Opened and closed: How to pick an RV awning (and care for it)
If your travel trailer, camper van, RV or motorhome doesn’t have an awning, then you might be missing out on one of the best things about camping: hanging out in nature with some shade.
An RV awning serves many purposes, but the 2 biggest are its ability to shield some of the rig from sunlight (thus keeping it a little cooler), and offering an expanded space in which to commune with nature (while protected from her wrath). Awnings can essentially double the space available to you.
RV awnings come in many shapes and sizes. Some can span the entire length of the vehicle, with a depth of up to 12 feet or more.
Types of RV awnings
By far the popular type of RV awning is automatic awnings that deploy at the touch of a button. Automatic awnings are usually found on the side of modern RVs (travel trailers and motorhomes), and they can have a variety of controls that affect the awning’s deployment. High-end rigs may have powered awnings above every slideout, and possibly above every window.
Generally speaking, manual awnings function the same way as automatic options. But instead of complicated mechanisms that help open and close the awning, you are the mechanism. While a manual awning doesn’t require any power to deploy (which can come in handy when boondocking), it can sometimes take some arm strength to set the awning as desired. These types of awnings can be found on modern or vintage rigs. And while they’re usually mounted on one side of the rig (the door side), it’s not uncommon to encounter a rig with multiple manual awnings above several windows besides the longer door-side awning.
There are 2 additional types of awnings that aren’t quite as pertinent to motorhomes or travel trailers, but we’ll mention them in case they apply to you.
Fixed awnings don’t move or slide back into a housing to be hidden away for travel. While some campers do use them, they typically set them up and take them down as needed. Poles are usually used to prop the awning up, but sometimes a vehicle, tree or another tall thing can work as a tie point for the awning.
The other type of awning is a patio awning, which is sometimes found on permanent homes or large sun umbrellas. While a fixed patio awning isn’t applicable to camping, a large sun umbrella with awning-like material can sometimes be found at campgrounds.
Some awning manufacturers refer to their horizontal awnings as a “porch” or universal awning. This helps differentiate from awnings that could be used on a sloped or rounded end of an RV. Other awning types attach to cars or trucks and can sometimes be attached to a tent. Some manufacturers also offer a screened-in enclosure for the front and sides of the awning. These can be handy to keep bugs at bay and cut down on some sun exposure.
What about slide-out awnings?
If you’ve purchased a new or used motorhome or travel trailer with slide-outs, we recommend investigating (and investing in) an awning that attaches to the end of the slide-out and deploys as the slide-out extends.
This “slide-out awning” serves 2 important protective purposes.
- It can keep a variety of debris off the top of the slideout, which can then get jammed into the rig as the slide goes back in, and
- It can help keep the rig a little cooler by deflecting sunlight off of the tops of the slideouts.
It may cost a pretty penny to outfit your rig with these protective slideout awnings, but you’ll be glad you did in the long term.
RV awning care and maintenance tips
Speaking of longevity, proper care and maintenance of your awning can help it last for decades. Given how expensive new awning fabric can be, you’ll want to keep it in tip-top condition. An awning can last decades if properly cared for and maintained. In the case of this author, my own awning has survived countless camping abuses and storms. As of this writing, my Zip-Dee has been attached to my trailer since 1978 and it’s still going strong.
Try to clean your awning top with light soapy water (dish soap is plenty strong) and brush off any debris before storing the awning. Once every other year, you may find as the awning ages it needs special waterproofing sprayed on to keep the awning from leaking in rainstorms.
Tree sap can be particularly difficult to clean off an awning, so be aware of what types of trees you deploy your awning under. If you get pine sap on your awning, a squirt of WD-40 and hard scrubbing with a rag may be your best bet for removing it. If left untreated, over time the sap will get hard and eventually flake off.
What to know before buying an RV awning
What’s the best awning material?
You’ll often see the vinyl fabrics used in awning construction referred to by weight. For instance, a 13-oz vinyl fabric awning is considered good, but 15-oz or 16-oz is even better. Some awnings also have multiple “plies” of fabric; the more plies, the better (usually) for longevity and durability.
Here’s a shortlist of some of the most popular awning makers:
What to look for in an awning for your camper van or motorhome
Many people want to know how an awning attaches to their vehicle. Some RVs have a channel built into the roofline where an awning can easily be “slid” into place. These “C-channels” are often awning-specific, meaning a Zip-Dee awning might not slide into the channel like a Solera or Shade Pro does. These channels are sometimes riveted or screwed into place.
You may be tempted to purchase all the parts you need to mount an awning on your RV yourself. But after decades of dealing with RVs of all sizes and shapes, we recommend taking your rig to your local RV dealer for awning installation. Not only does the rig need to be perfectly level to install the c-channel or awning rail, but the entire package can weigh over 100 pounds depending on the awning size and mounting hardware weights.
If you or someone you know is in the market for a brand new or gently used motorhome or camper van, we invite you to browse Classic Van’s current inventory. You’re bound to find the perfect rig amongst our wide selection.
Schedule your personalized tour of our lot today, and find out why so many people have trusted Classic Vans with their camper van or motorhome purchase. We’ve been in the business of “all things van” since the late 1980s, and we’ve helped thousands of people find the perfect vehicle. We’re family-owned and operated, and we ship nationwide!