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Big Agnes Three Forks Shelter Review

Our favorite beach canopy overall, this model pushes all the right buttons to cover the average user's beach needs the best.
Top Pick Award
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Price:  $200 List | $199.95 at REI
Compare prices at 4 resellers
Pros:  Easy to set-up, lightweight
Cons:  Webbing connection frame is easy to trip on
Manufacturer:   Big Agnes
By Michael Wood ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Jan 28, 2019
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67
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#5 of 10
  • Livability - 25% 6
  • Ease of Setup - 25% 7
  • Wind Resistance - 20% 6
  • Durability - 15% 7
  • Portability - 15% 8

Our Verdict

The Big Agnes Three Fork Shelter is a dome-style canopy tent, with a height of 78 inches or 6.5ft, and a 100 square foot floor space. At 7 lb 8 oz packed weight, this tent is easy to transport, and the provided stakes, guy lines, and webbing frame allow for multiple stability options while keeping set-up easy and accessible. Winner of our Top Pick for beach use, this tent made an impression as a beach or even some camping canopy tent for its ease of setup, lightweight nature, and multiple stability options. This tent provides good protection from the sun and can be remarkably stable when all the stability options (stakes, guy-lines, webbing frame) are utilized. This tent is recommended for single day use in mild conditions, whether it be at the beach, campsite, or front yard.


Compare to Similar Products

Our Analysis and Test Results

Performance Comparison


At 6'3"  Nick has plenty of headspace.
At 6'3", Nick has plenty of headspace.

Livability


Boasting a 100 square foot base and a height of 78 in, the Three Forks Shelter offers space enough for four people comfortably. While this tent no longer ships with the sidewall extension like previous models, the wall is still purchasable, and the shade and wind protection is still pretty solid compared to other beach models. Note that traditional, street market-style canopy tents tend to offer better shade due to their design. The dome shape limits the livable space around the poles in comparison to camping and traditional canopies.


The eight aluminum stakes offer a sturdy base, while the guy-lines can be used to increase stability in windy conditions. While the webbing frame around the base of the tent is a potential tripping hazard, the ability to adjust the leg width provides an additional layer of stability not commonly found in similar canopy tents.

Enjoying the sun protection on a sunny beach day.
Enjoying the sun protection on a sunny beach day.

Ease of Setup


The Three Forks Shelter relies upon a three pole design (two legs, one roof) which is simple and easy enough for a single person to set up. Once the legs are assembled, they slide smoothly through the fabric sleeves and are stabilized by the grommets at each leg. The third pole is a short ceiling pole which slides through a similar sleeve at the top of the tent, which stabilizes the ceiling. Due to the simplicity of the design, this tent was easy to set up in the wind, especially if attempted by two people, though it's capable of being set up alone. The average time for a single person setup was 8 min, which decreases the more people helping. For the majority of these tents, we recommend a two-person set-up, but this tent is one of the few that can be set-up solo with relatively little difficulty. It's pretty easy, but not super fast.


The aluminum stakes do a good job of keeping the tent in place and are easy to insert into the ground but due to their composition expect some bending if forcing into firm ground. Sand is no problem. It's the guy-lines that really stand out when it comes to stabilizing the tent, with reinforced tabs that increase the durability of the anchor points, these lines allow for increased stability in windy conditions. Once anchored down by the guy-lines, we felt comfortable leaving the tent in the moderate wind while we went for a swim.

The aluminum stakes are easy to stab into the sand but could deform if you try to force them into firmer sediment.
The aluminum stakes are easy to stab into the sand but could deform if you try to force them into firmer sediment.

Take down is simple as well since there are only three collapsable poles to worry about, averaging at 4:23 for a solo takedown. If weather shifts dramatically, it's reassuring to know you can pack this tent up easily and quickly.

Wind Resistance


The aluminum poles and tent stakes are susceptible to bending in windy conditions. However, this risk is minimized with the use of the provided guy-lines and ground stakes. The footprint can also be tightened or loosened to provide additional stability. As far as beach canopies go, this one handles the wind quite well.


Durability


Both the stakes and poles are an aluminum design, which makes them lightweight and strong, but also susceptible to deformation. While no obviously bending of the poles occurred during testing, the stakes did slightly bend when pushed into dirt. Fortunately, the tent does come with a 6 inch splint in case of a pole snaps during an outing.


The fabric is polyester, and all the seams are taped with a waterproof, non-solvent tape, which increases the water resistance of the shelter. Since the structure's primary components are aluminum, we recommend using this tent as a single day use structure since high winds could cause the aluminum to bend and potentially snap. With that being said, during the testing phase, we never had an issue with this tent's structural integrity.

Guy-lines and stakes protect this shelter on windy beach days  but in intense air movement  the aluminum poles aren't the strongest material.
Guy-lines and stakes protect this shelter on windy beach days, but in intense air movement, the aluminum poles aren't the strongest material.

Portability


Weighing in at 7 lbs 8 oz (packed) and packing down to 7" x 28", this tent is easy to pack around and becomes an easy addition to beach or car camping trips. The relatively small size and low weight allows for trouble-free transport even over relatively long distances.


One issue we have with the carrying case is the lack of hand/shoulder straps which could greatly increase the ease of transportation. Its size, however, does allow for it to be put in separate bags or carried atop something to help with transport.

Of these three beach canopies  the Big Agnes model lands in the middle for size and weight.
Of these three beach canopies, the Big Agnes model lands in the middle for size and weight.

Best Applications


The Three Fork Shelter offers a lightweight and easy to setup experience while still maintaining reasonable sun and wind protection. This tent offers the great protection for up to four adults along with a little extra room. Since this tent can be set up by one or two people, it makes an accessible beach tent for small groups or solo sand lovers. The multiple anchors allow for increased stability for windy days, and the optional, purchasable sun wall provides additional sun and wind protection. Overall, this tent is best for day trips with moderate weather as its aluminum structure limits the durability over extended periods of inclement weather. Use of both the stakes and guy-lines are recommended to increase the lifespan of this tent.

Our testers found this to be their favorite beach canopy for days on the sandy shores of Lake Tahoe.
Our testers found this to be their favorite beach canopy for days on the sandy shores of Lake Tahoe.

Value


This tent costs $200, which is an investment, but the weight, ease of setup and stability of this tent makes it a worthy addition to any beach goer or day campers collection. There are less expensive beach canopies out there, but this one will outlast many of them.

Conclusion


This tent is exceptional for day use, as it provides wind and sun protection while providing easy set-up and multiple stability options. It is easy to transport and set up which makes it perfect for protecting up to three people from the sun. If you are looking for a canopy for beach days, this is our top recommendation.


Michael Wood