Written by Terry Smith
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UK’s best shade sails that are waterproof and heavy duty tested
This article was last updated on August 17th, 2022 at 3:26 pm
I thought I’d update this article because this recent bout of extreme hot weather has actually made the garden moderately uncomfortable anywhere outside of the pergola or cantilever parasol! We’ve even been using the pop up gazebo as a protector from the sun, but, and there’s a big but. A cantilever parasol will cost a fortune for something of decent quality, a pergola has a fixed position, and a pop up gazebo (a standard 3m2 version) won’t fit a little rattan sofa set comfortably. The larger marquee style gazebos also cost a fortune. Step in the perfect solution: a shade sail. The best shade sails I’ve tested start from less than twenty quid and trounce all the other sun shade methods I’ve mentioned on value by a country mile, but there are some drawbacks which I’ll go into. But before I do, here’s the latest one I’ve tested on my sofa set:
Now the first thing you’re wondering – why so low compared to the fancy pictures on the sales ads? Two reasons. Firstly, as the sun moves around my garden, I’d need a shade sail about 10m by 10m to actually cover the area I want! Even at this low height there are points where my neck still gets the sun! Look at the sunlight still landing on the back of the set despite this only being head height! As I say, unless the sun is directly over your head there is much to discuss 🙂 And we will get to that in my install guide!
Over the years, I’ve tested loads of shade sails to bring you the best. And before you buy one you must consider a few important things and pitfalls. Do you need shade sail posts? What are the best fixing kits for shade sails? And once you’ve got your shade sail up, then you need to start thinking about the sun moving and changing shade areas. Let’s take a look at the top shade sails available in the UK first, but if you want to get into the shade sail practical usability and install guide further, please find the link attached and a shade sail buyer guide runs through important factors such as price, size, heavy duty quality of material, and shape (important believe it or not). Otherwise here’s my top picks after testing for the best shade sails:
UK’s best shade sails – my top picks from testing over the years:
Best shade sail UK overall: Ankuka Sun Shade Sail Grey Rectangular Waterproof Garden Sun Sail [personally tested and proven] I tested this for heavy duty material that is waterproof and it came out brilliant!
Best shade sail UK alternative – Kookaburra Waterproof Garden Sun Shade Sail [personally tested and proven]
Quality triangular shade sail – Clara Sun Shade Sail
Best heavy duty shade sail – Ankuka Triangle Sun Shade Sail will take the most rain [personally tested and proven]
Worth a mention: Sol Royal Garden Shade Sail [huge favourite with others online]and the Greenbay Sun Shade Sail Outdoor Garden Patio Party Sunscreen
Shade sail practical usability and install guide
The sales pictures make these shade sails look like a dream of shaded areas and beautifully comfortable ambience. The reality is very different when you buy one and it rocks up in a small plastic packet – that basically unfolds to be a coloured tarpaulin 😀 But that’s not to say shade sails don’t work, they need a good bit of careful consideration in terms of the angle the sun is coming at you, height of shade sail install which ties into those angles, and of course what sturdy fixed position you’ll tie up your shade sail. And if you don’t have some you may need shade sail posts or poles which take a fair bit of installing! Let’s look at those:
Do you need shade sail posts?
If you don’t have somewhere to attach your shade sails then you will need posts or poles but what you need to consider is these will require installing into solid concrete if you want them to stay upright in any kind of serious breeze. I would personally opt to bodge something up all day long if this is just a temporary thing while the sun is shining bright 🙂 (and that won’t be long in the UK 😀 ) Be it off of a solid fence post (that belongs to you), your shed, and of course your home. Drilling a couple of anchor eyes or more into solid brick is a great place to start. If you want to see that process I would look at my how to install a fence on a wall article as I use big anchors for that. The anchor eyes I’ve linked you to are far smaller but more than adequate for a large heavy duty shade sail. Annoyingly in this instance, my house is cladded so that doesn’t work.
Installing your shade sail with cord using the shed and fence posts
But I did have a fence posts I own and my big shed. Here’s a look at how I bodged mine up:
No as you can see I used a simple variation of the mooring hitch knot so that it’s quick to release the rope from the shade sail. This is crucial if you want to make minor adjustments or you have expected bad weather incoming. It also makes packing away a 2 minute job. You simply give the knot a tug and it’ll come free. Here’s a look at the knot close up and how to form it:
Now if you look closely I mention sending the rope through doubled up – don’t panic – here’s a close up of that. As you send the rope through doubled up simply tighten the knot:
And from here, just pull it tight and you’re locked off and ready to go. The movement from wind on your shade sail will not release this knot. And when you want to release you just tug on the rope line and it’ll fall apart:
I’d just point out, if you install this miles in the air and not for easy access I would probably opt for a different knot.
And then I’ve simply run the rope off of fence posts within my garden. I would highlight I would not use a jointly shared boundary as this isn’t mine alone:
It’s a bit of a pain having it run quite that much distance so I had to buy some cordage separately. Fortunately I have a friend in the sash window business (Brian at London Sash Window Repairs Ltd) who gave me some sash cord for free. If you don’t have anything adequate I would recommend this rope/cord as it ties easily and is the same as my friend generously gave me.
Adjusting the ropes to move the shade sail
As the sun moves over your garden the shade sail is going to cast shadows in hugely different positions. As I already mention at the start, despite the fact I have my shade sail little more than head height from the ground and directly above my seating area, I still face issues with the sun getting on my back. Here’s a look from my security cameras of the shadow being cast:
So to fix this I had to bring the shade sail way over to the right. But that’s obviously a problem for other times in the day. Here’s a look at the morning:
So whilst it looks a bit unsightly, you don’t want to cut your ropes too short as you will want to make adjustments when sitting down to breakfast or lunch:
You could tie the draping cords up easily and improve the look but really, I am not fussed at all and leave that to you if you want to improve the look. So with all four corners tied it holds up nice enough.
The alternative is multiple shades layered over each other. Let’s say I was in a hot country and wanted to shade the pool for the kids in different places while still allowing plenty of sunlight to heat the pool water, then I would get far more serious about aesthetics.
What are the best fixing kits for shade sails?
Without question I would be using anchor eyes or eye plate if I had solid brick or concrete as a point of install. I would perhaps even marginally prefer eye plates as they have multiple fixing points (gives you more chance if one fails. With that said, a single anchor eye installed properly is a multiple stronger.
Installing into timber is easy – you want to pick eye plates. You need to be installing into the studs of the shed through the boards (so the 2 by 2 or larger upright timbers on the inside). In my case being a large shed the timbers I screwed into are 4 by 2 so more than adequate.
If you have fence posts at your disposal, I would remind you to be sure they are sturdy and not shared with your neighbours 😀
With all those pitfalls and that useful bit of install guide out the way, here’s a look at my top picks for shade sails:
Best shade sails
1. Ankuka Sun Shade Sail Grey Rectangular Waterproof Garden Sun Sail
For a long time I had Ankuka down as my heavy duty pick – but after the recent testing I reckon it’s reasonable to give them the waterproof top pick as well. I can absolutely be sure of this after I let my shade sail down partially, (I knew there was going to be rain) but I did a rubbish job of it and it still ended up like a swimming pool 😀 My security camera caught the footage.
The sail held up with a good ten litres of water sagging it down – a fair old bit of weight on the rings. I would suspect the sail to fail long before the fixings. Even if you’ve bodged the shade sail install like I did, it’ll hold up much longer than the sail itself. As a side note, if you’re going to take your shade sail down, I’d recommend actually doing it properly 😀
Ankuka don’t mention the plastic grade themselves so I tested it. The plastic thickness and heavy duty grade is inline with Kookaburra. Before I took it out of the packaging I weighed my sail – 6m2 weighed in at a touch under 1kg which equates to 160GSM – exactly the same as it’s top rival the Kookaburra and are direct competitors. If not for the fact the Kookaburra is nearly double the money it would be my top pick – you can definitely buy any Kookaburra with confidence, it’s just this is a total bargain at the moment. If that changes I will be quick to update this article.
And the similarities in quality don’t stop there when comparing it’s direct rival – the D rings which you connect your rope or cord to are exactly the same grade stainless steel and of plenty enough quality to more than hold in a stiff breeze (or if you make the same mistake I did of allowing rain to fill in your shade sail).
Setup is a doddle once you have a plan – refer to my shade sail practical usability and install guide to get an idea of plans. There is zero difference between this and the other rectangular shades – it’s worth considering in advance a triangular sail obviously only requires three attachment points – so if you only have three obvious points I’d recommend taking a look at another quality competitor – the Clara shade sail.
There’s only one time I don’t pick the Ankuka and that is if I am going for really large shade sails – in that case I would probably go to the Kookaburra because I’ve owned one for two years – at the moment I’ve only had this in testing all Summer. And while it’s held up very well so far, it is by no means a substitute for long term proof that I have. Though on the smaller sizes you just can’t ignore the value of this shade sail. The sunlight thus far hasn’t done any damage to this shade sail – not brittle or discoloured at all.
You can buy this shade sail with confidence – just make sure you take a look at my install guide from testing to understand how the shade area is a little tricky and needs consideration, then you’ll be more than happy with this shade sail for less than twenty quid!
2. Kookaburra Waterproof Garden Sun Shade Sail
Specification: Material: Fabric / Polyester 160 gsm, UV block: 98%, Water resistant rating: yes, D-rings: from 304 stainless steel, Size: Square 3x2m
Like Greenbay, Kookaburra are another well-known name when it comes to affordable, high quality shade sails. This particular model is available in various shapes and sizes that you can check by clicking the link we provided. We tested the 3m x 2m rectangle at my friend’s place and hooked it up to his house on one side and his washing line pole and a tree on the other. When I reviewed and tested this a couple of years ago, I was impressed, I have since decided this is better than the Greenbay and so moved it up to second in my ranks – I feel it’s justifiable given the last couple of years Kookaburra have proven themselves.
Getting a good tension across the shade sail didn’t prove too difficult and was helped by the all four sides being strapped for just this purpose. We used tensioners and a nylon rope that weren’t included in the packaging but thankfully this sail comes with hardwearing D-rings which are, made of the same 304 stainless steel as the Greenbay model below.
This sail is a good pick if you get sunburned easily as it has been tested to UPF 50+ which is the same as the strong sunblock you find in your local boots – and actually more than my top pick, it’s direct competition the Ankuka. The tightly woven, high density, 160gsm polyester material does an excellent job at blocking those UV rays and when the weather suddenly changed in the afternoon (good old English summers) it proved to be very waterproof too under a light shower.
This waterproofing comes at a slight cost of breathability because of the tightness of the weave that keeps the water off you. The difference wasn’t really noticeable and I personally didn’t mind it at all. I much prefer to have something that is going to keep me dry should it rain, actually that should read ‘when’ it rains, than a shade sail that keeps you a bit cooler but leaks when wet. If you’re living in Spain or somewhere like that, the breathability of a fabric might make a difference, but here in the UK? I doubt it.
You don’t have to worry about this shade sale getting damaged by the weather and grime either, Kookaburra have made it resistant to rot, and also used a material that can slung in your washing machine on a quick 40 degrees celsius spin to keep it looking as good as new, which is kinda cool if you’ve spent out on a cool patio set or expensive bbq and want a good cover. If you have one of the larger sizes like the enormous 6m x 4.2m triangle, you might need to buy a bigger washing machine, or just hand wash it out in the garden. It will come up nice and clean without too much effort.
With prices ranging from 17 pounds for the smallest, to just short of a hundred quid for the largest rectangular sail, this is hardly a super expensive product, and the hardwearing nature of its construction will almost certainly give you plenty of use out of it before it gives up the ghost.
If you live in a part of the UK that gets a fair bit of rain in summer, which is most of the central and Northern parts, the East and West, and half of the South, you’re going to want something that will keep you dry, and this Kookaburra shade sail will do just that.
3. Clara Sun Shade Sail
Specification: Material: polyester 160 gsm, UV block: yes, Water resistant rating: yes, D-rings: from stainless steel high quality, Size: Triangle 3.6m
For this review we tested the largest triangular shapes shade sail of this particular range from Clara which measured 5m on each side, and is available for 54.99 on Amazon at the moment.
Although there are the usual shapes and sizes to choose from, there aren’t any colour options as this model is only available in white. I’m not complaining though as this colour does shine with the sunlight and brightens up the patio a bit. Some darker colours, especially on cheap products can make it seem like night time in the middle of the day.
The material used by Clara is the same 160gsm polyester as the Kookaburra waterproof garden shade sail, and offers the same level of protection against those nasty, lobster skin inducing, UV rays.
The PU coating on the fabric also prevents rain from leaking through, but this also means that it can pool up on top of the sail, particularly in the middle if you haven’t set it up with a 30 degree slope in order for it to run off. You should also make sure that the seams of the sail are pointing downwards.
The Clara shade sail comes with stainless steel D-rings that are of a high quality, and also 1.5m nylon ropes but no other fixings. I would suggest investing in a gazebo fixings set with adjustable turnbuckles for use with any of these shade sails if you truly want to get good tension.
The triangular model that we put up had curved sides rather than the usual straight angles, and although this reduces the amount of shade very slightly, it does give it a very appealing aesthetic.
The fact that there are only three points to hook up on a triangle shaped sail makes it easier to set up too, so that’s maybe something you want to think about before you decide on what shape you’d like. We simply hooked up two D-rings to the conservatory and the third to a nearby pole we had dug in to the ground and it worked fine.
Like a lot of these products these days, this one has also been made to resist the elements so you don’t have to keep putting it up and taking it down every day. They still won’t stand up to a harsh British winter though, so you’d better store it away when that time comes. To make this easier, the Clara shade sail comes with its own plastic carry bag, so you can just use that.
If the sail gets dirty, it can be cleaned using ordinary washing up liquid and water and the dirt comes right off without the need to use any special products. Obviously, heavy stains will probably require more cleaning and attention, but if you’re spilling wine on something that is over your head, you should probably stop drinking for the day.
To sum up, I was happy with this product. It was easy to set up, looked good, and was well made out of good materials. The nylon ropes and free carry bag were also a bonus.
The price point is very reasonable and makes the Clara shade sail another good option for your garden this summer.
4. Ankuka Triangle Sun Shade Sail
Specification: Material: high-density polyester with PU coating, UV block: 98% ,Water resistant rating: yes, D-rings: from stainless steel, Size: Triangle 3m
The first thing I noticed when I unpacked this 3m x 3m x 3m Ankuka triangular shade sail was the quality of the material. It just seemed thicker and stronger than the other products we reviewed, and under closer inspection (plus using my Google-fu to look the product specs up on the web) I saw that it is indeed made of a thicker polyester weighing 220gsm which makes it heavy duty, that’s a lot more weight per square metre than any of of our other reviews.
This extra thickness and weight gives this Ankuka triangle sun shade sail a higher level of durability and robustness. It is far less likely to be torn or ripped in the case of strong winds unexpectedly blowing in out of the blue and will generally last longer before it starts to look worn.
UV protection is up there with the best of them, blocking out 98% of the danger while still allowing light and air to come through so you don’t feel stifled or stuffy. It is equally good at protecting you from rain showers but, like all shade sails, it won’t withstand a heavy rain storm without leaking.
The high build quality of this product continues with the double edged sewing threads, strapped edges, and durable stainless steel D-rings. Ankuka are confident in this product’s hardiness and offer a 1 year warranty on it.
This shade sail comes with 4 ropes to help with setting up, and also a free plastic carry bag for transportation or storage. However, once again there are no turnbuckles or other fittings that come with it.
Ankuka do have a fixing kit available to buy on the same page as this sail on Amazon and it is available to buy for just shy of 14 pounds. I haven’t tested the fixing kit, but if the quality of this shade sail is anything to go by, it should be good value for money.
Looks-wise, this sail is a pleasing product with curved sides and a nice sand colour to boot. It would have been nice to have a choice of colours, shapes, and sizes, but it looks like the makers just wanted to concentrate on one particular model and keep the quality high instead, and with that they did a great job.
Yours for only £21.99 at the time of writing this article, it offers the buyer outstanding value for money and is a serious contender for the best affordable shade sail in the UK.
5. Sol Royal Garden Shade Sail
Specification: Material: Polyester with PU coating, UV block: 85%, Water resistant rating: yes, D-rings: from stainless steel, Size: Square 2x4m
Our final review for the best shade sails is of this Sol Royal garden product which is available in both triangular or square shaped models and 3 different sizes of each, as well as four different colours- white, anthracite, grey, or cream.
Both the square and triangle shade sails have convex sides designed to convey the tension to the corner fitted D-rings and help prevent sagging in the middle once set up. I’m always a bit wary of any claims from manufacturers but I’m happy to say that I did find that this product delivered this time and the sail stayed taut throughout the day, even under some medium strength gusts blowing in on the day we tested it.
The ropes that come with this model are made of polypropylene which is a material known to be strong and durable and should last longer than some of the cheaper nylon ropes you sometimes get.
The main material is 100 percent PU coated polyester and did a good job of letting rain run off without leaking. It is also very breathable but I did notice that more sunlight seemed to come through than some of our other reviewed products. When I checked the specs, it said that this shade sail will protect you from about 80% of the sun’s UV rays which is about 20% lower than then the rest of the products featured here today.
This could be a good thing for some people though, who would like to get a little sun without the risk of burning. It all comes down to personal preference.
Like the Ankuka and Clara models, this one comes with a free carry bag which will come in handy when storing away during the colder months of the year, but you will be safe leaving this shade sail set up during the spring and summer as it is mould resistant and easy to clean with standard soap and water.
The overall quality of this product is very good. The main material is durable and shouldn’t tear easily, the webbing is strong and well-made and stitching is equally high quality especially around the sewn in straps on the edges.
With a nice looking, yet practical shape, good quality all round, and a choice of sizes and colours, the Sol Royal Garden shade sail is another product worthy of your attention.
6. Greenbay Sun Shade Sail Outdoor Garden Patio Party Sunscreen
Specification: Material: Fabric / Polyester with PU coating 160 gsm, UV block: 98%, Water resistant rating: 400mm HH., D-rings: from 304 stainless steel, Size: Square 4x2m
When it comes to value for money, the Greenbay sun shade sail is hard to beat and features some design extras that are not always found on shade sails in this price range. There is also a lot of variety in sizes available, for the triangle, rectangle and the square shaped sails. We have quite a large patio that gets a lot of sun around midday so we went for the largest square shade sail which measures 5m x 5m, priced at just over 50 pounds, and it was more than sufficient.
Out of the seven choices of colour we opted for cream as we have modern rattan garden furniture with cream cushions and we thought it would be a safe match. The other colours we could have picked were blue, light green, orange, sand, terracotta, and anthracite which is a type of dark grey.
When the sail arrived and I first removed it from the packaging, I was impressed with the quality of the material as it was thicker than I expected yet still flexible. The material is a PU coated polyester that is designed to let fresh air flow through it while still remaining resistant to rain. It is not waterproof though and will leak if you get any puddles of rain forming on top of it. The best way to avoid this is to make sure it is pulled taut at an angle when you set the sail up to stop water running into the middle.
Like any good shade sail it is UV resistant, and Greenbay claims it will protect you from around 98 percent of the sun’s harmful rays. We spent most of the day out there under it with friends and family and nobody had any complaints of sunburn the following day, so it did the job.
The square sail has 4 D-rings that are made from 304 stainless steel which means that they are less likely to rust and corrode and should improve the overall durability of the product. The stitching and webbing also seemed to be very well done and this too should add to the working life of this Greenbay shade sail.
Setting the sail up over our patio was fairly easy as there are 4 nylon ropes measuring 2 metres included in the packaging. Please be aware that there aren’t any fittings such as hooks included so you will have to pay a visit to your nearest B&Q beforehand.
I hooked one side of the sail onto our house, and the other onto two poles that I had already planted firmly into the ground. The poles were a little bit further away than they needed to be so I used a chain and turnbuckles to link up with the provided ropes and then adjusted the turnbuckles to make it all pull tight.
This is a little more complicated than what was needed as I could have tied the nylon ropes to a nearby tree or hooked to another part of the house quite easily, but I’m a bit of a perfectionist and wanted a certain ‘effect’ on our guests.
With the smallest triangle shaped version of this shade sail going for a penny under 12 pounds, I really think this is one of the best value for money products out there and, if set up properly, it shouldn’t disappoint.
What is a shade sail?
What usually follows? Lots of pink, sunburnt people walking around your local supermarket that’s what. I’ll admit, I too am a culprit when it comes to this despite warnings from my wife, each and every time. When it comes to my kids though, I’m a lot more careful, constantly chasing after them with sunblock and making sure that any seated areas in my garden have a good deal of shade and protection from those UV rays.
There are several ways of doing this such as using large cantilever parasols or gazebos for your garden furniture, but one of the best, and cost effective ways of turning your patio or decking into a perfect shady escape from the sun, is to set up a shade sail or a cheap pop up gazebo for that matter. These can be bought for surprisingly little money and are generally easy to set up. They look great, and can be used over and over again with very little maintenance.
On this page we have provided reviews of the best value for money shade sails in the UK and also a useful shade sail buyer’s guide has been put together for you so you can be confident in your purchasing choices.
Shade Sail Buyer’s Guide (UK)
Getting the most out of your shade sail means making the right choices at the time of buying. We realise that not everyone knows what to look for in a good shade sail, so we have put this little guide together to provide some assistance.
Advantages of shade sails
Why should you choose a shade sail over a gazebo or parasol for your shading needs?
Well, the main advantage over a gazebo is that shade sails are easier to set up with no low lying ropes that people can trip over.
Parasols are obviously the easiest to set up, but they don’t offer even half of the shade that a sail does and in my opinion, they don’t look anywhere near as good.
Size and shape
Generally speaking, triangular shade sails are better for smaller areas or places where there aren’t that many things to fix the sail to. Square or rectangular sails will shade a larger area but also have an extra D-ring that needs hooking up. It’s also my opinion after setting up and assembling many shade sails myself, when it comes to practically keeping the sun off you, a rectangular shade sail is easier to manage.
It is important that you measure up your patio or area you intend to cover to make sure that the size you order is going to be the right fit. Also think about how far away the places are that you are going to use when fixing the ends of the sail.
Most of these products are made of polyester weave because it is resistant to mould and has high durability. Polyester weight is measured in grams per square metre, or gsm for short. A good quality sail should be at least 120gsm and top quality should be higher as this usually means it is a lot more tear resistant and the extra weight will keep it stable in the wind. Let’s also factor that a high quality shade is also easier to clean and maintain.
Some polyester shade sails are only water resistant and not waterproof, so this is something to keep an eye out for too.
Colour options and quality
It’s always nice to have a shade sail that matches the garden furniture or the colour of the house, but not all models of shades give you that choice. White or cream is usually the standard colour though and that tends to go with everything so it’s a safe bet. I’d rather have a plain white shade sail that is the quality I want, rather than a substandard product that matches my garden chairs.
To check on the quality of a product it is important to read online reviews and watch YouTube videos. Even though brand names can mostly be trusted, it is not always the case, especially since many of them are cutting costs by getting their products made in China these days.
Good quality shade sails will have things like stainless steel D-rings, good quality webbing and stitching, sewn in strapped edges, and strong durable material.
This buyer’s guide concludes our page of reviews for the best shade sails in the UK. We hope we have made your decision a little easier and that you end up with a quality product that you will be happy with for years to come.
Please pop back in the future to see if we have edited and updated this page with new products that have hit the UK market, or if you are interested in any other gardening product reviews, we have tons of useful pages right here on this site covering everything from garden furniture, to gardening tools, and more.
Climate change, whether you believe it is natural or human influenced, has produced some pretty extreme weather conditions in the UK over the last few years. On one hand we have had heavy rainfall and storms causing floods, and on the other we have had some very hot spells too with temperatures reaching record highs. Now, we Brits aren’t the smartest people when it comes to dealing with the sun, and it’s fair to say that a lot of us simply whip our shirts off at the slightest sign that it’s going to be a bright and sunny day.