Camp long enough, and you’re bound to run into inclement weather. Rain, snow showers, raging sun, and even the occasional dust storm (we’re looking at you, Texas) are real possibilities in many areas of the country. That’s why it pays to be prepared with a proper outdoor shelter beyond a traditional camping tent.
At a minimum, a shade shelter should set up in just a few minutes with one person, provide adequate sun protection (at least UPF 30, though UPF 50+ is better), be durable enough to last for years, and pack down small enough to throw in the trunk of a standard, midsized sedan. We tested and researched some of the best shade shelters for camping and road trips this summer. Here are our recommendations.
Eureka Tagalong Shelter
Best Value Shade Shelter
The best shade shelters for camping and road trips deliver sun protection, an easy setup, durable construction in breezy conditions, and a reasonably lightweight design. Eureka’s Tagalong Shelter is all of those things. With a packed size of 23 by 10 by 6 inches and a packaged weight of less than 8 pounds, it’s surprisingly transportable whether you’re
Setup takes just a few minutes to unveil nearly 100 square feet of floor space and a polyester taffeta canopy with UPF 50+ sun protection. It’s a simple design with no doors or windows — just pure, freestanding shade. Beefy, 13 mm, 7,000-series aluminum poles help keep it secure in light winds up to around 12 to 15 miles per hour. At less than $200, it’s arguably the best bang-for-your-buck shade shelter available.
Big Agnes Sugarloaf Camp Shelter
Best Premium Shade Shelter for Camping
We’ve long been fans of Big Agnes tents. The brand brings its considerable outdoor shelter knowledge to bear on the Sugarloaf Camp Shelter. With a 10-by-10-foot floor, it’s one of the largest shade shelters on the market, and it has enough room for a full picnic table. Plus, it features straight-sided walls to ensure no interior space goes to waste.
The versatile design can serve as a freestanding, open-air shelter without walls for maximum ventilation while keeping you protected from the sun. In harsher or buggier weather, pitching the entire kit (including walls, windows, and doors) provides protection from everything but a blizzard. The PU-coated fly and fully sealed seams help keep modest rain showers out. With a bit of practice, it sets up in under 5 minutes and packs down into a reasonably sized carry bag that measures just 27 by 15.5 by 9 inches.
Sea to Summit Telos TR3 Tent
Most Versatile Shade Shelter
Savvy campers know that packing smart means making sure most of their gear is versatile enough to do two or more tasks. Instead of packing — and having to buy — a tent and a shade shelter, why not buy one piece of gear that does both?
Sea to Summit’s line of tents includes the Telos TR3, which is one of the best tents we’ve ever tested. That’s thanks to a long list of clever features, but what truly sets it apart is the integrated Hangout Mode. Once pitched, the tent can “hinge” up on one side to create a semi-open shade shelter with enough room for at least three seated adults.
It’s an ingenious design that makes the Telos TR3 (and the smaller but just as awesome) great for car campers, backcountry campers, or overnight hikers. At roughly $650, it’s the most expensive model on this list. But given that it’s both a tent and a shelter, we think it’s well worth the premium price tag.
Clam Quick-Set Escape Camping Canopy Shelter
Best Shade Shelter for Groups
When mere shade protection isn’t enough, you need a full-cover shelter that keeps rain and bugs out, too. Clam’s Quick-Set Escape Camping Canopy Shelter has long been a favorite among RVers, groups, and larger families looking for additional sheltered space to spread out. With more than 130 square feet of floor space, it’s among the largest
Five built-in windows provide plenty of ventilation. The 210D fabric, taped roof panel, and extra thick, 11 mm fiberglass poles ensure it’s extremely stable, even in windy weather. Thanks to a dead-simple design, pitching takes less than a minute. Teardown requires a bit more time, but it stores neatly in the included carry bag. On the downside, it’s pricey and bulky at more than 30 pounds. However, if you’re looking for one of the roomiest, best-made shade shelters available, this is it.
Kelty Breeze-Thru Screenhouse
Best Easy-Pitch Shade Shelter
Like all Kelty gear, the company’s Breeze-Thru Screenhouse features plenty of clever design innovations. Dual magnetic doors make hands-free entry and exit a “breeze.” Pre-attached guylines and the included carry bag with a wide Shark Mouth design guarantee easier setup and teardown. With a combination of steel and fiberglass, the poles are plenty sturdy to stand up to light to moderate winds.
The screenhouse features a 68D polyester construction with no-see-um mesh to keep out everything from mosquitos to the tiniest bugs. Plus, like other larger shelters on this list, the oversized floor plan and straight walls ensure ample interior space for covering a picnic table with plenty of additional room to move around. It’s priced right at just under $200, too.
Pacific Breeze Easy Setup Tent
Best Budget Shade Shelter
If you frequently camp in fair weather with little risk of rain or sudden snow squalls, a simple shade shelter offers plenty of protection. This three-sided model from Pacific Breeze features an airy design with an open entryway and large ventilating windows. With UPF 50+ sun protection, it’s an ideal shelter for front-country camps, long days at the beach, or even to set up an impromptu lunch space for road trip pit stops.
At less than 4.5 pounds, it’s incredibly portable and packs down small into the included carry case. The roughly 7-by-4-foot footprint is among the smallest on this list, and the construction “feels” squarely in the budget category. Still, at less than $70, we confidently recommend it as a great budget shade shelter.
Moonshade Portable Vehicle Awning
Best Shade Shelter for Vehicles
Pitching some canopies and shade shelters can be cumbersome. That’s not surprising since they’re basically oversized tents. Moonshade sidesteps a lengthy setup process by mounting directly to your vehicle instead of resting entirely on the ground. The company promises near-universal compatibility with almost any vehicle, thanks to a variety of mounts, including magnet, adhesive, and suction cup anchors.
Mounting takes roughly 2 minutes, even with just one person. Once attached, it provides 63 square feet of coverage (given its 9-by-7-foot dimensions). It packs down surprisingly small — to about the size of a yoga mat — and weighs just 8 pounds. It’s perfect for road trips or weekend car camping trips where decent weather is almost guaranteed. At a little over $300, it’s also reasonably priced compared to other models on this list.
Freestanding shade shelters add a new degree of livability to any campsite. The best models protect against sun, rain, and insects, so you, friends, and family can camp in all but the worst weather conditions. By adding 100 square feet or more of additional living space, they can free you from feeling confined to a tent. That means, after dark or in inclement weather, your entire group can still feel like they’re camping together. The most important thing to note is that these shelters don’t have to cost a fortune. While fancier models run north of $400, some of the best bang-for-your-buck versions deliver incredible value for under $200.
- Camping gear 101: the must-have equipment for everyone
- Don’t let the season stop you: Our top picks for the best winter hiking gear
- Protect your eyes with the best ski and snowboard goggles of 2023
- The best winter running gear: Our top picks to start 2023 off right
- The 20 best stocking stuffers for men in 2022