The problem with Caravan Awnings

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.

Update: I have just bought this awning spray off Amazon

It has some really good reviews, so I’m hoping it is going to 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 it’s 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 awning 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 about 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 to just 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.

With the awning taking its own weight, now it needs attaching 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 R&D departments of companies like Vango and Outwell, please solve this problem, and bring some more of that tent innovation to caravan awnings.

 

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Father to 3 kids, who loves getting out and about (hiking, running, camping, cycling, canoeing...) Co-founded Get Out With The Kids to help other parents enjoy the outdoors with their family.

7 Comments
  1. Hi Gav, we have the Kalari 380 and it is heavy. We have zipped out all the panels and now store these separately in a holdall, around £20 for reasonable sized one, this half’s the weight between the awning and panels, the awing is then easier to get into the cvan and to store when not being used. Even without the panels and internal airbeams and pump the awning can still be difficult to get into the awning bag, but without panels it is much easier. We suspect when the awning is packed at the factory with all the items in the awning bag it is done in a vacuum chamber and with some special techniques that mere mortals can never replicate. Another tip is to only tread the awning from the front of the cvan as the curve in the track at the front of the cvan is much less than the curve at the back of the cvan. I don’t suggest removing the airbeams from the awning, we also store the inflated cross beams in the shower area in the cvan, so are never deflated when not used. Getting an electric pump saves some back ache but most will not deflate the airbeams, so the manual pump is still needed when deflating the tubes and packing the awning. We don’t like the dual action of the Vango manual air pump as it pumps on the upstroke this results in having to pull on the handle and pump at the same time instead of only pumping on the down-stroke and using body weight for assistance. Then we have had two air bladders go faulty at different times resulting in them deflating over a 12 hour periods. Close inspection of the bladders showed both had small splits where the ends of bladder tubes are sealed, repairing them never worked properly, so now we carry spare bladders, which can save a holiday when away. The cost of bladders only vs bladders fitted inside sleeves is only £5.00 extra so worth buying bladders already fitted in sleeves and a sleeved bladder is quick to replace. Fitting bladders into the sleeves is not easy especially where the airbeam curves from the roof to down section, as the curve needs to be done correctly otherwise the airbeam will twist and the inflation connection point will not align properly.

    • Hi Fred, Thanks for the tips!
      We had thought about removing the panels too to cut down on the size.  We’ve since got a new awning, the Outwell Tide 440. It’s inflatable too, but has been much easier, and I’ve been able to get it back in the bag. We’ve been able to inflate it with an electric pump too, so a lot easier 😉

  2. Hi, I have just ordered the same caravan as you but a dealer special, how you getting on with it? also can you tell me the size of the vango awning is it 420 thanks.

    • Hi Scott,

      Excellent choice 🙂 

      We love this caravan and have now covered many miles around the country in it. Despite 3 kids and a dog, the caravan has held up extremely well.  Even now, after a year of travelling around in it, it still smells like new when we open the door. 

      Our two younger kids love their bunk beds. It gives them their own space.  The fold down bunks work well too.

      Our awning is the larger Vango Kalari 520. When it’s up, it provides us with loads of extra space – and we’ve even got the add-on bedroom.  However, it’s rather big and heavy, and so on reflection, a smaller awning would probably have been better as it would be easier to store, easier to transport, and easier to put up. 

      I’m sure you’ll love your van.

  3. Reply
    A2zcamping/Tenthire Ltd
    March 30, 2017 at 1:55 pm

    Hi there, Louise here from a2zcamping. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your article and yes putting up a caravan awning can be a difficult task, especially if there’s terential rain to boot! A helpful tip is to zip out the awning panels before sliding it into the rail, this considerably reduces the weight of the awning. Once fed through these can be zipped back in. There are also awning threaders, a long steel arm with a hook usually, which connects to the awning beading and helps you to reach with ease. The problem with freestanding awnings being utilised for a caravan is that the tunnel or sleeve is essentially just a means of bringing vehicle and awning together, so you wouldn’t exit the caravan directly into the awning, and this area can be quite draughty. Hope this helps!

  4. […] What we didn’t realise was how heavy and awkward we found pitching it compared to tents. Click here to read our experiences with the awning. […]

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