Take in the views, not the sun.
The Quest for Shelter – Slumberjack Roadhouse Tarp
Regardless of what you use your 4Runner for, everyone can agree that having a portable shelter and shade is a necessity for your adventures. When I started doing research for my setup, I quickly became attracted to the convenience and neat packaging of the popular roof rack-mounted awnings that everyone runs nowadays. However, the wide price range for relatively similar products had me befuddled.
On one end of the spectrum, there are 6′ or 8′ awnings for $150-$500, but are made with cheap materials and don’t provide that much coverage. On the other end, you have 180 degrees or 270-degree bat-wing awnings that are more robust in every aspect, but cost as much, if not more, than a full entry-level suspension setup.
Regardless of the awning, I ultimately found that unless you were sitting right next to your truck at high noon, you’ll most likely find yourself constantly trying to escape the sun. Furthermore, you probably won’t be getting great protection from wind or rain either. Ultimately, for the price these awnings were too limited in adjustability for various conditions and that was a deal-breaker for me.
Maximize shade and protection for under $200
My criteria for choosing my setup became clear: maximize shade coverage and protection from the elements for under $200. Thus, I decided to branch out and look at how people are using tarps to make their own shelter. After a little bit of YouTube-ing DIY ideas and Googling, I stumbled across my solution – the Slumberjack Roadhouse Tarp.
Slumberjack has been making outdoor gear for over 50 years. They offer two styles: one with a screen room and one without. With their Roadhouse tarp, you won’t find any fancy bells or whistles. It’s a little more work to deploy than your roof rack-mounted awning, but it’s a small price to pay for an awesome shelter over your camp.
This post will highlight the pros and cons of a tarp, tradeoffs between a tarp and awning, and use cases for each one.
Find it online:
- Slumberjack Roadhouse Tarp: Check Price
Features of the Slumberjack Tarp
#1 priority for setting up camp: Shelter first. A-frame setup is shown.
I bought the Roadhouse tarp for 3 key reasons: cost, deployed size, and modularity.
After looking over some DIY awning builds, most ended costing $100-200 depending on the quality of materials. At around $119, the Slumberjack tarp was a no-brainer. The skeptic in me questioned the quality, but I was happy to be wrong.
The tarp is a heavy-duty polyester with high-quality stitched seams and reinforced grommets to prevent rips. The steel poles are sturdy and break down into 5 segments. Even the metal stakes are super strong and not the usual chintzy ones that bend easily.
Next, this thing is massive. The tarp measures about 13′ long and 10′ wide at the corners when fully deployed. The poles are 8′ which some complained are too tall, but in my opinion, are necessary for the best shade coverage. Despite the deployed size, the tarp, poles, guy lines, and stakes pack down into a compact bag measuring 25″ x 7″ x 7″; about the size of a small tent. It’s really easy to fold, roll, and stuff everything into the bag.
The tarp rolls up nicely into a bag the size of a small tent. Fits perfectly in a medium Plano case
Finally, the setup options are endless. The Slumberjack tarp comes with 5 buckle straps on one end: 3 shorter straps attach to your roof rack and 2 longer straps allow the tarp to wrap over the vehicle and attach to your wheels. The other end supports the poles and guy lines. When attached to the car, the tarp can be configured as an A-frame shade or a canopy. Alternatively, the tarp can be pitched free-standing or strapped to a tree as an anchor point; just get creative with your guy lines and pole positions.
Direct Comparison – SJK vs. ARB
Side by side size comparison of SJK vs ARB
One weekend, I went camping with my buddy who runs an ARB awning and we did a side-by-side comparison. I wanted to outline the tradeoffs to help you decide which setup is best for your needs. When comparing the Slumberjack tarp and the ARB awning, I kept in mind different factors like setup time, ease of deploying, coverage, breakdown, and storage. After hanging out in the forest for a night with both of these set up side by side, I came up with a pros and cons list of the Slumberjack Tarp as it relates to an ARB awning.
- Size – Over twice the shade area of the ARB.
- Height – 96″ poles compared to 82.5″ maximum for the ARB. Tall people rejoice.
- Sturdiness and quality – Rigid and sturdy steel poles compared to flimsy aluminum poles.
- Modularity – Multiple setup options vs. being relegated to your car’s position.
- Protection from elements – Bring the sides of the tarp down to protect yourself from wind and rain.
- The adjustability of poles – ARB has telescopic legs, Roadhouse tarp is fixed at 96″.
- Size – Might not work great for smaller campsites.
- Setup/breakdown – Takes longer and some patience initially. It’s definitely easier to set up an ARB awning by yourself.
- No integrated lighting – Minor, but the easy fix is to hang a lantern on any of the loops or grommets along the tarp.
- Aesthetics – This thing doesn’t look as clean or cool as something mounted on your roof rack, but that’s not what I bought it for.
Two pole setup, better stability for windy conditions as seen here. Massive shade at 6PM
Overall, comparing a tarp to an awning is like apples to oranges. You should get what best suits your needs. Awnings are great for quick setup/breakdown on the move, while tarps are great for establishing shelter over your camp. If you mostly go wheeling and just need a quick setup for a lunch break, go with an awning. If you overland like I do and want to have a shelter to establish your base, go with a tarp.
One of the biggest selling points for a lot of Overlanding gear is convenience. Products nowadays boast flashy features that promise to help you enjoy camping sooner, rather than wasting time setting up. Are they cool as hell and make life so much easier? 100%. Are those features actually worth the price? Depends on who you talk to. But when it comes down to a concept as simple as establishing shade over your head, you kind of have to stop and think how silly it is to over-optimize on the convenience factor and miss the opportunity to sell practical and lasting products at a reasonable price.
I think Slumberjack knocked it out of the park with their Roadhouse Tarp.
Unparalleled coverage for a fraction of the cost, and all it takes is a little more work to set up. But if you made all the effort of packing your rig up and getting out into the middle of nowhere, you can definitely afford a little extra effort to set up an awesome portable shelter for your crew to gather under.
Bonus: Setup Tips
Configure however you want for a cozy camp.
If you do end up getting this tarp, read this so you can get going quicker. One of the main drawbacks of such a huge tarp is that it can get tricky to set up in the wind. A couple of tips to make your life easier:
- Pitching instructions
- Before unfolding the entire tarp, attach the buckle straps to your truck or a tree first. Having a strong anchor point will make the pole and guy line setup much easier.
- Tie your guy lines to the tarp and have your stakes at the ready before setting up the pole. It’ll be much easier to stabilize the pole if you have the guy line to pull on once it’s standing.
- Once your pole is in the grommet, extend the tarp to its full length, place the pole on the ground, and pull your guy line down and out. This will help maintain the tarp shape and allow the pole to stand independently while you work on getting the 2nd pole up.
- Make small adjustments as you go. Look at which direction the tarp seems to be more taut or slack, and move the pole(s) accordingly.