I’ve now learned I prefer vehicles with rear hatches, but there are certainly benefits to having a rig with a rear door. Having the spare mounted to it from the factory is the most obvious plus, but it also allows for a table to be installed.
I was largely unimpressed with what I was finding that was FJ-specific. The rear cargo area is already tight, and I didn’t like the idea of mounting anything thick to the door that would further limit cargo space. That pushed me to craft something on my own.
I never planned on splitting wood or driving u-joints out of driveshafts with this table. It’s just for making a cup of coffee or doing some simple cooking during a quick stop. This lightweight design has led me to call it a sandwich table.
Construction was pretty straightforward. I started with a small piece of 1/8″ aluminum I had laying around. I sized it to clear my paper towels and charging ports.
This had the advantage of also allowing it to clear the ladder for the rooftop tent.
The aluminum swings on a continuous hinge. I was originally going to buy a new hinge, but my dad had an ancient brass section laying around. It was really cool to me to be able to use something he’d just happened to have been hanging on to all these years. The hinge is riveted to the aluminum and secured to the interior panel with coarse-thread wood screws.
To support the table, I punched holes in the outer corners and used some 550 cord running from the door panel out to the table at about 45°. The right side is tied off at a set length to allow the table to fold down 90°. The left side remains adjustable so that the table can be secured when in the up position. Adjustments are made with cord locks. I happened to have a set that came with a pair of Keen shoes. They were terrible at keeping my laces tight, but they’ve worked great for this table. Comparable locks are available in a variety of colors for less than $1 each.
Behind the interior panel, the 550 cord is run through a fender washer and knotted up securely (by my buddy, Jay). The washers are glued to the interior panel to keep the rattles down.
It’s not the prettiest or the most durable option, but for throwing together a PBJ or slicing up some limes for our Pacifico, it has been exactly what we needed!
Following up on our previous comparison of awnings from Smittybilt and ARB, last weekend we were able to check out an offering from Tepui on a friend’s JKU.
Neil first purchased a tent from Tepui and fell in love with the orange. The tent was first mounted to the JK roofrack before Neil made his incredible offroad trailer. In the near future, we’ll try to put together a walk-around video where he can tell you more about his builds.
After buying the tent, he became interested in adding some shade. At the time he was shopping for an awning, orange was not one of the colors being offered on the website, so he gave Tepui a call to see if an orange awning was a possibility. He got some great news! Not only could they craft awnings in a variety of colors, they could also make them in different sizes as well. Tepui’s website only lists 4-foot and 6-foot sizes, but Neil wound up with an 8′ x 8′ that is color-matched to his tent.
The joints on the Tepui and Smittybilt look identical. Both are metal and feature reinforcement ribs in the same areas. The aluminum channels on the Smitty and Tepui appear identical as well. Tepui includes a much-appreciated finishing touch by placing large plastic acorn covers over every nut. Tepui has also added reinforcement material at all 4 corners. We think this will substantially increase durability. If the fabric was ever going to tear, it would start at a corner. Doubling-up the material there is thoughtful engineering.
The Tepui pole pins aren’t as long as the Smittybilt, but are still of a different design than the ARB.
Tepui has designed their covers differently than both Smittybilt and ARB. The seams are not taped, but they are overlapped and double-stitched. No daylight shown through and the superior quality was very apparent.
In a stroke of genius, Tepui didn’t carry the cover’s zippers around the corners. The cover is made just slight longer than necessary, allowing for a straight opening. This makes the cover much easier to close than the Smittybilt and ARB models. Zippers on those have to make turns and require substantial force to do so. It should also be noted that Tepui includes much more mounting hardware than Smittybilt or ARB.
For more from Neil, check out his trailer build over on Expedition Portal.
Because of the quality of components used, I hate to admit it, but one night last week I woke up at 3 am and this was the first thing that popped into my head.
I guess that’s how inventions come to you, like standing on your toilet to hang a clock, then falling and hitting your head on the sink.
The only thing I hadn’t worked out yet was what to use as the “beading” that would keep the material in the track. I poked around in my dad’s garage first, simply because he has 40 years’ worth of WTF collected there, compared to my garage, which only has 8 years’ worth.
Leaving his house, I decided to pick up some 1/4″ pex. You’ve most likely seen it before as the clear plastic water line behind your refrigerator that feeds your ice maker. I still think that would have worked, but I forgot to stop at the store on the way home. Walking into my garage, I remembered I still have hundreds of feet of coaxial cable from our old apartment.
For the extension itself, I used a thin tarp I carry whenever we’re out on the trail. It could be used to lay in the mud under a rig, strung between trees for shelter, or whatever. It was cheap though, so it’s one you wouldn’t worry about damaging or discarding, making it perfect for just such an experiment.
This morning, I set about putting things together. I don’t know that I’ll ever use it, but it came out just like I’d pictured it. Proof of concept achieved. I call it a success.
A reader wrote in today to ask about our experiences with our Smittybilt awning.
“I found your website through expedition portal researching the Smittybilt tent and awning. The tent seems to be well received by most who purchase it, but what about the awning? Hows the structure and material? Have you compared it to other brands?”
Well, he’s right about the rooftop tent. Our Smittybilt 2783 has certainly served us well and we’re always looking forward to spending another night in it.
Our side awning is a Smittybilt 2784, which has been an invaluable piece of kit. We have enjoyed many days and nights under it, sheltering us from the the sun and rain, covering our cooking from falling leaves or snow, or just giving us a shady place to read or relax in a hammock.
The Smittybilt is the larger of our two awnings, at roughly 8’6″ wide and 6’6″ long. Originally placed on the driver side, we found that the awning provided significantly more shade on the passenger side when were backed up to the shore, as is the norm in the Outer Banks. The following photos were taken about a year apart, but at roughly the same time of year and same time of day. The longer shadow clearly speaks for itself.
As we’ve mentioned before, prior to the FJ, we had a Jeep Cherokee. One of the only things we’ve missed from the XJ was the rear hatch. In seconds it provided both protection from the elements and access to the rear cargo area from any angle.
The FJ, instead, has a rear door. That certainly has its own benefits, but immediate shelter isn’t one of them. We decided to add a smaller awning to rear to take the place of the absent hatch. Smittybilt didn’t offer an awning in this size, so we went with an ARB 814301. It is approximately 4’6″ x 6’6″, so it certainly provides more cover than a rear hatch would, although it takes slightly longer to deploy.
Last fall, when cleaning the covers and treating the fabric, we took the time to snap a few photos and record some differences between the two awnings. So what did we find?
The first thing we noted was the material the joints are made of. The ARB uses plastic, while the Smittybilt is metal. So far there has been no difference in durability, but I’d certainly trust the metal to be stronger, especially in cold temperatures.
Also of note is the seams on the covers. After washing and rinsing both awnings, the ARB was quite wet where water had penetrated the stitching. We noticed daylight was visible through some of the needle holes. The Smittybilt cover is taped on the inside over the seams. This appears to substantially prevent water intrusion. The amount of water pressure present from a spray nozzle is much higher than nature itself is likely to provide, and the ARB has never been damp when we’ve opened it. If one was concerned, it could be better sealed easily with some Seam Grip or other sealer.
The next point is of minor consequence, but the engineering is a bit confusing. On the Smittybilt, the pins at the end of the poles, both horizontal and vertical, are about 3 times as long as those on the ARB. The outer channel on the Smittybilt is drilled all the way through to provide two holes for the pins to rest in, plus a third for a length of cord that allows you to stake the awning down. The ARB is only drilled through two of the 3 channel fins, but the pole pins are only long enough to make it through the first hole. The application of rotational pressure to the horizontal pins would be undesirable for any awning, but one would suspect that the single fin on the ARB would be more susceptible to damage at that point.
Another peculiarity of the ARB awning is what appears to be anti-abrasion pads at the front corners. These pads and the rest of the fabric seem to be dissimilar materials and it appears that some of the coating from the primary fabric has stuck to these pads. Does it matter? Probably not. Does it seem odd though? Certainly.
Lastly is a final point of value. However simplistic, the Smittybilt awning did come with some basic mounting hardware, including L-brackets, u-bolts, and examples of how to mount it to roof racks, baskets, etc. We purchased the Smittybilt awning prior to the rooftop tent and originally had it secured via clamp-style awning mounts. After adding the tent, we needed to locate the awning a bit lower to clear the tent base. The brackets included with the awning worked perfectly.
The ARB awning came with the nuts and bolts that are compatible with most mounts, but that was it. It was nice to again have a use for the excellent Fourtreks modular awning mounts we’d originally used on the larger awning.
Maintenance on both awnings has been minor. Twice a year we’ve scrubbed the covers clean with soap and water, then treated them with 303 Aerospace Protectant to minimize UV damage. The awning fabrics have always kept us perfectly dry, but we’ve still given them a quick once-over with Scotchguard Heavy Duty to help with water repellency.
The Smittybilt has gotten far more use because of its size, mounting location, and now starting its fourth year of being on our rig. We may look into a Foxwing in the future, but right now we’re quite content with what we’ve got. Despite the handful of negative points concerning the ARB, both awnings have been completely reliable, and you can expect an awning from either manufacturer will give you many years of trouble-free use.
It started snowing last Wednesday night. It’s Monday night now. We were never homebound, but the rest of town is finally starting to thaw. Back to work tomorrow. It was fun while it lasted!
From time to time, here at ОѴƦԼχƝƊ we will also feature the work of others we think you’ll enjoy seeing. The first instance of this will be from our friend Adam, founder of Overland History.
Adam recently put together a walk-around of his Jeep Cherokee. He’s done a great job with his build and we think you’ll enjoy seeing the careful thought and excellent craftsmanship that has gone into his rig.
ОѴƦԼχƝƊ comes from the plate on our FJ. It is meant to describe the type of build we’ve done on our FJ, and to describe what we do with it – overlanding. With any vanity plate, you’re left at the mercy of your own creativity and whatever is available. In my mind’s eye, the X kinda looked like VA.
But what do I know about aesthetics? I can’t even be trusted to take a photo that isn’t blurry. Either way, it gave us a short, unique domain name for the web site, and that is always nice.
Sorry I asked. Now, what is overlanding?
The definition I’ve decided on is: vehicle-based self-reliant adventure travel.
Wow, you really like hyphenated words. But what does what you said even mean?
You drive around and live out of your vehicle. From food to tools, you carry whatever you might need and resupply along the way. You stop to smell the roses. The journey is as important as the destination. It’s about getting behind the wheel and crafting your own adventure in the outdoors.
The outdoors… Well what are you doing with a website, Nature Boy?
We just wanted somewhere to host our pictures, tell our stories about the places we’ve been or plan to go, and to offer reviews on the gear we’ve been using.
Uh, okay. But do you have any clue how you want to end this article?
After publishing at 3 am and getting a good morning’s rest, I have figured out how to end this article! I’m going to share a few links where you can learn more about overlanding. These are sites I visit frequently and have garnered tons of useful info from.
Expedition Overland – These are the guys to beat. Hands down, there is no better production quality for overland vehicles than the content this crew is putting out. They have explored various parts of the American southwest, gone as far north in Alaska as possible, and have recently returned from Chile, about halfway through South America.
Expedition Portal – ExPo is an online community of overlanders, tending toward the more experienced crowd. Lots of Q&A, excellent info, route sharing, and more. My favorite thread there is from Kenny J, who sets out with an AstroVan and a dirt bike on a solo exploration of the American west.
Overland Bound – Michael and Corey started out just telling stories like us and ended up building one of the largest and friendliest online overland communities. Their site is more our speed, with most people just getting started with overlanding. What the members there lack in experience is more than made up for in enthusiasm.
In 2009, I bought a Jeep Cherokee. On paper, it was exactly what we needed. 4 doors, four wheel drive, 4.0, double-digit gas mileage, able to tow a trailer with our ATVs, and a fantastic platform on which to build a new rig. When it worked, it was great. In between problems, we did get a few trips to the mountains and the Outer Banks out of it. The two most notable trips were when I asked Shannon to marry me on Oregon Inlet, and taking Dad back to where he’s from to visit family.
Fast forward to 2015. We’d been
building fixing the Jeep for 6 years. It was full of new parts, upgrades, customizations, and electrical fixes. Suddenly in March, it decided to begin shedding its floorboards. Well, really it was just a couple holes in the driver-side footwell, but Neil Young and anyone who does bodywork will tell you: rust never sleeps. I can do a great impression of a mechanic, but welding isn’t something I’ve done before. On top of that, I had zero interest in performing the prep work necessary to permanently solidify the floor in what had been, in all honesty, an absolute lemon for us. I cut out the worst of the rust, treated what remained, and patched the holes to keep the carpet dry. Other issues arose as well. If you have an unreliable vehicle and are on the fence about a AAA membership, I can confirm it’s worth every penny. It got to the point where every wrecker driver seemed to know where my dad’s garage was.
We were really about 3 years out from being ready to buy something else, but the time had come to replace the Heep. This situation gave me pause. With the variety of choices out there, what would best meet our needs and improve on the aspects where the Jeep fell short? The answer came surprisingly quickly. I had been in love with FJ Cruisers since seeing the concept model in 2003. We began shopping in earnest, but we were having a hard time finding what we wanted. One was rusty. One was 2WD. Others were way overpriced or ugly colors. Feeling disappointment over the limited inventory, I told Shannon I’d settle for a 4Runner, Taco, or Xterra. She said, “I don’t want you to settle. You’ve wanted an FJ since you first saw one. That’s what you’re getting!”
In May, we ended up finding an 07 in Richmond. It was great shape, with only 80,000 miles on it. It had A-TRAC, the rear locker, the dash-top accessories, and a roof rack. Those were all the must-haves on our list. The seller had installed rock rails, a rear receiver, a Rough Country lift, and new tires. The only issue I could find was that the OEM door speakers were blown. I was in love! The test drive went great, and Shannon and I went home to work out our finances. I texted back and forth with the seller to finalize the price and keep him updated on our plans to return. The banks and the DMV made the process a pain in the ass, but the seller was great. I still send him texts every so often when we go somewhere cool.
The FJ has been nothing short of amazing. The only items unexpectedly needing service where the jamb switches that cut on the interior lights when you open the door. We’ve added a snorkel, a large transmission cooler, a rooftop tent, side and rear awnings, auxiliary lighting front and rear, LED dome lights, underhood LEDs, an upgraded battery, a Cobra CB with a Firestik antenna, a passenger seat armrest, some additional creature comforts, and 30,000 miles of making memories.
After the years of problems with the Jeep, in the FJ we’ve found reliability. We’ve found equal parts of comfort and capability. We’ve found adventure. And we’ve found our Serenity.