Choosing a Pop-up Beach Tent

With so many options, choosing a pop-up beach tent can be difficult. How can you choose a pop-up beach tent? What is the best pop-up beach tent?

What is “best” depends a lot on what you need. I’ll walk through some steps that can be taken to select a model that is right for you. First though, I’ll define exactly what a pop-up beach tent is and what sets them apart from other styles of beach tent.

A pop-up beach tent on a sandy beach, with the ocean visible in the background.
A Folding Pop-up Beach Tent

Image credit rickcombi on Pixabay.

What is a Pop-Up Beach Tent?

A pop-up beach tent is a particular type of beach tent. In general, a beach tent is any walled beach shade where the shading fabric is held up be a structure of poles. What I refer to on this site as beach canopies are also sometimes called beach tents, though I feel that as canopies don’t have walls, they offer a distinctly different type of shelter on the beach.

A pop-up beach tent then is a beach tent that can be “popped” open. In other words, it is a beach tent that can be set up without needing to assemble poles and attach the tent fabric to them. For beach use, there are many beach tents that have this feature, and they do have some distinct advantages.

Pop-Up Beach Tent Types

Within pop-up beach tents, there are a further three sub-categories:

  • Pull Cord Pop-Up Beach Tents – Can be operated by pulling on a string or cord which then pulls the tent’s pole structure open. These tents use a pull cord to position the poles in an open or closed position. The cord is pulled, the poles move, and the fabric is tightened as the poles are pulled into position.
  • Folding Pole Pop-Up Beach Tents – Utilize a series of folding poles that span outward from a central hub. When the hub is moved so that the poles must spread outwards, the tent opens. These pop-up beach tents work a lot like an umbrella.
  • Folding Pop-Up Beach Tents – Have flexible poles that can be bent and folded to collapse the tent structure. Once folded, the tent is stored in a flat bag or shell so that it does not re-open. Once allowed to open back up, the tension in the flexible poles pops the tent back into shape.

Pop-Up Beach Tent Benefits

The biggest advantage of a pop-up beach tent is that they can be set up very quickly. I have a Bahia Lightspeed beach tent and I can set it up as fast as I can open an umbrella. Though I prefer our Coleman Beach Tent overall, for some trips to the beach or the park I take the Bahia just so that I can get things set up that much faster.

Save for umbrellas, no other type of beach shade product can compete with a pop-up beach tent when it comes to setup speed. Regular beach tents require pole assembly. Beach canopies require fabric to be suspended and anchors or sandbags to be set up. Beach cabana tents have to be unfolded and hoisted open. Pop-up beach tents can be just popped open and used. It’s a huge plus!

Pop-Up Beach Tent Drawbacks

There are some downsides to a pop-up design, and they are worth your consideration if you’re thinking of purchasing one.

Pop-up beach tents, particularly the folding kind, are often in the small to medium size range when open. The complexity of a pull-cord system does not always lend itself well to really large structures. Likewise, folding pop-up tents are also on the smaller side as larger designs would still be quite large once folded. Folding pop-up tent poles are also not completely stiff and rigid like a regular tent pole, so they do not have the strength to hold large expanses of fabric up.

Despite being on the small side when open, pop-up beach tents are on the larger size when packed. The complex poles of a pull-cord design, or the large, flat dimensions of a folded folding beach tent both yield packed sizes far larger than a standard poled tent. For example, as much as I enjoy using our pop-up beach tent, it rarely comes on vacation because it doesn’t fit in our checked luggage, despite being smaller when set up than our standard poled beach tent, which does fit in a checked bag.

Choosing the Right Model

If you’ve decided on a pop-up beach tent to get the benefit of really fast setup speed, you’re likely going to be very happy. However, here are some things to consider as you compare alternatives and potentially select a model for purchase.

  1. Packed Size – Check the size of the beach tent when it is packed up. As mentioned earlier, often pop-up beach tents are larger than other beach tents when packed. Make sure that this won’t be an issue for your intended use.
  2. Shade Size – Compare the pop-up beach tent to regular beach tent models for size of shade provided. The canopies on some pop-up beach tents are uniquely shaped and offer different qualities of shade than other beach tents. Confirm that the beach tent you are considering will provide adequate room for you and your beach companions.
  3. Set Up – Like any beach tent, confirm that you are comfortable with how to set the beach tent up. “Pop-up” does mean that the beach tent can be set up very quickly, however there will still be some poles to unfold, a central hub to move, or a string to pull during setup.
  4. Strength – Pop-up beach tents often have poles that are made of different materials than regular beach tents. Check reviews for performance in wind, around children, and with repeated use to verify that the structure will be robust enough for you use.
  5. Cost – How does the price of the pop-up beach tent you are considering compare to other beach tents of a similar size? In some cases, pop-up beach tents can differ in price from more conventional models. In other words, is the convenience of a fast setup coming with a dollar cost?

I hope this has been helpful. Be safe, and have fun in the sun!

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