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The problem with Caravan Awnings

Posted by Gav Grayston.
First Published Jan 2017; updated May 2023.

The caravan awning has been essential for us. However, I soon learnt it's not as easy as a tent! I'm sure there's a better way...

So I've developed a bit of a love-hate relationship with our caravan awning.

There's nothing specifically wrong with the awning we're using (the Vango Kalari). In fact, it's very good.

the caravan awning was sure to be just as easy as tents to put up. Shouldn't it?

It's inflatable with AirBeams. And having had great inflatable tents from Vango and Outwell, the caravan awning was sure to be just as easy as tents to put up. Shouldn't it?

When it's up, it's great. It provides us with lots of extra space that has been essential with 6 of us.

But, you have to get it up first...

Caravan Awnings - They're not like tents!

Unlike a tent, the caravan awning doesn't support itself.

Let me explain...

With caravan awnings, you have to thread some piping on the awning through the rail that runs down the side of the caravan. This is how the awning connects to the caravan.

The problem is, this rail is quite high up. Plus, while you are doing this, you have the weight of the caravan awning (which is considerable, in our case), making the job quite hard.

Yes, you can get some spray to make the awning 'glide' better into the rail, but having seen all the recent innovations in tent camping, the way you pitch a caravan awning feels like a step backwards.

Just watch this video of us trying to get the awning up on a recent #5CChallenge trip.

YouTube Video Thumbnail


awning spray

Update: I have just bought this awning spray off Amazon

It has some really good reviews, so I'm hoping it will make things a bit easier for us.

I just love this comment from one reviewer:

Wished we had got this sooner. It would have saved a lot of arguments with other half !

Inflatable Awnings - Same Problems as Inflatable Tents

While we've loved inflatable tents, I've mentioned before how they tend to have one big drawback: they can be big and bulky when packed - especially the larger ones.

With all the inflatable tubes attached to a tent, the tent bag is bigger and heavier, as you can't pack the poles separately as you might with a traditional tent.

With the Vango Kalari awning, some of the inflatable AirBeams are removable, and it does have some large metal poles for support in bad weather that don't have to be packed with the awning. However, for the size of awning we have, the bag is big and bulky, and the awning is heavy.

It requires two of us to lift and is too big to easily get through the caravan door.

Once up, the space in the awning is excellent. But, lesson learnt. A big awning can give you problems.

There must be a better way

So far, the speed of 'pitching' a caravan is so much quicker than pitching a tent of a similar size. Except when it comes to putting up the awning. Then we take as long, if not longer, than setting up a tent and completely fitting it out.

I know this is not the case for everyone, and some people get their awnings up really quick, but I do think it's time for some more innovation to caravan awnings.

The Self-Supporting Caravan Awning

Although I've just mentioned how much extra bulk and weight inflatable beams add, I'm going to suggest that manufacturers add a couple more. Just enough for the awning to take its own weight.

I'd love just to be able to inflate the awning, and it to pop-up like the inflatable tents.

In my ignorance of caravanning, I thought that's what inflatable awnings did. I was disappointed.

A better design

With the awning taking its own weight, now it needs to be attached to the caravan. Or does it...

If the awning is self-supporting, it only needs to connect to the caravan to provide a seamless shelter.

For that, a simple elasticated 'skirt' could be used, or something that pulls over the top of the caravan like a tent awning. Alternatively, this re-designed awning could have a small bit of fabric that you just thread into the caravan's awning rail, and then this simply attaches to the awning.

Threading a small bit of fabric will be a lot easier than an entire awning.

Is this even technically possible?

Well, yes. Look at the inflatable drive-away awnings for motorhomes.

These are freestanding.

So to the RandD departments of companies like Vango and Outwell, please solve this problem, and bring some more of that tent innovation to caravan awnings.