June 12, 2020
By Lisa Petrison, Ph.D.
This page provides details on premium shade shelters and screen rooms that are appropriate for day use.
Multi-function tents that are designed both for day use and for sleeping also are listed on this page.
Following is a list of links to additional articles in this series on non-toxic and less-toxic tents and shelters.
During the times that I have spent camping for extended periods in pristine locations, having a day shelter on hand has seemed almost indispensable to me.
Even when I would spend several hours per day hiking, setting up a comfortable shelter for working on my computer, reading, food preparation, eating or socializing made my time spent camping much more productive as well as enjoyable.
In desert or beach locations, even a small amount of shade can make a huge difference in terms of comfort as well as being able to use electronic devices.
Other locations such as wooded areas may have more problems with bugs and thus may require a screen room type setup.
Unfortunately, I have yet to find any day shelters that do not use any fire retardants at all.
The shelters listed on this page are ones that do not carry Proposition 65 warnings (and thus do not contain Tris or any other fire retardants deemed by the State of California to be especially hazardous).
Although I haven’t had a chance to evaluate all the shelters listed on this page in person, the tents and shelters that I have seen from the companies listed here have felt pretty good to me.
Especially for those camping in the desert or near the beach, having a shade shelter on hand for use at the campsite can make a huge difference in terms of enjoyment of the trip.
Shade shelters also can provide a good gathering place and can allow electronic devices with lighted screens to be used more easily.
Because shade shelters allow ample open ventilation, contaminants such as fire retardants may not be quite as bothersome as they are when used with regular tents that are entirely enclosed.
I personally would much prefer to have a shade shelter that just plain feels good to me, however.
While none of these shelters include protection from insects, conceivably a large mosquito net could be draped over the entire shelter if bugs became an issue.
For those who just want a small sunshade that goes up easily, the Nemo Victory Sunshade (90″ x 90″, with a peak height of 68″) may be worth considering.
The Nemo Victory Blanket (which has waterproof material on one side and soft fabric on the other) is designed to be used with the sunshade.
I’m a fan of Nemo products, which always have felt good to me and which carry a lifetime warranty, and so I am especially interested in this shelter even though it is a little more expensive than other small sunshades.
The sunshade seems like it may need to be staked down to keep it from blowing away when conditions get windy, however.
New for 2020 is the REI Outward, which is a small A-frame shelter (93″ x 60″, with a peak height of 62″).
The shelter is said to set up easily and is available in two different muted patterns.
Another small shelter (with a peak height of 52″) that can provide some protection from the sun is the Big Agnes Whetstone.
The covering can be rotated from one side of the shelter floor to the other, in order to provide protection as the sun moves.
L.L. Bean sells two pop-up shelters made by Lightspeed.
According to videos and reviews, the shelters go up very easily even by just one person and are durable.
I took a look at the L.L. Bean Sunbuster Folding Shelter in an L.L. Bean store recently.
This is a small shelter (7’11” x 4’11” with a peak height of 4’11”) that folds up compactly.
It seemed to be nicely made and felt good to me.
The L.L. Bean Traverse PackLite Easy-Pitch Shelter is taller, with a peak height of 6’3″.
It is shaped like a triangle, with dimensions of 9’6″ x 9’6″ x 9’6″.
One thing to note is that even if purchased during one of L.L. Bean’s sitewide sales, the cost of these L.L. Bean shelters would be considerably more expensive than purchasing the same products (in different colors) without the L.L. Bean name on them through Amazon or the Ligthspeed website.
What I have not been able to find out is what kind of fire retardants the Lightspeed company is using on the products that it sells itself.
(Lightspeed air mattresses are reported to be tolerated by many individuals with multiple chemical sensitivities, but that would be related to the absence of smelly plastic-type chemicals rather than fire retardants.)
On the other hand, L.L. Bean representatives have repeatedly assured me that their own versions do not include Tris or other chemicals regulated by California Proposition 65, and I personally felt okay about the shelter I tried in one of their stores.
In any event, Lightspeed shelters get really good reviews on the Amazon site as well as the L.L. Bean site.
Moving on, several companies offer similar larger canopies that provide shade for a group of people.
These four-legged shelters are designed to fit over a picnic table, but they also may be used to cover a group of chairs or smallish tent.
One popular choice is the Big Agnes Three Forks Shelter (with floor space of 120″ x 120″ and a peak height of 78″).
A good feature of this shelter is that solo campers are reported to be able to put it up on their own fairly easily.
I also like the fact that Big Agnes has thought about the fact that campers may be wanting to use the shelter as a place to hang clothing to dry and has included a variety of interior loops to make this easier.
Side walls may be purchased for an additional cost to offer protection from sun or wind.
The REI Kingdom Porch is similar to the Big Agnes Three Forks in terms of size.
The floor dimensions are 116″ x 116″, with a peak height of 85″.
It is designed to integrate with the REI Kingdom line of tents, though some of the reviews suggest that it actually may have more potential when used on its own.
Another shelter that is more expensive but that gets good user ratings is the The North Face Homestead Shelter.
The shelter (which is 135″ x 99″ with a peak height of 81″) comes with one side wall plus mesh sunshade curtains on an additional two walls.
User reviews suggest that it goes up easily and is pretty sturdy.
Although I haven’t seen this shelter in person, on occasion I have seen tents from The North Face in stores.
While they did not seem to me to contain particularly problematic fire retardants, I was surprised that were more “stinky” than most other quality camping equipment from other companies listed here.
The North Face has received some criticisms from environmental organizations for the use of certain chemicals in its products and claims to be gradually working to address the issue as it sees fit.
I therefore have not included other tents from The North Face in this article series.
Because chemical issues may be less of a problem with open shelters than with tents, and because the Homestead Shelter seems to get quite good reviews, I decided to mention it as a possibility to consider here though.
For those camping with larger groups, two additional shelters from Big Agnes – the Log Flume Shelter and the Mint Saloon – also could be worth considering.
Big Agnes Shelters:
The North Face:
One of the camping amenities that I appreciated the most was the little screen room that was incorporated into one of my L.L. Bean tents.
Although the tent that I used at the time is no longer available, a variety of standalone screen room shelters have the potential of serving as even better substitutes.
New for 2020 is the Nemo Victory Screenhouse, which is designed to fit over a picnic table or to provide a sheltered living space for several people.
All the Nemo products that I have tried or looked at have felt really good to me and have seemed well-made, and the company’s lifetime warranty also is a positive feature as far as I am concerned.
Although the company’s new screenhouse is obviously designed for groups, I actually am thinking about getting one to go on a camping trip with just my dog since I think it would be a nice sheltered area for the two of us.
The fact that a user said in a review on the company’s website that she was able to easily erect the shelter on her own (despite being only 5’5″) makes me think that maybe I could do it as well.
Although (like almost all screen tents) this one does not have a floor, the Nemo Victory Blanket (which has a waterproof bottom) is designed to fit inside.
The dimensions are 10′ x 10′, with a peak height of 85″.
For those camping or backpacking in areas where at least a few trees are available, the Nemo Bugout Screen Room Tarp is a simple solution to keeping bugs at bay and also at providing some refuge from sun and rain.
Two opposing corners of the net shelter are tied to trees, while the other two corners are staked to the ground (with or without the use of trekking poles).
The larger version of the shelter (12′ x 12′) fits over a picnic table, while the smaller version (9′ x 9′) can be used as a small sitting area or over a hammock.
The mesh walls can be rolled up so that the shelter can just be used as a tarp when bugs are not present.
I like the idea of this shelter because it would take up minimal room in the car or backpack and provide against a wide range of weather conditions.
The only negative is that I often have camped in the desert, where few trees are present.
Perhaps I could tie the other side of the shelter to my vehicle if even one tree were present, however.
The large REI Screen House Shelter can be used to cover a picnic table or for general outdoor living purposes.
This shelter has a solid roof that provides protection from sun and mesh walls on all sides.
Note, however, that the shelter is not intended to provide any protection from rain unless the optional rainfly is put on.
In addition, the guylines that stabilize the shelter are incorporated into the rainfly rather than the shelter itself, meaning that stability may be an issue when conditions are windy but not rainy.
Although it may be possible for a solo camper to erect one of these shelters, having two people working on it together is stated to be preferred.
The REI Screen House is 120″ x 120″, with a peak height of 84″.
Another possibility for larger groups is the Big Agnes Sugarloaf Shelter.
This shelter set includes a tent shelter similar to the one offered by REI, as well as a large shade shelter that can be used over a picnic table.
The two components can be used separately or together.
The shelter has a floor area of 10′ x 10′, with a peak height of 84″.
Big Agnes makes a point of warning users that two individuals are needed to put up this shelter.
Another shelter that is new for 2020 is the L.L. Bean Acadia Family Screen Room.
This is a pop-up shelter that can be put up or taken down within just a few minutes.
The dimensions are 12′ x 10′, with a peak height of 84″.
This product seems similar to the pop-up screen rooms made by Coleman, and it is my guess that the manufacturer is the same.
However, L.L. Bean representatives have assured me that (unlike Coleman tents) the Acadia products do not contain Tris fire retardants or any other chemicals covered by California Proposition 65.
It therefore may be that this screen room is worth consideration despite the higher price.
The fact that it cannot be easily washed since the fabric is permanently attached to the poles still makes me hesitant to buy it, however.
Combination Tents + Day Shelters
Another possibility for those who would like to have a protected shelter to use as a sitting room during the day is to choose a sleeping tent that also will work for daytime use.
For instance, I carried with me a four-person L.L. Bean screen room tent for most of the several years that I was camping and then RV’ing full-time.
The good thing about that screen room tent (which is no longer offered) was that it was roomy and comfortable, allowing spending time in the wilderness to feel rather civilized.
However, although I was able to put the tent up on my own, it was complicated enough that it took a good bit of time even when I was working with another person on it.
The screen room tent also was quite difficult to wash due to its being so large.
Looking back at those difficulties, I think that if I were going to be spending a lot of time on the road again, it probably would be much smarter to have separate structures for sleeping and for day use, rather than trying to find one tent that would cover both needs.
However, especially for families that want some room to spread out, a screen room tent may have the potential of working well.
One popular choice is the REI Kingdom series.
The six-person and eight-person versions of these tents each contain two rooms – one of them with enough mesh that it could serve as a screened sitting area.
Unfortunately, though, the screened area where I would want to sit does not get any shade unless the rain fly is covering the entire tent, meaning that it would be inappropriate for many camping scenarios.
In addition, even the six-person version of the tent seems like it would be difficult for me to put up on my own, thereby further limiting the potential usefulness of the tent to me.
Still, the REI Kingdom tents do get very good user reviews and therefore very well may be worth a close look by those who would like to have a really large tent with a screen room attached.
The Nemo Wagontop six-person tent includes a small screen room area that would allow two people to sit next to one another in full-size camping chairs.
The eight-person version has two separate rooms, with one having the potential to serve as a screen room for several people.
As with the REI Kingdom tents, a downside for the Nemo Wagontop tents is that the screen room areas are not shaded at all unless the rain fly is on.
It also looks like the area of the tent where I would expect to be sleeping might not get as much ventilation as I would like.
In addition, I read one review that suggested that these box-style tents may not do all that well in windier conditions (although appropriate use of guylines would help with that, of course).
However, I am generally impressed by the design of Nemo products and have felt good about them in terms of toxicity issues, and so I would be interested in taking an in-person look at one of these tents.
What conceivably might work is to have a small well-ventilated tent for sleeping and then to use the Nemo Wagontop as an indoor living space for things such as relaxing, working or kitchen prep.
Another possibility for those who would like a small shade shelter that also can be used as a sleeping tent are the Big Agnes Titan tents.
These tents are designed to allow the rain fly to be set up on its own without the tent, for use as a small sitting area.
The tent part can be clipped inside or removed, to allow for more versatility as a day/night shelter.
A downside of these tents for me is that the inside cannot be used on its own without the rain fly, and therefore that ventilation might not be as much as I would like.
On the other hand, the tents are categorized as “three season plus” and appear to be pretty good at preventing drafts – thus meaning that they might be useful for those who anticipate camping in colder weather.
Another issue is that while the tents look like they might be nice little shade shelters, they do not have any mesh when set up without the inner tent to keep bugs out.
Probably I could get a mosquito net and drape it over the entire shelter during times when bugs became problematic, however.
Big Agnes Convertible Tent/Shelters:
About This Blog
Living Clean in a Dirty World provides useful information for those working to recover from chronic illness through mold avoidance, clean living and related therapies.
It is presented by Paradigm Change.
Previous Living Clean Guides include:
Lisa Petrison is the founder of Paradigm Change and Mold Avoiders. She holds a Ph.D. in marketing/psychology from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.
Paradigm Change also provides a wide variety of additional information on the topic of the role of mold toxins in chronic illness.
The remarkable life of Erik Johnson (including details about the Lake Tahoe epidemic) is summarized in the book Back from the Edge, written by Lisa Petrison.
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