A station wagon and a roof rack go hand-in-hand. You cannot have one without the other, well, at least that’s my mantra. Roof racks are a mandatory feature, an imperative must-have for me when it comes to car shopping. Sure, you can open the lift gate on a station wagon and fold down its seats to create a cavern of cargo space that rivals even bigger SUVs, but some items we use in the magical hobby of outdoor recreation just, won’t, fit. Like a kayak, or a pair of skis with three snowboards, or a mountain bike. That’s when crossbars, cargo boxes and rails become your best friend.
When I bought my 2005 Saab 9-2x four years and 118,000 miles ago, the “Adventure Mobile’s” roof was naked. No rails, no crossbars, nothing. After an unsuccessful and naive attempt at strapping a universal eBay special roof rack on top, whose aft cross bar became loose and flew off on I90 heading down into Denver, I finally found an OEM-spec setup from Thule that fit perfectly. There are even Saab stickers on its towers. Since I ski, and camp, and backpack, and bike, and kayak (all the above on repeat) I needed some accessories. Eventually over time, accumulated some goodies from Yakima, like their Big Powederhound which carefully transports my beloved skis and a few friends’ snowboards to the slopes. Months back, I splurged at the local REI and came home with a RocketBox Pro 11, which swallows up a massive amount of outdoor gear and looks bad ass mounted atop a black all-wheel-drive station wagon. It also serves as a blank canvas for stickers I pick up from trips to National Parks, Forests, and Grasslands. Remember, stickers make you go faster.
I swear every time I pick up a Yakima catalog or peruse through their website, they’ve got some ultra-cool new impressive product available for your roof rack. There’s racks for nearly every type of outdoor activity, cargo baskets and boxes of all sizes, gizmos that attach the back of your pickup truck bed and allow you to securely carry a kayak or canoe, and of course, their Skyrise tents, a sweet cozy tent that folds out from your roof rack and you climb a ladder to get up to. How bad ass is that?
Then there’s the SlimShady, which Yakima sent me to review. No, not Detroit’s Eminem, but an excellent new product that’s remarkably useful and intuitive. It’s an ideal gadget to have when you’re spending time on the road, hopping around between national or state parks. The SlimShady is an awning that mounts horizontally (parallel with the length of your car) to your roof rack’s crossbars, unzips, and folds out and away from the car to create a shaded escape next to your vehicle. Brilliant, right? Hanging out next to the race track on a rainy day? Unroll the SlimShady. Want to stay cool at the sun-baked campsite while enjoying a mug of coffee in the morning? Unroll the SlimShady. When setup properly, it creates 42 square feet of welcoming coverage, right off the side of your car. The uses for this awning are endless. So let’s get to it.
For $279, Yakima’s SlimShady will mount essentially to any roof rack as long as you have crossbars, no tools required. Once it’s all rolled away and zipped shut in its 6.5ft long case, the SlimShady is skinny, and at 21 pounds can be carried with one hand/arm. This means too that stowing the SlimShady when not in use takes up minimal space in your gear closet or garage. After measuring up the distance between your crossbars, it’s just a matter of easily spinning a knob on each mounting assembly which brings a pair of claws closer to your crossbars and secures the SlimShady in place. It’s also lockable with Yakima’s SKS key system, which works with other roof top products. Driving with the SlimShady on top of my station wagon, there’s little to none wind noise and for the most part the black “bag” it sits inside, isn’t an instigator of drag.
Setting up the SlimShady can be done solo, but it is a bit tricky and helps to have another set of hands available. Total setup time takes about ten minutes. Begin by unzipping the protective case, folding it back, and undoing the two velcro straps binding the actual awning. Next, grab the front metal bar/edge of the nylon awning and with two strong arms, pull it out from the cover, and then begin to walk backwards, unrolling it. Keep in mind that doing this step is a bit precarious in the wind. my girlfriend and I learned this the hard way when setting up the SlimShady atop a bluff campsite in the gorgeous Buffalo Gap National Grassland, the best place I have ever car camped.
Once the awning is unrolled, two metal poles unfold and drop from the center to create its legs. They’re adjustable so that even when the SlimShady isn’t mounted to a particularly tall truck or SUV, you still get ample shade and coverage. Two additional metal support beams unfold outward from the awning’s mounted beam and stretch horizontally towards the front of the awning to meet the two vertical legs. Adjustments are easily made again by simply twisting the metal poles. With your frame established, the SlimShady can be securely grounded via two guy-wires and two heavy-duty stakes. A small pouch containing the stakes gets tucked away into the awning once it’s all rolled up and zipped shut. Velcro straps on either side of the horizontal support beams secure the awning tight.
We first tested the durable SlimShady last month on a five day trip across South Dakota’s Badlands and Black Hills, where it was a perfect addition to our cliffside campsite in the sprawling Buffalo Gap National Grassland. As an explosive sunset filled the sky and began to set, we strung a set of battery-powered LED lights across the SlimShady, pulled out two camping chairs, a portable table, and enjoyed a cold Potosi beer while we waited on our dinner to cook. Even in strong winds, once the SlimShady was setup, it held its position. While we thankfully avoided stormy clouds the nigh we were there, the SlimShady’s awning is waterproof.
The only problem and complaint I have with the SlimShady, and its unfortunately been a continued one, is how difficult it is to roll the awning back up into its roof rack-mounted case. The protective cover itself is just too small, too tight, and needs to be at least an inch or two bigger. I found myself having to roll it up as tightly as I could, attempt to zip it shut, but then to no avail, unfold the awning completely and try again. This is frustrating, especially when you’re on-the-go and wanting to leave your campsite quickly and hit the road. You can roll the awning away as tightly as possible, and zip about 90% of the case up and still have 10% of that awning exposed to the elements. If only Yakima could make the case that the SlimShady rolls up into only a tad bit bigger, that would be tremendously helpful and more user-friendly. Hopefully they’ll take this into consideration when SlimShady version 2.0 arrives.
[Disclaimer: Yakima Products Inc. provided the SlimShady roof rack awning for the purpose of this review. All images copyright Robby DeGraff/Hooniverse 2018.]