Hands-on Gear Review

Big Agnes Three Forks Shelter Review

Editors' Choice Award
Price:  $200 List | $199.95 at REI
Compare prices at 3 resellers
Pros:  Easy to set-up, the removable sidewall is handy, lightweight
Cons:  Webbing connection frame is easy to trip on
Editors' Rating:   
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Floor Dimensions:  10' x 10'
Weight:  7 lbs 11 oz
Peak Height:  6' 3"
Manufacturer:   Big Agnes

Our Verdict

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.



RELATED REVIEW: The Best Beach Canopy Review


Our Analysis and Test Results

Review by:
Valentine Cullen

Last Updated:
Friday
October 23, 2015

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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.

Performance Comparison


Our Editors' Choice winner is an excellent choice for day use at the beach. Here we test it out at Ocean Beach in San Francisco.
Our Editors' Choice winner is an excellent choice for day use at the beach. Here we test it out at Ocean Beach in San Francisco.

Livability


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.

The Three Forks Shelter  our Editors' Choice winner  offers a comfortable amount of livable space. The sidewall is removable  allowing you to customize your shade options as the sun moves around you.
The Three Forks Shelter, our Editors' Choice winner, offers a comfortable amount of livable space. The sidewall is removable, allowing you to customize your shade options as the sun moves around you.

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.

View from the inside of the Three Forks Shelter at Ocean Beach in San Francisco  Ca. Note the webbing connection frame that adds structural stability but also might be easy to trip over as well.
View from the inside of the Three Forks Shelter at Ocean Beach in San Francisco, Ca. Note the webbing connection frame that adds structural stability but also might be easy to trip over as well.

Ease of Set-Up


The Big Agnes Three Forks Shelter
The easy to use end of the long poles and the grommets they attach to at the end of the four corners of this shelter.
is lightweight, easy to carry, and simple to set-up even when it is windy, especially if you have another person to help. When unfolded, the poles of this system snap easily into place, practically by themselves. Once the poles are constructed, they slip easily into the crossing pole sleeves on the top of the shelter and the end of the poles slide securely into a grommet at the end of the corners of the shelter. After the two long poles are installed and secure, the short pole fits through a final sleeve and tucks securely into reinforced webbing pockets.

The webbing pockets that the small pole tucks into on the top of the shelter.
The hooked aluminum stakes included are sturdy and easy to hammer; the guy lines are relatively thick and their connection point to the sides of the shade canopy is constructed well.

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.

Wind Resistance


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.

Check out the wind resistance section of our Best-In-Class review for more information on staking your beach canopy down in the sand!

Durability


Chillaxin under the Three Forks at Ocean Beach in San Francisco  Ca. Cooter the Great Dane didn't really want to come inside though because he really wanted to avoid navigating the webbing that connected the bottom of the canopy poles. Also  notice that the canopy looks a little lopsided here due to the bent poles.
Chillaxin under the Three Forks at Ocean Beach in San Francisco, Ca. Cooter the Great Dane didn't really want to come inside though because he really wanted to avoid navigating the webbing that connected the bottom of the canopy poles. Also, notice that the canopy looks a little lopsided here due to the bent poles.

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.

Extend the life and durability of your shelter by always staking it securely and/or using store bought or handmade anchors.

The lightweight aluminum poles of the Three Forks are not extremely sturdy.
The lightweight aluminum poles of the Three Forks are not extremely sturdy.

Portability


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.

Packed size comparison. Note the carrying strap on the right end.
Packed size comparison. Note the carrying strap on the right end.

Best Applications


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.

Value


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.

Conclusion


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!

View of the Three Forks from the back without the sidewall attached.
View of the Three Forks from the back without the sidewall attached.

Accessories

Big Agnes Three Forks Sidewall
Additional Three Forks Shelter Wall Panels may be purchased separately for $25.
Valentine Cullen


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Most recent review: October 23, 2015
Summary of All Ratings

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Rating:  
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 (5.0)
Average Customer Rating:  
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5 star: 100%  (1)
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