We’ve all heard the horror stories—RV awnings being damaged by heavy winds requiring hundreds of dollars to fix. This happened to Josh Fuss and Amy Rupp recently while boondocking in Idaho. On what had been a windless day, a strong gust of wind tore one corner of their awning and nearly ripped the entire thing from their camper. This scenario happens all the time and can happen to any RV owner, regardless of experience. Most of us love the idea of having an awning, but few of us really realize the cons associated with having one. If you’re thinking about buying an aftermarket awning or having one installed at factory, think again. Because as we’ll point out in this article, the cons of owning an awning far outweigh the pros, especially for those who roll in a hard-side truck camper.
Truth be told, the awning can be a wonderful accessory in the right conditions. It provides plentiful amounts of shade where no trees exist, offers an effective barrier against rain, and can provide an extra layer of privacy. It’s also a great way to expand the “living space” of your camper. All of us have enjoyed the shade that awnings provide whether it’s at home or mounted on the side of a friend’s recreational vehicle, but don’t let that fool you or lull you into a false sense of security. If you like to boondock—and most of us truck camper owners do—you’ll be exposing your rig, and by extension your awning, to fierce and sudden winds. If you’re lucky, you’ll avoid damage to your awning and your camper, but this will only lead to further use and flirtations with disaster. Just ask Josh and Amy. They’ll tell you. They keep using their awning and it keeps getting damaged.
So what makes the truck camper unsuitable for awning use? Two things—the truck camper’s size and height. The truck camper’s diminutive size limits an awning’s length between 7 and 14 feet compared to the typical motorhome awning which is typically 25 feet long and sometimes longer. Not only that, the truck camper awning is located much higher from the ground as a result of where the camper is mounted. This results in an additional height between 2 to 4 feet depending on the truck and the camper’s design (the floor on some campers is actually located above the bed rails of the truck). This additional height not only reduces the amount of shade that the awning can provide, but it also makes it prone to catching heavy winds that can rip and/or carry it away. Mariners who own sailboats can appreciate the force of such winds. The additional height of a truck camper awning also makes it more difficult to deploy and put away.
Of course, the issue with height isn’t a problem with the pop-up camper. The lower profile of a pop-up makes it much more suitable for awning use, which is why so many pop-up owners opt for one, but the “outrigger effect” needs to be taken into account before buying one. A nautical term, an outrigger is anything that projects from the side of a ship or RV. For overlanders, an outrigger can be a liability for those who like to travel off-road. Tree limbs and rock outcroppings can snag on an awning, creating damage to both the awning and camper. This is why so many truck camper owners who like to off-road remove their lift jacks. We would never attempt to drive the White Rim Trail or some of the roads in the Kaibab National Forest with an awning mounted to our hard-side truck camper. The mere thought of it makes us shudder.
But the number one negative associated with the RV awning is the one we mentioned at the beginning—wind damage. Yes, it’s possible to avoid damaging winds by keeping a watchful eye on isobars daily, but this isn’t always possible. As mentioned, powerful gusts can come out of nowhere, wreaking all kinds of havoc. But the damage caused by high winds isn’t limited to just the awning. Loose awnings have been known to crack skylights and vents on the roof as well as cause damage to windows and RV sidings. Good anchoring is important, of course, but only works to a certain point. And of course, we’ve all heard the horror stories of awnings coming loose on the road. If you thought the damage from an loose awning is bad when stationary, it’s even worse when you’re traveling 65 mph on the highway.
So are there any options? Fortunately, there is—the portable canopy. This is what we use and it works great. There are several excellent canopies that can be purchased for a reasonable price online. We’ve found that a canopy with a screen enclosure provides all of the shade and protection we need on warm summer days when sitting in the camper is the last thing you want to do. And different styles of canopies can be purchased like this small, lightweight one featured in a recent article here on TCA. The canopy is also portable, fairly easy to deploy, and doesn’t require mounting and drilling holes into the side of your camper. Yes, you still have to contend with wind, but that’s something we’re willing to put up with when there are no trees around. Good anchoring is key.
As you can see, the cons of having an awning on a truck camper far outweigh the pros. The limited length, the excessive height, the outrigger effect, and the inability to be used with any appreciable amount of wind greatly limits its ability to be useful. These cons need to be carefully weighed against the pros because RV awnings aren’t cheap. A manual Carefree of Colorado awning can cost you $800 installed; a better Zip Dee awning much higher than that. Still, some truck camper owners will want one and that’s okay. It’s best to go into the decision with your eyes wide open rather than closed. When building a camper, choosing options can be fun, but they can also be expensive if you make the wrong decision since the truck camper itself provides loads of shade during the course of a day and doesn’t cost a thing. The choice is yours.
What has been your experience with awnings on truck campers? We’d love to hear from you.