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Shopping Guide for Best Umbrellas

An umbrella seems like a basic accessory but, truth be told, you've got plenty of options to sort through.

You can buy an umbrella in any color imaginable. You can choose from a variety of styles, materials, and shapes. There are tiny umbrellas that fit in your purse, and large umbrellas that could shelter a small crowd. There are even different kinds of umbrellas for rain and sun.

So how do you choose one for yourself, or for someone special?

Our BestReviews team has actively researched the umbrella market, and we have drawn up a list of characteristics to help you narrow the field. We would like to share these findings with you.

We never accept manufacturer samples. Instead, we visit stores and buy off-the-shelf products ourselves. We test the products, as well as interview other people who use them. Then, based on our own experience in using the product and others’ feedback, we create a guide for the product.

Please see our table above for our top umbrella recommendations. Read on if you need help deciding which umbrella to buy.

In today's market, you have see-through umbrellas, umbrellas with your favorite cartoon characters drawn on them, and there isn't a lack of choice when it comes to colors!

Which Is The Best Umbrella?

We can't tell you which umbrella you're going to love. While they all have their utility purposes, they are like dresses or wallets in many ways. There is a substantial amount of personal choice and taste involved when it comes to picking one for you.

Having said that, there are indeed a number of pretty important factors that are often ignored. These determine how effective an umbrella is when it comes to actual weather protection from the wind, downpours, snow, or the sunshine.

Here are your best choices:

Considerations

Umbrella Styles

Two basic umbrella types dominate the market: the non-compact, “traditional” umbrella and the compact, fold-down umbrella. We have examined each type in depth, and here’s what you need to know:

Non-Compact Umbrellas

Traditional umbrellas feature a long, rigid shaft and a large canopy. As they are usually large, they tend to trap air and become quite unwieldy when the wind howls. Some manufacturers overcome this problem by including canopy vents in the design that alleviate pressure without letting water in. A more recent innovation involves an aerodynamic design where the umbrella changes shape to minimize wind force against its surface.

DID YOU KNOW?

Non-compact umbrellas will not fit in your side bag, but give more protection from rain as they are generally bigger in size than compact umbrellas.

Several umbrella styles fall under the non-compact umbrella category, including the bubble and beach umbrella.

●   The Bubble Umbrella

Also known as a birdcage umbrella, this bumbershoot encases the shoulders and upper torso inside a deep canopy. Many canopies these days are made of a clear material so you can see where you're going, although the lower edge may sport a splash of color or design. Bubble umbrellas offer great upper body protection, but the narrow canopy often fails to safeguard the legs, so watch your stride. Another possible drawback is that they tend to be heavy and hard to manage when folded. However, traditional opaque black umbrellas with wooden holders still find their place among vintage fashion admirers.

●   The Beach Umbrella

Also known as a sport umbrella, the beach umbrella functions as a stationary weather/wind break. Most feature side flaps and window panels; some include ground sheets so you can cocoon yourself against the elements while watching sports or lolling by the sea. Beach umbrellas provide adequate protection for several people at a time but, unsurprisingly, they're rather bulky.

Compact Umbrellas

Compact umbrellas are lighter and may seem more fragile than traditional umbrellas. However, lab tests suggest that one type is just as likely to invert (blow inside out) as the other. In terms of performance, the compact/non-compact nature of an umbrella is not a major contributing factor.

DID YOU KNOW?

Compact umbrellas are great for individual protection against rain, and have amazing portability as they can fit into even a side purse.

Consider a compact umbrella if you want a portable accessory that shrinks to fit your pocket, purse, or briefcase. This type of umbrella compresses, but it still blooms when open to the size you opted for while purchasing.

Ensure you check the dimensions of the canopy arc before making a purchase. Compact umbrellas do well to shelter you from rain and sun, but it is difficult to fit any more than one person under its roof in case of any emergency.

If you live in an area where it seldom rains, a compact, folding umbrella could be your best bet. If you live in a rainy climate, however, a traditional umbrella with a large canopy is probably more appropriate.

Considerations

Umbrella Materials

Manufacturers typically use one of two materials in their umbrella canopies: PVC or polyester. PVC is the same pliable material often used to make electrical wire jackets and many flexible home products, usually as a replacement of rubber. Polyester is usually lighter and more flexible than PVC, making it a common choice among manufactures.

PVC

Bubble umbrella canopies are often made of clear PVC. The inside is likely to be coated with a chalky substance that prevents the PVC from sticking to itself. You may feel tempted to wipe this coating off as it can obscure your view, but try not to.

In our opinion, though, the coating defeats the purpose of having a clear umbrella in the first place. It could also be argued that PVC breaks down under the sun's rays faster than other materials.

Polyester

Polyester is a light, durable, and water-resistant material. It's flexible from a manufacturing standpoint, so all kinds of patterns can be reproduced on it. Some polyester umbrellas include a Teflon coating for added protection.

Frame, Shaft, and Handle Components

Inexpensive umbrella frames are often made of steel, but you might also see frames of reinforced glass and carbon fiber. The latter two materials match the strength of steel, but they're lighter and rust-free. An umbrella frame is the part above the long holding shaft, which supports and ties the canopy together.

Shafts are typically made of chrome-plated steel, but luxury umbrella models may include a pricier cane. Cane is durable, but you'll pay a premium for it.

Umbrella handles may be made of synthetic materials, plastic, wood, antler, or bone. Straight, soft-grip handles provide comfort and a secure hold, but traditionalists still cling to the century-old “J” shape.

EXPERT TIP

No matter how great the looks and features of an umbrella are, do not purchase one if the handle does not fit your palm. An umbrella with an ill-fitting handle can quickly lead to pain in the wrist.


Staff  | BestReviews
Considerations

Umbrella Extras

Some umbrellas come with interesting “extras” to pique your interest, including the following:

  • An automatic opening/closing mechanism that provides push-button convenience.
  • A bluetooth connection that saves you from searching for your phone in bad weather.
  • A fitted flask that allows you to tote your favorite spirit along.
  • Built-in brass knuckles that help you feel safe while walking in unfamiliar or dangerous territory.
  • A lifetime replacement guarantee that underlines product quality, and provides customer reassurance.
Considerations

Umbrella Prices

You could pay as much or as little as you like for an umbrella. Here are some general guidelines:

  • Twenty dollars is a fair price for a standard rain or bubble umbrella. Folding or travel umbrellas cost a bit more, but you might be able to sneak one under the $30 mark.
  • Sport or beach umbrellas that include side flaps and floor sheets range from $50 to $200.
  • If you want an umbrella with Teflon coating, automatic features, or a lifetime replacement guarantee, expect to pay $60 and up.
  • Luxury umbrella prices extend much higher. A traditional hand-made gentleman's umbrella with a malacca cane (made of the brown, often mottled or clouded stem of an East Indian rattan palm) shaft and hardwood handle might set you back by $100; a designer umbrella from Burberry and Louis Vuitton could cost five times that, if not more.

If you are conscious about fashion, consider the type of coat or dress you would usually wear on specific weather conditions and see if you can find an umbrella that compliments it.

Umbrella Care Tips

Extend the life of your umbrella by observing these tips.

  • Open and close your umbrella slowly and smoothly. This prevents sudden stress on the ribs, stretchers, and connecting pins.   
  • To prevent mildew and rust, leave your umbrella open and pointing upward to dry.       
  • Don't prop your umbrella against a warm radiator, and don't leave a wet umbrella in your car during hot weather.
  • To preserve your umbrella's protective coating (if it has one), clean the exterior with water only.
  • Unless your umbrella was designed to double as a walking stick, don't use it as one!

Umbrella Fun Facts

  • The word umbrella originates from the Latin word “umbra”, meaning shade.
  • Debate exists as to who invented the umbrella. The parasol probably came first, about 3000 years ago, when people in hot climates needed to shield themselves from the sun.
  • The Chinese created the first collapsible umbrella around 21 AD. This design shaded the carriages of wealthy merchants and members of royalty.
  • The umbrella was considered a ladies' accessory until 18th-century Europe when Jonas Hanway, a widely-traveled Englishman, introduced it to men.
  • British industrialist Samuel Fox introduced steel ribs to the umbrella in 1852. Bradford E. Phillips, an American, patented the first folding umbrella in 1969.
  • Americans buy around 30 million umbrellas annually, but that's just a drop in the ocean. The town of Songxia, China, boasts of having more than a thousand factories that produce, in total, half a billion umbrellas per year.
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