I’m guessing you’re probably here because you’ve heard all the problems that camper awnings come with.
On my very first trip using one, a mild wind gust blew, and the motor refused to retract the RV awning again.
While I did manage to get it home, I had to do some serious DIY fixes, including strapping down lots of things with wires, duct tape, and ropes.
Now, I know most of you can relate or have at least have had a problem with setting up or taking down your camper awning.
See, while awnings are the perfect RV addition for providing a nice, cool shade, they can at times make your life miserable, especially when they fail to set up correctly.
But as you’ll learn in the section below, setting up a camper canopy is actually pretty easy.
Personally, I had even contemplated on giving up on my main RV awning, but once I learned a few tricks on how to set up one properly, I haven’t had a problem, not even once in the last couple of years.
And today, I’ll share a step-by-step guide that I use to seamlessly open an RV awning and allow for a quick retraction in windy conditions.
I’ll also share some of the quick fixes and troubleshooting tips to use if you face some of the common RV awning issues.
Types of RV Awnings
Before I share the process of opening and closing your RV Awning, let’s first look at the classification of camper awnings.
Understanding the difference between the camper awnings is necessary because each type has a different opening/closing process.
Generally, camper awnings are categorized into two.
1) Traditional/ manual RV Awning
2) Electric canopy
Traditional/Manual RV Awning
A manual RV Awning requires human effort to open and retract.
The typical manual RV awnings consist of torsion spring-loaded awnings. In addition, these awnings come with a series of spring-loaded arms & locks, which help prevent accidental unfurling of the RV awning.
Generally, a manual canopy has much more moving parts than an electric RV awning, and this is to means it requires some elbow grease and takes a bit longer to set up and fold.
The good news is the traditional awnings are equally as good performers as the electric awning, especially when set up correctly.
I’m a big fan of manual awnings because of their versatility and flexibility.
For example, I can remove the foot from the trailer’s sidewall and stake it further on the ground so I can walk without hitting the awning. I can also set one side o the awning lower than the other for rainwater to roll off.
But the greatest benefit, at least in my opinion, is how I effortlessly brace the RV awning to promote a sturdier experience.
The electric awnings don’t require as much human input as the manual options.
Instead, they work by the push of a button and through a motor.
The motor runs through 12v DC.
Typical electric awnings consist of lightweight awning arms that expand or retract through a spring. The awning arms unfold using a joint.
They’re also as versatile and flexible as the manual option. For example, they allow manual override and let you set the extent to which the canopy can extend.
Opening a Manual RV Awning
With that out of the way, now let’s get into the meat and potatoes of our guide.
I’ll start by sharing the steps to open an RV awning manually.
Understand this is a general guide, and while it may work for most RV shades, you still need to consider the owner’s manual for the specific instructions.
Consider a Nice Set Up Spot
A big mistake I see with RVers is pitching their shade in a crowded and cluttered space. This is the easiest way to rip, and tear your RV awning.
The ideal location for setting your motorhome and RV awning should be on relatively flat ground, free from trees, branches, other RV, or other obstacles.
Simply put, you should pitch in a location where you can comfortably extend your canopy without any hindrance.
Assuming you’ve settled in, the next step is removing the travel locks.
Release travel locks are typically found in the manual RV to prevent the accidental opening of the RV awning.
In most cases, the travel lock comes as Velcro, clasps, a handle, or any other “holding” material/design.
Removing the locks is an important factor because failure to that may risk damage when extending the RV awning arm.
While at it, consider loosening the rafter knobs. These rafter knobs are typically found on the backside of each RV awning arm on both front and back.
Switch Awning to Roll-Down Position
You need to take out your awning rod/awning pole for this step. It’s essentially a tall metal pole with a hook on one end.
The awning rod comes as a standard addition to an awning.
Use the RV awning rod hook to flip the lever to an “open” position. While flipping the directional lever, be sure to use the right amount of force not to jam or snap the locking lever.
Now, it’s time to extend or pull the awning.
Again, take your awning rod, and hook the strap pool.
Next, start to pull the strap straight/pull the awning using the awning rod gently and slowly until the whole this is extended.
For some reason, you might notice the awning isn’t extending. Don’t panic.
Start by examining the travel locks and rafter knobs to see whether you loosened them.
Also, depending on the model of the RV awning, some models require turning the awning pole in an anti-clockwise direction for awning roll.
Either way, it’s important to open the camping awning using a gentle force.
Locking Rafter Arms
The next step is securing your rafter arms. It’s an important step, especially if you want to prevent your RV awning from bucking in the wind.
Simply take both inner arms out and slide them outward towards the opposing arms. I’d recommend you push the awning arms to add a bit of tension.
A clicking sound should confirm their positioning. Then tighten the rafter arms using bolts.
Extending RV Awning Arms
Up to now, your RV awning is still close to the ground, and there’s probably not enough space for you to move.
But, it’s easy to raise the RV awning and position it to your desired position.
Loosen the outer RV awning arm and gently lift it to the desired height before locking it. Repeat the same process for the other outer arm.
You’ll need to raise the height incrementally on each side if you’re doing it alone. But if you’ve a helping hand, you can do it on a single go.
Ideally, I’d recommend positioning your RV awning in a slope design to allow the rainwater to roll off.
Step 7 (Optional)
This is an optional step you can take if you want to walk under a camper without distractions.
You simply need to detach the awning arms, but be sure to stake them on the ground.
How to Close Manual Awning
If you’re done for the day and want to pack, here’s how to take down your manual camper awning.
Basically, these steps are similar to those we used to set up the RV awning, but only now in reverse.
Before everything else, the first step to closing your awning is cleaning it up.
It’s likely your RV awning will have collected branches, leaves, debris, and other dirt.
So, try cleaning it up before rolling it. And if you took the optional step 7, and affixed the feet to the ground, try removing the sand and other ground debris from the foot, as well.
Again, you should only perform this step if you followed our optional step 7 during setup.
Simply remove the stakes and attach the awning arms back to the RV.
Lower the inner arms gently into position.
If you’re struggling, consider twisting the rafter knobs.
Lower the rafters until you hear a click sound.
Use the RV awning rod to switch the locking lever to a roll-up position.
Then, hold the pull strap loop in the middle of the RV awning, and guide the RV’s awning slowly until it rolls back in.
Again, using the awning pole, nudge the lever into a locking position.
I like to go the extra mile of squeezing the rafters to ensure they’re locked. And more importantly, securing thethe awning with the travel locks.
Opening an Electric RV Awning
Using an electric RV awning is by far easier and quicker than a manual awning.
Here’s a step by a step-by-step guide to opening an electric awning.
Traditionally, travel locks are found in manual RV awnings, but some of the electric options come with locks.
So, the first step is to check whether your awning has a lock.
If it has, it ensures you unlock to prevent damage during setup.
The next and final step is pushing the setup button. But you need to hold the button until the awning is fully extended to the position you wish.
The good thing with opening an electric awning is the unmatched flexibility. You can roll the awning to whatever position you feel comfortable with.
How to Close an Electric RV Awning
Closing the electric canopy is as easy if not more than opening it.
You simply need to follow the opening process, but now in reverse.
Before retracting the RV awning, be sure to clean and remove any dirt and debris.
Press, then hold down the retract button until your awning completely rolls back in. The spring inside helps with the rolling.
If your awning came with travel locks, you need to engage them to secure your awning when traveling.
Camper Awning Safety Tips
Most damages on the awning and support arms happen when opening An RV awning.
To avoid breaking or damaging your awning & support arms during these processes, I’ll share some of the handy tips to keep in mind.
1) Watch out for obstacles.
The most important step is keeping an eye on your location and surrounding environment.
I would suggest that you keep off from locations with trees, other RVs, or generally other obstacles.
The ideal location for setting up your awning should be free from all forms of clutter to allow a complete stretch and avoid rips.
2) Take care of the door.
An RV door can inadvertently rip your awning, especially if it has sharp edges.
So, when setting up your awning, ensure that it’s clear of your camper door.
More importantly, you should be conscious of its presence when opening the door to avoid destroying your awning.
3) Adjust the angle
A good thing with most awnings is they provide you with the flexibility of setting it up.
In particular, they give you the convenience of positioning the different sides to different heights.
I’d highly recommend setting one side lower than the other to allow rainwater to roll off easily.
However, the slope shouldn’t be too much because it may cause waring of the awning.
4) Consider the weather
Wind and hail are some of the greatest threats to an RV awning.
So, it would be wise if you rolled down your awning if you notice inclement weather coming.
Also, I’d recommend retracting it for the day or night, especially when you’re leaving and think there might be a possibility of weather inclement.
5) Secure your awning
Be sure to always secure your awning with travel locks and clamps.
They’re handy additions for securing your awning extra support and will keep in safely tucked in your RV.
6) Never leave an awning unattended.
Finally, I’d highly recommend that you always have someone supervising or on the lookout for your awning.
Never leave it unattended to avoid risk and damage of the ratchet mechanism from weather inclement such as high winds, storms, and unnecessary UV exposure.
Handy Cleaning and Maintenance Tip of your Awning
Beyond the safety measures we’ve just discussed above, some other handy maintenance tips may help to prolong the life of your awning.
Regularly Cleaning of your Awning
You must keep on cleaning your awning regularly.
There’re no set rules of how often you should do it, but I’d recommend at least after a couple of months.
Of course, if you camp often, the regularity should also increase.
Dish soap and cloth are enough to clean the awning.
Never Roll a Wet Awning
If you’re planning to store or simply retract your awning, it’s a good idea to ensure it’s dry and free from wetness.
See, wet RV awnings can cause the formation of mold and mildew, which ultimately compromise the integrity of your awning.
Clear Debris and Other Dirt Before Rolling your Awning
I can’t stress this point enough.
You must remove the dirt, leaves, and branches before rolling up your awning. The debris cumulatively piles up over time and may weigh down your RV awning fabric.
Plus, the accumulated debris can be a source of harm to your awning fabric.
Camper Awning Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Is it advisable to leave my camper awning in the rain?
A: It depends on the type of rain.
You could leave the awning outside for the light rains without rolling it. If it’s just a bit of rain, give your awning time to dry before packing.
But for the storms and hail storms.
Q: How long does RV awning last?
A: Generally, most RV awning has a life expectancy of 5 to 15 years.
Of course, the exact period your awning will last will also depend on the choice of material, construction design, and the frequency of use.
Q: How much wind can my RV awning withstand?
A: This will depend on many factors, including the wind speed, its velocity, and quality of your RV design,
But generally, most of the self-supported options can comfortably weather the 20-25 MPH, provided the wind is consistent.
On paper, using a new awning seems like a nerve-wracking endeavor, but you’ve seen it simpler than it appears.
For an electric camper, awning opening and retraction are even easier.
Simply follow the above steps, and enjoy your shade!