You could try to have a beach picnic with just a blanket, but you know that sand is going to get everywhere. And blankets aren't very convenient if you're trying to accommodate a large group. The solution is an easy-to-carry beach table -- and there are hundreds to choose from. This shopping guide will help you narrow those options down. Our top pick, the Yahill Aluminum Folding Beach Table, is compact and lightweight, while providing a sturdy surface for food and drinks.
Considerations when choosing beach tables
Size: It's obviously important, but it's an area where buyers make mistakes. A frequent complaint from customers is that when the beach table arrives, it's smaller than they expected.
If you're having trouble picturing the size of the table you're shopping for, get a couple of old cardboard boxes and some sticky tape, and make a quick mock-up. It's a bit of a hassle, but not as much as having to send one back.
Materials: Salt water is extremely corrosive, so the materials used in your beach table are important. Polyester mesh (often branded as Oxford fabric) is used in the majority of "cloth" style tables. It's tough, waterproof, and resistant to UV damage. Look for a strength of 600 denier or higher. But while cloth tables can also include cup holders, its main disadvantage is that the surface is still somewhat flexible and not as easy to eat off as a solid table.
Wooden tops look great and have a quality feel, but they also need extra care and a protective coating that's reapplied periodically, if they're going to last. Aluminum is quite resistant to salty air. The shine will dull eventually, but it provides a strong and lightweight surface and doesn't rust. It comes in several colors, sometimes with a woodgrain effect applied.
Table legs are usually steel or aluminum tubes. The former should be powder-coated to prevent rust.
Portability: For your table to be useful, it's got to be light. Only then will it be easy to throw in the trunk and to carry to the beach and back. Some beach tables are very small -- they'll fit in a backpack -- but that usually means that the table will be small when it's unfolded as well. Most beach tables can fold into relatively compact bags. A few -- such as those with built-in chairs -- are larger, but the clever design means they still fold up into a single case. Weight ranges from around two pounds to a little over 20 pounds.
You'll also want to think about how easy your table will be to put together and take apart. Cheap beach tables often come without instructions, so beware!
Cup holders are useful, especially on windy days. Some beach tables have hanging bags to put bits and pieces in, so you can keep them handy. A few provide a second shelf, giving you more usable space. In general, these features clip together, so no extra tools are needed, but you might want to check before you buy. Larger models may include a hole for a beach umbrella -- a few even come with one included.
Beach table prices
A beach table is not an expensive purchase. There's a truly enormous choice of lightweight, portable models that sell for between $25 and $45. All our favorites fall within this bracket. You'll generally pay a little more for solid wood tops (add another $10). Even the larger models with four seats built in are likely to be under $70.
Q. How do I look after my beach table?
A. It depends what your table is made of, but it's always a good idea to wipe or rinse off salt and sand when you get home. Leave your table to dry before putting it away, as damp conditions will encourage mold. Wooden tabletops might need a coat of varnish every few years. The manufacturer should provide details.
Q. Are the chairs shown in the product picture also included?
A. Not usually. Photographers use various items to show what the beach table might look like in use, but unless the listing specifically says "table and chairs," you will only get the table.
Beach tables we recommend
Best of the best: Yahill Aluminum Folding Beach Table
Our take: High-quality, smart, and durable knee-high table for outdoor dining.
What we like: Stylish appearance. Corrosion resistant with a surface that's easy to clean. Nice and sturdy when assembled. Folds quickly into convenient bag. Its 44-pound capacity takes plenty of food. Larger size also available.
What we dislike: A bit difficult to assemble and comes with no instructions. Smaller than some buyers expected.
Best bang for your buck: Fruiteam Folding Beach Table
Our take: Very lightweight, collapsible table for camping, hiking, and the beach
What we like: Good-sized surface with two cup holders and pockets. Useful bag supplied, or can fit in rucksack. Tough 600D fabric and aluminum legs support up to 66 pounds.
What we dislike: It's okay as a support for food, but not for actually eating off.
Choice 3: BeachMall Beach Cart and Folding Table
Our take: An interesting solution for those who take plenty of gear to the beach.
What we like: Powder-coated steel frame for durability. Big wheels for easy rolling in sand (which are removable for storage). Can carry up to 75 pounds of gear. Table surface is a decent size.
What we dislike: Too low for chairs. Expensive. Variable quality control.
Bob Beacham is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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