Truck Camper Awnings: A Few Thoughts

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 an awning provides 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. The results in an additional 2 to 4 feet depending on the size of the truck and the camper’s design. This additional height not only reduces the amount of shade that the awning can provide, but it also makes it prone to catching wind gusts 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 those isobars, 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 60 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. 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.

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About Mello Mike 534 Articles
Mello Mike is an Arizona native, author, and the founder of Truck Camper Adventure. He's been RV'ing since 2002, is a certified RVIA Level 1 RV Technician, and has restored several Airstream travel trailers. He currently rolls in a 2013 Ram 3500 with a 2021 Bundutec Roadrunner truck camper mounted on top. He retired from the U.S. Navy in 2004 as a CWO3 after 24 years, worked in project management, and now runs Truck Camper Adventure full-time. He also does some RV consulting, repairs, and inspections on the side.

14 Comments

  1. My wife and I have always had either a manual roll 8′ up or a Carefree 10′ with a pole crank on our last two we bought. Since we don’t camp in open areas, we have never been subjected to the kind of extreme wind conditions that would damage our awnings. We also are not off road campers. We have rolled them up, if we leave the site when there is a wind advisory or thunderstorm in the forecast, but that has only happened 3-4 times in 35 years. We camp almost 2 months a year, and absolutely love having the protection on a rainy morning or early evening. It does not shelter all the sun, but it does enough to make it worth the $ we put into purchasing them. For us, we would always have one installed on whatever we use. Its practicality is a very valuable asset to our type of camping.

  2. I installed the Thule Hideaway on my Adventurer camper. Living in the Pacific Northwest, rain is more of a challenge than shade benefits.

    I’ve absolutely loved having the awning. It’s compact against the side of the camper, easy to open out and has been strong even in windy days.

    I added a tire table and can comfortably sit outside in the rain.

    It also works great to keep outside gear dry or aired out when fishing or quading.

    I’ve even caught a few small branches wiht it, but I was going to make a small leading wedge to give me a bit more protection.

    So all in all a vote for awnings.

  3. Carefree awning on Northstar Laredo. Total waste of way too much $ that could have been put to better use. As someone else said the TC often provides more shade. The awning is so small it really doesn’t shade anything and if it does, as the minutes pass the position is wrong to get any shade at all.

    Obviously wouldn’t do it again. As a matter of fact I want to remove it but wonder about all the screw holes left? Guess they could be filled with some Bondo FG repair.

    • That’s exactly right, Harvey, and why I decided to write the article. Having an awning sounds like a great idea, but when it comes to truck campers, it isn’t very practical. That’s my opinion, but it’s also based upon years of actual truck camper use and interactions with other truck camper owners.

  4. I agree that this is a biased article. Having said that, I’ll add my $.02 regarding awnings. I purchased a bag awning for my palomino pop up. The camper already had the rail installed, so it was a straightforward install. My problem was that with the rail being on the pop-up portion of the camper, the awning was just too high with the camper on the truck (2017 F350 4×4). I need 2 people and 2 ladders to deploy the thing and then it is so high that it doesn’t do a great job of providing shade. As a result, we rarely use it. When the camper is off the truck, It works great. It is easier to deploy and is at a reasonable height, but we rarely take the camper off while camping. I plan to get a smaller awning and mount it on the non-popup portion of the camper. That way it will be at a reasonable height and easier to deploy. It was an expensive lesson for me.

  5. I have a Fiamma, factory installed on my Alaskan. It’s mounted on the top section of the popup portion over the window, so is quite high up, when the camper is popped up. While initially nice to have, most times we get more shade from the truck. Also, it always seems to be on the wrong side for shading.

    The Fiamma manual has warnings about about wind damage, but what I found hilarious was a disclaimer about retracting the awning in the rain, too! Never really had any problems with it, except for scraping it in a tunnel on the Needles Hwy in SD. Just cosmetic damage, as it still rolls in and out. Probably have used it a dozen times in 4 years.

    I’m with Vince. If I had it to do over again, I would have one on the rear. I have engineered one to extend from my rear boat rack over the back and it it WAY more useful and handy. I carry a portable canopy that I’ve left up, and securely anchored, in some pretty fierce winds.

    If you like your awning, great! Good information on alternative solutions.

  6. On our 2017 Northern Lite 8.11 SE, we have both the rear and side awning. We use the rear awning quite frequently as it is electric and easily goes in and out with the push of a button.

    The side awning is a very different story. It is mounted up high, as mentioned in the article, so even when deployed I have to use a step stool to get up and deploy the legs from each end of the awning. That being said, I have deployed it three times, once each of the years we have owned the camper. We have never used it while camping because during the day we are not at the camper, we are out fishing, hiking, ATV’ing etc.. My biggest fear is leaving the camper with it set up and coming back to a total disaster because the wind came up while we were gone.I suppose if we were the type of campers who stayed at camp all day it would be a different story and we might use it more.

    We always roll in the rear awning when we leave camp and roll it back out when we get back as long as the wind is not blowing. If the wind does come up it is easy enough to hit the “in” button and roll it in.

    If I were ordering our camper all over again, I would definitely delete the side awning and keep the one on the rear of the camper. If you live in a part of the country prone to more wind like we do here in Wyoming, forego the awning and imminent heartache associated with it.

    As mentioned in the article, they sound like a great idea on the front end, but not so much in reality.

  7. Wow, one of the most sought after purchases for a T/C owner is an awning, you almost never see one without one. With all due respect Mike, I think this may be one of your most biased articles. Just b/c you don’t prefer one, it seems like you glossed over the benefits and really hammered the negatives. Citing one couple out of the tens of thousands (perhaps hundreds) of satisfied awning users, isn’t very indicative of how most T/C users feel. What do your past poll results of T/C options, as they pertain to awnings, show?

    New awnings can be purchased with sensors that retract the awning when the wind blows, one can retract the awning prior to leaving camp, or stake it down w/ tie-downs and stakes. Seems like a little preventative measure can go along way to preserve what is a most useful item for most T/C users, without throwing the baby out with the bath water. I have seen pop-ups at the races I attend fly 50′-100′ in the wind and land on another unsuspecting RV, or roll through the pits like a crazed run-away train. What’s next, no overhead vents?

  8. We have a Carefree on our Northstar Laredo. The awning is fine, but Northstar installed it so high off the ground that even at 6’0″ I have to stand on something to extend the arms. Useful, but the installation apparently was designed for ex-NBA players. 🙂

    Ardvark

  9. My wife and I used a “Quik-Shade 8’x8′ canopy for 20 years with our Flip-pac. For our new Phoenix I wanted a wrap-around “Bat-wing”, but the folks at Phoenix recommended against it. Instead they installed a manual Carefree 9′ and we could not be more pleased. My wife says it’s the best feature of the camper. The canopy had the advantage of being re-locatable.. we could set it up over a picnic table for example, but we rarely used it that way, preferring the boondocks where there aren’t any tables! The Carefree is so easy to use that we deploy it only when we are actually going to be under it, and retract it in between times. Our kitchen is built into the outside of the camper, and we almost always eat outside, so we use the awning a lot. The “outrigger” problem has never surfaced for us.. and we drive a lot of gnarly and overgrown roads.

  10. Yes, same happened to me with my 2018 Cirrus 920 Camper. Staying temporarily in an RV Park in Boise, before heading up to the high country and a small wind came up suddenly and ripped the canopy clear off the side of the camper. Actuall, more embarrassed than mad, managed to roll it back up and tie it. Boise, Idaho isn’t a place to get caught with trying to get a truck camper repaired. I ditched it there and was glad that thing was off for the wild ride up some of the back roads. I’m from Mobile, Alabama so the likes of Dauphin Island, Big Lagoon, and other various parks are all truck camper awning DENIED or face the consequences of the same scenario. I’m thinking of trying the various bat wing expandable designs with wall accessory. Anyone tried one on their campers yet? The construction and portability isn’t a problem for sure, they hook up to the luggage rack on top, but the height of support legs on the extended cover may be a problem. I would like to know your thoughts.

  11. We like our side awning that came with our Lance. We bought the camper used so the awning was already there. We’d like to awning to the rear of the camper some day. Here in the East we mainly camp in state parks so we use the awning almost every time we’re out. We don’t have the sudden winds so much like you would on the BLM land out West.

    • I have the rear awning on my Lance, really like it in the snow, as a vestibule for putting on/taking off the snowshoes. I’ve had both and prefer the rear facing one. You can always turn your rig into the wind and take the stress off the awning.

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