Travelling in a campervan offers flexibility, self-sufficiency and the ability to quickly set up and strike camp. But there are times when a little extra comfort and room is needed. Teenagers or dogs might need their own space, or perhaps you want some shelter from the weather. Whatever the reason, this is when a driveaway awning can come into its own.
I’ve been testing out the Vango Kela III driveaway awning (2017 version), provided for review by Outdoor World Direct. According to Vango the Kela is the “driving force” behind their current line-up of campervan and motorhome awnings, which also includes the Galli, Cruz and Idris. All three come in either ‘tall’, ‘standard’ or ‘low’ versions and I tried out the ‘low’ which attaches to a campervan with an awning rail height of 180 – 210cm. Vango introduced their AirBeam technology range over a decade ago, followed by several updates, and this latest version creates a strong impression.
You’d be forgiven for thinking there’s an inherent contradiction in the notion of taking a separate tent awning away in a campervan. If the whole point of a campervan is to camp flexibly in a self-contained unit, why have a driveaway awning? Doesn’t this add time and hassle to the fast-and-light, happy-go-lucky experience you’re after? At first sight this might seem the case but the big advantage of AirBeam awnings is the speed and ease in which you can pitch them. From unpacking the awning bag it took me just 25 minutes to put it up for the first time (by myself) . Vango’s website ambitiously states that the pitching time is 8 minutes but with a bit of practice I reckon I could pitch it in 15 minutes and probably less with a helper.
It has to be said that the tent bag, including pegs and pump, is still fairly bulky (L78 x H35 x W37cm) and weighing in at a pretty hefty 17.35kg. There are much heavier awnings on the market and so with some justification, Vango may well claim this weight and bulk to be in the Kela’s favour, but it still does take up a fair amount of storage room.
I was impressed with the quality of the materials. The double ripstop polyester fabric is durable and likely to last many years, there’s a fully sewn-in groundsheet that keeps out creep-crawlies and draughts and the groundsheet is attached to the flysheet with an external storm skirt to provide all round protection.
The first step in pitching the awning is to connect it to your campervan. The easiest way to do this is by threading the 6mm kador strip already attached to the awning into the rail on the side of your van. However, to give greater flexibility Vango recommend using a figure-of-eight strip to connect the awning to your van’s wind-out awning, which essentially means it’s easier to reattach and re-tension the awning after driving away for a day’s exploring. If your van doesn’t have an attached awning or awning rail then you have other options. You can use either a pole-and-clamp or hook-and-loop method to attach the awning to your van gutter or roof bars respectively, or simply throw the long webbing straps over the roof and secure them on the other side of the van.
I found it easy to attach the awning to the awning rail of my van using the integral 6mm kador strip. I managed to fit this on my own although having another pair of hands to assist in threading it into the rail would be even easier. (I didn’t have the opportunity to use the separate figure-of-eight strip unfortunately since this didn’t arrive in time for my review weekend away but this also seemed simple and straightforward to use).
Inflating the Kela is a case of connecting the included pump to the valves on the outside of the two AirBeams and inflating up to 7psi (there’s a handy pressure gauge on the pump). The rear beam is inflated first, you then pitch out the corners loosely, inflate the front beam, then adjust and finish pegging out the awning. There are lots of guylines and some strong, reflective webbing guys at the front. Internally, Vango have used their patented Vango TBS® II Tension Band System which helps strengthen the structure for windier conditions and there’s also an inflatable bracing beam to avoid any sagging canvas (especially when it rains) at the apex of the roof. This worked well and as I discovered, the key thing to remember is to remove the bracing beam before you decided to pack up the tent!
I really liked the flexible layout of the awning. As can be seen in the photo below, it creates a light, airy space with very good headroom and a footprint measuring 370cm by 310cm There’s a large PVC window at the front of the awning and with the addition of poles (not included), this front section could be zipped open to form a canopy, giving a breeze and feeling of space on a sunny day. There’s a large, zippable side door that leads into the front section, which has the groundsheet. This can be used as a living and/or sleeping area and an optional bedroom inner tent is available to order. To the rear (next to the van sliding door) there’s a walkway-cum-storage area with a zippable door at either end. Since this has no groundsheet this is a practical thoroughfare to use when entering the awning and van. No muddy foot or pawprints!
When setting off from your campsite for the day it’s a simple case of unthreading the kador strip from your van (a separate figure-of-eight strip makes this a much easier task), rolling up the rear ‘porch’ area and zipping a panel across the rear opening of the awning. Your awning is then left as a weather-proof, freestanding tent to mark your pitch.
The flysheet and groundsheet seams are all factory-taped to give watertight seals, strong steel pegs and a rubber mallet are included and there’s even an internal lantern hanging point.
I’ve used various designs of tents and awnings over the years and am a real convert to the AirBeam. I was curious at first to know whether the ‘poles’ were really strong enough to withstand the weight and weather without sagging overnight but I’m pleased to report that they remain firm and strong. Since the AirBeams are integral to the tent it’s a weight- and space-saving solution compared with conventional awnings.
I found the Kela III to be well designed, with little details including ventilation points, ‘tidies’ to hide guylines when not in use and the option to create a canopy opening at the front.
My one major criticism is the design of the awning bag, which I found far too narrow to be able to comfortably repack the tent. In dry conditions I really struggled to fold up the awning sufficiently small and wouldn’t even bother trying to force the awning into the bag when it’s damp or if I was in a rush to pack up. At first, I thought the AirBeams weren’t sufficiently deflated but found this wasn’t so. Eventually I resorted to repacking the awning on my drive at home – and still struggled! A far simpler solution would be for Vango to provide tensioning webbing straps to tighten the rolled-up awning, together with additional webbing straps to secure it inside a much larger outer bag.
Apart from this one failing I was really impressed with the Kela III. Over the years I’ve become sceptical of the extra hassle that comes with erecting a separate awning but would happily consider putting up the Kela for even a short stay. It’s a robust, well designed and flexible product that’s sure to last many years.
Note: The Kela III Low driveaway awning was provided to me to review for free by Outdoor World Direct. I have no connection with the company and have provided an honest and impartial review based on my personal experience in using the awning. The Kela III is currently available for £549.