Campervan Drive-Away Awnings Guide
We all know campervans are great for helping us explore whilst at the same time remaining self-sufficient. The flexibility to go anywhere the road takes you and have everything you need to cook, relax and enjoy a comfy night’s sleep is all part of their enduring appeal. But with best will in the world, even the tidiest campers and the biggest vans can feel a little cramped at times. But that needn’t be the case. The extra space afforded by the simple addition of a drive-away awning makes it possible to elevate your campervan experience from great to something approaching luxury, without compromising on flexibility.
What is a drive-away awning?
A drive-away awning is essentially a tent that attaches to the side of your campervan to create an extension. Think of it a bit like adding a detachable conservatory to your travelling home! Made from the same type of weatherproof and hardwearing materials as tents, they are set up in the same way but unlike a freestanding tent, they attach snuggly to the side of your vehicle and have an opening that lets you pass directly from vehicle to awning and vice-versa. What makes drive-away awnings great is that, once detached, they remain upright as a freestanding tent that does not lose shape or stability. That means you can simply detach it when you want to drive off and use your vehicle to explore further afield for the day, and then reattach it when you return without the hassle of having dismantle your awning and repack everything whilst you’re off exploring.
What are the benefits of having one?
Perhaps you simply need more space or want some extra shelter? Maybe squeezing your long legs under your van’s cramped breakfast table has become an inconvenience you’ve grown (literally!) to live without? The benefits of a drive-away awning to a camping set up will mean different things to different people. But here are some of the ways they might enhance your campervan experience.
Additional Sleeping Space
If getting everyone a comfy spot to sleep inside the van is proving a bit of a squeeze, or if friends want to join you for part of your trip, having an awning means you’ll have extra space to accommodate everyone. Alternatively, if the kids want the excitement of sleeping outside the van under canvas, you’ll be able put them in the awning and enjoy a quiet night’s sleep whilst still being able to keep an eye on them.
Having more room means you can store more stuff. No one wants to be tripping over each other looking for things. Having extra space to store bulky items or fiddly camping furniture frees up more space inside your vehicle and just generally makes things more manageable. More space is good. Who wants clutter after all?
Expanded Living Area
Campervans can get cramped at the best of times but a drive-away awning can provide a great area to relax in, get changed in, dine in, cook in, or even a play area for the kids on rainy days. We’ve even heard of people turning them into showers. The point is, they’re flexible. So, whatever you want to fashion this new space into, feel free to get creative. Cinema tent anyone?
Flexibility & Mobility
Because drive-away awnings are free-standing, you can enjoy all that extra space whilst still being able to quickly disconnect from it, leaving you more time to use your vehicle for fun day excursions without the hassle of completely dismantling everything and taking it with you. They’re also handy for providing shelter for anyone in your group who might be staying behind whilst you’re gone. They also serve a great purpose in saving your pitch whilst you are away if that’s an issue, and because they attach directly to your vehicle, they rarely incur an extra charge from the campsite as is sometimes the case if you have a standalone tent in addition to your van.
By seamlessly attaching to your vehicle, you’re creating one big, interconnected liveable space, which is a welcome thing in wet weather. Similarly, when it’s hot you can leave the van door open at night to help air circulate and keep cool, whilst still feeling enclosed with the awning attached.
What different type of drive-away awnings are there and what vehicles can use them?
Drive-away awnings come in a variety of shapes and sizes and what you choose will ultimately depend on the type of vehicle you have, how you want to use it to best suit your lifestyle, and your budget. Whatever your personal preferences, here are a few things to consider:
If having extra space is your main reason to buy an awning, think carefully about exactly what you need from your awning in terms of size. Awnings come in a variety of sizes, at varying cost, so it’s worth thinking about what you need for both now and for the future trips. Size (as in height) is also important when it comes to fitting, but we’ll cover that shortly.
Want some privacy?
Do you want the awning to be open plan? Just a room for storage? Or do you want it to be able to accommodate a privacy screen or fit an inner bedroom? Different awnings come in different designs, so check what features your awning has and make sure they meet your requirements.
What you need now might not be what you need in the future. Some drive-away awnings have an option to add a further annexe at a later date, making them versatile and adaptable to changing travelling habits. They’re usually a little more pricey but they could give you more value for money in the long run if you think your travelling circumstances may vary.
Air vs Poles
Most awnings are either inflatable or come with poles. Inflatable awnings are often quicker and easier to assemble as they come as one inflatable part and can usually be put up by one person, whereas poles have multiple parts which are more prone to loss and damage and often need a couple of people to help comfortably erect. Inflatable awnings tend to handle windy conditions better too, due to their flexible structure. However, they require you to carry a pump (and a puncture repair kit too, just in case), are generally more expensive and usually slightly bulkier when packed down, so take up more room than poled versions.
How do I attach a drive-away awning to a vehicle?
There are a variety of methods you can use to attach a drive-away awning to your vehicle and what existing attachments (such as roof bars or awning rails) you have on your vehicle will determine which is easiest to use. The good news is, even if you don’t have anything on your vehicle for the specific purpose, you should still be able to connect an awning. Here’s a list of the most common:
Pre-attached awning rail
The most popular method of attachment is using a ‘C’ channel mounting rail which are a common fitting on most campervans. The edge of your awning will have a bead (or Kador) which can slip directly into the rail and slide along for a secure, tight and tidy connection. To make driving away for the day easier, you can also use a drive-away kit fitting for speedier results which involves using a double-edged Kador strip which is fitted on one side to the vehicle’s mounting rail and on the other to a figure of eight adapter rail, which in turn connects to the beaded edge of the awning tunnel (see diagram). To disconnect quickly you can simply pull out the connecting strip and drive away. Figure of 8 adapter strips are around 76 cm in length for ease of storage, so depending on the width of your awning you may have 3-4 of these.
Most awnings will come with long straps that you can simply throw over the top of your vehicle and peg out on the opposite side. Alternatively you can find a place on your vehicle to tie them onto (such as door handles or wing mirrors). Whilst this isn’t the method of choice for the purist, straps are a simple quick fix that work on pretty much any vehicle with a bit of imagination.
Most awnings also come with strong velcro straps, so if your vehicle has roof bars, it’s possible to attach it by simply wrapping these straps tightly around the bars and secure it using the Velcro.
Pole and clamp kit
A lot of awnings have a channel that you can then drop a pole into that clamps into the guttering on your van – ideal for many older styles of campervan. It’s a case of simply threading poles through the sleeve of the awning, drop it into the channel or gutter on your vehicle and then use the clamps to secure it in place.
Another clever alternative for vehicles without awning attachments of any kind is to buy a magnetic awning strip that you can attach to vehicles that have a steel body. Strong magnets keep the strip in place allowing you to attach your awning directly to it.
Any tips for detaching it and driving away?
Once you have disconnected the awning, before driving away it’s useful to mark out exactly where your front wheels are located using a peg or some other kind of marker. That way, you know exactly where to reposition your vehicle when you return, so you can be sure you are correctly lined up with your awning, making reattachment a stress-free, scene-avoiding affair. Before driving away it’s also good to roll up the back area of the awning and peg out any supporting guylines for extra stability. so your awning stays nice and neat in your absence. Follow these tips and you’ll get approving nods from fellow campers who’ll recognise you as bonafide drive-away awning pro.
What do I need to measure to know if an awning will fit my vehicle?
The height of your campervan is important when choosing an awning as they are built to fit onto vehicles that sit within a specific height range. To help determine what size awning you need, you’ll need to measure from the ground to the awning rail on your vehicle (or the top of your vehicle if it doesn’t have a rail). Typically, drive-away awnings fall into two categories:
Low 170 - 240cm height range
High 240 - 290cm height range
Usually, you can expect campervans to fall into the low category and bigger vehicles like motorhomes to fall into the higher range, although some odd-shaped campers may vary. Once you’ve determined the height, you can concentrate on the more fun task of picking an awning with the right features and budget to suit your adventures.
How do I look after my drive away awning?
The best advice is to treat your awning as you would a tent. Have a read of our tent care guide and by following these simple steps, you’ll make sure your campervan extension lasts for the many years of adventure it was built for. Another great tip is to use your phone to film yourself unpacking the awning from its bag when you first use it to remind you how repack it properly when the time comes.
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