The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of outdoor gear

REI Alcove Shelter Review

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Price:  $129 List
Pros:  Easy to assemble, very sturdy
Cons:  Very heavy, can hold rain water unless extra care is taken to ensure a very secure set-up
Manufacturer:   REI
By Valentine Cullen ⋅ Senior Review Editor  ⋅  Oct 23, 2015
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The Skinny

The REI Alcove is the winner of our Best Buy Award because it earned one of the highest scores, but costs nearly half the price of the majority of products in our review. In addition to being the sturdiest beach canopy we tested, the Alcove is easy to set-up and has a very enjoyable amount of livable room underneath. It also works great for car camping and for groups of about four to six adults. It's one of only two of the shelters we tested that will fit well over a picnic table.

Update - June 2017
The REI Alcove has been discontinued. Take a peek at The Best Beach Canopy Review to check out alternative options.

The primary downside of the REI Alcove Shelter is that it is bulkier and heavier than its competitors. Our Editors' Choice winner, the Big Agnes Three Forks Shelter is about 6 lbs lighter, but has less usable space than the Alcove due to its dome design.


Our Analysis and Test Results

The REI Alcove Shelter is a great canopy for day use, a weekend of car camping, or for any other outing that lasts for more than a day. We recommend it for longer uses because its sturdy steel poles were the toughest in our review. Additionally, it is the best product tested for larger groups of people. REI also makes sidewalls for the Alcove which, if purchased separately, would make it a great performing product in wet weather.

Performance Comparison


The Alcove has a lot of room to sit under and it is easy to get in and out from underneath it. We loved its combination of great livability and low price!
The Alcove has a lot of room to sit under and it is easy to get in and out from underneath it. We loved its combination of great livability and low price!

Livability


The Alcove provides 100 square feet of usable space underneath it and at 6' 6" maximum height it provides a great space for taller users to enjoy if they are standing in the middle of the floor. Although several other canopies in this review have 100 square feet of floor space, the Alcove and the Paha Que Cottonwood LT both have more usable space because they are not dome shaped and therefore offer more room in the corners. Additionally, the Alcove and the Cottonwood are large enough to set up over large objects like a picnic table.

This product is comfortable to stand under but you do have to duck a little bit if you enter from the sides. It has enough livable space to easily sit over a picnic table at your favorite campground.
This product is comfortable to stand under but you do have to duck a little bit if you enter from the sides. It has enough livable space to easily sit over a picnic table at your favorite campground.

Ease of Set-Up


This product did not come with a set of instructions but it wasn't too difficult to figure out. It has color coded connection points for the roof poles, which help "explain" how to set it up. The different colored fabric on the canopy also makes it easier to distinguish which side is which when unpacking and unfolding it. When you unfold the poles after taking them out of the bag, they click together effortlessly; the pole connection points snap together easily and the embedded slots and wire connection clips make it foolproof.

Use the pole with the orange connection points for the middle and the poles with the teal and blue colors for the sides of the roof. Make sure to toggle the teal and blue connection ends like so:

This canopy goes together by building the roof frame upside down first, attaching the corner poles and then flipping it upside down before attaching the polyester material shade part on top.

The best way to assemble this product's frame is upside down.
The best way to assemble this product's frame is upside down.

Total set-up time for one person is approximately twenty minutes including staking it in and guying it. It would take less time to set-up with two people. It is also a lot easier to flip the pole frame over with two people before attaching the material top.

Wind Resistance


If you will be using this product in rainy or windy weather be sure to use the extra guy lines included and attach them to the middle of the sides of the canopy securely so as to ensure that that no water collects on the top. We also recommend tightening the webbing at each corner of the canopy after staking it in and guying it very securely.

There are two extra guy line connection points included in the middle of each side of the top of this shelter. We recommend taking care to tighten the canopy during set-up to prevent pooling in rainy weather.
There are two extra guy line connection points included in the middle of each side of the top of this shelter. We recommend taking care to tighten the canopy during set-up to prevent pooling in rainy weather.

Durability


The Alcove is the toughest product tested in this review. It has extra thick and durable powder-coated steel poles that have a circumference of 19 millimeters. The poles are not light but they were the sturdiest, as a result, we grew to love them and their reliability.

The Alcove (discontinued) had the most durable poles of the bunch.
The Alcove (discontinued) had the most durable poles of the bunch.

Portability


The Alcove is essentially a lightweight version of an EZ-Up. When packed, this canopy is 10" x 30" and a heavy 15 lbs 10 oz. If you're looking for another high scoring canopy that is much lighter, consider our Editors' Choice winner, the Big Agnes Three Forks Shelter.

Packed size comparison.
Packed size comparison.

Best Applications


The REI Alcove Shelter is a great canopy for those looking to shade more than two or three people. It is also the best canopy we tested for overnight use, especially if you expect less than excellent weather. Setting up the Alcove takes a bit longer than dome-style canopies like the Lightspeed Quick Canopy or the Kelty Shade Maker 2, but if you're going to use your canopy for more than a few hours at the beach, we highly recommend the Alcove.

Value


The REI Alcove Shelter offers the best value of all the beach shade canopies that we tested, and was the run-away winner of our Best Buy Award. For $109 you will get an extremely durable shelter and a comfortable place to seek shade or a place for multiple people to take refuge under during a mild storm. Additionally, its poles are the sturdiest of all the canopies that we tested and they are also the most reliable. The canopy of this shade shelter is constructed from coated polyester taffeta and should stand the test of time.

Conclusion


The Alcove is sturdy, spacious, comfortable to stand under, and offers a lot of usable shade/space. It's heavier and takes a little longer to set-up, but we think the added benefits are worth it. We especially appreciate that this canopy fits larger groups of people comfortably and it will fit easily over a picnic table.


Valentine Cullen