Everything You Need to Know about Outdoor Shade Structures

Everything You Need to Know about Outdoor Shade Structures

Protect yourself from the sun with these outdoor shade structures.

Clean white patio shaded by a pergola decorated with vines

Shade is an essential part of any space that receives direct sunlight, but in many backyards, it doesn’t come naturally. Here, we outline some of the most popular outdoor shade structures for keeping out of the sun, including patio umbrellas, canopies, gazebos, and pergolas.

The Patio Umbrella

outdoor conversation set on a patio shaded by a cantilever umbrella

An umbrella is one of the best patio shade options to protect small spaces – such as sitting areas or table settings – from the sun. Because they are so light, outdoor umbrellas don’t weather high winds well, so it’s a good idea to bring them inside before storms. They are affordable and available in a wide range of colors, shapes, patterns, and materials, so you’re sure to find one that suits you and your design style. Read more about the styles of outdoor umbrellas below.

Market: With straight arms and a long, central pole, market style umbrellas are classic outdoor umbrellas meant to be propped in an umbrella stand at the center of a patio table or other small outdoor space. Many are height- and angle-adjustable.

Shop Market Umbrellas

Beach: Rounded and extra lightweight, beach umbrellas are made for use at the beach. Many have spiked poles meant to anchor them deeply in the sand.

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Cantilever: Cantilever umbrella shades extend from side-arching pole stands so that you can enjoy the shade without having to worry about a central pole getting in the way. This height- and angle-adjustable umbrella style is perfect for protecting large sitting areas, like outdoor sectionals and reclining chairs, from the sun.

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Wall-Mounted: Wall-mounted umbrellas are similar to cantilever umbrellas, except they install directly against a wall or upper roof to conserve the most space possible while maximizing shade.

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Umbrellas come in a variety of sizes, so a good rule of thumb when choosing one is to go with an umbrella with a diameter that is 4′ wider than the diameter of the table beneath it.


The Canopy

party tend on a bright green lawn above a few fully set tables

Like patio umbrellas, most canopies are made to be portable; they can be put together and taken down on occasion, rather than being permanent outdoor installations. This portability and ease of assembly make canopies the perfect outdoor shaders for parties, beach days, or sports games.

Canopies are more affordable than permanent patio shade structures like gazebos and pergolas, though strong winds can take them down, so they should be used primarily in good weather.

Most canopies are made up of a lightweight frame with a thin fabric or tarp covering, but there are a few canopy styles with different characteristics – read about those below.

Pop-Up: Constructed from a simple frame and covering, most pop-up canopies are only big enough to shade one small table setting. They are meant to be used as portable day tents; you can put one up to enjoy a sunny day without the sunburn, and then take it down just as easily at the end of the day.

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Party Tent: Large enough to shade multiple picnic tables and chairs (or even a large boat), party tent canopies are ideal for keeping large groups out of the sun. They’re the perfect temporary outdoor installation for large parties – it’s in their name!

Shop Party Tent Canopies

The Gazebo

bright wood gazebo in a shaded backyard

If you have the space for it, a gazebo is a luxurious and wide-reaching solution for too much sunshine. It creates a space to gather and entertain, and ensures that, rain or shine, you will still have a place to enjoy the outdoors. Many gazebos are robust, permanent structures complete with a hardy floor, protective rails, and a shingled roof.

Compared to canopies, gazebos are more expensive but much larger and more decorative, resilient, and customizable.

Patio Gazebo: These hefty backyard shade structures are built to be incredibly weather-resistant and tend to be more expensive than umbrellas and canopies. However, there are more affordable options that are not made from solid wood. The nonwood options are lighter and made up of a strong metal frame and a tough, decorative roof that can be covered by hard metal or fabric. Many have curtain-like walls that can be collapsed or expanded for privacy.

Shop Patio Gazebos

The Pergola

brick patio dinner set shaded by a white pergola decorated with string lights

A pergola, usually made of wood or metal, is shaped like a gazebo but features a lattice-style ceiling. This creates the perfect combination of shade and sunlight in the sitting area beneath it. For more shade, you can buy a pergola with a canopy included. Many pergola designs can attach to the side of a house to contain the porch area without closing it off. Like gazebos, pergolas are a more permanent fixture and tend to be more expensive than temporary backyard shade structures like umbrellas and canopies.

To learn more about pergolas and gazebos, material options, and installation tips, read our guide.


Pergolas are the perfect trellises for vine plants. Plant some ivy, roses, honeysuckle, jasmine, and even grapes. Not only will they look beautiful climbing all over your pergola, their growth will actually provide a little more shade.


Side by Side

To determine which outdoor shade structure is right for you and your patio or backyard needs, take a look at this chart.

shade structures side by side chart

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