Customising Our Camper. What Are The Options?

dscn2617The current Pennine range are very much on top of their game, both cosmetically and equipment wise, but, for many of us, they are a little out of reach, or, perhaps, we would rather start out with an entry level camper, just to see how we like the lifestyle. To be fair, even if we buy a brand new camper, there will always be something we can buy / do to personalise it, and make it ‘our own’.

OK, so we have a ‘new to us’ folding camper, or we are thinking of getting one. For the vast majority of us, this will be an exciting prospect, and, just like our main home, there will, probably, be much we want to buy for / do to our new holiday home. Alternatively, we may have had a camper for a number of years, and decided it is time for a re vamp, to re kindle the enthusiasm we had when we first bought it

So. What are our options? For the purposes of this exercise, it is probably best to divide them into two distinct areas; original manufacturer equipment (which would have been available as an optional extra) and non specific enhancements we might like to try ourselves. A number of these we have done to our own demonstration models, including a few modifications to our current demonstrator, a 1999 Pennine Pathfinder.

Original Manufacturer Equipment

Unfortunately, these are notoriously difficult to come across. Of the two main UK manufacturers, Conway ceased trading in 2002, and Pennine (who acquired Conway) were subject to a management buyout in 2014, and now only stock current model, and generic parts. Likewise, Sunncamp, although still very active, as a company, no longer make folding campers, and the only other player in the market, Opus, is too new for there to be a significant number of suitably priced second hand models on the market. That, notwithstanding, what are our current options?

We will look at each one in a little more detail, however, as a quick guide, these are some of the most common OEM accessories we might want to look out for. For the purposes of this exercise, we are assuming that all of the original standard equipment, supplied with the camper, when new, is still with it when we acquire it:

  • Full awning (assuming the camper didn’t come with one, as most do)
  • Sun canopy
  • Porch awning (a popular alternative to the full awning these days).
  • Light weight fibre glass poles
  • Acrylic canvas
  • Under bed skirts (including ground sheet)
  • Under bed pup tents
  • Awning Annex (including curtain, ground sheet and inner tent)
  • Awning roof liner

Full Awning

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An Awning Is A Welcome Addition To Any Camper And Will Double The Available Living Area.

It’s probably fair to say that a significant majority of folding campers on the market, in the UK, do come with a full awning included. This is down to the fact that, although, mostly, available as an optional extra, it is one that most purchasers did tend to go for. The awning, itself, doubles the available living area in any folding camper, and, although not necessary for shorter trips away, it is a real boon for longer trips, or those where there are quite a few of us.

Most awnings have zip off side and front panels, enabling them to be used as both a full awning and sizeable sun canopy. If you can get a folding camper with an awning, you will find that, not only does it give you far greater flexibility of accommodation, it, also, will have a significant impact on resale value.

Sun Canopy

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A Sun Canopy Adds Extra Outdoor Living Space, Without The Need To Erect A Full Awning

Although the main awning can be converted to a sun canopy, simply by removing the zip in panels, it is still a large and cumbersome piece of kit to put up, and it is possible to acquire a dedicated sun canopy for some models of folding camper. These are less than half the size of the full awning, and come with no side panels, so they can be erected and taken down in a matter of minutes.

Porch Awning

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Pennine’s Own Air Porch 6 Awning Is Much Quicker To Set Up Than a Full Awning, With The Added Advantage Of Air Beam Technology.

Porch awnings are gaining in popularity as a flexible way of extending our accommodation, without having to erect a full size awning (not for nothing, are they referred to as a ‘divorce in a bag’). Porch awnings are now so popular that Pennine, themselves, launched their own product, the Pennine Air Porch 6 Awning, at the NEC show, in October 2015. Not only does this product have the convenience of being a porch awning, but, as an air beam awning, it can, also, be inflated and erected in a few minutes for that bit of extra space, without the hassle of a full awning.

The Pennine offering attaches to the main cabin using a series of straps, which means it does not need to have a compatible zip to do so. Adapted porch awnings have been available for folding campers for some time now, but most have been reliant on the fitting of a compatible zip, to allow them to be attached to the main camper cabin canvas. Most people who use porch awnings find them particularly beneficial for the storing of wet clothes, boots, and, even, dogs, without having to bring them all into the main camper, before they have had the opportunity of drying out properly.

Light Weight Poles

Current model awnings, within the Pennine range, are produced, by Isabella, and are provided with the convenience of lightweight fibre glass awning poles. for anyone wishing to do so, these are available as an upgrade to your existing awning, to assist when putting it up.

Prices will, inevitably, be subject to change, however, at the time of writing, a full set of light weight awning poles, sourced direct from Pennine, will set you back around £320. Compare this to the other alternative; a replacement set of steel poles, at around £170.

Acrylic Canvas

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A Modern Acrylic Canvas, With Matching Awning.

Again, the modern awnings and canvases, produced by Isabella, for Pennine are manufactured in Isacryl, an acrylic canvas, renowned for its water repellent properties, and resistance to mould and mildew.

The acrylic canvas is available for both the main cabin, and optional awning. Unfortunately, neither is a cheap option, and, let’s face it, if you replace one, you are going to want to replace the other.

The average cabin canvas currently retails at around £1,700, whilst an awning canvas will set you back around £1,000 – £1,400, depending on model. Of course, the other alternative is to have a replacement traditional cotton canvas made, by the likes of Tent Valeting Services, in Bolton. Prices for these start from around £1,200 for a traditional 6 berth model.

Under Bed Skirts

Under bed skirts are, probably, the most common form of OEM accessory, both in terms of demand, and availability, although that is not to say they are, in any way common place. Bed skirts for current models are available for the princely sum of £325. You can expect to pay around £75, for a second hand skirt. This will increase, slightly, if it includes the far rarer matching ground sheet for the under bed area. Under bed skirts zip on to the under side of the bed boards and fully enclose the under bed area, rendering it suitable for additional storage, and, for four berth models only, additional sleeping accommodation.

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Matching Bed Skits Really Help To Enhance The Look Of The Camper, As Well As Providing Useful Additional Storage

Whenever I acquire another folding camper, for myself, the first accessory I always look for is an under bed skirt. Not only do they provide extremely useful extra storage, for chairs, tables, bikes, BBQs etc, when the awning is not in use, but they, also, significantly enhance the overall look of the camper. Modern units have the additional zip on both beds, however, older models tend to come with the zip on only one of the beds (usually the rear bed, on 6 berth models). Skirts are, however, available for both beds, and, hence, often, on older models, it will be necessary to have a second zip fitted, in order to achieve the symmetrical look of a skirt on each bed.

Under Bed Pup Tents

Surprisingly, these are only, actually, available for the four berth models. This is, simply, because the six berth units have bed support poles that are at 45 degrees, thereby dissecting the potential under bed sleeping area, and preventing the hanging of an under bed pup tent. Four berth models, on the other hand, have bed support poles that run straight down to the ground, thereby allowing plenty of space for the installation of a pup tent. Although they do come up from time to time, model specific pup tents are pretty rare, however, it is no major deal to adapt a universal pup tent to fit. One of the most readily available, and cost effective, model of universal pup tent is, currently, produced by Sunncamp

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A Conway Countryman, With Both Sun Canopy And Under Bed Pup Tent Fitted

Some pup tents are single occupancy, whilst others are doubles.

Either way, it is, probably, fair to say that they are better suited to more junior members of the family, as opposed to adults.

Prices  can vary significantly, but you can expect to pay between £25 -£35 for a universal model, and, to be fair, in spite of their rarity, model specific pup tents aren’t that much more, varying, as they do, from £25 – £65, as a very rough average.

‘Proper’ pup tents can be used on their own, under a bed board, however, some are little more than inner bed tents, and need to be used in conjunction with an under bed skirt, to keep the elements at bay.

Awning Annex

The awning annex is, possibly the most popular method of extending the camper accommodation, and, in terms of availability, is, I would suggest, second only to the under bed skirt. It is certainly way up there, on my wish list, with the under bed skirt, whenever I acquire an additional folding camper. Unlike under bed pup tents, which are only suitable for four berth models, the annex is available for any size of unit, and provides two berth accommodation with a sensible roof height for adults and children, alike. Of course, its use is not restricted to sleeping accommodation, and common uses include a toilet / changing compartment, and, simply, additional storage.

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Pennine Sterling With Matching Awning Annex

Like the under bed option, it can come with a ground sheet and inner tent (although it is rare to find all three together). Even rarer is the front curtain for the annex. This is comprised of a large curtain (surprise surprise) which attached to the awning tensioner pole in front of the annex, at the top, and includes a number of rubber pegging out bands at the bottom, so that it can cover the entire wall in front of the annex. There is, then, a zip, in the centre of the ‘curtain’ to allow access to the annex behind. These are one of the least common accessories, and you will normally find them on the top shelf, at the end of the aisle, next to the hen’s teeth and bags of rocking horse manure. Personally, I think I have seen, probably, half a dozen of these in the last 3 or 4 years, so not the easiest of things to lay your hands on, unlike the main awning annex, itself, which tends to crop up at the rate of one or two a month.

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Same Sterling Awning Annex From The Inside, With Bed Pod Set Up, But No Dividing Curtain

Although a new annex will set you back a tad under £400, don’t expect to pay more than £200 for a second hand one. At the time of writing, there is one up for sale, on eBay, for £350. Whilst I have no doubt this will sell, probably best to ensure you are not the sucker that makes it happen, unless you have a significant and urgent need to acquire one.

Awning Roof Liner

When it comes to folding campers, this is something that was far more common within the Conway stable than the Pennine one, however, they do crop up very occasionally. Like awning annex curtains, they only tend to crop up at the rate of one or two a year, and prices tend to be around the £80 – £100 mark, although, like most second hand parts prices, this can be very subjective. The roof liner is little different from that in the main cabin, and attaches to the interior of the awning pole structure, where it not only looks much better, but, also, provides an additional thermal barrier, as well has helping to significantly reduce condensation.

Other Customisation

In addition to simply buying original extras and accessories for out unit, there are lots of ways we can customise it and ‘make it our own’ using simple DIY techniques and items that are readily available, to enhance the look of our camper, its functionality, or, indeed, both.

Whenever we are thinking of adding our own personal touches, we need to be aware of one or two considerations, in much the same way as we would with our home. If we are buying an older camper, for very little money, and we are planning on using it for a very long time, then there is absolutely no reason why we can’t do pretty much anything we like to really go to town on the customisation, as we are the ones who will get the pleasure out of it, and, also, if we paid very little for it, then we can’t really lose much on it.

If, on the other hand, we have paid a fair bit for our camper, and / or, we plan to use it for a relatively short time, prior to resale, then we may wish to keep any refurbishment work on a more neutral basis, in order to maximise sales potential. Most people like to put their own personal touches to their new purchase, and anything considered to be too extreme may prevent potential purchasers from doing so, thereby restricting resale potential.

The main options we will be looking at include;

  • Replacement flooring
  • Soft furnishings
  • Cabinet refurbishment
  • Electrical installations
  • Replacement lighting
  • Entertainment systems
  • Heating installation
  • Replacement decals

Replacement Flooring

One of the easiest, and most noticeable, ways to upgrade the interior of any camper is to replace the existing flooring. If the camper still has the original flooring, there’s a pretty good chance it will be showing its age. There are a number of options for upgrading the flooring, including carpets, carpet tiles, sheet lino, laminate planking and lino planking / lino tiles.

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The choice of flooring will be, largely, down to personal preference. Carpet may feel a little warmer, and softer underfoot, but vinyl is more practical, and easier to keep clean. My personal preference is for the vinyl planks, available from B & Q. These are available in ‘planks’ giving them a realistic look, when laid. They are self adhesive, and can be cut with scissors, making them extremely easy to install. They are, also, very cost effective, with an average four berth camper (such as the one above) costing around £20, and a six berth model coming in at around £30.

Soft Furnishings

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Matching Bedding Is Just One Of The Many Options To Enhance The Interior (Note, Also, The Dyed Bed Pods)

The generic term; ‘soft furnishings’ is wide reaching, and can be applied to many things, including curtains, cushions, bedding, roof liners and bed pods. For many, it will, simply, be a case of purchasing new scatter cushions and bedding.

For others, it may involve making new curtains or roof liners, or, perhaps, re covering existing seat cushions.

One of the more popular enhancements, recently, has been the dying of the bed pods, by many people.

Not only does this have the benefit of colour co-ordinating the bed pods, in line with the rest of the camper, but, also, it can be used to cover up any mildew spots or other marks, with the added benefit of darkening the pods, and helping to keep out unwanted light in the early hours of the morning.

Cabinet Refurbishment

Again, cabinet refurbishment can cover a number of things. The simplest of these is the replacement of cupboard / drawer handles, which is a quick, easy, low cost, and very effective way of providing a quality feel to the cabinet work.

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Unfortunately, some furnishings may be showing signs of use / age, and may well require a little more than just a couple of handles, to bring them back to their former glory. In this case, there are, probably, two particularly popular methods of achieving this. The first, and most obvious, is by painting the existing cabinets with a good quality, hard wearing paint, in order to avoid chips and dings from the inevitable every day use when away on holiday. The second method is by using Fablon to mask poor quality or damaged cabinets. This is particularly popular when applied to flat surfaces, such as tables and work tops, but I have seen entire interiors clad in this very useful material.

Electrical Installations

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Typical 240V Installation Kit

Many earlier models, from the 80’s and 90’s, particularly, came with 12V and 240V systems available only as an optional extra. These can be bought, separately, and retro fitted to any unit, although, for 240V systems, particularly, this is best undertaken by a qualified electrician.

In doing so, we open up the potential for a whole host of additional equipment including heating, lighting and entertainment items.

Replacement Lighting

Many older campers, which do have lighting installed, already, will, probably, have the traditional, and not overly inspiring, fluorescent lighting in place. These days there are some pretty cool LED lights available to replace there, which not only look great, but are, in the main, both brighter, and more efficient than their older cousins.

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As well as replacing the original lighting, many choose to install low level lighting under seats, cabinets, work tops and shelves. Often, these lights are colour changing, and, in many cases, operate by remote control.

Entertainment Systems

13413102_10154244031819530_1403507551973144789_nIt’s not that long ago that the height of audio visual entertainment was a car CD player installed in a cupboard, and a portable TV from the spare bedroom at home.

These days, everything is flat screen, HD and Bluetooth enabled, and many modern TVs look great when installed directly in the camper, with the added bonus of running on 12V.

In the image to the left, you can see a typical 12V TV / DVD installation. This TV is on a quick release bracket, to allow it to be removed for security, or for protection, when folding the camper away.

A simple Bluetooth speaker turns the average phone, tablet or ipod into a decent sound system, without the need to install speakers around the camper.

Heating Installations

These days, the camping period seems to be constantly extending, with more and more people spending Christmas and other Winter holidays away. Even during the ‘traditional’ holiday season, it can get pretty cold at night, so we may need a little extra heating, if the camper doesn’t have its own in built heating system (as many don’t).

spaceheater

Typical Propex Gas / Mains Installation

One option is to, simply, use a free standing heater, like a fan heater, or convector heater, but these can be both intrusive, and a potential trip hazzard. Ideally, therefore, it would be nice to be able to install some form of in built heating, where possible.

For most of us, that means two main options. The first is the installation of a Propex style blown air heating system.

These are very effective, and have the advantage of being able to run on both mains electric and gas, however, cost can run into the hundreds of pounds, by the time they are installed, and, for many, that may be more than the cost of their camper.

Plinth HeaterA far more cost effective, and increasingly popular, method of heating is via a plinth heater, traditionally used in kitchens and bathrooms at home.

On the down side, these cannot be used on gas, limiting their benefit to sites with electric hookup, but with prices starting from around £55, they are becoming an increasingly popular option.

This particular one (to the left) is one I recently installed in my own Pathfinder. Remote controlled and compact, its position near the door allows it to heat the awning too.

Replacement Decals

Many of the options we have looked at have been internal modifications. One easy way of brightening the exterior of the camper is with replacement graphics.

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These can either be a direct replacement for the original decals, or customised to your personal preferences. There are plenty of companies around that will produce graphics, to your own design, for a very reasonable price.

Other Personalisation

The list of things we can do to personalise / enhance our camper is limited, only, by our own imaginations. Solar lighting, bunting, pictures, ornaments, pretty much anything we want to do to make the camper feel that little bit more like a home from home, whilst we are away.

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A Few Pictures And Personal Touches Never Go Amiss For That Homely Feel

A well looked after unit will last fifty years plus, with no problem, so it is perfectly feasible to buy a twenty year old unit, with many years of use left in it, for a few hundred pounds, and then spend as long as we want / need making it exactly how we want it to be. The possibilities are pretty much endless.

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About Alan Young

MD and owner of the Woodhurst Group, including Praxis Accountancy Limited and Blue Sky Recreation Limited. Also Commercial Director of The Sky visor Group
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