Space is always at a premium when you're travelling in a campervan or even a luxurious motorhome. That's why campervan travellers have relied on awnings for decades now. An awning can double the amount of sheltered room you have available or even form an entire extra room giving you large and versatile space, depending on the design. With an awning, you can enjoy more privacy, additional storage space, and protection from the less-pleasant weather you run across.
In days gone by, awnings were a staple of comedy with their laborious set-up procedures, primitive designs, and relative fragility. The awning game has changed in the twenty-first century! Modern awnings are lightweight, reliable, durable, and take just minutes to set up. There are many different designs available to suit virtually any camping style. Most awnings on the market today are even quick-drying and require minimal maintenance.
The following information should teach you everything you need to know to pick out the campervan awning that will make your next road trip that much more enjoyable.
Campervan awnings are any portable structure a campervan traveller erects to create additional outdoor space. Awnings offer some measure of added protection from rain, bright sunlight, and (for certain designs) unpleasant winds.
Some awnings attach to your vehicle, while others are free-standing. Some awning designs create a full-blown outdoor room, which can be a valuable extension of your living (or even additional sleeping) space on the road.
If you like to combine adventurous outdoor activities with your campervan trips, awnings make great places to keep muddy clothes, bikes, or any other piece of equipment that's not clean enough to come inside your vehicle.
An awning, like your camper van hire itself, should be selected to reflect your specific needs and interests. How you use your vehicle, how much storage space it has, and how many people you travel with will all impact your choice of awning. There are plenty of awnings produced by tent and camping supply companies that can be incorporated into your campervan equipment. You should also consider more specialized products designed expressly for campervans and motorhomes (or even for your specific vehicle model).
Since most campervans offer extremely limited interior space, awnings are much more useful with them than larger motorhomes. Paradoxically, though, storing an awning in a motorhome is much easier than storing one in a van.
A canopy awning relies on one side of your vehicle for support. The other end of the awning is anchored by two poles. In a lot of modern canopy designs, these poles are permanently fixed to the awning. The awning itself may be attached to your motorhome permanently or temporarily. Some high-end canopy awnings come with wall pieces that allow you to create a fully-enclosed extra space which can be used for whatever you want like storage or as a place to eat away from the van's cramped breakfast table. A permanent canopy may be an option when you purchase your vehicle; if you want to add one later, specialist fitting is the way to get it done.
The great downside of the canopy awning is that it can't be deployed without your vehicle. If you want to drive away from your campsite for a day trip, your awning has to come along for the ride.
Roll-out awnings could be considered a sub-type of canopy awnings. These awnings are stowed permanently on the side of your motorhome. They're easily deployed by pulling them out and securing them with poles or guide ropes. A roll-out awning is an ideal accessory for the traveller who only needs light weather protection and likes to keep their outdoor extra space airy.
The ideal owner for a roll-out awning:
Does need sun protection.
Does want to keep space and weight requirements to a minimum.
Does want an awning that's easy to set up and stow.
Doesn't need all-around shelter or privacy.
An inflatable awning is broadly similar to a canopy or roll-out type, except it relies on pneumatic tubes to hold the awning in place. Initial installation can be a bit time-consuming as you thread the awning into place on the awning rail, but operation is straightforward after that. Note that some inflatable awnings work with a single inflation point while on other models, each beam must be inflated separately. Multiple-point motorhome awnings are more durable but require a bit more time to set up. Remember that as with any piece of inflatable gear, an inflatable motorhome awning is vulnerable to tears and punctures. Always pack a repair kit along with your awning.
Air awnings are a good fit for owners who:
Don't mind spending a little extra money.
Have ample weight capacity in their vehicles (these awnings tend to weigh more than simpler models).
Need an easy-to-erect awning that doesn't require extra hands.
Expect to camp in windy areas (air awnings are flexible and deal well with strong winds).
The reliable, old-fashioned pole awning is the type that's been common on campgrounds for generations. Old-fashioned technology isn't necessarily obsolete, and a traveller with a little bit of assembly practice can set up a pole awning faster than practically any other design. Pole awnings are also likely to be your most affordable option. However, it's a good idea to spend a little extra on a pole awning with durable materials. Look for tough, long-lasting fabrics and poles made of IXL fibreglass.
Pole awnings fit campervan owners who have:
Minimal space and weight in their vehicles (pole awnings are very light).
Travelling companions to share the assembly labour with.
No plans to camp in windy locales (awning poles can be snapped in strong gusts, and this damage is rarely covered by warranties).
As the name implies, a drive away awning is designed to stand on their own even if you take your motorhome off for a day excursion. (It's important to mark your vehicle's position with tent pegs so that you can line up properly to reconnect the awning when you return.) A drive away awning attaches to your campervan's pre attached awning rail, but they can be slipped off when necessary. A drive away awning should give you ample space to stow wet or muddy clothes, bikes, or any other excursion equipment. A drive away awning usually shelters your vehicle's door, protecting the interior from nasty weather. Drive-away awnings designed for larger motorhomes can even include outdoor sleeping accommodations.
Your quest for the perfect campervan awning will go a lot quicker if you begin by answering some basic questions. Having this information ready to hand will allow you to easily discard awnings that don't meet your needs.
What will the main purpose of your awning be? Do you want outdoor living space, weather shelter, storage space, or a combination of multiple uses?
What is the maximum size awning (height and length) that your vehicle can accommodate?
Do you have any limitations on the depth of your campervan awning? (Be aware that at some campsites, you may have to pay extra for the privilege of erecting an especially large awning.)
What seasons do you expect to use the awning in? Do you need light or heavy weather protection?
If you intend to use your awning for storage, just how much space do you need? Add in some extra space beyond the size of the belongings you want to cover -- you don't want your items pushed to the very edge where slanting rain can get at them.
How much extra weight will your campervan bear? The largest, most complex awnings can weigh in at more than 50kg. You can use roof bars to store bulky items, or even use a roof box on your roof bars.
How do you want to store your awning? For owners who make space a top priority, a roll-out awning that stows on the outside of the vehicle might be the ideal choice.
How much setting up and taking down are you going to do? If you travel widely and tend to camp in a different spot every night, you want something easy to assemble. If you're spending a holiday at a single campsite, a more complicated set-up process isn't a problem.
How many people will be available to set up your awning? Although you'll grow more adept at setting up as you get more practice, sometimes adverse conditions (like high winds) make an extra pair of hands a necessity.
Once you've zeroed in on the right size and style of awning, the most important factor in your choice of awning is the material it's made out of. Awning material is like tent material; it's usually described according to the season it's designed for. A summer awning is light and designed to block as much UV light as possible. Winter awnings have heavier, stronger fabric that can stand up to wind and snow.
Quality awning fabric should hold up well to wind and UV light and be as quick-drying as possible. For awnings that include all-around wall panels, you need to consider the material's insulation and breathability.
As a general rule of thumb, you can expect to pay more for an awning made with high-quality long-lasting fabric. It's worth investing extra if you know you'll be getting frequent use out of your awning for many years. If your camping plans only call for occasional awning use, though, it makes sense to economize.
Lighter and cheaper awning fabrics (like polyester) do have some advantages. They're lightweight and fast-drying. They tend to be more fragile than tougher fabrics, but as they're also cheaper, it's not much of a hardship to replace a damaged lightweight awning.
In the higher price ranges, you'll find most awnings are made of acrylic material that's tough enough to last for years. Besides the expense, these tougher awnings also tend to be heavier and a little harder to handle.
One option you may be presented with when considering high-end campervan awnings is fabric that is called 'fibre-dyed' or 'solution-dyed'. What this means is that the fabric's fibres are dyed before the weaving and manufacturing process. This usually adds to the final price of the campervan awning, but fibre-dyed fabrics are highly resistant to UV sun damage and keep their original colour for many years.
Don't assume your outfitting process is complete once you've chosen the awning that suits your campervan needs! There are accessories to consider that range from mildly helpful to positively indispensable, depending on how you plan to use campervan awnings.
While any awning that requires them will come with its own pegs, you may need to buy more durable pegs if you intend to pitch on difficult ground.
Floor sheets -- mostly in the form of breathable membranes -- can be very useful in wet weather.
Many awnings come with integrated mounting points for lights. Suitable lights are often sold by your awning manufacturer, although you can also fit your own. Low-energy high-efficiency LED lights are best, particularly when you're camping off the grid.
For camping in cooler weather, you can add an awning heater to make the outdoor space more comfortable. (Just remember that outdoor heaters should never be run unattended.)
Other accessories that are perfect for cold-weather camping are insulated liners for your awning's roof and floor. Outdoor carpets can also provide effective ground-level insulation.
For making the most efficient use of the space covered by your awning, you can sub-divide it with a wide variety of products including inner tents, privacy curtains, and room dividers. You can even buy an awning annexe to (slightly) expand the amount of space you have to work with!
One often-overlooked but highly-recommended awning accessory is a set of draught skirts. These are simple skirts that attach to the bottom of your vehicle, stopping breezes from entering the awning space between the wheels. Draught skirts are particularly useful if you plan on sleeping under your awning, as night breezes can be chilly even in warmer months!
Finally, don't neglect the most prosaic of awning accessories: cleaning and maintenance supplies. You may not need to bring these along on every trip, but you'll need to have them at home to maximise the life of your awning. (And remember that with inflatable awnings, the repair kit definitely should come along with you!)