How to Choose Outdoor Umbrellas: follow these tips if you want an umbrella that lasts

If you live in a warm place this summer, which is true for many of us, a nice big umbrella is a great way to make your outdoor space bearable. When I started shopping for one there were so many choices and no good information on how to choose an umbrella, except from people selling them.

I was originally trying to replace the canopy of an old umbrella. The stand required a very specific cantilever umbrella which is no longer available. More on replacing the canopy below.

how to choose an outdoor umbrella

Since I had to start over, I learned a lot about umbrellas. I thought my mistakes (purchasing 3 stands) might help someone else who is looking for shade. The stand in this photo was the first one. 😁

Tip 1: Consider the type of umbrella that fits your space. There are three types, cantilever umbrellas, market umbrellas and beach umbrellas. Cantilever umbrellas extend with an arm, they don’t work as well over a table. Market umbrellas have a center pole, they work as table umbrellas and are the more typical variety. Beach umbrellas are round with a floppy border and a base that goes into the sand.

The size and shape that works best depends on your patio furniture. For example, if you’re shading a large rectangular table, you might want a rectangular umbrella that is larger than the table. If you have a really large seating area you might consider putting multiple umbrellas over small areas.

rectangular umbrella

Tip 2: Material is Important. One of the most common complaints about umbrellas is fading. Outdoor fabrics are not all created equal. If you buy cheap fabric, the umbrella might only last for one or two years before you have to replace the canopy. There are some real standout fabrics that DON’T fade. Look for names like Sunbrella fabric.

If you don’t choose Sunbrella make sure the fabric you DO choose is a “Solution Dyed Acrylic Fabric”. These hold up best to continuous weather and are less likely to fade. Sunbrella umbrellas tend to be more expensive, but there are similar fabrics like Olefin.

Tip 3: Get a HEAVY Base   I started out with a 40- pound stand and quickly realized I needed a heavier base. The weight of these makes shipping really expensive. Look for a stand that allows you to add sand or water. As a rule of thumb, the stand weight should be 10x the size of the umbrella to prevent blowing over. A 10-foot umbrella needs a 100-pound weight, a 13-foot umbrella needs a 130-pound base. Large umbrellas require really heavy bases.

Tip 4: Get Wind Vents. I didn’t know this was even something to look for when I started but it makes sense. Think about a glider (which is sort of like an umbrella). A glider gets lift from the wind under the fabric, but it wouldn’t work if the glider had holes in it. Vents are holes that help to prevent the umbrella from getting caught by wind. This is even more important if you have the tilt feature or a larger umbrella.

Tip 5: Cranks over pulleys – Avoid umbrellas that require sticking a pin in to hold them open. We had an umbrella over a dining table that used a pulley system. It required you to stick a pin in the top to stay open. The pully rope was always tangled and it didn’t weather well. It was so hard to get in that we rarely used the umbrella. The ones that have a crank that holds them open are much easier to open.

pully pin

If you buy a stand where you can add sand or water, I recommend using water.  Pouring a 40-pound bag of sand into a small hole can take a very long time. I recommend using water to weigh down the stand first. Water weighs less than sand, but you might not need sand.

If you buy the umbrella separately from the stand, ensure you get the right size. Umbrella pole sizes come in a wide variety. There are 2-inch diameter poles(48mm) and 1.5-inch diameter (38mm) poles and even much larger ones. I made two mistakes with my stand. I bought one that was not heavy enough and then I bought one that was the wrong diameter. 🤣

Third umbrella stand I bought.

umbrella stand

Tip 6: Get a stand that matches the type of umbrella. This might sound like a stupid tip, but I was considering the cantilever stands because they look so much more sturdy. They are more stable, but a regular market umbrella won’t work in a cantilever stand.

What are tilt umbrellas?

A tilt umbrella has a joint in it just like your elbow. The benefit of the tilt mechanism is that you can more effectively shade yourself for a longer period of time. The downside is that they tend to break more easily. The joint adds a point of weakness. It sounds great, but based on my review of MANY different umbrellas, this feature is more of a minus than a plus. Don’t get a tilt umbrella to use in windy conditions.

Where should you use a cantilever umbrella?

Offset umbrellas reach out over something, usually pool areas or lounge chairs. These don’t work as well next to a table. These umbrellas require very large stands to offset the weight of the umbrella. The stands normally have a very large square base with arms. They can take up a much larger area, usually three to four feet.

Where to buy replacement umbrella Canopies

Beware before you try to buy JUST the canopy. I don’t know if manufacturers do this on purpose, but you have to get the canopy that fits your exact metal ribs. I recommend going back to the same manufacturer to try and buy the canopy.

If the source you purchased from no longer carries the canopy, put that brand into google with the size, shape and word “replacement canopy”. You might find it cheaper to buy the whole umbrella.

What’s the best frame material?

Umbrella frames come in wood, metal and fiberglass. Wood umbrella frames don’t last as long as metal. A wood frame looks nice, but if you want longevity go with stainless steel. Even the expensive teak stands will weather more than rust-free aluminum. Aluminum ribs are also less likely to snap in the wind.

If you’re looking for a new umbrella for your outdoor space I hope these tips help you to make a more informed decision. I would love to see a photo of your outdoor space and hear what you like and don’t like about your umbrella.

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One Comment

  1. Andrea, this is a great post! I truly never thought of all these umbrella attributes. You are truly such a great resource of information. Also, thanks for sharing my Enchanted Forest dinner table! You are the best.

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