The Ultimate Outdoor Umbrella Buyer’s Guide

No patio in San Diego is complete without an outdoor umbrella. To fully enjoy those beautiful sunny days in your backyard, you’ll want a shady spot to recline and cool off, too. This outdoor umbrella buyer’s guide will help you decide which kind of umbrella is right for your space.

Two outdoor patio umbrellas

Photography by Marissa Anderson

Types of Outdoor Umbrellas

When deciding which type of outdoor umbrella to buy, you’ll want to consider where you’re putting it and how much you’d like to be able to adjust the shade. Here are the main kinds of outdoor umbrellas.

Table Umbrella: Many patio tables come with a 1.75” hole in the center where you can insert an outdoor umbrella. Table umbrellas typically come with a straight pole. The table provides some support for the umbrella, so it does not require as heavy a base as its free-standing counterpart.

Free-standing Umbrella: Like the name implies, a free-standing outdoor umbrella does not require the support of a table. This means it needs a slightly heavier base to hold it down, though. These umbrellas are a popular choice for creating poolside shade and come in different styles to complement your space.

Tilting Umbrella: The adjustable pole of a tilting outdoor umbrella makes it easier to enjoy your umbrella at any time of day. When the sun moves, just tilt the umbrella to adjust the shade.

Cantilever Umbrella: A cantilever umbrella has the widest range of motion—up, down, and sideways. The pole is on the side, rather than the center of the umbrella, which makes it easier to provide shade for your patio dining table set without the umbrella base getting in the way. This high-quality umbrella requires the heaviest, sturdiest base, but it is the gold standard for outdoor umbrellas.

Wall-mount Umbrella: Another way to save space when installing an outdoor umbrella is to get one that can be mounted on the wall. This is a good option for an open area where you want to preserve the floor space but still want occasional shade. When you don’t need it, fold it against the wall and enjoy the space.

Features to Consider When Buying an Outdoor Umbrella

Outdoor Umbrella Sizes

When choosing a patio umbrella, here’s how to determine which size to buy.

  • Width: If your umbrella is going to provide shade for a table, you’ll want it to extend two feet over all sides of the table. That means if your table is 4-feet wide, an 8-foot umbrella will provide adequate shade to everyone seated.
  • Height: The height of your table should determine how tall of an umbrella you purchase. For a 3’ table, you should get an umbrella that is 7’ tall; for a 4’ table, shop for a 9’ umbrella; and for a 5’ table, pair it with an 11’ umbrella. If you are purchasing an umbrella to shade something other than a table, you’ll want to be mindful of how tall you and your friends or family are—you don’t want anyone ducking under the rim to get a seat in the shade! Some umbrella poles are adjustable for height, which makes them more versatile.
  • Umbrella base: The weight of your umbrella base will depend on its height, whether it is freestanding, and what type it is. A 6’ table umbrella only requires a 20-pound base, whereas the same umbrella freestanding should have at least 40 pounds of weight to support it. Because of its size and design, a 11’ cantilever umbrella needs 70+ pounds of support.

Outdoor Umbrella Fabrics and Materials

Here’s what to look for in the fabrics and materials used to make a patio umbrella.

  • Fabric: Your outdoor umbrella should be able to withstand all the elements: rain, shine, wind, etc. Look for material that is labeled UV-resistant, all-weather, waterproof, etc. Sunbrella is a trusted name in patio furniture and is used for many outdoor items sold on this site.
  • Poles: The two main types of materials used for umbrella poles are wood and aluminum. Wood is a high-density material that’s relatively easy to repair or replace when damaged, whereas aluminum is a lighter weight option that provides more range of motion for adjusting shade.

Outdoor Umbrella Lift Systems

When purchasing an outdoor umbrella, you’ll want to know about the three main lift systems for opening and closing the umbrella.

  • Pulley: A pulley lift system is a robust choice for large patio umbrellas. It requires some degree of strength to raise the umbrella and secure the pin in place, but this can be completed quickly.
  • Crank: The crank model is the easiest lift system to operate—simply crank until the umbrella has been fully raised. While it takes a bit more time to raise and lower the umbrella than the pulley system, it requires less physical effort. This is another good lift system for large umbrellas.
  • Lift: The regular lift models tend to be slightly cheaper, but they require more strength to raise and lower. For this reason, this kind is only recommended for smaller umbrellas.

Furnish Your Patio with Confidence

Silver-Grey Outdoor Wicker Patio Set

The Selina outdoor patio sectional set with matching coffee table.

Armed with this outdoor umbrella buyer’s guide, you can now confidently explore your options for shading your patio. Be sure to shop our selection of all-weather patio furniture as you curate the perfect outdoor retreat.

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