Putting it Up
So now you know how we came by our nearly new drive-away awning, it's time I said what it's like to actually use. Personally I don't think it's that bad to put up but my husband is of a different opinion. The first time we used it was back in June when we went on a tour around north and mid Wales.
It was me who sorted out how to put it up. I was well impressed with myself, not usually being a practical kind of person, but I just think it's very much like a dome tent. You start out with two telescopic poles. Spread the awning out on the floor and proceed to thread the poles through the loops on the awning, pretty much the way you do with a tent. One thing that the person who we bought it off went on and on about was making sure we put the little cover over the mesh vent right at the top of the dome shape because he said once the awning is up it's very difficult to reach high enough to get the cover on. Yes, he's quite right. Most of the times we've put the awning up we have remembered but there's always a first time. Rather than take it all down again, Kevin stood on the caravan step and used a stick to stretch the cover over and secure the hooks through the loops, not an easy feat but quicker than taking the whole thing back down again.
Once you have the poles threaded through you just kind of pop it up off the ground. This is the fun bit as it's like handling an unwieldy drunk. It kind of lolls around in a very unstable manner and I must admit we've been very lucky in that it's never been very windy when we've used it. I'm really not sure how it would fair in a brisk gale, I think maybe it could end up turning into a bit of a wind surfing sail type thing taking us with it. If you ever see a couple doing a spot of random hang gliding from their awning around a campsite near you, give us a wave because it will probably be us.
Once you have it in an upright position, one person needs to hold it up while the other goes round pulling the poles taught and making sure the webbing around the bottom is rigid and forms a square shape then push each pole end into the hole to anchor it down. Then it's just a matter of positioning it so that the back end flap can be fixed on to the van guttering via "figure 8" rods. You then have pegging points all the way around plus a couple of guy ropes to give it some more strength. All the ropes and pegs are in fluorescent yellow so that you or your neighbouring campers don't walk into the ropes or trip over them. When you are going out in your camper you just detach the tunnel bit from the van zip up the back door of the awning and it sits there all day looking just like a very tall dome tent keeping your chairs and anything else you don't want to take with you dry and out of the rain.
It's Up's and Down's
Here's some good advice, don't bother using it as a toilet tent. Firstly shutting all the curtains (well rolling down the curtains) every time you need to use the loo is a pain and unless you're happy for a silhouette projection of your ablutions to be up there for the whole site to see once it's gone dark you're just going to have to have a wee without the light on. I'm glad to say that with a minor adjustment our portaloo is now completely usable on-board the van.
Quality is pretty standard and not really any better than most run of the mill tents. Unlike a tent it lacks an inner tent or double skin. This means that in early and late season condensation tends to be a bit of a problem. You get up in the morning, open the roll up curtains and door and get soaking wet from the condensation that's formed on the inside, still it saves the hassle of going for a shower. It soon dries off but if you're hoping for a quick early get away to pastures new, I suggest you take the awning down the night before, otherwise you'll have a fair bit of drying off to do before you can put the awning away. The awning fastens to the poles by way of plastic hooks that clip on to the poles. For some reason you can guarantee that the hooks manage to line up with the thick sections where the poles slot together, if you try to push the hooks on to the thick section they snap and we now have about 3 or 4 snapped hooks in total. With due care and attention this can be avoided but why does the damn thing always manage to line up in the wrong place.
All in all for the price we paid for it, it serves it's purpose and I do like it. The zips and velcro fasteners are pretty sturdy and for the days when it's sunny the front zipped opening door lifts up to form a sun canopy for you to sit under and shelter from the ravages of the sun! There was plenty of room inside for our table, two chairs and other bits and bobs that get in the way in the van and it all packs up neatly into it's own bag. I'm not over confident of how it would stand up to stormy weather but hopefully we won't have any of that kind of nastiness and if we do, I'll be sure to let you know how it performed.