Introduction: Easy Portable Beach Shelter

Picture of Easy Portable Beach Shelter

Umbrellas fly away, and folding shelters are expensive and so tall that you have to keep moving your chair to chase the shade all day. I made this beach shelter in about an hour with 50 bucks, and it worked like a charm. This design has the added bonus of fitting in a backpack (with the poles sticking out of the top).

Step 1: Tools & Materials

Picture of Tools & Materials



  • 1" PVC Pipe: 4 pieces at 36", 4 pieces at 24".
  • 1" PVC Male Adaptor: 8 of these are needed in total, 1 for each tent pole segment.
  • 1" PVC Female-Female Coupling: 4 are needed, 1 for each tent pole.
  • 1" PVC End Cap: 8 are needed, 1 for each end of each assembled tent pole.
  • 10-24 1 1/2" Machine Bolts: These serve as the peg at the top of each tent pole that the tarp grommets attach to.
  • 10-24 Hex Nuts: 1 is needed for each bolt.
  • # 10 Washers: 2 are needed for each bolt.
  • Paracord: 100 ft. Something with high visibility is a good idea.
  • Tarp: I used an 8X10 heavy duty one with a silver side- I put this side up to reflect the sunlight. The 8X10 worked well, but I would imagine as the tarp gets bigger, the tent stakes will need to get bigger / longer. With more surface area, the force of the wind catching the tarp is substantial.
  • Tent Stakes: I used the MSR Cyclone model because it works well in rocks and sand. There are certainly cheaper tent stakes that work in sand, but this is by far the most important part. Cheap tent stakes that don't scoop the sand will just pull out.

Step 2: Assembly

Picture of Assembly

  1. Drill a hole through the center of four of the PVC end caps. Insert a bolt with a nut on each side of the hole, and tighten down a nut for a firm fit.
  2. Use a rubber mallet to hammer the end caps with the bolts onto the ends of two of the 36" pipes, and two of the 24" pipes.
  3. Hammer on the male adaptor to the other ends of the pipes with the end caps (the ones with bolts in them).
  4. Hammer the four end caps without bolts into the ends of the remaining four pipes (two 36" pipes, and two 24" pipes).
  5. Hammer the remaining four male adaptors into the open ends of the pipes with the plain end caps.

The couplings are used to connect the pipes so that the whole set can be easily packed up. When assembled, there are two 6' tall poles, and two 4' tall poles. Having the back of the shelter lower to the ground makes for more shade.

I drilled holes through the tops of each pipe segment and tied a piece of paracord through the holes. These are used for tying down the shelter. I only ended up using the upper most loops, but I figured if it was really windy, I could tie off the middle of the poles with more tent stakes.

Step 3: Layout

Picture of Layout

Layout is pretty simple, but it's a lot easier with two or more people.

  1. Spread out the tarp in the location you want.
  2. Pull a length of paracord tight across the top, lining up the corners of the tarp. This is important because it ensures that the tension across the tarp will be aligned with the tie downs and tent stakes.
  3. After pulling the rope so that the ends of the rope are about 7' from the corners, hammer in the tent stakes at an angle tilting away from the tarp.

Step 4: Setup

Picture of Setup

I suppose it could be possible to set up this shelter alone, but I can't imagine how. Be sure to have friends and family close at hand.

  1. Place a long pole at the front corner of the shelter (the end you want to look at) and a short pole at the opposite back corner.
  2. Put the grommets through the bolts at the corners, and pull the tarp tight to get the right placement for the poles.
  3. With one person holding a pole, tie down the top of the pole through the paracord loop. I used a trucker's hitch, but you could also use guying rings or other fancy camping accessories to get the cord tight.
  4. Repeat step 3 for each pole. This will require some degree of moving around and adjusting each one until the shelter feels sturdy.
  5. Wing nuts would have been a great idea to top off the bolts and keep the tarp from flying off in the wind, but I forgot to buy any so I tied a small loop around the bolt and tied it back to the guy line.

Step 5: Keep Cool

Picture of Keep Cool

This worked really well! It was a breezy day on the Russian River with some respectable gusts of wind, and the shelter stayed up all day like a boss.

If I were to do it again, I think I would make my own super-long tent stakes if only for my own piece of mind.


jlerro1981. (author)2015-09-11

This simple yet effective design reminds us that there is no need to over-complicate structural design. Less is more. Lightweight, portable as well as economical package. Easy set-up, in my opinion there is not much to dislike here. Easy on repairs too. Some folks have mentioned improvements on this, but they mostly all seem to relate to the terrain this is standing on not the structure itself. Also there were concerns about 1" piping not being sturdy enough. As mentioned before, these pipes come in several wall thicknesses. Schedule 40, 80, 120 from thinnest to heaviest (least to most in cost also), respectively. Schedule 120 would be best for this application and is probably what the author used. Keep in mind it will take more effort to cut and will weight slightly more in accordance to thickness.

JON-A-TRON (author)jlerro1981.2017-01-19

Thanks for the compliments. I think I used Schedule 120. I was thinking about doing something with elastic banded tent poles, but then I realized I would have to change the design to account for bending. I think at the end of the day PVC pipes are the simplest solution.

styhppy (author)2016-07-08

Thanks for the great instructable. I was also considering such a solution - but here you have done it. One modification to reduce the wind load (but more expensive) would be to use "shade cloth" such as: Cool Area Square 11'5" x 11'5" Durable Sun Shade Sail with Stainless Steel Hardware Kit, Color Cream, furniture

JON-A-TRON (author)styhppy2017-01-19

I hadn't thought of that. Good idea!

ruggmastermitch (author)2015-08-13

buy an easy up

"Buy an easy up". What a silly back-handed comment. I second the authors reply in regards to portability. EZ-Ups are not backpack shelters. They are also heavy, weighing in at close to 30 lbs. for a (good) 10x10 model. Also, they only collapse down to about 4' x 6" x 6". EZ-Up pyramid-style pop-ups are horrible in wind, as even the slightest breeze collects under the canopy sending it airborne. The authors design is specifically for the beach, with the canopy being a flat plane minimizing airflow collection. Regardless, if and when heavy wind occurs, many parts cannot be replaced on unitized structures like joints which are completely riveted on EZ-Up style canopies. Aluminum legs and crossbeams may also become bent, and these cannot be replaced, not to mention damages like tears to the canopy roof itself. We live in a "Throw Away" era. Usually when one component on these pop-up things is damaged, you have to throw the whole unit away, which sucks not to mention a waste of money. The authors design is economical and sustainable. Repairs can be made on the fly if you bring spare parts and the parts themselves are easily attained cheaply. All it takes is a few dollars and a walk to the hardware store. I love and defend this instructable.

JON-A-TRON (author)2015-08-13

ruggedmastermitch, they make easy-ups that fit in a backpack and shade four people and all their stuff?

jlerro1981. (author)JON-A-TRON2015-09-11

This is brilliant. Thanks for sharing. I will be having a go at this next season.

savas07 (author)2015-08-13


scot adam (author)2015-07-20

There is another way to secure the ropes in sand that is much more secure and in my mind much more elegant. I don't remember where I first saw it (and its probably already posted in instructables somewhere).
Basically, you tie your line around the middle of a sturdy, foot-long stick and bury it in the sand horizontally. The strength depends on how deep you bury it and how much surface area (drag) your stick has. Your "stick" can be modified to be 6"x6" plywood squares with a hole drilled thru for tiring. Bury this 1' down and you might break your line before you pull it out.

JON-A-TRON (author)scot adam2015-07-20

That is BRILLIANT. I'm ditching the fancy sand stakes and trying that next time.

scot adam (author)JON-A-TRON2015-07-20

For heavier loads (like Bedouin palaces) multiple sticks can be arranged in series on one line.

JON-A-TRON (author)2015-07-19

KevinL25, it's all 1". It's sturdier than you think! Doesn't bend at all if you use the thick walled stuff they sell at Home Depot.

KevinL25 (author)2015-07-19

The materials list says 1" pvc pipe but to me it looks like 2" pipe in the photos....I would think 1'' would bend?

doublery (author)2015-07-13

Nice job. In the 80's I used to build the same at New Smyrna Beach with 4 coleman tent poles for 10'x12' tarp or 6 coleman poles for 16'x20' to keep the girl friends happy while the guys played volleyball . The poles should be adjustable as the ropes tend to stretch a llittle when heated up in the sun. I used spray paint can lids to make pole feet. I also used sand hogs for stakes. They are 2' pieces of rebar with a hook welded on top and a steel triangle welded 3-4" from the bottom like an arrow head. Pound the sandhogs in with a hammer. Keep the tarp taught, angled for maximum shade and rain will just run off. Even strong winds could not pull the sand hogs out of the ground. With the big tarp I used four 6' poles in the corners and two 8' poles in the middle so there was plenty of head room. The ropes, spikes, and hammer went into a canvas book bag, the poles slipped into a homemade jeans leg bag with draw string and the neatly folded tarp went into a large vacuum bag.

AndreD1 (author)doublery2015-07-15

Sand Hogs -great idea and new to me .Thanks for sharing.

AndreD1 (author)2015-07-15

Nice one !. Add three sides (and maybe an awnining across the 6ft side ),and you've got a Baker Tent .

Seo10 (author)2015-07-09

I like this idea but I don't think it would work in sand in Florida. Great idea though.

Ortzinator (author)Seo102015-07-09

You can buy tent stakes made for use in sand.

JON-A-TRON (author)Ortzinator2015-07-13

Yeah, I used the ASR Cyclone model for this one- designed for sand and gravel. With an open tarp like this though, the wind puts way more stress on the stakes than it would on an aerodynamic tent.

NIronwolf (author)Seo102015-07-10

Seo10, You could add a small bit of 2x4 with hole cut into it about 1/2" to keep the pipe from sliding around on the wood and that would give it enough foot print to not press into the sand.

JON-A-TRON (author)Seo102015-07-09

I've spend a lot of time in Panhandle sugar-sand, and I'm inclined to agree. I think it would work nicely with a few tweaks:

1. Jobar007's suggestion to incorporate some kind of feet to spread out the load and keep the poles from burying into the sand.

2. My idea of making (or finding) extra-long sand tent stakes. OR cmarine2's suggestion of bringing empty sandbags, and just filling them up on site.

A popular trick I've heard of is to use grocery bags(double or triple layer). First you fill them and then bury them to anchor them down, this is also useful in snow.

cmarine2 (author)Seo102015-07-09

Just a thought, but if you wanted to make something like this, just get/make a couple of denim (or heavy duty material) sandbags that can hold approx 30-40 lbs. of sand. Then when you get to the beach you just fill them up and use them as the anchor points close to the base of the legs of the tent.

Hope that helps!

nystrom (author)cmarine22015-07-09

I have some plastic buckets that I use. They are 1 or 2 gallon size and they stack when empty. Scoop full of sand, position, and attach ropes to the handles. Plus they come in handy carrying stuff to and from the beach.

JON-A-TRON (author)cmarine22015-07-09

Great suggestion- why didn't I think of that?

EnergyHandyman (author)2015-07-11

I love this idea and the quality of your build.

I suggest you include a photo of the backpack situation which is a major advantage of your design.

When I build one I may try to have 2 different diameters of pipe that can nest, so maybe the top slides down into the bottom, further saving space.

Great job!!!

I love that idea. My dad suggested keeping the tent stakes (if I make long ones) inside the pole segments- it would be cool if the whole thing could nest kind of like Russian dolls.

The portability is definitely a key part of this, wish I'd had the foresight to take pictures of the backpack!

Abertsmb (author)2015-07-13

Very Nice...

Lethrwolf (author)2015-07-10

very nice shelter... as to the feet... you could use a pvc 4 way, add some sort 3" or less pipe, cap them off and another short pipe to secure the 'foot' to the poles. Would be just something to add to the bag for that 'wish i had those on thisch' moment. Also you could use a smaller diameter, one foot pole for the top pole... drill several holes one inch apart in it, and the next pole down, large enough for a bolt so you can adjust (fine tune) the height as needed. Use a wing nut and small washer on this adjusting bolt and on the top bolt to hold the tarp down. Hope this gives you some more ideas. Good camping to ya.

JamesL32 (author)2015-07-08

Nice folding poles. Nice touch, the bolts thru the topcaps. I would suggest that the ropes at the tops could be held on with two half hitches, which would tighten up around the bolts and hold the tarp on without the extra hole in the pole. Then, use a tautline hitch on the peg end to alleviate the use of the trucker's hitch. Tautline is infinitely adjustable to keep the rope taut. See these:

Trucker hitch (variation is shown in instructions) is good for pulling a line tight, but it is hard to adjust when the wind and sand loosen things up.

This lead me to suggest a " floor plate " or "floor flange" on the ground end of the pole, to help keep it from sinking in. Made in the shade....

JON-A-TRON (author)JamesL322015-07-08

Great suggestions! And thanks for the links- what a great website...

CJGFX (author)2015-07-07

Brilliantly simple. Thank you for sharing

JON-A-TRON (author)CJGFX2015-07-07


makendo (author)2015-07-07

Great project. You could probably pitch it yourself if you knew how far the pegs needed to be pitched away from the corners, and this is something you could mark on the ropes. But agreed, much easier with 2!

JON-A-TRON (author)makendo2015-07-07

Good idea! You'd just hammer in the pegs and raise the poles on at a time.

Jobar007 (author)2015-07-07

With the tension of the lines, you could probably get away with just a coupler instead of two screw fittings.

Also, did you notice the poles wanting to bury themselves in the sand? Perhaps feet would be warranted to minimize this?

JON-A-TRON (author)Jobar0072015-07-07

Good point. I went with the screw fittings because I figured they'd be sturdier, but the compression from the paracord pretty much holds everything together.

Burying wasn't a problem because this beach is very rocky, but I could see how that would probably happen with fine sand. Some simple plywood feet would probably do the trick.

xxlauraxx (author)2015-07-07

Very nice! I recognize that river…

This is the makeshift sunshade I came across at the ocean last weekend. A bit saggy in the middle… not nearly as sturdy as yours. :)

JON-A-TRON (author)xxlauraxx2015-07-07

Kudos for the ingenuity though!

About This Instructable




Bio: I'm a full-time Designer at the Instructables Design Studio (best job ever). My background is in residential architecture, film set design, film animatronics, media ... More »
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