Choosing an umbrella from photos and descriptions on the web is challenging, and rarely tells the whole story. We researched over 50 products and rounded up 12 of the top contenders, rigorously testing them side-by-side, drop-by-drop, in the rainy Pacific Northwest, and traveling with them to other stormy locations. When the skies opened up, so did our canopies. We spent hours walking through rain and wind storms to see just how each product performed. How sturdy is it? How well, realistically, does it protect you from the rain? And how does it feel to carry it around and operate it? Whether you're looking for an model to keep you dry on those rogue rainy days, hold up through days or years of use, or even provide shade from the blistering desert sun, check out how these models fared in our OGL Field Testing.
The Best Rain Umbrellas
|Price||$39.50 at Amazon||$89 List||$22.95 at Amazon||$15.63 at Amazon||$19.98 at Amazon|
|Pros||Lightweight, durable, easy to use, simple||Lightweight, durable, simple, great for trekking||Easy to use, good quality for price, sturdy||Lightweight, compact, durable, collapsible||Strong, excellent rain coverage, fun, stylish|
|Cons||Fixed shaft length makes it a bit longer||Slightly longer shaft compared to other lightweight trekking umbrellas||Heavier than some compact umbrellas||More metal joints make it slightly less durable than more expensive models with fiberglass||Large, unwieldy in high winds|
|Bottom Line||This is an excellent umbrella that will serve well in many situations, for a long time||This is an awesome, durable, and light umbrella, excellent for trekking, and fun looking for urban use as well.||This is an excellent compact umbrella, sturdy for everyday use and small enough to keep with you.||This umbrella is an outstanding deal; simple, light, and it will outlast all similar inexpensive drug store models.||This is a fun umbrella, well made, and which provides excellent rain protection.|
|Rating Categories||Swing Trek LiteFlex||Helinox One||Repel Easy Touch||Lewis N. Clark Umbrella||totes Auto Open Wooden|
|Rain Protection (30%)|
|Ease Of Transport (30%)|
|Ease Of Use (15%)|
|Specs||Swing Trek LiteFlex||Helinox One||Repel Easy Touch||Lewis N. Clark Umbrella||totes Auto Open Wooden|
|Canopy Diameter (inches)||38 in (not 44.9")||38 in||37 in||38 in||42 in (not 48"!)|
|Depth of Canopy (inches)||10 in||10 in||7 in||8 in||11 in|
|Weight, measured, including sleeve (ounces)||10.24 oz (w/case); 8.16 oz (w/o case)||7.52 oz||14 oz||10.24 oz||19.68 oz|
Swing Trek LiteFlex
The Swing Trek LiteFlex blew us away—figuratively, of course. It earned high marks in all of our metrics, even a rare perfect 10 for Durability. This is the one to rule them all. It has a fixed shaft length with a fully manual runner. This 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 long to hide in our bag/backpack/purse/messenger bag. However, it has a very handy shoulder sling for hands-free carrying when collapsed, and is easily rigged to backpack shoulder straps so you can walk in the rain, hands-free!
The Swing Trek is not compact, but it is so lightweight 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 review: Swing Trek LiteFlex
Best Bang for the Buck
Lewis N. Clark Umbrella
We loved using the Lewis N Clark - it looks like a simple, no frills drugstore model. However, this proved to be a clever disguise for a high-quality and affordable 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 value, this product gives excellent rain protection "bang" for little "cost" to the storage capacity of whatever bag you want to transport it in, in between storm events. At just over 10 ounces, you can toss this in your purse, briefcase, messenger bag, backpack, duffel, car, or maybe even your deep pockets (deeper now with all the money you saved!). With the Lewis N Clark, you can rest at ease knowing you have stellar rain protection for even the most unexpected downpours.
Read review: Lewis N Clark Umbrella
Top Pick for Versatility
Repel Easy Touch
The Repel Easy Touch is an excellent all-around model. It is sturdy enough for everyday use, and compact enough to take with you on all of your adventures. It feels good and secure in your hand and is easy to manage in high winds and busy crowds. The auto open/close feature is smooth and reliable and is an excellent feature for dashing quickly indoors—keeping every last raindrop off you as you close the door behind you.
The price is right for this quality product. It will last for many seasons, if well cared for. The canopy is a well-designed shape to maximize rain coverage, while still collapsing into a size that is small enough to toss in your backpack, purse, or messenger bag, and carry on to your next adventure.
Read review: Repel Easy Touch
Top Pick for Trekking
If you look closely, you might think that the Helinox One 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.
They are both simple, with an excellent canopy size relative to closed size and weight. Awesome. However, the Helinox 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, both are an excellent choice.
Read review: Helinox One
Top Pick for Classic Design
totes Auto Open Wooden
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 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, and it's pretty hard to tell how well an one will do in the rain from photos on the web. The basic design of this product is pretty much the same across the board: a waterproof canopy is deployed across several ribs (6 to 8, but sometimes 9) by a sliding runner that moves up and down along a rigid shaft.
An umbrella is a portable, handheld roof if you will. The product has been around for centuries. However, as technology has advanced and material engineers keep innovating, 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.
Which contenders offer the highest price to value ratio? We've done the heavy lifting and included a chart to help you out. You'll find the highest values located toward the far right side, which aren't too high up the graph (a lower price). The Lewis N Clark is our Best Buy winner and the totes Auto Open Wooden is an affordable Top Pick.
This is the primary reason for buying an umbrella. How well any given model can protect you from the rain lies primarily in the size and shape of the canopy. At the most basic level, bigger is better. A larger canopy will cover more area, and give you a bigger bubble of protection. 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.
We then measured the depth of the canopy. These two measurements give an easier-to-visualize image of the umbrella. Be aware that some manufacturers measure canopy size by measuring the arc, running the tape measure along the canopy, resulting in a larger measurement. We believe that our measurement of the canopy diameter is more useful as an accurate representation of a product's ability to protect you from the rain. Additionally, by normalizing the measurement method across all of this review's products, we can 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 duck inside the dome. The totes Auto Open Wooden, our Top Pick for Rain Protection, has the most substantial 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.
Another important factor we considered in our rain protection metric was the likelihood of inversion. When strong gusts of wind accompany rain, you'll need a product that will not flip inside-out under the force of the wind. As soon as a canopy inverts, its user is exposed to the rain until it is righted again. To see which model would provide excellent 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 an extensive range in the OGL Wind Test performance. The top two award winners, the very similar Swing Trek LiteFlex Hiking and Helinox One 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 critical for continued shelter from the storm.
The totes Auto Open Wooden was so sturdy 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 seatbelts 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.
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.
Some of the models in this review are made for trekking, and their utility can range far beyond rain—on long treks, they can provide shade. If you're on a long, hot, sunny hike, a lightweight model might be the key to your enjoyment—especially above treeline 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 useful in the sun, and a little less of a greenhouse than the otherwise identical, but red colored, Helinox One. Consider that the added weight of an umbrella may help you remain hydrated, and thus save you weight because you don't have to carry as much water…!
Ease of Transportation
Such an item is useless if you don't have it with you when the sky unexpectedly cracks open. 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 on the product's weight and how compact it is. 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, Ease of Transport will be an essential metric to consider. You'll need a compact model if you want it to fit in a suitcase, backpack, messenger bag, or even a purse. As we tested the products in this review, a few compact versions stood out to us for having good rain protection while being easy to transport. The Lewis N Clark was highly impressive for its considerable 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. In this round of testing, the Repel Easy Touch dethroned the Lewis N Clark, so if you want to spend a little more for a slightly better model, this is something to consider.
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 as much about soaking the other things in our bag. 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.
It's important to consider the trade-offs that occur between these metrics. For example, the Eagle Creek Rain Away Travel is fantastically lightweight and impressively compact—but suffered from severe durability issues. To make a small and light model requires compromises. In this case, it detracted too much from durability and became unusable for most users. However, as an emergency use back up one you expect to use once a year in a mild (non-windy) climate, this could be a good tradeoff.
If you're not going to be traveling a lot, then the size and weight 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, and can be hung on a coat rack or the back of a chair. You can also leave it in your trunk for those rainy days watching from the sidelines at a soccer game.
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 model, 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—but some perform much better than others, such as the Repel Easy Touch. The multitude of hinges, paired with a telescoping shaft, doesn't give us the same confidence as the non-compact (fixed shaft) competitors in this review. This was confirmed in this round of Wind Tests when we broke two of the Eagle Creek models.
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 evaluation 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. Contenders 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. Breaking was unacceptable, as happened twice with the Eagle Creek.
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 larger model in this review: the Totes Wooden.
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.
Ease of Use
Ease of use only factors in for 15% of each product's score. It is imperative, but not more important than the previous metrics, which assess the basic functions of an umbrella. Once we have a high-quality product that functions as an umbrella should—it keeps the rain off you and withstands storms—then we can get pickier.
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 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.
Our two trekking models, the Swing Trek and Helinox, scored highest because they can be used hands-free in conjunction with a trekking backpack. But if you're not wearing a backpack with a velcro hydration hose tab to easily integrate it into your hiking system, then you're out of luck, so perhaps having something that's easy to stash in a bag is a better choice.
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 nice feeling umbrella, comfortable in hand and free of any pokey bits (it features plastic-capped tips!), but the deploy button was a little touchy, and the canopy would pre-release in the car sometimes when we just 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 had a well designed open/close feature, allowing you to close the canopy before lowering it. This is an excellent option when you find yourself in a crowded area, and you don't have enough space to lower the canopy and manually pull the runner down. The Repel Easy Touch improved upon this feature, with smoother operation and a sturdier feel.
But that is not all there is to the story. The fully manual Swing Trek and Helinox models were so smooth that it was pleasant and easy to manually open and close them. Their runners slide as if guided by a magnet in whichever direction you're going. On 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.
We also considered the comfort and security of each product's handle. A well-designed handle nests in your hand comfortably for long-term carrying and gives you a secure grip for those unexpected gusts. The best models had out both of these features while minimizing bulk and weight. The curved, cane-like handles on the traditional models in this review felt comfortable and secure in our hands, even in strong winds. 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—while adding minimal weight to the lightweight product (excellent for long distance treks!).
This category is highly subjective, so we only give Style 5% weight in the overall scores. For some of our testers, an umbrella is a unique opportunity to add some color to the gray and rainy months. There were essentially two approaches to style with the umbrellas we tested: companies either made them look fun/funky/cool/wacky or they made them discrete and unoffensive. We assessed each umbrella based on our interpretation of the manufacturer's approach to style. 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? Or if it is small and light, is it generally discrete, and not an eye-grabber?
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). But good news if you like a little flair: you can also choose a flashy and fun color. 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 charming raindrop pattern that appears when the Gustbuster Metro is backlit.
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.
— Lyra Pierotti