The Best Umbrella Review
When precipitation begins to fall, which umbrella is the best to have in hand? To tackle this question, we rounded up 10 of the top contenders and rigorously tested them side-by-side, drop-by-drop. When the skies opened up, so did our 10 canopies. We spent hours walking through rain and wind storms to see just how each product performed. From Seattle to New York and many places in between, these umbrellas got plenty of use. In the end, we ranked them all in categories ranging from rain protection, to durability, to ease of use and transportation, and, of course, style. If you're looking for an overhead canopy to keep you dry on those rainy days, we've got all the information you need to pick the model that best suits your needs.
Read the full review below >
Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
Best Overall Umbrella
REI Travel Umbrella
The REI Travel earned its place as our Editors' Choice by providing a high quality product inside a small package. Its relatively light weight and small packed size ensured that we could slip it into a purse or backpack and simply forget about it. When the rain hit, we could quickly deploy it at the touch of a button. This same button also collapses the canopy, and auto corrects it in case it inverts. We were impressed by the large diameter of the canopy, which we also found adequately deep when the rain flew sideways. Extra features like the carabiner and elastic drawcord on the sleeve made transporting it, wet or dry, a cakewalk. While it doesn't speak volumes in the fashion department, we did like the quiet, sleek design of the REI Travel. Furthermore, we find the $35 price tag makes it a great value. We highly recommend our Editors' Choice winner as an all-around champion for both city slickers and world adventurers.
Easy to use
Long for a compact model
Best Bang for the Buck
totes Blue Line Auto Wooden
We loved using the Totes Blue Line Auto Wooden in pretty much any weather condition, and with its $20 price tag, we couldn't help but give it our Best Buy Award. This non-compact model provides the best rain protection of any product we reviewed thanks to its huge 42.5 inch canopy diameter and 11 inch depth. Not once in all of our testing did the Blue Line flip inside out or collapse because of the wind. It looks and feels sturdy with its strong wooden shaft, metal frame, and spokes for additional support. With normal use, we would expect this product to last several years. It's strong, but also simple and easy to use, aided by its auto open feature. Our only complaint is that, being non-compact, it is a pain to carry around. However, if you're on a budget and are looking for an umbrella to store in your car or foyer, you can't beat this $20 bargain.
Top Pick for Compact Wind Resistance
If you are looking for a compact canopy and live in an area where rain and strong winds go hand in hand, you should seriously consider the GustBuster Metro. We were "blown away" by its ability to withstand whatever windy situation we put it in, real or artificial. Try as we may, it was the only compact model that never inverted throughout our testing process. Our reviewers were very impressed that such a sturdy product was also so portable! The shaft and frame of hardened steel provide very solid reinforcements to the canopy, which itself is vented to allow air but not rain to pass through. Its resilience in the face of whipping winds improves this products performance in both rain protection and durability. It is a bit bulky and heavy, but we found this to be a fair tradeoff for its superior wind resistance. The Top Pick Award for Compact Wind Resistance goes to the GustBuster Metro for its ability to withstand gusts while remaining easily portable.
Impressive wind resistance
Bulky and heavy for a compact model
Analysis and Test Results
Most of us can relate to this scenario: You're walking on your way to work or class and although the forecast called for clear skies, you feel the wind picking up and a few raindrops splash on top of your dome. All around, you see people picking up their pace and looking for shelter. Lucky for you, you have just what you need in your bag. As you pull out your umbrella, you can't help but grin at your own genius. You're so prepared. Unlucky for you, your product of choice was cheaply constructed and at the first strong gust of wind it has completely inverted. Now, you're that ridiculous cartoon character caught in a storm, fighting with a failed canopy. Don't worry, you're not alone. We've been there too.
In the umbrella world, not all products are created equal - some will protect you from the elements much better than others. The basic design of this product is pretty much the same across the board: a waterproof canopy is stretched across a series of spokes and ribs, supported by a rigid shaft. A portable, handheld roof, if you will, that has been around for centuries. However, as technology has advanced and material engineers keep doing what they do, products have evolved with improvements in quality, portability, and versatility. Frames once made from whale bones have been replaced by hardened steel, plastic, and fiberglass, and heavy canvases have lost the race to fabrics like nylon, polyester, and PVC.
Types of Rain Protection
Today, you have the option between "traditional," non-compact umbrellas and compact ones. The former are classic in their form and generally quite sturdy, albeit cumbersome. The latter are small enough to carry with you at all times in your day bag, yet tend to be less durable. In both categories, there is variation in weight, the size of the canopy, and the size when completely collapsed. These factors impact a model's ability to shield you from poor weather conditions, as well as its ease of use and portability. In this section, we'll also discuss the pros and cons of choosing a rain jacket instead of an umbrella.
These models, also known as traditional or stick umbrellas, once were the only type available. To close, the canopy collapses and wraps around the shaft, leaving you with a cane-like stick. To open, the frame slides up the shaft and deploys the canopy. In the traditional models we tested, the shafts were a single piece of wood or metal, which we found to be quite sturdy. Because their canopies do not compress down, the spokes of the frame on non-compact models don't have as many hinges. Overall, we found the simplicity of traditional models, with less moving parts, resulted in a more durable product capable of withstanding repeated opening and closing. In fact, not once did a non-compact competitor flip inside-out during our testing! Furthermore, we think these versions tend to win more style points with their good looks. We especially enjoyed the classic style of the totes Blue Line.
We think a quality non-compact model should be durable, easy to use, provide good rain protection, and score well in the style department. We find these models best suited for anyone who wants an umbrella to keep in their car or to leave hanging in the foyer.
The downside of non-compact models is their size and weight. The three traditional contenders in this review were the three longest and heaviest of the whole mix. They are too large to carry everywhere you go, which could leave you out of luck in unexpected storms. This limits their use to being stored inside your home, office, or car. Unfortunately, this meant that we didn't always have them when we needed them.
If you need a product that can fit conveniently into a backpack or purse, this is the wrong category for you.
Compact or "travel" models are designed to be with you whenever storms begin to brew. They combine telescoping shafts with folding canopies to be highly portable. Closed, this type takes up significantly less space than its non-compact competitors. They also tend to be much more lightweight than traditional models. They are a great choice for travel, and the only convenient option if you like to keep an umbrella in your bag or briefcase for sudden shower protection.
If you need to be ready for sudden rainstorms on the go, we recommend getting a compact canopy to keep in your backpack, briefcase, or purse.
The factors that make compact umbrellas so easy to transport also makes them less durable. There are a few reasons for this - mainly that there are more moving parts, such as hinges in the stretchers that connect to the ribs to support the canopy. Repeated use and abuse may weaken the hinges, and in one case, we witnessed a stretcher break at the hinge. The extra hinges in compact products also increases the likelihood that the canopy will flip inside-out during high wind. Furthermore, the lightweight shafts of the compact models we tested felt less sturdy, especially when the wind tugged on our canopies. In this review, we awarded the REI Travel Umbrella with our Editors' Choice Award. This high scoring product has a lightweight and compact design but still offers a great amount of protection from the rain.
Wearing a rain jacket is another way to stay dry in the rain, but an overhead canopy offers a few things that a rain jacket doesn't, the first of which is a large amount of ventilation. This is both a blessing and a curse. A rain jacket protects better against the elements, meaning that if the wind picks up and the rain starts to be pushed around by gusts of wind, you're less likely to get wet. On the other hand, a rain jacket may still protect your upper half from rain coming at you sideways, but if it is mid-summer and you live in a hot and humid climate, you're going to sweat inside of a rain jacket. No matter how breathable a jacket claims to be, if it's simultaneously warm and rainy out, you're going to feel like your jacket has become a personal sauna. Carrying an overhead canopy, however, allows air to circulate around you, and thus keep you more comfortable in the long run. And on a hot summer day, the slight chance that you might get a little wet because you're using an umbrella instead of a rain jacket may be a welcomed trade-off.
Additionally, an overhead canopy will almost certainly protect your legs from the rain better than a rain jacket, especially if you're wearing a pair of rain boots! Rain jackets protect your top half, while shedding miniature rivers down right onto your pants. If the canopy is large enough, it can create a pocket completely devoid of rain, which ideally will shelter not just your torso, but your lower body as well. That said, remember that although it may seem instinctual to want to speedily walk to the nearest shelter from the rain, if the length of your stride increases, then you run the risk of your legs actually leaving the canopy's coverage area. So, if you're caught in a rainstorm, take a deep breath, shorten your stride and enjoy yourself. An additional benefit to the overhead canopy is that it can also provide some shade from the blistering summer sun. If you're on a hike, at the beach, or at a park, even a small canopy can be the difference between enjoying your time outdoors and a painful skin peeling sunburn.
If you find yourself walking outside during windy downpours, then a rain jacket may just be your best option (or it might be best to choose both a jacket and a canopy!). A rain jacket is also usually the best option while hiking or backpacking, especially if there is likelihood of lightning, or if it's chilly enough that your rain jacket can serve as an extra layer. An overhead canopy definitely won't be able to keep you warm on cold and windy summits.
Construction & Materials
The materials used in the construction of an umbrella have large implications for the product's performance, particularly in its durability and ease of transport. Materials also play a significant role in the cost of the product. There are generally trade-offs in each step of the material selection process. Often, durability is sacrificed for lightweight materials, and vice versa. Below, we've summarized how the various commonly-used materials stack up. This section will also give you some solid vocabulary for the rest of the review.
The shaft, or stem, is the central pole that connects the handle to the upper frame and canopy. It is typically hollow in order to make room for a spring system that deploys the canopy. Hardened steel and wooden shafts tend to be more durable than aluminum and plastic ones, but add more weight to the product. Durability in the shaft is especially important in high winds. As wind pulls on the canopy, a weak shaft is more likely to bend or snap under the torsional force, commonly where the shaft meets the handle. The three traditional models, the totes Blue Line Auto Wooden, the Fulton Birdcage, and the totes Clear Bubble, have the most durable shafts.
The frame consists of stretchers and ribs, which are integral in deploying and collapsing the canopy. The ribs lie underneath the canopy, and the stretchers connect the ribs to the shaft via the runners that slide up and down the shaft. Additionally, hinges in the stretchers allow the canopies to collapse. The compact models in our review had two or three hinges per stretcher, while the traditional models only had one. Some models also have metal spokes to further support the frame.
A variety of materials can be used for these systems, and most frames utilized at least two. Fiberglass, steel, plastic, and aluminum are most commonly used. Over the course of this review, we liked the durability provided by frames comprised primarily of hardened steel, as well as flexible fiberglass, especially when the wind picked up. A heavy reliance on plastic and aluminum in the frame made the product seem less durable.
Be sure to allow your canopy to fully dry before storing it in its closed position. The metal in the hinges, stretchers, and ribs is susceptible to rust.
The canopy consists of panels of fabric sewn to the ribs to create a viable shield from the weather. The products in this review utilized three materials: polyester, nylon (both with waterproof coatings), and PVC. Although there are some differences in the strength of these materials, we can't report on any generalized findings from our tests. Obviously, rough edges and sharp corners rubbing against any of these canopies could do irreparable damage quite easily. The exception here, however, is the Blunt XS Metro, whose thicker layer of polyester seems more capable of taking a beating than the other contenders.
The PVC canopies of the Fulton Birdcage and totes Clear Bubble do allow for unique visibility during rainstorms, yet we noticed a few "clear" drawbacks. First, the canopies would stick to themselves in the closed position, leaving us to pry it apart before deploying them. Second, the PVC canopies took much longer (over three hours total!) to dry out than their nylon and polyester counterparts.
We did like the innovation of the vented canopy in the WindPro Compact Auto, the GustBuster Metro, and the REI Travel models. With this design, air is allowed to escape through vents created by the overlap of the two canopy layers, while still blocking rain from getting inside the canopy. While this did improve their ability to stand up to the wind when compared to compact single-layered canopy competitors, the GustBuster Metro was the only compact contender that did not invert in all of our testing.
Criteria for Evaluation
Over the course of months of research and testing, we scored all 10 products using the results from five criteria: rain protection, durability, ease of use, ease of transport, and style. After the chart below, we summarize how we tested within each criterion and highlight the significant contenders in each category.
This is the primary reason for buying an umbrella. How well any given model is able to protect you from the rain lies primarily in the size and shape of the canopy. At the most basic level, bigger is better. A large canopy will cover the most area, while giving you a little more freedom of movement. It will also allow you to concentrate less on shortening your stride to avoid getting your legs wet. This is, of course, relative to your general size. A child may not need the largest canopy available, but a full grown adult might want to opt for a few extra inches in diameter. In our review, we measured the diameter of the canopy "as the crow flies" from edge to edge when fully deployed. Be aware that some manufacturers measure canopy size by measuring the arc, running the tape measure up under and along the canopy, resulting in a larger measurement. We sincerely believe that our measurement of the canopy diameter is more useful as an accurate representation of an umbrella's ability to protect you from the rain.
The depth of the canopy also factors into rain protection; a deeper canopy provides better shelter when the rain starts blowing in from the side, as the user can simply duck inside the dome. The totes Blue Line Auto Wooden, our Best Buy Award winner, has the largest canopy diameter of all the products we tested (plus an 11 inch canopy depth) and it offered the best rain protection. If you need a small and compact version, the REI Travel model we tested is a great option, and still has a large enough canopy to really make it stand out amongst the others in its class.
Another important factor we considered in our rain protection metric was the likelihood of inversion. When rain is accompanied by strong gusts of wind, you'll need a product that will not invert under the force of the rushing air. As soon as a canopy inverts, its user is exposed to the rain until it is righted again. To see which model would provide good rain protection despite howling winds, we tested each one on windy days along the lakes of Minnesota. We also created artificial drafts of air by swinging the products in such a way as to try to invert them. We were happily surprised that there was a compact model, the GustBuster Metro, that we could not invert. As a result, this product earned our Top Pick for Compact Wind Resistance. All the other compact versions inverted relatively easily, which contributed to their slightly lower rain protection scores. The non-compact models passed these tests with flying colors.
When the wind is blowing the rain in at an angle, it's tough to stay completely dry with just a canopy. We suggest slipping on some tall rain boots or a pair of rain pants in these situations. However, if these are unavailable, one thing we found in our testing is that simply tilting the canopy towards the oncoming rain is your best defense. Also, deep canopies may allow you to hide some of your head and shoulders inside. The totes Clear Bubble and the Fulton Birdcage both have very deep canopies that will allow the user to duck into them.
Finally, we found that these canopies can offer some shade from the sun. If you're on a long hike, a lightweight and compact design can be a huge benefit on a hot and sunny day, especially once you break tree line and shade is sparse. The color of the canopy is also something to consider if you're going to be using it for shade. A black canopy will retain heat from the sun and almost entirely null the effects of the shade provided. Furthermore, don't expect the transparent Birdcage or Clear Bubble to block any sun!
For protection while hiking in rain and sun, we recommend choosing from one of the lightweight compact models we tested.
Ease of Transportation
Any rain protection product is useless if you don't actually have it by your side when raindrops fall. We found ourselves much more likely to carry around compact models than non-compact models, as they could easily be stashed in our bags and forgotten about until we needed them. As a result, this score is primarily based off the product's weight and compactness. We also considered features, like carabiners and sleeves, that made bringing it along less of a chore.
If you frequently travel or commute on public transportation, these are factors you'll definitely want to consider. You'll need a compact model if you want something that can fit in a suitcase, a backpack, or even a purse. As we tested out the products in this review, a few compact versions stood out to us as featuring quality rain protection while being easy to transport. The very lightweight and compact Euroschirm Light Trek proved to be the easiest to transport, edging past the REI Travel in this metric. Both have carabiners, which made attaching them to the outside of our bags a breeze. For the record, all compact models in this review came with a carrying sleeve, too. We liked this feature, because when the rain stopped, we could insert our umbrella back into its sleeve and place it back in our bags without worrying about soaking the other contents. The GustBuster also has a unique sling feature attached to its sleeve, which can be hung over one or both shoulders.
If you're not going to be traveling a lot then compactness may not be as important. A longer, heavier product like the Blue Line can easily hang on a coat rack in your home or apartment, or fit inside your car, ready to be used when those rain storms roll in.
There's no use buying a poorly constructed product that will break down, perhaps exactly when you need it most. Durability rests on several factors, including the materials used, the quality of construction, and the number of moving parts. We also found the additional spokes, featured only on the GustBuster and Blue Line models, provided significant reinforcement to the frames of these products. When you're investing in more than just a drug store umbrella, you should be able to expect it to function for years, not just a few storms.
If you need a compact version because you find yourself traveling quite a bit, you will most likely have to sacrifice on durability. They are designed with many more moving parts than non-compact models, and therefore have more potential points of failure. The multitude of hinges, paired with a telescoping shaft, doesn't give us the same confidence as the non-compact competitors in this review. We were happy that none of the models in this review broke after being inverted by the wind (although the LifeTek Traveler did break in our artificial wind test). However, continual inversion will create wear and tear on the frame and hinges. We strongly feel that this will negatively affect a product's durability.
For the final test performed in this review, we really abused these products. We set out to see how durable each product would prove to be in extremely windy conditions. Standing out of the sunroof in our car on a breezeless day, we deployed and pointed the canopy into the wind while another reviewer drove down the road. We tested each product to a minimum of 40 mph, and up to 55 mph. While to don't expect every user to subject their umbrella to winds this strong on a regular basis, we still found the results helpful in determining weak points in the frame, as well as overall durability of each product. Unfortunately, the Fulton Birdcage, Kolumbo Travel, and LifeTek Traveler Compact either bent or collapsed (or both!) at 40 mph or less. Yet, a surprising number of them resisted collapsing, bending, or breaking all together at 40 mph.
Unexpectedly, we had a tie in this metric between the totes Blue Line, a non-compact model, and the GustBuster, a compact model. The Blue Line has a solid wooden shaft and sturdy handle, with only one hinge on each stretcher. The only fault in its durability is that it did eventually break down in our extreme wind test when we pushed it to 45 mph. Both have spokes to increase their frames' strength. The GustBuster, although less likely beat out the Blue Line in the long run due to its greater number of moving parts, also really impressed us in this metric. Its shaft of hardened steel felt very sturdy as we held onto the handle in strong winds and the vented canopy gave the structure some relief from the same winds. We tried to push it to the limit in our extreme wind test, yet it showed no signs of bending, collapsing, or breaking, even at a top speed of 55 mph! On the other end of the durability spectrum, the Fulton Birdcage suffered damage in a way we found unacceptable. As we deployed the product, the PVC canopy stuck to itself so strongly that a stretcher snapped at its plastic hinge. The model was still useable, until the broken spoke poked a hole through the canopy the next rainy day.
Another consideration under this metric is the product's warranty. Manufacturing and material defects might not be very noticeable right out of the box, but could become evident after use in stormy weather. In all honesty, umbrellas just aren't the most resilient of outdoor gear, and we feel more confident in products that are backed by strong warranties and guarantees. Although we didn't need to use it, we liked that the Kolumbo Travel came with a lifetime, no-questions-asked guarantee. All you need to do is ship it in and they will replace it. That's serious customer service and product backing!
Make sure to register your product (if applicable) immediately after purchase, as some companies require this in order to uphold the warranty.
Ease of Use
The easier the product is to use, the more quickly you can deploy it in a sudden rainstorm. If there is a sudden storm, it's best if you don't have to fiddle with too many straps, sleeves, or zippers (although, every product we tested has at least a Velcro or snap-button strap to secure the canopy to the stem). In order to better suss out the differences between each contender, we fully opened, collapsed, closed, strapped, and sheathed (as applicable) each umbrella ten times in a row with the stopwatch running. This repeated process made identifying pleasant surprises and annoying differences much easier. The traditional models were deployed and closed much faster than the compact models in our review, largely due to their lack of a sheath. Compact contenders with Velcro or zippers on their sheaths took more time.
Some models, such as the Blue Line, merely require the user to press a button on the handle and the canopy will spring into action and deploy. Others, like the Clear Bubble and EuroSchirm Light Trek, require the user to manually slide a mechanism up the shaft until the canopy expands and the collar locks into place. Overall, we preferred models that feature an auto-open button mechanism. The REI Travel, Kolumbo, WindPro, and LifeTek products were the only contenders to feature auto-collapse and auto-correct mechanisms to assist in closing and fixing an inverted canopy.
We also considered the comfort of each product's handle. Is it soft and right for your hand size, or is it too small, rigid or just not ergonomic? Our testers found that the handles of the Blunt XS Metro and EuroSchirm were too small to be used comfortably, while the REI Travel has a soft ergonomic grip that makes using it a breeze. Remember, you don't want to be squeezing a hard tiny plastic knob in high winds when you're fighting every gust - this can become very uncomfortable very quickly. The curved, cane-like handles on the traditional models in this review also felt comfortable and secure in our hands, even in strong winds.
If you need an umbrella to block the rain as you exit your car, we found the auto-opening models to be significantly more convenient.
Lastly, we also timed how long it took for each umbrella to dry. We found the longer drying times to be a hassle. The WindPro Compact was the quickest to dry, while the PVC-canopied Fulton Birdcage and totes Clear Bubble took the longest by far.
While some testers only considered only the practicality of the products we tested, a handful considered them as a unique accessory. If you need to keep up a business-like appearance, a sleek and classic looking piece, such as the Blue Line or the WindPro, may be a great choice for you. Both these models have octagonal canopies, and are very reminiscent of 1920s era rain gear. However, if you're looking for that fashionable "pop," a model like the Clear Bubble or Birdcage can really grab some attention. Another model that we think can really turn heads is the Blunt XS Metro, which has a unique scalloped-edge canopy and doesn't have any end-points poking out. But don't just take our word for it! Check out our photos and select the one that best satisfies your fashion-palette.
With so many choices available, it can be more complex than you'd expect to select the right umbrella for your particular needs. We hope that you've found our ratings and tests helpful to narrow down to the right product for you. If you're still feeling uncertain, you may want to take a look at our companion Buying Advice article.
— Ross Robinson and Jared Dean
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