Big Agnes Three Forks Shelter Review
Cons: Webbing connection frame is easy to trip on, low wind resistance, not a lot of shade for its size
Manufacturer: Big Agnes
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Our Analysis and Test Results
Boasting a 100 square foot base and a height of 78 in, the Three Forks Shelter offers space enough for four people comfortably. This tent no longer ships with the sidewall extension like previous models, but the wall can be purchased separately. Even without the sidewall, 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 and thicker canopies that block more light. The dome shape limits the livable space around the poles in comparison to camping and traditional canopies.
Despite a relatively large floor space, this tent doesn't provide a ton of shade, as seen in the images. It's enough to give a couple of people full coverage, but more than that, and some body parts will be out in the sun. We also didn't love the webbing frame around the perimeter of the tent, as we tripped on it multiple times.
Ease of Setup
The Three Forks Shelter relies upon a three-pole design (two legs, one roof) which is possible to set up alone unless it's windy. 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. The average time for a single person setup was 8 minutes in our testing, which decreases the more people helping. For the majority of these tents, we recommend a two-person setup, but this tent is one of the few that can be set-up solo with relatively little difficulty. It's pretty straightforward, but not very fast.
The footprint for this tent is quite large. If at a crowded beach, you will need a decent amount of space to set up. The poles are very long and can become a hassle if you do not have enough space for setup. You'll need more space than the final footprint to set it up.
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. We recommend utilizing the guy lines, even if it isn't windy when setting uip this model.
Breaking this model down is simple as well since there are only three collapsible 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 compared to some other canopies out there. Do note that there are canopies we tested that are faster to put up and take down, though.
The aluminum poles and tent stakes are susceptible to bending in windy conditions. However, this risk is reduced with the use of the provided guy-lines and ground stakes. The footprint can also be tightened or loosened to provide additional stability. With that said, we found setup and stability affected by increased winds.
On a moderately gusty day, the canopy acts as a large sail that catches the wind easily, making setup difficult and frustrating. It held up for a bit, but every time a big gust came through we were ready to chase it down the beach. Eventually, even with the tent staked down and guy-lines set, one gust collapsed the tent, making the poles to bend. As far as beach canopies go, this one handles light wind well but needs to be resecured and checked frequently in moderate wind.
Both the stakes and poles are aluminum, which makes them lightweight and strong, but also susceptible to deformation. As noted above, one of the poles bent out of shape due to wind during testing. We bent it back into usable shape, but that weakened the pole's strength and still looked a bit deformed. 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.
Weighing in at 7.5 lbs (packed) and packing down to 7" x 28", this tent is easy to transport and becomes an easy addition to beach or car camping trips. The relatively small size and low weight allow 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 significantly 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.
The Three Forks Shelter offers a lightweight and easy to set up experience while still maintaining reasonable sun and wind protection. This tent offers great protection for up to four adults. Since this tent can be set up by one or two people, it's an accessible beach tent for small groups, while probably a bit too much tent for a single person. Overall, this tent is best for day trips with fair weather when you need standing space underneath the canopy for grilling.
The price of this tent falls right about in the middle of the range within the beach canopy market. It offers decent value, but without great wind resistance or durability, it's not a show-stopper for the money.
This tent is good for day use. It is lightweight to carry a bit further from your vehicle but still big enough to provide standing or sitting room for up to four people. If you are looking for a canopy for beach days with a lot of open air space, the Big Agnes Three Forks Shelter hits that target.
— Michael Wood and Michelle Galinak