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We all know how uncomfortable a sunburn can be—not to mention the possible long-term health risks. A simple solution for a sunny day at the beach might be the classic beach umbrella, or there's always the DIY tarp, but the most stable and reliable shelter is a beach tent designed to give you much-needed protection from the sun’s harmful UV rays.
A beach sun shelter can be used as a tent for shade and as a place to keep your belongings hidden. Like traditional camping and backpacking tents, there are a variety of different beach tents available, with various features depending on your needs.
In this guide, we highlight the best beach tents out there before digging deeper into the varying designs and materials, pros versus cons, and what to look for when buying one.
The 8 Best Beach Tents of 2023
Best Beach Tent: Helinox Royal Box Tent
The Helinox Royal Box Tent is striking for its sleek, elegant design yet functional use. The high-tech aluminum alloy frame provides a lightweight design that remains sturdy and durable. A shelter made for two, the Royal Box has three walls for shade—or, if you prefer more airflow, two sidewalls can be rolled up and tied away temporarily. While this tent prices higher than others on the list, Helinox is known for quality and this tent is a solid packable option for your beach bag or tote.
Easiest Setup Beach Tent: Shibumi Shade
To achieve a broad shade area with a hassle-free, easy set-up, it doesn't get much better than the Shibumi Shade. That's mostly due to this shade tent's unique design: it uses a single pole that's anchored to the ground at three points and relies on the wind instead of more poles and pegs. The canopy, which is made of 40% recycled plastic bottles and provides UPF 50+ sun protection, flutters on the breeze to create enough shade for four to six people. You don't need to wait for really windy days to use it either—most beaches have enough daytime wind when the sun's out to keep it aloft (and you can check the winds using this website to check). The Shibumi Shade weighs four pounds, comes with a storage bag for transport, and is also available in a smaller two-person size.
Best Classic Beach Tent: Eddie Bauer Shadowcaster 38 Sun Shelter
The Shadowcaster is as straightforward as beach tents get. Tent poles and a polyester shelter join forces to create an open-front structure for anti-UV hangs, and there's even a built-in floor if you don't want to sit directly on the sand or ground. The Shadowcaster is simple to set up with an intuitive anchoring system and includes steel stakes and has enough room for two camp chairs inside, or a gaggle of kids. There's an interior storage pocket for stashing sunscreen and an included carrying case with a shoulder strap for toting it to and from the car.
Best Continuous Pole Pop-up Beach Tent: WolfWise Spiltwave Instant Pop-up Beach Tent
The WolfWise Instant Pop-up tent is an ideal option if you are searching for convenience and easy setup—it opens and is foldable in seconds (no assembly or take down required with the automatic pop-up feature) and its ultra-lightweight design provides ease of transportation. A UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) 50+ rating provides ample protection from harmful UV rays with a rear door entrance and mesh windows allowing airflow throughout. Lastly, four corner sand pockets attached to its extended floor add stability on those windy beach days.
Best Luxury Beach Tent: Snow Peak Mesh Shelter
The Snow Peak Mesh Shelter traditional pole tent has an impressionable Japanese design that lends itself well for day use or full-on camping weekends. The four to six-person tent has four entry points and mesh sidewalls to provide convenient entry and ventilation, while the water-repellent outer shell keeps your inside items dry. While its price and weight are more than other tent options listed here, the Snow Peak Mesh Shelter is a great choice if you’re searching for spaciousness (it hosts up to six people), stability, function, and protection from the elements, not to mention style.
Best Hybrid Beach Tent: Mobihome Beach Tent Sun Shelter Pop Up
The Snow Peak Mesh Shelter has an impressionable Japanese design that lends itself well to day use at the beach or as a gathering space for full-on camping weekends. Four entry points and large windows made of mesh fabric provide convenient and breathable entry and ventilation, while the water-repellent outer shell keeps your inside items dry. While its price and weight are more than other tent options listed here, the Snow Peak Mesh Shelter is a deluxe option made of high-quality materials if you’re searching for spaciousness (it hosts up to six people), stability, function, and protection from the elements, not to mention style.
Best Canopy Beach Tent: Big Agnes Three Forks Shelter
The Big Agnes Shelter is a simple, yet versatile canopy tent structure that provides sun shelter for a variety of outdoor activities. Functioning as a group sun shade shelter (or beach cabana), four open sides make walking in or out of the shelter easy—accessory wall panels sold separately can be attached on two sides to windproof the zone and provide additional shielding from the sun. The design is sizable and can fit over a picnic table or host several beach chairs underneath.
Best Umbrella Beach Tent: Sport-Brella 8' SPF 50+ Premiere Canopy
The Sport-Brella umbrella beach tent offers UPF 50+ sun protection, water-resistant fabric, and extra useful features compared to a typical beach umbrella. The center pole is durable with a built-in tilt mechanism, a specialized twist handle, and an oversized spiral auger bit at its base that anchors securely in grass, dirt, or sand. Zippered windows and retractable side flaps provide the option for extra airflow when needed. When your beach trip is over, this beach umbrella tent packs away easily in a carrying case.
Everything You Need to Know About Beach Tents
Different Types of Beach Tents
Different types of tents will determine how easily you set up camp on the beach and how much protection you get from the sun. Below are the most common types of beach tents and their different qualities to help you search for the perfect tent.
Continual Pole Pop-up Beach Tent
The poles in a continual pole pop-up beach tent are all connected—they do not need to be assembled or taken apart. 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 carry bag. To set it up, you simply need to untwist the tent, and it pops up, essentially pitching itself.
Traditional Pole Beach Tents
A traditional pole tent can have individual collapsable poles that need assembly and a lightweight body or cover material, 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).
Hybrid Beach Tents
Hybrid beach tents look like traditional pole tents but have the convenience of pop-up tents. Usually, 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.
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.
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.
Beach umbrella tents are a hybrid between a tent and a beach umbrella. They are often a more affordable tent option. Beach umbrella tents are set up like a normal beach umbrella but have additional material that extends down the sides to provide added shade (like an umbrella mullet). These are easy to use but can blow away in strong winds (unlike a mullet).
Features to Look for in Different Types of Beach Tents
When you are looking for a beach tent, it’s wise to consider the different features that the various models offer—and how they correspond to your beach needs. However, there are some general key features that are considered important no matter the beach tent.
The type of beach tent that you choose to buy depends on how you plan to use it. Things to consider are the number of people it can hold and the weather conditions it will be used in. Bigger tents accommodate more people, but their height and larger footprint can be impractical on a windy beach. A small or children’s beach tent works great if your intention is to keep your little one safe in the shade. Some beach tents only have a roof to create beach shade, while other designs have three walls that block both sun and wind while giving you a clear view of the ocean.
When considering the size of your beach tent, the footprint of the tent (how much space it takes up) is an important 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. A beach tent with a smaller footprint is a practical way to create beach shade on crowded beaches. On an empty beach, larger tents can work well. 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 protection from the elements. Find a beach tent that is easy enough to set up and take down (like a pop up beach tent) so that you can enjoy your time in the sand and sea, rather than struggling with your tent. 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 spot. Its packed size and weight should be taken into consideration, as some tents can be heavier or bulkier than others—especially if your usual spot requires you to carry the tent for some distance.
One of the more unique and useful features of beach tents is sand pockets, which can be used instead of (or along with) guy lines, rope tie-downs, and tent stakes. Located on each outside corner of the tent, 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 sand where guy lines and tent stakes may not anchor effectively.
Level of Weather Protection
Most beach tents are made from fabric that blocks ultraviolet (UV) rays. However, tents have varying ratings of sun protection, just like your typical sunscreen. Beach tents with the best UV protection are made with a UPF 50+ factor fabric or higher.
When considering wind, a three-sided beach tent offers greater protection from strong gusts and flying sand. Tents with mesh windows, panels, or air/wind vents may be preferred on windy or extra hot days. Mesh windows or vents can open or close to ease the tension on the tent walls when the wind picks up. On hot days, mesh windows, panels, or air vents can be opened to let that pacific breeze cool off the inside of the tent. A plus of zip-able windows is they can provide some degree of privacy. This is handy when changing into or out of swimwear—or for taking a nap in peace.
Some beach shelters have removable walls that you can attach when you need added protection or privacy. Beach sand and seafoam can reflect up to 25% of the sun’s UV rays—even when you are sitting under a sun canopy, you may still be exposing yourself to UV rays. Beach tents with additional sides give you added protection from UV rays reflected by the sand and the sea.
Your beach tent should also protect you from rain and ocean spray, keeping your beach items and valuables dry inside. Look for beach tents with taped seams and a waterproof coating to give you added protection in rainy weather. This is a feature to look for if you plan on camping in your beach tent.
Some beach tents have built-in pockets on the inside that are convenient to store bits and bobs and keep essential items sand-free. Mesh pockets allow sand to fall through them instead of collecting in difficult-to-clean corners. For a sand-free space on the beach, look for a tent floor or groundsheet that extends past the walls of your beach tent, providing space to sit and enjoy the sun without touching hot sand.
Beach tents provide safety and comfort, and can truly elevate a day at the beach. Investing in a beach tent gives you the shelter you need to keep your loved ones shaded while improving the forecast for fun. Whether you’re spending the day under your umbrella tent, or sleeping oceanside in your traditional pole tent, a beach tent is always a good idea—no matter the style.