23/08/2015
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Beginner's guide to campervan awnings

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How to improve your on-site storage or add extra living/sleeping space to your campervan, thanks to the addition of a campervan awning

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Coleman Logo

Photos courtesy of Coleman

 


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Why do you need an awning?

A family using a Coleman campervan awning

Awnings are incredibly useful: just pop them up on site when you’re pitching up and you instantly have extra storage space or entertainment space. They are also perfect for providing shelter against the vagaries of the British weather – sunshine or showers – and, better still, most now offer inner tent options for extra berths when it comes to bedtime.

Awnings have become even more popular with motorhomers, especially with those who have downsized to a more compact motorhome or a campervan and they are also a significantly cheaper way to add more on-site room than buying a larger campervan or motorhome. There’s a wide range of awnings on the market, to suit different sizes and styles of campervan.


Size matters

An aerial view of a Coleman campervan awning

Two sets of measurements will define what options you can go for, so it’s important to look at both. First up, most awnings are split into height categories. This is the height of the attachment point, whether that’s a cassette awning, motorhome roof rail or attached awning rail.

Many manufacturers stipulate a range that their awnings can suit. For example, Coleman’s new Journeymaster driveaway campervan awnings have three sizes, all for rail heights 1.80m to 2.10m.

The other thing to consider is packed size. Campervans have limited amounts of storage, so you just need to think about where the awning can be stored on the journey.

 

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Style points

The Journeymaster Deluxe Air

There are a couple of types of awnings to choose from and their suitability depends on how you plan to use your campervan and your awning.

A few motorhomes and campervans come with what is called a cassette or wind-out canopy. These are handy for shelter from the sun and can be used to attach sunshades and other awning types, but most cannot be left extended during strong winds, for example.

Driveaway awnings are free-standing versions that attach to a rail or similar (or have straps that go over the roof of the motorhome), but can be left up and in situ while you head off exploring for the day – very useful for storage of kit you don’t want to carry with you – just make sure you secure anything of value. Many of today’s versions feature either fibreglass or inflatable poles, meaning they are easier to put up and take down, making them perfect for weekends away.

Fixed awnings, like those you see attached to caravans, are less common for motorhomes, but ideal if you plan to head to a campsite and make use of the discounts for long stays or you want to base your motorhome on a site and plan to use public transport (or walking and cycling) to get around. Then there are simple canopies, sunshades and gazebo-style rooms, like Coleman’s FastPitch Shelters. The benefit of these is that they are lighter, pack smaller, are quick to put up (less than five minutes in the case of the FastPitch Shelter). Like the Coleman models, many come with sides and doors as an optional extra to provide even more shelter.

A FastPitch shelter
A closed FastPitch shelter

If you go for an inflatable awning – the term ‘air awning’ is commonly used – you’ll also need a pump. Most will come with a foot or dual-action hand pump as standard, but many offer an upgrade to a 12V compressor, which will do all the hard work for you. If you buy one of these separately to the awning, make sure the pressure is no higher than the manufacturer recommends. The benefit of air-poled awnings is the ease of set-up. Just plug in your pump and inflate. It’s simple. Coleman has handy pitching videos on its website, showing how to pitch the awnings with ease.

Look for high-pressure valves that allow for rapid inflation and deflation as well as systems that allow tubes to be replaced in the event of a puncture. Plus, air awnings will generally be easier to temporarily patch in situ with the help of a repair kit.


Material things

Journeymaster Deluxe Air, the XL

Weight is another thing that will define your choice. If your payload and carrying capacity is limited, then look at lighter-weight models, often more polyester-based than the range of technical cottons and acrylics that are also available.

Coleman’s biggest Journeymaster Deluxe Air, the XL, which features a spacious living area and bedroom that comfortably sleeps four, is just 30.9kg.

In either case, look at the level of rain protection, resistance to UV fading and fire retardancy. A 6,000mm hydrostatic head on the flysheet is said to provide excellent weather resistance, while UV protection, such as Coleman’s UVGuard, which has an SPF of 50, is also recommended (used in conjunction with sunscreen, of course).


Making connections

All driveaway models will come with a tunnel that connects the main body of the awning to the camper

You will also need to consider how you are going to attach the awning to your motorhome or campervan. Most manufacturers have fixing kits available as accessories but, if you are new to motorhoming, ask your dealer what it recommends for your specific model.

Coleman tells us,

 

Connecting the awning to your campervan can be achieved by multiple methods, including a standard 6mm beaded strip that is compatible with most driveaway awning rails, while nylon loops and a pole sleeve allow attachment via an alternative pole and clamp kit, and two additional straps enable pegging over the top of the campervan (driveaway awning pole and clamp kits are available as additional-cost items).

All driveaway models will come with a tunnel that connects the main body of the awning to the camper. The Coleman Journeymaster has a side door located in the tunnel, meaning you don’t have to walk through the awning to gain access to the motorhome, and this also means the tunnel could be used to store outdoor kit, bikes and muddy boots.

It can also be rolled back and toggled away when you want to drive off for the day’s adventures.


Extra extra

Coleman uses BlackOut technology

Other features you should be looking for include:

  • As already mentioned, awnings can provide useful extra berths, ideal for growing teenagers or even pets. Some are simple clip-in affairs but, if you are using the awning as accommodation on a more regular basis, it’s worth investing in something better. Our sister magazine, Camping, gave Coleman an award for its BlackOut Bedroom technology, which claims to block out up to 99% of daylight from the sleeping area, meaning you could continue to get shut-eye long after the sun has risen.
  • Lighting is a factor, too, so look for lantern attachment points in the roof, while cable entry points (zipped in the case of the Journeymaster) are a boon for charging devices.
  • Porches are a nice-to-have feature, allowing you to set up your chairs and watch the world go by, while large windows are also a bonus; Coleman has zipped covers in its range to allow you to balance a need for privacy and daytime light.
  • Ventilation and condensation are also important factors. All-round high and low-level vents will aid temperature control as well as reduce condensation.
  • For those with mobility issues, or for access with buggies, then look down. Some awnings will come with a lip that incorporates the groundsheet. Coleman told us that its new Journeymasters come with a drop-down feature that allows step-free access through the door.


Pitching tips

The Coleman Journeymaster includes storm straps

Like a tent, driveaway awnings are relatively easy to put up once you’ve done it a couple of times but make sure all doors and panels are zipped shut before you peg it down securely – this will help avoid distortion. Plus, campervanners recommend using small pitch markers for help with reconnecting when you return to the pitch after a day’s sightseeing.

Always use the guylines and, if the package doesn’t include storm straps (the Coleman Journeymaster does), then look for aftermarket versions.

The weather in Britain can change in a heartbeat and awnings that are not properly secured if the wind picks up can incur damage.

Don’t use a barbecue inside the awning; even just letting it cool down in an awning increases the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.

There’s a whole community out there and on campsites and we are always here to help. If you need any advice, just reach out.

For more information about Coleman’s new driveaway awnings, please visit colemanuk.co.uk


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