An outdoor umbrella (or patio umbrella) can be a central gathering spot in your backyard or other outdoor space because an umbrella will offer much-needed shade on hot summer days. Thus, finding the right umbrella for your backyard can be a critical decision for you.
However, to determine what type of umbrella you need to suit your backyard best, there are many features to consider for an umbrella. Some features you may be familiar with, some you may not, but all of the features you need to understand before you purchase an umbrella. Use this guide to help you pick out the features you want in an umbrella to help you find the right outdoor umbrella for you.
Let’s get started!
When you are done reading below, come back and check out:
👉 Want to put an umbrella in a pool? Check out our roundup of the best in-pool umbrellas
👉 Want to put your umbrella in a small side table? Check out our roundup of the best small outdoor tables with umbrella holes.
Table of Contents
Location: Where should I place an outdoor umbrella?
You can place an umbrella in many locations throughout your backyard, such as your patio, a dining table, or even in your pool. The right location(s) is highly dependent upon your backyard needs. However, there are a few common options for you to consider (and that you may already have in mind) for umbrella-provided shade in your backyard.
- Do you want a stand-alone umbrella? You can have a free-standing umbrella placed in many locations in your backyard. Free-standing umbrellas can either be placed in fixed positions or mobile bases.
- Do you want an umbrella in your outdoor table or bar? Many tables and bars come with a hole to place an umbrella. An umbrella can provide needed shade to you and your guests at a table to enjoy your backyard.
- Do you want an umbrella in your pool? Your pool may have a hole (or several holes) for you to place an umbrella. An umbrella in your pool can be a great option to provide some relief from the sun while in the pool, especially for children.
Size: How big of an outdoor umbrella do I need?
There are several important dimensions to know about your space and the umbrella that you need. We break down four critical considerations in this section: canopy size, umbrella height, lever height, and pole diameter.
Canopy size: How big of an outdoor umbrella canopy do I need?
To know the right canopy size you need, you first need to know the size of the space you want to shade. For example, if you have a table that you want to shade with an umbrella, you first need to measure the table’s width. Then add two feet to each side (or 4 feet total) to the table’s width to determine the width of the umbrella canopy. So, if your table is 4 feet wide, you will likely need an umbrella at least 8 feet wide (or in diameter). You can always choose a wider diameter if you feel that you need additional shade.
Umbrella height: How tall should an outdoor umbrella be?
If your umbrella is too tall, you won’t get the right amount of shade. If your umbrella is too short, it will be inconvenient for people to get underneath the umbrella. Ideally, the height of your umbrella (from base to the very top of the umbrella) should be about 7 – 8 feet to ensure proper shading and convenience to people using the umbrella.
Lift mechanism height: How high should the outdoor umbrella lift or crank be?
Knowing the height of the umbrella’s lift or crank is crucial if you plan to place an umbrella in a table, bar, or other location with a high support to the umbrella. You need to make sure that the lift mechanism that raises and lowers the umbrella is higher than the height of the table. You will need to measure the height of your table and then find the lever height specifications in the umbrella production description to ensure that the lift mechanism is at an appropriate height.
Pole Diameter: What is the correct pole diameter for an outdoor umbrella?
Umbrellas usually have a diameter of 1.5 to 2.5 inches. Which one is right for you? This question is only necessary if you place the umbrella in a table, bar, umbrella base, or other established umbrella holder. You will need to choose an umbrella that fits the diameter of your umbrella holder and vice versa.
Types: What are the different types of outdoor umbrellas?
There are many variations of outdoor umbrellas with different functions and features that are great for backyards. But, we like to categorize umbrellas in two broad categories:
#1. Market Umbrella (or Center Pole Umbrella): These are the most common types of umbrellas. The distinct feature of this umbrella is a pole in the middle as the primary support for the umbrella.
#2. Cantilever (or Offset) Umbrella: These are umbrellas with the main support pole to the side that holds the umbrella’s canopy from above. Without a main support pole in the middle, this umbrella allows more functional use under the canopy than a Market Umbrella.
Pole Material: What type of pole material should I choose for my outdoor umbrella?
There are three primary materials used for the main pole for the umbrella: Metal, Wood, and Fiberglass.
- Metal: Aluminum and stainless steel are the most commonly used metal materials used for outdoor umbrella poles. These are highly durable materials and provide excellent weather and corrosion resistance for most backyard environments. If you plan on using these materials near salt water or in a pool, look for powder coated options because using an aluminum pole umbrella in these areas can lead to corrosion of the metal. We highly recommend powder coated metals for outdoor furniture.
- Wood: Wood poles are typically made from hardwoods like teak, and these poles provide outstanding outdoor durability. The woods used in outdoor umbrellas usually offer the same sturdiness and durability as metal and fiberglass options, so you should not expect to sacrifice performance if you choose a wood pole. Wood poles are typically used in Center Pole umbrella types rather than Cantilever types, and these poles may not usually have some options like tilting.
- Fiberglass: Fiberglass is a very sturdy and durable material, making it a popular option in outdoor umbrellas. Additionally, fiberglass is very weather-resistant, especially against moisture, making it a great choice in nearly any environment.
Read more about these and other material options in our Complete Outdoor Material Guide.
Canopy Material: What type of canopy material should I choose for my outdoor umbrella?
One of the essential aspects of choosing your umbrella is choosing the right canopy material. You will find many different types of materials used for the canopies of outdoor umbrellas. Each material will have different durability and weather-resistance characteristics that you must assess against your backyard. Below are some common materials used for outdoor umbrellas.
- Solution-Dyed Acrylic: This fabric is highly weather and fade-resistant, making this a popular low-maintenance choice. Popular brands for this material are Sunbrella and Outdura. You will find that umbrellas made of this material will usually come at a premium price.
- Olefin: This is another high weather- and fade-resistant material that has comparable characteristics to solution-dyed acrylic. However, this material is usually more affordable than solution-dyed acrylic.
- Polyester: This material is a popular outdoor fabric because it can be used to make many patterns and vibrant colors, unlike what is typically found for solution-dyed acrylic and olefin. This material is naturally quick-drying but may fade faster than other materials.
Read more about these and other material options in our Complete Outdoor Material Guide.
Lift Options: What are the different options to open and close an umbrella?
Another important aspect of an umbrella is the lift option: the mechanism to open and close the umbrella. There are several standard lift mechanisms that we detail below.
- Push-up: This is a standard option in umbrellas that requires the user to push the canopy support hub up the umbrella pole to lock it in place, usually with a pin and hole, to open the umbrella. To lower the umbrella, remove the lock and slide the hub down the pole.
- Crank: This is a low-effort option that simply requires a person to turn a crank to open the umbrella and turn the crank the opposite way to lower it.
- Pulley: For an umbrella with a pulley, a rope is pulled to pull open the umbrella, then a lock is placed (usually a pin and hole) to secure the hub to open the umbrella. Then, the lock is removed, and the pulley is used to lower the hub and the canopy carefully.
Tilt Options: What are the different options to make an outdoor umbrella tilt?
The option for an umbrella to tilt can be a great feature to help you better shield against the sun. Some common tilting mechanisms are detailed below.
- Crank: If you have a crank lift to open and close the umbrella, continue to turn the crank to tilt the umbrella after you fully open the umbrella.
- Push-button: A push-button tilt umbrella will tilt, as the name describes, by pressing a button on the support pole to enable the umbrella to tilt.
- Collar: An umbrella may have a collar above the lift mechanism that you will turn to enable you to tilt the umbrella.
Base Weight: How heavy should a base be for my outdoor umbrella?
For cantilever umbrellas, the appropriate base and weight should be provided with the umbrella. For free-standing umbrellas, however, information may not be provided by the manufacturer. A general rule is that a 50-pound base should support umbrellas up to 5 feet in canopy diameter. For umbrellas with a canopy diameter greater than 5 feet, add 10 pounds in base weight for each additional foot greater than 5 feet. However, you should assess your environment, typical wind conditions, and umbrella characteristics to find a base that you believe appropriately secures your umbrella.
Ventilation: How many vents should my outdoor umbrella have?
Most outdoor umbrellas will be single ventilation, meaning they will have one vent near the top of the umbrella. This ventilation allows heat to rise through the umbrella and helps the umbrella withstand some wind as the vent will allow the wind to pass through. If you are in areas more prone to high winds, you may want to consider getting an umbrella with double ventilation to withstand higher winds better.