The Trouble With Manual Camper & RV Awnings
Manual RV awnings have been the source of many headaches for campers throughout the years. They have a lot of moving parts and they can be difficult to understand.
The first time we tried to open the manual awning on our motorhome we had no idea what we were doing. It took a lot of research and a little bit of luck for us to even open it.
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Then we had to figure out what all of the different latches and arms were for.
I want to make this step-by-step guide to opening a manual RV awning to quickly help those of you who are trying to open your camper awning right now.
I’ll explain the basics of opening one followed by the different ways you can set it up.
Step-By-Step How To Open An RV Awning
1. Find The Awning Stick
You may have come across it in one of the outside storage compartments in your RV when you first got it. The awning stick is a wire pole with a circle on one end and a 90 degree bend on the other.
If you can’t find it you may need to use a ladder to open your camper awning until you get an awning stick.
You can get a replacement RV awning stick here (click to view on Amazon).
2. Flip Up The Arm Latches
There are also going to be some latches on the side of each RV awning arm. These are what hold the inner arms in place during travel.
Flip them up so the inner arms can extend out as you lower the main camper awning arms.
3. Flip The Lever On The Top Right Hand Side
There’s a little lever on the top right hand side of the RV awning. It’s pretty small and easy to miss. The lever, also known as the cam lock, is what controls the direction the awning wants to go.
Right now it’s in the “towards the camper” position, you will need to pull it down to flip it to the “away from camper” position.
4. Pull The Center Strap
There should be a black strap with a loop on the end sticking out of the awning somewhere up high. It may have gotten blown up into the awning during travel so make sure you check up underneath the roll before you give up looking for it.
It’s supposed to be in the center but it’s possible that it’s to the side.
Once you find the strap use the RV awning stick to pull on it.
If you couldn’t find the RV awning stick you can pull it by hand by using a ladder to get up there.
5. Pull The Awning Almost All The Way Out
You need to be a little careful during this part. It’s possible to extend the camper awning too far.
This will create a lot of slack in the canopy. While it’s a simple fix, it’s better to just pull it until the little front canopy falls out.
6. Put Out The Tension Arms
The tension arms are the small inner arms that sit inside the main RV awning arms.
They should be able to slide up and down the main RV awning arms freely at this point. If they can’t move the screw that holds them in place might be engaged. Try loosening it so the arms can move up and down easily.
The tension arms are supposed to be pushed all the way up to the end of the camper awning, near the endcap.
There’s a spring loaded latch that will automatically hold the tension arm in place when it’s pushed all the way to the end of the main awning arm.
Once the tension arm is latched in place pull down just a bit on the main awning arm to create tension in the fabric.
You don’t want to create too much tension but there should be enough to keep the awning fabric from sagging in the center.
Once the proper tension has been achieved you can secure the tension arm via the knob on it.
7. Extend The RV Awning To The Desired Height
At this point, your manual camper awning is angled down. This is sometimes a good position for it to be in if it’s breezy outside or the sun is low and you want the awning to shade your RV.
If you want your RV awning to be parallel with the roof of your camper you will need to release the latches on the main arms and pull up the awning.
It’s best if you do this with two people. Both arms need to be raised at the exact same time to keep the arms from binding.
When you and another person are ready, open the latch on the camper awning arms and push up.
You now fully extend the RV awning until it’s parallel with the roof or in any position in between.
You can now take the pull down strap that’s hanging in the center to one side and wrap it around the awning arm so it’s out of the way.
If you are alone you can do this yourself by raising each arm a little bit at a time.
8. Stand Up The RV Awning Arms (Optional)
Now, your RV awning is set up and looking good. But there’s one more thing you can do if you really want to.
The awning arms can actually be removed from the camper, set straight up and down, and staked to the ground.
This will get the arms out of the way if you keep running into them (it happens to all of us).
To set them up, detach the arms from the camper by pressing on the latch at the base of the arms. It should release it easily.
You can now move the arm so it’s straight up and down under the roller bar. Make sure you stake it to the ground really well.
I very rarely do this myself since it makes the awning a lot more work to put away.
If you are going to be hanging up a screen room like this (click to view on Amazon) from your RV awning you will need to set up the arms for support.
You might notice that some people don’t put out the awning arms when they hang a screen room and they end up having a lot of issues. The arms really do need to be put out to help support the awning and the weight of the screen room.
If you set it up correctly an RV awning screen room can be really nice and even pretty wind resistant.
How To Put Away A Manual Camper Awning
Putting away manual RV awnings is basically just doing the above steps backward.
1. Reattach The RV Awning Arms & Put Them Down
If you have the RV awning arms out you will need to reattach them to the RV by lifting them off of the ground and putting them into the spring loaded clamps that are mounted to the camper.
Once the arms are back where they belong you need to retract them to the fully lowered position.
Two people lowering the arms at the same time make this job a lot faster.
Once you and another person are in position lift up on the main arm latches and slowly let down the RV awning until it is sitting against the stop pins near the base.
There’s going to be some weight to them so make sure you’re ready when you release the latch holding the arms up.
2. Put The Tension Arms Away
Unscrew the holding screw that’s keeping the tension arms tight.
Then release the arms from the front of the awning by pulling on the spring loaded tab underneath.
You should be able to pull the tension arms all the way down to the base of the main arms.
Make sure you leave the holding screw open so the arms can retract or extend freely.
3. Retract The RV Awning
Put the pull down strap back to the center of the awning.
It’s now time to turn the lock lever or cam lock so the awning will start to roll in.
Make sure you have a really good grip on the strap. If you don’t keep a constant grip on the strap the awning will snap back towards the camper which could damage the awning or even the camper.
To retract the camper awning safely I normally hold the strap tightly and have another person turn the lock lever.
You can make turning the lever easier for the other person by pulling slightly on the strap to take the tension off of the lever.
Once the lever has been turned slowly let the RV awning roll up. Keep constant pressure on it at all times to help the fabric roll up snugly and evenly.
Walk with the awning until it has fully retracted to the camper.
4. Lock The Awning Arms In Place
All you need to do now is secure the arms together by putting down the small metal tabs that fold down to hold them in place.
The RV awning is now secured and ready for travel.
RV Awning Troubleshooting
How To Open An RV Awning With No Strap
It’s possible for the strap to get caught up in the awning when you’re putting it away. Especially if you accidentally let it go and the whole thing just shoots back into the camper.
Or maybe the strap was broken or lost and the previous owner just put the RV awning away and forgot about it.
To open an RV awning with no strap you will need to follow the first 3 steps in this how to article.
Once you get to the part where you are supposed to pull the strap you will need to push down on the arms instead.
Get another person to help you. The awning arms need to come down at the same time, timing is key.
Once you and another person are next to each arm, grab as high up as you can and slowly pull down and out.
If everything was done right the awning should start to roll out, but it might look a little messy.
You need to get it pulled out as far as it will go to get access to the inner roller tube.
Replacement RV awning straps like this one by EZ-Xtend (click to view on Amazon) are made to slip into one of the gaps in the roller tube.
Make sure you measure and get the right size. The strap should be longer than the total awning length so some sticks out when it’s rolled up.
Once it’s in you can slide the strap to the center of the tube. Your camper awning now has a pull down strap.
RV Awning Has Too Much Slack
If the RV canopy has been pulled all the way out and there’s some slack in the fabric, you’ve most likely pulled the awning out too far.
There’s a sweet spot where the awning is pulled out enough for the trim fabric to hang down but the awning stays tight.
Roll up the awning until it’s tight again. Then pull it out to the point where the trim fabric hangs freely but it’s not turned under the awning.
If there’s still a bunch of slack your RV awning fabric may have been installed wrong or the wind has stretched the fabric making it too long.
You can read more about RV awning fabrics and how to replace them here (click to go to article).
One RV Awning Arm Is Shorter Than The Other
If your camper awning looks uneven like one arm is more extended or longer than the other you will need to pull on the shorter side to even it out.
You can do this by pulling down on the shorter arm.
Often, the cause of uneven RV awning arms is wind blowing and making the arms roll at different speeds when you’re putting it away or taking it out.
Sometimes when the pull down strap isn’t centered right it can also cause one arm to be extended more than the other.
How To Clean A Moldy Camper Awning
Mold isn’t a good thing to let sit on an RV awning. It eats away at the fabric and causes it to break down, get holes, and eventually tear.
Cleaning them isn’t the most fun job in the world but it’s not too bad, especially if you use the right kind of cleaners.
RV Awning Won’t Roll Up
If you’re lucky the RV awning won’t roll up because the latch hasn’t been turned to the “roll in” position.
If that isn’t the case check to make sure the tension arms are put down in the roll position and can move freely.
In rare cases, the awning cam lock lever that lets it retract or extend has possibly broken and it’s no longer controlling the inner spring system.
The problem is that the inner spring system can be pretty dangerous to mess with. There’s a lot of tension on the spring when the awning is rolled up and still some tension even when it’s fully extended.
You may need to replace that spring assembly to fix the broken lever.
If you need to get the RV awning up to get back home you could try having someone pull on the strap a little bit to relieve some of the pressure on the cam lock.
Try jiggling it around to try and get it to switch to the “wind up” position.
If all else fails you may need to remove the end cap and pull out the entire spring assembly. There are lots of videos online about how to do this and the number one thing to remember is that the spring inside is very dangerous.
Before you open anything make sure you release all tension on the spring to stop it from shooting out when you open the end cap.
RV Awning Flaps Even In Light Wind
On manual awnings, there are these little secondary arms that are for helping create more tension in the fabric to reduce flapping in the wind.
To create more tension make sure the small tension arms are set up and latched in the fully open position. They should be parallel with the awning fabric.
Pull down slightly on the main RV awning arm to create more tension in the fabric.
You can now secure the tension arm by screwing in the knob. This should help hold the fabric out and reduce flapping in the wind.
If the fabric has been stretched by the wind this may not work. It could be permanently damaged and you may need to replace the fabric.
Camco sells an Awning De-Flapper Tool (click to view on Amazon) that uses clamps to secure the fabric to the tension arms in the center.
This will also help keep the awning from billowing and flapping in the center.
RV Awning Won’t Roll Up Evenly
Sometimes, even when the arms are fully extended and everything looks right the RV canopy just won’t roll up even.
Usually, the cause of this is shifted fabric on the top where it connects to the roof of the camper.
If the mounting screw has fallen out it’s very easy for the fabric to shift.
You will need to move it back into a central position between the arms of the awning while the awning is fully extended.
Then replace the mounting screw that’s usually put at the end of either side of the fabric to stop it from shifting.
The same concept applies to where the awning fabric attaches to the roller bar, it should be centered there as well.
Another reason could be the wind has stretched the fabric on one side so it rolls up unevenly. If this is the case you will need to replace the fabric.
RV Awnings & Wind
How Much Wind Can An RV Awning Withstand
The different kinds of awnings can take different amounts of wind.
For the most part, it seems like manual awnings can take a bit more wind than the electric kind that extends out with just the push of a button.
I’ve had both kinds on my camper and I trust the manual one against a good breeze a lot more.
If the manual awning is angled down this also helps it withstand more wind.
But the amount of wind an RV awning can withstand is really not much.
The biggest problem is the spot where the awning is attached to the camper. The wind puts a lot of pressure on that one spot and it can rip pretty easily.
Especially if you have an old awning that has had mold eating away at it.
A light steady breeze is ok, but stronger winds and especially wind gusts are not something an RV awning can withstand.
If you’re unsure just watch the camper awning for a few minutes to see how it’s acting in the wind.
If it’s billowing around and the fabric has a lot of movement it’s probably better to just put it away until the wind calms down.
How To Make An RV Awning Secure Against Wind
While I don’t trust my camper awning out in the wind because I think the base could tear some people do use kits to secure their awnings against the wind.
Use these kits at your own risk. They mostly just help keep the arms of the awning from moving around and they do nothing to strengthen the fabric.
Camco makes two kinds of awning hold down kits to help stabilize RV awnings in the wind.
The Camco Awning Stabilizer Kit (click to view on Amazon) is some twist ground stakes and rope.
You put the stakes in the ground a few feet away from the end of your camper awning. Then you tie one end of the rope to the corner of the awning and then secure the other end to the stake.
This will help keep the end of the awning from bouncing around in the wind which could potentially break the awning arms.
There’s another version called the Camco Awning Hold Down Kit (click to view on Amazon) that uses the same basic concept.
The only difference is there are springs down by the ground stakes that let the awning bounce a little bit in wind. This helps reduce the risk of high wind gusts bending the arms of the awning.
Another thing you can do to help secure a camper awning against the wind is to add a screen room with walls like this (click to view on Amazon).
These screen rooms stop the wind from getting under the awning and putting pressure on the seams and fabric. It’s not going to help in high winds but it will work on moderately windy days.
Have any more questions about manual RV awnings? Leave a comment below.