Nothing puts a damper on a great beach day like getting too much sun and looking like a lobster the following morning. We all know how uncomfortable a sunburn can be—not to mention the possible long-term health risks. One simple solution to an overexposed beach day is a beach tent, designed to give you that very much-needed protection from the sun and UV rays—and frustrating wind gusts, too.
A beach shade tent can be used as a base camp or beach shelter while you spend time on the sand, and the effect is always worth the effort. Like traditional camping and backpacking tents, there are a variety of different beach tents available, all with various features sure to make a day at the beach that much more enjoyable. In the following paragraphs we break down the ins and outs of beach tents, from designs and materials, pros and cons, to what to look for when shopping and how to use whichever you end up with. Scroll on and enjoy.
The Many Types of Beach Tents
Different types of tents will affect how easily you set up camp on the beach. These beach shelters also offer different kinds of protection, and are classified as such. The kind of beach tent that you choose primarily depends on your wants and needs, of course. Below are the most common types of beach tents, and their differentiating qualities to help aid in your search.
Continual Pole Pop-up Beach Tent
The poles in a continual pole pop up beach tent are all connected. The benefit being they do not need to be assembled and taken apart when you pitch or break down your beach tent. Instead, a continual pole pop up beach tent is designed to collapse when twisted in a certain way. This makes it easy to break down and pack away in its own carry bag. To set it up, you simply need to untwist the tent, and it ‘pops up,’ essentially pitching itself.
Best Continual Pole Pop-up Beach Tent: WolfWise Spiltwave Instant Pop-up Beach Tent, $89.99
Traditional Pole Beach Tents
A traditional pole tent might have individual collapsed poles that need to be assembled and a lightweight body or cover material that is attached and pitched, much like a typical backcountry camping tent. Some, like our pick from Snow Peak, will have removable walls to regulate airflow (mesh lets air in and keeps bugs and sand out).
Ultimate Traditional Pole Beach Tent: Snow Peak Mesh Shelter, $835
Hybrid Beach Tents
Hybrid beach tents look like traditional pole tents but have the convenience of pop up tents. They have retractable poles attached to a string. To pitch a hybrid beach tent, you simply need to pull on the string, and the tent pops up.
Best Hybrid Beach Tent: Mobihome Beach Tent Sun Shelter Pop Up, $56.99
Classic-style Beach Tents
Classic-style beach tents are similar to traditional camping tents. They give you the most privacy and protection with walls on three sides, leaving the fourth side open to face the ocean. The fourth side might have a door that you can close (and lock) if you want or need to. This design keeps out the wind, rain, and sun, without obstructing your view.
Best Classic Beach Tent: Coleman RoadTrip Beach Shade, $59
Canopy Beach Tents
A canopy is a simple beach shelter that usually has open sides. Some may have a wall that can be attached if needed. They can usually accommodate more people than traditional beach tents. Beach canopies often have a higher ceiling than beach tents, which makes it easy to stand up and move around in them.
Best Canopy Beach Tent: Big Agnes Three Forks Shelter, $199
Beach umbrella tents are hybrids between beach tents and beach umbrellas but still provide plenty of shade. They are often cheaper than other sun shelters, like beach tents and beach canopies. Beach umbrella tents set up like a normal beach umbrella but have additional material that extends to the sides to provide added shade (like an umbrella mullet). These are easy to use but may blow away in strong winds (unlike a mullet).
Best Umbrella Beach Tent: Sport-Brella 8' SPF 50+ Premiere Canopy, $52
Features to Look for in Different Types of Beach Tents
When you are looking for a beach tent, you need to consider the features that each model offers and how those features correspond with your future beach needs. The tent that is best for someone else may not be practical for you. However, there are some general features that you need to look at when searching for a beach tent. Below, we dig in.
The type of beach tent that you buy greatly depends on how you plan on using it, how many people will need to be covered, and the conditions in which you will be using it. Bigger tents can accommodate more people, but they also tend to have higher sides with a larger footprint, which may make them hazardous and impractical on beaches that tend to be windier. On the other end of the size spectrum, kid beach tents and baby beach tents work great if your sole intention is to keep your little one safe in the shade.
Some beach tents only have a roof to create beach shade and provide cover from the sun. Others have three walls to protect you from the elements while giving you a clear view of the ocean, as explained above.
When considering the size of your beach tent, you need to think about a number of aspects. The footprint of the tent—how much space it will take up—is likely the most pressing factor, especially if you intend to pitch it on a busy beach (here in New York, it’s rare to find more than a few square feet of beach to yourself during summer, for example). If you plan on using it on a relatively empty beach, larger tents can work well. On the other hand, a sun shelter with a smaller footprint would be a more practical way to get some beach shade on more crowded beaches.
Your beach tent also needs to be large enough to accommodate your whole beach crew. Size accordingly.
Ease of Use and Transport
A beach tent should enhance your beach days while giving you some protection from the elements. It should be easy enough to set up and break down so that you can spend more time enjoying the beach instead of struggling to put up your tent or haul it to your preferred spot in the first place.
Beach tents generally fold up into compact bundles and small carrying bags that are easy to pack into your car and carry to your beach camp. Some may be heavier and bulkier than others. Their packed size and weight should be taken into consideration—especially if your usual spot requires you to carry your tent for some distance.
One of the more unique and useful features of beach tents is sand pockets. These sand pockets can be used instead of (or along with) guy lines, rope tie-downs, and tent stakes. Available on each corner, these sand pockets can be filled with a substantial amount of sand to anchor your beach tent by weighing down the corners. Built-in sandbags are especially handy if you are setting up on a beach with very soft or loose sand where guy ropes and tent stakes may not anchor effectively. Sand bags are located on the outside of beach tents, so they do not take up any floor space on the inside.
Level of Weather Protection
Most beach tents are made from fabric that blocks ultraviolet (UV) rays. Although this is the case, they have different ratings of sun protection. The sun protection of a UV beach tent is usually expressed according to the SPF protection level that it provides, similar to what you will see on a sunscreen container. The beach tents that offer the best UV protection are constructed from fabric with an SPF50 factor or higher.
Some beaches can get extremely windy. A three-sided beach tent will offer greater protection from the wind—and accompanying flying sand. Solid tent walls will catch the wind and could end up tearing, especially if you sacrifice quality and durability for price. Tents with mesh windows or wind vents that you can open or close will give you protection from the elements while easing the tension placed on the tent walls when wind picks up.
Having protection from three sides is great on windy days, but these sides could keep the heat inside the tent on hot days, too. Mesh windows, mesh panels, or air vents can be opened to let a ocean breeze flow through the inside of the tent to cool it off on those hot summer beach days. Zip-able windows also give you some degree of privacy while on the beach. This is very handy when you want to change into or out of swimwear—or take a nap in peace. Some beach sun shelters have removable walls. You can use the structure as a simple beach canopy tent and attach the walls if you need added protection or privacy.
Beach sand reflects about 15% of harmful UV rays, and seafoam can reflect 25% of UV rays. That means that even when you are sitting under a sun canopy, you can still unknowingly be exposing yourself and your family to UV rays. Beach tents with additional sides will give you added protection from UV rays reflected by the sand and the sea.
Besides protecting from the sun and the wind, your beach tent should also protect you from water. This includes rain, but also spray from the ocean. A beach tent that protects you from sea spray helps to keep your towels, clothes, snacks, books, and gadgets clean and salt-water-free while they are inside your tent. Beach tents with taped seams and a waterproof coating will give you added protection in rainy weather. This is especially a feature that you need to look for if you plan on camping in your beach tent.
Beach tents offer a variety of other features, and whether they are nice-to-haves or something you absolutely need will depend on your own personal preferences. Some tents will have built-in pockets on the inside, too. These are convenient to store bits and bobs and keep essential items sand-free. Mesh pockets are convenient as the sand falls through them instead of collecting in difficult to clean corners.
A tent floor or groundsheet could help you to have a sand-free space on the beach. Some extend past the walls of your beach tent in the front. It gives you a bit more space to spread out and enjoy the sun without walking or lying on hot sand.
A beach tent gives you sun protection. Besides working as a sun shade, it shelters you from UV rays and other elements. They elevate a day at the beach and add that element of safety to the fun. Investing in a beach tent will give you the shelter you need to keep you and your family having fun and getting the most out of each and every day you spend on the beach or when you go on a beach camping trip.