be outside in. Using legs instead of guylines, as on the Rhino-Rack, cuts time, adds strength, and reduces flapping in high wind.
Fitting the Bat 270 to my GoFastCampers Platform was easy, thanks to bolt channels that run the full length of the awning’s backing plate. After a couple practice runs, I got my setup time down to under a minute. Packing it up probably takes half as long and is so simple and intuitive that I quickly learned to do it in the dark without the aid of a headlamp.
And that’s all it takes to get a three-quarter circle of coverage that extends six feet ten inches from my truck in every direction it covers. It’s hard to articulate just how nice a space that is; now I dread the idea of going car camping without my truck.
But Eezi-Awn’s awning isn’t perfect. In heavy rain, water pools in each waterproof fabric panel until it reaches a tipping point and comes tumbling out in one big splash. You can avoid this by pushing up on the fabric every few minutes, but that just nets you smaller splashes and more of them. Other 270 awnings, like the AluCab Shadow Awning ($1,500), avoid this by using clever fabric spreaders that dome the fabric to prevent pooling.
Mounting a 270 awning can be complicated if you don’t happen to already have the world’s lightest, most modular truck camper. Heavier designs may require supporting the hinges at the awning’s rear, which means you’ll need an aftermarket roof rack like those made by Frontrunner, ARB, and others. Lightweight awnings like the Bat 270 are much simpler in that they require only two vertical mounting surfaces on the side of your roof. If you have stock roof rails, you can drill holes into your cross rails and bolt on an ARB Universal Awning Mount. If you have generic load bars, such as those made by Yakima or Thule, you may be able to fit awning mounts sold by those brands. Whichever awning you choose, make sure to identify its mounting requirements ahead of time and that your vehicle is capable of meeting them.
You’ll also want to consider which side of the vehicle to mount the awning and order the appropriate configuration for that side. Since we drive on the right side of the road in the United States, a passenger-side awning will open away from traffic if you’re pulled over on the side of the road. It will also transmit less wind noise to the driver. I went with a driver-side awning for the simple reason that my rear swingout—and the cute little camp table a friend and I made for it—opens to the passenger side.
Looking for a way to quickly detach and reattach your awning so you don’t have to deal with the noise during daily driving? The RacksBrax HD Hitch Quick-Release Awning Mount ($149) sits between the awning and vehicle mount, allowing you to easily lift your awning on and off.