After doing 50 hours of research and putting a total of 33 different umbrellas through four rounds of testing—the most recent in the midst of thunder-snowstorm Stella—we’ve determined that the Repel Easy Touch is the best umbrella for most people. Its durable, nine-rib construction held up admirably against gale-force winds, and it’s as sturdy as umbrellas that sell for more than twice as much.
For more colors visit amazon.com
The Repel Easy Touch folds up to an 11.5-inch long, 14-ounce package that fits easily into most bags and glove boxes. And it forcefully expands at a touch of a button to reveal an ample 37-inch diameter canopy that protects your torso and head from precipitation in all but the windiest of conditions. Its lengthy, textured handle is easy to grip for hands of all sizes. We also appreciate that the Repel Easy Touch comes in a wide variety of colors, so it’s easier to pick yours out of a crowded umbrella bucket. Finally, despite its affordable price, it’s backed by a lifetime replacement guarantee.
The AmazonBasics Automatic Travel Umbrella with Wind Vent is available for less than the Repel, and its vented design and solid build shrugged off even the toughest gusts during our testing. However, in addition to coming only in black, it can be hard to get. AmazonBasics has assured us that it remains in its product line, but since we began our most recent round of research and testing in February 2017, it’s already gone in and out of stock twice (after being out of stock all winter). Each time, there’s been no online indication that it would be back.
The Lewis N. Clark Lightweight Travel Umbrella was a previous top pick and is still a great value—it frequently goes on sale for about half as much as our other picks, which makes it a good bet for kids or other people who frequently lose umbrellas. It’s not as solidly built as our other picks, but at 10 ounces, it’s about a quarter pound lighter than the Repel and AmazonBasics. And its 38-inch canopy offers better coverage and more wind resistance compared with most other umbrellas in the sub-$20 range. We also like that it comes in five colors.
If you want more coverage than a compact automatic umbrella can provide, a stick umbrella (often misidentified as golf umbrellas), while heavy, can protect more than just your upper torso. Among the seven options we tested, the Totes Auto Wooden Stick Umbrella was by far the most affordable, yet it held up against the strongest winds and didn’t feel at all top heavy—a common issue with the other stick models we tested. It also looks better than you’d expect for the price. But if you want something with a nicer finish and made from more premium materials, we did test some pricier stick umbrellas with nicer finishes that performed just as well, but they cost more than five times as much as the Totes.
Over the past four years, we’ve taken umbrellas on errands, run them under the shower, attacked them with a leaf blower, and tortured them to the point of failure in gusty winds and even blizzard-like conditions. In between the tests we’ve lived with these models and lent samples to friends and family, inspiring impromptu mid-storm side-by-side comparisons and revealing how these umbrellas wear after long-term use. Hundreds of umbrellas are available; with all this testing, we’re confident that we’ve found you some of the best.
We also visited Rain or Shine in New York City, one of the few umbrella specialty retailers left in the US. Its owner, Peggy Levee, is a protégé of one of our other sources, storied umbrella sales and repair expert Gilbert Center. Levee operates out of a storage facility on Manhattan’s West Side that is stocked with high-end models from around the world. Together with Levee, we examined a range of brands, discussing performance, value, and customer satisfaction (Rain or Shine will repair any umbrella it sells).
As always, we started with our own past research and testing, and a look at other online reviews. Before this year’s visit to Rain or Shine, we consulted the work of the good folks at OutdoorGearLab, who have done their own extensive umbrella trials. Good Housekeeping has done useful tests, too. The gents and ladies of The Art of Manliness provide history and generally informed opinion.
In the end, we decided to revisit our 2016 favorites, including the Lewis N. Clark, Davek, and EuroSchirm, adding in more automatic models from AmazonBasics, Crown Coast, Knirps, LifeTek and Repel. For our first look at golf-style stick umbrellas, we included models from Davek, Totes, and Gustbuster, which we’ve tested in the past; two from 90-year-old German company Knirps; and two new-to-us brands and models: the Standard Unbreakable, created by a Vermont-based author and self-defense guru, and Kazbrella, an “inside out” model and Kickstarter success story conceived by a British aeronautical engineer.
We focused instead on testing the umbrellas in real-world scenarios and, perhaps most important, seeing how they held up to stiff winds. Umbrellas have to be lightweight yet resilient, and even with modern ripstop fabrics and alloys and composites, that necessitates a compromise: flexibility. A good umbrella will withstand a stiff breeze, but also invert—flip inside out—when a sudden gust overwhelms its strength limits. In effect, it will bend rather than break. What matters is its ability to be flipped back to proper form easily and repeatedly. This year, writer and tester Sarah Robbins took each of the 16 new models with her as she ran errands on a rainy February day, wearing her infant son in a Baby Bjorn carrier. A few days later, during a sunny-but-blustery day, she did a second lap, this time pushing the baby in a stroller.
She brought her observations to The Sweethome editor Tim Heffernan, who performed last year’s tests; together we made a subjective judgment based on factors such as weight, balance, and handle comfort. For the cane umbrellas, which are considerably taller and heavier, we considered the ease of use for both Tim, who is 6-foot-1, and for Sarah, who is 5-foot-2.
Then the most promising candidates weathered a series of stress tests. Last year, Tim blasted the umbrellas with winds on his balcony in Queens, New York; this year, Sarah took them out in a late winter storm that swept across the Eastern Seaboard and through her Brooklyn neighborhood with winds up-to 40 mph. The goal of our wind tests was to force the umbrellas to do something they’d rarely if ever do in real-world use: face the weather with the handle parallel to the ground and the canopy directly downwind, catching the wind like a sail.
So, while standing in the snow-covered parking lot next to her apartment building, Sarah tried to blow each umbrella inside out, noting how it handled and whether it easily righted itself. She held two comparable models, one in each of her hands, to be blasted by the same gust. After, she held each umbrella normally as she trudged around her deserted block—lingering opportunistically on the wind-swept corners—and popped it open and closed several times. There were certainly moments when strong gusts threatened to take down both tester and tested. Luckily, Sarah and the best models have lived to tell.
The Repel Easy Touch is our overall pick as the best umbrella for most people because its quality and durability equals that of models we saw for more than twice the price. In fact, although we previously had an upgrade pick in the $100 range, the Repel felt just as solid in every phase of our testing. There are lighter options out there—the Repel weighs in at just over 14 ounces—but along with its heft comes the ability to withstand big gusts. Billed as a “travel umbrella,” it folds up to just 11.5 inches long, which makes it easy to store. Still, when fully extended, its 37-inch canopy offers plenty of coverage.
For more colors visit amazon.com
One of the selling points of the Repel is its nine-rib construction, whereas most standard umbrellas typically have eight or fewer ribs. The extra rib provides a greater amount of reinforcement across the canopy, and therefore greater durability. We believe this contributed to our test sample’s valiant fight against some 40 mph gusts, even when many competitors flipped. When the Repel did invert, its fiberglass ribs arched easily in the direction they were pushed. And when Sarah pressed the automatic close button, they snapped back into place.
The Repel Easy Touch’s sturdy build goes beyond its extra rib. Its automatic open and close mechanism is quite satisfying. Pressing the button snaps it forcefully to attention with almost no perceptible play in the fully deployed shaft. The comfortable, rubberized handle is relatively long (about 2.5 inches), which during our tests meant that Sarah could fit almost her whole hand around it, while, at the same time, it didn’t feel too small in Tim’s larger hands. Its polyester, Teflon-coated canopy showed no sign of dents or fraying stitching—even after the stress tests.
It comes in eight colors (plus basic black), so you won’t have trouble picking yours out from the forest of identical umbrellas in the coffee-shop umbrella stand. One caveat: We recommend you sidestep the double-canopy color options, such as Blue Sky, which adds an extra layer of fabric that makes the umbrella heavier and harder to tie together.
Often selling for around 20 dollars on Amazon, the Repel costs a bit more than last year’s top pick, the Lewis N. Clark Umbrella. But we think the added durability is worth the couple of extra bucks. It’s also covered by Repel’s lifetime replacement guarantee—with no return required, should anything go wrong.
While we appreciate the Repel’s sturdy build, we should note that snappy opening and tight tolerances require a strong spring to drive them. As a result, it requires a bit more force than you might expect in order to retract its shaft back down to its fully folded form. That was a surprise for Sarah’s mother-in-law, a cheapo drugstore umbrella devotee in her late sixties who was expecting to use less effort. (She and her partner were both drawn to the Euroschirm and the Lewis N. Clark, which had more give, and felt more like the umbrellas they were used to.) Still, they—and we—feel that once you’re aware that closing the Repel requires extra effort, it becomes more of an afterthought.
We loved practically everything about the AmazonBasics Automatic Travel Umbrella with Wind Vent. For less than $20, you get an umbrella made with high-quality fabric and sturdy stitching that strikes a fierce stance against the wind. And its slightly curved handle makes it comfortable and easy to grip. The only thing that kept the AmazonBasics out of the top spot is its relative elusiveness. It was out of stock this winter, returning in early March, only to be sold out again, and quickly, within a few weeks. So if you can get your hands on one (or two), it’s worth doing so—as long as black is your favorite umbrella color.
What impressed us most about the AmazonBasics during testing was its windy-weather performance. That’s thanks to the wind vent—gaps between two overlapping layers of fabric that lie flat and watertight in the rain but open when wind catches the umbrella from underneath, releasing air pressure and discouraging inversion. Whether in the midst of a blizzard, or while facing gusts near the top floors of a high-rise apartment building, this umbrella refuses to quit against the toughest gales. AmazonBasics also offers a ventless option for an even lower price, but we found that it didn’t hold up as well during and after the stress tests; if you want something at the same price point as the ventless, we recommend the Lewis N. Clark instead.
Fully closed, the AmazonBasics is just 11 inches long; the fabric of its canopy, however, is thicker than the Repel, which means that when bundled, it’s a bit stockier as well. The round handle is comfortable, as is the wrist strap; the automatic open and close function is as responsive as any we tested.
If both the AmazonBasics and the Repel are out of stock, another good low-cost option is last year’s top pick, the Lewis N. Clark Travel Umbrella, which comes in four colors in addition to black (although black tends to be the cheapest). One of the smallest of the bunch, it’s equal in height to the AmazonBasics, though lighter, at just 10 ounces. Despite its low price, the Lewis N. Clark survived the stress tests of the past two years with very minor damage, and we’ve had no issues with the units we’ve been using for long-term testing over the past year.
Still, compared with our other picks from this year, the Lewis N. Clark’s lightweight polyester canopy is more wrinkly and less than taut in certain places—telltale signs of looser quality-control standards. And although its metal ribs are listed as being made of steel, we are nearly certain they’re actually aluminum, based on their light weight, lack of magnetism, and appearance. For these reasons, we think most people are better off spending just a few more dollars to get one of our other picks, but if you want something for the kids, or are a serial umbrella forgetter, the Lewis N. Clark is a good option to consider.
Though it offers the same height and canopy size of the other stick umbrellas we tested, the Totes is significantly cheaper. (OutdoorGearLab calls it a Best Buy.) Its 42-inch canopy is made from a lighter (and likely lower cost) material compared with the other umbrellas we considered, and we wondered whether it would hold up to strong winds. But as hard as she tried, Sarah couldn’t get the umbrella to flip inside out during the blizzard tests. This could, of course, be seen as a flaw: It’s helpful to see your umbrella bend, so you don’t have to fear that one suddenly harsh gust will force it to break. Still, given the price of admission, that risk seems one worth taking.
If you want something made of nicer materials or with a more sophisticated finish, and you are willing to splurge a bit, there are some good options out there. They don’t really offer better performance under most circumstances, but the same could be said of a Gucci sweater compared with one from L.L.Bean. Among the premium stick umbrellas we tested, two stood out, but for totally different reasons.
If you’re looking for a classically styled stick to go with a suit, look to the Davek Elite. It feels sumptuous, with a stitched leather handle, a fiberglass frame, and a 44-inch microfiber canopy that the company says is “190 thread count.” It also has a hefty $150 price tag, which makes it the most expensive of our picks. However, it’s partially justified by Davek’s easy-to-use lifetime warranty (which includes 50 percent off a new umbrella if you lose your original). It performs exceptionally in the wind. Thanks to its flexible ribs, the wind didn’t turn it into a kite; instead, it turned inside out and then easily recovered. However, the cane handle measures 5 inches across, which is quite a lot for a smaller hand to manage. It comes in three colors: black, blue, or the handsome copper, pictured here.
If your aesthetic is more sleek and stealth than suit and tie, the Standard Unbreakable is the premium stick umbrella for you. It’s designed to live up to its monicker and only comes in black—even the ribs are black. Taller than the Elite (a hair over 36 inches, end to end) and wider when opened (48-inch diameter), the Unbreakable is 22 ounces, but somehow feels lighter because of its exceptional weight distribution. We were surprised to see it billed as a self-defense weapon, though it does seem tough as advertised (and as demonstrated incredibly by the company’s YouTube videos, in which it bests a punching bag, among other foes). Every time it bent and blew inside out in the blizzard, it snapped back into form looking no worse for the wear. It was the only stick umbrella we tested with a straight handle, which is thin (less than an inch in diameter), rubber-covered, and slightly curved at the bottom, making it comfortable to hold, even in small hands.
If you want your umbrella to keep you dry for a long time, you need to remember to let it dry. It’s simple: Just leave your umbrella open after use—the bathtub is a handy spot. If you don’t, its metal parts—especially automatic open-and-close functions—can corrode. Mildew can also develop in the canopy of a wet umbrella left closed, which not only smells bad but can destroy the fabric over time.
And make sure you let your automatic umbrella do its job, said Levee: If you’re using one with an automatic open-and-close function, do not pull it closed as you would a manual model. “I always point that out to customers,” she said. Over time, that unnecessary tugging could cause the mechanism to break.
Blunt XS Metro: This is a good umbrella if you’re concerned only about the wind. Its shallow, scalloped shape—a direct result of some innovative engineering—sheds gusts better than any other umbrella in our test. Unfortunately, we learned that it also does a poor job of keeping you dry when the rain blows sideways.
Crown Coast: Though this moderately priced umbrella handles relatively well, its stitch quality wasn’t the finest: Upon arrival, a few models had threads already pulling in some places. The rainbow of color options—including camouflage—is a plus, but the extra layer of fabric on the model with the blue-sky under-canopy made it bulky and tough to close.
Davek Duet: This large model is built for two, with a 48-inch canopy. That’s wider than most people want or need, but if you’re big or tall, or just want maximum coverage, it’s worth considering. The eye-watering price is backed by Davek’s unconditional lifetime guarantee.
Davek Mini: If having a really compact umbrella matters above all else, this is a great choice. It folds down to the size of a banana. But its tiny 26-inch canopy will barely keep your head and shoulders dry, and even then, only during short dashes in light rain.
Davek Traveler: Another compact option from Davek, the Traveler measures 33 inches across when open and 9 inches long when closed. We think you’ll miss the rain coverage of a full-size (38 inches or so) canopy more than you’ll appreciate having 2 fewer inches of umbrella in your bag or purse.
Davek Solo: We recommended this sturdy model as an “upgrade pick” last year; this year, our sample withstood two big gusts; a third gust somehow snapped apart the ring binding the automatic open-close mechanism to the ribs, rendering the whole thing useless. This was likely a fluke and would be covered under Davek’s lifetime guarantee, but this year, we found comparable build quality and performance in the Repel and AmazonBasics at about a quarter of the Solo’s price.
Davek Savile: This hand-assembled-in-England granddaddy of Davek’s offerings is billed as an heirloom and has the $350 price tag to match. The handle and shaft are hand-carved from chestnut wood, which adds to this umbrella’s weight—a hefty 30 ounces. Impressive, for sure, but we prefer to save $200 and instead take the still luxe, and more portable, Davek Elite for an umbrella of this style.
EuroSchirm Light Trek: This German umbrella is quite good overall, especially given its scant 9.25-ounce weight. But it’s held back by sub-par wind resistance. The EuroSchirm’s lightweight fiberglass ribs are considerably more flexible than other umbrellas’ ribs. Because of this, the canopy collapses easily when blasted head-on and flexes like a leaf in high winds when held upright. This means you’ll suffer more inside-out episodes than you would with our other picks. While it didn’t break during this year’s testing during a snow storm, it did look somewhat the worse for wear compared with our other picks, which is why we’re no longer recommending it as an ultralight pick. But it’s still a decent lightweight choice for less-windy climates.
EuroSchirm Light Trek Automatic: The automatic version has the same issues as the manual version, but weighs a lot more.
EuroSchirm Light Trek Automatic Flashlite: This EuroSchirm is like the others, except for some reason it has a small LED flashlight in the handle. That gimmick brings its weight to 13.5 ounces—not a light trekker at all.
GustBuster Metro: This umbrella has a fully deserved reputation for durability in the wind. Tim never got it to come even close to inverting, and it’s OutdoorGearLab’s top pick for wind resistance. But its strength comes from a complex truss of multiple ribs and springs that makes it extremely top heavy; when the wind catches the canopy, it’s like holding a sledgehammer. That, plus a hard-plastic handle that’s slick when wet, is a losing combination.
GustBuster Classic 48-Inch Automatic Golf Umbrella: Though it has a wider canopy and a cane handle, this GustBuster has a similar construction to the Metro. One plus: The contours of the cane handle make it easier to manage in the wind. It’s a quality tool for a good price, but it didn’t lead the pack in terms of value or function.
Kazbrella: We were intrigued by the promise of the “reverse opening” umbrella, which closes by folding up instead of down. But the actual mechanism is a bit cumbersome, requiring a hard shove to open the umbrella. Its double canopy is attractive—especially in the orange and blue color combo we received—but adds to its bulk and awkwardness.
Knirps Xtreme Vented Duomatic Umbrella: This automatic umbrella feels hefty at 22.5 ounces, but its canopy handily opens to an impressive 48 inches—the size of many stick umbrellas. It’s a good choice for someone who wants the coverage but not the hassle of carrying a cane around town. It could still be overkill for most people.
Knirps T2 Duomatic Umbrella: This is light yet sturdy, with very good stitch quality. However, its handle is smaller and more slippery than some of the others—and its cost significantly higher.
LifeTek: It’s almost indistinguishable from the Repel, which took top honors this year. The only discernable difference is its handle, which has a slightly more oval shape. Two tiebreakers: Unlike with the Repel, we couldn’t get a response from LifeTek’s contact form, so it’s hard to put faith in their two year “peace of mind” guarantee. And the only color options for the LifeTek are black and blue. Otherwise, it’s a great umbrella.
Niello Best Outdoor: We took a chance on this one because of its attractive price, good reviews, and 10-rib design that theoretically provides fuller coverage than the typical eight ribs. But we’ll never know if that’s true: Two ribs snapped after a single inversion. This one went straight into the garbage.
Senz Automatic: We had high hopes for this umbrella. Its main draw is its teardrop shape that keeps your shoulders and back drier than a typical round canopy. Unfortunately, the long rear-facing ribs are weak; one got damaged just cinching the canopy strap.
ShedRain Windjammer: This one suffered from poor build quality and did a poor job of keeping the mannequin dry in the shower test.
Totes Titan Super Strong Extra Large Folding Umbrella: This 48-inch model was the other oversize umbrella in our 2016 test. Unfortunately, a rib failed after just a few inversions. Because it’s lightweight for its size (16 ounces) and not too pricey, we think it could be a fine sunshade in mild weather. But we can’t recommend it for rain.
Totes Blue Line Auto Open/Close Umbrella: This model is very well-reviewed, and we recommend its cane-style Blue Line. But the compact folding version we tested arrived with a 3-inch rip in one of the canopy seams that widened in the wind, and one of the ribs tore loose from another section of the canopy during the inversion test.
Tumi Medium Auto Close Umbrella: This umbrella’s size and compactness are middle of the road, and it didn’t stand out in any particular test, despite its premium price.
Originally published: April 13, 2017