There are two main types of caravan awing, the full size awning which is normally fitted only to caravans and the porch awing which you will see being used by both caravanners and motor-home users.

Caravan awning

The full size awning fits the awning rail of your van using a beading which is integral to its fabric.  It is supported by a metal framework, guy-lines and ground pegs.  It extends for the full length of your van and generally will have a depth of about two and a half to three meters.

The porch awning tends to be smaller and you will see it manifested in various shapes and sizes placed around the doors of  caravans or RVs.  They tend to vary from about four meters wide to up to three meters deep.   You will see that some are fixed to the unit, this in Europe being generally the case with RVs or motor homes.  Some, generally on caravans, will simply be mounted semi permanently on the awning rail.  This means that the container into which they are rolled is placed into the awning rail and left there between usages. In the US it is more common to see wind-out or fixed awnings which are permanently mounted to the door-side of caravans.  These are usually wind out systems very similar to shop awnings, which when deployed stand on legs and are sometimes fixed by guy lines.

Some porch awnings have sides to which insect screens and curtains are fitted. People sometimes fit groundsheets in order to complete the feeling of home.

To be really useful your awning will need to be at least 3 meters/9 feet deep by 3 meters/9 feet wide, anything smaller makes it a bit cramped for dining or sitting around in there during the long evenings.

Lets take a more detailed look at the different types of caravan, motor home and RV awnings:

Traditional full size caravan awning: The full awing will fit your caravan from front to back and you can have add-on annexes for bedrooms or extra storage space.

A view inside a traditional full sized caravan awning

There is usually plenty of room in there for family meals and it’s easy to set up beds in order to sleep there as well.  It’s a useful space for entertaining and socialising  especially in wet weather when you may not want people dragging their dirty footprints into your nice clean van.

It is possible for one person to put these things up, however it is better to have two, at least one of whom knows what they are doing.  Do take the time to read the instructions before you start, and keep them with you while you are working.

The first time assembling your awning is the hardest. If you take the time to mark and label your various bits of tubing, the second and subsequent times become easier.  You should allow about two hours from start to finish for this job, which may sound a lot.  However once you have prepared the work area, assembled your bits and pieces in the correct order, put everything together, secured it and put the tools away, time passes quickly.  It is all part of the fun of caravanning and if you are well prepared and organised you will enjoy it.

Some of these awnings can be a bit on the heavy side depending on the type of rig you are using.  If you have a large four wheel drive tow-car and a twin-axle van you can usually transport as big an awning as you want, however if you are close to your limit in terms of what you are currently towing you might want to consider one of the other, lighter options.

Most of these types of awning have zipped panels to the front and side which can be handy in hot weather.  Simply take them away and the remainder of the awning acts as an open sided sunshade, keeping direct sunlight off you and your caravan door and allowing cooling breezes to circulate.

The awning channel is the piece of aluminium that is fixed to the side of your van, runs front to rear and all the way along the side at the top.  Some of the newer ones have this built into the structure of the caravan.  The Bailey AluTech ones in particular have dispensed with the old fashioned add-on rail and have incorporated it into their new way of doing things.  It is still in the same place and works in the same way as the older system.  To measure the size of the awning you need simply to pull a bit of reasonably stable light rope or heavy string through there.  Use something that won’t stretch and bring it through all the way from the ground at the front to the ground at the rear.  Mark it before taking it out and measure it on the ground.  This will give you your awning size.   There can be a little bit of tolerance in the sizing but it is better to be as accurate as you can when you measure it.

As with everything else to do with your van, if you have a good and reliable dealer you are probably better to bring it there and discuss the options before you make a decision to purchase an awning.

These awnings come in a range of materials and, like most other things that we spend our hard earned cash on,  you tend to get what you pay for.  Acrylic tends to be the most expensive material and also the most robust.  It doesn’t rot and will keep its colour and shape.  Some people say that condensation tends to form on the insides so look for one that incorporates some ventilation.   Polyester can be an option and this has the advantage of some built-in breath-ability.  You can also opt for cotton, which is of course a natural material.  This will be waterproofed when you get it but you will need to renew this regularly using a spray or brush on liquid which is available from your dealer.  Always take your dealers advice and follow the instructions that come with the container.

Choose nylon zips as metal metal ones that will corrode, especially if you use them near the seaside.  Look for plenty of overlapping and reinforced, neatly stitched material around windows and doorways wherever anything is joined to something else.

When it comes to choosing a colour it will be easy enough to match it with your caravan, RV or motor home.

If your units is white,and most are, then light colours will work best.  As well as providing a nice aesthetically pleasing, summery feeling they will reflect light and heat.  Light colours can be hard to keep clean however and will show any mark that happens to occur.  Darker colours probably wear better in this respect.

If your awning does get stained or dirty, follow the instructions that came with it in order to get it clean again, or revert to your dealer for advice.  Never use detergents or possibly even soap depending on the type of fabric you have. The best way to get mud out of your awning fabric is to wait until it is thoroughly dry and gently beat it or brush it out using a stiffish brush.

The framework of this type of awning is usually braced from the side of the caravan.  This is how the tension is created to keep it upright and to keep the material taut.  There are various ways of doing this, all of which involve some kind of contact between the side of your van and the framework of the awning.

Some caravans have built-in fixed points for this purpose. A quick check with your dealer or manufacturer will help you identify these points and how to use any fixing mechanisms associated with them.

Sometimes you will find that the fixing is organised by the provision of various clever arrangements that are incorporated into the design of the awning itself.   Most awnings will involve some degree of bracing from the body of the caravan. Awnings have either pads or suckers that are used for this purpose and it is worth buying the largest pads that you can get as they spread the load and tend to avoid damage to the side of your caravan.

Don’t work in windy conditions, and when the awning is up keep an eye on the weather forecast and take it down before any storm arrives.  If you expect the weather to be windy while the awning is in place do make sure that you attach storm guys. Also use a caravan and motor home awning tie down kit which fits securely and easily to awning anchor stakes

Like assembling your awning, taking it down is also a two person job.  Try to wait until everything is really dry before taking it down and packing it away.  If you have to leave during wet weather, do not leave your awning folded and stored while wet.  As soon as you possibly can spread it out, hang it up or better still, re-assemble it at home and wait for it to dry thoroughly before you put it away for the next trip.

When assembling your awning be aware that it may rain. This one thing that you can count on, certainly anywhere I have ever gone.  Make sure that you awning as well tensioned and that there are no hollows in the roof where water, or even snow if you are an adventuresome winter caravanner, can pool.  At best you will get wet when you go to empty it but this can cause damage to the awing or its supports.

Photograph shows a caravan porch awning fully erected

Porch Awning Manual Roll-out Type: This is really a very simple arrangement and a good piece of design all in one go.  It consists of a long bag which sits in awning rail, held there by a beading which is an integral part of the bag.  Inside the bag is fixed the roof of the awning which is rolled around, usually, an aluminium tube inside which reside the legs and supports.

Setting it up up is usually a simple matter of unzipping the bag, releasing the roll which is held in place inside the bag with Velcro straps or similar.  This can be done by one person but it is best to have two pairs of hands available for this job, especially if it is in any way breezy.  When it is fully unrolled simply slide the supports, that is the legs and the rafters out of the center tube and fix them in place.  You’ll find that the rafters have an arrangement for bracing against the van without causing damage and that it is usually possible to fix the legs to the ground using tent pegs or special nails that come with the awning.  Fix some, usually two, guy-lines in place and your job is done.

If your awning came with sides as ours does, being a Fiamma Caravanstore Zip, then simply pop these into place, peg them down and get the kettle on.

Putting everything away when you are finished is simply a question of reversing the deployment process.  If possible make sure that it’s dry before you roll it up and store away the sides and that you have two people to work on the job.  If you cannot put it away dry, then take it all out again as soon as you go home and set it up again so that it drys out.  Hanging the sides and door section where drying air can circulate is all you need to do.  Don’t leave your awning stored away wet for more than 24 hours as things will begin to grow on it.

Do note that you should never work on awnings of any type during times of strong winds.  You are also well advised to listen regularly to a local good quality weather forecast and to take down any awning you have in place if strong winds are forecast.  Better to suffer a little bit of inconvenience than to lose your awning or to suffer damage to your caravan that may be caused by flying awning bits.

Have a look below at the steps involved in putting up an awning of this type.

Porch Awning Wind-out type: The wind out awning is essentially the same in all respects as the manual roll-out bag type.  The essential difference is that it is fixed to the camper van in a more robust and permanent way.  This means that the structure of the camper van can bear the weight of the awning as it is being deployed.  This type of awing is simply wound out on a type of scissors frame in much the same way as a shop or cafe awning.  It is always a good idea to follow the instructions for making them secure once they have been fully deployed.  Ensure that the legs are in place and that any recommended guying is completed.

These awning come in arrangements that are similar in many ways to the manual roll-out type.  Some consist of just the roof and some have sides to allow you set up a privacy room on the side of your van.

This type of awning is usually associated with the motor-home although in the US they come as part of the caravan or travel trailer as well.  In particular I have seen them as an integral part of Airstream caravans both in Europe and in the US.  Bailey caravans AluTech technology now makes it possible to fit these to the more traditional looking van and I am interested to hear from anybody who has done this.

Shows a small motor-home set up on the pitch with a drive-away awning attached.

Porch Awning Tent-Type Drive-away Awning: Especially with smaller motor-homes this can be a great way to both increase your living space and maintain your claim to your pitch when you drive away for a days sight seeing.  This type of awning is free standing with an opening which is accessible from the motor-home.  All you need to do is ensure that your driving skills are up re-aligning with it each time you get back to the campsite.

Some of the principal steps in putting up a roll-out awning

Shows step one, roll the awning  out of the bag.  The awning is simply hanging beside the van suspended from the bag which is fixed in the awning rail.

Step 1: Roll the awing out of the bag

Shows the first leg of a roll-out awing being deployed

Step 2: Deploy the first leg

Shows step three in setting up a roll-out awning, the support legs are deployed and the tension bars are in place.

Step 3: Deploy the second leg and put the tension bars in place using the sockets fixed into the bag.

Shows the awning in place having being guyed, the mallet used to drive the pegs is also shown lying on the grass beside the peg used to secure the guy-line.

Step 4: Drive the pegs, attach the guy-lines and get the tension right, ensuring you leave space to park your tow-car.

Shows the sides being secured and zipped into the roll out awning.

Step 5: Putting on the sides, one has been zipped into place & the second is ready to go.

Shows the front of the roll-out awning being zipped into place.  You can see where the door is already fixed in place and rolled up to facilitate access.

Step 6: Zipping the front into place. The door is already in place and rolled up.

Shows the mallet, tie and peg/nail used to peg the awning into place..

Step 7: Peg it out.

Shows an awning strorm strap securely fastened to a spiral ground anchor.  The grass is green on the ground and you can see strong shadows. It was a sunny day when we did this.

Step 8: The Awning storm strap securely fastened to a spiral ground anchor.

Shows the caravan awning storm tie-down strap in place, wrapped around the tension pole, passed over the top and secured on the ground on both sides.

Step 9: In passing the storm tie-down over the awning you can wrap it like this on the tension bar to make it more secure and to stop it flapping on the roof.

Shows the awning fully erected and ready to have it's curtains fitted and furniture put into place.

Step 10: Nothing left except to hang the curtains and arrange the furniture.

Caravan awning by: Tim Regan
View inside a full sized awning by: Howard Dickins