The best beach tents are very specialised – lightweight shelters from the sun and wind, that take very little in the way of pitching. They're perfect for offering children some shelter during the hottest part of the day, as well as keeping infants shaded and cool, and being a general focal point for groups of family or friends. A sand-free spot for the picnic, a place to keep at least some clothing dry and salt-free, and maybe a spot to fire up the BBQ away from the wind (and sand, did we mention the sand?).
The beach tent is a unique product – if you want something more generalised, you should head straight to our guide to the best tents for camping. Unlike festival tents, and backpacking tents, this is essentially a one-trick pony, but what it does do it does very well – assuming you pick a good one.
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Even with this specialised outlook, there are still a wide variety of beach tents out there – size is a key deciding factor, as well as weight – some beach escapades are only a few inches from a carpark, but some are quite a trek, making the heavier options of limited fun. It's important to keep a wary eye on the UV rating of unbranded beach tents too, although quality brands will offer good protection, you don't want to be accidentally frying in apparent shade.
Another practical question is how to tether the shelter down – beaches can be very obliging spots to put up a shelter as long as you've the right tools for the job in hand. Stony, rocky areas are a nightmare to hammer stakes or poles into, but brilliant for tying and wedging guylines, while sandy expanses render normal pegs useless, but sandbags a brilliant idea. Of course, it's not really possible to predict all these variables in advance, so it's worth having a bit of flexibility to save you frantically chasing a runaway beach tent.
A great example of the popup tent done right, this nifty offering from scuba experts Cressi does exactly what is says on the tin. It pops up in seconds to create a large sheltered space with a good anti-UV rating, which is exactly what you want from a beach tent. You'll fit three to four adults in this, albeit sitting up, and it comes with it's own compact carry bag too.
Overall an excellent, simple shelter that pops up and packs down easily for easy portability – the only disadvantage being that it is exceedingly yellow. Fortunately it is also available in uber-fluro orange and pseudo-camo, for the more secretive beach-goer.
The ominously-monikered Vango Sentinel Airbeam tackles an issue that was last addressed by the Victorians with hessian and stout larch poles, thus deserving a place in this list for blind innovation at any cost. A modern upgrade for the inevitable British beach holiday windbreak, the Sentinel Airbeam rocks inflatable Airbeam poles (no more endless hammering of wooden poles into compacted gravel), as well as guylines for exceedingly breezy spots.
Covering a gigantic trapezoid space of 152x152x152x325, and weighing in at a substantial 6.5kg, this is no lightweight, but equally for serious beachgoers and more formal beach-based events it's a bit of a winner, especially with the panoramic windows that let the views in but keep the wind – and sand – out.
The Glymnis Pop Up Beach Tent is the kitchen sink of beach tents, providing a substantial 3-4 person shelter with all mod cons. Complete with guylines, sandbags, pegs and a highly-engineered ‘hydraulic spring design' rapid pitching system (3 seconds), this is one to make your beach neighbours green with envy.
Two windows with mesh panels and rollable curtains grace the sides, while a zippable side allows enormous ventilation when temperatures rise. There's a pocket for phones and other tech, SPF 50+ UV rating, and even a lamp hook for night-time beachgoers. Essentially, if this beach shelter doesn't have what you need, you'll have to get a caravan. On the downside, there's a lot of potential complexity here.
Reviewers raved about this tent as a safe, comfortable base for little people, especially babies and toddlers, on hot and sunny days. It packs into a compact, circular case with shoulder strap for easy carry, and reviewers said that while the first time folding it could be a bit confusing (there are YouTube videos dedicated to the art) once you get the hang of it, it’s a doddle to put up and down.
With a 50+ UPF rating and mesh ventilation panels that keep bugs out but let you see in, they’re free from harm but easily within arm’s reach, and the mere 700g weight helps too.
For single-handed trips, nothing beats a tent that goes up easily. Unlike the Coleman Sundome’s pop-up cousin, this version doesn’t come with poles pre-attached, but reviewers did commend it for how easy it was to put up, and the strength and flexibility of the steel and fibreglass poles. All this does, of course, make it a bit heavier than the average offering, but testers found the quality of it tangible, so that sounds like a pretty good trade-off. As well as packing in SPF 50 UV protection, the shelter can be fully zipped up for extra wind protection while those poles hold it firm.
This geodesic dome-like tent might look like something you’d expect to find on a commune in the California desert, but it’s really quite a sensible option for family trips, whether that’s a day at the beach or a camping holiday. Usually you can expect pop-up tents to be on the smaller side as a trade-off (see below) but this oversized shelter makes no such concessions. With enough room to fit two comfortably, or as a separate base for kids and pets, reviewers say it’s surprisingly lightweight for the size and best of all, amazingly easy to put up.
With its neat circular carry bag and instant pop-up design, this beach tent is easily one of the most compact and convenient options out there. Coming in at just under a kilogram, it’s not the very lightest, but it’s a small price to pay for the ease of the whole operation, which reviewers say is considerable – there’s even a set process for breaking it down and putting it away, which can be the most frustrating bit.
Its manufacturers say this tent will fit two to three adults, although we think it could come in especially handy for kids, considering its 50+ SPF and agreeable amount of ventilation to keep them comfortable on hot days.
While far and away our heaviest beach shelter, the SKLZ Sport Brella justifies its own heftiness easily enough. For one, it’s huge, tall enough to accommodate an adult in a camping chair and wide enough for three to sit comfortably. For two, it’s impressively rugged, with an innovative umbrella design that encompasses side flaps for full-coverage protection and, we suspect, to ensure you won’t get blown away. It comes complete with two sets of spikes to suit all sorts of ground, so it could come in very handy as a camping shelter too.