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Best Hiking Umbrellas

Hiking umbrellas protect you from sun, rain, wind and snow. Use these tips from Hiking For Her to pick the best ones for your happy trails.

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 hiker on a hot, sun exposed trail through rocks and arroyos using a hiking umbrella to protect head, face and upper body from excessive amounts of ultraviolet radiation.

  • The "create your own shade" effect, with a nice side effect: less drain on your water supply.
  • Technically, this type of protection would be called a parasol. Although "umbra" and shade go together, so go figure.

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! It glorifies these fabric and frame contraptions :)


But first:
The hiking umbrella controversy

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.

  • You've never even seen a hiker carrying an umbrella.
  • Or if you have, you missed the whole kerfluffle over whether an umbrella is a valid piece of hiking gear

Option B

The "hiking umbrellas are a stupid idea and you'll never catch me carrying one on a hiking trail" type of hiker.

  • Yes, an umbrella looks a bit silly when you're in the middle of nowhere on a sunny day.
  • Yes, a hiking umbrella takes up space and adds weight to your pack.

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.

  • Read on for details about how to become this type of hiker.
  • Because I am happy to report that there are bomb proof hiking umbrellas which are lightweight and durable!
  • And will keep UV rays, tree detritus, and rain off your head and shoulders.

Anatomy of an umbrella

Let's quickly dissect an umbrella before we dive into a hiker's best hiking umbrellas criteria of weight, size, strength, portability, durability, and ease of usage.

Every umbrella, whether on trail or for running errands at home, has 4 main components:

  • Canopy: wide enough to shelter you from the elements
  • Ribs: sturdy and lightweight
  • Stretchers: lend stability between ribs
  • Middle supportive pole, the shaft: attaches to all of the above, with a hand hold at one end.

    Now let's put it all together:

    The canopy is held open via the ribs and stretchers, and the entire overhead contraption is held in one hand by gripping the shaft in either hand.


    Best hiking umbrellas:
    6 features to consider

    You want a trail worthy umbrella!

    So let's examine the features of the best hiking umbrellas which are worth paying for.

    Weight of an umbrella

    As a hiker, you don't want to carry heavy components made of metal or wood.

    And you don't want cheap, easily broken or torn flimsy canopy materials or plastic, either.

    Fiberglass, nylon, and aluminum are materials to look for because not only are they light, they are weatherproof and strong.

    Umbrella sizing

    The size is directly tied to the functions you expect your umbrella to perform for you on the trail.

    • 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 a treeless 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.

    Oops, I just did.

    Strength

    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.

    • A collapsible umbrella will be less strong overall than one that does not compromise strength for portability.
    • But consider our next important feature.

    Portability of your bumbershoot

    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.

    If you purchase a collapsible umbrella, it can be carried inside your backpack when you don't need it.

    But if you will be facing day after day of high winds, snow dumps, fierce rain squalls, or some other rugged weather adventure, a collapsible umbrella will (wait for it...) collapse at inopportune moments.

    • Never compromise your safety for portability.

    Durability

    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 before you can deploy it.

    If you have any hand or wrist issues (previous injuries, missing digits, 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.

    • If the handle is too big for your hands (a real possibility for petite hikers), you won't want to use it.
    • Or your sore hands the next day will actually prevent you from using it.


    When using a hiking umbrella
    makes sense

    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!

    • Ever had it rain inside your jacket from your own sweat?
    • And felt overheated as a result?

    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.


    An umbrella as goat defense

    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 a hiking  umbrella open and close at close range!

    So instead of frantically using trekking poles to teach them what human personal space is all about, imagine yourself using an umbrella to define your perimeter.

    Young mountain goat shedding its coat


    When using a hiking umbrella
    could be counter-productive

    Think of the most wind you have ever experienced in your life.

    • Would an umbrella have been a liability?
    • Would it have shredded even the best hiking umbrellas?

    Now picture the most vegetation you've ever hiked through: jungle, rain forest, thick brush.

    • Would the umbrella have slowed you down, or taken your attention off your footing as it tangled in the vegetation?

    One more: Imagine the most torrential downpour or snow storm you would want to be hiking in.

    • Liquid and/or solid water and wind coming sideways at you.
    • Would an umbrella have been of any use at all?

    A few more scenarios to consider

    I'd also like to throw in a few more scenarios for debate on whether or not 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.

    • What if the umbrella breaks?
    • What if it gets left behind accidentally?
    • Or a goat eats it ;)
    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.

    Unless you can lash it to your backpack strap, of course.


    More reasons for using an umbrella on a hiking trail

    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 when I was a newbie backpacker.

    But I have read many compelling narratives by hard core hikers who are also umbrella aficionados.

    • Enough to tempting me into trying one when I do my New Mexico hiking trips!

    Recommendations for the
    best hiking umbrellas

    There are a few worthy options created specifically for hikers, along with a whole universe of "regular" umbrellas.

    Which is exactly why I took you through all of the components and scenarios a hiker might face:

    • To give you a feel for what to look for amongst the many umbrella choices you will face.

    As a hiker, you want a sturdy, lightweight, durable, easy to use umbrella on the trail, and there are several good choices to consider.

    My Trail Company hiking umbrella

    The GoLite umbrella was well loved by light weight hikers looking for weather protection without the hassle of donning a rain jacket or sun protective clothing.

    Recently, My Trail Company brought it back!

    This is one of the best hiking umbrellas to use for all season trail time, without creating hand or arm fatigue.

    Their Chrome Umbrella has a canopy arc of 44 inches while weighing a mere 8 ounces.

    The silver skin and black underlayer creates a cooloer pocket for your head and torso.

    • According to the manufacturer specifications, 25 degrees Fahrenheit cooler!

    The shaft is 25 inches in length, made of durable fiberglass.

    By buying direct on any of their merchandise, you can save $10!

    More umbrella options

    If you're planning to use an umbrella a lot in variable conditions, such as a thru hike or section hike, here's one of the best choices, by a company that I've used for waterproof stuff sacks and more:

    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.


    Ready to give this hiking technique
    a try?

    Whether you call it an umbrella, a sunbrella, a parasol, or a bumbershoot, now you know how to pick the best one for your hiking 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.

    • And if they say it's a GoLite umbrella from years ago, you have a shot at claiming one for your very own from My Trail Company!

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