Choosing a Drive-Away Awning for a Campervan

Choosing a Drive-Away Awning for a Campervan

Choosing the right Drive-Away Awning for your VW campervan can be a daunting task with the massive range of different designs between various brands, available in a variety of fabrics, configurations and prices to choose from. Selecting the right awning for your wagon can make a huge difference in the living/storage/bedroom space you have available and can go a long way to help avoid cabin fever setting in!

In this post we look at some of the key points to consider when choosing a drive-away awning so you can narrow down your choices to just a couple of awnings which suit all your requirements. 

If you want more information about connecting a Drive-Away awning to a VW campervan, then check out our detailed posts - How to Connect a Drive-Away Awning to a VW T4, T5, or T6 and How to Connect a Drive-Away Awning or Sun Canopy to a VW T2 Bay, Splitscreen or T25.

What Connection Height?

Number one on the checklist is that your awning is the right connection height for your vehicle – this will spare any embarrassment when setting up for the first time on site!

The connection height is the point at where the connection tunnel of your Drive-Away awning attaches to your vehicle; whether this be via an awning rail, wind out awning or throw over straps – simply measure from the ground to the point where your awning will be connecting to check this height. 

When shopping for Drive-Away awnings you will see a range of terms used to denote connection heights: Low, VW, Lowline, Mid, Highline… the exact connection height range will be listed in the specifications (e.g. 180cm to 210cm). The manufacturer’s connection height name only refers to the height of the connection tunnel at the upper outside edge where it meets the van. For example, the height and all other dimensions in the main living area of a Vango Kela V AIR LOW is exactly the same as a Vango Kela V AIR TALL.

Unless you drive a high-top van with an awning rail fitted at high level, all VW Transporter sized campers are in the Low/Lowline/VW connection height range with larger vehicles such as Crafters, Sprinters and Ducato’s falling into the Mid or Tall/Highline range. However, we do recommend double checking your particular vehicle if you are unsure... especially raised, lowered and slammed vans.

Poled or Air?

This is one of the most common questions we get asked by customers when choosing an awning and a lot of it does come down to personal preference.

Inflatable (Air) awnings have the advantage of having all the air tubes integrated into the awning, so it really is a case of just pumping them up – which takes just a few minutes. Poled awnings require the sprung-joined poles to be threaded through the pole sleeves which, although straight forward, can sometimes be fiddly and take a bit longer to pitch, especially for larger awnings.

Inflatable Awnings or Air Awnings usually have a slightly larger pack size due to the inflatable bladders and extra fabric that makes up the AirBeam, they also include a double action pump, which together, will often make them slightly heavier or around the same weight as a poled equivalent.

The convenience of the Air awning does come at a cost though, with inflatable awnings generally being more expensive. 

FL Top Tip: The pump comes in a separate carry bag along with the pegs and mallet – instead of trying to roll these up with the awning, store these all together in the pump bag. This will make it a lot easier to get the awning back in its storage bag and two smaller bags are easier to store inside your camper than one large bag.

Sleeping in the Awning?

If you are looking to kick the kids out the van or have simply been demoted outside yourself, making sure you have the space to sleep comfortably in your awning is essential.

If you intend to sleep in a drive-away awning, manufacturers recommend using an inner bedroom which will help to regulate temperature and reduce condensation.  Inner Bedroom sleeping compartments have zipped entrance doors to offer privacy and use blackout fabrics for a good night’s sleep.

Many Drive-Away Awnings will have the option of a clip-in 2-person inner bedroom which will fit a double airbed as standard. Bedroom compartments can be left attached in the main awning at pack down if they are used constantly.  Although, as they are so quick to clip in and out, many of our customers use their awning as additional living/storage space and simply clip-in the bedroom compartment when needed… friends or family staying

On larger awnings there may even be the option to add a 4-person inner bedroom or 2 x 2-person bedrooms.

If an awning model has an option for an inner bedroom, this will be listed under specifications and its position will usually be marked on the floorplan image so you can see exactly where it fits. Check that you are happy with the living space that’s left once a bedroom is set up. If you plan to use the awning with the bedroom permanently set-up, is there enough living space to accommodate a table and chairs for eating inside in wet weather for instance?

Certain awnings such as the Kampa Cross AIR or Outdoor Revolution Movelite T3E also have the option to add a bedroom annexe extension which can be a great way of adding sleeping space without losing any of the existing living space.

Some of the more compact drive-away awnings on the market such as the Vango Faros AIR or Kampa Trip AIR do not have any connection tabs for clip-in bedrooms as they are designed purely as super lightweight living and storage spaces.

Side, Front or Rear Facing?

The orientation of your awning is another key choice to think about when selecting an awning model and this will normally be influenced by what sort of campsite you prefer to stay on to establish which is the most suitable for your needs.

Side Facing Awnings

The most common type of set up is a side facing awning with the main entrance door facing out from the side of the van to give you a clear view out with the sliding door open. Although this can offer a great view on sites where you have a choice which direction you park, on campsites with designated hardstanding for vehicles and set pitches side by side you could face directly out to your neighbour. This generally isn’t an issue on ‘basic sites’ where you can pitch where and how you like and many side facing awnings also have additional doors that can be utilized.

The same model of side facing awning can be used on either side of a van, so will fit vehicles with right hand sliding side doors just as well. Just check that you are happy with the way any additional doors face.

These are some of our best-selling side facing drive-away awnings - Vango Kela V AIR LOW Drive-Away Awning

Front Facing Awnings

Front facing awnings are now one of the most popular designs on the market as they sit parallel to your camper with the main entrance at the front end of the van and facing out the same way… and who doesn’t like to walk out and see their sparkling pride & joy! A front facing awning will allow you to maximise pitch space and often include an integrated front facing canopy such as the Vango Galli AIR or Cove AIR and the Kampa Touring AIR's. 

Vans with Sliding Side Doors on the Right

Most front facing awnings will fit on the left-hand side of a campervan as standard but can be used on the right side, it will mean that the main entrance will face the rear of the vehicle. If your van has the sliding door on the right-hand side, manufacturers offer Right Hand Side front facing models specially designed for California and LHD campers. Look out for RSV (Right Sided Vehicle) or RH (Right Hand) in the product title like the Vango Galli AIR RSV or Kampa Touring RH which all face forward on the right-hand-side.

Outdoor Revolutions versatile Cayman Combo drive-away awning is also a good choice as it is symmetrical from the side so essentially is front and rear facing and has the same orientation when fitted to either side of a vehicle.

Rear Facing Awnings

Rear Facing Awnings are often called Tailgate Awnings and attach to the rear of a vehicle with hook-on webbing straps and/or peggable guylines. Rear facing awnings can be connected to vans with barn doors as well as tailgates. These awnings make up a very small segment of the awning market and generally appeal to van owners with a specific internal van set-up, a tailgate kitchen for instance.

Rear facing awnings can sometimes be a problem on campsites with set pitch sizes because of the length when connected to a vehicle.

Roof Top Tents

Although, roof top tents have been used on Landrovers and other adventure vehicles on safaris and overland trips for decades, it’s not all about keeping out of reach of the big game. For VW Transporter van owners, a roof top tent can be a better and less costly choice than having an elevating roof fitted. 

Roof top tents also have the advantage that they can be easily attached to a working van just for the weekend, and like a drive-away, can be sold separately when upgrading or no longer required.

Roof top tents are available in poled and air versions and can be easily attached to any vehicle with a roof rack. The new era of roof top tents are very simple to inflate or pop-up from ground level in just a couple of minutes.

Sewn-In or Linked-In Groundsheet

Sewn-in groundsheets are a feature on most drive-away awnings and provide a more contained and draught-free environment with high and low level mesh vents for air circulation.  If it is really important to you that your awning is completely sealed at ground level lookout for the term ‘Full Zip Around’ as although some drive-away awnings have sewn in groundsheets they may not completely seal along the bottom of all the entrance doors.

Some people prefer a linked-in groundsheet that can be removed by simply unclipping it at the corners and edges. This can be a good option on a hard standing pitch or in dry conditions where you want nature underfoot or in wet conditions where you do not want to be treading mud through your awning.

Whichever type of groundsheet option you choose, you will notice additional groundsheet protectors or footprints available which are for protecting the main groundsheet on sharper surfaces such as gravel or hardstanding and help packing away the awning in a clean condition.


There is a huge amount of information regarding the specifications and technical details of tent and awning fabrics, but we will try to keep it simple with some of the key points that you should consider.

Two of the most important considerations are the Fabric Denier (thickness of fibres) and Fabric GSM (Grams per Square Meter). A higher Denier and GSM will generally indicate a more durable and sturdier fabric, but this will also mean a heavier and larger awning pack size.

The Hydrostatic Head (HH) of the material denotes the waterproof rating in millimetres. All our awnings start from 3000mm HH, which is considered fully waterproof, and go up to 6000mm HH which should keep you dry in a monsoon!

So, without going into too much more detail, let’s keep it simple and take a look at how these fabrics are used in the many different types of designs on the market. The majority (approx. 85%) of drive-away awnings are made of polyester and although there are many variations in denier and HH, we feel they can be basically broken down into two categories Lightweight (Touring) and Heavy-Duty. The final 15% of awnings are made from Polycotton (PC) and Technical Cotton (TC) which use a blend of both polyester and cotton.

Lightweight Touring Awnings

Lighter fabrics not only weigh less but also pack down to a smaller pack size and are easier to handle so we always recommend these as a really good option for touring with the awning being pitched and taken down every few days. For us, a long road trip will invariably mean lots of wild camping and some city covert camping. These are the times when the awning won’t be used, so it’s essential that it can be stowed easily in the Bus and not get in the way.

Lightweight awnings are also a good choice for any Vdub owner who just wants to generally save space in their van and they usually cost slightly less than the other types. Lightweight awnings have become more and more popular over the past 5 years.

Popular lightweight drive-away awnings for touring - 

Heavy-Duty Awnings

The polyester used in these heavy-duty awnings has a much thicker feel to it, and being more durable, no doubt, this type of awning will probably outlive any lighter equivalents. Along with thicker material comes heavier and larger pack size but this isn’t an issue for most Vdubbers as the awning will just sit somewhere in the back or on the floor of the van and be pitched as soon as they reach the campsite.

These types of awnings are available in many sizes and configurations and are by far the most popular drive-away awning and are the all-round mainstay for UK/European holidays, long weekends, Vdub festivals etc. As soon as it’s pitched, all camping gear is usually unloaded into and around the awning and the van is free to drive in and out to the beach, local attractions or just cruise. Many of the awnings in this category usually have options to add storage/bedroom annexes, zip-on canopies etc. so are very versatile and can be seen as futureproof.

Popular heavy-duty drive-away awnings for general weekend camping and holidays - 

Technical Cotton & Polycotton Awnings

These heavier more breathable fabrics are very durable and good for regulating the temperature within the awning in weather extremes. They will remain cooler in hot weather and retain more heat in a colder climate. The improved breathability helps to reduce condensation and the fabric also dries out a lot quicker. TC/PC awning fabric has a more premium canvas like feel to it. 

These premium awnings are high quality have a higher GSM which will add to the weight and pack size, so check the specs to make sure you’re happy with this and have enough room for storage in your van.

These awnings have sometimes been marketed by manufacturers as touring because of their ability to regulate the temperate in hot climates. It really depends on your own definition of ‘touring’ but if you have the space in your van, we view TC/PC awnings more as a very comfortable choice for pitching for longer periods – ideal for that long summer holiday camp in the UK or Europe.

As with the awnings in the Heavy-Duty section, there are often additional compatible items available such as porch annexes and canopies that will extend the living space of TC & PC awnings.

Understandably, the cost of these awnings can be prohibitive and outside of many customers budget, although plenty of people who will not settle for anything but the best, choose this option.

Drive-away awnings with technical cotton or polycotton fabric -

Overview & Summary

So, ask yourself what you want from an awning, obviously a dry shelter is a prerequisite and quite rightly at the top of the list - all our awnings will deliver this. The amount of bedroom, living and storage space should be relatively easy to work out and this is simple for some customers who tell us that they have a big family, dogs and lots of friends so simply want the biggest most comfortable awning they can get within their budget. 

Ultimately, we want our customers to purchase the awning that’s right for their needs and will serve them well over many a road trip, camping weekend and holiday. 

As we are talking through awning features with potential customers at VW festivals, it is not unusual to have an old customer passing who will chip-in that they bought the same or similar model of awning a few years ago and, alongside their van, it was the best purchase they had made. Getting such positive feedback from our customers and hearing about the good times and memories created and knowing that they have the right awning for their needs is not only satisfying but makes our job worthwhile.

We hope that the information in this post helps you choose the right drive-away awning and that you too have the best of times on your adventures.

The Funky Leisure Team

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