Fred’s Bed

Travelling in a VW Camper with a lively dog sometimes presents its challenges

Travelling in a VW Camper with a lively dog sometimes presents its challenges not least of which is getting him to go to bed and stay there until we want to get up. We have long since given up the notion of a lie in but it would at least be nice not to be woken or get up with the sunrise.

Fred has gone through several sleeping travelling arrangements since we got him. Like all dogs he likes an enclosed sleeping space overnight and indeed at home he has an indoor kennel built in to a utility cupboard. fullsizeoutput_15deHe also has a nice folding travel kennel that still comes with us if we go to stay in other peoples houses. At one time we did try travelling with him in this but it wasn’t popular so now he travels on the back seat with a view out of the window and he is happy to do that all day long. At first we had a large drive away awning with a bedroom section so we put his travel kennel in there but it could be cold and we fretted about him being outside the van. Then, because we hadn’t put the awning we tried using it in the van but it left zero space for us to get in and out of bed. Anyway we got rid of the large awning because it simply didn’t suit our style of travelling.

So for the past couple of years we have tried various versions of sleeping Fred in the passenger footwell with a soft basket and blankets. At first we had to restrain him to persuade him to say in there. IMG_0891Then we tried a mesh curtain to divide the cab area but he found his way through that. However for the last year or more he has pretty good and simply gone to bed there and stayed until 6 or 7 in the morning. That is until Le Mans this year when he took fright at the noise of campsite revelry outside and slept on our bed! We have sort of decided that it is OK if he goes to bed and stays there until 06:00 and then he can get on our bed but not into our sleeping bags. Something else we had to do with his bed arrangements was to drape blankets over his bed area as draughts or light will wake him.

Before we set of for 5 weeks in Norway we are determined to have a good go at making a secure bed area in the footwell that he will look upon as his own and stay in. We decided to make a foam base to make the most of the space, iron out the irregularities and provide some insulation with a tent like top that would provide the draft and light protection. And finally that would fold flat for travel and not require too much effort to put up.

We started with some 20mm dense foam floor mat cut into a main base with 2 pieces that would take up the shape of the seat base. On to this we stuck some foil backed form van insulation. This provides a stable base without lumps and bumps and that will retain warmth. Sue covered this with some of the left over material from the seat back and door cards and also made some sides with a bit of stiffening to form the base basket.

We had thought to make a tent frame structure but in the end we opted for a much simpler upside down bag supported by a tent frame rod that clips to the head rest. It means the the tend isn’t held rigid but it leaves plenty of room for Fred to move around, stand up and have a shake. Once he is in the tent his weight holds it down fine and tends to push the side out to maintain the space.

The whole thing folds flat into a 600mm2 bag along with his mat that goes on the seat when we are parked up and in his bed overnight. It will take a matter of seconds to put up and take down and takes no more space than his soft basket did once it is packed for travelling.

So here is hoping he makes a lot of use of it.

Our Awning

Having tried various products and looked around the market for our new van we have decided to make our own awning.

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If you have read my blog about our Awning Experiences you will realise why we have gone to the effort of making our own awning. It stemmed from our desire to have a simple fast up and down canopy that was versatile enought to shelter us from bad weather, give us shade and outdoor space in good weather and offer a bit of privacy on busy sites. Like all good designs the final result was a bit of an evolution and it may get the odd adaption in time. We often use it in conjunction with a Kyham pop up toilet / shower tent that serves as utility and drive away store and we take a Kyham winbreak with us for just in case.

So here I will explain what it is about and how we made it;

For the uprights we had already bought a few Robens telesopic tarp poles, these are about £15 each and readily available from a number of ebay stores. These work by extending them to the length you want and then twisting them to lock them. They are 950mm long and exted to 2300mm. That way you can level the canopy as you want. We have enough to do 5 uprights so the canopy fully extended but with a bit of a breeze.

In order to support the ridge I had already bought a fiberglass telescope ridge pole from an Isabella awning from an ebay trader. These extend quite a way so I had cut off a bit of excess and I bought some new quick release fittings for it. Since then I have found that our favourite tent material shop has started doing a nice telescopic aluminium ridge pole that looks like it would do the job for €17.

The next thing to look for was the fabric itself. On the internet we could find plenty of variation of PU coated ripstop nylon which, while it might have done the job, tends to be fragile and not wear well and is prone to leaking or condensation. It would need a lot of reinforcing and be difficult to sew. After a lot of research we found ESVO Camping Shop on the web. A Dutch tent maker and materials supplier. They have everything you need to make tents and awnings and they know what they are doing because they make their own qualty tents. After a few email conversations with them we settled upon some TenCate polyester fabric in 2 shades, a mottled grey for the main canopy and a plain grey for the drop front. It is quite heavy at 235gm/m2 but we ascetrained that Sue’s Singer sewing machine with big denim needled should be able to handle layers of heavier poyester tent material. The widths of the fabric are more than sufficient for our needs so we ordered 3m of each. Along with the fabric we ordered threads, reinforcement (that we didnt need in the end) eylets and a long open ended 8mm zip for the drop front.

While we were collecting materials togther another important consideration was the keder strip to connect the awning yto the van. We had VW California rails fitted to the new van, they look better than the Reimo ones and they are half the price. However the slot in them is slightly to big for the normal 6mm keder found on most awnings. VW sell a rubber insert that slides in and has a 6mm slot which would be great if you were going to use a drive away tent as you would have only one adapter to remove that is more stable than the figure of 8 type and won’t leak. as we were making our own awning we were able to fit the correct 7mm standard keder for the rail. It comes from Kayospruce in Fareham for a couple of quid a metre. It is worth mentioning that some people refer to it as kador and cant find it on the web whereas it should be keder and is easy to find. Also from Kayospruce we bought some more bungee hold downs.

Canopy Dimensions
You can make the canopy whatever length you line but we worked on 2650mm this pdf dodument gives the approximate dimensions out from the van and for the rurn down and drop front.

Assembling the canopy is simple but requires a bit of patience. Particularly the fabric we used needed 2 people to hold it and feed it IMG_1025through the sewing machine. First the main canopy making sure it was square we cut it 200mm longer than we needed and then folded both ends 50mm twice and sewed through all three layers of the fold. The first a few millimetres in from the first fold and again next to the second fold. At this stage we decided against using the strengthening tape as it seemed pretty robust without. Next we folded the outside long edge 75mm twice and again sewed through all three layers of the fold. This time the first about 25mm millimetres in from the first fold and again next to the second fold so that we left room to insert the zip. We cut the zip to length from the bottom and finished the cut end to stop the slider coming off. Then we inserted the zip into the 25mm left in the long fold and put 2 rows of stitching in to hold it.

To attach the keder we inserted the top unfolded long edge of the canopy between the 2 IMG_1027layers of the keder and put 2 rows of stitching along it to hold it. We trimmed the ends so that there is a fabric tag left to help pull the canopy through the awning rail and stitched and sealed it. Finally we inserted the 10mm eyelets. One 900mm, and another 1200mm to give us flexibility, away from the keder into the folded short edge . We put one in each of the keder tags, Lastly one into the folded edge in each outer corner and the middle of the long edge. It is worth getting a proper fabric punch rather than the eyelet kit to cut these thicknesses.

Next there is the drop front that zips on and off as needed. The method of assembly is similar except that instead of a keder it has the half of the zip and an extra hole along the bottom edge. We have made it 100mm high plus a short flap at the bottom to help close it to the ground.

As you can see it can be configured in a number of ways depending on our needs and the weather. Ordinarily as a porch it only requires 3 bungees along the long edge to hold it down but we also have 3 storm straps to use when it is a canopy or in strong winds. The ridge can be 900mm or 1200mm from the van and when we use the drop front it is pegged to the ground. Raising the ridge helps with rain run off and is necessary if we have it as a canopy. The fabric easily packs into a bag 600mm x 150mm, the poles into a bag 1200mm by 150mm and the pegs, bungees, mallet and so on into a small plastic box.

So there it is. We are pretty pleased with the finished result and at a couple of events we have attended several folk have admired it and asked where we got it from. And before anyone asks – no we aren’t going into production.

Awning Experiences

Over the 3 years we had our first van we learn’t a lot about awnings and what worked for us.

I am a big believer in keeping things minimal and I do like the idea of being able to pitch up quickly. So we started in 2013 with a simple arrangement, a Kyham Sun Canopy and a windbreak. They worked OK, they were small and lightweight to pack and simple to put up. However they didn’t afford much protection from the British climate and weren’t big on privacy when needed.

Sue decided that we need something that gave a bit more protection and we liked the look of an Outdoor Revolution Sun Canopy. From what we could see it looked a good shape and seemed to give sideways protection. It packed quite small and it wasn’t complicated to put up. Sadly it turned out to be a real shambles.

The first problem was that they hadn’t made it clear that it was designed for a long wheelbase van, we found others who had been caught out by this, so it overhang the van quite bit. Next, because the van was on 30mm lowers, the awning was too high which was exacerbated by the excess in the roof panel. And to add insult to injury we discovered, after discussing the importer, that they had actually been made wrong which made it pretty impossible to square up. We persevered with it for the summer thinking that we would rework it but in the end decided against that. Recently it was cut up for material, that is now our floor mat bag, the fittings and the bag is just the right size for our new home made awning.

Sue decided that what we needed was a lot of extra space and the ability to leave stuff on site while we left site. So next in 2014 came a Vango Kella II Air Beam drive away tent bought on a deal at T-Fest. They seemed like the thing to have, we had watched people putting the up and they seemed simple enough. We made good use of it but it has to be said that it was used mainly as a dumping ground and we either sat in the van or if the weather was nice sat outside.

Again it was not a good fit for the van, they now do a lower version specifically to cater for the van market, so it was always difficult to get square. Worse still because of its size and all the bits of keder strip and figure of 8 in the wind it would walk out of the roof rail. Also when it rained there was a constant drip between the bits of figure of 8. It packed OK but it was a very large bag that needed up taking up a lot of floor space in the middle of the van.

Eventually it dawned on us that the most of our travels were just that, travels, and we weren’t pitching up anywhere for more than a few nights. So while planning our Scandinavia trip we looked at how we would cope with one and two night stops but still planned to take the Vango for longer stops. We went back to our simple Kyham Sun Canopy and worked out a way of making it more useful.

We could still use it as a canopy but by adding a couple of extra eyelets we could fold the canopy down to shelter the door and afford a little privacy. For 4 weeks in Scandinavia this worked a treat. It did just what we wanted, it packed small and took up very little space and was up within minutes of parking. We used it every night on our Scandinavian  tour apart from 3 stops when we used the Vango and one when we stopped in a friends garden.

One time when we used the Vango we had to take it down because it was flexing too much in the wind. And then when we weren’t using it we ended up storing it on the drivers seat. It just took up space so that was the end of it and it was sold as soon as we got home.

By now we were planning our new van and a new awning along the lines of our Kyham adaption. It was going to have to be home made to get it just right. We bought a Kyham pop up toilet / shower tent to use as a utility. It doesn’t take up much space, goes up and down quickly, easily holds all of the kit to make space in the van and can still be used as a makeshift loo with a bucket if need be on a wild camp. And of course we can drive away and leave it on our pitch – its probably more secure than a drive away tent after all who would want to knick you loo?

I bought some Robens telescopic tarp poles instead of the Kyham steel ones and found an Isabella telescopic fiberglass ridge pole on eBay. So at Busfest in 2016 we tried our modified canopy, windbreak and utility tent and it worked great. Shelter from the rain, wind and sun and privacy on a busy campsite. If it had any draw back we would like a couple of hundred millimetres more between the van and the down turn and a slightly heavier weight fabric.

Size of the packed awning and utility is important to us. Even though it only takes minutes to put up there may be occasions when we are stopping at an Aire or stealth camping when we don’t want to advertise. In order to do that we need to be able to get everything into the van with the roof down and still get the bed down and Fred’s basket in. With this arrangement we can do that with space to spare.

And that was it. The basic Kyham canopy went with the van when we sold it so then it was on to the new one…..