If you’re planning to live out of your bus for 14 months, you’re actually going to want to live out of your bus and a shelter. A decent tent will double your living space and provide you extra storage and a place to change clothes without knocking over the coffee pot.
I began my research where I usually do—on The Samba. Folks consistently sang the praises of the Ezy Awning from Bus Depot. After some more trolling the forums, I bit the bullet and bought the larger size with side walls, as well as their Add-a-room for the back tailgate (more on that piece in a separate post). They were backordered for three months. I waited, which is hard for me.
When it came, I was let down. I don’t want this to be a post bagging on Bus Depot because I’ve always liked their stuff and I haven’t had any complaints prior to this one. But the thing was… not quality. Maybe it was the backordering and they found whatever materials they could to keep up with orders. Heavy, cumbersome, and poorly made—that is the most succinct review I can give it. Regardless, I had to return the tent—all 35 pounds and 33 pieces (or something like that) of it. (For what it is worth, it does seem the poles I had are not what others had posted in forums; mine were definitely something cheaper.)
I’ve camped for years and remember seeing dining flys from LL Bean that could be put up in five minutes and weighed 10-15 pounds. And that was 20 years ago. Surely, there is something for VW Bus owners that isn’t a giant tinkertoy or look like you’re part of the circus.
I eventually found Motor Tour Range’s Shamrock tent and holy smokes do I love this thing! It packs down small, has some nifty features, and can be put up in about five minutes.
Interior door. There’s a door between the bus and tent, meaning you can make this a drive-away tent pretty easily (a key feature I was wanting—and one that costs extra with the Ezy Awning). The interior door is large, which could be an issue. But the geniuses at Motor Tour Range made a pocket to stuff the door into.
Double-sided front door. This allows you to open up the front of the tent, essentially turning it into a giant veranda. Great for those bug free nights. I’ve also seen where people stake the door up like a canopy.
Removable floor. I wasn’t sure how I would feel about this feature, but I like it. I also pack my floor in a separate bag to make life on the road a little easier to organize.
Multiple ways to attach tent to bus. Of all the features, I appreciate this one the most. Guylines, velcro straps, cinches, and a rubber gutter fitting are all there to connect the tent to the bus. Seeing how VW was modified by Sportmobile, Riviera, Safari, Westfalia, and many others, it’s sometimes impossible to know what will work best. This tent gives you enough options and play that you can make it work.
Not everything is rosy though. There are a few beguiling things I would recommend to Motor Tour for a new addition:
Better poles. These are still very heavy and have the aluminum fitting that catch when they are fed through a sleeve. I have a 22 year-old Moss tent that has seamless aluminum poles that click together in a jiff. Why not make something easier to fee through those sleeves? I know the technology exists.
Screen doors and windows. In the heat of the day, this tent can be an oven. A few screen doors or some zip-down windows would be wonderful.
Lateral pole tie downs. There are hooks for the hoop poles, which is cool. But then you go to install the lateral poles and there’s two nylon straps that have to be tied. Why not put in a hook?
Better tent stakes. Since the dawn of tent sales, stakes have been absolute shit. When, o when, will a tent company include decent stakes (i.e. stakes made of something other than aluminum foiled wrapped pixie sticks)?
The removable floor. This is a double-edge sword. With the floor removed, there are two tension straps that run the width of the tent. More than a few times, I caught my foot on the strap and nearly ate dirt.
All in all, the Motor Tour Range’s Shamrock tent is as close to perfect as I could hope, though there is room for improvement.