The three most precious resources on an overland vehicle trip are fuel, water, and shade. (Plus coffee.) (And an ample cooled beer stash.) Friendship also makes it more fun. I guess it’s a soft “three.” Anyway, MoonShade’s $350 awning does a fine job helping with two of them but its real value proposition is portability.
How does an awning provide more than just shade? Well! If you have shade and somebody else doesn’t, invite them out of the sun and a new friend shall be made in short order. Once it feels OK to stand within six feet of somebody again, at least.
(Full Disclosure: MoonShade sent me an awning to test and asked me to send it back when I’m done testing it. I’m seriously considering sending them money for it instead because I really like this thing. But also, I don’t feel like hiking back to the post office.)
(Testing Conditions: I set it up off a random dirt track in Mono County, CA while my wife and I ate lunch. Probably about 85 degrees ambient, sunny, maybe 6,000 feet above sea level. Very dry.)
Awnings really do become precious on camping trips, though. If you’re in the desert, a reprieve from direct sunlight can increase your endurance for the outdoors dramatically. In places that are not Southern California, something like this can keep the rain off your head, too.
There are lots of overland awning options out there, and the MoonShade isn’t the cheapest. But after a casual field test, I think this offers a good balance of attributes and would be a solid investment if you spend a lot of time hanging out around vehicles outdoors.
The MoonShade is an awning that’s mounted off the side of a vehicle, like a bird wing. Unlike many other vehicle awnings, instead of retracting into a sheath that you’d keep hard-mounted on your rig all the time, this one folds into a little bag you can easily move between vehicles and stash in a tiny slice of cargo space. Now that I think about it, you could easily mount this MoonShade on anything you can stick a magnet or a suction cup to.
The MoonShade setup means you do lose the instant-out convenience of a hard-mounted retractable awning, but you also lose “having a big tube-thing mounted to your roof all the time,” too. It’s cool to be able to bring this awning over to a friend’s car, or a rental. It’s a huge boon for me personally since I’m often (in a non-pandemic world) traveling somewhere far and then picking up a vehicle to start a trip with. For example, I could have thrown this in with my luggage and used it in Africa when I went out there to drive the Defender and 79-Series Cruiser. That would have been awesome.
The MoonShade unit I tested had been used before I think. It already had dirt on it when I unfurled it for the first time. (It’s also possible the spot I opened it at was dustier than I realized.) But none of the materials seemed worse for wear, regardless. All the stitches and mounting clips on the shade itself feel solid, and the support sticks, or tension poles as they’re actually called, are all robust enough to seem trustworthy.
The poles are all aluminum and not quite as impressive as the ones that came with my high-end Kelty tent, but I didn’t get the feeling they’d be liable to break any time soon. The guy lines are decent, and the storage bag feels like it’ll survive quite a few tossings into your vehicle’s cargo area.
With a quick glance at the instructions, I was able to get the MoonShade from in-the-box to up-and-at-’em in the same amount of time it took my travel companion to make two sandwiches and assemble two Helinox chairs. (Pretty fast.)
If you’ve ever put a tent up, you’ll be able to get this thing operational in minutes without looking at the instruction sheet.
It goes up much more quickly than a standalone awning, like the kind that has four legs and doesn’t need any vehicle for mounting. It’s only slightly more arduous to assemble than one of those slide-out awnings, though if it were raining, I’d really be annoyed about getting wet while snapping the tension poles together.
The only real decision-making you need to do when you mount the MoonShade up is where exactly you’re going to mount it to your vehicle. The kit comes with suction cups that you can stick to a window or panel of aluminum, then use provided carabiners to clip the cups to the awning. However, it also comes with two extremely powerful magnets with loops on the end. These bad boys clamp to a vehicle’s steel exterior panels and give you rock-solid mounting points to clip the awning to. Fords aren’t all aluminum, so I went with the magnets to put the awning next to this Ranger.
Whichever car-side connection you picked, you take the two tent poles and put them at opposite ends. A middle pole is provided in case you want extra support in the center, and there are guy lines you can run from the awning’s corners to the ground if you’re really worried about it blowing away.
Now, the MoonShade measures out to be about nine feet by seven feet. That’s a bit longer than the cab of a four-door Ranger, so I had two options: Hook up the awning from one end, and the middle, to the truck and use the tent poles normally, or have the awning be sloped with one connector on the truck cab roof and one on the top of the bedside. I opted for the latter because it’d be a good test of how much headroom the awning could provide while being suboptimally positioned.
Even with this awkward mount, the MoonShade was a pretty nice provider of cover and plenty high enough to stand under. The main tent poles are height-adjustable too, so you can alter the angle of the roof if you want.
The MoonShade is pretty self-explanatory once you pop the box open. My only real suggestion of significance would be to be very careful with the magnetic mounts, they are ridiculously strong! I slapped one on the 2020 Ford Ranger’s light bar and I was deemed worthy of ruling Camelot when I finally ripped it free.
Also: Be careful when you make adjustments to the suction cup mounts, the little nut can fall out easily.
You can buy a super-basic portable shade for under $100, but anything you get at that price will be bulky and clunky and susceptible to damage. I have one by Kelty that was about $120, and it’s great because you can set it up far away from your vehicle. But it’s a lot more cumbersome than the MoonShade.
Quite a few known companies, including premium ones like ARB, sell retractable car awnings for under $200 but they’re a little harder to move from car-to-car. Or move from side-to-side, for that matter.
You can also spend many hundreds on awnings with LEDs and aluminum casings if that kind of thing is appealing to you.
If you want the absolute cheapest vehicle-side sunshade, I’d recommend a high-quality tarp with loops, some carabiners, two big sticks, and some string. If you want the speediest possible setup, look into the retractable ones. But the MoonShade’s low weight and high portability make it a pretty appealing option if you don’t mind sacrificing a little setup time.
Here’s a random example of a cheap standalone sunshade. There are dozens of them at big box stores, Amazon, eBay, etc. They tend to be very heavy and cheaply made. If you like the standalone option but want something better, see what established tent brands are offering. (I’ve used some of these and liked them.)
If you like the car-mount, ARB will sell you a simple one for half the price of the MoonShade or a fancy lit one for even more money. Those deploy very easily but, as discussed, those are heavier and harder to move from vehicle to vehicle.
I dig the MoonShade. I am not a fan of having vehicles be bristling with protruding accessories, and I love lightness in my overland loadout, so this appeals to me. Having a bunch of junk bolted to your truck can look fun and make your rig more of a caricature aesthetically, but it also creates wind noise at speed, eats away at your fuel economy by affecting aero, and makes you a little more high-profile when you might not want to be.
I personally find myself more comfortable wheeling around the world in vehicles that are not conspicuously expensive-looking.
This is a nice shade. It’s a little spendy, but I bet it will see a lot of use if you add one to your overland kit. Check out the MoonShade’s official website for pictures of a lot more applications and links to buy or ask the manufacturer questions.