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Motorhome accessories: drive-away awnings


More and more owners of motorhomes are opting to trade down into campervans and van conversions. The latest van conversions offer just about everything you’d expect to find in a bigger motorhome, but the one thing most lack is living space. The solution is simple: get one of the latest generation of drive-away awnings

There’s nothing new about awnings used in conjunction with a motorhome – campervan fans have been using them since the split-screen VW campers of the ’60s, but the connection to the camper was usually a DIY job – often involving tarpaulins held in place by bits of string and Duck tape.

These days, the awnings are getting quicker to erect and easier to connect, with the best examples creating a seamless living space betwixt tent and ’van.

What to look out for

While buying what is effectively a tent would seem to hold no horrors, there are some important aspects to consider.

What sort of motorhome do you run?

While some models from manufacturers like Ventura are compatible with larger motorhomes, the majority are designed to fit high-top van conversions, VW campers and the like.

How high is your motorhome’s door?

Standalone awnings vary in the height of the doors they are designed to fit. Measure from the ground to the top of the door to get an accurate figure. Only a few awnings are designed to accommodate doors higher than 9ft.

How will you attach it to the motorhome?

If you have an awning rail, most awnings have beading which will run into the rail or can be attached by a figure of eight profile, but others may need a Kador converter and straps to be anchored to the roof.

What does it weigh?

Some steel-framed awnings can weigh as much as 40kg – bear this in mind when calculating your user payload.

Is it a tight fit?

Flapping awnings can keep you awake on a windy night and in the worst case, might damage the paintwork on your ’van – make sure you can achieve a snug fit.

How long does it take to put it up?

Putting up an awning for the first time is usually a bit of a battle, but the pitching time will improve with practice.

How many pegs does it need?

Pegging out and adjusting guy ropes can consume an awful lot of time – which isn’t ideal if you are used to moving from site to site regularly. As a simple gauge of how long it’s likely to take to erect your awning, ask how many guys and pegging points the awning has.

Can you put it up single-handed?

Under ideal, windless conditions, most awnings can be erected single-handed at a push, but it will be a very different proposition on an exposed clifftop CL with gale force winds and driving rain. Will there always be two willing adults to put the thing up?

The different styles of awning

We got hold of four examples of different types of drive-away awning from some of the leading manufacturers and put them up on a breezy day at Woodland Waters, near Grantham. Here’s what we discovered about them.

On the market

Khyam Motordome Excelsior 780

  • Price £399.99
  • Weight 12kg
  • Footprint 3m x 3m
  • Max attaching height 2.60m
  • Pitching time 20 min (10 min after some practice)
An awful lot of R&D effort has gone into the design and manufacture of this lightweight awning – and it shows. The rapid-pitch design means the folding alloy poles are erected in seconds, and with a bit of practice, the entire awning can be up and pegged down in just a few minutes.

The Khyam has huge openings front and rear, with a side door and two windows. There’s loads of headroom and a useful amount of floor space – it will easily take a table and four chairs.

Made from lightweight 3000 HH double-coated polyester, the Excelsior should cope with all but the very worst the British weather can throw at it, but there are no heavy duty mudflaps at the foot of the walls to deflect heavy rain, and a standalone groundsheet is extra. The high visibility yellow guy ropes have double attachments to balance the load on the frame, making this a very stable awning in high winds keeping flapping, which can get seriously irritating, to a minimum.

Attachment to the motorhome can be with over-roof straps or a bead into an awning rail, and there’s a wide gap between the main body of the awning and the ’van, which is really snug-fitting and, together with the extra height, enhances the feeling of space. If you need to leave the awning on its own, simply zip up the huge rear door and roll up the connecting membrane so it’s out of the way.

The Excelsior is specially designed to fit a Fiat/Peugeot/Citroën van conversion and – uniquely – accommodate the sliding door inside the joining membrane without fouling it. It’s also much lighter than most of its competitors, and is far quicker to erect than any of its rivals.

FOR Well-designed, robust lightweight frame and superb attention to detail
AGAINST Very little
IDEAL FOR… Nomadic motorhomers who need more space but are never in one place for very long

Royal Traveller 3

  • Price £359.99
  • Weight 23kg
  • Footprint 2.8m x 3.4m
  • Max attaching height 1.85m
  • Pitching time 45 min (30 min after some practice)

Made from lightweight polyester, which is easier to manhandle than heavier fabrics, this tidy little awning has two windows (complete with detachable curtains) and offers some 2.15 metres of headroom at the apex of the curved roof.

There’s enough room for a table and four chairs, plus storage space around the sides, and the whole front window and door can be zipped out for al fresco dining. The zipped door in the side is completely detachable, but the double zip did feel a little flimsy and the height is on low side when used with a motorhome with a step.

The traditional steel pole frame is fairly logical to erect and that lightweight nylon fabric is simple to attach while the legs are half extended. The Traveller could be assembled single-handed at a pinch, but would almost certainly need two people if it were windy. Eave extensions offer some additional protection to the front in wet weather and the sturdy frame makes it more wind-resistant than lighter models.

The Traveller is supplied with a pole to which you can attach straps for over roof mounting and a corded, elasticated connection membrane for feeding into an awning rail. It’s just about tall enough for van conversions, but the height of the motorhome access panel is more suited to campervans without a step.

FOR Sturdy steel pole frame is simple to assemble and offers good rigidity in a breeze
AGAINST Motorhome access door zips felt a little on the flimsy side
IDEAL FOR… a couple looking for more living room on the side of a camper

Ventura Freestander

  • Price From £752 to £934
  • Weight 30kg
  • Footprint 3.08m x 2.54m
  • Max attaching height 2.80m
  • Pitching time 45 min (30 min after some practice)
Market-leading traditional awning manufacturer Ventura has an enviable reputation for making fantastic quality products and this is a well-made awning using superb components. The heavy-duty tent material is tough, breathable, cool and totally waterproof and remains comfortable in the heat of summer, the zips are top notch and the fit on the frame is snug and true.

The Freestander has windows and doors on three sides and a large aperture on the motorhome side, which will comfortably fit a camper, van conversion, or if you specify the high model, a coachbuilt or A-class. The roomy interior is a beautifully light and airy space, but it can also be curtained off for greater privacy. You could comfortably entertain six, or maybe even eight, people round a large table and it really does feel like an extra room or conservatory.

Our test model had the lightweight glass-fibre frame, which saves weight, but tends to flex more than a steel-framed tent and is significantly more expensive. The Freestander is also easy and quite logical to erect, but its size, the weight of the fabric and the rather loose pole joints, mean it’s always going to be a two-person job to put it up. It’s an excellent product for lazy summer holidays when you’re staying put for several days at a time and possibly a useful addition for winter touring, but less than ideal for single night stopovers.

FOR Bombproof build-quality, generous dimensions
AGAINST The price
IDEAL FOR… Owners of larger motorhomes who like to sit out in the awning on sites where they are happy to hang around for a few nights

Outwell Florida Highway

  • Price £549.99
  • Weight 36.7kg
  • Footprint 3m x 5.05m
  • Max attaching height 2.20m
  • Pitching time 45 min (35 min after some practice)
Outwell is one of the most respected tent manufacturers in Europe, but it is something of a newcomer to the awning sector. The Florida Highway is effectively a simple tunnel tent with a separate over-the-top canopy which forms the connection between tent and a campervan at a pinch. It is erected to sit alongside the van rather than at 90 degrees, so it’s easier to fit onto compact pitches, while still offering loads of additional space. The composite roof poles are easy to insert into the sleeves and although it’s definitely a two-person job to erect, the fundamentals are straightforward.

One of the Outwell’s advantages is that it has doors at either side, so you can attach your camper to either side of the tent. On the downside, although it’s relatively simple to erect, fixing the canopy to the tent and then attaching this to the ’van can be a bit of a wrestle – especially if it’s breezy – and there are an awful lot of pegs to hammer in. But the Florida Highway is huge inside, with optional inner tents to create separate storage or an additional bedroom. The front panel is bell-shaped, with large windows, and there is a snug-fitting zip-in groundsheet which will keep out draughts in winter and creepy-crawlies in summer.

This awning is better suited to a small campervan, where it will more than double the available living space, making holidays much more practical for a young family.

FOR Generous living space and zip-in groundsheet
AGAINST Hammering all those pegs in!
IDEAL FOR… Families with compact campervans who need more living/sleeping space

Back to "Practical Advice" Category

30/07/2012 Share this story   Share on Facebook icon Share on Twitter icon Share on Pinterest icon Share on Google Plus icon Share on Linked In icon Share via Email icon

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