A guide to the best umbrellas for ultralight backpacking and how to use.
Published: September 18th, 2019
An umbrella may not be one of the top items on your thru-hiking gear list. However, you may want to think twice before counting out this incredibly useful device. Oftentimes, these are NOT junk luxury items. On the contrary, they can be crucial shields while parading through open areas.
With way more uses than the umbrellas actually get credited for, along with being one of the best sun-protection investments you can make for your skin, bringing along this roughly 8-ounce device on your next thru-hike could end up being a real game-changer on the trail.
#1 Sun: Protection FROM SERIOUS EXPOSURE
Using a hiking umbrella for sun protection in high exposed areas like tree lines trails, deserts, or long stretches of trails like the Continental Divide Trail can be your skin's saving grace. Not only will the canopy of the umbrella help deflect UV rays, but the shade created by an umbrella has been measured to decrease temps by up to 15 degrees. These cooler temperatures result in a much more enjoyable hike, along with less sweat which means less water loss all around.
#2 Rain: HIGHLY Effective FOR RUNOFF (and Breathable!)
When rain clouds blow in while out on the trail, the first thing you probably do is stop, take off your backpack, and start digging around for your rain jacket. Even though most rain jackets nowadays have improved ventilation and breathability, there are certain conditions where they still fall short.
An umbrella is by far the most breathable piece of rain gear you can own, and the ventilation you get from using an umbrella instead of wearing a rain jacket in hot conditions is unmatched. Say your hiking uphill in 90-degree temps with high humidity and it begins to rain. The last thing you probably want to do is put on more layers when you’re already hot and sweaty. This is where an umbrella really pays off. Using it will not only keep you dry, but you’ll also stay cool and properly ventilated while doing so.
When facing snow or hail, the protective rim of a hiking umbrella will stop precipitation from accumulating on your pack and shoulders. If conditions get really sketchy, your umbrella can even become an instant pop-up micro shelter to shield you when there are none readily available, like on sections of the PCT. This micro-shelter will also come in handy when you need to do things in rain like read a map, eat a meal, or just wait out the crappy weather. Umbrellas are also great wind blockers for starting fires.
#3 RANDOM PROTECTION: Self-Defense And Makeshift Shelter Add-On
Umbrellas aren’t just for protection against the weather. They can also be used as walking canes, spider web clearing devices, defense tools to scare away snakes and other wildlife.
They also make great add-on additions to your tent or shelter. If your tents sprung a leak, an umbrella can act as a rain plug. If your camping somewhere with no trees, it can become the anchor for a tarp beak. And if you’re in a heavy bug area, an umbrella can be used as a DIY bug canopy by draping a bug net over it.
When NOT to Use a Hiking Umbrella: Wind, Lightning and IcE
A hiking umbrella can be a great piece of equipment to have while out on the trail. But just like every vital piece of backpacking equipment, it too has its time and place.
A time when you should NOT use an umbrella is during windy conditions (unless you’re looking to break your umbrella or become the next modern-day Mary Poppins).
Also, it’s not a good idea to open your umbrella when there’s lightning as it is likely to attract it and shock you.
Hiking in icy conditions would be another no-no for umbrella use, as you may need both hands to brace yourself or bust out that ice axe.
Type: Full-Size vs. Collapsible
There are two types of hiking umbrellas on the market today: full size (stick) umbrellas, and compact or (collapsible). Full size umbrellas are sturdy and reliable, yet their long-bodied classic design makes them heavier. The compact or “collapsible” umbrella is lighter and smaller than the full-size, but it’s less durable in heavy winds and the collapsible hinges weaken in time.
Size: Extended Length AND Canopy Diameter
How much coverage do you want from your umbrella? Do you want to be under more of a bubble or a wider arc? Do you want a shorter handle or a longer one? Do you want just your shoulders covered, or most of your body? Take these questions into consideration when looking at the various sizes and builds of umbrellas. And as always, keep in mind that the bigger you go, the more weight you’ll have.
UV Protection: UPF Ratings and Color
Traditional umbrellas only block about ¾ of the sun rays, whereas specially designed sun umbrellas block nearly 99% of UV rays. Most umbrellas have a UPF rating assigned to them, and the color of an umbrella can play a vital role in this. Silver and black canopies are both great in sun protection for different reasons. Silver canopies reflect the sun’s rays away, whereas black canopies absorb them before they can reach you.
Silver or "chrome" umbrellas are most effective at reflecting the rays of the sun.
Weight: Between 6 and 8 Ounces
Speaking of weight, isn’t adding more weight to your already perfectly pre-planned backpack something you’re trying to avoid? Probably. But since a 6-8 oz umbrella helps with sun, rain, snow, wildlife and can become an instant micro-shelter… the extra few ounces might just be worth it.
Durability: Frame Material and Build
A well-built, quality frame will help keep the umbrella from collapsing or breaking in high winds. Frames made of steel, iron or brass are the strongest, but these materials will rust if stored when wet. Aluminum and fiberglass frames aren’t as strong as the other metals, but they are lighter and they won’t rust.
The “ribs” are important to look at on an umbrella because they are the most common part that breaks. The ribs are the arc-shaped metal pieces that run between the base of the umbrella to the fabric’s tips. They’re typically made from aluminum or steel, and they hold the canopy in place. Most umbrellas have 8 ribs, although this number can vary from 6 to 24. A strong umbrella will usually have a shaft made of steel or iron along with solid “rivets” (pieces that connect the ribs). Not hollow or see-through ones.
The EuroSCHIRM Swing Liteflex features 8 high-density fiberglass ribs.
Canopy Fabric: PVC, Nylon OR Polyester
Buying an umbrella with the correct canopy fabric will ensure that your umbrella dries fast, blocks out the sun, and holds up for the long haul. PVC, Nylon and Polyester are great canopy materials because they’re lightweight, yet still durable.
PVC is a clear vinyl that naturally blocks 99% of direct sunlight and heat. It is the heaviest out of the three fabrics, but is also the most effective in sun, heat and rain protection.
Nylon is stronger than PVC and Polyester; however, being that it’s like silk, it's more prone to abrasion. Nylon is used less today, because it has been found to shrink in humidity which can impact the opening and closing of the umbrella.
Polyester doesn’t shrink in humidity and because it’s extremely lightweight and holds up better than PVC or Nylon to abrasion, it has become the most common material for hiking umbrella canopies today.
PVC is waterproof while Polyester and Nylon are water-resistant. Although Polyester and Nylon don’t absorb water, they will not be 100% waterproof unless applied with a waterproofing agent such as Teflon. A Teflon coating has usually already been applied to Polyester umbrellas when you buy them. This “coating” makes the water pool up and “roll” off the fabric.
Six Moon Designs Rainwalker SUL (5.2 oz)
Handle: Shape and Material
Shape - The shape of a hiking umbrella handle can make a difference in how convenient and easy it will be to carry. There are two main handle styles for most umbrellas - the “straight” handle and the U-shape or “hook” handle. Straight handles are more space efficient and are typically adhered with rubber padding for comfort and durability. Hook handles are a more traditional style, and they can be very useful in hanging the umbrella upside down to dry, or even “hooking” to your arm for easy carrying.
Material - You can find umbrellas with wooden, plastic or EVA hard foam handles. EVA hard foam is the material used in products such as yoga mats and shoe insoles. It’s also commonly used to cover umbrella handles because it’s durable, lightweight, and better yet: soft to the touch. EVA hard foam is a “closed form” structure which pretty much is the scientific way of saying it is moisture and water resistant. Umbrellas with wooden handles are more costly and heavier, whereas plastic handles are the lightest option of the three but less durable and comfortable.
UVA hardfoam handles are lightweight, comfortable and feel dry even when wet.
|Gossamer Gear Liteflex Chrome Hiking Umbrella||8 oz||25.2 in||39.4 in||Polyester||Fiberglass||50+||$39|
|EuroSCHIRM Swing Liteflex Trek||8.3 oz||25.2 in||39.4 in||Polyester||Fiberglass||50+||$53|
|SnowPeak Ultra-Light Umbrella||4.7 oz||21 in||33 in||Polyester||Carbon & aluminum||30+||$55|
|Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Trekking Umbrella||8.6 oz||9.5 in||38 in||Nylon||Aluminum||50+||$45|
|Six Moon Designs Rainwalker SUL||5.5 oz||23.5 in||37 in||Silnylon||Carbon fiber||N/A||$60|
|Six Moon Designs Silver Shadow Carbon||6.8 oz||23.5 in||37 in||Nylon||Carbon fiber||50+||$45|
|Montbell Sun Block Umbrella||7.1 oz||20.9 in||38.6 in||Polyester||Aluminum||50+||$45|
|Helinox Umbrella One||7 oz||25 in||38 in||Polyester||Fiberglass||25||$75|
Weight: 8 oz
Extended size: 25.2 in. X 39.4 in.
Canopy Fabric: 100% Polyester, Teflon coating
Frame Material: High density lightweight fiberglass
UPF Rating: 50+
This full length yet lightweight trekking umbrella will keep you well protected against rain, sun and heat. Its reflective silver canopy protects against UV rays, and thru-hikers have reported that temperatures under the umbrella decreased by up to 15 degrees. A lightweight and modernized spin on the classic full-length umbrella, this product would best be used for sun protection. Being that it’s lighter than traditional full-length umbrellas, there have been claims it’s not as durable against moderate winds as other models.
Weight: 8.3 oz
Extended size: 25.2 in. X 39.4 in.
Canopy Fabric: 100% Polyester with Teflon coating
Frame Material: Fiberglass
UPF Rating: 50+
Paired with a breathable mesh case for storing when wet, this umbrella is favored for being lightweight, durable and extra user-friendly. The mesh case has a rubber coating to prevent it from sliding off your shoulder, and the handle of the umbrella is covered in EVA hardfoam for added comfort. Thanks to the Swing Liteflex’s solid stem build, it’s able to withstand high winds for extended periods of time without fail. We also appreciated their patented safety runner which makes opening and closing the umbrella a breeze.
Weight: 4.7 oz
Extended size: 21 in. X 33 in.
Canopy Fabric: 30D Polyester Teflon, PU Protected
Frame Material: Carbon and Aluminum
UPF Rating: 30+
This incredibly lightweight umbrella folds down to a compact size of just 8.6 inches and weighs in at a remarkable weight of only 4.7 oz. It also comes with an automatic collapsing feature that is used to help protect the umbrella from getting damaged when facing heavy winds. Because of its folding features, this umbrella takes a bit of maneuvering, as you must manually clip each rib into place when opening its canopy.
Weight: 8.6 oz
Extended size: 9.5 in X 38 in.
Canopy Fabric: Nylon
Frame Material: Aircraft-grade Aluminum
UPF Rating: 50+
Backed with a lifetime guarantee, the Ultra-Sil Trekking Umbrella is built with waterproof 30D siliconized CORDURA Nylon. It has a rubberized handle, patented solid brass rivets, a shaft made from aircraft-grade aluminum, and it comes with its very own Ultra-Sil pouch for carrying. Although this umbrella weighs in heavier than others on our list, the extra weight from the double reinforced ribs provide durable strength in high winds and rough conditions.
Weight: 5.5 oz
Extended size: 23.5 in X 37 in.
Canopy Fabric: 10D Silnylon
Frame Material: Carbon Fiber
UPF Rating: Not rated
Six Moon Designs Rainwalker SUL is known as the “lightest, full-size trekking umbrella on the market.” It offers 7.5 feet of coverage, has an ultralight frame, a comfortable EVA foam handle, and no release buttons for an easy open/close system. It holds up in tough weather and will stay strong in gusts of 30mph. The umbrella doesn’t have a specified UPF rating or the reflective fabric of Six Moon Designs Silver Shadow, but its canopy is made of silnylon, a combination of silicon and nylon that creates an exceptionally durable, waterproof fabric that also protects against the sun’s rays. Note for packing: the umbrella remains full-length size when collapsed.
Weight: 6.8 oz
Extended size: 23.5 in. X 37 in.
Canopy Fabric: Nylon
Frame Material: Carbon Fiber
UPF Rating: 50+
This 2019 redesigned version of the original Silver Shadow umbrella provides 7.5 feet of coverage and weighs in at 2 ounces lighter. It’s made with a rigid shaft so it won’t suddenly collapse, and its simple and clean design provides simplicity in a lightweight build. The umbrella offers double-sided sun coverage; its silver exterior canopy reflects UV rays, while its black interior canopy absorbs them. For those who like collapsible options, Six Moon Designs created the Silver Shadow Carbon Mini which is very similar to this model.
Weight: 7.1 oz
Extended size: 20.9 in. X 38.6 in.
Canopy Fabric: Polyester with a Polyurethane silver coating
Frame Material: Aluminum
UPF Rating: 50+
Collapsible and compact so you can take it just about anywhere, the Montbell Sun Block umbrella specializes in high level protection against UV rays. For mountaineers and thru-hikers that are heading into especially sunny areas, this is likely the pick for you. This umbrella also comes equipped with a silver reflective shell and a black interior lining. If sun exposure is not a major concern but you like the Montbell brand, the Ultralight Trekking Umbrella is a lighter alternative.
Weight: 7 oz.
Extended size: 25 in. X 38 in.
Canopy Fabric: Teflon-coated polyester
Frame Material: DAC Aluminum handle and fiberglass frame
UPF Rating: UPF 25
Designed with heavy rain protection and durability against high winds in mind, this solid base umbrella is made with super strength alloy in its shaft. It claims to be one of the strongest and most durable trekking umbrellas on the market today. Its button-free operation makes it easy to use and avoids any chance for unnecessary defects. Unlike most other trekking umbrellas, this one does come offered in a variety of colors including black, red and coyote tan.
How to attach the umbrella to your pack? The "Hands-Free" Setup.
Having to carry around an umbrella for miles at a time during a thru-hike may not sound very appealing. Especially if you’re a fan of trekking poles, since, you know, you only have so many hands. Lucky for us there are crafty, inventor-like hikers out there that have figured out tactical ways for attaching umbrellas to their packs. Also lucky for us, these crafty individuals have shared their knowledge with the rest of us! That’s right, we too can learn how to hike hands free with our umbrellas.
To do so, all you’ll need 2 shock cord loops with cordlocks. They will allow you to strap the umbrella onto one of your backpack's shoulder straps. One cord loop will hold the shaft while the other will secure the handle.
Where and how to store the umbrella when not in use?
When not using your umbrella, the best place to store it is somewhere on your pack that’s easily accessible, like alongside your water bottle or in another side pocket. The idea is to put it somewhere where you can access it quickly without breaking stride. Another note: It is ALWAYS best to let your umbrella dry out after use. This will help avoid rust, mildew, or any weird smelly build-up.
UL Tip: How to minimize the weight of your ultralight umbrella?
To save you a few unnecessary ounces, you can get rid of the straps and toss out the carrying case of your hiking umbrella. If you only want to use it as an attachment to your pack, you might be able to discard the handle as well as the handle loop. Because every ounce counts!
Canopy: Commonly made from Nylon, Polyester or PVC, canopies are the fabric part of the umbrella that form an arc. The canopy stretches to cover the ribs of the umbrella, and the fabric is often treated with a Teflon coating for added waterproofing.
Ribs: You know the wiry pieces of metal that run along from the base of the umbrella to the canopy’s tips? Those are the ribs. Part of the frame, the ribs hold the canopy in place. There are typically 8 made from steel, aluminum, fiberglass or plastic. An umbrella made from steel will be stronger than one made from aluminum or plastic, however it will be heavier and less flexible.
Stretchers: Also made from metal, fiberglass or plastic, this is the part of the umbrella that connects the ribs to the runner. When the runner moves up the umbrella to open the canopy, the stretchers push outward placing pressure on the ribs which create the arc of the umbrella.
Shaft: Usually made from wood, metal or fiberglass the shaft is the “base” of the umbrella. This connects the frame to the handle. Full size umbrellas have one solid shaft, whereas compact umbrellas have shafts that collapse in either one or two spots.
Handle: It's the part of the umbrella that you hold. It can be straight, curved, cushioned, gripped or covered in non-slip EVA hardfoam. On compact, collapsible umbrellas, you’ll often find that handles run smaller and are plastic.
By Katie Licavoli: Katie Licavoli is a freelance writer and outdoor enthusiast who specializes in articles, blog posts, gear reviews, and site content about living the Good Life spent exploring The Great Outdoors. Her favorite days are ones in nature, and her favorite views are any with mountains.
About Greenbelly: After thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, Chris Cage created Greenbelly to provide fast, filling and balanced meals to backpackers. Chris also wrote How to Hike the Appalachian Trail.
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