Choose the best beach shelter | Protect your family’s skin at the beach

What’s the most important piece of beach gear for someone who loves spending long, lazy days on the sand? A beach shade, of course! Choosing the best beach shelter for your needs really will make beach days a lot more enjoyable and a portable beach shade of some kind is something all beach lovers like you should own.

We have three kids and a dog. We always pack a sun shade for the beach if we’re planning to be at the beach for more than an hour or so. Choosing the wrong beach shade tent can really mess up your time at the beach – I’ve made plenty of mistakes with beach sun shelters in the past (I’ve owned lots of different types of beach shelter!). I’m here to help you choose the best beach shelter for you and your family!

This post about the best beach tent contains affiliate links. I was gifted a CoolCabana but all opions are my own. See my full disclaimer in the footer.   

Why is a good beach shelter in Australia is so important?

Making sure you’re taking your own shade to the beach matters for so many reasons.

The best beach shelter….

  • protects you from the fierce Australian sun (in conjunction with some other sun protection methods) and helps to keep you cooler
  • allows you to stay at the beach for longer periods of time
  • makes your time on the sand more fun because you can be comfortable under your sun tent
  • protects more vulnerable people like babies/toddlers and pets
  • makes it easier for your group to find you again – a funky beach tent or beach canopy helps you stand out on the sand
  • gives you a place to rest, recover and dry off after a swim
  • gives you a base to enjoy your day on the sand.

For me, choosing the best beach shelter has taken time, money and lots of mistakes over the years. It can be tempting to buy a cheap beach tent but, trust me, it’s not worth it!

I love trying out new beach gear so my experiences with lots of different beach products hasn’t gone to waste. My only frustration is that I’ve wasted money and also added useless products to landfill when they broke too quickly.

Which is the best beach shelter?

A family in a CoolCabana tent - the best beach shelter!

If you don’t have time to read all about what makes the best beach shelter and what features to look for, I’ll cut to the chase. You want to know which is my best beach shelter on the market in Australia.

Having used beach tents, beach shades and beach umbrellas many times over the last few years, I’m now a very happy CoolCabana owner and can honestly say it’s my best beach shelter.

Shop for CoolCabanas beach shelters here

This iconic beach brand stands out as the best beach shelter for so many reasons. Let me go through them now…

    • It comes with a sturdy carry bag with a large shoulder strap and it packs down to a reasonable size which is handy when you have a car full of gear.
    • The large (which is my personal preference as we’re a large group) gives 5.8m2of shade and provides UPF 50+ protection.
    • It stands up well in the wind – the sand bags in the legs really do hold it in place.
    • There are pockets for valuables in the legs.
    • It is made from quality materials that feel durable (having bought others that broke quickly, this is an important feature).
    • It’s easy for one person to pop up and to take down.
    • It easily returns to the carry bag (no stuffing and swearing required!)
    • It looks really smart on the sand and it can be used on grass too (they sell a grass kit to use with it although they do sell out quickly so keep an eye on their site).
    • It’s fairly compact on the beach (unlike some of the other sprawling shades I’ve tried in the past).

A couple of minor cons of the CoolCabana shade: It does have a lower head height than some other beach shelters, but you’re sitting or laying under it anyway so that’s not really an issue (and it’s not for me anyway as I’m only 5ft!). Any taller and no doubt it wouldn’t hold up so well in the wind anyway which is an important design feature of the beach shade. Also, the pole in the centre can be a bit of an obstruction – many other shelters have legs in the outer corners leaving you the full space in the middle to sit. I don’t find it a particular problem, and we’ve now bought the official Cool Cabana beach mat that goes with it which has a hole in the middle for the pole. The handy thing about this is the pole keeps the rug in place and stops it from blowing away. 

The CoolCabana is the best beach shelter that I’ve tried so far, and I wish I’d got one as soon as we arrived in Australia. It’s a little more expensive than some others on the market, but then it’s built to last for many years to come so it’s a great investment in your future beach trips.

Shop for CoolCabanas beach shelters here

Watch how easy it is to put up the CoolCabana here…

What to look for when choosing the best beach shelter?

If you’ve got more time on your hands to learn about what to consider when looking for the best beach shelter and want to know what other options of beach shades are available, read on.

It’s not easy choosing the right beach tent. I’ve made plenty of mistakes with purchases in the past so it’s worth understanding your options and working out which type of shade will suit your beach lifestyle.

Here are the key things to consider when choosing the best beach tent in Australia:

Is the size of the beach shelter suitable?

How many people need to fit under your beach shade? Beach tents come in various sizes so choose one that suits your family. There is no point buying a small pop up beach tent if you’ve got four kids as they won’t all fit in it. And there probably isn’t much point buying a large beach shelter if you’re heading to the beach solo or in a couple. Also, it’s important to consider the size of your beach tent when it is packed down. Think about how much other stuff you’ll be taking to the beach. Can you fit it in the boot of your car easily?

Think about the weight and portability of the beach tent

You’re going to need to carry your beach tent from your car to the sand, so consider how portable it is. Does it come with a carry bag? Does it have a shoulder strap to make carrying the bag easy? How heavy is it?

What materials is the beach shade made of?

Is the beach shelter made from durable materials? Are there a lot of parts to the item? Does the fabric have an Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF ) 50+? This number indicates how much UV radiation (both UVB and UVA) a fabric allows to reach your skin. A UPF 50 fabric blocks 98 percent of the sun’s rays reducing your exposure significantly. Can you easily buy replacement parts if any of the poles break (trust me, this can happen!)? Does it come with any kind of warranty? Do online reviews say that the product is durable?

How easy is the beach tent shade to set up?

How many people are needed to set the beach shade up on the sand? Some beach tents can take a couple of people to put up, but a pop up beach shelter or a beach cabana might just take one person. Think about who will be at the beach with you. I know when our kids were young it was hard work putting up a beach tent that took two people as it meant the kids weren’t being supervised while we put the shelter up. Even now they’re a bit older, I still prefer a beach shade tent that can be put up by one person so if I take the kids to the beach on my own I can still use the shade, or if we’re both there it leaves one of us free to make the coffee (I ALWAYS take a flask to the beach!)

How do you want to use the beach shelter?

Where will you be using your sun shade tent? Is it only for using as a beach shelter or do you want shade you can use on the side of the sports field or for picnics on the grass? Think about your most important reasons for needing the beach shelter and choose one that suits that purpose.

How to choose the best beach shelter: Types of beach shade

There are lots of different types of beach sun shade to choose from. Here is an overview of options of pop up beach shades and sun shelters.

Beach tent or pop up beach tent

A beach tent can either be a larger framed tent that takes a bit of effort to put up, or it could be a pop up beach tent which springs up when you unpack it. If you’re considering one of these, do your research to find out how easy it is to put up, how the pieces go together and what the quality of materials are. Tents for beaches can be fantastic or they can be a real headache so it’s worth reading lots of beach tent reviews before purchasing. You can get large beach tents suitable for bigger families (make sure you check dimensions before ordering as sometimes images and descriptions can be deceiving).

Pop up beach tents tend to be smaller and are well suited for kids and babies (we always had one for our kids when they were tiny). No matter what size, sun shelter tents usually come with a carry bag which makes them portable and they’re usually (but not always) fairly lightweight (sometimes the larger beach tents can be quite heavy, so be sure to check the weight).

The best beach tent also acts as protection from the weather – a sturdy beach tent will be a great place to hide out in a short rain shower. They also give you some privacy for getting changed. They do restrict your view of your kids to the sides and behind the tent though, and it’s easy for the kids to drag lots of sand inside the tent where it ends up stuck!

For me, there were a lot of downsides with the large beach tent we owned. There were a lot of parts to it which meant there was more chance of things breaking (we ended up with a broken pole and a broken joint after just using it a couple of times). It almost caused a divorce every time my husband and I tried to put it up – it was hard work and that’s not what you need when you arrive at the beach for a fun day. We also used to find the kids would bring piles of sand into it on their feet and because the ground sheet was attached, it was difficult to empty once it was up. Eventually, after using it probably six times, it gave up and pretty much collapsed on us and tried to blow away while we were sitting inside it eating fish and chips on a windy day. It wasn’t a fun experience!

Beach cabana

A beach cabana tent is a tent with legs and usually no sides (see the CoolCabana above). It’s similar to a beach gazebo but it’s easier and quicker to put up. You’ll find beach cabanas come with a carry bag to make them fairly portable (some are heavier than others, so check weights). Whether you choose one that is lightweight and easy to put up or heavy and difficult to put up depends on the brand you choose and where you plan on using it. A beach cabana gives you a lot more shade than a beach umbrella and is a great option for long days on the sand. You can’t adjust the angle of the shade – you have to move around underneath depending on where the sun moves – but you still get plenty of shade from them. They look very cool and often come in beautiful designs that make you easy to spot on the beach for your kids.

We now own a Cool Cabana and what I love about it is that one person can put it up easily. It provides a good amount of shade and is very easy to carry to the beach in the carry bag. I like that it gives us a clear visual of the kids all around the beach rather than being restricted by the sides like with a tent. There isn’t a ground sheet – you can either use your own beach rug or buy the specific Cool Cabana rug that has a hole in the middle for the pole (while I was gifted the CoolCabana for the purpose of writing a review, I bought the rug myself) and it’s a fantastic addition to our beach setup!

Beach shade

beach sun shade (or sail shade/sun shelter as they’re also known) is an adjustable beach shade comprising of material, cords and usually a few poles (smaller beach shades tend to have a couple of poles, larger shades might have up to four poles). These sun shades are portable as they are mainly just UPF 50+ fabric and you can usually arrange the angle to suit where the sun is facing.

Beach shelters come in a range of styles and vibrant colours. You can get lots of portable sun shelters in Australia and they are an easy option if you want something that is quite fast to put up and that gives you flexible shade. These beach sun shades are usually in bright colours which make you easy to spot on a crowded beach – this is very handy when your kids want to go off and play and know where you are in a crowd. The downside can be trying to put them up with one person if you’ve got a larger one with multiple poles as it can be a bit more tricky.

They can take a bit of trial and error with putting them up (our beach shade has fallen flat in the wind a few times but I think we just need more practice putting it up!)

Beach umbrella

beach umbrella or sun parasol is an easy sun shelter in Australia. A sun parasol takes seconds to pop up and you have instant shade. The best beach umbrella is an adjustable beach umbrella as this allows you to angle your sun protection. You can also get a regular, unadjustable umbrella-style sun parasol. Australia has the strongest sun, so the bonus of a large beach umbrella is you can put it up the second you arrive on the beach – it isn’t as complicated as sun tents can be. The downsides to a beach umbrella can be its size (it is more suited for couples or as a baby beach shade to keep a baby or small children out of the sun). They do work well over beach beds though so are great to have by the side of your pool or as a patio umbrella. Another downside is they can be long and awkward to carry to the beach – a fold up beach umbrella is still quite large to carry along with the rest of your beach gear. Also be aware that you need to stake your beach umbrella into the ground well as they can easily get caught in a gust of wind (yep, I’ve had to chase a beach umbrella down the beach on too many occasions)!

We have a couple of beach umbrellas which we use if we are only planning on stopping at the beach for half an hour on calm days – a beach umbrella is a convenient beach shade for those sorts of occasions. I think finding the best beach umbrella is a handy addition to your Australian beach kit as it’s so portable. But I don’t think it should be your main source of beach shade for big days on the beach.

Compare the best beach shades

You’ve already read my CoolCabana review above, but if you’re still shopping around, here are the best beach shelters across the rest of the market….

Remember, there isn’t necessarily one best beach shelter – different products can be useful for different occasions so it’s OK to own a few beach shelters so you can choose the best beach shelter depending on the sort of beach day you’re going to have (I actually have FOUR different types of beach shelter in my garage!!)

Easthills Beach Tent Review

If you’re looking for a beach tent, this is a versatile option.
Here are some of the benefits and features of the Easthills beach tent:
The Easthills Beach Tent can fit four adults in it.
It offers UPF 50+ protection.
It has handy internal pockets for your valuables.
It’s really easy to put up and put down, and to pack away (it has a special mechanism that makes folding a breeze).
It has mesh windows all around for air flow.
They come in a range of colours and sizes.
It’s compact yet also large enough for big beach days.
It has a built in ground sheet.

The downsides are that you can’t easily see around the sides and back of the tent if you have small kids and that it has more moving parts to it with potential to break.

Shop for Easthills Beach Tents on Amazon Australia
Shop for Easthills Beach Tents on Amazon US

See how east the Easthills pop up beach tent is to use here…

Sun Ninja Beach Shade Review

If you’re looking for a simple beach shelter, the Sun Ninja is a good option. I own one of these myself.

Here are some of the benefits of the Sun Ninja beach shelter:
It’s lightweight and easy to carry in the carry bag.
This beach shelter comes with a lovely sand scoop making filling up the sand bags easy.
It can be set up on the grass (with the pegs) or sand.
It provides a good amount of shade.
The largest Sun Ninja beach shade can fit up to eight people under it – not many beach tents around would manage that.
There aren’t many parts to it that could break (as it’s just poles and material) unlike a beach tent which has a lot more parts to it (but you can buy extra poles online if needed).
Putting it up properly takes a little practice – when we used it at first we didn’t add enough sand to the bags which meant it didn’t hold up so well in the wind.

You use bands on the top of the shade to go around the balls on the ends of the poles to keep them in place. These can get lost easily but regular rubber bands work if/when you do lose them so it’s not a big deal. My other tip is to make sure you fill the bags with sand before inserting the poles (definitely don’t try it the other way around on a windy day as it’s not fun!)

The material does feel more delicate (more like a stretchy lycra type material) but ours has held up OK so far so I think it’s more durable than it looks. It also takes up quite a bit of space on the beach, so I wouldn’t take this to a really busy beach.

I haven’t yet tried it on grass, I’m looking forward to take it to try at a park as I think it will be a great set up if we take our portable BBQ out somewhere.

Shop for the Sun Ninja Beach Shelter on Amazon Australia
Shop for the Sun Ninja Beach Shelter on Amazon US

See how easy it is to put up the SunNinja beach shade here…

Ammsun Beach Umbrella Review

Ammsun have a range of large beach umbrellas.

What I love about these beach umbrella shades are:
They’re heavy duty beach umbrellas built to withstand all weathers.
They come in vibrant colours that look great at the beach.
They can be tilted to adjust the shade direction.
You can get accessories like a sand anchor and beach umbrella table so you can put your sunglasses and drink somewhere safe.
They’re lightweight and portable and easy to pop up.

Shop for Ammsun beach umbrellas on Amazon Australia
Shop for Ammsun beach umbrella on Amazon US

Check out how pretty these colourful Ammsun umbrellas look on the beach in the breeze…

I hope this post about choosing the best beach shelter is helpful. Make sure you stay sun safe and take shade with you when you next head to the beach! And always remember your beach shelter! 

Leave a Comment