I’ve recently been asked to write a review of camper van awnings and given that this is a common topic of conversation I’m happy to oblige.  This isn’t a straightforward issue, however.  What people want from an awning or canopy can be very different (different needs, sizes, climates, seasons and so on) and consequently, it’s a very subjective matter.

A Buyer’s Guide

This buyers’ guide is designed to de-mystify the world of awnings and canopies.  Information currently available seems to be dominated by manufacturers and retailers themselves; there’s very little independent advice. I’ll explain the various types available, highlight how they can be used and include links to popular manufacturers and models.

However, what I can’t do is make any recommendations on what you should buy – only you can make these kinds of decisions !  I’ll write a future post, though, detailing my personal experiences and preferences which may be useful information if you’re considering buying an awning or canopy.

What benefits will I get from an awning or canopy ?

There’s no need to tell any camper van owner of the many, many accessories they can buy for their van – see my earlier posts on VW California options and accessories and What to take in your camper van.  But before you get carried away into parting with yet more hard-earned cash for a snazzy new piece of kit, let’s first of all think about they’ll be used.  In summary, awnings and canopies can:

  • provide an additional sleeping area or play area for kids
  • provide space for storing gear (eg a Cali 5th seat, bikes, table, chairs)
  • be a space for your dog(s)
  • be used as a cooking area, especially where you’d rather keep cooking smells out of your van
  • reserve your camping pitch when you leave the campsite in your van
  • provide shelter and shade from wind, rain and sun
  • give you some privacy from nosy campsite neighbours !

There are a wide variety of products available but they seem to essentially fall into two types:

A.  Awnings

  • free-standing tents that provide an additional ‘room’ beside your camper van
  • ‘driveaway’ awnings have an extra flap of tent material allowing you to attach them to the awning rail on the side of your van, giving additional weather protection and privacy
  • you can also buy awnings that fit on the rear of the van (ie with the rear door open).

B.  Canopies

  • less substantial than awnings, canopies are either permanently fixed to the van (and are held upright by extendable legs when rolled out),  or can be free-standing (using poles and guys).
  • rollout awnings are a common extra on camper vans (I actually think they’re mis-named – they’re really canopies).  However, front and side panels are also available to attach to rollout awnings on-site to provide additional weather protection and privacy, creating more of a ‘room’ feel similar to an awning.

So, you can see that the most important question to consider in all of this is:  how will I use an awning or canopy ? 

But before you start to answer this, first let’s look at the features of some the many products currently available.

What kinds of awnings and canopies are available ?

Driveaway awnings

I’m going to focus here on driveaway awnings (essentially, free-standing tents that can attach to your van) since these are very popular with many campervanners.  However, if all you want is a separate tent for sleeping, dogs or storage, and you don’t need it ‘connected’ to your vehicle, then there are plenty easy-to-erect tents available worth considering as well.

Most driveaway awnings are constructed like tents, using a polyester flysheet and fibreglass or steel poles.  They’re available with our without inner tents, groundsheets or internal rugs/carpets, depending on how you want to use them and tend to cost between around £180 to £650, with options extra.  You can zip them up when you’re away in your van during the day, keeping your things safe and secure.

There’s a great variety available.  Depending on the model, expect to find a variety of windows, solid and mesh doors and porches.  Some allow you to attach the awning to either side of the camper van.  External heights extend up to 225cm (210cm inner) for the tallest but note that given the slightly curved nature of the roof the sides may be slightly lower.  They pack down to, typically, 80 x 30 x 30cm (approximately) and weigh anything between 12kg to 40kg.

Once you’ve learned how to pitch them for the first time you can expect them to take around 15 to 30 minutes to erect (don’t be fooled by the short manufacturers’ videos – they’re edited down !).

Popular products include:

Khyam Motordome Classic

Khyam Motordome Sleeper

Outdoor Revolution Movelite XL Classic

Outwell California Highway

Easycamp Daytona

The question you’re probably asking by now is: “so how exactly do driveaway awnings attach to the camper van ?”  Don’t worry, absolutely everyone asks this question … and then absolutely everyone scratches their heads once they’ve heard the explanation.  It’s one of those things that’s much easier demonstrated or actually done by yourself than explained.  But in short, you thread a strip of webbing (a kador strip) into your van awning rail or rollout awning, then you connect a figure-of-eight strip to this then finally, thread the beading on the driveaway awning into the other side of the figure-of-eight.

To disconnect the awning from the van, just do this in reverse.  It’s a good idea to mark the position of your van wheels facing the awning (use flourescent, rounded pegs or similar) so that you can park back in exactly the same position and not need to re-pitch your driveaway awning.  Have a look at this video by Khyam which shows how the Motordome Classic is erected (the fixing of the driveaway awning starts at 4 mins 40 secs).  Feel free to turn your speakers off ..

A recent innovation involves inflatable poles (“airbeams”) in which you inflate the ‘poles’ using a pump.  These are supposedly quicker to erect and dismantle and seem reasonably sturdy (see the Vango video below).  The Vango models cost between £420 to £500 with the Kampa quite a bit more.  They’re relatively new but I’m yet to hear of one deflating during the night …!

Currently available products include:

Vango Kela (note that the Vango products come in ‘standard’ and ‘tall’ sizings)

Vango Sapera

Kampa Travel Pod Air

You can also buy awnings that fit on to the tailgate of your van, such as those made by Khyam and Outdoor Revolution.  These look particularly useful for hotter climates where you want the option of shade under a rollout awning on the side of the van as well as an additional covered living area.  A slightly smaller version (quicker to erect) made by Packa Shack is handy as a private ‘changing room’ if you’re into sports or perhaps a place to sit and have a cup of tea sheltered from the elements.

The key pros and cons of driveaway awnings include:


  • provide additional shelter and ‘room’ space for sleeping, relaxation and storage
  • many models available to suit most requirements and budgets
  • reserve your campsite pitch if you leave for the day.


  • most models are too much hassle to erect for a one (or possibly two) night stay considering pitching time
  • can be bulky and heavy (40kg for the Outwell California Highway ?!)
  • while in some circumstances protection from wind, rain and sun is very welcome, some driveaway awnings can also have an ‘enclosed’ feeling.  Some people may prefer more ‘outdoor living’ rather than sitting in a tent
  • cost.


Canopies are much simpler structures and provide basic shelter from the wind, rain and sun.  They can either be fixed to the van or free-standing.

A popular option among VW California owners in particular is the rollout awning manufactured by Ormistor (owned by Thule).  The awning casing is permanently attached to the van and winds out with the use of a handle, and two extendable legs are used to keep it upright.  If all you want is to give some shade while you sit and have a cuppa the awning is perfect; it just takes a minute to rollout.

Top tips:

  • if rain is anticipated, pitch one leg lower than the other so the awning is at a slight angle to allow water run-off; otherwise puddles may quickly appear on top of your awning;
  • make sure you peg out or tie down your awning securely (tie-down kits are available); in strong gusts, awnings have been known to have been blown against or over camper vans, damaging them.

The drawback with the the rollout awning is that it doesn’t give protection from the wind, which limits its use on windier and colder days.  To overcome this, a couple of companies now produce side and front panels so you have the flexibility to erect and move panels depending on wind direction.  They’re also useful to provide shade from the sun.

In the UK Lilypad Leisure produce Windblockers, panels made from light netting-type material.  They’ve also recently brought out Sun Shade panels which incorporate both solid and mesh material to give you more flexibility.  Panels are available in a range of sizes (and can also be custom made) to suit a range of different awnings  Feedback suggests that the mesh panels are very effective in cutting out wind (watch the short video below).

Comfortz Leisure have recently started producing front and side panels for awnings in the UK.  Made from high quality PVC these peg down vertically in parallel with the extendable awning legs.

In Germany California Camping (original German site) and Brandrup also produce solid side panels from high quality materials.  In contrast to the Comfortz and Windblockers models, these are designed to slope downwards to provide a bigger footprint under the awning.  For camper vans without the optional rollout awning, Brandrup’s Top Sail may be worth looking at, providing an integrated and flexible solution.

Besides fixed canopies, free-standing canopies have added flexibility allowing you to angle and position them to provide shade and shelter.  Sun canopies or tarps are increasingly common as optional extras for many tents and have been used for years among backpacking, motorcycling and bushcraft communities.

You need to search pretty hard to find them but I’ve found free-standing canopy tarps made by Obelink, Hypercamp and Eurotrail, all using lightweight polyester tent material.  These appear to be much more popular in continental Europe than the UK; I think there’s an untapped market in the UK if more people were aware of them.

However, I was keen to find a canopy that would also attach the awning rail of my van to give the flexibility to use it on either side of the van, either instead of or in combination with my rollout awning.  I’ve therefore recently bought a Gelert sun canopy which has been modified by Lightning Leisure to include the beading needed to attach directly to the van.  I’ll review my experiences with this in a future post.

Overall, the key pros and cons of canopies include:


  • quick to erect
  • flexibility – particularly when using front/side panels
  • provide a more ‘open’, outdoors feel while still providing shelter
  • lightweight and take up little space
  • freestanding canopies are cheaper to buy.


  • do not provide a secure, covered area for sleeping or storage
  • need to be dismantled each time you move your van (except for freestanding canopies)
  • less effective in providing protection from the elements than enclosed driveaway awnings.

Whatever you choose to do, and whatever your particular needs, I hope you’ve found this buyers’ guide helpful.  I will endeavour to add to it in response to feedback and when I learn of additional products for camper vans.  In the meantime, happy camping !

Note:  I have absolutely no affiliation or relationship with any manufacturer or retailer of awnings and canopies.  The views expressed are entirely my own.

26 Comments on “Buyers’ Guide: Camper van Awnings and Canopies

  1. Nice post and good points on each type of shelter. We prefer a drive-away tent in cooler temperatures because it offers a floor to get out of the mud, but it blocks too much breeze when it gets hot out. I imagine though, that the newer tent models weigh much less, are easier to setup, and offer more ventilation than our vintage tent. For hotter months, we use a canopy attached to our bus for the extra ventilation and add a fake grass floor to keep dirt at bay. I have found that adding sun/wind shades on the sides of a canopy works well until the wind picks up – too much stress for the poles in some cases.
    I think it is interesting how the terminology changes a bit, at least here in the US, from the UK. Canopies here are free standing roofs with no sides, awnings are the same but attach to a structure/vehicle (therefore requiring only two or three poles), and tents are fully enclosed with sides (maybe a floor too). When I looked for new canopy poles on the web, I couldn’t find a suitable version and switched to the term “awning” – that gave me a lot of businesses in the UK.
    Also, how common is the term “cuppa” over there? Never heard it used outside my family before and always thought it was just a funny corruption my grandfather started.
    Looking forward to hearing how your setup works out.

  2. Some very useful comments. We too have found that no single solution is suitable for all seasons and climates and I’m still experimenting with various options.

    Yes, the terminology is confusing: awnings, canopies, tents, day shelters, tarps ……. It’s also interesting how these are used in many different settings. Different grades of lightweight and ripstop nylon are used for tents, sails, kites, and you’re just as likely to find canopies and/or materials that can be adapted from the backpacking / bushcraft communities and garden equipment suppliers. With a bit of imagination and some technical sewing skills there are lots of solutions.

    Yes, a “cuppa” is a common term in the UK. Always the first task once I’ve parked the van and wound out the awning !

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  4. Wow thats a lot of Info in one post! Thanks a lot for posting!

    • Hi Adrian,

      Thanks – I aim to please ! I actually hadn’t realised before I started looking into this that there’s very little independent advice available. Perhaps the best ‘market research’ you can do on awnings and canopies is to walk around campsites and have a look at what other people have, but then again products change and there’s a wider variety of options available than most people realise.

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  6. We like the Outdoor Revolution Movelite (we have the Movelite Midi) because the doors on all sides open fully to give a gazebo feel. You don’t feel enclosed, it provides shade in the heat of Europe, protects you and your stuff from the rain (and prying eyes when you leave the site), and a cool breeze can be blocked just by zipping up one or more of the doors leaving the others open to enjoy the view. It has survived strong wind and rain but in foul conditions you have to peg it down fully and use the storm straps. We’re now on our second awning as we upgraded to the slightly larger one (3m x 2.5m) and wouldn’t be without it. It now takes us about 15 mins to erect although the first time it took more like 90 minutes!

  7. Another advantage . . . as long as it’s not too cold at night, zip up the awning and leave the sliding door open and you have 24 hours a day fresh air and no noisy sliding doors in the late or early hours. On a 6 week trip to France last summer we only closed the sliding door when we stayed on aires.

    • Hi Matt,

      Useful comments – thanks very much. Yes, the Movelite Classic does look pretty flexible and also not too big/bulky, which is a plus in my book. In hotter climates, as you say, a bit of shade and a cooling breeze at night is invaluable. We have an older Khyam awning similar in design to the Movelite Classic, although freestanding. It has solid and mesh screens on all four sides which comes in really handy although the poles are a little too bulky.

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  9. Good article! Our T2 Split has only got rock and roll bed so no cooking facility. We tried various awnings, and found the Navigator Kombi worked well. The pitch and load/unload time did become very tiresome when touring so we looked at trailer tents (Conway) but bought a T@B caravan to tow instead (behind the camper) !

    • Hi Andy,

      Thanks ! That sounds like a good solution, especially if you’ve got space to store a caravan. A more luxurious way to travel – do it in style !

    • Good article! Our T2 Split has only got rock and roll bed so no cooking facility. We tried various awnings, and found the Navigator Kombi worked well. The pitch and load/unload time did become very tiresome when touring so we looked at trailer tents (Conway) but bought a T@B caravan to tow instead (behind the camper) !

  10. As a relatively new campervan owner I found this post really useful in helping us to decide what to buy to get us started. We have decided against a drive-away awning because we felt it would seem too enclosed. Instead we opted for a free-standing Khyam Screenhouse to use as an extra living/cooking area.

  11. I’m still a little confused about how the awnings attach to the van! My T4 doesn’t have roofracks/awning rail. Are there any models that don’t need this?

    • Sorry about the delay in replying – I’ve been away for the last fortnight. I think that driveaway awnings attach to a rail on the van roof but you can also get standalone awnings that don’t attach to the van at all. Since I don’t own a T4 or a driveaway awning your best bet might be to see what others use on the T4/T5 Forum.

  12. We simply use a small shelter (Quecheu shelter which pops up in a second and into which I chuck the dog crate, windbreak, seats and any washing to dry….the rest is simple…it rains, we sit inside the van. It’s just ok, we sit inside with the doors open, otherwise we’re outside or just out and about! If it’s too hot, we sit under a tree and the dog sits under the van…we’re experimenting with a tarp but have left it behind cos in 2 weeks of UK summer in Devon we didn’t need it.
    We ‘vlamp’ as simply as we can…..surrounded by our every needs!
    PS if using pop ups, remember to rematch the you tube clips on popping it down…before the start of every vlamping season….I came home on weekend one with the popup still popped up…inside the van!

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  14. Hi,
    We have a VW T2 Brazilian camper with low suspension.
    Would a Vango Kella low awning be suitable,
    As the one we have now a kella standard
    Collects rain on the top of the walk through areas
    Resulting the inside getting wet when we try to remove the water.

    • Hi there,

      I think you’ll have to measure the height of your van rail to find out. The Kela Standard fits a height of 205-235cm and the Low is 180-210. I can’t provide expert advice but I’d say that the Low would be a better fit if your van rail is sitting at about 200cm or less. Vango aren’t known for their customer service so if you’re still unsure I’d suggest speaking to a stockist (http://www.outdoorworlddirect.co.uk/ are very good) or Tweeting them. Sorry I can’t be of more help.

  15. Seeing how the drive-away awnings attach I’m now thinking it’ll be a freestanding tent or attaching another canopy to the Thule one that comes with the van. Thanks for a great post!

  16. Pingback: Things You Need to Think About Before Getting A Camper Van for Your Holiday | Round the World we go

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