Updated Spring 2017
This spring we tested an entirely new group of umbrellas side-by-side. We have all new award winners and recommendations. Rain protection, we found, was largely a combined factor of the diameter and depth: the best coverage provided a nice domed shape, which also made the umbrella slightly less likely to catch a gust of wind. However, this is hard to engineer in a compact, telescoping model, so our favorites in the rain protection category ended up being our fixed shaft model.
Best Overall Umbrella
Swing Trek LiteFlex
Easy to use
Great relative canopy size
The Swing Trek LiteFlex
blew us away--figuratively, of course. It scored top marks in all of our metrics, even earning a rare perfect 10 for Durability. This is the umbrella to rule them all. It is a fixed length, with a manual runner, which eliminates and minimizes moving parts and joints that will eventually fail or break. It was weakest in the Style metric because it looks more "outdoorsy" and it was often too large to hide in our daily commute bags-of-choice--though it did very well strapped to our backpacks, and can even be attached to a backpack so you can walk in the rain, hands-free! The Swing Trek
is not compact, but it is so light weight and well balanced that it beat some of the compact models for its ease of transport. The Swing Trek
outcompetes the Helinox
, our #2 overall, because of the handy mesh shoulder sling it comes in: without a backpack, you can still carry it around (stowed) without using your hands, and the mesh even allows it to dry a little better than the solid fabrics typically used. But rain is not this product's only natural environment: With the reflective silver outer canopy, this is an excellent choice for long-distance treks in the sun, or mellow walks on the beach.
Read full review: Swing Trek LiteFlex
Best Bang for the Buck
Lewis N. Clark Umbrella
Great relative canopy size
We loved using the Lewis N Clark
umbrella - it looks like your ordinary drugstore model. This is a clever disguise for a very high-quality product. It is discrete and compact, earning it high marks in our Ease of Transport and Use categories. But most of all, we were impressed by this contender's balance of large canopy with compact travel size. In addition to being a great monetary value, this product gives a great rain protection "bang" for very "cost" to the storage capacity of whatever bag you want to transport it in. At just over 10 ounces, toss this in your purse, briefcase, messenger bag, backpack, duffel, car, or maybe even your pocket, and rest at ease knowing you have stellar protection for even the most unexpected downpours.
Read full review: Lewis N Clark Umbrella
Top Pick for Trekking
Fun color scheme
Easy to use
Great relative canopy size
If you look closely, you might think that the Helinox Trekking
umbrella looks suspiciously like the Swing Trek LiteFlex Hiking
. You're right. They're virtually identical. We loved them both, but the Helinox
version lacked a couple of features, knocking it down in rank to #2. This one was equally durable, lightweight, smooth and easy to use, simple, with an excellent canopy size relative to its closed size and weight. Awesome. However, it fell behind the Swing Trek
because it doesn't have a handy shoulder sling carrying case, nor a reflective outer canopy for use as a sunshade. Otherwise, this is an amazing choice.
Read full review: Swing Trek LiteFlex
Top Pick for Classic Design
totes Auto Open Wooden
Easy to use
This model was the biggest surprise in this review. As outdoor gear specialists, we often have to keep our outdoorsy bias in check when reviewing products that cross over from woodsy to urban environments. When this product arrived, we laughed out loud. Seriously? Our grandpa's umbrella?
And then we tried it. The totes Auto Open Wooden
has a nice feel, its wooden hook made transport easier for its larger size, and felt good in the hand. Here at OutdoorGearLab, we love gear that lasts, because we hate buying things over and over again that can't hold up to our frequent use--especially when much of the gear we review costs a lot. Before we realized it was only $20, we thought the totes
was worth much more. This is a classy product that made us feel classy using it.
Read full review: totes Auto Open Wooden
Analysis and Test Results
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.
All ten models tested in our review, showing their underbellies.
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 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, at the widest points, 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 product's ability to protect you from the rain. Additionally, by normalizing the measurement method across all of this review's products, we can much more accurately compare the contenders.
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 Auto Open Wooden
, our Top Pick for Rain Protection, has the largest canopy depth and diameter of all the products we tested, and offered the best rain protection. For a small and compact option, the Lewis N Clark
was an impressive model, maximizing the canopy depth and diameter much more than the rest of the compact models we tested is a great option. With canopy depth and diameter, more is not always better: it's a delicate balancing act, and a challenging geometry problem for the design team. With a deeper canopy depth relative to the diameter, visibility becomes affected as the umbrella domes in around you, as we experienced with the Gustbuster Metro
The REI is so good at protecting you from the rain that there's no reason to stay inside on a rainy day.
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 drove with each contender out the window, watching the speed at which it became unmanageable or collapsed, and the speed at which it inverted. This category also overlaps with the Durability metric, because we were able to learn a lot about the product's ability to bounce back unscathed from a traumatic inversion injury.
There was a very broad range in the OGL Wind Test performance. The top two award winners, the very similar Swing Trek LiteFlex Hiking
and Helinox Trekking
snapped sideways at relatively low speeds (though the canopies retained their domed shapes), and sounded like they were breaking--then bounced right back as if nothing happened. If we're talking about rain protection, this ability to bounce right back is key for continued shelter from the storm. The totes Auto Open Wooden
was so strong in the wind that we couldn't get it to safely invert without the fear of being launched from the vehicle and sailing away like Mary Poppins. (Don't worry, we had our seat belts on). And then there was the Gustbuster Metro
which operated at the highest wind speeds, an impressive feat, meaning this one had the lowest risk of inversion.
The four models in the back (the totes Blue Line, the totes Clear Bubble, the Fulton Birdcage, and the GustBuster Metro, from left to right), were the only products in this review that refused to invert under any circumstance.
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 Auto Open Wooden
had the deepest canopy, one we were stoked to curl around us in the worst of the rain storms.
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 above tree line in the mountains, or on long desert treks. The color of the canopy is something to consider if you're going to be using it for shade. We found the silver reflective upper on the Swing Trek LiteFlex Hiking
to be very effective in the sun, and a little less of a greenhouse than the otherwise identical, but red colored, Helinox Trekking
For protection while hiking in rain and sun, we recommend the two award winning trekking models that are easy to rig for hands-free walking.
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, or tucked under the seat of a car, 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 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, a messenger bag, 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 Lewis N Clark
was highly impressive for its large canopy depth and diameter relative to other compact models--also scoring very high in Transport for its light weight and compact size. And the Sea to Summit Cordura Trekking
had a very tight fitting sleeve that could be annoying to stuff the umbrella back into, but made it a very tidy bundle to stash in our bags.
All compact models in this review came with a storage sleeve. We liked this feature because when the rain stopped, we could insert it back into its sleeve and place it back in our bags without worrying about soaking the other contents. The Glamore Creative Cars
takes a fresh look at this phenomenon, and instead turns the whole canopy inside out, improving the quality of transport in regards to keeping things dry at that ultimate destination--post rain. And some had features that improved transport, such as the Swing Trek LiteFlex Hiking
. It has a mesh sleeve with a shoulder sling that we found made it very versatile.
Size is very important when considering a product's portability.
If you're not going to be traveling a lot, then compactness may not be as important. A longer, heavier product like the totes Auto Open Wooden
is easy to sling over an arm when ordering coffee, is easy to hang on a coat rack or the back of a chair and can lie waiting in your trunk, ready to rescue you from those surprise downpours at the soccer game.
We like carabiners, for they always seem to make life easier.
There's no use buying a poorly constructed product that will break, perhaps exactly when you need it most, or wear out in a matter of months. Durability includes several factors: the materials used, the quality of construction, and the number of moving parts. 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 model because you find yourself traveling quite a bit, you will inevitably have to sacrifice some durability. These umbrellas 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.
The thin spokes that connect the runner to the stretchers reinforce the strength of the frame, keeping it from inverting even in the face of strong winds.
For the final test performed in this review, we held each product out the passenger side window, pointing it into the wind as we drove forward: 10mph, then 20mph, and up to 50mph, or when it failed. This combined the objective assessment of speed with a highly subjective assessment of what defined failure. We called the max sustainable speed when it caved in and became unrecognizable, or when it became too unwieldy to hang on to and maintain canopy control. In regards to durability, our notes on performance here gave us a lot of insights. Umbrellas that snapped right back into place unscathed, such as the two award winning trekking models, the Swing Trek
and the Helinox
, got very high marks. And those that buckled, struggled, and momentarily bent the metal ribs or twisted a joint, such as the EEZ-Y Compact Travel
, planted itself firmly below average.
Off all the tests we performed, our extreme wind test was the most fun, hands down. Here, the Kolumbo shows what it's got.
We had a few contenders tie for the top scores of 7, 8 and 10 in the Durability metric. The two at the top are virtually identical designs, the Swing Trek
and the Helinox
. The two that earned a score of 8 were very different in their approaches to durability: The Blunt XS Metro
is comprised of excellent materials, some of the top in this review, but suffered in the wind, while the Lewis N Clark
held up better in our field tests, but had more metal parts that, in a traumatic fall or collision, is more likely to bend. The two that tied for a score of 7 were also a very similar design, both fixed length shafts with solid construction, and the two larger models in this review: the Totes Wooden
and the Glamore Creative
We weren't too enthused when a stretcher on the Fulton Birdcage snapped.
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.
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 one velcro strap to secure the canopy to the stem when closed).
We spent a lot of time with each product, exploring what made it harder or easier to use, and eventually found ourselves drifting toward certain ones for a variety of reasons. Average scores were much lower in this category because ultimately, they really just aren't that easy to use. They require one hand, sometimes two, and once you add a coffee cup to the mix for your afternoon stroll, you suddenly have no hands left. For this reason, our two trekking models, the Swing Trek
, scored highest because they can be used hands-free in conjunction with a trekking backpack.
Next, we subjectively ranked each product on the sum of its parts: how pleasant is it to handle? Do the joints, shafts and hinges operate smoothly? The Blunt XS Metro
was a great example of a smooth and pleasant model, very nice to hold, and free of any pokey bits (it even features covered tips!), but the deploy button was a little touchy, and the canopy would pre-release in the car sometimes when we grabbed the handle. Bummer. The totes Wooden
was a strong contender in the Ease of Use metric largely for its rapid-fire deploy button, and very smooth and powerful deploy action. This one made us feel like we were straight out of the movie Kingsmen, and everyone loves to feel like a badass undercover agent: everything is just easier for them, right?
Ease of use is improved, naturally, with an auto deploy button, and even more improved with a button that both opens AND closes the canopy. The Lewis N Clark
mastered this concept, allowing you to close the canopy before lowering it--an excellent option when you find yourself in a crowded area and you don't have enough space to bring the canopy to your hand to manually pull the runner down. But that is not all there is to the story. The fully manual Swing Trek
models were so smooth that it was pleasant and easy to manually open and close them. And on the flip side, the EEZ-Y
model also featured an auto open/close button, but the shaft had too much resistance: to lock it in the closed position, the runner and tips nested too close to the handle that we often lost grip, only to have the shaft rocket back to its extended position, and have to start all over, likely in a much worse mood after having given (or taken) an umbrella to the gut. Fool me once, shame on you, umbrella. Fool me twice? We didn't let that happen again.
Are two straps really necessary to keep the GustBuster in place? We don't think so.
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? 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 felt comfortable and secure in our hands, even in strong winds. We also liked the unique circular handle of the Glamore Creative
, which allowed hands-free operation, but not arm-free. And the softer grips on the Swing Trek
and the Helinox
felt both comfortably cushioned, with excellent friction, even when wet, to be secure in our hands.
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, especially the exceptional and unique reverse canopy design.
The silver button located on the totes Blue Line shaft allows the user to open the canopy with extreme ease. To close, simply slide a large plastic collar back down the shaft, and wrap the Velcro strap around the canopy.
This category is our most subjective metric, and as such only accounts for 5% of the weight of each overall score. For some of our testers, an umbrella is a unique opportunity to add some flair to your look in the gray and rainy months. When it comes to our accessories, style can be important, and though there were many opinions, we filtered through them all, and essentially scored each product based on whether or not it even took style into consideration, relative to the type of umbrella it is. That means if it has an old school look, does it represent its niche well? If it's cutesie, will people looking for cutesie umbrellas love it?
For If you want a model you can hide from view to simplify your look, check out the simple Lewis N Clark
(in subtle colors), sleek and compact, well made item, both attributes which keep it looking more tidy and professional (no frayed seams like on the Gustbuster Metro
). If you're a business professional, or you appreciate the classy throwback look, you might appreciate the totes Wooden
. But if you're looking to make a statement, or just have fun with your accessories, you might appreciate the cute flowery look of the Blunt XS Metro
or the clever raindrop pattern that appears when the Gustbuster Metro
All ten models tested in our review, showing their underbellies.
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