People say throwing shade like it’s a bad thing, but I don’t know, when you live and play in the desert it seems that getting out of the sun would be something you’d want to do. Kids today and their crazy slang.

REI’s Screen House is a solution to a problem I’ve had for years–how to create shade and shelter in a way that’s fast, light, easy to set up, and doesn’t fill half the cargo space in your rig. I’ve considered (or tried) everything from cheap tarps and paracord to festival-style popups to rack-mounted awnings. Either they don’t work well, they aren’t mobile enough, or they cost a fortune.

The Screen House, though, ticks off all the boxes. Standing 84 inches at its tallest point, the Screen House weighs 13 pounds and comes in a duffel that measures 9 by 29 inches. It erects using two poles (in six pieces) and takes me an average of 4 minutes 10 seconds to set up—and that’s with stakes in the ground. In short, it’s not too heavy, not too bulky, and not difficult to get in place.


The footprint of the Screen House is roughly that of my office—10 feet by 10 feet—which doesn’t sound like much until you’re looking for the perfect spot and then it seems huge, like, plenty big enough for a dance party or two. I’ve plopped it down over a picnic table, set up in a meadow for a nap, and used it to cut the midday heat in a Forest Service campground. If bugs aren’t an issue, you can unzip one of both of the two screen doors and let the breeze come through; if it’s been wet and the gnats and skeeters are doing their buzzy thing, you can zip without it feeling stuffy inside.

Given that $250 isn’t what you’d call cheap, it’s probably not too much to ask the Screen House to pull double duty as a sleeping tent—certainly, people are buying it for that. So, how’s that work? Pretty good, but it depends on conditions. It’s a glass house, so to speak, so everyone can see your business. With 100 square feet, you can fit a pack or two of Cub Scouts. The water-resistant roof will keep a light rain from flooding your sleep, and you can add a rain fly for extra protection (although I didn’t try it, REI’s is panned as ineffective, so most people buy one from L.L. Bean). On the other hand, the walls are mesh, and with the profile of a garden shed even the slightest breeze will send an un-staked Screen House on walkabout.

But what do you want? The Screen House was designed for light duty, to keep bugs from buggin’ ya and sun from baking you. So far, it’s the best option I’ve found for that. If you want four-season, alpine use, buy a four-season alpine tent. But if you want to throw a little shade on yourself, the Screen House is an excellent choice.

$249 • BUY

A Few More Screen and Shade Options

The Big Agnes Sugarloaf Camp costs a bit more, but can be set up as a screen tent, tent and fly, or fly only. $299

Do your adventuring in Arizona, where the most obnoxious bugs are banned by law? The Kelty Shademaker 2 is your answer. $199

The North Face Homestead Shelter is half tent, half awning—it’s a quick popup roof with one nylon and two screen walls. $239

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