After extensive research, I have come up with a list of the top 10 best travel umbrellas that are perfect for all kinds of travelers. They are strong and water-resistant and offer the best value for your money.
In this guide, we will talk about what to look for in a travel umbrella so that you can find the one that will suit your needs. We’ll also recommend some of our favorite picks that we think deserve your consideration if you’re looking to purchase a new umbrella.
Therefore you can trust this testNumerous umbrellas have accompanied us to various errands in the last five years. We have used them to take a shower, tortured them to the point of pain with a leaf blower, gusty winds, and even blizzards. In between tests, we took the models home and lent them to family and friends; this way, we were able to inspire spontaneous tests in the middle of storms and weather, for example. In this way, we can show how these gliders perform, even after long periods of use. There are thousands of umbrellas; after all these tests, we are confident that we have found the best ones.
We also visited Rain or Shine in New York City, one of the few umbrella dealers in the USA. The owner, Peggy Levee, is a protégé of one of our other sources, the legendary umbrella sales, and repair specialist Gilbert Center. Levee works from a warehouse in Manhattan’s West Side, boasting high-end products from around the world. Together with Levee, we tested a whole range of brand models and discussed price-performance and customer satisfaction.
So we selectedOur first step was to recapitulate past tests and their results and take a look at new online reviews. Before our last visit to Rain or Shine, we read up on OutdoorGearLab, which have already put umbrellas through their paces themselves. Good Housekeeping also has some useful tests to show. We also obtained information from The Art of Manliness; experience and generally well-informed opinions were very important to us.
Our interview with the umbrella guru Gilbert Center in 2015 revealed a sad truth: most – though not all – manufacturers outsource; the result is often inferior quality. Further research in online reviews and special offers reinforced this claim; we found many cheap, basically identical umbrellas available under different, little-known brands. The similarity and positivity of the alleged customer reviews were also alarming (we are generally skeptical about this). Based on this information, we developed some important criteria that helped us narrow down the field of participants qualified for this test.
It turns out that an umbrella with a diameter of almost one meter is just perfect for keeping the head and torso of a single person dry but without getting too big. For this reason, this is also the standard or “full-size” size of most manufacturers. Regardless, no umbrella will keep you dry from head to toe, especially in windy weather. Wet feet or trousers are not uncommon in heavy rain despite an umbrella often. Even thighs or waist are damp then. In principle, an umbrella only offers protection for hair and upper body, but only for relatively short distances. In 2017 and 2018, we have therefore looked at even larger umbrellas; minis, on the other hand, are not really better than a wide hat, so we have not considered these models any further.
We also concentrated on umbrellas that – once folded – are shorter than 30 cm. Most people need something that fits in the glove compartment of a car or in the bottle holder of a backpack. Ultra-compact models, however, overshoot the mark, as an umbrella is not just about portability. After all, while it is possible to make an umbrella no bigger than a banana, the umbrella would be quite useless. The umbrella would be too small or have twice as many spokes and joints, i.e., twice as many possible sources of error.
Another requirement: the umbrella should weigh less than half a kilo. The lighter, the better – after all, you will probably be carrying the glider around most of the time. However, we have left some room for manoeuvre with the cane umbrellas; as the name suggests, you carry them more like a walking stick.
Differences in material and design between different brands are minimal. Usually, almost all of them use synthetic fabric – either polyester or nylon – for the covering. Some umbrellas also had a quick-drying Teflon coating (although, in practice, this didn’t make much difference). Booms and poles are usually made of steel, aluminum alloys, or fiberglass – sometimes individually, sometimes in combination. Aluminum constructions have a disastrous reputation – simply because the metal alloy is intuitively associated with beverage cans and aluminum foil (“Leave it alone,” says Peggy Levee of Rain or Shine. “Steel and fiberglass are much better”). Does this do the material an injustice? After all, as soon as you get into an airplane, you entrust your life to very important components (such as the wing construction and root) made of aluminum. The production of the components is very similar to the process that produces beverage cans. What is really decisive is the quality of the design and production and the question of the alloy used.
While the materials used for the stringing or linkage are, to be fair, not too important, the handle is a completely different story. Leather, imitation leather, and rubberized plastic handles offer much more grip than handles made of hard plastic, especially when they flatter the hand. Most cane umbrellas often, if not always, have a curved handle made of wood or laminate, leather, or rubberized plastic.
Whether you choose an automatic or manual opening mechanism is a question of individual preference. Based on our own internal surveys and customer reviews on Amazon, we prefer automatic umbrellas that can be fully opened and partially closed at the touch of a button on the handle. (So far, not a single umbrella can be completely closed again – we also have our doubts that this will ever happen). With groceries, a handbag or briefcase, or a child, on the one hand, it is definitely an advantage to be able to open or close your umbrella with the other. For this reason, we recommend an automatic mechanism. On the other hand, practically all cane umbrellas have a manual closure, and many particularly light umbrellas are also completely manual to save weight.
Then there is the question of the price. In the meantime, for less than 25 dollars, you can already get a model that is high enough in quality to bend in the wind and still not permanently deform. For the price, it doesn’t hurt your wallet too much, though, if you forget the glider in a restaurant. Of course, one could be a little more stingy; but we would not recommend this, neither would Levee: “One can already buy a 5 dollars umbrella at the street corner or a 10 dollars umbrella in the pharmacy. But how many of those do you buy in a lifetime?” With one of the umbrellas from the street corner, you don’t so much ask yourself WHEN the umbrella is broken (often the same day you bought it) as to WHEN it is broken. If you are willing to spend a little more than just 30 dollars on an umbrella, this may be a very good decision. However, whether the investment is worth it depends a lot on your personal style and whether you like to forget an umbrella. “You can get a really nice cane umbrella from just under 80 to 120 dollars,” says Levee. Surely a handmade, maple, Italian twill-covered cane umbrella, like the Davek Savile we tested, is timelessly beautiful – but you can’t necessarily expect a noticeably better performance. But maybe the financial investment motivates you to take a last look inside the umbrella stand before you go out the door.
Especially with more expensive umbrellas, guarantees are important. Many cheap brands offer a lifetime warranty or other attractive post-sale claims but make the return and exchange so expensive and time-consuming that it is simply not worth it. That’s why we recommend well-known brands with fairly reliable and straightforward return and exchange programs, even if their products seem more expensive at first – your wallet will thank you in the long run.
For our update, we’ve looked at dozens of new automatic, manual, ultralight, reversible and/or stick umbrellas. In the end, seven new models from Ace Teah, Bodyguard, Crackajack, Elementex, LifeTek, and Tadge Goods competed against old favorites from our side: Repel, AmazonBasics, and Lewis N. Clark.
Here’s how we testedA travel umbrella should primarily keep the user dry. The statement appears redundant but carries a high truth content. In 2015, we tested the ability of several umbrellas to keep a mannequin dressed in a T-shirt dry in the shower. To nobody’s surprise, we learned quite unspectacularly that wider umbrellas are better suited to protect the head, shoulders, and upper body reliably. But as soon as the diameters exceed one meter, the umbrellas become too heavy, without offering better protection against precipitation. As we were already aware of this fact, we focused our 2018 tests on other aspects, such as sealing performance and the quality of construction.
So we tried to test the gliders in real-life scenarios and find out how they would perform in particularly strong winds. Umbrellas have to be lightweight yet strong. Even with modern ripstop fabrics, alloys, and composite materials, this requires a compromise: flexibility is required. A good umbrella can easily withstand a stiff breeze, but it can also return to its original shape if a sudden gust pushes its load capacity to its limits. The umbrella should bend but not break. Therefore, the ability to return to its original shape easily and repeatedly is also crucial. In 2017, our wirecutter colleague Sarah J. Robbins tested each of the 16 new models on a particularly rainy day in February – the little son in a BabyBjörn stretcher always with him. A few days later, on a sunny but stormy day, she did a second lap, this time pushing the baby into a stroller.
Together with wirecutter editor Tim Heffernan, who had conducted the 2016 tests, we were able to make a subjective judgment based on factors such as weight, balance, and comfort. In the case of the cane gliders, which were much larger and heavier, we focused primarily on user-friendliness in relation to body size. The 158 cm tall Sarah and Tim and Daniel Varghese, who are both about 180 cm tall, helped us with this.
Then the most promising candidates had to undergo a series of stress tests. As in the past, we started our tests on the balcony of Tim’s apartment in Queens, New York. The aim was to force the gliders to do something that rarely happens in everyday life: we held the handle parallel to the ground and let the wind blow into the glider with full force. After successfully turning the glider around, we tried to reverse our action.
We tested the survivors during a particularly strong winter storm after sorting out models where it was difficult or impossible to do so or even broke. Daniel walked the half kilometer between his home and the grocery store once with each of the models, waited in curves for especially strong gusts of wind, and memorized which models inverted and how difficult it was to bring them back to a normal state. Some of them refused to turn around under these quite normal conditions, so he had to repeat the “balcony test” and thus forced them to overturn.
Stick with styleIf you are looking for nicer materials or a more refined surface and are willing to show off a little, you can find perfect umbrellas. These models usually don’t really offer better performance, but the same could be said about a Gucci sweater compared to one from L.L.Bean.
If you’re looking for a classic stick umbrella to go with your Sunday suit, take a closer look at the Davek Elite. It simply feels and looks luxurious: a stitched leather handle, a fiberglass frame, and a 140 cm cover, which the company says is made of “190 thread count” fabric. The price tag also screams luxury – at 165 dollars, it is one of the most expensive umbrellas in the test. However, these costs are partly justified by Davek’s lifetime guarantee (which even gives 50 percent on a new umbrella if you ever lose you’re original). The Davek also performs unexpectedly well in windy conditions: Thanks to its flexible frame, it did not become a kite in our tests in the wind but turned over and could easily be brought back into shape. Note that the stick handle measures just under 13 cm, which is quite a lot for a smaller hand. The Elite is available in three colors: black, blue, or copper, which is shown in the picture.
Care and maintenanceIf you want your compact umbrella to keep you dry for a long time, you should remember to leave it dry once in a while. Just leave your umbrella open after use – the bathtub is ideal for this. If not, metal parts can corrode, especially the automatic opening and closing mechanisms. Mould can also form in a closed, wet umbrella, and this not only smells bad but can also attack the fabric over time.
Let the mechanisms do their job, said Rain or Shine’s Peggy Levee: “If you use a model with an automatic opening and closing mechanism, don’t close it manually. “I always point that out to customers,” she said. Over time, that could cause the mechanism to break and break down.