ARB Awning – by thelittleredbus

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The awning is an essential part of the van, affording shade from the sun, but also shelter from the rain and snow. It keeps you dry if you’re cooking outdoors or BBQing, but also stops the rain coming in through the sliding door. We really do use it a lot.

We considered several different options and sizes, but settled on the ARB because of its simplicity and the rugged appearance. Many of the other options looked ok for summer camping and sheltering from the sun, but the ARB looked strong enough to cope with rain and wind. The size is 2.5m x 2.5m and fits nicely along the length of the van without obstructing the cab doors and reaches out far enough to give a good sized covered area.

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It fits snuggly against the van when fitted using gutter mounted Fiamma awning brackets, although we had to remove the excess thread from the bolts to prevent it catching our pop top seal. The cover is robust and waterproof.

It has two integral telescopic arms that engage with self contained extending legs. Velcro straps attach the edges to the arms and guylines tension it all.

We like it a lot, it’s brilliant in the rain and with two guy ropes on each corner it resists all but the real hoolies with strong winds. We leave it up most of the time, but if winds are forecast to be more than a very stiff breeze, say 10 – 15mph, we put it away.

But….. the niggles:

1. In the rain you must ensure that you drop one leg lower than the other to ensure the rain runs off. If you don’t, the canvas fills with water and sags terribly. It will shrink back after it dries, but it then leaks along the seams.

2. The telescopic arms and the front edge can be used to suspend a room from it (optional), providing a dry, wind proof outdoor space, that’s useful for kids to play in etc. You can also fit a windbreaker along these arms. But… if the breeze is strong and sustained, then the aluminium arms will slowly bend and then refuse to telescope back down for storage. You can easily bend them back, but they will look wonky and it’s difficult to get it right.

3. You can’t easily put it up without help as you need a helper to hold it whilst you tension the arms and lock the legs etc. It can be done though.

Don’t get me wrong, we still think we made the right choice and would definitely recommend this awning, but like many things, it’s not perfect.

Our awning was bought from a company via eBay, but they are widely available from 4×4 stockists and from Camper Van Culture.

Really Useful Boxes – by thelittleredbus

I looked long and hard at the assortment of very expensive cargo boxes that are out there for Land Rovers and other 4x4s and they all struck me as expensive for what is just a box. Granted they need to be rugged, have water and dust proof lids which stay on and ideally be lockable.

Looking for an alternative, I found that a British Company called “The Really Useful Box” company made a huge range of similar boxes, using recycled plastics. They are available in translucent white or solid black, which is what we opted for. The 50 litre boxes are about the same size as the others such as Wolf boxes and the 65 litre box has the same footprint but is taller. They have snug fitting lids which have so far proved to be water tight when sat on the roof rack since summer.

The lids overlap the edges and the sides are straight. They are held on by yellow plastic carrying handles which lock positively over the lid, even with webbing restraining straps through them. Where they overlap (on the 50 litre box at any rate), there is a double lip that would allow you to drill a hole each side for a padlock, which is what I have done. The manufacturer makes some tell tale tabs that fit into the handles but they don’t so much lock the box, rather they indicate if it’s been tampered with.

As well as the big cargo boxes they make a huge assortment of smaller storage boxes, suitable for use inside and can hold tools, first aid kits, spares, odds and ends. I’ve stipulated that any storage boxes in the van must have properly fitting dust proof lids and be stackable and rugged. These fit the bill.

I’ll update this once we’ve had some bad weather, but the recent rain and wind hasn’t permeated into the boxes on the roof.

Price £15 upwards (for 50 litre) with some better deals on eBay for twin packs etc. This makes them about half the price of the other makes.

Available from B&Q, Amazon and Staples to name a few, also eBay.

Fire Extinguisher PFE-1 / PFE-3 – by thelittleredbus

So the story goes that the International Space Station put out a request for proposal, to design a non-toxic fire extinguisher that could be used in a small space on electrical, solid and fuel fires. Enter the PFE series of extinguishers. They come in several different combinations and under several different brand names. Unlike BCF or powder, there’s no residue afterwards and the extinguishing material doesn’t kill you when it gets heated!

The ones we have are labelled FireTool, First Alert and the triple is a Turkish version. They all follow the same format though. They come with a vehicle mount and screws. There’s a safety catch in the form of a ring and a trigger. Simply pull the ring, point at the fire either through the little engine inspection hatch or stuff it up under the dashboard (they’re probably the mostly likely places for a fire…) and squeeze the trigger. They are a one shot deal and once triggered there’s no going back.

In Recce we have two PFE-1s and for now we have retained a powder bottle, but it’s diesel and therefore less prone to combusting on the side of the M6… I hope! Loki on the other hand is petrol, hence we have a PFE-1 and a PFE-3 triple, plus an old powder one for if all else fails.

Thankfully I haven’t had a reason to test if they work (thank you!) but they came recommended by a fellow Syncro owner who happens to be a firefighter! Good enough for me.

They vary in price from £20 to £50 depending where you look, but I’ve bought our PFE-1s for £20 and the PFE-3 was £34.99, from eBay and Amazon. Shop around.

Sequoia Table Leg System – by thelittleredbus

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So you want a pedestal leg table in your van but don’t want to cut a hole in the floor? Having a Syncro I really didn’t want to have even more ways for the water to get inside the van. Enter the Sequoia system. It is a unique system that uses a low profile bayonet style floor plate which you screw down and an interlocking leg mechanism. The leg drops into the floor plate and the three lugs engage with it when you rotate the leg to secure the table.

Oops, should have cleaned the floor, but we’ve been off roading and the van is full of mud… sorry. And those screws need replacing 😳

The leg is slightly thinner than a standard Fiamma (or equivalent) leg, but has an adapter on the top to allow it to engage with a standard table fitting (although it also comes with one). This means you can still use your table top with your other Fiamma accessories and legs, such as a tripod base if you want to dismount the table top and use it freestanding outdoors. The Sequoia locking mechanism means you can’t use the Sequoia leg with anything other than the floor plate. The floor plate has a tight fitting cover to keep dirt out and prevent you stubbing your toes on it, plus it’s very low profile. The red marks were added by me, just so you can see if it is coming unlocked – this doesn’t usually happen unless you spin the table anti-clockwise and being a tight fit maybe the leg could rotate with it. It’s just my own precaution.

In our van it’s not quite as stable as a through floor mount, but that will depend on well how you bolt it down. Our is screwed into the chequerplate floor protection, a legacy from fire truck days, which is fine but has a little flex. You could even have several different positions using multiple floor mounts – after all you’re not cutting any holes and the floor plates are available separately. It’s a good piece of kit and we are very happy with it.

It is available in several different finishes from several outlets (Google it), but we bought ours from Chippys Workshop (nice guys and they also make funky table tops to order). Price around £55.

The SheWee – by fionabucket 

To be honest, when I saw that Shaun was going to do a review on the Shewee I was intrigued. I looked forward to reading a considered, intelligent in depth report. But no, apparently I have to do this one. So here goes…

Rubbish! Complete and utter rubbish!

Not the Shewee you understand, but me. I remember this product being pitched on Dragon’s Den and thinking it seemed like a genius idea. I’m still sure it is. Many many women use it with great success, sadly I’m not one of them.

“Practise first in the shower” they said. Seemed like a plan, so I did. In no time at all I was stood up, weeing like a big boy. Absolutely delighted. Couldn’t wait to get out and use it in the great outdoors. Then I found the fatal flaw. It’s obvious really, I’m generally naked while in the shower. Not when I’m camping though. So when the big moment came and I trotted off to hide behind the nearest bush, well there was trouser trouble. In short, they got wet.

Undeterred, I practised some more in the shower (to be honest, I got a bit of a kick out of it) before trying outdoors again. I tried it all, different stances, different trousers, you name it, I tried it. Wet underwear, wet clothes, wet shoes, even wet hands on one occasion. I came to the conclusion that the only answer was a short skirt and no knickers. Not a good look when clambering into a rather tall van!

Make no mistake, I’m not not criticising the Shewee. Not one bit, as I said above the are plenty others use one with no problems. But for me, all I can say is pants! Sopping wet pants!

Kernow Light Guards

If you intend to take your van off roading or green laning, then your lights will be very vulnerable to damage. Given that these lights are now becoming very hard to get and command high prices, a set of light guards make good sense. This review covers the light guards for the VW T3 / T25 and fittings for other vehicles may differ.

These light guards are relatively inexpensive, well made from metal and hot-dipped, plastic coated and come with all the fittings. They are quick and easy to fit, with the rears using the existing screws that hold the light cluster in. The fronts require you to drill three small holes into your grill for each and screw in the plastic cable P clips that hold the guard in place.

So, what do we think of them? They look quite good when installed, but care should be taken not to damage the protective plastic coating, as any crack will allow water in and they will soon rust and flake off the coating. So when fitting the rear set, take care with the supplied aluminium spacers, spending some time to deburr them and remove sharp edges. Don’t over tighten them and consider replacing your tail light screws with zinc coated or stainless steel. The fronts are easier as the P clips are plastic and there’s little risk of damage during installation.

I would also recommend thoroughly checking them over after any off-roading and after green laning, especially where bushes have hit the light guards and act quickly to repair any damage. They will protect against small bushes and shrubs striking the lenses, but will not stop stones or bigger branches. To protect against stones they need an acrylic sheet over or behind them.

The main downside of them is the attachment method for the front guards. Because they attach to the plastic grill, they are only as strong as the grill and its attachment to the van. If they get snagged, there’s a high risk they will damage the grill.  I’d like them to fit to the metal work, although I can’t see how that would be achieved. In their current configuration and with the plastic coating they are quite light duty. If there was a heavy duty set available, which wrapped around and fitted to the bodywork, I’d fit those in preference.

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They are available through eBay in black or white and come in square, round and South African twin headlight versions and other vehicles are available too.

Camper Van Culture Acrylic Light Protectors (Square Headlight)

Having reviewed the Kernow Light Guards (KLG), I decided to further protect our headlights from stones. They are becoming increasingly rare and expensive, so hang the expense, I’ll do it. Whilst at it I decided to fit some mesh to protect the radiator, but more on that later.

The KLGs are pretty light duty and will only stop lighter brush and branches. They certainly won’t stop stones flicked up from the road. CVC offer a set of well made, crystal clear covers that simply clip into the headlight recess on the radiator grill. They take minutes to fit and allow the KLGs to remain in place.

Once your done, clean the headlights as you won’t be able too once the grill is refitted and fit the grill to the van. Not much else to say really. Nice quality and easy to fit. Absolutely crystal clear too, so there should be no light degradation. Time will tell how they stand up to the rigours of travelling, but they look hopeful.

CVC – T3 Headlamp Protectors

I did take the time to fit some aluminium mesh, simply by zip tying it to the reverse of the grill, taking time to cut around the clips etc. Hopefully this will also stop stones hitting the radiator and making holes.

Expedition Roof Rack

So, several people have asked for information on the roof rack. I wasn’t going to cover it as it’s a home-brew, self made version of an expedition roof rack. But seeing as how custom built roof racks are so astonishingly expensive, I have decided to explain how I made it.

The roof rack is an eBay Aluminium 4×4 roof rack, pretty much the cheapest around.

Roof Rack

The rack is incredibly lightweight and easy to assemble. But, firstly I would throw away the feet, they’re ok but on a T3 roof they are at the limit of their reach and I found they sagged quite badly. Secondly, the structure is very light and the transverse bars at the front and rear of the rack don’t take being kneeled on by a 120kg man! So, to improve access , I removed the rear one. The front one however, I kept as it provides protection for the solar panel, lifting overhanging branches over the edge of the panel.

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Having removed the feet, I needed a method to mount it. Firstly, if you have a fibreglass pop top like we do, then you need something to attach the rack to and to distribute the load. So you could make something yourself if you have access to metal bending facilities, but given the effort and cost, I utilised the Westfalia pop top brackets made by Camper Van Culture. Ours are very heavy duty, but CVC have now produced a lighter version. They simply sit in the rain gutter when the roof is down, spreading the load, especially when you climb up to load the roof rack. They are bolted through the fibreglass and have beefy spreader plates on the inside and stainless steel fittings. Take some time to align them correctly before drilling holes and you won’t have a set in the wrong place…… 😩.

Roof Rack Brackets

I then bolted the roof rack through a set of roof bars, just like normal cars use. I bolted through, but you could use U bolts and bolt around the bars instead. I used CVCs aluminium bars, but any generic ones from your friendly car accessory store will also work. Just ensure the bars are for gutter mounting as the feet are needed to work with the brackets.

Roof Bars

Now you can play around with the configuration. I wanted a solar panel and somewhere to store either another spare wheel or several cargo boxes, dry bags, etc. To secure the cargo, I bolted on a set of Unwin cargo tracks from eBay again and bought a selection of cargo ring fittings. The fittings are removeable and reconfigurable, so are very versatile.

Unwin Cargo Track

The solar panel is a rigid 120w Biard panel from eBay (no surprise) and as you can see from the pictures, it all fits very nicely on the roof using extruded aluminium L section and bolts / pop rivets.

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Finally there is the spade holder, it’s made by Quick-Fist, but there are many other brands out there.

Quick Fist

Everything is bolted up using marine grade stainless steel nuts and bolts, or aluminium pop rivets. The storage boxes are the Really Useful Boxes reviewed above and the straps are generic cargo straps from your load DIY or hardware store.

Points to note:

1. I have imposed a 50 – 60kg cargo limit for the roof which is well inside the roof rack  and bar limits. But I am considering the strength of the fibre glass. I do not load or unload unless it’s fully down on the gutters. If it needs significant work I will remove it, do the work and refit it.

2. It gets significantly more difficult to raise the roof, especially for Fiona. So I have fitted a roof assist kit, which is just a set of HD gas rams. Ours are from Jack Bombay in the US, but you can get lift kits in the UK or from eBay. However, if there’s nothing on the roof, it makes closing the roof a practice ground for a trapeze artist!

Roof Lift Assist Kit – Jack Bombay

3. The roof rack significantly increases your height, especially when loaded…. don’t forget it when entering ferries or passing under low bridges or entering underground car parks!

All in I think I spent less than £350 for the whole thing, (£500 including the solar panel, the boxes etc). Much less than many of the other offerings available. Plus it’s exactly how I wanted it.

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Rocky Mountain Wheel Carrier

CVC Solar Powered Skylight

Webasto x100 Diesel Cooker

GoWesty Pop Top Roof Tent

COBB Oven

Jetboil Flash

Generic Fibreglass Waffle Boards

Britparts Recovery Boards

TMaxx Portable Air Compressor

Mr D’s Thermal Cooker

Anything else we think of….