Awnings are those slim long bags or metal cartridges you see running along the passengers’ side of a camper. Very simply, they are a roll of canvas or synthetic material that unfurls and is tensioned by integrated poles.
They are absolute game changers to your camping experience as they double your living territory. Better ones have a UV rating so you can get out of the sun. There’s a huge satisfaction in rolling out your awning, putting down a matching outdoor mat and chilling under the cover on your camp chairs. Throwing a couple of sausies on the grill and debriefing about a day well spent in paradise. Bit drafty? All good awning systems have privacy wall panels and even room options. So again, do your research into getting a system that is future proofed.
There is a huge variety of awnings available and they all have their merits, here’s the basic pros and cons.
The Old school rail system. Not to be sneered at, this is that old aluiminium U channel most caravans use to attach their canvas awnings to the side. The awning has a matching diameter rope sewn into the edge that you thread along the U channel. Because the U channel is riveted all the way along the side to the camper it provides extremely secure [wind proof] anchoring. In the past the awning and poles would have to be stored somewhere, but nowadays there are threaded awnings that have an incorporated bag, so the awning can stay in place along the rail.
Also, somewhat new to the market are inflatable awnings that come with drive away options. This is done by threading a zip adapter along the U channel and then zipping on and off the awning. You can claim your spot, by simply inflating the awning, wanna drive off? Just unzip and go.
Rails are inexpensive to buy and fit, many campers put a U channel along both sides. A huge consideration would be if the vehicle can accommodate both a U channel and roof racks. A lot of newer vehicles don’t have a solid panel below the gutter to run the rail. If you put the rail above the gutter you can’t affix gutter mounted racks because they will impede the awning being threaded the full length.
Rack mounted bag awnings
For smaller campers these are often the best choice. They simply bolt to any common roof rack system. There are a lot of brands available and they are inexpensive. They are easier to roll out than threading a long channel. The poles folded out of the outside edge’s housing, so the whole set up sits easily in the bag. You do get what you pay for, there are cheap ones available online for under $200.00, but often the poles, their hinges and fixtures will be flimsy, snap, prone to rust and UV damage.
You need to reach the bag easily to unroll and then pack the bag that holds the awning.
Cartridge Type Awnings
These are the big daddies of awnings. The awning roll is housed in a metal cartridge which is permanently attached to the roof or side of the camper. The high end ones are motorised, so they can be deployed at the push of a button. These are ideal if you have a high roof where you can’t easily reach the awning, the manual ones have a long arm that you insert into the end to wind out and in the awning.
Be wind aware. NZ is windy and awnings aren’t made for wind, in fact you’re unwinding a huge sail. Try to find out the wind rating of your awning. The ratings are all over the show, some bag awnings are rated higher and do perform better than cartridge awnings. While you can guide rope down awnings, it’s better to just wind/roll it in after use. Even if there in not a breath of breeze before you crash out, there’s nothing more choresome than having to get out of bed at 3am because the wind has kicked in.