Like many people who live in the great (and unfairly maligned) state of New Jersey, I am a beach person. I spend a few weeks out of the summer on the beach, baking in the sun, and taking the occasional break to stroll down the boardwalk with a soft-serve cone in one hand and a basket of cheese fries in the other.
Very recently, I became a beach person who is also a mother. My daughter is nine months old, still sensitive, fragile, and new to the world. Despite these qualities, which necessitate being cautious about where her father and I take her, I knew that I couldn’t give up my summer weekends on the beach. I just needed to figure out a way for her to hang out on the beach with me safely — protected from the scratchy sand and the sun’s harsh rays. Thankfully, I discovered the best beach tent for babies, which turned out to be absolutely essential.
A little background first: In case you weren’t aware, The Jersey Shore (although thanks to a certain pop culture phenomenon, you probably already are; thanks Snooki!) is home to some of the best beaches in, well, the world, if I can toot my state’s horn for a second. And they are almost all, across the board, extremely family-friendly. For out-of-towners looking for an affordable beach vacation for their family, and locals alike, the Jersey Shore is a great destination.
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That being said, if you have young kids, taking them to the beach is risky. When they are my daughter’s age, babies tend to sit around, happy to be held or to play with their toys for a few hours — but there are dangers involved. Even if you slather your baby in sunscreen (which I do), young ones are susceptible to sunburn, and for them, it is extra painful and uncomfortable. And if they accidentally grab a handful of sand and push it into their eyes? Game over. Your day at the beach is done — and not only that, you’re likely to spend the rest of the day washing sand out of a wailing, fidgeting baby’s eyeballs.
That’s why it doesn’t work to simply throw a beach towel in your bag and plop your baby (especially if they are under one) on it under a rented umbrella and hope for the best. A tent is a great option—and trust me when I say that I have seen families bring actual camping tents down to the beach and set up their kids inside them. But there is also some gear that was created for this exact purpose, and the best beach tent for babies that I’ve found is the Babymoov Aquani Tent & Pool. This tent folds up easily into a carrier, is light enough to carry down to the beach without being a hassle, and it’s a pop-up tent, meaning you don’t have to assemble it once you’re on the beach. It even comes with stakes so you can anchor it to the sand so you don’t have to worry about it blowing away.
The best beach tent for babies needs to pass a couple of other inspection points: First of all, even if you rented or brought your own umbrella to the beach, your tent needs to have its own canopy or shade of some kind for an extra barrier against the sun. It also needs sides. This is crucial. It can’t be flat because babies — notoriously curious but incautious creatures — need a barrier between them and the sand. Left to their own devices, babies will grab, touch, smush, and scoop the sand all over their faces and bodies, and then you’ve got problems. And even a slight gust of wind — common on the beach — can blow sand into their eyes and mouth.
The Babymoov tent hits all these essential points. And it gets even better! There’s a thick, soft mattress insert, which offers a soft surface for your babe to sit on comfortably for hours at a time. However, if you remove it, the bottom of the tent transforms into a water-safe wading pool.
This feature is important for a couple of reasons: Young babies aren’t quite ready to hit the surf yet, but if you’re a beach person, you probably want to get them used to ocean water so that one day they’ll be able to play in the waves without getting scared. Dumping a couple of bucket fulls of ocean water in the tent or pool is a smart, effective way to get your baby acclimated to the feel and the temperature of ocean water—and near to mom and dad, they’ll feel safe enough to splash happily in the water. Oh, and here’s another big plus: sitting in cool water for a few minutes will help your baby cool down on hot days.
The other great thing about the Babymoov tent is that, as I mentioned, it includes its own detachable canopy. I leave it on when we’re at the beach, but I take it off when we’re in the backyard at our house, where the sun isn’t as extreme and she’s comfortable in the shade. However, the canopy also includes a length of netting, which can be pulled back from the canopy or stretched forward to encompass the entire tent, protecting your baby from bugs and wind. This extra barrier from the elements might just be for the parents’ peace of mind, but when it comes to protecting your baby from inclement weather, there’s no way to really go overboard.
Finally, this tent is roomy. I dumped her favorite toys in the tent and my daughter played peacefully for at least four hours, which gave me a much-needed break from baby duty all while I was assured that she was safe from sand and sun. And guess what? I know it worked because she didn’t get a sunburn. And when we took her home to rinse her off in the sink at our beach house—and I’m not exaggerating when I say this—I didn’t see any sand flow into the drain, which feels a little miraculous. All these elements combined make it the best beach tent for babies.
Beach people, hear me: This tent is safe! It protects your baby from sunburn. It doesn’t let the sand in. It gives them enough room to play without feeling confined. You’ll be able to relax on the beach (what else is the beach for?), knowing that your baby is having a good time too. And really, that’s all the beach is about. Have a good time, no matter how old you are.