Alastair ClementsSee other awning reviews written by Alastair Clements
Find out Practical Caravan’s verdict on the new Vango Varkala 420 inflatable awning, as the experienced tent-maker abandons traditional poles
Unlike more traditional manufacturers, Vango doesn’t make a poled awning, having decided to put all of its eggs into the increasingly popular inflatable basket with its ‘AirBeam’ technology. It’s a more expensive construction (at least for now), but its benefits are clear: you get a lighter awning, with smaller packaging; excellent storm resistance; fast pitch and put-away times; and less potential to damage your caravan in high winds.
The Varkala awning comes in three sizes, from a weekender porch awning to this 420, the largest (and best-selling) model in the range.
As its modern colourways and style suggest, this is an awning born of Vango's experience in tent manufacture; that also shows in the rugged construction using UV- and tear-resistant 420D ripstop polyester with taped seams, covered heavyweight zips and rock pegs as standard. There’s a PVC anti-mud strip around the base, making it easier to clean, and the lower edge is lipped to fold under your awning carpet and prevent draughts.
Impressively, the price includes pretty much everything you need – the double-action pump, storm straps, wheelarch cover, draught skirt, pegs and four bracing beams, plus two foam pads and adjustable poles designed to create a snug fit against the side of the tourer, with a triangular gusset to allow for the fact that not every pitch is completely flat!
For 2015 the Varkala range has been updated with new ‘click and lock’ AirSpeed valves, to which the pump locks and automatically closes the valve to avoid unexpected deflation (much like a dinghy pump). It also means you can no longer cross-thread a valve, because they don’t need to be unscrewed.
The valves have been moved to waist height on the main dog-leg beams to reduce the need for bending down, and the roof beams are slightly larger.
The beams really do fly up using the double-action hand pump – we’re told that it’s faster than the optional electric unit – and the standard rock pegs were handy on our gravel pitch. Although initially crinkly, the windows soon clear with the sun on them. There are zip-out blinds instead of curtains and all doors can be rolled back to the side or top, with the middle panel offering the option of being poled out as a veranda.
The 420 makes a useful additional space, with three 1.25m x 2.5m bays and an impressive 1.91m at its shallowest point.
Optional extras are available to help you make the most of this inflatable awning or replace parts if you should lose them. You can buy a spare inner tent for an extra £50, a spare beam for £15, spare 3.5m storm straps for £7 and a carpet measuring 2.4m x 3m. If the included hand pump isn't enough, you can also buy a 12/240V electric pump for £75 extra, to help you inflate the awning faster.
Overall, it weighs 27kg and measures 2.5m x 4.15m. You'll also need to know that the fixing height is between 2.36-2.5m, so check your caravan to to see if it will be easy to attach.
Specs and Layout
This is an awning that seems purpose-built for adventurous caravanners. It feels as rugged as Vango’s tents, it’s quick and easy to erect and stow, and is well-priced for an all-in-one package.
If you think inflatable awnings are not for you, check out our other awning reviews before you decide which to buy. We've reviewed a good selection of essential caravan accessories, too. Happy browsing.
- Price includes extras
- Varkala range has other sizes
- Inflatable means fast
- Easy to erect and dismantle
- Unlikely to appeal to traditionalists
- Blinds instead of curtains