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How to Choose a Canopy Tent

With plenty of headspace  this model earns high marks for livability.
By Michael Wood ⋅ Review Editor
Monday January 28, 2019

If you're searching for a canopy tent which fits your needs, then you've come to the right place. Our experts have spent a lot of time researching this product category and even more time using them, and we have some advice to help you shop the market. Whether you're looking for a commercial, beach or camping canopy tent, we've got you covered.

Types of Canopy Tents


When searching for the ideal canopy tent, you'll find that tents which fall under the "canopy" category can range in size, price, and intended use. Before purchasing a canopy tent, you must decide what you intend on using it for as well as how much you're willing to spend. Intended uses can range from camping and park life, beach going, and outdoor markets. Here is a breakdown of the main sub-categories of the canopy world.

Commercial Canopies


Commercial canopy models are designed primarily for packed earth or pavement use. These are your outdoor or farmers' market-style tents, designed with walk-under height and maximum floor space in mind to accommodate multiple people as well as goods for trade. They are also the heaviest of the canopies. Without a solid carrying case, these are a royal pain to lug around. Also, look for a case with large, robust wheels. Tiny wheels are almost as useless as no wheels, beware, especially when rolling over less than perfectly level surfaces.

The Eurmax Premium model has a strong  reliable carrying case that can withstand a lot of use. They also have solid wheels that can handle the weight of the canopy and roll over hard and soft surfaces with a few bumps.
The Eurmax Premium model has a strong, reliable carrying case that can withstand a lot of use. They also have solid wheels that can handle the weight of the canopy and roll over hard and soft surfaces with a few bumps.

The quality of each tent in this category varies a lot, with manufacturers aiming to target every price point. Going for the lowest price option here will typically leave you to buy a new model within a season or two, or sooner. In our experience, reliable quality begins around $200. Spending at least this much will pay off in the long run if you frequently use your canopy.

Our testers agree that commercial canopy models benefit from multi-person setup missions. They are some of the biggest models and weight quite a bit.
Our testers agree that commercial canopy models benefit from multi-person setup missions. They are some of the biggest models and weight quite a bit.

These tents had the most varied portability scores of the other shelters, due to their weight and length. When looking at purchasing a canopy tent, if you intend to use it in a professional setting or manner, then we would definitely recommend shelling out the cash and getting a tent that has the durability and longevity to protect you and your products from the elements. Something like the Eurmax Premium or E-Z Up Pyramid would be a good purchase for someone looking to get their money's worth. They are both durable, reliable, and easy to transport.

Summer days under the protection of the spacious and sturdy Eurmax Premium tent.
Summer days under the protection of the spacious and sturdy Eurmax Premium tent.

Beach Canopies


Beach models tend to be the lightest and easiest to transport. This makes sense since it's rare to park your car right on the water. These shelters are designed with sun protection in mind, utilizing stakes and guy-lines to increase the shelters durability in the wind and rain. The majority of the frames are aluminum to cut down on weight, and the heights are shorter than those of the commercial category. Open sides allow for easy access from all sides, while dome styled ceilings offer increased.

The Neso model goes up quickly but isn't the most accommodating or versatile.
The Neso model goes up quickly but isn't the most accommodating or versatile.

A good beach canopy should be quick and easy to set up maximize your time on the sand. It should also have decent guy lines and stakes to resist gusts of wind.

The best overall pick in our beach canopy review is the Big Agnes Three Forks. This tent offers exceptional space and sun protection while remaining light and easy to set up. The additional stakes and guy-lines allow for increased stability even in windy conditions, making this tent a well rounded and accessible beach canopy.

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.

Camping Canopies


The camping canopy tents that we reviewed were designed to be placed over picnic tables while offering protection from the elements and even insects. Mesh walls with open floors are common in this category. These shelters are usually lighter than most of the commercial canopies yet heavier than beach models. They are also less durable than commercial models yet sturdier than beach tents. Due to the necessities of camping, these shelters often sport a dome style and come with both stakes and guy-lines.

Enough space to cover a stacked picnic table  while providing minimal walking space.
Enough space to cover a stacked picnic table, while providing minimal walking space.

Of those reviewed, we like the Clam Quick Escape for its unique structural design and a completely open doorway. The rounded design feels more spacious than four-sided models, and it's super fast to set up (once you get the hang of it). The mesh walls keep six-eyed, uninvited guests at bay, too.

Wide open doors allow for easy access and protection.
Wide open doors allow for easy access and protection.

Key Areas of Performance


Our experts determined five key areas of performance when it comes to this category of tents. Focusing on the ones that mean most to you and the environment you'll use it will aid your shopping process. Simply by narrowing down your search to intended use and price point, half the work is done. We break them down here for you.

Livability


Livability is a category which takes into account the spaciousness and overall protection offered by the shelter. The majority of the tents which we reviewed offer the common 10'x10', 100 square feet of shelter, therefore this category is one of the most repetitive. However, the majority of the variation in this category derives from the individual shelter's adjustability, allowing users to determine the height and protection of each shelter. Also, some shelters offer slightly different forms in their canopies, which may increase overall wind and sun protection as well as livable space.

When it comes to commercial canopy tents, we found that height, length, and depth were important aspects in a highly rated tent since they need to accommodate a range of people and materials. In contrast, beach tents can get away with shorter peak heights. These models have a shorter peak height offering more shade and wind protection, both of which are desired on the beach. Most folks sit or lie at the beach anyhow, so having a tall tent is less useful. In conclusion, maximum height does not necessarily equate to a high score in our book. It's more about which environment you'll use it in that influences its comfort and use of space.

A beach canopy requires less space than camping and commercial models  which helps make them simpler and less weight.
A beach canopy requires less space than camping and commercial models, which helps make them simpler and less weight.

Ease of Setup


The second standard we consider key for these portable tents is the ease of setup. Since these tents can reach upward of 60 lbs, accessibility with regard to setup is a very important standard. This can be a source of continual frustration if you opt for a model that is a pain each time you put it up and break it down. If you commonly set up your tent alone, be sure to get a model can go up solo.

The ease of setup can be affected by a variety of factors, ranging from quality of materials, design, weight, and technology. Though we recommend each tent to be set up by at least two people, we found that due to the quality of design and materials, some shelters could be set up by a single person, even in inclement weather. Since these tents will be set up in a myriad of different conditions, it's nice for a shelter to be easily erected by a range of different individuals. Nobody wants to be struggling to assemble the shelter that is intended to keep them out of the rain, while in the pouring rain.

One of our strongest recommendations -- Get a friend to help you put up your canopy  especially when dealing with the larger commercial models.
One of our strongest recommendations -- Get a friend to help you put up your canopy, especially when dealing with the larger commercial models.

Commercial canopies almost exclusively require a minimum of two people to set up, due to the fixed four leg design which needs to be "walked out" to take shape. Higher quality models glide easily into place, while lower quality models need some 'oomph' to force the legs into place. Beach and camping canopies, however, rely more on insertable poles to provide the structure of the tent which allows for more accessibility with setup. The sheer weight of commercial canopies also limits the speed and ease of set-up, although the quality of design can either assist with or impede set-up.

Wind Resistance


The third grading metric revolves around the shelters ability to resist windy conditions. Most shelters rely on their weight, design, and stability options (guy-lines, stakes, etc.) to remain stable in the wind. A shelter's ability to resist wind is very important since wind is the most common natural phenomena you are likely to encounter, and a lack of stability in the wind could cause damage to the shelter or whatever the shelter is intended to protect.

For market users, we recommend collecting some weights (sand bags, cinder blocks, water jugs, etc.) to tie down your commercial canopy. Setting up typically on pavement or firm ground, it's unlikely that you'll find a surface to drive a stake into. Store the weights next to your tent so they always travel with you.

Durability


The durability of the shelter is a worthwhile consideration. Regardless of the intended use, it is always ideal to have a shelter that is dependable and stable despite how many times it has been used. The durability factor depends upon the quality of materials, design, and stability options provided by the producer. Two identical tents, with the exception that one comes with guy-lines, may drastically influence that shelter's durability, especially when it comes to its stability in inclement weather.

Because this performance metric is crucial, each tent we tested was anchored down by the included stabilizers and left in windy conditions. Areas of wear, along with design choices which impacted the shelter's durability or longevity, were noted and compared to those in its category. This may be the most important category when deciding which shelter to purchase, as some of these tents are quite the investment. You need to know that if you're going to drop $300 or more, that your shelter is going to last for the long haul.

Durability extends to the carrying case of your canopy. This canvas bag lacks the burliness regular use requires and developed a small tear during the first outing.
Durability extends to the carrying case of your canopy. This canvas bag lacks the burliness regular use requires and developed a small tear during the first outing.

Portability


The fifth and final grading metric we used has to do with the portability of each tent. Although many of these shelters will most likely be transported to their destination by car, a clunky and heavy shelter may mean the difference between a fun family beach day and a stressful, hectic hour or more added to your day of fun. This is especially relevant concerning the large commercial canopy tents. The majority of these tents weigh upwards of 50 lbs and the travel case provided can either make transportation a breeze or the bane of your existence.

Big wheels and a quality travel case can make a heavy canopy tent a relative breeze to transport from house to car to street fair and back again.
Big wheels and a quality travel case can make a heavy canopy tent a relative breeze to transport from house to car to street fair and back again.

All of the shelters tested were carried a minimum of 100 yards in the provided travel case, and the quality of each case is drastic from tent to tent. Perhaps an afterthought when looking for a model to purchase, our testers urge you to consider this factor carefully. The quality of the carrying case and the ease of transport can make a huge difference. We found that when a tent provided a case with rubberized grips or a comfortable shoulder strap, life was drastically made easier. This is especially relevant if you plan on transporting your tent on a consistent basis.

Conclusion


Armed with the right questions to ask and the correct specs to seek will serve you well when searching for your next canopy tent. Use this buyers' guide to help you figure out what to look for, and head over to our review of the Best Canopy Tents to find some models that fit your needs best.


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