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    Semi-Permanent Canopy Buying Guide

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    It wasn't hard for you to decide that a standard building wasn't the kind of shelter you needed. Once you started looking at all of the portable and semi-permanent shelters available, though, it was a completely different story. There are so many canopy sizes and styles that finding the right one can seem impossible. But there's no reason to be intimidated. This guide can help you sort through all of the different tent varieties and pick the one that will work best for you.

    Part 1: Portable vs. Semi-Permanent

    If you've done any canopy hunting at all, you already know that it can sometimes be hard to determine whether a shelter is portable or semi-permanent. That is largely because portable and semi-permanent have no official industry definitions. It's entirely up to each manufacturer to decide how to label each tent so there's a wide range in the features for each group. There are, however, some general characteristics that most brands of portable and semi-permanent shelters possess.

    Portable Canopies

    Portable CanopyA perennial favorite for outdoor parties and events, portable canopies are designed to be as easy to move as possible. They're typically light relative to their size and are quite compact when disassembled. It's not unusual for small models to weigh as little as forty pounds and fit into the trunk of the average car. Many also come with carry bags to facilitate transport.

    In terms of set up, portable canopies feature some of the easiest in the tent industry. Most can be put together by one or two people in just a few hours. And there are some, like pop up canopies, that come completely assembled and can be put up and taken down in a few minutes. It's important to keep in mind, though, that in order to achieve those ultra-fast set up times, many shelters wind up sacrificing some durability. As a result, pop ups and other lightweight tents shouldn't be left standing for long periods; in most cases you wouldn't even want to leave them out overnight.

    Semi-Permanent Canopies

    Believe it or not, semi-permanent canopies are actually a form of portable shelter. They may be designed to replace regular buildings, but they can all technically be moved from place to place. It's just that the additional bulk and structural complexity required to allow them to withstand long-term use makes them less convenient to transport than other portable tents.

    Therefore, this kind of tent is best suited for situations where strength and resilience are more important than extreme portability. They're ideal for seasonal equipment and vehicle storage as well as protecting livestock. Many of the larger models also make good workshops.

    If this is the type of canopy you want, finding one may be a little challenging because not all semi-permanent structures are labeled as such. Try searching for shelters called portable garages or carports. Tents labeled as commercial or industrial-grade are also usually good choices.

    Part 2: What Size Do I Need?

    Because no two situations are exactly the same, there's no reliable way to determine the exact size of the shelter you need. Once you've decided what you're going to be using your canopy for, however, it is definitely possible to estimate of the amount of space a particular situation calls for. Then you can choose a model based on that number.

    Canopies for Events

    If you're going to be using your portable canopy to provide weather protection for parties and other outdoor gatherings, it's generally fair to allow somewhere between 10 to 12 sq. ft. of space per guest. If your event is requires a complicated floor plan with a lot of extra furnishings, however, you'll probably be best served by calculating a more situation-specific space estimate. Here are a few guidelines for determining how much space an event will need:
    1. Auditorium-Style Seating - If you're hosting a lecture or another event that calls rows of chairs, try to allow 5 or 6 sq. ft. of space per chair. Keep in mind, though, that if you're using particularly bulky chairs or plan to invite guests that require a lot of maneuvering room, you'll need to provide additional space.
    2. Events with Meals - If you're planning to serve a meal, the amount of space you'll need will largely depend on the dimensions of the tables you use as well as the number of people seated at each one. Generally, it's appropriate to allow at least 10 sq. ft. per person when using rectangular tables and 12 sq. ft. when using round ones. You'll also need to consider the type of service you plan to use; dinners with table-side service will require additional space in order to ensure that your servers will have enough room to work.
    3. Specialty Furniture - If your party calls for additional furniture like a stage, dance floor, or buffet table, you'll need to take the dimensions of these items into account when calculating your space requirements.
    4. Caterers, DJs, and Bands - Caterers, DJs, and bands typically use a lot of equipment. If you're hiring one of these service providers, make sure you find out how much space they'll need before deciding on a tent size.

    Canopies for Business Events

    Determining the right size for a canopy to be used as company sales booth or display center can actually be simpler than figuring out what you would need for a party shelter. Because you're usually more concerned with housing objects than people, adding up the dimensions of all of the items you want to accommodate can actually give you a pretty good idea of how much space you're going to need for a business function. You will, of course, have to provide some maneuvering room for the people manning your tent and its visitors, but because they'll follow the path your layout dictates, it will be much easier to calculate the amount of space they'll need.

    Storage Shelters

    The simplest way to figure out an appropriate size for a storage canopy is to add up the dimensions of all of the items you'd like to store, and then add a few feet to all of those totals in order to allow room for new purchases. If you're interested in using your canopy to protect vehicles, however, there are a few other things you should consider before making a purchase:

    1. How many vehicles do you need to protect?
    If you plan to protect more than one car, boat, or truck you need to provide enough room to comfortably park all of them. There's no real rule as to how much space you'll need to leave; you'll have to decide based on the overall size of each vehicle, the type of vehicle it is (a boat attached to a truck is going to be much more unwieldy than a car), and your preferences.

    2. What kind of vehicles do you need to protect?
    As mentioned above, the type of vehicles you need to store affects how much extra space you'll need to provide for parking. It also affects the amount of room you'll want to allow for general maneuvering. If, for example, you're housing multiple cars and don't leave space to open doors and trunks, you're going to have serious problems (and probably some dented vehicles). Even if you're only housing one car, you could still have issues if you don't consider maneuvering room when selecting a size; no one wants to park underneath a canopy only to open the door into rain or snow.

    Part 3: Construction Matters

    The materials used to construct a canopy affect its weight, strength, and cost. Knowing a bit more about your options will help you determine what kind of frame and top would be best for you.


    Portable canopy frames are typically made with steel or aluminum. The one that's right for you will depend on your priorities. Read on to learn more about the advantages and disadvantages of each material.

    If you're looking to maximize portability aluminum is definitely the way to go. Aluminum is much lighter than steel and is consequently more convenient to carry. Frames crafted from aluminum can also be easier to set up, not because of any major design differences, but because they literally take less effort to move. The difference in weight may not be that noticeable when you're setting up your tent with someone else, but it's something to consider if you ever anticipate having to assemble your canopy by yourself.

    Aluminum also has an edge when it comes to corrosion resistance. Rather than rust as it deteriorates, it forms aluminum oxide, a hard substance that actually prevents further corrosion. Unfortunately, there is no amount of corrosion resistance that can allow aluminum to match steel when it comes to overall strength. It's much more likely to bend than steel and consequently can't withstand the same kind of abuse. Therefore it's best suited for situations where a light weight is more important than structural fortitude.

    A steel canopy frame is going to be your best choice if durability is your priority. They're stronger than ones made with aluminum and their extra weight, while not desirable when it comes to transportation, makes them much more stable in extreme weather. That's why semi-permanent shelters always have steel frames.

    Steel's only real structural weakness is its susceptibility to corrosion. Unlike aluminum, steel doesn't have a natural defense against deterioration; it must be treated in order to prevent rust and related damage. Generally these treatments are quite effective, but there's no way to guarantee you won't ever have problems. You may also have to periodically re-treat a steel tent in order to keep it in good condition.


    Though some are stronger than others, there's no single ideal top material. The one that's right for you is the one that will best satisfy your physical and financial needs. Below is some information about the three most popular materials.
    1. Polyester - This is the least expensive canopy top material. All varieties of polyester are durable and water-resistant, but the thicker a fabric is, the tougher it's going to be. Look for tops with a higher denier if you're interested in maximizing your shelter's strength. Just keep in mind that stronger fabrics are also heavier, so a heavy-duty polyester top may not be ideal if you're going to be doing a lot of traveling.
    2. Polyethylene - Polyethylene is the material of choice for heavy-duty portable garages and carports. It's tougher than polyester and does a better job of filtering out UV rays. It is also usually waterproof and tends to maintain its strength better over time. In terms of cost, polyethylene tops fall somewhere between polyester and vinyl so they can be a good choice if you're looking to balance durability and economy.
    3. Vinyl - Vinyl tent tops, which are actually made of polyester that has been given a vinyl coating, also offer better UV protection and weather resistance than ones made of polyester. Most are waterproof and many are certified flame resistant. Vinyl can be quite heavy, though, so make sure to keep an eye on a top's weight if portability is important to you.

    Part 4: Customizing Your Canopy

    Even though portable and semi-permanent canopies usually come with everything required to set them up, you may still need a few accessories in order to create your ideal shelter. Below is some information about some of the most common varieties.

    Stakes and Anchors

    Regardless of whether you're interested in an ultra-light pop up or a heavy-duty portable garage, proper anchoring is essential for your shelter's stability. The kind of stabilizer you'll need will depend on the kind of canopy you have as well as where you're going to be using it. Below is a little bit more information about your anchoring options.
    1. Stakes - These are the most popular kind of anchoring device for pop up-style tents. In fact, many models come with them. They work well for most situations, but they aren't really suitable for use at the beach because they can't get a solid grip in sand. You also shouldn't use them in extremely high winds.
    2. Auger-Style Anchors - The corkscrew design of this kind of anchor provides a stronger hold than stakes. They're ideal for use in grass, clay, asphalt, and unpacked soil, but, like stakes, aren't a good choice for sand. You'll find them for both instant canopies and heavy-duty structures because they're completely reusable.
    3. Hook Anchors - Hook anchors are suitable for anchoring structures in grass, clay, gravel, asphalt, and hard-packed or rocky soil. They're quite easy to use and don't require digging or create large holes the way auger-style anchors can. You can't reuse them, though, so they're only appropriate for semi-permanent shelters.
    4. Concrete and Cement Anchors - These are the anchors you would need if you wanted to install your shelter on a concrete or cement surface. You'll only find them for semi-permanent structures because, like hook models, they can only be used once.
    5. Weight Bags - Available only for pop up canopies, these accessories rely on extra weight rather than a physical connection with the ground to keep your shelter stable. Using them is as simple as attaching them to the legs of your tent and filling them with sand or rocks. They're appropriate for almost any location, including at the beach.


    SidewallThese are very popular canopy accessories because of their versatility. The same set of sidewalls can provide your shelter with additional weather protection, privacy, and a more sophisticated appearance. They're also useful at business functions where you're trying to set your tent apart from its surroundings.

    In terms of options, you've got almost as many as you do when selecting a canopy. There are opaque walls, transparent walls, and ones with faux windows. It's even possible to buy mesh sidewalls for those occasions where you need bug protection, but don't want to sacrifice visibility or airflow. You should keep in mind, though, that not all manufacturers offer every type of sidewall. Your choices may be limited by the kind of canopy you're interested in.

    Custom Graphics

    If you're using your shelter for business purposes you may want to take advantage of its visibility by adding some custom graphics. Though it varies from manufacturer to manufacturer, you'll typically be able to add your own images to a tent's peak, valances, and sidewalls. Many companies also offer table covers as part of their custom graphics packages.

    Of course, cost rather than style is the most important concern for most canopy buyers. Unfortunately, there's no way to know how much adding custom graphics will cost without contacting a retailer; variables like graphic size, the number of colors per image, and the number of images you want all affect the overall price. Most retailers, though, will be happy to provide you with a quote and complimentary rendering in order to help you determine what will work best for you.

    Part 5: Additional Information

    You now know how to determine what kind of portable canopy is right for you. There are, however, a few other things you should consider before making a purchase.


    Many towns have laws regulating the use of tents and other semi-permanent structures. Typically, you won't need a permit for smaller canopies or pop ups, but it's best to find out what your local government's policies are before you buy a shelter. That way, if it turns out that you do need a permit, you'll be able to make sure your tent can meet any structural requirements.

    Flame Certificates

    These documents certify that a canopy's fabric is flame-resistant and meets certain fire codes. They're usually required in order to get a permit and you'll often have to provide one in order to participate in conferences, even if they're taking place indoors. Most shelters have flammability certificates, but you'll occasionally find lower-end models that don't. If you're looking for a flame-resistant canopy and are having trouble determining if the canopy you're interested in has been certified, it's a good idea to consult your retailer before ordering.

    Waterproof vs. Water-Resistant

    Portable canopy tops are either waterproof or water-resistant. Waterproof models are completely impervious to water, most often as a result of receiving a special treatment or coating. Water-resistant tops, on the other hand, can withstand prolonged exposure to moisture, but are ultimately still vulnerable to water penetration and can suffer related damage. The kind of top a shelter has largely depends on its style. Pop up tents, for example, usually have water-resistant tops while semi-permanent canopies often have waterproof ones.

    Why the difference in usage? Well, unfortunately, most waterproof materials simply can't handle rapid installation and frequent use as well as water-resistant ones. So for instant-style tents, which are constantly being put up and taken down, the additional protection isn't worth the reduction in durability. For shelters designed to be used as long-term building replacements, though, installation-related wear isn't as serious of concern because they're assembled and disassembled less often. And, because semi-permanent canopies are exposed to the elements for extended periods, they need to be as moisture-resistant as possible.

    Fabric Measurements

    Comparing canopy tops can be quite challenging if you're not familiar with the methods used to measure them. Below are explanations of the two most commonly used fabric measurements.

    Denier - Canopy tops are sometimes described as having a certain denier. Denier is a measurement of fabric thickness 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 325g, then its denier would be 325. And because a higher denier indicates a higher weight, materials with a higher denier are generally going to be tougher. 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 fabrics. Since every material has its own strength to weight ratio, it's entirely possible for a 220D fabric to be stronger than a 410D one.

    Ounce Weight - Some canopy top materials, particularly vinyl, are listed by their ounce weight. This number refers not to the total weight of the material used, but to how much a square yard of that particular material weighs. So if, for example, a tent top is described as being made of 14 oz. vinyl, it means that a square yard of the vinyl used to make it weighs fourteen ounces. Knowing this number can be helpful when selecting a canopy because the higher a top's ounce weight is, the tougher and more opaque it will be.

    Part 6: Making a Selection

    Regardless of whether you're searching for a pop up or a rugged semi-permanent shelter, you've got a lot choices. But now that you've got a bit more information, sorting through them won't be nearly as overwhelming. As long as you take the time to consider your needs before you start your search, finding the right portable canopy can be a quick and stress-free process.
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