With space often being limited inside a camping vehicle, the addition of an awning greatly increases the living area and comfort outdoors. Providing shelter for cooking outside, shade from the wind and sun, as well as keeping heat out of the interior of the vehicle are just a few reasons why awnings are a must have on any recreational vehicle!
Already know what you need? Check out the installation tips in our Burnsco How To - Campervan Awning Installation guide!
Before heading out to purchase your awning, knowing what is available and which unit will best suit your needs is key. There are many different types of awnings with prices ranging from very affordable to larger investments. The awning you choose will depend on your vehicle, camping style and budget.
Why Do I Need An Awning?
Speaking from experience, all my camping vehicles have come with an awning already attached, or I've installed one before heading out on the first road trip. I have never really experienced camping without an awning until recently - that’s when I realised a campervan awning is essential!
Off-grid camping often means you’re out in no man's land, usually out in the open due to no shade or the need to keep the solar panels and batteries happy. When the sun’s beating down and the cool breeze disappears, this is when your purchase will pay off. Being able to be out of the vehicle but still out of direct sun is a real lifesaver. It pays off double by allowing you to cook out under shade as well . . . a hot vehicle + a cooker burning = a DIY sauna!
While most awning manufacturers recommend NOT to use their products for rain shelter, awnings can also be used in wet weather if set up correctly. The main concern comes from water pooling on the fabric causing it to become extremely heavy and break. Knowing how to set the awning up is the key. Adjusting one leg lower than the other will give a slope to the canvas, allowing water to run off instead of sitting and pooling. Some manufacturers produce centre poles to support the middle of the awning.
Ensure your awning isn’t rolled away wet and left for an extended period of time - mould will form on the canvas! If you have to close it up in the rain don’t forget to dry it out on the next sunny day!
The awning’s biggest enemy is the wind. It’s surprising how much the awning will move, even in the slightest breeze. Don’t become someone else’s hilarious campsite story and secure your awning down! Most units will come with feet or guy ropes that can be pegged directly into the ground, others have clips that can attach to the vehicle and be used to secure the awnings legs in place.
Let’s check out the different types of awnings and what sets them apart!
- Easy to install
- Lots of options and add ons
- Not so durable
- Annoying to set up
- Must be tied down to be sturdy
The most simple and cost effective awning option available, a bag awning gets the job done at an affordable price. When you’re out and about it’s hard not to come across a bag awning - they’re bolted on everything from four wheel drives to family wagons, motorhomes to micro campers, and everything in between!
Bag awnings consist of lightweight aluminium framing and poles with a thin canvas or polyester material. They are extremely light and versatile to install, often only requiring 2 ‘L’ brackets to be bolted to the vehicle and then to the awning. If access to the inside wall of the vehicle is available, they can also be bolted directly to the side of a van or motorhome, preventing the dreaded drip zone where water can come down between the awning and vehicle.
The quality of construction and durability are what determine the price for bag awnings. The cheap options are great for occasional users but if you’re doing some more serious camping, spending a bit more for quality will pay off in the long run.
Opening and setting up a bag awning is relatively straightforward, but can be quite difficult. Because of their basic construction there are no arms supporting the unit as it opens - it’s an absolute breeze with two people there to roll it out, but opening one on your own can be a bit of a balancing act.
A newcomer to the bag awning world are the 270 degree awnings. A traditional awning opens outward from the vehicle, providing shade directly next to it. With a 270 degree version, the fabric supports are hinged at the back end of the unit and are rotated out to spread awning open. This allows the awning to open around over the top of the rear of the vehicle giving a huge shaded area on two sides! 270 degree awnings are quick and easy to set up, making them great for trucks and smaller campers!
Wind Out Awnings
- Easy to use and install
- More solid in wind and rain
- Cleaner look
- A little pricey
- Can be restricted by mounts
The next step up from bag awnings are the more solid wind out type of awning. These usually consist of a long aluminium case that houses the shade material on a roll. The awning is opened by using a detachable handle to turn a crank that winds out the roll. Aluminium supports folded up inside provide support when opening and keep the whole thing rigid when fully out. Telescopic legs fold down to support the outer edge of the awning and are used to adjust the height and slope of the shade material.
The construction of wind out awnings is far superior to bag awnings. The metal case protects the internal components much better than a PVC bag. The shade fabric is usually made from a thicker and tougher material that should well and truly last a lifetime. While the supports and legs are also made from lightweight aluminium, they are constructed in a way that is much more solid and stronger than the thin poles of a bag awning.
Opening a wind out awning couldn’t be easier! . . . well, unless you buy the electric version that is. . . But nonetheless, opening and closing a wind out awning takes a matter of seconds and can be easily done by one person. You simply take the detachable handle/winder and attach it to the crank, then turn the handle to roll the awning out! To prevent damage to the supports, wind it out approx 1 metre and then put the support legs down - you can then wind the awning out the rest of the way while the end is being supported.
Installation of a wind out awning is also very simple, but does require some stronger mounting brackets due to the extra weight. They also need to be attached to a flat surface to prevent the supports from binding when folding. The large flat sides of caravans and motorhomes mean these awnings have become the standard for camper manufacturers over the years. If there isn’t a place to mount an awning on the side of the camper, specific roof mounted versions have been developed that are configured slightly differently and roll out from a rooftop unit.
12V Electric Awnings
- No effort to open or close
- Built in lighting
- Quite strong and durable
- Difficult to install
- Large side supports can be annoying
Want to make everyone at the campground jealous? While they’re all struggling away trying to set up tent poles and gazebos, you can simply roll into camp, pull out the deck chair and crack a cold brew, all the while your shelter is automatically rolling out with the touch of a single button. . . now that’s living!
Already have a wind out awning on your camper and thinking of replacing it with a big new electric version? It might be worthwhile looking to see if there is a bolt on motor kit available for your current model! Most of the big manufacturers offer a motor upgrade for their manual awnings that can be attached without the need to take the whole awning down. A bit of 12v wiring and using a switch from inside the vehicle, the old wind out awning now rolls out all on it’s own - anyone can use it!
Now of course there are fully electric awnings available right off the shelf, and most of the large new caravans and motorhomes feature these as standard. The legs or supports for these run in tracks attached to the side of the vehicle. The supports accordion out providing solid contact with the camper. As these units have the motor and fabric roll on the end of the arms, an added bonus is that all of the leaves and debris on top of the fabric falls off when rolling the awning away. Having 12v power already running to the motor also means that it’s silly for manufacturers to not put light attachments or built in LED strips in the awning as well, making these the ultimate in camping luxury!
Electric 12v awnings are typically operated via a switch inside the vehicle, but for the gadget geeks out there, an app with bluetooth operation is also available. The installation of one of these units is much more involved than the other awning types, so having one fitted by a professional is the way to go.
With an awning option out there for every vehicle and budget, it’s easy to see why these are one of the most popular upgrades for a recreational vehicle! Adding living space and comfort in almost any weather, you’d be mad not to have one! Burnsco stocks a great range of awnings and accessories so come see us for all your outdoor living needs.
For more information on Burnsco's range of products for your motorhome or caravan, phone us on 0800 102041, email us, or Livechat with one of our staff via the website.