STANDING UNDER A sheet of canvas, threading poles into support pads while not denting the side of the caravan is always a good way to start a argument.
That’s why Mrs Donnelly wasn’t convinced about taking an awning on our titanic tour to Croatia. The idea of putting the awning up and down repeatedly as you move from site is a little daunting but in a caravan as compact as our Sprite, the promise of extra living space meant it was an attractive option.
While the car and caravan were definately at the lower end of the budget, the awning really wasn't. We took a fabulous Isabella Capri Lux with us on this trip.
Let’s be frank. It’s not a budget option. In fact, the list price of the awning dwarfs what we spent on the car and caravan which is a sobering thought. But buying a high-quality awning does give significant benefits. We got a chance to mull them over as we sat under it at Camping Romatishce Strasse in southern Germany.
Living space and caravan value doubled by the addition of the Isabella awning
First of all the Isabella was the correct size for the Sprite. I measured the van myself, but Isabella has a massive database of caravans it has measured over the years and even our 1986 Alpine was on the list. It's data agreed with our tape and the best fit was a 725cm awning. In modern caravan terms, this is tiny.
A trial run in the front garden told us that it was a good fit, but it’s not until you put it up on site that you get an idea about how well. In our case, it was spot on. The slightly strange roofline on the Sprite meant a little manoeuvring of the support pads was required but the result was a very sharp looking awning.
Bracket pads clip to a rail sewn into the roof panel and are adjusted for best fit
It wasn’t just the fit of the awning which helped us. Carrying fibreglass (CarbonX) poles makes setting up the structural framework much simpler. They are lighter for a start, but easy handling means inadvertently clouting the side of the van is less likely. It also means that a stray pole is less likely to cause damage as it doesn’t have the weight or the sharp, hard edge to ding a delicate aluminium sidewall.
The last time I was putting up full awnings of a regular basis was when helping my Dad manhandle our old Telt Larsen awning onto the family Sprite Major, and one of the toughest aspects was holding the weight of the steel poles, leaning into the awning all the while to tension it while tightening a thumbscrew to lock things in position.
I was delighted to find the 'Isafix' lock-over tabs on the Isabella poles make this a thing of the past. When you have the canvas tensioned, you flick over the spring tab and lock it into place. It’s really very simple to get a good result and tweaking the tensioning later on is easy too.
Tensioning the poles is made easy by the spring-assisted latch
We enjoyed consistently warm weather, and the lack of rain meant we got into the habit of putting up the awning without the side or front panels in place. This left us the roof and corner pieces as a sort of sun canopy. Using an awning in this slimmed down state is ideal for hot weather and is very popular among continental caravanners. We adopted their way of doing things and it meant we got pitching the cut-down canvas down to about 25 minutes. On a couple of occasions, the fine weather was accompanied by warm breezes and we just zipped panels in or out to provide the best compromise of shelter and ventilation.
Our biggest problem was getting the standard pegs to hold in the gravelly pitches which predominate on the continent. A pack of rock pegs, or perhaps screw-in pegs if you carry a cordless drill, would really have taken some of the backache out of the job.
2.5m deep awning is 40cm wider than the Sprite and gives bags of extra space
Are awnings worth the hassle on tour?
The extra living space an awning provides when on site for a couple of days lets you spread out, air your bedding, dry your washing and have a clear up inside the van without being a slave to the weather. And by the time you've packed it and pitched it a few times, it gets easier to make sense of. If you buy a good one, it will be easier to pitch properly than a cheaper one and if you want your marriage to remain intact, this is a vital consideration.
So after 15 days on the road, is an awning worth the hassle?
Isabella Capri Lux
Price: RRP from £815
Tel: 01844 20 2099