A lightweight beach canopy that requires frequent fine-tuning
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TripSavvy / Joy Merrifield
Very lightweight and portable
Unpacks and packs easily
Easy setup, even for one person
Inconsistent in wind
Poles feel flimsy
Requires frequent adjustment
The highly portable Otentik Original Beach Sunshade has the potential to be an ideal take-anywhere sun shelter, but only if you set it up exactly right.
We purchased the Otentik Original Beach Sunshade so our expert reviewer could thoroughly test and assess it. Keep reading for our full product review.
A pilgrimage to the beach (or anywhere outside and sunny) can be a complex negotiation between the needs for shelter and refreshment and the need to not get nerve damage from carrying your heavy bags and coolers. Beach canopies like the Otentik Original Sunshade were designed to address both sides of the table, providing ample shelter in a light, compact package. We’ve spent plenty of time underneath beach umbrellas, tents, and cabanas, but somehow never beached under a sporty spandex lean-to before. We took the Otentik down to Rockaway Beach on a gorgeous, gusty summer Saturday to see how it measured up to the old faithfuls.
The Otentik sunshade was designed to provide maximum sun protection with minimal baggage. Unlike umbrella poles that derive their stability from a central pole driven into the ground, the Otentik is anchored by four jersey pockets that you fill with sand and stretch out as far as you can, making the shade fabric taut. Two lightweight shock cord poles (similar to tent poles) with hard foam balls at one end are then positioned under the front of the shade to prop it up. Unlike an umbrella pole, these aren’t really intended for stability and aren’t attached to the shade at all. They just elevate the fabric and are held in place by the tension in the high-stretch, 28 percent Lycra jersey.
Once assembled, the back of the shade slopes, creating one of our primary problems with the design. You’re supposed to set the shade up with the supported end facing into the wind, which, in our case, made for a beautiful day at the beach, listening to the ocean with our back to it and facing some dirty apartment complexes. How relaxing!
When the strong wind caught this shade, it just leaned into us and collapsed, rather than turning into a beach harpoon.
Our second issue with the beach shade’s design is more geographical in nature. There’s enough room for everyone on the NYC-proximate beaches in the same way that there’s technically enough room for everyone on the subways—sometimes you get a whole car to yourself, and sometimes you’re crammed together like a fresh, glistening pack of Nathan’s hot dogs. The Rockaways are fairly spread out, so not usually elbow-to-elbow crowded, but we still felt the sandbags had us claiming more than our share of beach real estate. Otentik suggests you can slide the sandbags further up the ropes to accommodate a crowded beach, but it was still much more spread than an umbrella, or even a beach tent, in relation to the amount of shade it provided.
On a positive note, we saw at least five umbrellas sailing down the beach in the windy conditions, with mortified New Yorkers running after them. When the strong wind caught ours, it just leaned into us and collapsed, rather than turning into a beach harpoon.
Since the Otentik was designed to prioritize low weight and portability, the setup is a little more labor-intensive than just deploying a sun umbrella, but not much. After unrolling the jersey shade, we spread it out flat on the sand and positioned it with the front of the shade facing the direction the wind was coming from. A nylon cord is tied to each corner of the shade fabric, ending in a jersey pouch. These should be filled with sand to overflowing, then cinched closed. The poles are then wedged into place about a foot from the corners of the front edge. The shade itself needs to be kept as taut as possible—otherwise, the entire thing blows down. Repeatedly. Trust us.
It wasn’t too hard for a single person to set it up, but since we were battling higher winds on the beach, we were thankful for a little setup crew of two or three. Start to finish, it only took about eight minutes to get the shelter up, but there was a lot of repositioning throughout the day as we figured out what worked best.
We felt the sandbags had us claiming more than our share of beach real estate.
When the wind changed direction and the front of the shelter was no longer facing the wind, the fabric rippled enough to liberate the poles, and the entire thing collapsed around our ears. After a few collapses, we found that burying the sandbags deep into the sand helped anchor the shade and kept the fabric taut enough to keep the poles in position. When the wind shifted directions entirely, we just moved one of the poles to another corner to adapt. It eventually felt secure(ish), but more often than not, someone kept a cautious hand on one of the poles anyway.
You’ll be tempted to drive the poles into the sand (or dirt), but try to resist. Otentik advises emphatically against this. They say it will likely break the pole, and after attempting this (before we’d read Otentik’s warning), we tend to agree. The shock cord poles are only 22 millimeters in diameter and rather thin-walled. Putting your full weight on them bows them, and while we didn’t break them this time around, it definitely seems possible.
During high wind situations, which we experienced, Otentik recommends keeping the poles in place by either tying them to the shade or twisting the stretchy shade fabric around the ball at the end of the poles to keep them from drifting. We did neither of these things, so we kept having to reposition the poles throughout the day as they battled 20 mile-per-hour gusts. Since these have a bit of a learning curve, we recommend not flying into the beach blind (like we did) and watching a few setup videos for tips first.
The sunshade’s jersey has been treated to reach a UPF 50+ rating, meaning it blocks more than 98 percent of the sun’s rays. You’ll still want to wear sunblock, but we felt cool and sheltered when sitting underneath.
Portability is where the Otentik Original Sunshade shines. The shade and poles roll up to fit into a soft, self-fabric carrying case that’s only about 19 inches long and the width of a rolled beach towel. The aluminum poles fit into their own sleeves and polyester bag to prevent damage to the shade during transport. The whole thing weighs about 4 pounds, and is incredibly easy to ignore once it’s slung across your shoulder.
The shade and poles roll up to fit into a soft, self-fabric carrying case that’s only about 19 inches long and the width of a rolled beach towel.
Because of the sloped design, the medium size we reviewed fit two people seated in beach chairs comfortably, plus one or two more people lounging. Otentik sells the poles separately, so you have the option of buying two more poles to prop the back end of the shade up as well, to increase the usable space.
Not to give you sticker shock, but the medium-sized Otentik Sunshade we reviewed has an MSRP of $129. That feels pretty expensive, considering you can buy a decent four-person Columbia tent for under $100. Similar sunshades can cost 25 to 40 dollars less, but we will say that the Otentik has a solid design with nice fabrication.
In our experience, the only sunshade out there that can withstand a surprise hurricane or haboob is the CoolCabana. The medium size is nearly three times the weight of the Otentik, but 11 pounds seems like a middling sacrifice for practically bulletproof design. The square shape provides maximum shade footprint, and the construction marries the best elements of a beach umbrella (central pole and stretcher stability), and an Otentik-type canopy (sand pocket anchors). While it might not make weight for hours-long hikes to secret beaches, if you’re just dragging it 300 yards from your car and there’s a chance of any wind or weather, we’d recommend this one.
We’re still marinating on it.
While we like the high portability, soft fabric, and smart, simple design, we think the Otentik Original Beach Sunshade might take a while to grow on us. Even with the hacks Otentik recommended, it lacked stability in higher winds, and we were never quite sure it wasn’t going to fall down on our heads. Again.
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