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The phrase best hiking umbrellas might bring to mind a summer shower, with hikers striding along muddy trails sporting colorful "bumbershoots".
But picture this: A hot, sun exposed trail through rocks and arroyos and a hiker using a hiking umbrella to protect head, face and upper body from excessive amounts of ultraviolet radiation.
Or imagine a snow squall that catches a hiker by surprise. Hiking umbrella to the rescue!
Intrigued by these ideas?
Let's get a bit more specific about what to look for when taking an umbrella hiking.
You're in good hands. I live in Seattle, where we take our umbrellas, and rain, seriously.
In fact, every year we have a festival called Bumbershoot!
Right off the bat, let's identify which type of hiker you are in terms of using an umbrella on a hiking trail.
Option A: The "I am completely neutral on this subject" hiker.
Option B: The "hiking umbrellas are a stupid idea and you'll never catch me carrying one on a hiking trail" type of hiker.
Option C: The "can't live without my umbrella" hiker, who has figured out exactly which company makes the right one for her hiking style.
Let's quickly dissect an umbrella using a hiker's criteria of weight, size, portability, durability, and ease of usage.
Every umbrella has 4 main components:
The canopy is held open via the ribs and stretchers, and the entire contraption is held in one hand using the shaft.
To be trail worthy, these features in the best hiking umbrellas are worth paying for.
Hikers don't want to carry heavy components made of metal or wood.
And you don't want cheap, easily broken or torn canopy materials or plastic, either.
Fiberglass, nylon, aluminum are components to look for because not only are they light, they are weatherproof and strong.
Do you want this piece of gear to keep sun and rain off your shoulders?
As an impromptu wall to shield you during a pee stop or potty break in an exposed area?
Or do you plan to also use it as shelter, perhaps as an adjunct to your tarp system?
Choosing the right diameter means choosing one of those options.
And I probably don't need to remind you that with size, comes weight.
Ever have an umbrella fall to pieces just when you needed it most?
Yeah, not so much fun.
You want an umbrella that is not only the right size and weight, but as strong as the conditions you'll be hiking through.
Hikers want an umbrella that fits into, or is strapped onto, a backpack.
And therein lies a problem that you would do well to consider.
The metal ribs will not be as durable and supportive if they have to bend to a smaller footprint.
That means if you're going to carry a hiking umbrella, make sure you buy one that is designed to stand up to wind, water, UV exposure, and more over many hiking seasons.
Second best: One that can be repaired with duct tape. Or still remains mostly functional when one part becomes compromised.
EASE OF USAGE:
Some umbrellas are real bears to get open if it's windy, especially if you have to wrestle it out of its holder.
If you have any hand or wrist issues (previous injuries, arthritis, or weakness), a one-button open/close spring system is what you need.
Otherwise you'll be struggling with a manually operated umbrella with your cold, wet hands.
And make sure you can hold it comfortably in even the best of conditions.
Keeping your body thermoregulated is a big job.
You never know what the day will bring on a hiking trail: sun, snow, rain, hail, travel across hot rocks followed by snow fields, or a mix of all these.
Your clothing layering system is one way to tackle the job of keeping yourself warm/cool, dry and feeling strong.
But some might argue that having an umbrella can eliminate some of these hiking essentials.
Which weighs more, an umbrella or your rain gear? Only you can do these calculations.
Note that if you hike in misty, damp places where the sun doesn't shine much and water doesn't fall straight down by the bucket load, an umbrella might not be as advantageous as rain pants and jacket.
But it would certainly provide more ventilation!
On the other hand, an umbrella is going to shield your upper body from sun, hail and rain more than a hat and a jacket with a hood would.
Pick your poison!
And if weight isn't an issue for you, you have the luxury of carrying both rain gear (jacket, pants, hat) and one of the best hiking umbrellas.
Because I spend the majority of my trail time in the Pacific Northwest, I can think of one more use for a hiking umbrella: defending myself against an overly inquisitive mountain goat.
I've been in way too many situations where a male goat wants to be my buddy. And I doubt many of them has seen or heard an umbrella open and close at close range!
So instead of frantically using my trekking poles to teach them what human personal space is all about, I can imagine myself using an umbrella.
Think of the most wind you have ever experienced in your life.
Now picture the most vegetation you've ever hiked through: jungle, rain forest, thick brush.
One more: Imagine the most torrential downpour or snow storm you would want to be hiking in.
I'd also like to throw in a few more scenarios for debating whether to carry one of the best hiking umbrellas:
A hiker who leaves rain gear at home, relying upon an umbrella for thermoregulation and dryness, is putting all eggs into one basket.
If you routinely use trekking poles (for goat defense or simply for balance and taking a load off your knees), you won't be using an umbrella.
Ditto for needing to use an ice axe for any length of time.
Even the best hiking umbrellas won't persuade you to give up your dexterity.
I admit that I'm not a hiker who carries an umbrella.
Blame it on the way I learned to backpack, using clothing to shield myself from the weather.
No one, and I mean no one, was using an umbrella as a piece of hiking gear back in the 1970s.
So here are words of wisdom from a hard core hiker who is also an umbrella aficionado.
There are not many options of umbrellas created specifically for hikers.
That's why I took you through the components and scenarios, to give you a feel for what to look for amongst the many umbrella choices for folks who just need to keep the rain off for a few minutes.
You know, those non-hiker slackers ;)
As a hiker, you want a sturdy, lightweight, easy to use umbrella on the trail.
If you're planning to use an umbrella a lot, in variable conditions, here's one of the best choices, by a company that I've used for waterproof stuff sacks and more: Sea To Summit Trekking Umbrella.
For a less expensive option, this umbrella covers all of the bases (and you). If you aren't planning to use it much, it could be one of the best hiking umbrellas for you.
So whether you call it an umbrella, a parasol, or a bumbershoot, now you know how to pick the best one for your needs.
And if I didn't say it before, the best hiking umbrellas are the ones that you see other hikers using. Don't be shy about asking someone on the trail why they have that particular umbrella in hand.
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