We fitted a load of new equipment to our Isuzu D-Max long-termer early this month, and it’s now a far more overland-worthy vehicle. Having covered plenty of off-road miles since then, this is our experience so far…
Slim, sturdy and protective are three adjectives I’d use to describe the new Eezi-Awn Blade rooftop tent. Protected from the elements by a lightweight alloy case that will never fade or crack, the Blade is built to last. Open it up with the flick of two clips and the streamlined lid, which gives this RTT its name, rises effortlessly on two large gas struts. The front section features a mini-awning, which is easily braced outwards by two sprung steel poles. The slimline design means the tent weighs in at a very decent 72kg (for a hardshell) and as a bonus this makes the tent fairly aerodynamic. During our recent 2 500km trip into the hinterland of the Northern Cape, it never rattled, caused noticeable drag, or let in dust, the latter a key advantage over fold-out designs that use a vinyl cover.
The tent itself is made from 280gsm ripstop canvas with privacy panels and flysheet netting, and uses sturdy zips that should last a lifetime. While the matt black exterior coating looks good, and the thick interior insulation wards off condensation and temperature extremes, the tent does tend to heat up in full sun. A major upside is the SABS-approved high-density foam mattress, which is very comfortable.
Neat touches inside include a 12V LED strip light, while large pockets on either side of the bed make sensible stash places for your phone or torch. When it’s time to close up, a handle on a loop of webbing strap is simply pulled down, aided by a loop of bungy cord, which helps to keep the canvas tucked in at the midriff. In high wind, you might need a friend to help tuck in the last edges, but the process of closing up – including returning the ladder to its place inside – could take no more than a minute or two.
Though the tent itself is of the highest quality, we did find the telescoping ladder to be a tad fiddly. Supplied with its own bag, it is a two-piece unit with a lower rung that adjusts to accommodate uneven ground or a higher vehicle, but it takes a few uses to get the hang of the mechanism. All in all though, the Eezi-Awn Blade is a remarkable, high-quality piece of kit, which has added a great deal to the comfort of our camping experience.
Dimensions closed: 1 450 (W) x 2 200 (L) x 320 (H)
Construction material: 280gsm ripstop canvas with black aluminium hardshell
Weight including ladder: 72kg
Opening mechanism: Gas struts
Price: R32 890 (excl. fitment)
EEZI-AWN K9 ROOF RACK
We had our Blade rooftop tent fitted on top of an Eezi-Awn K9 Alloy roof rack, which in turn was located on the supplied channels on top of the RSI SMARTCANOPY we have fitted. The tent and rack took the workshop technicians at Safari Centre Cape Town less than an hour to complete.
The tent is mounted on four feet atop the roof rack, which in turn is bolted to six feet on the roof rails of our RSI canopy. These adjustable, stainless steel feet are extremely secure, and despite driving over 1 000km through the roughest and most corrugated parts of the Richtersveld, never rattled even the slightest bit.
For extra strength, the K9 rack is welded as opposed to being bolted together to prevent any rattling over time. The K9’s longitudinal slat design and slim 35mm profile are designed to reduce both wind resistance and wind noise, aided by a deflector panel up front. This makes the K9 rack perfect for fitment on an SUV where wind noise is an important consideration.
Low-profile, fully-welded platform only 35mm high
Matt black powder-coated, bespoke aluminum extrusions
130mm wide slats with M8 T-slots, running front to back
M6 T-slots in outside extrusions
Large range of accessories available
Price: R7 300 (fitted to an RSI canopy)
COOPER ST MAXX TYRES
We’ve already tested this set of tyres on a previous trip to the top of Malawi and back, so getting then re-fitted to our long-termer for our Richtersveld trip (check out next month’s issue) was a no-brainer. We took the rig to Good Hope Tyres in Tokai, Cape Town for fitment and balancing, and within an hour the Blue Bomber was shod with a set of tough 265/60 R18 Cooper ST Maxx all-terrains – partially used.
The tyres have approximately 20 000 hard kilometres on them already, some of which were in very extreme terrain, including the notorious Tankwa Karoo. They survived countless potholes in Mozambique on a Hilux with almost a ton loaded up. Despite this, they are still looking good with the rears having suffering most of the stone chipping, though they still maintain about 75% tread – the rears have lost just 5mm from new tread thickness, while the fronts have used 3mm.
On our Malawi shakedown the tyres suffered zero punctures and even after our most recent baptism of shale and stones, there are no notable slits in the tread or sidewall. It’s fair to say they are passing the harshest tests. We have yet to come across any standard fitment tyre that provides anywhere near as much peace of mind and confidence in integrity as the Coopers.
Due to their aggressive tread pattern, the tyres do hum on smooth surfaces and will be more difficult to balance as they wear, but these are minor trade-offs for your safety. The ST Maxx tyres (retail typically just under R4 000 each) fill an interesting void in the Cooper Tires line-up between the all-terrain (but lighter-duty) AT3 range and the extremely heavy-duty STT Pro option. The ST Maxx’s lean further towards a mud-terrain construction and feature light truck (LT) spec and a three ply, cross-woven sidewall, which is highly puncture resistant. Despite the 60 profile being lower than we’d usually like, most new bakkies come with 18-inch wheels, so the fact that we were confident enough to deflate them to only 1 bar on deep sand without worrying about sidewall punctures is a huge bonus.