In my opinion, a lot of gear purchases and vehicle modifications come premature. We’re quick to buy the latest, greatest, or flashy mod and slap it on our truck without first understand what the true application of that item is. It’s in some instances a weird “Which came first? The chicken or the egg?” Trips are a proving ground for gear that we buy and we typically buy gear because of what we have experienced. Hopefully, if you’re paying attention and learning something new you realize that we adapt our purchasing habits based on our experiences. This concept really applies to almost anything in the 4×4 world. Tires, lifts, bumpers, comms, accessories, etc.
The DRT 2016 summer campout was one of those learning experiences that ignited the true need for a solution to a problem. Caught by a flash of torrential rain and weather was the catalyst to search for a reliable, dependable, and sturdy cover from the elements. One that was easy to use, quick to deploy and take down, and had a proven history of performance. Insert the ARB Awning.
Ben has already written an article covering the ins and outs of the awning, so you can read up on it here.
What the real question becomes is how do you mount an awning to a vehicle? The obvious choice here for most people would be to buy a rack from the likes of Gobi, Prinsu Designs, Front Runner, etc. Both Hugo and Dave have been pleased with their Prinsu Racks.
However, building any vehicle is a long series of compromises. A roof mounted rack has many qualities, but none of which in this application adhered to the philosophy of use for my 4Runner.
The long term strategy on my 4runner is simple. After building my XJ piece by piece, swapping components, and ultimately piecing together something that worked well. It however, was not a coherent or fluid integration of the pieces. The 4Runner would be different and I set my sights on a vehicle that would be lightweight, dependable, and maintain and OEM like build sheet for maintenance and off road performance. Think of it as OEM+.
So why no rack? Racks can be expensive, certainly become a permanent fixture on your vehicle, thus raising your COG (center of gravity) and reducing MPGs. Also, by living in the current urban sprawl of NOVA (Northern Virginia) rack can sometimes rob you of much needed clearance for parking garages. Again, going back to the philosophy of use here I live in an apartment complex with DD duties where low clearance garages do exist.
So we go back to the original question. How do you mount an awning to a vehicle without using an aftermarket rack? This question then turned me to load bars. Yakima, Thule, Rhino, all make high quality, affordable, sturdy, REMOVABLE roof mount options. They also have a multi-faceted application for other mounts such as bike, kayak, and load boxes. So the next question is how do we get the awning mounted to load bars? Some initial research showed methods using “L” brackets and U-bolts. It struck me as a “good enough” application an in my opinion was a clean install. Back to the drawing board. I found a company called Bomber Products. Bomber makes what looks to be a very high quality awning mount, but the $200 price point was a bit hard to swallow. There had to be another player in the game.
Then I stumbled upon an Oregon based company called LabRak. (photo credit to LabRak)
LabRak was offering a beautiful set of CNC machined, powder coated, ready to rock Load Bar awning mounts. At half the cost of the Bomber Products (and a little less when I picked them up on a Labor Day sale) I was happy to spend my money and try them out. Arriving via USPS, the mounts were nicely packaged and I was greeted with a single envelope with a “Made in the U.S.A” sticker which contained a single sheet of instructions and a hand signed “Thank You” from the owner, Shane.
Now that’s service.
Install onto my load bar was a breeze with all necessary hardware included. The mounting point for the awning itself allows for vertical position of the awning in order to adjust the height. Two bolts are all you need to tighten to allow the mount to “bite” to the load bar for a secure fit.
Now I did notice a few design flaws that come with the design. Because the mounts position the awning under the bars or right next to it depending on the height, if you want to mount the awning snug against the vehicle body you’re going to have to do some cutting. I had to trim about 3 inches of either side of my load bars to bring the awning in close enough. Not a real problem for me since I never intend on mounting any accessory other than the awning outside the Yakima mounts themselves. However, if you do plan on mounting multiple accessory mounts and need that space that would be a choice you may have to compromise on.
Now the Bomber Products mounts the awning above the load bar, so in theory you can position the awning as close to the body without cutting. However, you can’t actually mount anything to the bar outside of the awning because it will be covered by the awning when deployed.
One other item I will change, and this is no fault of LabRak, is to add washers to the awning bolts supplied by ARB. The heads of the bolts are just small enough that the heads do not mount 100% flush. Simply adding a small washer will fix this problem. In the event I ever need to remove the awning or rack for whatever reason, it shouldn’t take more than 5 to 10 minutes. Unbolt the 4 load bar bolts, remove awning, and loosen the jaws for the Yakima Rail grab and Voila! It’s all gone. Clean, simple, no fuss.