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    Pop Up Canopy & EZ Up Tent Buying Guide

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    You decided to get a pop up canopy because of how quickly and easily they can be set up, but now you're discovering that the process of finding the right one isn't nearly as user-friendly.  There are so many sizes and styles that it can be hard to distinguish them from one another, much less figure out which model would be best for you.  So if you're having trouble getting your canopy-hunting bearings, check out the following guide.  Once you're armed with the appropriate information you'll find that selecting a canopy doesn't have to be all that daunting.


    Part 1: Some Basic Information

    You already know that pop up or instant canopies have a reputation for being easy to use.  What you may not be aware of is what makes them so much more user-friendly than other shelters.  The convenience of these structures derives from their unique, accordion-style frames that can be collapsed and expanded with just a bit of simple pulling and pushing.  Two people can generally set one up in a matter of minutes without any tools.  Take down, which is just a matter of contracting the frame to its original size and removing the top, is also quick and most pop ups will fit into a storage bag for convenient transport.

    Of course, no two canopies are going to be exactly the same in terms of construction, but all shelters labeled as "pop up" should have a set up similar to the one described here.  If a structure's assembly has a lot of complicated steps or requires tools, it's not an instant canopy.  It's important to keep that in mind while searching because products can sometimes be mislabeled or, unfortunately, feature names that are designed to mislead you.

    Part 2: Determining Your Needs

    Many people start their canopy search with the question, "What size do I need?"  But, in truth, this should actually be your second question.  Before you start to look at details like size you need to ask yourself exactly what you're going to be using your instant, easy setup canopy for. The way you answer that question will have a direct impact on how big your shelter should be.  A shelter that's going to be used for barbecues and other backyard social gatherings, for example, will probably need to be larger than one being used to house merchandise at a craft show.  Unless, of course, you've got a lot of products or it just so happens that you excel at making enormous lawn sculptures.  The amount of space you need really is going to depend on what you're doing and what you want to protect.

    Your Ideal Canopy Size

    Unfortunately, individual circumstances are so variable that there is no way to perfectly calculate your ideal canopy size.  It is possible, however, to get a rough estimate of how much space you need.  Generally speaking, it's reasonable to allow anywhere from 10 to 12 sq. ft. per person when you're hosting a party.  If you're willing to do a little more math, the following guidelines can give you a more situation-specific estimate:
    1. Chairs - If you plan to hold events like lectures where you'll only need seating, a good rule of thumb is to allow 5 or 6 sq. ft. per chair.
    2. Meal Seating - If your event involves a meal, the amount of space you're going to need is going to vary depending on the dimensions of the tables you use as well as how many people each one seats.  Try to allow at least 12 sq. ft. per person when using round tables and 10 sq. ft. when using rectangular ones.
    3. Other Items - If you need any extras like a podium, buffet table, or display case for your event, make sure to take the dimensions of those items into account when calculating your space requirements.

    Business and Commercial Uses

    You probably noticed that the previous section didn't mention anything about how to figure out your space needs if you're going to be using your instant canopy as a sales booth, display center, or other commercial structure.  That's because the needs of business owners are going to vary significantly depending on the nature of their business and what they're intending to use their shelter for.  If you plan to use your canopy for commercial purposes, the best way to determine your space requirements is to measure all of the items you know you want to house.  Since you're often going to be more concerned with accommodating objects than people, the total you'll get when you add those measurements together can actually provide you with a reasonable idea of how big your tent should be.

    Part 3: Construction

    All pop up tents may have similar set up, but they are by no means all the same.  They're made with a variety of different materials and your situation and preferences are going to dictate which combination is going to be right for you.  Read on for some brief descriptions of common canopy materials.

    Frames

    When it comes to instant canopy frames you've really only got two choices.  You can go with aluminum or the more common steel.  It's important to note here that while many consider aluminum to be superior, there are advantages and disadvantages to using each.  Let's take a look at them.
    1. Weight - Aluminum is lighter than steel so if you're going to be doing a lot of traveling with your collapsible canopy you may want to go with an aluminum frame.  Its lighter weight is also helpful during set up, particularly if you need to put up your shelter by yourself.  But, if you're going to be using your tent in windy conditions, steel would probably be a better choice since its heavier weight will make it more stable.
    2. Strength - Aluminum is more prone to bending than steel so a steel frame is - barring poor manufacturing - going to be stronger than an aluminum one.  If you're going to be using your canopy for occasional personal use the difference in strength probably won't matter, but if you're going to do a lot of entertaining or have business purposes in mind you may want to go with steel.
    3. Corrosion- Both steel and aluminum corrode.  The difference is that when steel deteriorates it produces damaging rust whereas aluminum forms aluminum oxide, a hard substance that actually helps prevent further corrosion.  Most steel canopy frames are treated to prevent rust, but that, of course, doesn't guarantee that it will never happen.  You'll need to decide whether this potential problem is serious enough to affect your interest in steel.
    4. Cost - Aluminum canopies can sometimes cost more than steel ones, but due to the different types and gauges of steel available there's no hard and fast rule.  Prices vary significantly from manufacturer to manufacturer.

    Tops

    Once again, you've got two basic choices.  First is polyester, the most commonly used instant canopy top material.  All varieties are durable and water-resistant, but the thicker the material is, the tougher it's going to be.  You can determine a top's thickness by looking at its denier.  The higher the number, the stronger the fabric.  A top with a higher denier will, however, also be heavier so if you're trying to maximize portability you may better off with a thinner top.

    Your other alternative is a vinyl top.  These tops, which are actually made of polyester that has been given a vinyl coating, offer better UV protection and weather resistance than standard polyester ones.  They're also very easy to clean and many are certified flame-resistant.

    There's no doubt that vinyl tops are tougher, but they're also more expensive.  So once again, you've got to decide what's more important: durability or economy?  If you're going to be using your pop up canopy relatively infrequently or for shorter periods of time, a polyester top will probably serve your needs.  If, however, you plan to use your shelter more often or leave it up for longer time spans, you may want a vinyl-coated top.  It's really about finding a balance that works for you.

    Waterproof Vs. Water-Resistant

    Canopy tops are either waterproof or water-resistant.  Waterproof models, thanks to a special coating or treatment, are completely impervious to water, whereas water-resistant models can handle a lot of exposure to moisture, but are ultimately vulnerable to some mild water penetration.  Most instant canopies feature water-resistant tops rather than waterproof ones.

    Why?  Unfortunately, most waterproof materials simply don't perform that well when they're set up and taken down with the frequency most pop up shelters are.  They tend to wear out more quickly and are more cumbersome than water-resistant ones.  So, in order to provide tops with the longest possible lifespan and ease of use, most manufacturers choose to use water-resistant fabrics.

    Part 4: Slant Leg Vs. Straight Leg

    Instant canopies come with either straight or slanted legs.  At first glance this may seem like just a minor style variation, but the type of legs your shelter has actually makes a big structural difference.  Slanted legs, while able to give your canopy a sleek, sporty look, are less stable than straight ones.  They also take up more space while providing less coverage - a ten-by-ten slant-leg pop up tent will usually only offer sixty-four square feet of shade while a ten-by-ten straight-leg model offers one hundred.

    So why would you want to buy a tent with slanted legs?  The answer, like so many related to making a major purchase, has to do with money.  Slant-leg structures are generally cheaper than ones with straight legs.  Therefore this is yet another instance where you're going to have to decide whether performance or cost is more important.

    Part 5: Accessories

    Depending upon how and where you're going to be using your instant canopy, you may need to customize it in order to make it fit your specific needs.  Use the following descriptions to help you determine which accessories might be right for you.

    Sidewalls

    Sidewalls, or side walls, allow you to enclose all or part  canopy.  They're ideal for situations where you want to create some privacy or give your shelter a more formal look, say at a business conference.  They can also provide a bit of extra weather protection.

    In terms of materials, sidewalls have a range similar to that of pop up canopy tops.  You can find polyester ones of varying thickness as well as ones made of polyethylene fabric blends.  It's also possible to get mesh walls if you want bug protection that won't interfere with air movement.  The types of sidewalls you'll have to choose from vary significantly from brand to brand so if you're looking for a specific kind you may need to stick with certain manufacturers.  And, if you're thinking about buying a canopy package deal, it's important to keep in mind that you won't be able to choose which walls come with your pop up; each package comes with a specific set of walls.

    Thinking about buying more than one sidewall?  Consider investing in a kit.  Not all manufacturers offer them, but many do and you'll usually wind up spending less money per wall when you purchase them this way.  Even if you can only find kits that include more sidewalls than you think you'll use, getting one might still be a good idea.  It's hard to anticipate everything you might need beforehand and having an extra wall around may prove helpful.

    Stakes, Anchors, Weight Bags, Roller Bags, and Carry Bags

    All canopies are vulnerable to wind.  Instant canopies can often have even more problems because they are specifically designed to be lightweight so it's vital to secure them properly.  There are three different accessories you can use to stabilize your shelter.

    Stakes - Many pop up canopies actually come with these.  They're extremely simple to use and are generally reliable.  If you're going to be taking your shelter to the beach, though, stakes aren't going to be a good choice; they simply can't get a good grip in the sand.
    Anchors - These work a lot like stakes, but usually provide a stronger hold because you have to twist them to get them into the ground.  They aren't suitable for use in sand either.
    Weight Bags - These use additional weight rather than a physical connection to the ground to keep your canopy stable.  You simply attach them to your shelter's legs and fill them with sand or rocks.  The weight each bag can hold varies by manufacturer, but it's not unusual for one to hold somewhere between fifteen and thirty pounds.  If you're going to be using your canopy in an area prone to high winds or you want to take it to the beach, these are going to be your best option.

    Roller Bags and Carry Bags

    Roller Bags and Carry Bags Most people are interested in pop up tents because of how light and portable they are.  A sturdy travel bag will make it even easier to take yours wherever you need it.  There are several different varieties, including some with wheels and ones with a hard outer shell, but the main things you need to look for are good handles and sturdy construction.  Just make sure to check what is included with your canopy before buying one, though, since quite a few models come with bags.

    Part 6: Custom Graphics

    If you're going to be using your instant canopy for business purposes or a special event, you may want to add some custom graphics.  There are a couple of ways you can do this.  The first, and most expensive, option is to have your design printed directly onto your canopy's top, sidewalls, or siderails before they are sewn together.  If you want to go this route you're going to be limited as to the types of canopies you can use since not all manufacturers provide this service.  It's best to ask your retailer which tents are available with custom graphics before starting your search.

    The other way you can add custom images to your pop up shelter is with a product called a canopy headband.  This is a separately purchased item that can be customized with your design and then slipped right over the top of your canopy.  It sits on top of your canopy's valance, making it appear as though it is part of the original top.   Of course, a headband may not be quite as dramatic as a fully customized top, but it is more cost-effective.  Opting for one of these will also give you a bit more flexibility as to what canopy you can use because they don't have to be incorporated into its construction.  Just make sure to check that your retailer offers a size that will fit the shelter you're interested in.

    Part 7: Package Deals

    If you've spent even a little bit of time hunting for an instant shelter, you've probably come across package deals containing a canopy, sidewalls, and possibly a few other accessories.  You've also probably wondered if those sets are actually as good of a value as they seem to be.  The answer to your question depends on a variety of factors.  If a canopy package has caught your interest, ask yourself the following questions:
    1. Is the canopy included in the package of good quality?  Make sure that you scrutinize the canopy in a special deal just as closely as you would an independently-sold model.  If you wouldn't purchase it on its own, chances are you won't be much happier with it as part of a set.
    2. Does the math add up? Before deciding to purchase a package, make sure it will actually cost you less than all of the individual pieces would.  In most cases it will, but if specific parts of the set are on sale, for example, you might actually spend less if you buy each item separately.
    3. Do you really need all of the items that come in the set?  Manufacturers count on the fact most people are more tempted to buy items that are on sale or in pre-made packages because feel they shouldn't pass up a bargain.  Be sure that you will actually use all of the items in a canopy package before buying one.
    If you've answered yes to all of those questions then the package you've found may indeed be a good choice for you.

    Part 8: Some Helpful Information

    The world of canopies contains quite a bit of jargon.  Below is a little bit more information about a few terms you might come across during your search.

    Denier -
    As mentioned earlier, this is a measurement of fabric thickness.  It's determined by measuring the weight of 9,000 meters of a fiber in grams.  If, for example, 9,000 meters of a particular fiber weighs 550g, then its denier would be 550.   That's why a 300 denier polyester canopy top would be stronger than a 250 denier one.  It's important to note, though, that you can't always assume that a higher denier indicates superior strength if you're comparing two different materials.  Because every material has its own strength to weight ratio, it's definitely possible to have a 300D fabric that's tougher than a 450D one.

    Powder-Coated Finish -
    This is a durable, scratch-resistant metal finish.  It's created by spraying finely-ground, electrostatically-charged resin and pigment particles onto a positively grounded object.  Then the object is placed into a curing oven where the particles melt and fuse to produce a solid coating.

    Part 9: Putting it All Together

    Unfortunately, there's no amount of knowledge that can make finding the right instant canopy as easy as using one.  But that doesn't mean it has to be horribly difficult either.  If you do a bit of planning and keep some basic information in mind while searching, getting a shelter that you'll be happy with can be a simple, stress-free process.
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