Gossamer Gear Lightrek Hiking Umbrella Review: All-New Gold Umbrella
Any desert hiker knows that the sun is your greatest enemy and that an umbrella is a great way to create a personal refuge. The Gossamer Gear Lightrek Hiking Umbrella has been a go-to for PCT hikers for years because it is a lightweight way to hide from the sun. I tested the original chrome Lightrek alongside the snazzy new GOLD version Gossamer Gear just launched.
Gossamer Gear Lightrek Hiking Umbrella At-a-Glance
- Chrome: $39
- Gold: $49
- GG’s reported average: 6.6 oz for both colors
- On my scale (chrome): 6.4 oz
- On my scale (gold): 6.7 oz
- Packed size: 25” Long x 1.6” Diameter
- Dome Diameter: 34” between parallel edges
- Chrome: Aluminum Frame and Shaft / Polyester Fabric / Foam Handle
- Gold: Carbon Fiber Frame and Shaft / Polyester Fabric / EVA foam Handle (same grip as GG’s LT5 trekking poles)
This umbrella is primarily aimed at hikers in desert environments (such as the southern 500 miles of the PCT, the CDT’s Great Basin and New Mexico sections, or the Arizona Trail). However, it also helps keep hikers dry and ventilated in mild, rainy conditions. Windy conditions such as alpine zones are not conducive to using an umbrella as it tends to get blown around easily.
Circumstance of Review
I tested the chrome and gold Lightrek umbrellas in peak summer in the Rocky Mountain high country, including Rocky Mountain National Park, Aspen’s Independence Pass, and the Wind River Range in Wyoming. High altitude meant strong sun and plenty of it. An occasional afternoon sprinkle shook things up as well. I carried it about 70 miles in an even mix of pine/scrub forest and above-treeline alpine basins. The umbrella excelled in the wide corridors of the more mature forests, as well as in alpine zones when the wind was low.
In hot and sunny conditions, avoiding the radiant heat gain of direct sun exposure kept me and my food bag cool. When the wind picked up or the trail was crowded by brush and understory, it became difficult to use, and I strapped it to my pack. On a 25-mile stretch of the Colorado Trail recently, I didn’t take out my umbrella once since the wind on the ridgeline was too high; thankfully, temps were moderate.
Shaft: The umbrella does not have a telescoping shaft or locking mechanism, meaning there are significantly fewer mechanical parts to break or bend. The length is similar to standard trekking poles, meaning it’s easy to pack wherever you normally stash them.
Hand Strap: The handle has a hand strap with a toggle to prevent an unexpected gust from carrying it away or for strapping it to something else.
Reflective Material: The reflective material on the top side helps prevent sun rays from building up heat on the surface, while the black underside prevents glare from any sun bouncing off the ground or nearby bodies of water. The gold and silver top materials may have a slight difference in reflectivity (76% and 89% by my unscientific test), but the air moving underneath makes them functionally no different from each other (besides style points, which are very real on the PCT).
Gold vs. Chrome
The gold version of the Lightrek features a carbon fiber shaft and a faux cork grip (same as GG’s LT5 trekking poles), in contrast to the aluminum shaft and black foam grip of the original chrome. The two umbrellas weigh about the same, so go for gold if you like the look or prefer the feel of a cork-like handle. Note that it costs $10 more.
Most UL umbrella manufacturers sell a “hands-free” kit to attach to your shoulder straps and keep your hands available for trekking poles or other tasks. The design overlap between companies is huge; they are all basically bungee cords with some sort of toggle. I used SMD’s kit (0.3 ounces) since I had it already, but realistically, you can make your own from the parts department at most outdoors stores and save $5.
Gossamer Gear’s kit is a little different since it uses webbing and a plastic clamp for the upper strap at a penalty of 0.3 ounces. I doubt this solves the core issue of these hand-free kits, which is the geometry of the shoulder strap. To get the dome of the umbrella away from your head, you have to slide the bungees pretty far up your shoulder strap. Because the pack straps curve over your collarbone, this tilts the dome backward. This will catch air better in the direction you are moving and possibly bring some sun onto your face depending on the direction of hiking and time of year.
Lightrek Hiking Umbrella Pros
Ventilation: While a sun hoody and hat are a lighter, lower profile way to protect your head from the sun, the surfaces of these materials build up and transfer heat. It also provides a barrier to sweat escaping. By placing your sunshade above you, air can move freely underneath and next-to-skin layers can be removed. This makes for much cooler hiking—how much cooler will vary with how intense the sun is. The sun’s intensity is a factor of altitude, overcast, natural shade, and possibly even humidity.
Subjectively, I would say it feels 10-15 degrees cooler on average with the umbrella.
Extended Protection: While not huge, the dome of the umbrella will cover most of your torso, arms, and the top of your pack, providing protection that a hat can’t. If you’re like me and pack your food bag at the top for easy snack access, this will help your cheese and pepperoni from becoming a greasy soup by lunch.
Keeps rain gear breathable: While I don’t see much rain in my part of the country, keeping rain off your rain gear with an umbrella has several advantages. First, hoods and zippers can remain undone, greatly increasing your mechanical ventilation without letting rain in.
Second, it keeps the face fabric dry and therefore breathable. If the DWR (the coating that keeps water beading on the surface of most jackets) wears out, the jacket face fabrics absorb water. This, in turn, clogs the pores that keep the jacket breathable, making it ‘wet out’ by trapping sweat.
Wind Blocking: Despite not being easy to carry in the wind, at ground level, it makes a good wind block for cooking or against blowing sand when held down securely.
Lightrek Hiking Umbrella Cons
Bulk: Having an expanded umbrella makes your personal bubble a lot bigger, making it easier to catch branches, bump other hikers, or miss some other overhead hazard. While not super bulky collapsed, it is another thing hanging off your pack that isn’t technically necessary for most hikers.
Usability in Wind: It doesn’t take much of a breeze for the umbrella to become annoying. It can tolerate a breeze when used with a strap system, but it starts to catch and throw you off balance or bounce into your field of view more as speeds pick up.
I personally find the Lightrek useful up to wind speeds of about eight miles per hour when it’s strapped to my pack’s shoulder straps—or up to five miles per hour plus a three-mile-per-hour walking pace. If you are hand-holding it or sitting on a break, this increases to 10-13 miles per hour. Exposed ridgelines tend to gust more than this regularly, meaning it’s not the best alpine choice.
Short Shaft: While I wouldn’t necessarily increase the shaft length (because it would become less packable), it does limit how far away from your head the umbrella can get. If you are hand-holding it, your arm is completely bent, which can be tiring and irritating (I have occasional elbow tendonitis from climbing that is irritated by fully bending my elbow). This is a design problem with no perfect solution. I think GG struck a reasonable balance, but it’s something to keep in mind.
I consider a sun umbrella a critical part of desert hiking, especially on a longer thru-hike where you might not be able to pick the best season to be in the desert (CDT Great Basin in August, anyone?). However, I gag a little at the price of most hiking-oriented models. The GG Lightrek hiking umbrella is on the low end for comparable products.
- MSRP: $45
- Weight: 6.8 oz
- MSRP: $59
- Weight: 6.9 oz
- MSRP: $45
- Weight: 6.8 oz
The chrome Gossamer Gear Lightrek Hiking Umbrella was donated for purpose of review.
Featured image: Photo by Alex Rozsko.
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