Looking for the best beach canopy? We tested four of the top products on the market. We wrestled with tent shade poles, got crafty with guy lines, and braved sweltering heat, blustering winds, and even a bit of precipitation. We also took on the rough job of testing these canopies in perfect temperatures in peaceful and pristine locations. For months we relaxed under the four beach canopies tested in this review. It was rough work, but we're dedicated to bringing you the best. For this review, we chose two mini-EZ-Up style canopies and three other dome-style contenders. We compared all of the products we tested side-by-side and then scored each based on how they performed in the areas of ease-of-setup, livability, wind resistance, portability and durability.
The Best Beach Canopy Review
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Best Overall Beach Canopy
Big Agnes Three Forks Shelter
We chose the Big Agnes Three Forks Shelter as our Editors' Choice Award winner because it is lightweight, easy to transport, and easy to set-up, even in the wind. The Three Forks has a very usable amount of space and comes with a removable sidewall that you can move to any side of the shelter quickly and easily as the sun moves around you. We also liked that the sidewall offered protection from the wind and added increased privacy.
Read review: Big Agnes Three Forks Shelter
Analysis and Test Results
Which beach canopy is the right product for you? That depends on what you will be doing, how far you'll be walking, and how many people will be with you, how long you will be seeking refuge from the elements. Be sure to consider each of these factors as you're reading our review and you're sure to find a beach canopy that meets your needs!
Not sure which beach canopy is going to deliver the best bang for your buck? We made the graph below to help illustrate how each canopy stacked up against the competition, specifically in terms of overall performance relative to list price. As you can see, the Editor's Choice winning Big Agnes Three Forks Shelter falls farthest into the lower right quadrant, representing a great value compared to the other canopies in our test.
Types of Beach Canopies
There are two distinct categories of beach canopies that we tested in this review. One is the canopy type that is a small version of an EZ-Up tent shade and the other distinctly resembles a dome tent without the sides and/or floor. The Paha Que Cottonwood was the product we tested that resembles a small EZ-Up canopy. These products are more square and have more height at the edges and upper corners. The Big Agnes Three Forks Shelter, the Kelty Shade Maker 2, and the Lightspeed Quick Canopy were the three products tested that are similar to a dome tent.
Criteria for Evaluation
For this metric, we assessed the amount of usable space, the height, the amount of shade offered, and other features like removable walls/panels. Of the four products tested, the Paha Que Cottonwood LT scored the highest in this rating metric. Not only is the Cottonwood the tallest EZ-Up type shelter we tested but it also has the most amount of usable square footage and was the best shelter to use for a group of six to eight people. The reason it has the most amount of usable space is because it is the tallest product tested and because it is not a dome-style shade shelter.
Generally speaking, the dome styles scored lower in this metric due to the fact that there was less usable space in the corners and the ceiling. Even though the roof of the Cottonwood is eight feet tall, the sides of this beach canopy come over the edges approximately a foot and a half or two depending on how far apart the legs are and what the terrain is like that it is set up upon. If you are close to six feet tall or more, you will have to tilt your head slightly in order to get underneath the Cottonwood.
Two dome-style canopies that scored well in this metric: the Kelty Shade Maker 2 and the Big Agnes Three Forks Shelter. Our Editors' Choice winner, the Three Forks Shelter, received a higher score due to its sidewall. The removable sidewall kept wind out and sun all while offering more privacy. It was also very nice to be able to easily move the removable sidewall of the Three forks to other sides as the sun moved around the shelter. On the other end of the spectrum, the Lightspeed received a low livability score due to the fact that it is small, short, and it can get hot inside of it. In extreme heat, the combination of its floor and stationary wall raises the temperature underneath the Lightspeed to a degree or two hotter than outside of it.
Ease of Set-Up
To assess this metric, we simply set up and took down each of the shelters numerous times. In this section, we outline how easy or hard it was to set up each shelter and provide some best use recommendations based on its performance in this metric. There's nothing worse than spending 20 minutes setting up a shelter when you're only going to be at your child's soccer game for 90 minutes.
If you are going to be on the sidelines of a sporting event for just a couple of hours in mild weather and want the quickest and easiest beach canopy to set up that we tested, we recommend the Lightspeed Quick Canopy for two to four people. It takes less than three minutes to unpack and set this shelter up (not including staking it in, fixing the guy lines or filling the included sandbags).
If you are going to the beach, river, lakeside or even the park for a full day outing and want the easiest canopy to set-up for four or five people, we recommend the Big Agnes Three Forks. Although the peak height of the Kelty Shade Maker 2 is taller, we recommend the Three Forks because it is easier for one person to set-up, especially if you predict windy weather. Indeed, the Shade Maker is exceptionally challenging to wrangle in higher winds because it uses external clips to secure the poles instead of pole sleeves.
Because the Cottonwood is more difficult to set up, we recommend it primarily for multi-day use. For example, if you are going camping for the weekend either one of these canopies is a great option. Keep in mind that it takes two people approximately twenty minutes to set up the Cottonwood even after getting used to it. We recommend four people be involved if you want this beach canopy to go up easily.
When you're outdoors, especially at the beach, the wind can quickly cause havoc! In this metric, we assessed how well each of the shelters in our review could withstand wind and even light rain. We strongly recommend always staking and guying your shelter down even if it's not windy during set-up. (We learned the hard way in our tests that canopies can blow away while you're boogie boarding, causing damage to the poles). Although we break down the wind resistance of these canopies, it's important to note that there are things you can do to mitigate their propensity to blow away in the wind. Here are some tips on how to set up tent canopies at the beach. Also, keep in mind that you could just purchase some sand stakes, you can make your own sandbags as additional anchors, or purchase sand stakes.
If you plan to use your beach canopy in particularly windy areas, we do not recommend choosing a model with a permanent sidewall - the Lightspeed Quick Canopy caught wind very easily. The wall on the Three Forks Shelter also catches wind, but since it is removable, you can always take it off if the wind really picks up. In a mildly windy situation, the sidewall of the Three Forks is a bonus.
The Cottonwood performed better in the wind than the dome-style canopies because the wind could pass through it more easily. Additionally, the Cottonwood is a good option for mild wet weather since you can purchase sidewalls separately to enclose the entire shelter. You can also purchase extra sidewalls for the Three Forks but there is not as much usable space underneath it as the Cottonwood due to its dome shape design.
When evaluating durability, we primarily examined three things: pole construction, pole connection points, and fabric durability. We didn't notice any wear or tear on the canopy fabric, however, we did experience some significant differences in pole durability. We didn't have any trouble with the high performance 100% aluminum 6061 series alloy, shock-corded poles of the Paha Que Cottonwood (this was not the case with most of the other products that we tested).
During our testing, the poles of the Shade Maker 2 became slightly permanently bent during normal use. Additionally, the lightweight aluminum poles of the Editors' Choice Award-winning product, the Big Agnes Three Forks were damaged during our testing process as well (however, the damage was caused because we didn't stake it down properly and it blew away). Finally, the Lightspeed Quick Canopy was the least durable beach canopy that we tested. The hub section that allows for such a quick umbrella like set up, stopped tightening all the way after just a few uses.
You're going to the beach and you're already bogged down with a cooler and beach bags full of toys, towels, sunblock, and snacks. You don't want to lug a bulky or heavy canopy along with you. If you typically walk a long way to get to the beach, park, or campsite, then you should consider a beach canopy that is easy to transport. The Kelty Shade Maker 2 easily won the portability contest. It isn't the lightest product tested, but it comes with a cool and convenient backpack style stuff sack that makes it by far the easiest to transport to and from your vehicle. The Three Forks packs down to just about the same size but it is two pounds lighter at 7 lbs 11 oz.
The Lightspeed Quick Canopy is the lightest product that we tested in this review but it has the largest packed size of 26" x 8" x 8". Fortunately its bag comes equipped with a shoulder strap which helps make it easier to carry but it is still a bit awkward and easy to bump into stuff with. The EZ-Up-type shelter that we tested, the Paha Que Cottonwood, is the heaviest product we tested, weighing 16 lbs. The Cottonwood comes with a shoulder strap as well which does aid in its ease of transport. We recommend this canopy for use when you're near your car.
Depending on the number of people seeking shelter in your canopy, where you will be using it, and how far you will need to be transporting it, the canopy that suits your needs will differ. This review is intended to help you sort through the available options to find the best fit for your beach needs.
— Valentine Cullen