The Essential Umbrella
When you think about hiking, especially long distance hiking, you normally don’t envision yourself lugging an umbrella around with you. It’s almost funny, because I’ve seen people (and been one of those people) who carry an unbelievable amount of extra gear they don’t need. The funny part is, I’ve never seen one of these people (who carry everything but the kitchen sink) actually bring an umbrella with them. The saying should be changed to, “everything but an umbrella.”
The logic of carrying an umbrella is so absolutely simple, it’s no wonder most of us don’t even think about it. At first it may seem like a silly piece of gear, but its applications are vast and its value infinite (I think!). Allow me to go over some of the pros and cons of carrying an umbrella with you on a thru hike, or any hike for that matter…
First of all, an umbrella is probably the best tool you’ll carry when it comes to a full-proof defense against the rain. You can have the most high tech waterproof clothing in the world, but if you stand or hike in the rain with it, eventually it will soak through, believe me. The umbrella is guaranteed to keep your head and torso dry in almost any type of rain.
Secondly, the umbrella makes for a great source of shade (depending on where you’re hiking). I found my umbrella to be absolutely essential while hiking in deserts where shade is at a premium. You can save yourself needing/sweating out around two extra liters of water per day by using an umbrella while you hike in the sun, or during breaks. I don’t want to write a paragraph for every advantage an umbrella can give you, so I’m going to list some more out briefly…
Advantages to carrying an umbrella
-Protection from snow, sleet, and hail
-Will keep your hands warmer and dryer in a freezing rain (as well as your torso and the organs it houses)
-Provides protection from wind chill when aimed properly and vigilantly
-Provides a dry space and protection to take breaks or eat beneath during rain
-Will keep your head dry at the very least, conserving a lot of heat
-Can eliminate the need for extra layers while hiking in rain, wind or sun; which in turn can keep you cooler, or the extra layers dryer so that they might be used later as extra warmth/protection when camping or stopped.
-Protection from harmful sunrays and heat
-Can be used as an extra wind buffer or extra insulation when tarping or hammocking (especially if there is spray or chill from a driving wind)
-Can be used to thwart spider webs when hiking in the early morning or at night
-Great to use in towns when it’s raining and you’ve got things to do.
-Makes a great wind shield when stopped for a break during moderately strong winds, eating, or hiking
So an umbrella on trail has many positive uses, but my favorite is rain protection. It is so incredibly nice (and convenient) to be able to simply pull out an umbrella in a light rain rather than put on any rain gear or struggle with a pack cover. Its usefulness far outweighs its weight…
Some of the drawbacks to having an umbrella are…
-It is one extra thing to carry
-Can’t be used in every situation (sometimes winds are just too high)
-If you’re not vigilant, an unexpected gust of wind can flip it inside out and break it; wasting your money and rendering your umbrella mostly useless.
-If you use a metal one, you essentially become a lightning rod out in the open
Out of all my miscellaneous gear, I value my umbrella the most. It has been the line in the sand between misery and pleasant hiking more times than I can count during deplorable conditions. It’s gotten me through rain, wind, snow, sleet, heat, sun and hail with nothing short of a smile on my face while watching other hikers hang their heads while slogging through the elements.
So there you have it, an explanation for carrying an umbrella. But which umbrella is the best umbrella? If you’re trying not to conduct any extra electricity, then there are some very good options out there. Unfortunately, those options can get a little pricey as far as umbrellas are concerned. I personally carry cheap umbrellas I can get at the gas station since they are easily replaced if damaged in high winds or whatever scenario. Since they didn’t cost much to begin with, I’m more liberal with their application in a wider range of environments. When I’m using a more expensive, lightning safe(r) umbrella; I tend to baby it and not use it if I think there is a chance it might get damaged or destroyed. As a result, I end up suffering a little more when conditions might have been fair enough to use the umbrella anyways. So what about using cheap metal umbrellas in storms? Well, I choose my battles. If I’m walking beneath a thick canopy of trees, then I feel pretty safe with my metal umbrella, even if there is a little lightning. If I’m walking through open spaces or exposed ridgelines, then forget about it; I don’t use any umbrella, or I lay low until the lightning passes.
Below are some options for various umbrellas of varying prices and materials. Armed with the knowledge above, you can make a fairly informed and confident decision on what type of umbrella (if any) you want to carry. There are very light options out there! Click on the images for buying options or for more information!
Non-metal Hiking Umbrellas
Cheaper Metal Umbrellas