Caravan advice: Essential accessories for first time tourers
Follow our guide to the essential equipment that you can’t leave home without and offer advice on accessories that will enhance your caravanning lifestyle...
Awnings are a major subject in themselves but, briefly, there are two types of awning – full awnings and porches. Full awnings fit the caravan’s length and cover the whole of the nearside. Porch awnings fit most caravans and cover part of the nearside. Porches come in a variety of widths and depths.
There are robust fabric awnings specifically designed for seasonal use – the ones to look at if you are going to be leaving your caravan sited for a whole season. Then there are lightweight porches designed for quick construction. Between those two extremes is an enormous choice.
The biggest advance ever in the awning and porch market has come in the last few years – the advent of the air awning. Air-filled frames, built into the fabric, replace metal or glass-fibre frames. The result is speedier and easier construction.
The caravan accessory market offers a massive selection of outdoor chairs – reclining ones for sunbathing, ones with removable footstools for relaxing, ones that fold very small for easy storage, ones that fold less small, ones you can leave out in the rain and they’ll dry quickly, ones you can’t because their thick padding will get saturated. In other words, there are chairs for all tastes and all needs.
How to choose? If you want to keep them in an under-settee locker, go for ones that fold very flat. If they’re going to be stored under a fixed bed in the caravan, make sure the aperture between any base structure struts is large enough for the chairs you are considering. Then, it is all about comfort and personal taste.
And tables? Again, there’s a vast array. And, what you choose will be governed by where you want to stow it on tow and when it's not in use, as well as ensuring it is large and sturdy enough and light enough not to use up all of your payload.
Sometimes called windscreens or windshields, these are ideal for creating shelter from the breeze and can be used not just to shelter you when you're relaxing outside but also to keep the breeze away from your barbecue.
Windbreaks are also very useful for marking the boundary of your pitch on campsites where this is not clear.
As with most accessories, there is a huge range of styles and prices, starting from just £10. Many are in the £30 to £40 range.
The four-panel Outdoor Revolution Pronto Windbreak (pictured), for example, costs around £129 while a top-of-the-range windbreak could cost up to around £300.
Sleeping bags or duvets
Sleeping bags are good for overnight guests but bringing your duvets from home is a great option for caravanning.
If you're purchasing a brand-new caravan, you may have the opportunity to opt for a bedding package that will match the caravan's interior scheme.
This can be a little pricier but means that you've got a fully co-ordinated caravan! Or you might want to purchase duvets you can use in both the caravan and the awning such as these from The Fine Bedding Co which are machine-washable and compact enough to easily stow away.
An additional number plate
Most caravan dealers will make a number plate for you. Alternatively, go to a branch of Halfords and remember to take your towcar’s V5 registration document to prove that you own the vehicle.
Halfords also sell number plate adhesive pads for around £2, which you will need to stick the number plate onto the rear of your caravan.
Toilet chemicals are used to ensure a clean and almost odour-free toilet in your caravan. You will need them. Many caravan accessory shops stock their own-label caravan toilet chemicals, but the most popular, stocked pretty much everywhere, is Thetford. There are two types in general use – one for the top flushing tank and one for the cassette beneath the toilet. There are alternatives available, including an increasing number for chemical-free solutions that are less harmful to the environment.
Watch out for special offers of packs of both pink (top tank additive) and blue (the bottom tank additive). The RRP for a two-litre bottle of Thetford Blue is £15.99. Shop around to find the best prices for your budget.
Mains electricity cable
Like steps, 25-metre electric hook-up cables, which allow you to connect your caravan to a campsite’s mains electrical supply, come as standard with most new caravans and a used caravan is also likely to have a hook-up cable. If not, around £25 is the price you’d expect to pay for this essential caravanning item.
There’s a tradition on many campsites of putting up an array of lights to create something of a festive atmosphere, especially on summer evenings.
We think it’s rather a nice thing to do.
There are some great examples at lights4fun.co.uk, including a pretty floral solar lantern priced at £12.99. Another good option is the Vango Galaxy lantern, which costs around £30 and is also solar powered – handy around the campsite.
You will need a waste water container and at least one fresh water container. You can go for basic containers that you have to carry (around £10); if you’re coming into caravanning from tent camping you probably have a fresh water container of this type already. But, in a caravan, you will be using a lot more water than when tent camping.
Think washing up and showering and you will immediately see the advantage of buying a wheeled water container.
A 40-litre wheeled fresh water container costs around £60 (watch out for special offers). They come with a handle that you attach for rolling and then detach once you get the container alongside your caravan. You can go for a 50-litre container, which will cost only slightly more and will mean you have to refill less often.
Waste water containers, similarly, vary in price and are sometimes found on special offer.
The popular Wastemaster costs around £60 and the Aquaroll is around £50.
You will also need a hose to connect your water outlet to the container. It’s sold by the metre, for around £2.50 a metre. A Y-shaped hose connector will enable you to connect both the shower and kitchen sink outlets to one hose to go into your waste container. These also cost around £2.50. Both are available from caravan accessory shops.
Live flame or gas? That’s your first basic choice when choosing your barbecue. For some, live flame barbecues are the only ‘real thing’. They’re superb. But they’re also messy and need a lot of cleaning at the end of the holiday, simply because of the coals.
Gas barbecues don’t, of course, have that problem. Many caravans have barbecue connectors on the front nearside, so you can power your barbecue from your caravan gas cylinder, which is super convenient.
Big-name manufacturers include Cadac, Weber and Campingaz. Many lesser-known brands and models are available in a host of sizes but think about a barbecue as an investment. As an example, the Campingaz Attitude 2100 costs just under £300.
These are a legal requirement, even if you have a wide vehicle and your caravan is so narrow that you can see along its sides. The law states that you must be able to see 20 metres behind the driver and four metres on either side of the car and the caravan.
A £1,000 fine and three penalty points awaits those who don’t use towing mirrors. Don’t forget to remove them once you’ve arrived, though!
There is a warning that, if you are involved in a crash that was caused by not having the required vision, then this may invalidate your insurance and prevent your insurance company from paying your claim.
So, how do you choose the ideal mirrors for you? The most important thing is to ensure the ones you are considering fit your car’s door mirrors snugly and securely.
Towing mirrors vary in price. You can buy them from £17 up to over £250 per pair.
For example, a pair of Milenco Aero 3 towing mirrors (below) cost £69.99 from Prima Leisure.
There are two types of gas used in caravans: propane and butane – and it’s essential to recognise the difference. Butane gas is designed to vaporise at a higher temperature than propane, so it ceases to vaporise at temperatures below freezing.
Therefore, it’s the one to go for only if you don’t intend to use your caravan during cold weather. Propane, though, vaporises at temperatures well below freezing, so this is the one that’s most versatile. Furthermore, if your caravan has Alde heating, it’s worth noting that Alde recommends the use of propane gas for maximum efficiency of the heating system.
The gas purchase system is this: you buy a gas bottle (around £63 for a 6kg propane from Calor, for example) and then, when it’s empty, you exchange it for a full one, paying only for the gas (around £23).
Most caravan accessory shops sell gas and many campsites do, too.
Our advice is to buy two cylinders; that way, you won’t run out of gas when the shops are closed!
A caravan step
All new caravans come with a step but it’s possible that might not be the case if you are buying used. Expect to pay between £10-£15 for a basic, wide plastic step – which is fine – or you could go for a double caravan step. Fiamma makes excellent, robust plastic ones costing under £10, for example. There are many others – look around and see what appeals to you.
You can, of course, use crockery in a caravan but it will add unnecessary weight and can be easily damaged. So, go for melamine or one of the other lightweight alternatives. Apart from keeping the weight down, lightweight tableware has another advantage.
If you choose to use washing-up facilities on a campsite, lightweight tableware is easy to carry in a washing-up bowl.
Almost all accessory shops have a range of lightweight tableware and, of course, you can find a huge selection at caravan and motorhome shows, too.
Not all caravan tableware is made of melamine; some is made from bamboo. Prima Leisure is one such retailer that sells a range of bamboo tableware, both in its store in Bristol and online. To add a home-from-home touch to your caravan without worrying about breakages, we love Sophie Allport's melamine range.
The type of battery – and the price you need to pay – depends on whether you intend to use your caravan away from an electric hook-up. Put simply, the larger the battery's capacity, the longer it will last without being charged. Consider the following:
● Cost: Lead acid or gel batteries are cheaper than lithium iron phosphate. But they have a shorter lifecycle. You can expect up to five times more charging cycles from a lithium iron phosphate battery (2,000+).
● Weight: Trying to reduce weight in your caravan is a key consideration and a lithium iron phosphate battery can be more than 70% lighter than lead acid ones.
● Size: The space for a leisure battery is usually based around the size of a 110Ah lead acid or gel battery but, because lithium iron phosphate batteries are 40% smaller, you can install a bigger, higher-performance battery in the allotted space. Leisure batteries vary in price – the Leoch Adventurer (right) costs £159.99. Refer to the NCC’s Verified Battery Scheme, which provides product verification for batteries used in leisure vehicles.
The scheme rates batteries as category A, B or C, with A having a higher storage capacity for people who frequently caravan off-grid. Category B is aimed at those who frequently use sites with hook-up facilities, but require a greater battery capacity to operate devices such as motor movers. Finally, category C batteries are for users who require a lower-capacity battery to cover basic operations for short periods away from an electrical hook-up.
If you enjoyed this guide to essential accessories for first-time touring, there is loads more expert caravan advice just like it in the latest 2020 issue of Your First Caravan.
Get your copy here: caravan.ma/firstcara20