Here, we guide you through the choices of some of the most important caravan accessries – caravan porches, full awnings, fabrics and frames.
Look around any campsite and you’ll see that more than 90% of caravans have awnings attached to them. That’s not because awnings are essential (if you don’t fancy constructing a fabric-and-frame domain every time you go caravanning, you really don’t have to), it’s because awnings and porches enhance your caravanning experience immeasurably, by giving you a lot more living and storage space, whatever your caravan layout.
They make life easier by giving you a place to eat and relax, sheltered from the weather or, with the awning’s doors and sides rolled back, a place to find some cooling shade.
It’s somewhere for the chairs and table you’ll also use outside, a place to dry the dog’s fur and paws after a rain-soaked walk, and a room for the children to play when you want some peace and quiet in the caravan, especially on a wet day…
Plus, if you’re graduating into caravanning from tent camping, putting up and living in an awning will be second-nature.
But there are as many decisions to be made with accessories as their are with choosing and buying your caravan in the first place. Take a look at our guide and point any questions you have to the caravan advice forums...
A full awning will more than double your living space. Depending on the model you choose, it will project from the caravan side by between two and three metres; a few awnings project 3.5m.
A porch awning will give you extra space to make life easier – but without having to transport a bulky, heavy full awning. Porches are quicker to build, as you’d expect. In fact, some are very quick, going up and pegged down in less than 15 minutes, with two people building.
A sweeping generalisation would be that porches are smaller than full awnings. In most cases, that’s true. But some porches are very nearly as large as full awnings.
So, the fundamental question you need to ask yourself is: How much space do I need?
Are you going to be dining in the awning? If so, you need enough space for a table plus chairs for everyone is needed.
Do you want to shelter cycles or a pram in the awning? Toys, perhaps? Somewhere to put the barbecue when it has cooled and needs shelter from the weather?
Somewhere to towel the dog(s) dry after rain-soaked walks? Somewhere to hang the dog’s towels and also your towels to dry? Somewhere for the them to sleep if you don’t want them in the caravan.
Somewhere for some members of the family to sleep, perhaps?
The answers to these questions will instantly refine your search.
Awning fabrics vary enormously in weight, strength and look. Lightweight polyester has a number of advantages. It’s quick to dry after rain, light in weight to handle, construct and pack away. For all of those reasons, awnings made of this type of fabric are ideal for weekend stays. There’s a wide variety of textures, densities of weave, tautness and weight.
Heavier, higher quality polyesters are more suited to longer-term use, and will generally be more robust, so will last more holiday-years.
Expensive, high-quality acrylic awnings are made to last many years. They generally look more taut and rigid than lighter weight fabrics.
In the acrylic sector there’s an interesting fabric: fibre-dyed material, sometimes also called solution-dyed. In the manufacturing process the fibres that makes up the woven fabric are dyed before they are made into material. This fabric is designed to be more resistant to the effects of ultra-violet light than fabric that has been dyed after it has been made into yarn.
If you look closely, in bright light, at an awning made from fibre-dyed acrylic fabric, you’ll see the material is made up of many different colours, woven together to create a grey or a blue, for example. In addition to the predominant colour of grey or blue you’ll also see oranges and greens and other shades within the weave. That’s because the fibres were coloured before the cloth was created.
You'll find a choice of awning frames: steel, aluminium, glass fibre and air. Many manufacturers offer a choice between these for each particular awning model, depending on your needs.
From small lightweight porches to luxurious full awnings, the price range is vast. You can buy a budget porch made of lightweight fabric for around £200, or you can splash out on a full awning, with lots of features that can cost more than £3000.
When you’re buying a full awning, the price you pay for any given model depends on the length of your caravan. A longer caravan needs more fabric, and more frame, to cover it – hence greater cost.
All awnings, whether they’re porches or full awnings, attach to the caravan side by means of a cord which runs into the caravan’s awning channel. The channel runs right around the caravan side from the bottom front corner to the bottom rear corner.
You feed the cord in, usually starting from the front, pushing it along the channel until the awning lies flat against the caravan side. Then you begin to construct the frame. When it’s all taut and correct, you peg it down – just like a tent.
If you are buying a full awning, the size you need depends on the length of your caravan. Awnings are measured in centimetres. Awning sizes are called A-measurements. That’s the distance around the caravan’s awning channel plus the distance from each end of the channel to the ground. And, within any one range, naturally, the bigger the awning the higher the price.
Caravan manufacturers' websites are your first port of call for awning sizes if you’re buying a new caravan. Most manufacturers list the awning size for their caravans. Some awning manufacturers have size guides on their website; you type in the make, model and year of your caravan and up comes the size you need.
If you’re just starting out in caravanning, you may have bought an older caravan as your first tourer, in which case you might possibly find it difficult to obtain the A-measurement. If that’s the case, there’s an easy solution. Measure it! It’s a bit of a fiddle and it certainly takes two people, though.
Thread rope or string into (or close to) the awning channel, all the way around from one end to the other. Measure it, then measure the distance from each end of the channel to the ground (do it on level ground!), and add the figures together. The result is the A-measurement.