First Hand Experience and Review of a Cool Cabana
We put the lightweight Cool Cabana pop up beach canopy to the test during a West Coast vacation.
Perhaps more of a sail or awning than a canopy tent, the Shibumi Shade is an innovative take on the beach tent that has caught the attention of vacationers up and down the Carolina. And so our team received tons of requests to do a review to see if it’s worth the high price tag. So we dug into how it works, their patented design, how to set it up, the quality of materials, the fabric stitching, the pros and cons, how it compares to other beach tents, and ultimately if we think it is worth the price tag. But before we get into the Shibumi Shade review, let’s first learn about the idea and team behind this beach canopy because we think it’s an important part in the success of their growing brand.
The story starts when two brothers, Dane and Scott, and their best friend Alex were on their annual summer vacation in Emerald Isle, North Carolina. This annual trip to the Carolina coast was said to be their favorite week of the year, getting to relax and spend time with family and friends. But their relaxing week was disrupted when they were tasked with carrying umbrellas and heavy canopy tents down to the beach and setting them up every day. They quickly realized 10x10 pop up canopy tents were awkward and heavy to carry while traditional beach umbrellas were flimsy and cheaply made.
So, they put their heads together to design a lightweight shade canopy to save themselves the hassle of lugging the tents back and forth every day. After a few trips to the local hardware store and the help of YouTube in learning how to sew, the very first Shibumi Shade canopy was born.
That week at the beach the trio had countless people come up and ask them where they got it. It was that interest which inspired the following year of late nights as they patiently perfected the design into what is today, and a journey of them becoming accidental entrepreneurs.
It is a shade tent made of two parts, a 17’ x 9’ piece of lightweight polyester fabric and a collection of aluminum poles that when connected make a 25’ long pole that can be formed into an arch when inserted into the sand. The free-flowing polyester sheet is held up entirely by the ocean breeze and is said to “work with the wind, not against it”, but we'll dig into that claim and see if it holds up (pun intended).
The term Shibumi derives from a Japanese Zen concept that is defined as the ability to achieve maximum effect with the minimum means. It was coincidentally the name of the trio’s student housing while attending UNC Chapel Hill, the Shibumi Apartments. And so, they thought it was the perfect name for their new minimalistic beach tent design.
The tent fabric is made of an exceptionally thin and lightweight polyester which is essential to the free-flowing wind powered design. Their website says that there needs to be at least 3 mph of wind to keep the canopy afloat, and in our research we found this to be accurate as a handful of customers measured wind at 2 mph and reported the sail to collapse and ‘fell asleep’ at that speed. The good news is that one would be hard pressed to find a beach that does not have 3 mph sustained winds, but it’s something to keep in mind. The last thing one would want on a hot beach day with no wind would be no shade, but sadly that might be the case with Shibumi Shade.
Many have said that during moderate to windy conditions on the beach the polyester flapping in the breeze can be quite loud. Some customers find this to be relaxing and more like white noise, but others have said it is one of the biggest cons of the tent as it can be quite annoying and even obnoxious in gusts greater than 10 mph. Fortunately, the noise is significantly reduced when standing just a few feet away so don’t be overly concerned about your neighbors becoming too annoyed.
If exposed to winds greater than 15-20 mph for prolonged duration, the back seam that flaps in the wind may become damaged and begin to fray over time. Shibumi does offer a free repair kit that should aid in fixing the damage, which a testament to their outlook on exceptional customer service and user experience. We love that the material is manufactured and sewn in the United States, so the quality of the stitching is of much higher than many of their competitors that outsource the manufacturing.
The original polyester fabric had a sun protection rating of 30+ UPF, but the new material is rated 50+ UPF which was a necessary improvement for a tent intended for beach use. The 17’ x 9’ dimensions of the fabric offer 150 square feet of shade, which is 1/3 more than a traditional 10x10 canopy. We found that you can comfortably fit 4 chairs underneath but could accommodate up to 6 chairs side-by-side if needed.
The poles are interconnected with a bungee cord which makes connecting them together quick and easy. After snapping all the connections into place, the pole will measure approximately 25’ in length. Shibumi recommends arching the poles to an apex of 7’ in the middle, which will provide the greatest stability for the frame and maximum shade coverage. An apex of 7’ results in the two ends of the poles measuring approx. 19’ apart from where they enter the sand, which we think might be difficult to manage at a crowded beach. We think taking up 19’ of coveted waterfront real estate on the beach might be a big ask, even perhaps an impossible task for many vacationers that like to sit close to the water at popular beaches.
The tent is very easy to set up, and many customers have said that by themselves it takes them between 4-8 minutes to have the tent fully assembled. Start by removing the poles from the carrying bag and connect them together to form the 25’ long pole. Next, thread the pole through the canopy loop channel until the entire fabric is evenly spaced across the pole. Be extremely careful during this step as the polyester is lightweight and too much force could cause a piece of the fabric to snag on a pole connector and create a small tear. Wrap the elastic bands around the pole three times and snap them into place, keeping them securely fastened and preventing the polyester from sliding on the pole.
Next, place the poles perpendicular to the direction of the wind so that the canopy sheet can best catch the breeze. Bury one end of the pole 6” – 8” into the sand and bend the other end until the center apex of the arch measures approximately 7’ high. Dig the second end of the pole 6” – 8” into the sand. Lastly, fill the carrying bag with sand and position it in the front of the tent and tether it to the apex of the pole which will securely fasten the entire frame and act as a counterweight to prevent swaying during windy conditions.
When your beach day is over and you’re ready to pack up, you’ll need to remove the fabric from the pole. Again, be careful not to use too much force during this step as it could cause nicks and tears in the canopy fabric. This process of threading the fabric through the pole and removing it from the pole during each use will increase the chances of damaging the fabric over time, and at the very least might be a hassle. Many older generation camping tents have replaced threading poles through tent channels with a fully assembled hub system for these very reasons. Of course, with only one pole Shibumi Shade can’t accommodate this new design and it is much easier than tents with 8 fiberglass support rods, but improvements in pole design and fabric material will be welcomed over the years to help reduce repetitive snags and tears.
The design is a fun, innovative, and well-made beach tent that leverages the wind to power the shade, which means it’s able to do away with the typical frame needed to support a canopy. The result is a lightweight portable tent that weighs just 4 lbs., allowing even the smallest family member to tote it to the beach. With its minimalistic design it lacks a rigid structure, so it won’t fly away in a strong gust or go tumbling down the beach like we’ve all seen with 10x10 canopy tents. The tent can be set up by just one person, which is a feature that we always love to see in beach canopies. The 150 sq. ft. of shade is significantly more than what most pop up canopy tents offer. We especially love that all Shibumi Shade products are made in America.
Overall, we think it has one of the coolest design aesthetics in this space and having one will undoubtedly have people coming up to you asking you what it’s called and where you got it. They of course know this, so included in the carrying bag is a handful of business cards for you to hand out when it inevitably happens.
In our opinion, there are quite a few cons with the Shibumi Shade tent. First, and most obvious, is that if there is no breeze at all the tent simply doesn’t work. While rare, a hot stagnant day on the beach is when shade is needed most, and we wouldn’t want to find ourselves without it on those days. On the flip side, if it is too windy the tent flapping in the wind becomes quite loud and can become annoying after just a few minutes. Additionally, if the wind changes direction you might find yourself frequently having to adjust the legs to keep the sail flapping in the wind. Also, to that effect, because the canopy is subject to the direction of the wind you might find yourself with an obstructed view of the ocean if the breeze is blowing out to sea. Perfect conditions would be sustained winds between 3 – 10 mph coming off the ocean, but it’s not reasonable to always expect those conditions and there will certainly be days that aren’t so favorable.
The polyester fabric only offers 30+ UPF compared to 50+ UPF of most other beach tent options. It’s designed with an ocean breeze and copious beach sand in mind, and because of that it’s not as multipurpose as other tents. It and can’t really be used at events like street fairs, tailgates, and kids soccer tournaments. And on a crowded shoreline, it is quite large with its 19’ width so those that prefer waterfront seating might find it difficult to find the needed space to set up. Lastly, the price is currently $250 on ShibumiShade.com which is almost double every other beach tent on the market.
If your interest in reading this Shibumi Shade review was due to its lightweight design, but you’re turned off due to the high price tag, we want to highlight two beach canopy alternatives that are lightweight and offer many of the same benefits at a much lower price point.
Neso and Sun Ninja tents were designed as lightweight beach canopy tents able to withstand windy coastal conditions and block the sun’s harmful UV rays. Weighing only 7 lbs., each tent uses sand as anchors so you get the rock-solid stability but can leave the weight at the beach when it’s time to go home. The 50+ UPF lycra fabric blocks 99% UV rays and is water resistant. And with four lightweight aluminum poles supporting the fabric, the wind (or lack thereof) and its direction won’t impact your set up in the least. We absolutely love the Neso and Sun Ninja tents, and at the time of writing this they are $90 less than the Shibumi Shade.