by Diane Spicer
Choosing the right backpacking umbrellas takes time.
But if you're in a hurry...
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 winding through rocks and arroyos can use 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 on a hike.
BTW, you're in good hands.
I live in Seattle, where we take our umbrellas, and our rain, seriously.
Right off the bat, let's identify which type of hiker you are in terms of using an umbrella on a hiking trail.
The "I am completely neutral on this subject" hiker.
The "Hiking umbrellas are a stupid idea and you'll never catch me carrying one on a hiking trail" type of hiker.
The "I 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.
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:
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.
You want a trail worthy umbrella! Especially on a rainy day in strong winds.
So let's examine the features of the best hiking umbrellas which are worth paying for.
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 ribs, nylon, and aluminum are materials to look for because not only are they light, they are weatherproof and strong.
The size is directly tied to the functions you expect your umbrella to perform for you on the trail.
Choosing the right diameter means choosing one of those options. If you're fond of bubble umbrellas, that's one option.
A wider footprint is another option.
And I probably don't need to remind you that with size, comes weight.
Oops, I just did.
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.
But consider our next important feature.
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.
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.
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.
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 a hiking umbrella open 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.
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.
So the hiking message might be:
Are the best hiking umbrellas the ones that never have to get used at all?
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.
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.
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.
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:
As a hiker, you want a sturdy, lightweight, durable, easy to use umbrella on the trail, and there are several good choices to consider.
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 under layer creates a cooler pocket for your head and torso.
The shaft is 25 inches in length, made of durable fiberglass.
By buying direct on any of their merchandise, you can save $10!
If you're planning to use an umbrella a lot in variable conditions, such as a thru hike or section hike where it's likely you will face gusts of wind, you'll want a compact umbrella with wind resistance.
Here's one of the best choices, by a company that I've used for waterproof stuff sacks and more:
For a less expensive but high quality option, this umbrella covers all of the bases (and you).
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.
With or without an umbrella, be prepared for any type of hiking weather, and know how to stay safe, with these tips.
Best Hiking Umbrellas
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