Overland gear purchases typically follow a bell curve. People who are dipping their toes in the overland world start with just a few things: all-terrain tires, maybe a roof rack, often a high-quality cooler. As these people start to explore the backcountry more, and watch more overlanding YouTube videos, they feel the need to invest in every piece of overland gear known to man: fridges, rooftop tents, awnings, drawer systems, solar panels, bigger tires, better suspension, onboard water, storage boxes, etc.
You’ve seen these vehicles when they reach the top of the curve. They’re so loaded down with gear they look more like Humvees going to war than trucks or SUVs designed for weekend camping. I’m guilty as charged. The first Tacoma I built out was so loaded with toys and gadgets that I could barely reach 70 mph on the freeway because of the extra weight.
Things get better, however, on the back end of the bell curve. At this point, the overlanders have been on enough trips to understand what they actually need and what gear is just weighing them down. They start shedding items and bolt on and carry exactly what they need for a safe, fun, and comfortable experience.
One item that has made it through the bell curve for me, and for most I know who love to overland, is a vehicle awning. Awnings usually come in two styles: there’s the 270-degree version that wraps around three-quarters of your car, and the rectangular version that juts out straight from the side of your vehicle. The 270-degree awnings are great because they provide a ton of coverage, but they’re expensive and heavy. The rectangular versions provide less coverage but are lighter and more affordable.
Awnings deserve a permanent spot on your car because of their incredible four-season functionality. In the summer, they provide shade in the middle of the day when the sun is beating down and you need to hide or risk melting. You can also hang out under them when summer rainstorms move through. During the winter, I often use an awning to provide shelter from snow when camping or just apreing in the ski area parking lot. And they are no less valuable during fall tailgating season when you can get any combination of sun, rain, or even snow.
The rectangular awning I have on my current Tacoma gets pulled out every time I camp, but, honestly, I dread setting it up because it takes 15 to 20 minutes, requires two people at minimum, and can be difficult to get taught and anchored sturdily. Like many awnings, the model I have relies on poles and guy lines to keep the front end up. The poles are tricky to adjust on uneven ground, and the guy lines are a pain to put in, especially if you’re on rocky ground and have to hunt for a spot where you can hammer in the stakes.
All of this is why I was excited to recently get my hands on Kammok’s new rectangular awning, called the Crosswing. The company obviously realized setup was a major pain point and set out to make it much easier. What they came up with is a frame that includes two metal crossmembers that crisscross under the awning and extend the entire length of the fabric as you pull it out. Those crossmembers are sturdy enough to hold the awning up and keep it fully extended, so you don’t need feet to support the front end. Once the awning is pulled out, and the crossmembers extended, you use a clever ratcheting lever to taughten the fabric—and you’re done. One person can easily handle the job, and I was able to set mine up in less than a minute.
Kammok claims that the Crosswing will put up with problems like wind gusts and pouring rain, and I believe them. I set mine up in 20-mile-per-hour winds that definitely made the awning move around, but never threatened to destroy it. Higher winds might be able to do damage, but no one wants to be outside when it’s that windy, anyway. I’ve yet to test it in a downpour, but I think the Crosswing will do fine because it slopes slightly downward as it comes off the car so it will shed rain rapidly.
To make mounting easy, Kammok sells a variety of brackets that bolt onto nearly any rack. There’s a mount that slides onto the simple flat bar systems from companies like Thule or Yakima, and another for overland racks from companies like Front Runner that slides into the t-slot and quickly tightens down.
My Crosswing experience has not been perfect, however. In their slick instructional video Kammock says you put away the awning by overextending it, which triggers a mechanism that helps roll the fabric around a spool as you push in the metal crossmembers and walk the awning back toward the truck. It’s a neat process that takes the person in the video all of three seconds. I, however, spent some 20 minutes unsuccessfully trying to get my fabric to spool back up because the rolling mechanism did not help suck the fabric back in. After lots of frustration, I eventually crumpled the awning into the side of the truck, got under it, and hand-rolled the spool to get all the material back on. Once I figured out this method, storing the awning took about a minute. That’s plenty reasonable, and faster than a traditional awning, but not the three seconds I was promised in the video. It could be that my rolling mechanism was broken, or maybe I’m just an idiot.
Also, the ingenuity of the Crosswing comes at a cost. The seven-foot version, which provides significantly better protection than the five-foot version, is $1,000. You’ll also need to pay about $100 for the mounting brackets. All totaled, the Crosswing is more than double what more traditional rectangular awnings cost.
But, even with the cost, and my frustration around putting the awning away, I think the Crosswing is worth the investment and fits on the back end of the overlanding bell curve. A traditional rectangular awning will cost you less, but you’ll also use it less because you’ll be reluctant to face the setup frustration. A Crosswing on the other hand, will be one of your most used pieces of gear, ready to deploy in seconds while camping, at football games, and anywhere else you need sun or rain protection.
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