The Ultimate Guide to Shade Structures

Shade structure

Our mission is to get people outdoors, not sell gear. That's why our guide starts with the core function that needs to be addressed, then helps you evaluate your options holistically, since sometimes you may not need any gear & can use what you have at home. We want you to think critically about what you need, which is personal to you with no right answer (some people go venture outside naked without any gear, survive & have a great time).

Core function: We love being outdoors in the sun, but baking in it is another matter entirely. Especially if you plan on being outdoors for long periods of time, shade is essential relief. When you can't guarantee trees overhead, or enough vertical structures to string over a tarp, having a shade structure can be very useful.

Is either the core function or the outdoor-specific gear made for it an essential?

No .

For rationale, read our 'what you really need' protip

What to use & how to choose

Key factors

Cool zippers, new waterproofing, etc... sometimes it's easy to get lost in all the hype (over-spending happens on features). Our guide focuses on the fundamental factors you should always keep in mind (thus, this short list is similar across all items). Then only at the end do we have some questions to get you thinking about other minor features.

We highly recommend reviewing Type or Style first, where we review what you can use to address the Core function--a regular item you have at home may work! The other factors are secondary & depend strongly on the Type or Style you've picked.

While we encourage you to use regular items wherever possible, as an outdoor gear shop, we only carry outdoor-specific products

Type or Style

We've organized the most commonly used items people use to address the Core function below, with example images, characteristics, features, etc.

Our category name Beach shade Camping shade Event shade
Example qualities & features Example images Beach shade Camping shade Event table
Set-up size

Sitting height ~50in (1.3m)

Designed for you to sit or lie in

Standing height ~6ft (1.8m)

Designated 'entries' are standing height, but other side(s) may slope down to be less than standing height, to provide more shade, so may feel more enclosed

Often greater than standing height ~7ft (2.1m)

Same height all around, feels completely open to walk in/out all around, so may provide less shade at side(s)

Around the size of a 2-person tent (e.g., like a twin air mattress in floor area)

100 square feet

(9 square meters)

At least 100 square feet

(9 square meters)

Pack-down size

For how you will transport it

Packs down like a tent (cylinder <2ft/ 0.6m long), 5-10 pounds Doesn't break down as much (more rectangular shape >4ft/ 1.2m long), usually >30lbs
Susceptibility to rain

It depends

Many models are water resistant; some may have a rain cover, like a tent rainfly, that can be sold separately

Susceptibility to wind

Less than camping shade

Lower to ground, so picks up less wind, but usually doesn't come with guylines

High

Should definitely guy-out (guylines almost always included)

It depends

Low end models (Easy Pop-up or instant types) are known to be quite flimsy; highest end models can be very strong. May come with weights for support

Effect on secondary factors Price $50-100 $100-250 $70-500
Rationale Less technical & less material More technical & more material

Why we do/don't carry it

= we rent

= we sell

Not as versatile for multiple use cases

Versatile for most outdoor uses, therefore more worth the money

Not specific enough for outdoor use, as an example it's very big, bulky, and can be hard to set-up. It's better for sidewalk events!

Price

One of life's certainties is the trade-off between price & quality. This creates an inherently unfair situation. If you save money today by buying something lower end, you'll end up replacing it more frequently, spending money & time each instance so that at the end, you probably haven't actually saved anything. On the other hand, if you decide to invest in something higher end, you'll need a lot more upfront money, and you need to be able to use the item frequently enough to make it worthwhile.

We developed our rental program to address this unfairness. We don't sell lower end items. But for our higher end items, we offer them for rent at up to 90% off retail price, generally well below the cost of buying even the cheaper option. That's a win-win!

It may seem like the price & quality trade-off is disappearing, because you can find a cheap version of almost anything for tens of dollars that still has good reviews (assuming the reviews are real). Remember 2 things:

  • Many reviews are written after only a trial use, first use, or infrequent use: We've seen entire review videos of gear done at home, which is very different than actually being outdoors!
  • The point of gear is to give you a good experience because you've already spent money to be on vacation from work! Don't let quality issues affect your relaxation

For gear specifically, the quality issues center around performance & durability.

Performance

  • The shade structure wasn't very windproof or durable: Unlike with tents, shade structures are generally used in sunny days, so waterproofing is less important (though we'll mention it at the end). Instead, given the large size of a shade structure, windproofing is critical, especially in windy California! While all but the most high end shades are susceptible to wind, cheaper models (pop-up or instant style, like with the pop-up tents) may not last through the first use and come away with bent or snapped poles. Fabric-wise, lower end items tend to be made with polyester, which is less durable than nylon (more info in our clothing protip); and of course, if the fabric tears, performance is compromised. Finally lower end items may not have or may have less effective waterproofing treatments

Durability

Maybe you are the average person that goes 1-2 times per year, you don't mind the hassle of replacing gear that doesn't last, and you also don't care about the performance differences. Then use our borrow program & get free gear where available! Or for a little more, use our rental program.

Methodology notes on prices shown on this page

Minor features that may be important

Here, we give you a list of questions to start thinking about minor features. We hope our approach of savings these features for last gets you to more critically think about what you need & not get caught up in the hype of what's cool and over-spend your budget.

  • How does it anchor down in the wind?
  • What accessories are available (e.g., side walls, rainfly, etc.)
  • Is it fully enclosed or open?

What we carry

General Notes

  • We choose what we carry based on extensive research on what's the best value to our customers (e.g., price given performance & durability features) across all the top brands. We specifically do not carry every brand & model; for details on why we do/don't carry certain items in the How To Choose section
  • Buy prices are MSRP with tax, i.e., what you see is what you pay. Prices may differ in-store due to change in models or discounts, but this is rare. If we don't sell what we rent, we list MSRP value with tax
  • Rent prices are the starting prices; enter trip dates on our Catalog to get exact prices (based on total trip length, not per day!). We also don't charge sales tax, an automatic savings of almost 10%!
Camping shade style
Model Big Agnes Three Forks Shelter shade structure
Big Agnes Three Forks Shelter

Buy

MSRP with tax

+ side wall

$217

+$27

Rent

includes side wall (see below)

$20+

Weight

+ side wall weight

7lb 6oz + 9oz

3.3kg + 255g

Carry size & notes Similar to a 4-person backpacking tent

When you rent online, we will pick a model for you. You can change the model if you pick-up in-store, subject to availability. On the Options page of our online order process, you can also select options or write-in any preferences. This section describes the majority of our models & options, but sometimes we carry others. We will only pick something else if it doesn't conflict with your choices indicated on the Options page; moreover, if there's a major functional difference (e.g., capacity), we will attempt to contact you first

Included

For sale
What manufacturer includes
For rent
What we package together
Body
The main room
Side-wall
Protects from prevailing direction of sun or wind

Generally sold separately ($20-50)
Guylines
Adds structural support, especially important for heavy wind & rain or for semi-freestanding tents

Included if manufacturer has included it
Poles
Create the structure & shape of the tent
Pole repair sleeve (or tube or splint)
Rented separately as part of tent repair kit
Stakes
Usually ~8 stakes

We include 10 stakes. Usually more than you need, just in case!
Stake mallet
Rented separately

Usage tips

Very similar to tents except that you don't have a footprint or rainfly (but you may have an extra side wall that usually hooks into the shade structure once it's fully standing), review that gear guide for info on keeping dry, using guylines, etc. Please note that shade structures should not be used as tents, because they do not have any floor (to protect from wet ground), or any sides (unless you choose to add them on, even then, they're not designed to fully keep out the elements or bugs).

If you want to use a shade structure as additional shade over a tent, you'll need to really check size configuration, since a tent (especially a larger 6+ person), may not fit underneath it. For this purpose, we'd recommend keeping the tent rainfly on and using tarps.

Maintenance tips

Repairing

Big Agnes & Nemo offer great repair services for their gear (most other brands will just offer warranty replacement, if available).

Poles: TentPole Technologies can repair almost any pole issues, from re-stringing when the shock cord snaps, or entire segments that are broken or too-bent, expect to spend ~$10 per segment replaced or $10 to do work such as re-stringing a pole set

Grommets: These are metal O-ring that you'll find at the corners, where the pole notches into. If they fall out, you can pretty easily repair this yourself with a grommet repair kit that costs <$10. If they fall out on trail, but there is still a hole, that's fine to use with a pole, it's just less ideal since it won't 'notch' on the metal

Zippers: If the zipper track isn't staying closed, this is usually because the zipper slider pull has 'widened' over time & is no longer effectively pressing the teeth together. If your track has 2 zipper slider pulls, a tailor should be able to remove the malfunctioning one. If you'd like to add a new zipper slider pull, the biggest challenge will be finding one, since gear often uses different, proprietary sizes. Once you have a slider pull, a tailor can add it easily (~$10). If you need to replace the entire zipper track (e.g., you can't find another slider pull or the track is physically damaged), be aware this can be very expensive, expect to spend $50-100. We also recommend seeing a luggage repair specialist, since they may have the larger zippers used for gear, or Narain's & Rainy Pass Repair.

Rips, tears, holes: For small ones, you can stick on a patch of Tenacious Tape yourself. For larger ones, you may need to sew on a replacement fabric patch; most tailors can help with this (if you're doing it yourself, most technical fabrics are rip-stop nylon and this is sold by many fabric stores; most meshes used in outdoor gear however is not widely sold). Remember, sewing compromises waterproofing, since it adds punctures. Ultralight gear with thinner fabrics may require specialists. Two repair specialists are Narain's & Rainy Pass Repair; both accept gear shipped in, expect to spend $30-100

Waterproofing: There are 3 components to waterproofing. It is entirely possible to buy these items & repair yourself, however unless you're treating a spot (in which case Tenacious Tape can work just as well), it can be difficult to get a large piece of fabric back to original performance integrity. (Honestly, this is true even for most manufacturers, who will often ask you to replace the piece that's no longer waterproof.) Rainy Pass Repair can help re-waterproof. As a benchmark, tent-sized fabrics may cost up to $100

  • Seam sealant: The seams where the fabric has been sewed together are water-proofed either by a seam tape, or a liquid seam sealant that's applied. With a tape, you may be able to visibly see it peeling away. While you can buy either to do at home, liquid seam sealant is more readily available & easier to use. Seam tape, which is more prevalent in clothing, requires you to match the exact fabric you're repairing, and each fabric has different application settings (e.g., appropriate temperatures to help the tape stick)
  • Waterproof coating: Sometimes, the seams are fine, but the fabric fundamentally is losing its resistance to water (you can tell if it's shedding or flaking out white stuff), which is derived from a polyurethane or silicon based coating treatment (different from the coating treatment below)
  • Water repellant coating: Called DWR (durable water repellancy), this is a coating treatment (different from the treatment above) that causes water to bead up & roll off the fabric. It can often be applied either as a spray or a detergent that is washed-in (we like products by NikWax or Granger's)

Cleaning & Storing

Gear not in use should be cleaned & dried and then stored loose & in a dark environment, check out our entire protip on the topic here.

We have a general protip on how to store & maintain gear that we highly recommend reviewing as well. If you send us video or a good photo series, we may be able to help you evaluate your repair needs.

The exact numbers (e.g., weights, dimensions, prices, etc.) used were updated as of September 2019 . That said, there usually isn't dramatic change; we update & review the market roughly biennially.


Thoughts, ideas, questions? Let us know in the comments below! We're Last Minute Gear, the only outdoor gear shop where you can buy, rent, or borrow gear!