SAND-PLANTED PARASOLS have done a perfectly adequate job providing shade since their inception in Ancient Egypt, where royalty relied on them to keep cool under the blistering Middle Eastern sun. (In fact, sun umbrellas predate even their rainy-day cousins.) But anyone who has ever clung onto one during a particularly enthusiastic sea breeze knows how quickly the beachside staple can turn into an airborne weapon, flying off to impale an unsuspecting sunbather. Plus, they are cumbersome to carry and don’t provide much cooling beyond deflecting rays.
After centuries of sameness, designers of tech-y new models are betting that you’re ready for a change. We put a few new models to the test—from ultralight tents to suspended, kite-like sails—trying them both in wind and dead calm as well as on an empty and ultra-crowded beach. Here, our picks.
HARNESSES WIND POWER: Shibumi Shade
There is nothing subtle about this highflying shade, which comes equipped with its own stack of business cards for curious passersby. (Really.) Designed to work with the wind rather than against it, the parachute fabric rippled from a single arched pole to create a shade that blocks 97% of harmful rays—even in what felt like dead calm. It fared even better on a windy day, when a standard umbrella would have blown away. We easily anchored the pole in the sand and unfurled the canopy in a few minutes. But while the shade is compact and ultra light when folded, its 15-by-10-foot footprint when open made it tricky to set up in the middle of a crowded New York beach, earning us a few heckles when we tried. Its main downside is noise. Like a sail flapping on a boat, this shade was louder than the ocean. $250, shibumishade.com
COVERS THE STYLE-CONSCIOUS: Business & Pleasure Tent
Stylish and colorful, with a variety of fabric options, this tent left us feeling regal when we spent the day perched under it—and inevitably disappointed when nobody walked by to deliver bubbly on a silver tray. Setting it up, however, required a bit of stamina and the help of a taller friend to drape the fabric over the transverse pole. Setting up isn’t exactly simple (The first step on the directions is to “measure” for the distance between the stakes, which was intimidating). Erecting the device didn’t ultimately take more than 10 minutes, but it did require some trial and error to get placement of the stakes and strings right, and even then, felt wobbly on a windy day that was fine for umbrellas. And including the anchoring ropes, this small tent takes up a lot of real estate on the sand. $299, businessandpleasureco.com
SHIELDS FOOD FROM SAND: Sun Shelter Pop-Up Tent
With three sides to shield babies, pets and food from sand and sun, this ultralight, low-ceilinged pop-up tent promises to be a dream for oceanfront picnics. Setup is easy as opening the zipper of the bag. And since it’s only 6 pounds, we were able to carry it down the beach steps with ease. But on a windy day, the stakes pulled out of the sand within seconds, leading to a chase down the beach to catch it. Even on a less-breezy day, without something or someone inside to anchor it, the tent nearly blew away. Directions that read “folds in on itself with a few turns of the wrist,” were not exactly accurate. Dismount was nothing short of exhausting. Of the seven people who attempted to put it away, only one succeeded. The rest experienced 45 minutes of hearty laughter. $65, food52.com