Best Umbrella of 2020
Swing Trek LiteFlex
The Swing Trek LiteFlex blew us away — figuratively, of course — earning high marks in all of our metrics with its fixed shaft length and a fully manual runner. This minimizes the number of moving parts and joints that could eventually fail or break. Its subpar performance in the style metric is because it looks rather "outdoorsy", and it's too long to hide in our bag/backpack/purse/messenger bag. However, when collapsed, it sports a very handy shoulder sling for hands-free carrying and can be easily rigged to backpack shoulder strap so you can walk in the rain hands-free.
The Swing is not compact, but it is so lightweight and well balanced that it beat some of the more compact models for its ease of transport. It also beats the others 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 allows it to dry a little better than the solid fabrics typically used. But rain is not this product's only natural environment — the reflective silver outer canopy means that this is also 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
AmazonBasics Automatic Travel
For its high-functioning simplicity and low price, we love the AmazonBasics. It is discreet and easy to tote around, pack, or stash in a car, and the added wind vents boost its strength in the wind. We are most impressed by this contender's combination of a large canopy and compact travel size, earning it high marks in our ease of transport and use categories.
This umbrella provides above-average rain protection but lacks a bit of style. Its main drawbacks might be the weight for its size and the fact that it has more moving parts to worry about (i.e., long-term durability). Nevertheless, it is an incredible buy.
Read review: AmazonBasics Automatic Travel
Best for Classic Design
totes Auto Open Wooden
This model is the biggest surprise in this review. As outdoor gear specialists, we often have to keep our outdoorsy bias in check when reviewing products with usefulness that extends from natural to urban environments. When this product arrived, we laughed out loud. Seriously? Our grandpa's umbrella? Then we tried it. The totes Auto Open Wooden has a quality feel. Its wooden hook made transport easier for its larger size and enhanced the feeling in hand.
We love gear that lasts because we hate buying things repeatedly due to our frequent use — especially because a lot of the gear we review is expensive. Before we realized how affordable the totes actually was, we expected it to cost much more. This is an elegant product that made us feel classy while using it.
Read review: totes Auto Open Wooden
Best for Classy and Compact Design
Balios Double Canopy
The chic, compact Balios Double Canopy is a very well made and durable model with obvious care paid to the finer details. The wooden handle is very nice to hold and looks great, giving it a timeless look to complement a wide variety of wardrobe styles. For a collapsible umbrella, the canopy is impressively large, which means it's both fashionable and functional.
These benefits do all come at some cost. This model is on the heavier and larger side for the compact models in this review. Although it's not fast-and-light, it's still small enough that you can tuck it into most briefcases, book bags, or purses. This product is suited to urban use and can travel seamlessly with you between casual and more formal events.
Read review: Balios Double Canopy
Why You Should Trust Us
Bringing us this comparative study is our umbrella expert, Review Editor Lyra Pierotti. A resident of the Pacific Northwest, Lyra spends half her time working around the world as a climbing and mountaineering guide. She is an AIARE avalanche instructor and an American Mountain Guides Association Certified Rock Guide that's pursuing Alpine and Ski certifications as well. The other half of the time she spends on an island in the Puget Sound outside of Seattle, navigating the rainy townscapes. These dual aspects of Lyra's lifestyle make her someone who is critical and demanding of gear—she depends on various tools as a guide but can appreciate items like the umbrellas tested here in contexts ranging from hikes in the forest to walks to the coffee shop.
This review is also aided by Review Editor Sara Aranda. Sara holds a writing degree and is our resident women's rain boots tester. As a climber and trail runner, Sara currently lives in the ever-changing weather of the Colorado mountains.
Our search for the best umbrella began with thorough research of the market and the various models available. We narrowed a field of over 50 options down to about a dozen and whisked them off to the rainy wilds of the Pacific Northwest and Colorado mountain towns. We set out with a clearly defined list of the most important attributes: first being rain protection. Duh. To test this, we walked in the rain, a lot, and noted where raindrops struck on our clothing. We also tested wind resistance in a reliably windy mountain pass, assessing the umbrella's behavior when facing into or out of the wind, and the speeds at which each model struggled or failed. To round out the testing, we examined how easy it was to transport and use each model, plus how stylish they are — a subjective but essential measure for a personal accessory.
Related: How We Tested Umbrellas
Analysis and Test Results
An umbrella's an umbrella, right? There are so many gas station models out there, why not just grab a random one and call it good? Well, we've been disappointed one too many times by this attitude. However, we also recognize how difficult it is to pick the right model based on a retail webpage. In this review, we selected and purchased all of the most promising portable canopies and put them through the wringer to score each across five specific metrics, which are discussed below.
Related: Buying Advice for Umbrellas
Which contenders offer the highest performance for their price? This category has a surprisingly broad range in price, from single-digit, almost single-use options to those costing triple digits. The models we tested span the entire double-digit price range. Our testers found that while you can spend a lot of money on an umbrella, it's rarely necessary, and it doesn't usually get you any greater performance. In fact, all our recommendations are relatively affordable options, especially the AmazonBasics model, which is good enough for most users at a bargain price.
Shelter from the rain is the primary reason to buy one of these products. How well any given model can protect you from the rain depends primarily on the canopy's size and shape. 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 torso 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 this 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 a rough way to visualize the design. Be aware that some manufacturers report canopy size as measured across the arc — running the tape measure along the canopy, resulting in a larger measurement. We believe that our canopy diameter and depth measurements are more useful for judging a product's ability to protect you from the rain. Additionally, by normalizing the measurement method across all of the products, we can more accurately compare them.
The canopy depth influences rain protection because a deeper canopy provides better shelter when rain is blowing in from the side, allowing the user to duck inside the dome. Of all the products we tested, the totes Auto Open Wooden has the largest canopy depth and diameter and offers the best rain protection. The AmazonBasics is an impressive, small, and compact option that maximizes canopy depth and diameter. Though, sometimes more is not always better: it's a delicate balancing act and a challenging geometry problem for the design team. A deeper canopy depth can harm visibility as the material begins to close around you. We experienced this issue with the Gustbuster Metro. We believe the Balios Double Canopy offers the best balance of size and shape.
Another important factor to consider is the likelihood of inversion. When strong gusts of wind accompany rain, you need a product that will not flip inside-out under the force of the wind. As soon as a canopy inverts, you're exposed to the rain until you can right it again. In earlier versions of this review, we drove with each model out the window and noted the speed at which they collapsed or inverted. We have switched to a more real-world test for this update and traveled to a reliably windy mountain pass. Our inversion assessment also overlaps with the durability metric because we learned a lot about each product's ability to bounce back unscathed or if the ribs or stretchers would snap under strain.
We observed a wide range of performance in the wind test. The top model, the Swing Trek LiteFlex Hiking, snapped sideways at relatively low speeds (though the canopy retained its domed shape) and sounded like it was breaking. Then it 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. For the durability assessment, that's just plain awesome.
The totes Auto Open Wooden is so sturdy in the wind that we couldn't get it to safely invert without inducing fear of sailing away like Mary Poppins. Then there's the Gustbuster Metro, which withstood the highest wind speeds, an impressive feat, meaning it has the lowest risk of inversion.
It's tough to stay completely dry with just a canopy when the wind blows the rain in at an angle. You also need waterproof clothing and boots. During our testing, we learned that the best defense is to tilt the canopy towards the oncoming rain. Deeper canopies allow you to hide more of your head and shoulders inside. The ShedRain Bubble is one of those designed to shield large portions of your body within a clear canopy.
Some of the models in this review are made for trekking, so their utility can extend beyond rain protection. They can also provide shade. If you're on a long, sunny hike, though, a lightweight model might be the key to your enjoyment, especially above treeline in the mountains or the desert. The canopy color 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 to be very useful in the sun. Second to reflective outer canopies, an umbrella with a darker color will help absorb the light away from your eyes (but also absorb some heat). The Lewis N. Clark ultralight umbrella is an example of a bright-colored material that was too blinding for us in the sun because of how easily it refracts light.
Ease of Transportation
Umbrellas are useless if you don't have them when the sky unexpectedly cracks open. We found ourselves much more likely to carry compact models than the non-compact ones since they can easily be stashed in our bags or tucked under the seat of a car and forgotten until needed. The Ease of Transportation score is primarily based on the product's weight and compactness. We also considered features like carabiners and sleeves that help ensure transport is less of a chore.
The ease of carrying will be an essential metric to consider if you frequently travel or commute via public transportation. You'll need a compact model if you want it to fit into a suitcase, backpack, messenger bag, or even a purse. A few compact versions stand out to us for having sufficient rain protection while also being easy to transport. With a packed length of only 11 inches, the Lewis N. Clark is one of the lightest models, helping it score very high in this metric. The Sea to Summit Cordura Trekking leaves you with a very tidy bundle to stash. However, it has a very tight-fitting sleeve that can be annoying to stuff the Cordura back into.
Many of the models we recently reviewed come with a storage sleeve. We like this feature because when the rain stops, we can put it back in the sleeve and into our bags without worrying about soaking other things. Some have features that improve transport, such as the Gustbuster Metro. It has a shoulder sling that makes it much more pleasant to deal with.
It's important to consider the trade-offs that occur between these metrics. For example, sometimes an incredibly lightweight and compact umbrella can suffer from durability issues. Making something small and light does require compromises. Size and weight may not be as important if you're not going to be traveling a lot. A longer, heavier product like the totes Auto Open Wooden is easy to hook over an arm when ordering coffee and can be hung on a coat rack or the back of a chair. You might also consider the Balios Double Canopy. It's as classy as the totes model but at a fraction of the size.
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 only for a few storms.
Compact models inevitably have to sacrifice some durability. These models are designed with many more moving parts than non-compact models, and therefore have more potential points of fatigue and failure. Some, such as the Repel Windproof Travel, perform much better than others. However, the multitude of hinges, paired with a telescoping shaft, doesn't give us the same confidence as those with fixed shafts in this review.
As described before, we considered each product's performance in the wind test and how it relates to durability. We like to see more fiberglass than steel because it can more readily bounce back, whereas steel may snap when overloaded. Did the canopy invert and revert without causing damage? Does it absorb the wind? Or is it so strong it just holds its own? This might make it hard to hang on to (an ease of use metric problem), but inspires confidence that it'll withstand use and wear over time.
Contenders, such as the Swing Trek that snapped right back into place unscathed, 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 themselves firmly below average. Breaking is unacceptable.
There are two models that are very different in their approaches to durability. The Blunt Metro comprises excellent materials, some of the highest quality in this review, but suffers in the wind. Meanwhile, the Lewis N. Clark holds up better in our field tests but has more metal parts that are more likely to deform or snap in a traumatic fall or collision.
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 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. Once we have a high-quality product that functions as an umbrella should (it keeps the rain off you and withstands the average storm), 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 various 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.
Its ability to be used hands-free in conjunction with a trekking backpack makes the Swing Trek score highest in this metric. 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 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 Metro was a great example of a nice feeling model, comfortable in hand and free of any pokey bits (it features plastic-capped tips). Still, the deploy button was a little touchy, and the canopy would sometimes pre-release in the car when we just grabbed the handle. Bummer. On the other hand, the totes Wooden was a strong contender in the ease of use metric for its rapid-fire deploy button and very smooth and powerful deploy action.
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 majority of the compact, automatic models have a well-designed open/close feature, including the Lewis N. Clark and AmazonBasics, which allows you to close the canopy before lowering it at the press of a button. This is an excellent option when you find yourself in a crowded area, and you don't have enough space to lower a fixed-length canopy. The Repel model is notable for its smooth operation and sturdy feel.
But this is not all there is to the story. The fully manual Swing Trek model is so smooth that it was pleasant and easy to manually open and close. The runners slide as if guided by a magnet in whichever direction you're going. The EEZ-Y model also features an auto-open/close button; however, we found the shaft to have too much resistance. To lock it in the closed position, the runner and tips nested so close to the handle that we often lost grip, only to have the shaft rocket back to its extended position with us having to start all over. Flying gracefully open and then shutting down quickly at a push of the same button, the Balios has a much better auto open/close feature.
We also took note of 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 cater to these desires while simultaneously minimizing bulk and weight. The curved, cane-like handles on the traditional models did feel comfortable and secure in our hands, even in strong winds. Even when wet, the Swing Trek's soft grip is comfortably cushioned with excellent friction. We love the smooth, wooden handle of the Balios as well. The circular handle of the Sharpty Inverted is an example of a wonky handle design that doesn't work, in our opinion, making it unwieldy and difficult to control in any wind because your grip is offset from the shaft.
We also assessed the amusing bubble-style canopies and found them to be quite useful for visibility. These models allow you to nestle inside and peer out through the clear plastic, thoroughly protecting your upper body from the rain and wind — great for that fresh hairdo.
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 are essentially two approaches to style with the canopies we tested: companies either made them look fun/funky/cool/wacky, or they made them discrete and unassuming. We assessed each model 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 wanting a cutesie umbrella 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, the simple AmazonBasics and Balios are sleek and compact. Both are well-made items, with their perk being how tidy and professional they can be (no frayed seams like on the Gustbuster Metro). If you're a business professional or appreciate a traditional throwback, you might enjoy the totes Wooden. If the crook handle and long shaft are too committing for you, the Balios stands out again for its similar, collapsible style that can be tucked into a bag or briefcase.
You might appreciate the cute flowery look of the Blunt Metro if you're looking to make a statement or have fun with your accessories, or may even consider the charming raindrop pattern that appears when the Gustbuster Metro is backlit. The bright color options of the Lewis N. Clark are bold. One of our favorites for fun in this review is the ShedRain Bubble that sports a bubble-style canopy that shouts rainy day fun.
In this Internet age, it is increasingly difficult to sift through the umbrella market to find something just right for you, that is well made, and for a reasonable price. We hope this review and our field testing have helped you narrow the choices down and find the right one. In the end, we found our favorites to encompass the epitome of these five metrics without question: rain protection, ease of transport, durability, ease of use, and style.
— Lyra Pierotti and Sara Aranda