Diving Deeper into Window covers
The van industry has grown in the past few years, especially in our window cover business and we get questions about "us vs them" and feel it is best if we share what we have learnt from our research so consumers can help make the best choice as they decide what window covers to purchase.
Here at VanEssential, we take the same design and sourcing lens we have been applying to our previous work of building high end technical outdoor equipment including tents, backpacks, sleeping bags, backpacking stoves and climbing equipment to help us make the best product possible. We have bought, owned, inspected, tested, cut opened and pulled apart all of these brands of window covers and now share some details with you. This information is primarily for Nth America customers as the market is more mature here and not trying to exclude European or brands in other countries.
This is the short list of commercial window cover
companies offering insulated/black out window covers
in Nth America with their current pricing.
Quest Overland (www.quest-overland.com)
Vanmade Gear (www.vanmadegear.com)
XPLR Outfitters (www.xplroutfitters.com)
Strawfoot handmade (www.strawfoothandmade.com)
RB Components (www.rbcomponents.com)
There are other companies making window covers such
as Moohah, This Van Life, Adventure Van Company,
Wanderful, NightHawk and Ripplewear among others
but seem more like local operations and/or offer very
limited ranges. Some product offered are not even insulated!!
Inside these company offerings, there are features,
colors and designs that can be specific to a build and
recommend contacting companies for full details of
what they are actually offering and materials they are using.
Place of Manufacture:
"Made in the USA." It's a label that evokes patriotism, carries an unspoken promise of quality, and has a political undertone of job security for American workers. It's also more complex and harder to define than one might expect. With the exception of automobiles, textiles, wool, and fur products, there is no law requiring disclosure of the percentage of a product's content that was made in the United States. Companies that choose to make such disclosures must follow the standards set forth in the FTC's "Made in the USA" policy which is set at 50% of local sourced materials. We will let you decide what is important and let you ask the questions to those that make claims. A lot of products should actually be published as "Assembled in USA".
At VanEssential, we source our fabrics/materials from Taiwan and China with our final assembly completed in China. We have tried to manufacture our products in the volume needed here in the USA, Mexico and other locations but no one can offer the speed or high quality needed to support demand. Laser cutting machines, stitch automation machines or key material sources also don't exist domestically in the USA and as we supply all over the world, China has the infrastructure and support tools to support our business. This is not however a new way of doing business and very normal with textile manufacturing in our global supplied world. I am sure as you are reading this you are wearing, using or building items into your van right now that was not made in the USA and very happy with them. Just because you might pay more, does not make it better.
Nylon vs Polyester will long be a debate that people will not settle on. Both are very good fabrics but when it comes to using them specifically for sun shades, Polyester with a UV treatment will ALWAYS outlast in performance against even the best nylons. It costs a little more to manufacture but the benefits you get from fading, becoming brittle, "crinkle" sound when cold and most importantly preventing sag/stretch in hot weather are key elements to consider with fabrics. There is a whole conversation to go into "thread count" and "denier" and we will add more to this conversation down the road to expand on the fabric conversation.
At Van Essential, we only use a UV resistant Polyester material in our construction. We also use UV resistant Polyester thread to help with durability and longevity in the sun. We are finalizing fabric choices to move all of our products to a more expensive recycled polyester material (but equal in performance to our current material) for the 2022 season and look forward to updating our product line to help with our sustainability goals as a business very soon.
Insulation can come in many forms and when building sun shades, blocking the radiant heat is the most important part in the summer. To achieve this, materials that have an Aluminum layer will reflect the radiant heat back so it does not enter the vehicle. Having two layers of this is more expensive to manufacture but gets even better overall performance.
With this in mind, materials are not all the same. Most window cover builders choose "Low E". This material is good and blocking the radiant heat, lightweight and easy to source in the USA and manufacture with. The issue is the longevity and performance of the material, Low E is a building insulation is NOT designed to be folded, creased, moved and stored away time and time again (like in a Van). What happens to the material is it breaks down and looses the most important part of the radiant heat protection. How do we know this? We test materials for a period of time and then open them up to inspect the material. As the image shows, the fibers break down and separate with Low E with short use.
The most surprising insulation material that we have seen though in a window cover is from a small company called The Wanderful. The insulation used in this product is the lowest quality we have found and is not even made with Aluminum foil, it is just plastic and not designed for window covers. We know this as we tested stuff and the foam bonding process is so weak that it separates/delaminates. Examples of this are shown and all we can say is be warned of this sub performance material for such a premium price. Longevity is not something to expect from these products as ours failed in a bit over an hour of testing (brand new) in 100f heat.
Low E Breaks down with use. You just cant see the damage inside your covers but fibers separate and foil cracks
Cheap Insulation is two plastic (no Aluminum) layers bonded together (only seen used by a company called The Wanderful) but glue is weak and separates. This failed in just over an hour in 100f heat.
At VanEssential, we are the only company offering automotive grade 5mm thick insulation foam with a true double faced Aluminum. This material is used in headliners and other locations in a car by large automotive companies. Our bonding strength of our insulation is rated over 100c (212f) which is important for longevity and durability. Even in the most rigorous folding, pulling, twisting, vibrations through testing, our insulation does not fall apart, split or fail. Our insulation foam is also Non toxic, mold and mildew resistant and much quieter to use.
3 Season vs 4 Season covers is also an interesting topic. We have built our own samples (Thinsulate, Down and Primaloft) and tested them in the winter Rocky Mountains with thermal cameras and our position is that window covers are just part of a complete system and dependence of a thick window cover alone to keep you warm is not a solution. The small size of square feet of windows compared to the rest of the van is small and if you don't have full insulation in every wall cavity, floor, firewall, doors, pillars, every weep hole blocked etc, thick window covers dont offer that much more performance gain. Thick window covers are also bulky for storage in the van.
Another way to look at it is like a house. In the depths of winter, putting up thick window covers over your windows wont heat your house or stop it from freezing, you still need a heater. The same is in reverse for summer. Window covers will help stop the radiant heat coming into the home to slow the warming but ultimately if you want a cold house, AC is the solution. We recommend if you are truly focused on the winter camping, invest in a great heater like an Espar and let it run.
Magnets have names used like N52, N55, rare Earth etc. Essentially all this is conveying is the type of strength the magnet is and most importantly, is it Neodymium as this is the strongest type for maximum holding power.
In 2021, magnet prices have shot up due to the mining of neodymium consumption is going to tech companies. Commercial EV motors and electric bicycles, motorcycles, and scooters are, in fact, expected to be jointly responsible for 23% of total global demand for NdFeB alloys and powders by the end of the decade. These magnets are expensive but important for the best holding power. We have seen some covers that do not use these kind of magnets so make sure you are getting what you paid for.
At VanEssential, we only use Neodymium magnets. We oversize all our magnets where possible like in our side window covers to help the strength of holding the covers up even on the bumpiest of roads and wont fall down. We also stitch all our magnets into tiny fabric pockets into the seam so they don't move around in use. This is one more quality step we take over other brands to improve the function of the product year after year of use.
You are going to need to take down your window covers at some point and having storage solutions is important to keep things organized in the van and sometimes overlooked. At VanEssential every product we make comes with its own storage sack as these little things make a huge difference when you are living out of your van and trying to keep things clean and tidy. We recognize that not every stuffsack will be used all the time as you can store your window covers in their windows but sure you can use it for something else. You can never have too many storage solutions.
We hope that the above information has been helpful to you as a resource. Should you have any questions about the information or need additional details about our product, please feel free to reach out to us with your questions as we are more than happy to help you.
The VanEssential Team.