Social distancing rules are expected to drag into the coming months as vaccine rollout remains sluggish and Covid-19 keeps spreading. Indoor dining is still inadvisable and gathering inside someone’s home isn’t safe. Some Americans are turning to outdoor gatherings to maintain a sense of normalcy. But moving the party outdoors in the middle of winter comes with its own set of challenges, including low temperatures and unexpected weather — and outdoor tent sales are spiking.
“There’s been a huge uptick in outdoor furniture, as people entertain more outside. People are buying up party tents and canopies. We even saw a trend of people carrying around a beach chair in the back of their car in case they met up with friends outside,” said Jen Carter, director of corporate marketing at ShelterLogic, an outdoor tent and canopy company. “People are staying home and upgrading their spaces.”
How to find the best outdoor tents
While prices vary, you generally “get what you pay for” when it comes to outdoor furniture, said Jess Flanders, vice president of marketing at Lloyd Flanders, an outdoor furniture retailer.
“Outdoor furniture is made from a wide range of materials that vary significantly in quality and durability,” she explained. “It's worth it to invest once and enjoy durable pieces that will withstand the elements for years to come.”
Best canopy tents and outdoor tents
If you’re looking for an enclosure for your outdoor space, Philip Junglas, MD, a physician of internal medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, recommended shopping for open-air tents or choosing an enclosed tent that's designed to allow for airflow. For example, consider outdoor tents with removable doors or flaps. Avoid closed tents, like yurts, that stifle air flow.
“It’s only a matter of time before there’s enough virus in the air to infect everyone inside,” Junglas noted.
“The key is air flow,” said Mitchell Grayson, MD, chair of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America’s Medical Scientific Council. “Many yurts are just smaller enclosed spaces that happen to be outside. A tent, if it allows airflow, would be much better — but avoid ones with four walls.”
Unless you’re looking to permanently alter your outdoor space, shoppers should look for products that are easy to set up and tear down, said Carter. Tents should fully cover where you plan to gather (in case of rain or snow) and concurrently allow for social distancing. If you live in warm or humid climates, consider a tent with mosquito netting, which prevents bugs from getting in, while still allowing for open air flow.
This canopy tent covers up to 100 square feet, and comes in multiple sizes and colors, depending on your space needs and aesthetic preferences. This model also has three side walls and one door wall, but users can unzip the doors or remove the enclosure altogether to increase airflow to the space. Tent fabric is waterproof, and comes with ropes and stakes for added stability against wind and other weather elements.
This affordable pop-up gazebo comes in four colors — brown, grey, tan and black — and is water resistant. It covers up to 84 square feet. It has a durable steel frame and comes with transparent mesh panels to keep out mosquitos and other insects. This model only weighs 35 pounds and comes with a bag for easy storage.
This pop-up tent has four tarped walls that can be easily removed to increase air flow. It’s made for easy assembly and tear down without any tools. The tent comes with a roller bag for storage and four sandbags to hold the structure down. Shoppers can choose between 17 colors and five sizes by total square feet: 64, 96, 100, 150 and 200. Users can also adjust tent height to be as tall as 11 feet. The tent’s fabric is made of fire retardant and is sealed to prevent water from leaking in.
This outdoor tent is entirely open, allowing for plenty of airflow. It’s made with weather-resistant sheets and has a nylon mosquito net to prevent bugs from getting in. Nets can be easily clipped to the frame to open up the space. Shoppers can choose from three sizes — 100, 120 and 140 square feet — depending how many people they plan to host. All tents are nine feet tall.
This stylish pop-up gazebo comes with adjustable screens for added insulation (and to keep out bugs) and has an aluminum frame for stability. It’s weather-resistant between less than a degree and 158 degrees Fahrenheit, and weighs 40 pounds. It can shade up to 100 square feet and comes with a bag for easy storage.
Are outdoor gatherings safe?
Gathering outdoors is safer than gathering inside, said Grayson. There’s typically sufficient air flow, which lessens the likelihood of transmission, he explained — regardless, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises you maintain social distancing rules and, of course, keep your face mask on.
When you’re inside, the air is often recirculated and isn’t refreshed often, which means airborne droplets carrying the virus can hang in the air longer. A December 2020 study from the University of California estimates the odds of indoor virus transmission through the air are almost 19 times higher than in the outdoors. But health experts stress: Gathering outdoors does not make you immune to catching Covid. The virus can still spread through the air, depending on how far away you are from someone who’s infected.
How to stay safe outside
While an outdoor gathering is preferable to an indoor one, they’re certainly not as safe as not gathering at all. Experts outlined a couple safety tips for anyone hosting or attending an outdoor gathering:
Keep your distance. The CDC recommends remaining at least six feet apart from those not in your immediate household — and limiting your time with others, if possible.
Keep your voice down. It’s not just to avoid annoying neighbors. Screaming or singing can boost the chances of releasing droplets and airborne particles in the air, Grayson explained.
Wear your face mask. While you may have to remove your mask to eat and drink, Grayson advised spreading yourselves apart even more while eating and drinking, and putting your mask back on as soon as you’re done.
Wash your hands frequently. While you’re less likely to touch an infectious surface at an outdoor gathering, there are still handles, glasses, plates and other items that many have touched, Junglas noted.
Avoid touching communal items altogether. Bring your own drinks, food utensils or plates. If you do share items, wash your hands immediately after and avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
Monitor alcohol intake. Covid precautions may fly out the window once you start drinking. Junglas encourages adults to be responsible with how much they drink at any outdoor gathering — someone under the influence may be more likely to engage in risky behavior (like removing your mask or going indoors) or have an accident like tripping and falling (especially dangerous if there are heating lamps nearby).
Stick to your “bubble.” These self-contained networks of friends or family who agree to follow the same Covid rules can limit your exposure to the virus.
Stick to your principles. “No one really wants to wear a mask, but be bold,” said Junglas. “It’s OK to be the only one wearing one, because it shows you know how masks reduce the spread.”
While these best practices aren’t guaranteed to prevent you from getting sick, they can drastically minimize the risk, said Junglas. And if you’re outside in cold temperatures, don’t forget to wear a coat.