Mad ventures: Putting up a New Awning in the Dark

Airbeam Awning test

How do you test how easy an awning really is to put up?

Give it to someone who has never seen it up, never seen it taken out of the bag, in the dark, on a cold winter evening!  

Do you think that would be a fair test?

That’s exactly what happened when we put up our new Vango Varkala awning for the first time this weekend: We arrived at the Setthorns Camping in the Forest site after dark.  Although I had full intentions of helping set up and put up the awning, trying to put 3 excited children to bed scuppered my plans. My Other Half was out, on his own, in the dark, armed with only a headtorch.

Thankfully there was no added rain or wind, at the time.

Vango varkala awning easy to put up and take down

In my eagerness to help, I got as far as emptying the bag before the kids called.  I was rather impressed with what I found: the awning- a Vango Varkala 280- and its bits were in there, as was a pressure controlled two-way pump and all the pegs one may need- rock pegs and soft ground pegs too.

What told me that the Varkala is made by a company that really thinks of its customers was that they included a mullet. Simple, yet saved so much time hunting around for ours somewhere in the caravan. Costs the company couple of pounds, yet saves family rows right at the beginning of a trip.

The Other Half set to work and only asked my help for one bit: the final bit of getting the awning into the railing and positioning it where I wanted it. 2 minutes and I was back in the warmth of the caravan.

Unlike when we had first put up our traditional awning with metal poles, I heard no cursing throughout the whole process.  There were no dings in the side of the caravan this time either. Yeay!

I did hear the poles being inflated and ping ping ping of the rock pegs being hammered in.

In half an hour the awning was up!  All this in the dark! Reading instructions along the way.

The Other Half praised the awning for a couple of features:

  • The outside is very distinctly labelled, so it’s much easier to make sure you are pulling it into the awning rail the right way.  The number of times we’ve had to pull our Tech Canopy out because we put it on inside out! This is unlikely to happen with the Vango Varkala.
  • Having the instructions sewn in clearly in the bag of the awning was brilliant.  These instructions were also well-written and easy to follow. Useful to read the instructions from beginning to end first and then take it step-by-step.
  • You can’t overinflate the airbeams, as the pressure valve on the pump won’t allow you.
  • The hose of the pump is long enough to reach the valves high up.

There were two things the Other Half commented on:

  • The hose of the pump came undone a couple of times.  (I remember having this problem when we previously tested an Airbeam tent.)
  • The flat looped tent pegs, which were intended to hold down the straps of the doorway bent in the hard ground.  To be honest, had it been light and we could see what we were working with, I don’t think we’d have even attempted to hammer them into the hardstanding.

That night it rained hard.  We were grateful for the added buffer space to store wet gear and dog over the weekend.

The awning gave a distinct thermal advantage.  You felt the chill was taken off as soon as you stepped in, even though we kept the caravan door firmly shut most of the time.

It was only on the second day that I looked at combating the condensation:  a losing battle on soggy ground, in such cold and with a wet dog in there. However, I was quite impressed at what could be achieved with opening the vents in the side windows.  It had actually dried out quite a bit from the gentle movement of air.

I really liked the privacy the awning gave: the windows each have blinds that zip top down.  As you zip them down, you allow light in, but still can keep it quite private.  No one will see your naked bum unless they come right up to the window. 😉

There are 4 doors: 2 on the side and the two front panels zip away if you want, which will be great in the summer.

Fit:  our caravan is a rather awkward shape, heavily sloping to the front.  Yet the awning stood quite well.  The roof section had no puddles of water or sagging.  The airbeams stood up well and were flexible enough to cope with the different angles.  The forward-facing side panel was wonky, but I managed to adjust it by creating a fold of the excess fabric and holding it in place with the velcroed on cushioning that sits against the caravan. In the conditions, we had my tweak worked perfectly.  For very windy conditions we need to make a permanent adjustment to that panel, but it seems an easy enough task. (Says she before consulting the experts. 🙂  )  All in all a big thumbs up though for how well the awning fit the different shape of our van.

After the hideously scary nights, we had last summer because of gale-force winds I will be keen to test this awning in stronger winds too.  There certainly seen to be enough storm straps and bracing straps to cope with windy conditions, so that is reassuring.  We hadn’t actually used any of these straps or braces, not even the guy ropes this weekend.  Yet the awning withstood the heavy rain very well and stood up comfortably.

Taking down the awning was quick.  The quick-release valves are very quick and there was little air left in them after deflating, so the awning packed up nicely into its bag.  Here’s Dadonthebrink taking it down, with Max making a couple of funny appearances. (The whole process took 6 minutes 45 seconds.)

All in all my first impressions of Vango’s Varkala are excellent.  I will write a follow up as the season goes on and we get more use out of it.

We have subsequently used this awning as with the campervan- not as intuitive, as we have no awning rail, but it stood up to the demands for the long weekend when we were stationary.

Have you tried an airbeam tent or awning before?  What do think of them?

Disclosure: We were sent this awning for the purpose of reviewing it.  All the views expressed are my own, honest opinion.

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