If you're searching for a canopy tent that fits your needs, you've come to the right place. Our experts have spent a lot of time researching this product category and even more time using these products, 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 that fall under the "canopy" category can range drastically in size, price, and intended use. Before purchasing a canopy tent, you must decide what you intend to use it for and how much you're willing to spend. Intended uses can range from camping and park life to beach-going and farmers' markets. Here is a breakdown of the main sub-categories in the canopy world.
Commercial canopy models are designed primarily for use on packed earth or pavement. These are your outdoor or farmers-market-style tents, designed with walk-under height and maximum floor space to accommodate multiple people and goods for trade. They are also the heaviest of the canopies. Without a good carrying case, they can be difficult to lug around, so we suggest looking for a roller bag with large, robust wheels.
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 may result in the need to buy a new model within a season or two. In our experience, reliable quality means you need to spend a bit more. If you frequently use your canopy, this will pay off in the long run.
This tent style had the most varied scores for portability in our testing due to their weight and length. When purchasing a canopy tent, if you intend to use it in a professional setting, we would definitely recommend shelling out the cash and getting a tent that has the durability and longevity to protect you and your consumer goods from the elements.
Beach or Adventure Canopies
These models tend to be the lightest and easiest to transport. They are designed with sun protection in mind and also utilize stakes and guy-lines to increase the shelter's durability in the wind and rain. Most of the frames are aluminum or fiberglass poles 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 shade protection.
There is a wider variety of styles in this category, so it's important to consider what your typical adventure will look like and how you want your canopy tent to add to your experience. If you usually go to a crowded beach, you will want a more compact canopy. Likewise, if you tend to explore and enjoy hiking, boating, or sea-kayaking to a remote destination, it's important to pick a canopy that can effectively withstand the elements while you spend the day farther away from civilization. Additionally, these lightweight canopies are great for picnics, lounging, getting kids out of the sun, and more.
The camping canopy tents we reviewed were designed to be placed over picnic tables while offering protection from the elements and insects. Mesh walls with open floors are common in this category. These shelters are usually lighter than most commercial canopies yet heavier than beach models. They can also be less durable than commercial models but sturdier than beach or adventure tents. Due to the necessities of camping, these shelters often sport a dome style and come with both stakes and guy-lines.
Key Areas of Performance
Our experts determined five key areas of performance when it comes to canopy tents. Focusing on the ones that mean most to you and the environment you'll be recreating in more often will aid your shopping process. Simply by narrowing down your search to intended use and price point, half the work is done.
Functionality is a category that considers the spaciousness and overall usability of the shelter. Many of the cathedral-style tents we reviewed offer 10'x10' (100 square feet) of shelter. However, we also looked for unique features like pockets, hooks, or adjustable heights, which make a canopy more comfortable to use.
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 or adventure tents can get away with shorter peak heights. These models are generally shorter but offer more shade and wind protection, both of which are desired on the beach. Most folks sit or lie down at the beach anyhow, so having a tall tent is less useful and more susceptible to being caught in the wind. Bottom line, the 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.
Ease of Set Up
The second standard we consider key for these portable tents is the ease of set-up. Since these tents can reach upward of 60 or more pounds, accessibility concerning set-up 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 that can go up solo.
The ease of set-up can be affected by various factors, ranging from quality of materials, design, weight, and technology. Though we recommend at least two people set up each tent, we found that some shelters could be set up by a single person, even in inclement weather, due to the quality of design and materials. Since these tents will be set up in a myriad of different conditions, it's nice for a shelter to be easily erected by different individuals. Nobody wants to be struggling to assemble the shelter intended to keep them out of the rain while in the pouring rain.
Commercial canopies almost always 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 position. Beach and camping canopies, however, rely more on insertable poles to provide the tent's structure, allowing for more accessibility with set-up. The sheer weight of commercial canopies also limits the speed and ease of set-up, although the design quality can either assist with or impede set-up.
The third grading metric revolves around the ability of the shelter to guard against sun, wind, and rain. We feel most of the canopies we tested effectively block out the sun, however, some fall short of resisting wind and/or rain. Most shelters rely on their weight, design, and stability options (guy-lines, stakes, sand pockets, etc.) to remain stable in the wind.
A shelter's ability to resist wind is very important since wind is the most common natural phenomenon you will likely encounter. A lack of stability in the wind could cause damage to the shelter or whatever the shelter is intended to protect. Likewise, a canopy this is waterproof or water-resistant is also very important. The most important factor in water resistance is weather-taped seams throughout the canopy. This prevents water from sneaking through holes created by factory stitching.
The overall craftsmanship of any shelter is a worthwhile consideration. Regardless of the intended use, it is always ideal to have a dependable and stable shelter — no matter how many times it's been used. Craftsmanship is very often combined with a higher price tag but results in a product that will last longer. Key factors are the quality of materials, design, and stability options provided by the producer. For examplee, two otherwise identical tents may perform drastically differently in inclement weather if one has guy-lines and the other doesn't.
This may be the most important category when deciding which shelter to purchase, as some of these tents are quite an investment. If you're going to drop hundreds of dollars on a canopy tent, you need to know that your shelter is going to last for the long haul.
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. Most of these tents weigh upwards of 50 pounds, and the travel case provided can make transportation a breeze or the bane of your existence.
The quality of each carrying case varies wildly from tent to tent. Perhaps an afterthought when looking for a model to purchase, our testers suggest you consider this factor carefully, as it can make a huge difference. We found that when a tent provided a bag with rubberized grips or a comfortable shoulder strap, life was drastically easier. This is especially relevant if you plan on transporting your tent frequently.
Armed with the right questions and informative answers 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 to find some models that best fit your needs.