The winner of our Editors' Choice Award, the Three Forks Shelter is a free-standing beach canopy that's similar a dome without sides. It has a removable sidewall that you can attach to any of the four sides as the sun moves around you and a webbing connection frame that connects to the four poles on the ground for added stability. The Three Forks Shelter is lightweight, easy to set up, and offers good protection from the sun. We recommend our Editors' Choice winner for sunny outings that are longer than a few hours, but shorter than a few days since it didn't earn top marks in durability.
Big Agnes Three Forks Shelter Review
Compare prices at 4 resellers Pros: Easy to set-up, the removable sidewall is handy, lightweight
Cons: Webbing connection frame is easy to trip on
Manufacturer: Big Agnes
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Big Agnes Three Forks Shelter is a 6' 3" tall free-standing sunshade with 100 square feet of floor space. It comes with a sidewall that can be easily attached to any of its four sides. The sidewall is not only great for blocking the sun but offers decent wind protection as well…as long as it is securely staked and guyed to the ground. This shelter works well for two to four people.
The Three Forks Shelter is a nice shelter to sit under and has 100 square feet of space under the canopy. Its roof is 75 inches high at its peak, and its removable sidewall offers good sun protection. This sidewall is a huge bonus since you can just move the wall as the sun moves around you throughout the day rather than try to turn the whole canopy accordingly. The removable sidewall also offers a bit of nice wind protection, and additional wall panels may be purchased separately. The only other canopy to offer a sidewall was the Lightspeed Quick Canopy and its sidewall is fixed permanently on the back side and is not movable. We recommend the easy-to-set-up Lightspeed if you're just seeking sun protection for an hour or two. On the other side of the spectrum, if you're looking for a canopy that you can happily leave pitched all weekend, the Paha Que Cottonwood LT may be a better option. The Editors' Choice winning Three Forks is ideal primarily for day use.
We liked this shelter's stable webbing connection frame and appreciate the nice heavy duty clips that make a speedy take down extremely simple. What we don't love is tripping over the webbing connectors that run along the ground between the corners. Our tester's giant (and slightly clumsy) Great Dane found maneuvering around the webbing to be very difficult and sadly he ultimately avoided coming underneath this canopy because of them. Take extra caution around these trip hazards…especially if you've had a couple of beers.
Ease of Set-Up
The Big Agnes Three Forks Shelter
This shelter also comes with set-up instructions and helpful hints that are printed on a non-paper material and attached to the inside of the main stuff sack for easy reference. This shelter takes approximately ten minutes for one person to set-up and less for two people.
While testing this canopy on a windy day at the beach, it eventually blew over despite being staked into the sand. If there are no sturdy guy points such as a rock or a tree, and you are setting this shelter up in the wind, we recommend using a cooler, sand stakes, or sandbags to weigh it down. If you don't have any guy points it might be best to not use it at all, especially if you might be leaving it unattended at some point.
Though the Three Forks is great for blocking the sun and wind, its sidewall also makes it particularly susceptible to catching wind. If you are looking for a product that won't catch the wind as well and potentially blow away, try the Kelty Shade Maker 2 which doesn't have a sidewall.
This canopy and removable side wall is constructed from a polyester rip-stop material and it proved to be lightweight yet durable. The lightweight aluminum poles included with this canopy were not so tough. Notice in the photograph above, the shelter looks a bit wobbly. This is because the canopy's lightweight aluminum poles were bent by this point in the testing after approximately half a dozen uses. During a surf/boogie board session at Ocean Beach in San Francisco, we learned the hard way that if you don't stake and anchor your shelter down well, it is likely to blow away and become damaged. The poles were luckily still usable, but the bent poles did make the shade canopy appear a bit lopsided. On the upside, if one of the poles were to have bent beyond the point of being sturdy enough to use, this canopy was the only one we tested that comes with a 6" long emergency repair splint. Take care to secure this canopy in especially windy weather so as not to damage one of its poles, like we did.
This shelter packs down to 6" x 26" and weighs 7 lbs 11 oz, making it lightweight and easy to carry. In fact, it was the second lightest canopy tested in this review. The Lightspeed Canopy Shelter is seven ounces lighter but its packed size is much more big and bulky at 50" x 5" x 5" vs. the 26" x 6" x 6" packed size of the Big Agnes.
The Three Forks Shelter is a great canopy for producing shade for two to three people, two people and a dog, or two adults and a couple of kidlets. We would not recommend this as a shade shelter for larger groups or for setting up over a picnic bench. If it is windy it is still fairly easy to set-up, especially with two people but keep in mind that there will additional guy line or sandbag set up time to include as well. This canopy performs best when there are guy line attachment points like trees or rocks nearby (or you can bring your own sandbags or anchors). When staked and guyed securely this canopy also offers a nice bit of wind protection as well.
At $200, the Three Forks is a bit of an investment, but it is also lightweight, easy to transport, and pretty simple to set-up.
The Editors' Choice winning Big Agnes Three Forks Shade Shelter is a nice, lightweight canopy that is easy to carry, set-up, and take down. It provides sun protection and light wind protection for two to four people and works well for day use!
— Valentine Cullen