Image credit: Patrick Kavanagh (flickr)
Caravan awnings can make all the difference to life on the road, whether you’re travelling as a couple or with kids. They can save the day when mother nature does her worst or provide shade on those hot summer days, but best of all they can easily be turned into an annexe, effectively adding an extra room – and extra living, sleeping and storage space – to your caravan. As roomy as caravans can be these days, that bit of extra space can make all the difference.
Finding the best caravan awning for your needs can be tricky. They come in many styles, shapes and sizes, with different accessories, and of course at different price points. Let’s start by exploring the different types of awnings on the market.
Types of awnings
When buying a caravan awning or annex, you’ll find yourself choosing between porch or full awnings, box or bag housings, and a bunch of different materials, but for the most part, the decision you’re making is based on price and space. Functionality wise, there are essentially three different types.
Rollout awnings are manually pulled from their housing using a supplied pole (or on lower vans this can be done by hand). A ratchet and travel locks usually hold the awning in place when not in use, so these obviously need to be undone first. Once pulled out, there are support poles which can be pegged and roped to the ground, allowing accessories like mesh sides or waterproof walls to be installed. Though they can be set up by one person, it’s ideally a two-person job.
Wind out awnings are much easier to operate for one person. A winch handle attaches to the end of the housing and you simply turn it to wind the awning out or back in. Legs then slide or fold out from the awning and pivot into place. Obviously, for wind protection, it’s ideal to peg and rope them down. This type of awning is naturally much faster to erect. Some even come with an optional or fixed 12-volt motor kit, making the process even easier. These also feature accessories that allow you to easily turn them into an annexe.
Inflatable annexes and awnings have many advantages over the other two types. Setup is much quicker, and they can more easily be erected by one person since all that’s required is filling them with air. Air columns replace the usual metal poles, making them lighter and less subject to damage from the elements. They do still need to be pegged like other structures and tend to be more expensive.
The best awnings on the market
Once you’ve got an idea of what style of awning you’re looking at, it makes sense to check out some of the most popular offerings on the Australian market. They’re popular for a reason, after all.
Dometic A&E 8300 / Sunchaser Awning
The A&E 8300 (aka Sunchaser) is a wind out awning featuring a heavy-duty wind out mechanism. Fiamma claims it’s designed for all weather conditions but unfortunately, its owners tell a different story and say it’s more of an entry-level awning that’s designed for short term use – citing issues with its strength and needing to regularly replace the awning fabric due to delamination.
It’s fitted to the roof of the van, making it good for vans with walls that curve at the top or with little space between the top of the window/door and the roof of the van. Aside from being affordable and quick to erect, it has the unique ability to be fully functional when only extended to 70% - helpful when you’re in a tight campsite or any situation where you don’t have much room.
Price: $520 - $1,105
Dometic PerfectWall 1500 Awning
Another wind out awning but with the added bonus of an optional 12V motor kit (which still allows for manual override), the PerfectWall 1500 is a wall-mounted awning – suitable if you have flat walls and enough space. It comes with standard flat mounting adaptors which work with nearly all flat caravan and motorhome walls.
Dometic touts the PerfectWall 1500 as having heavy-duty reinforced and UV protected vinyl, and all reports say they’re pretty tough. The awning material does come as a single piece with no welded seams, so that’s a good sign for its sturdiness. The PerfectWall 1500 comes in lengths of between 1.5 metres and 6 metres, so will almost cover the whole range of caravans on the market.
Price: $1,029 - $2,140
Carefree Fiesta Awning
If you’re looking for manual rollout options, Carefree’s Fiesta Awning is the most popular in the US market and is quickly taking hold in Australia too. They’re well known for their relative strength and security for the price point. They do have a common issue with the springs bending or snapping, leading to the inability to extend or retract the awning, but once the springs are replaced there are many reports of them working for years to come. They’re a wall-mounted awning and come in lengths from 2.4 to 5.5 metres.
Price: $564 - $1,026
Fiamma F45 Awning
The Fiamma F45 Awning is almost a household name. They’re one of the most attractive and easy to use wind out awnings on the market, but they’re not without their haters. Fiamma says the F45 are highly wind resistant, featuring reinforced arms and dual shock absorbers. However, many owners suggest that they’re actually quite flimsy even when pegged and tied down and that they tend to retract their awning at the slightest hint of any strong winds.
They come in lengths from 2.6 to 4 metres and they’re quite affordable for the size. Unfortunately, though, they’re also not compatible with as wide a range of accessories as the market’s other popular offerings, since they have a different rail setup for accessory attachment.
Price: $799 – $1,165
AussieTraveller Coolabah Awning
The only awning on this list that’s manufactured and assembled in Australia, the Coolabah isn’t very widely known, but is known in the caravan community as a rugged alternative to the big brands. It’s cross-wire bracing system means it can stand up to some incredibly harsh wind conditions, probably also helped by its canvas (rather than vinyl) shade material.
The AussieTraveller Coolabah is quick and easy to erect and even add accessories, using their unique zip-on wall system. It comes in lengths from 3 to 5.8 metres.
Price: $1392 – 2307
Carefree 12V Freedom Awning
One of the most popular automatic awnings is the Carefree Freedom, which comes with a 12V motor as standard. The button to extend and retract the awning is installed inside your van, which is handy when it’s raining outside, and you don’t want to get wet while putting up your shelter. Like most awnings, the support arms still need to be folded down once the awning is extended (and folded back up before you retract).
The Freedom can be set to automatically retract when it gets too windy, and the best part is that when it retracts it automatically closes and locks its aluminium box housing. You just need to hit the retract button and wait for it to secure itself, then you’re ready to roll.
Price: $1,245 - $1,550
Xtend Outdoors Australia Wide Inflatable Annexe
Inflatable annexes are a relative newcomer to the caravan awning market, but they’re growing in popularity. It’s easy to see why.
The Australia Wide Inflatable Annexe is quick and easy to inflate by one person with a manual handpump, and with no poles its very lightweight. Once pegged and tied down, it’s virtually impossible to damage no matter how rough the weather. The best part is that no accessories are needed. It comes as a fully enclosed annexe with five windows and two doors that include mesh screening, a privacy panel, and detachable clear plastic waterproofing which can be raised or lowered. There’s also a partial sunroof at the top which makes for a much brighter outdoor space. It can be used by itself or under an additional awning for further rain protection and comes in one reasonably large size – 3.9 metres.
While some of the awnings above will be available from common bricks and mortar retail stores like Super Cheap Auto, shopping online allows a wider range of choices and makes it easier to compare them. There’s no shortage of manufacturer sites and caravan accessory stores online, and websites like Gumtree and eBay even offer the option of second-hand caravan awnings for sale.
Whatever your needs, this guide will hopefully help you narrow down your purchase. You’ll be outdoors and enjoying your new caravan awning as soon as you get a weekend off.
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