Air or Pole Awning: Which is Right for Your Campervan?

Air Awnings for Campervans, Explained

For those unfamiliar with air awnings, this piece of kit can be confusing to understand. Air awnings either operate in a single point or multi-point inflation system. All this means is that some can be inflated from a single point, or each pole must be inflated separately in multi-point inflation.

Air awnings started out as having a manual inflation system, whereby a hand-operated pump was provided, which is essentially a high-power version of a bike wheel pump. Now, you can get battery inflated pumps that automatically inflate the air pole to the correct pressure, which is normally under 10psi. A variety of aftermarket pumps can be bought, although the adapters for each valve vary.

Vango first brought the inflated pole concept to the market back in 2014 with the AirBeam range, and it still remains a best seller. Many other camping companies offer inflated pole options, from Kampa Dometic to Outwell.

Inflated vs Metal Poles: The Pros and Cons

When deciding between inflated or metal poles, you need to consider the overall pros and cons of both types.

Inflated poles have many benefits, including:

-       Ease of erection

-       Simplicity of use

-       Reliability in all weather

On the other hand, inflatable poles are:

-       Heavier due to the extra material

-       Potentially harder to fold back into their bag, therefore a larger pack size

-       Can take up more space when pitched

Traditional metal poles have their benefits:

-       Lighter pack weight and size

-       Considerably cheaper in like-for-like sizes and brands

-       Easier to source replacement parts

But they also have their cons, such as:

-       Requires multiple people to erect

-       A pole breakage can cause damage to the fabric

-       For first-time campers, it can be tricky to understand how a metal pole works

Ease of Erection: Air vs Traditional

Erecting an awning can be one of the most time-consuming parts of the whole pitching process.

In traditional poled awnings, ensuring you match the correct pole to the correct sleeve, and erect them in the right order is key. You also need to create consistent tension with the tent material as well as making sure the poles are clipped in the right way. This makes them less favourable with those in families with young children or perhaps with limited mobility.

Air awnings can be heavier and require a different approach to pitching. Depending on whether you have multi point or single point inflation requires a different thought pattern to your pitching approach. Single point inflation will need laying flat perfectly first, whereas multi-point inflation can be adjusted as you go along. Incorrectly pitch an air pole and you may end up with twisted poles, which requires time to sort out.

Largely, an air pole is easier to erect. Simply roll out the tent, attach to an inflation point and inflate to the correct PSI (pounds per square inch) before pegging correctly.

Pack Size and Weight: Air vs Poled

When comparing pack size and weight, air and poled awnings are vastly different. Due to the need for a bladder, the part of the air pole that holds the air, and the stiffer fabric around this, the weight is greatly increased.

This extra weight can make a lot of difference when attaching the awning to your awning rail. When moving weight overhead any extra weight makes it much harder, hence the preference for poled tents.

That space can be vital in already small VW campervans, so it is important to consider your available space when choosing an awning to take with you.

Weather Adaptability: Air Vs Poled

For those camping in the UK, being able to adapt to all weather is key, and awnings are no exception. It’s essential to be able to go from high winds, rain to then sunshine, all on the same day.

Air awnings and poled awnings are both as rigid as one other. Traditional poled awnings may suffer from cracks in higher winds whereas air ones are more likely to sway or fold in wind.

Rain wise, both depend on the hydrostatic head (HH). This describes how much rain a tent can take before it runs the risk of dripping. For a good all-round awning, aim for a 5000 HH, as this will last in any potential storms, unlike a 3000 HH which can pose more issues in heavy rain.

Neither poled nor air is any better or worse for weather adaptability, and both need care to achieve longevity.

Spares and Repairs: Air vs Poled

Air poles have two parts; the casing, which creates the shape of the pole and is unzippable normally, and the bladder, which holds the air.

The bladder is the part of an air pole which requires replacing in case of puncture. It can be repaired like an inner tube by using a sealant and fabric as a temporary fix but should be replaced on return. Finding bladders in standard camping shops is rare, and you may have to go to the manufacturer in order to get an exact replacement.

In traditional poled tents, repairs are often carried out with duct tape. It’s a simple fix that has stood the test of time. Replacing parts can require restringing if you are only replacing one section of the pole but replacement poles can be found in most camping shops and even some campsites. Poles are often standardised and therefore finding one that will fit your tent is easier to do than finding a bladder in an air tent.

Should I Buy an Air or a Poled Awning for my Campervan?

While it is very much dependent on your needs, there are some clear options for those wanting to choose a new or replacement awning.

Choose an air awning if:

  • You have the space and strength to manoeuvre it
  • You want an easy to erect in all-weather awning

Choose a poled awning if:

  • You want something easy to repair and fix
  • You haven’t got much space or weight allowance left
If you’re considering a campervan awning, take a look at our range of awnings that can suit all needs. We have Vango, Outwell and Kampa Dometic in both poled and air varieties.