With running a small caravan/motorhome site I get to see many guests each year who choose to bring an awning with them. What I have noticed over the last few years is a clear increase in the number of guests who are choosing to go with an air awning. Hence, I’ve previously written a post are air awnings any good? I based the content of that post on observations I’ve made on various air awnings our guests own and their feedback. However, over recent years I’ve also spoken to guests who own a traditional awning and asked them their thoughts on air awnings. I get quite a mixed response from those who are curious about the advantages and disadvantages of air awnings to those who will simply not consider them. Therefore, with today’s post, I thought I would discuss the specific pros and cons of air awnings vs traditional pole awnings.
Both air awnings and traditional pole awnings are available for both caravans, motorhomes and campervans. For instance, I recently wrote a post about motorhome awnings and when and where they are worth considering. If you own a motorhome and want additional space while retaining mobility a driveaway awning is sometimes a good option. As with caravan awnings, there is growing uptake of inflatable driveway awnings for motorhomes and campervans.
Air vs Traditional Awnings – How Fast Can You Put Them Up?
So the first topic I wanted to discuss when comparing air awnings vs traditional pole awnings is which is the quickest to put up? Now unless you are a caravan beginner or a motorhome beginner you will probably be aware of the saying ‘awnings are divorce in a bag’. The reason being, putting up an awning at the end of a long stressful trip to a caravan site in bad weather may lead to an argument in some cases. Its quite understandable, hence why some of our guests avoid awnings all together.
A typical example of a Kampa Air Awning: Image – Amazon
However, for those that do need an awning, some marketing does appear to present air awnings as the ‘easier’ option. In other words, much of the marketing around air awnings implies they are easier and quicker to put up than a traditional pole awning. Now, I have my own observations and thoughts on this. However, first I’ve provided the video below from YouTuber Dan Trudgian. Dan filmed an air awning vs traditional pole awning race, have a watch to see what happens.
The result, in the video above, was that it was quicker to get the traditional pole awning put up than the more modern air awning. Now, based on the marketing surrounding air awnings that may surprise some people. However, the result does match my own observations of watching our guests put up many different types of air and traditional pole awnings over recent years.
Why is it Quicker to Put Up a Traditional Pole Over an Air Awnings?
Ok, first I do need to clarify something. If you are very familiar with a particular pole awning, hence you know where each pole goes pretty much instantly, I think you would put that awning up quicker than an air awning in most cases. However, what if you have never put up a particular pole awning before? Hence you didn’t know where each pole went. I then think it would be quicker to put up an equivalent sized air awning. Though obviously the more you used/put up a particular traditional pole awning the quicker you would get. Therefore, unless you really struggle to remember where each pole goes even after multiple times erecting the awning, I’m going to continue this discussion on the basis that its quicker to put up a traditional pole awning than an air awning. One of the main reasons its quicker to put up a traditional pole awning vs an air awning is weight.
A typical example of an Isabella Traditional Pole Awning: Image – Amazon
Weight – Air vs Traditional Pole Awnings
Let’s use the two equivalent-sized awnings in the video above as a reference. The Isabella Magnum 400 (traditional pole awning) weighs 34kg vs the Ventura Trinus Air 400 at 33kg. Now, on the face of it, the traditional pole awning weighs more, hence harder to put up, right? Well no, because the weight of the traditional pole awning is divided into the weight of the fabric and poles. The weight of the air awning is all-in-one.
One of the hardest parts of putting up an awning is getting started and getting the awning actually into the rail on the side of the caravan. With an air awning, in this case, the Ventura Trinus Air 400 at 33kg you are having to lift all that weight to get it into position. However, with the traditional pole awning (Isabella Magnum 400), that’s not the case. While the total weight of the awning is 34kg, the weight of just the fabric is under 22kg. Hence, you are having to lift far less weight up and into the awning rail. Sure, awning rail lubricant can help when putting up an air awning, but it can’t help you to physically lift the air awning.
While awning rail lubricant can help make it easier to pull an air awning along the rail it cannot help you to physically lift the additional fabric weight compared to a traditional pole awning: Image – Amazon
Putting Up Poles vs Pumping Air
The second reason why it can be quicker to put up a traditional pole awning vs an air awning is when it comes to their supports. With an air awning, you have two options. You can either use the included manual pump to put up the air awning, or you can use an electric pump. Now, if you are going to use an electric pump you have to be very careful. Only use an electric air pump which will stop at the recommended air pressure. Using an unregulated air pump could damage the air awning and invalidate the warranty.
If you were to opt for an electric pump for an air awning its important you use an approved pressure-regulated pump to avoid damage: Image – Amazon
Using an electric air pump is slower than using a manual air pump. Provided you are able to use the manual pump pretty much none stop until the air awning was to the recommended pressure. You also have to bear in mind weather conditions. If its raining hard it would not be suitable to use the electric air pump. Not only to avoid the risk of electric shock but also because the electric pump could become damaged.
Using the Manual Air Pump – Prepare for a Workout
Now let’s discuss using a manual air pump. Obviously the bigger the air awning the more pumps its going to take to put up the awning. However, from speaking to a number of our guests who use air awnings they have told me the number of pumps required as stated in the instructions are often incorrect. Guests have told me that where the instructions may state 30 pumps are required, it ends up being closer to 100 pumps. That’s a considerable difference and something that needs to be noted. For starters, you may already be pretty tired from lifting the heavy air awning into and along the awning rail. Well, you now have to go up and down on a manual pump 100 times! If you working with someone else to put up the awning, in most cases you’ll want to share that workload.
Our guests have informed me it takes far more pumps to put up an air awning that the manuals typically state: Image – Amazon
Air vs Traditional Awnings – Adjustment, Durability and Maintainance
Something which is worth noting as a difference between a traditional pole awning compared to an air awning is on adjustment. You’ll likely be staying on a site where the pitch is not perfectly level. With a traditional pole awning, and especially the Isabelle range the poles are infinitely adjustable up to their maxium length. Therefore, you have the ability to precisely adjust the awning supports to suit the particular terrain. With an air awning, you don’t have that ability for precise adjustment.
Windy Conditions – How Do They Compare?
Where I feel air awnings do shine is their ability to cope with windy conditions. Here at Horton Common while we do have amazing views over the Staffordshire Moorland and Peak District National park it does mean we have higher average wind speeds than many other caravan sites. Therefore, no matter whether our guests have a traditional pole awning or an air awning I always recommend a decent set of storm straps and pegs.
Whether you are considering a traditional pole awning or an inflatable air awning a decent set of storm straps is advised: Image – Amazon
However, I have observed air awnings coping better when the wind speed does pick up due to the nature of their construction. As air awnings have no rigid poles they are more flexible. Hence, instead of just trying to stand up to the force of the wind they give a little. Therefore the energy of the wind gust is displaced and then the awning pops back into position. This is not to say that a good quality traditional pole awning such as the Isabelle would be damaged at the same wind speed. Its just to say that with a traditional pole awning before and after a period of high wind speeds some additional adjustment is likely to be required.
Snapped/Bent Poles vs Leaky Beams
In terms of the quality of the exterior fabric used on either a traditional pole awning or an air awning, the old adage is true, you get what you pay for. On the higher quality/more expensive awnings you do notice a difference in terms of how durable the awning fabric is likely to be. However, it is also worth noting, the higher quality fabrics tend to be a bit thicker and hence heavier. So if you are concerned about weight and ease-of-use to get the awning into the rail on the caravan or motorhome, bear that into consideration.
With a traditional pole awning, for a range of circumstances, a pole could get damaged or snapped. Another scenario is the adjustment clips break or become loose and require replacement. When it comes to air awnings there is the obvious question, can they leak? And the answer is yes potentially, after all, nothing is invulnerable. Now, over the last couple of years, I’ve only had one guest inform me they have had to repair a leaky air beam on their awning. But it can happen, so best to be prepared. Therefore, I have previously written a post on how to repair an air awning.
I advise anyone who owns an air awning to always have a repair kit in their caravan or motorhome just in case: Image – Amazon
Which Awning is Easier to Clean?
Every now and again you will likely need to clean and reproof your awning as I discuss in my post how to clean an awning. When comparing a traditional pole awning vs an air awning I think there is a clear difference when it comes to cleaning. Cleaning an awning is fair easier when its erected and attached to your caravan or motorhome. However, even when using a telescopic brush it can be hard to clean and reproof the roof. Hence, lowering the awning (removing the supports) while still attached to the awning rail can be beneficial. With a traditional pole awning that effectively means removing/lowering the poles. However, with an air awning, you could just simply drop the pressure and then re-inflate once you were finished.
Air vs Traditional Awnings – Condensation
Something which in general air awnings are more susceptible to than a traditional pole awning is condensation. In other words, with an air awning you can go into the awning in the morning and at certain times of year find water dripping from the ceiling and even puddles on the floor. If someone is sleeping in an air awning this could be even more frustrating.
A typical time of year for condensation to be an issue would be in the summer. Let’s say its been a lovely summers day with clear blue skies, hence inside the awning its got pretty warm. However, clear skies at night mean the temperature is going to drop pretty considerably. That temperature difference between the inside of the awning and outside causes moist air within the awning to condense against the walls and roof. Both traditional pole awnings and air awnings can be susceptible to condensation. However, I’ll now discuss why it can be more of an issue with an air awning.
First, air awnings are not typically made from a breathable fabric. The Isabella Magnum traditional pole awning uses Isacryl, more on that below. Secondly, the support poles for air awnings are filled with air. The moist air will condense against the air support beams themselves. It can then run down the air beam and make a little puddle on the floor. Hence, it would appear at first that the awning is not weatherproof. However, its more than likely a build-up of condensation.
Air vs Traditional Awnings – Price Comparisons
It is difficult to compare air awnings and traditional pole awnings directly on their price for a couple of reasons. First, a true comparison of an air awning and pole awing should be made with the same manufacturer using the same fabric. However, that scenario is rarer than you may think. If I was going to provide a quick generalisation, however, I would say. Air awnings of equivalent size are generally more expensive than traditional pole awnings.
However, that’s not always the case, for instance, let’s look at the two examples Dan uses in the video above. They are the Isabella Magnum 400 (pole awning) and the Ventura Trinus Air 400. The Ventura is also an Isabella awning. Isabella is recognized for producing some of the best quality traditional pole awnings.
The Isabella Ventura Trinus Air 400 awning pictured is actually cheaper than the Isabella Magnum 400 traditional pole awning: Image – Amazon
While it may appear on first impressions that Isabella is actually selling their air awnings of comparable size for less money than their pole awnings something does need to be noted. The Isabella Ventura range is described on their website as “basic range of tents and awnings in the Isabella family”. That statement would carry over to my impressions of a lot of air awnings vs traditional pole awnings. I’ve not as yet come across an air awning that uses a fabric of equivalent quality to high-end traditional pole awning. The fabric for instance on the Isabella Magnum is Isacryl. Isacryl is a textured-weave, durable acrylic material that is also highly breathable, hence condensation in the awning is less of an issue.
Conclusion on Inflatable Air vs Traditional Pole Awnings
The marketing around air awnings does appear to portray them as the natural evolution of the awning away from using poles. However, the reality is both traditional pole awnings and air awnings have their place and use. Both have their own specific benefits and compromises. While I believe air awnings are the ‘simpler’ option to put up, I wouldn’t describe them as the ‘easier’ option. For instance, as shown in the video above, it can often take more physical effort to put up an air awning over a traditional pole awning. However, the process is actually simpler. As you are not having to sort through a collection of poles to work out which one is which. However, in my post on how to take down an awning, I do think air awnings are the easier option in windy conditions.
When it comes to durability, air awnings can develop leaks in their support beams. Hence its a good idea to have a repair kit to hand while on holiday. I believe however that air awnings do cope better in higher wind speeds and with gusts of wind. It is also important to fit draught skirts and wheel covers to stop wind entering the awning. Finally, you do have to be aware that air awnings can suffer more from condensation issues due to the fact they are rarely fabricated from breathable fabrics. I discuss these topics more in my best caravan awnings post and my posts on porch awnings and groundsheets.
Anyway, thanks for reading. I hope the above has informed you on the key differences between air awnings vs traditional pole awnings. I also hope in the near future you consider coming to visit us at our Staffordshire Caravan Site, Horton Common. 🙂