Patio Umbrellas vs Shade Sails: Which Shade Option is Best for Your Patio

360 Degree Cantilever Umbrella

Featured item: 360 Degree Cantilever Umbrella

In this wacky and wonderful country, there are a few things we can always brag about... Our rugby (ok, at least most of the time). Our braais. And our abundance of sunny weather.  And what better way to put all three together than with a great patio setup?

Featured item: Wilder Umbrella

Of course, with said sunny weather in mind, your idyllic patio scene won’t be complete without some decent sun protection – and nope, handing out hats and sunscreen isn’t quite going to cut it if you want to be able to make the most of your outdoor furniture investment.

If you’re a few trees short of some decent natural shade, two of the easiest and most affordable options on the market are umbrellas and shade sails. But which is going to be the best for your particular patio to make it the perfect holiday at home? Here’s the skinny on both of these popular slim shadies to keep you cool this season!


Ever had the token Charlie Chaplin umbrella disaster experience? Your beach umbrella decides to show off doing cartwheels down the beach rather than chilling as a makeshift beach tent…or your picnic umbrella goes Mary Poppins on you and takes your picnic buffet with it. Fortunately you don’t have to let thoughts of repeat traumas put you off, thanks to umbrella designs having evolved beyond ye olde stick-it-in-the-hole variety.

Today, Cantilever umbrellas are keeping patio lovers all over the world calm, cool and collected with all dignity intact. Attached to a free-standing mast on one side with a well anchored base, the Cantilever design optimises shade space and allows you to position the umbrella in whatever way suits your seating, your shade needs and your fancy.

The smart design means it can easily be rotated and tilted to adjust the protection as the sun changes angle throughout the day – particularly in the evening when that oh so lovely pre-sunset glare is smacking you right between the eyeballs.

Not only can you have your umbrella follow the sun – it can also follow the elements to shield you from moderate rain and wind, or follow you and your guests around the patio or garden without too much hassle, providing convenient shade and comfort. And if you decide you’d like to work on your tan after all, your umbrella can be taken down in a sec, no de-installation required, no need to break a sweat hauling or giving up your favourite lounger.

Besides being the most affordable shade option out there, outdoor umbrellas are also the easiest to maintain and clean, particularly if you stick to premium models that are water and mildew resistant, and make sure to fold down your umbrella after use.

With all these pros, umbrellas make a lot of sense as the most versatile shade option in terms of function and mobility.

Shade Sails

If your patio is more exposed to one of our seriously windy coastlines, then a shade sail might just be more your speed (versus a potential sprint down the bay after your airborne umbrella). Shade sails come in a variety of different sizes, shapes and mounting configurations which do offer some versatility, but in general they feature as a more fixed and permanent shade solution as the sail will be attached to at least three anchor points around a designated area.

Naturally, this means that installing a shade sail is much more of a commitment than an umbrella. Your patio and buildings may offer one or two workable anchor points, but it’s likely you may need to install an extra post or two if your patio is not bounded by existing walls.

Sails can either be mounted simply as a taught sheet, or more dynamically with high and low points. Either way will take a bit of skill and elbow grease as even a flat mounting can be tricky to properly tension.

Once the sail is securely in place, it can be a great all-year round shade solution, offering both sun and rain protection. On the other hand, it’s not a simple task to take down or remove if your shade needs happen to change. Also bear in mind that sails can be more difficult to keep clean, especially if you live in a damp climate where mildew may become an issue. They can also be more vulnerable to harsh weather conditions and may have trouble withstanding a storm. Heavy water accumulation may cause sagging and tearing, which is why it’s a good idea to get a sail professionally installed to make sure you’ve got all your angles right for optimal water runoff.

The obvious advantage sails have over umbrellas is that they provide larger shade coverage, although the quality of the shade may not be as good, especially as the sun changes position throughout the day and changes its course over the year. But with a bit of forethought and creativity, the right shade sail configuration can create some interesting dynamics and really add visual appeal and value to your outdoor space. 

Overall, it comes down to a matter of shade quality versus quantity. If you have a large area you’d like undercover and your main priority is shelter from the midday sun, a shade sail offers plenty of long term benefit. If you’re after quality shade that’s simple and convenient, you can’t go wrong with a Cantilever umbrella for a versatile and individualised shade solution that won’t have you breaking a sweat, or the bank.

Featured set: Gianmarco with Giuliana Set

Visit Cielo in store or online for a wide range of outdoor umbrellas and accessories, and everything else you need to put the finishing touches on your perfect patio for a well-deserved holiday at home.

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