Unless you’re used to living in a shoebox, you’ll need an awning. Here’s why, and a guide to what’s out there…
Across all the various Facebook groups lately, the most commonly asked question has been, “love your awning, what is it?” So we thought we’d try and answer by reviewing some of the most popular ones out there.
Now, in attempting to do this we came upon an immediate headache. It seems with Covid-19, etc, most awnings had already sold out before the summer really got going, and with limits on supply new stock wouldn’t be coming in anytime soon. Moreover, most awning manufacturers release their new range in October/November – another reason why supplies right now are likely to be a little fragile. So the caveat here is to use this guide to get a general idea of what types of awning are available, prices and styles – and call the specialists in our ‘Useful Contacts’ box to see what’s still in stock and when the new range is likely to come in.
Why buy an awning?
Now if you’re new to all this, and have just bought a Camper, you could be forgiven for asking, why you would possibly need a ‘tent’? If you’re a seasoned camper, then you’ll be questioning how anyone manages without one.
In truth, there’s a couple of good reasons why you’ll benefit from buying an awning. Firstly, it increases your available space. If you get an inner tent as well, you’ll instantly add to the number of people you can accommodate overnight. For families, that might mean you sleeping on the rock and roll bed in the Van, and the kids spending their nights under canvas. If you don’t have a sleeping compartment, you can use the awning to erect a camp table or kitchen area so you can prepare food and sit down together, making your camping experience much more sociable. Especially if the weather’s a bit iffy. And, dare we say it, an awning’s a great place to stash your stuff so when you go on a daytrip, you’re not cluttering up your Bus’s interior.
The awning will also act as a transition area. So if it’s wet, you can leave your shoes and coats outside, rather than spoiling the cosy ambiance inside.
There’s another reason for buying a drive-away awning if you’re on a transit site, where there’s lots of comings and goings. It will allow you to reserve your plot if you go on a daytrip. Okay, you might have to extend the guide ropes to match the silhouette of where your Bus would be so you can dock properly, but at least you won’t have someone pinch your pitch while you’re out.
When buying an awning, think about what’s important. Size matters, so ask yourself whether it needs to be big enough to seat a whole crowd, or is it just for preventing water getting in when you open your sliding door? Consider, too, how long you want it to last – if budget takes precedence over quality, fine, get the cheapest one out there and use it a few times until it breaks. Alternatively, spend a bit more and buy a well-made awning, from one of the known manufacturers, if you want it to last more than just one season.
How easy it is to erect is also a factor. If you’re more of a one-night-stand camper, then get one that’s quick and simple to put up and down. See our boxout ‘Awning types’ for more information about this.
With all this in mind, here’s a tiny selection of what’s out there.
Not all awnings are the same. The way they go up, and the materials used all vary. Regarding the latter, poly-cotton fabric coverings look more attractive and are better in hot and cold conditions because the fabric adapts to the weather, but are heavier and aren’t as compact when folded and take up more room in your Van. Polyester coverings are more lightweight, fold much smaller, but often don’t look as good (especially alongside a classic Bus) and sometimes don’t last as long as canvas. Seventy denier is an entry level polyester which won’t last as long as 150 denier, or the much more durable still awnings made from 420-720 denier material.
Think too about style. Front facing awnings face outwards from the side of your Van, so if you reverse up to the back of your pitch, then your entrance will be looking directly out at the pitch to the side of you. Side facing awnings sit parallel to the Van, so your opening is facing the same way as your vehicle. These usually offer more space for sleeping, too. You do need to order the right type, though, to ensure the connecting panel is on the correct for your sliding door, otherwise you’ll be facing backwards. You can also get awnings that extend from the rear of your vehicle, giving access via the tailgate instead.
As for construction, there’s two basic types, each of which have their pros and cons:
- Poled awnings, as their name would suggest, use traditional metal or fibreglass poles for their construction – they are the most stable type of awning, making them perfect for longer stays. Metal poles are heavier but more long lasting than fibreglass poles which are more compact, lighter but generally less durable. Poled tents can take a little longer to erect, but colour coding the poles will help.
- Air beam awnings score for their ease of construction as the best ones take a matter of seconds to put up. They usually have a single inflation point, and if you use a battery powered pump, it’s only a matter of moments before its fully erect. A downside, arguably, is that they’re not as stable as a poled awning, although users say they simply ‘flex’ with the wind, rather than risking buckling or breaking poles. Oh, and because of the beams, some are more restricted when it comes to height.
Making it fit
The most common method of fitting an awning to the side of your van is to use a fixing kit, which usually consists of a flexible 6mm to 6mm Kador rail which slides into your gutter one side then feeds into a figure of eight section on the other side which then slots into the awning. When you want to drive away, simply slide it back out, zip up the awning and you’re good to go. It’s worth looking at other types of fittings, though – there’s magnetic ones, and some that use clamps and these work well too.
Oh, and you’re likely to have something called a storm strap, which goes over the vehicle and is pegged down on the other side to protect it blowing away in high winds. There’s likely to be a metal attachment at the end, so encase it in a ball of BluTak or even an old tennis ball with a slit cut into it so it doesn’t damage your paint as you lob it over.
There’s a certain amount of adjustment in height, but make sure you don’t buy an awning for a motorhome, as the awnings for these are a lot taller. For VW Transporters, choose the ‘low’ or ‘lowline’ option, which typically fits Campers with an attachment height of 180cm-210cm from the ground.
How much: £849
If you’re after something with a bit of glamour, why not consider the posh-looking Glawning, a luxury fire-resistant canvas bell tent awning with two doors and a canopy which allows it to be attached to any Camper. Made from fire-retardant 350gsm unbleached 100% cotton canvas, it’s got that lovely retro appeal that would go nicely with any classic Camper. Oh, and it’s likely to prove safer and more durable than other awnings, and because all the poles are galvanized, copper-zinc coated affairs – it will last a lifetime if looked after. Inner tents are available, too, to make it even cosier inside.
How much: £1,149
Camper van families love the Galli for its space, and the fact that being an air beam tent, it takes a matter of minutes (12, in fact) to put up, which explains why it’s always been a best-seller. The Rhone is basically the same as the Galli, but it’s made of Vango’s latest breathable poly-cotton fabric which will keep you cooler in summer, and cosier come autumn. It’s big, so it can accommodate one or two double inner tents, which means it can sleep four adults. Funky Leisure had these in stock when we called them at the price above.
How much: £549
Vango’s retro looking Tolga airbeam awning is the perfect attachment for VW Transporters and uses the firm’s new, lighter, more durable and waterproof Sentinel Sport fabric so it packs down even smaller. It inflates quickly, and has a poled canopy so the door can be kept open in the rain. Curtains are included, as is a double action pump, pegs, mallet and carry bag, while a double bedroom and carpet are available as additional extras. It’s light and comes in a variety of colours, making it the perfect match for any Camper.
How much: £299
Available in blue, orange and grey the SheltaPod is clever because it can be configured as a simple sun canopy or half dome tent in a concertina effect. You can even use it as a standalone four-person tent. The inner tent has an integrated groundsheet and two doors, one of which is mesh for better ventilation in hot conditions and the whole affair is simple and quick to erect. It’s made from 75 denier polyester with double taped seams, there’s a separate rainfly groundsheet and curtain shades for privacy. Oh, and it can fit on any vehicle up to a height of 2.8m and there’s five different ways to secure it to your Bus. Light, easy to put up and totally flexible – there’s a lot in its favour.
Just Kampers Retro Awning
How much: £399
If you’re after something retro to hook onto your Bus, look no further than this traditional pole framed awning from JK. It’s available in orange/grey and blue/grey so chances are you’ll find one to match your Van. Best of all, it fits Buses right through from Splits right up until the latest T6. Waterproof tested to 3000mm, it features a cotton front, rear and roof panels, a roof condensation barrier, with 75 denier polyester used elsewhere. It also comes with an inner tent, ground sheet, and a sun canopy. There’s even curtains, for added privacy!
Kampa Dometic Rally Air Pro 260
How much: RRP £937.49
Incredibly, despite looking like a traditional frame tent, the massively popular Kampa Rally Air Pro can be put up in a matter of minutes as it relies on air to keep it erect. It’s packed with clever features and uses Dometic’s 150 denier Weathershield material for longevity, and being hot air taped, it’s totally waterproof. It’s hugely flexible, too, so the sides can be rolled up to create a more airy feel, and there’s clear windows (with Velcro curtains) so you can have a nose at what’s going on outside. Oh, and it can accept optional annexes.
Khyam Dub Hub
How much: £699.99
For the ultimate in flexibility, pick Khyam’s Dub Hub. Its modular ‘zip out’ panel design allows you to change window and door positions and add bedroom pods or ventilation panels to create your own, custom-made awning to suit your camping requirements. Oh, and thanks to the firm’s Ridgidome Quick Erect system, it’s super quick to put up, too. Our friends at CamperVanTastic told us they had two on a festival weekend last year connected to two Campers and referred to the setup as a four-bedroom palace complete with dining rooms! We like it!
Funky Leisure, 01335 368320, www.funkyleisure.co.uk
CamperVanTastic, 020 8291 6800, www.campervantastic.om
Just Kampers, 01256 862288, www.justkampers.com
Flagseller, 0783 746 9454, www.flagseller.co.uk
Glawning, 01423 787008, www.glawning.com