For all those motorhomers and campervanners out there who like to enjoy a bit of breathing space, or who might indulge in the ancient Saxon sport of ‘cat-swinging’, an awning is an essential accessory to boost campsite living space. But how do you choose a motorhome awning that suits you?

Investing in one of the best motorhome awnings is guaranteed to enhance your touring experience, offering an extra living room, ‘secure’ storage space, or even somewhere to sleep.

When touring in cooler climes, traditional tent-style awnings, which are fully enclosed, are most popular; but the further south you go on the Continent, the more likely you are
to see wind-out box awnings, which are simply a roof panel to protect from showers or intense sunshine.

Naturally, both options are versatile, with full awnings having roll-up sides for hotter weather, and wind-out awnings having attachable sides for use in cooler locations.

Whichever of the two you opt for, these fabric extensions can be relied upon to offer valuable extra space, and can make a real difference to your campsite experience if you own a small motorhome.

Here, I’m talking you through the key points to consider, answering the questions you’re likely to have if you’re wondering how do I choose a motorhome awning.

How do I choose a motorhome awning?

What are motorhome awnings made of?

Today’s awnings are made of lightweight, strong and resilient plastic fibres, such as polyester. These are coated with such things as acrylic or polyvinyl alcohol to improve their outdoor performance.

Awning manufacturers use these materials because they are breathable and moisture-regulating, creating comfortable environments in any weather. They resist mould and mildew, and are moisture repellent, UV resistant, fire retardant and strong.

A roll-out box awning
Roll-out box awnings provide shelter from sun and rain

Traditionally, all awnings were held up with solid poles made from steel or wood. As materials technology advanced, these were supplemented with lightweight poles made from plastic or composite materials like carbon-fibre. Then, in the past decade or so, air awnings began to dominate the market. These are much lighter than traditional awnings, often weighing 25% less than their pole equivalents, and there’s no bulky pole bag.

As the name suggests, air awnings are supported by inflatable air beams, which quickly inflate to create strong and rigid structures. Air beams consist of a tough, rip-stop nylon outer sleeve containing an inflatable tube with a non-return valve.

Air beams
Air beams comprise a rip-stop nylon outer sleeve containing an inflatable tube

Air beam technology has continued to evolve over the past 10 to 15 years or so, to the point where they are now extremely durable and reliable, and require infrequent topping up.

On many of the best air awnings for a motorhome, supplementary air beams, which increase the rigidity of the structure, can be quickly fixed into place using Velcro.

How do awnings attach to a motorhome?

Unlike caravan awnings, where the extension is fixed to the side of the tourer for the duration of the stay, motorhome and campervan awnings are often designed so that the vehicle can be driven away, leaving an awning that will remain standing and can be secured to protect the contents against the elements and prying eyes.

This meant that a special drive-away kit – a robust, yet temporary, method of attaching the awning to the vehicle – had to be devised.

Some awnings rely on a basic strap system, where fabric straps are thrown over the roof of the ’van and tied or pegged on the other side, to hold the awning connection in place.

However, this doesn’t create a very waterproof or wind-tight seal, so most people consider the Kador strip design to be a better system, especially in poor weather conditions.

Kador strips create a stronger and more weatherproof bond between the awning roof and the leisure vehicle, but this does require the ’van to be fitted with an awning rail.

Kador strips
Kador strips create a more weatherproof bond between the awning and the ’van

The strips come in various lengths to suit your vehicle and with a range of bead sizes (typically 4mm or 6mm). The bead on one side of the Kador strip slides into the vehicle’s awning rail. Then a ‘figure-of-eight’ plastic strip is attached to the other bead.

The awning bead then slides into the empty channel on the figure-of-eight strip, creating a robust, weatherproof connection between the awning and the motorhome. When you want to drive away, you simply slide out the figure-of-eight and Kador strips.

Awning rail being fitted
Kador strips will require your motorhome to be fitted with an awning rail

Scandinavian camping gear brand Outwell has introduced a new system, which makes connecting your awning to your leisure vehicle even easier.

Its Drive Away Ready system lets you zip your vehicle to your awning, with colour-coded tabs to make positioning simple. On returning from a day out, you just park your vehicle in its original pitch position at one of the best campervan campsites in the UK, pull the Link Access Zone beading through the vehicle’s awning channel, align the tabs, then zip it to the awning.

Do I want a pole or an air awning for my motorhome?

Unless you’re heading to destinations where you might expect very strong winds, air awnings are going to be the easier option. They are quicker to erect, and lighter and smaller to handle and store. Some motorhomers might still prefer the extreme-weather resilience of a pole awning, however.

You should never pack away a wet awning, so having a quick-to-erect air awning can be a bonus if you need to set it up for drying after your holiday. Alternatively, try heading to one of the top 10 driest places in the UK for your tour!

Drive-away awnings

As already mentioned, drive-aways allow you to detach your awning quickly without dismantling it, when you need to empty the waste tank or head off for a day’s exploring.

Choose an awning where the open face of the structure can be sealed up securely when the ’van isn’t there, and check the awning is compatible with the rail height on your vehicle.

In addition, check the bead size of your awning, so you can buy the correct connection strips. Note that Fiamma and Omnistor wind-out awnings feature built-in awning rails, so drive-away awnings or canopies can be attached. Use a 4-6mm double Kador bead for Fiamma products, or a 5-6mm double Kador bead for the Thule Omnistor.

Awning versus tent

The lines are blurring between simple ‘one-room’ awnings and entire tent systems. This opens up the touring lifestyle to larger families.

Couple relaxing in camping chairs by an awning and 'van
Large awnings can double your living space

Excellent drive-away options in this sector include Coleman’s Journeymaster XL, with lightweight glass fibre poles, a welded groundsheet, drive-away 6mm beading and a versatile interior sleeping up to four people. Prices start at £599.

What awning fits my motorhome?

You will need two key dimensions to source an awning that fits your motorhome:

  • The height measurement: This is taken from the ground, vertically up to the fitment height, which is usually the awning rail. Bear in mind that this measurement might vary, depending on whether the ’van is loaded or empty.
Awning set up on a campervan
Careful measurement of both length and height is essential to ensure your awning will fit
  • The length measurement: How wide do you need your awning to be? This might be dictated by the awning rail on the vehicle, although drive-away awnings tend to use a similar length of rail, with the main awning space then extending on each side beyond the connecting section.

Awning annexes

Awnings are becoming increasingly versatile, including zip-on annexes which provide extra space. If just two are travelling, the basic awning might do, but if you have children with you, you can quickly attach an extra room.

Wind-out box awnings

This style of awning is now common on many motorhomes, and consists of a wind-out roof section to provide shelter from showers and respite from direct sunshine.

On the road, the roof section is held in a metal cassette fixed along the roofline of the vehicle, but once on site, it can be wound out by hand or electrically, to create a protective roof. These usually measure around 2-4.5m wide, by 2-3m deep. Most have two fold-down legs to support the front of the roof section, and side panels can be attached to create an enclosed awning environment. Given how quick they are to use, box awnings are ideal for multi-destination touring.

Fitting an awning rail

Although aftermarket awning rails could be fitted to a motorhome or campervan by an experienced DIYer, screw holes might need to be drilled into the vehicle, so this is probably best left to the experts. Awning rail kits can be bought online for as little as £15.

Choosing the right awning?

You can buy awnings online, but we’d recommend seeking the advice of the experts at your local dealer or head to the February or October NEC Show, so you can see the awning in the flesh.

By answering these questions, you’ll be in a great position to know how to choose a motorhome awning:

  • What’s your budget?
  • How much space do you require?
  • How often will you use it?
  • How long will it stay up for on each trip? For example, dismantled every couple of days, or left assembled for a fortnight?
  • Are you happy with setting up a pole awning, or do you prefer the speed of an air or a box awning?
  • Do you require more than one room?
  • What model is your motorhome, and which awning will fit it best?
  • What size best fits the position of your vehicle’s door, windows and vents?

Standards in the UK are incredibly high, so buying your awning from a well-known, reputable manufacturer will ensure that it is made of robust and long-lasting waterproof materials. This is something that you can’t always guarantee with cheaper imports found online. While a deal might look like a bargain, in the medium- or long-term, it might pay you to invest a bit more in your awning purchase.

Buying a pre-owned awning

There are hundreds of excellent used awnings for sale from motorhomers and dealerships. Many might hardly have been used and could be a real bargain.

Ideally, you’d want to see the awning fully erected to check its condition and suitability. Remember, though, you are not protected by consumer rights laws if you buy privately.

Awning accessories

There’s a huge range of accessories available to enhance your awning lifestyle and keep your motorhome extension in tip-top condition:

  • Double-action pump: Inflate your air awning in minutes with a double-action manual pump. These cost from just £12.
  • Electric pump: Remove all the effort from inflating an air awning! The Kampa electric pump, for example, costs from £59.99.
  • Awning carpet: These durable nylon rugs minimise dirt getting into your motorhome, and they’re also ideal for building your awning on in wet conditions. Buy one that matches your awning’s specific footprint.
  • Awning cleaner: Maintain your awning in tip-top condition with a liquid or spray-on cleaning solution to remove any dirt, sap, marks and bird muck.
  • Inflatable windbreaks: These are ideal on open-plan campsites to mark your space, provide privacy and minimise draughts.
  • Hard ground pegs: Robust tent pegs are perfect for use on hard surfaces. Some designs screw into the ground for added grip. Pre-drilling a hole with a cordless drill and a long masonry bit makes life easier.

Once you have your awning, you can start thinking about what you’ll be using it for, with some people setting up the best campervan projector in theirs for an enjoyable viewing experience.

Future Publishing Limited, the publisher of Practical Motorhome, provides the information in this article in good faith and makes no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. Individuals carrying out the instructions do so at their own risk and must exercise their independent judgement in determining the appropriateness of the advice to their circumstances. Individuals should take appropriate safety precautions and be aware of the risk of electrocution when dealing with electrical products. To the fullest extent permitted by law, neither Future nor its employees or agents shall have any liability in connection with the use of this information. Double check any warranty is not affected before proceeding.

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