Why Sun Umbrellas are Becoming Thru-Hikers’ Favorite Piece of Gear

“I pulled out my umbrella and held it aloft. There was no tangible difference in temperature under my portable shade, but the intensity of the sun was diminished and for that alone I was grateful.”

– Heather “Anish” Anderson

Any piece of gear deemed worthy of Anish on her 2013 FKT of the PCT deserves serious consideration. Eight ounces of weight is a fair price to pay for a reprieve from the desert sun. Though I wasn’t using my umbrella to shade me from that extreme of heat, I’m still completely sold on it. I carried Gossamer Gear’s Liteflex Hiking Umbrella on my most recent trip to the High Sierra, and was protected from both searing sunshine and pounding rain.

Gossamer Gear carries the world’s lightest full-size trekking umbrella. For years, ultralight hikers have chosen umbrellas as an alternative to sweating out rain gear or accepting relentless desert heat. Increasingly, more and more hikers are catching on. The benefits of carrying a lightweight, compact umbrella cover nearly any weather encountered on our beloved trails.

LiteFlex Hiking Chrome Umbrella Specs

MSRP: $39.00
Weight: 8 ounces

Materials:
Frame: High-density fiberglass ribs
Handle: High-density EVA hardfoam
Canopy: 100% Polyester fabric with Teflon coating

Size: 

Extended: 25.2 in (length) x 39.4 in (width)
Closed: 25.5 in (length) x 1.75 in (width)

Benefits of Carrying an Umbrella

Less Direct Sun Exposure

Anish is spot on about how a sun umbrella works to provide relief. Scientifically, temperatures are not actually cooler in the shade. However, the blockage of UV radiation and direct exposure creates a cooling effect. According to this Arizona organization, shade is what stops your skin from heating (and burning) under the sun’s rays. So while your umbrella might not create a personal weather bubble, it will absolutely block the sun from radiating to your skin. You know that feeling of being smothered by the sun? Yeah, I don’t like it either.

The Gossamer Gear Liteflex boasts a UV protection factor of 50+. This lowers the feel of the sun by roughly 15 degrees, as harmful radiation is kept off your skin. Also, I really enjoyed not having to reapply sunscreen on my face every few hours. In the future, when I have my umbrella with me I will also be able to carry significantly less sunscreen. The shade range of the umbrella kept my face, neck, shoulders, and upper back completely out of the sun.

Rain and Snow Protection

A non-ideal way to start my trip, but at least my pack had some coverage.

Being wet on the trail is wildly uncomfortable, if not dangerous in some temperatures. Bringing an umbrella in addition to or instead of rain gear provides protection in nasty weather. I wasn’t expecting to see rain on my most recent Sierra trip, then as if on cue as soon as I pulled up to the trailhead my windshield began to blur. As soon as I realized I had forgotten a pack cover, I hinged my bets on my new umbrella. I was able to carry the umbrella just around my head and over the top of my pack, creating a dry bubble around me. As soon as the rain stopped, I gave the umbrella a few good shakes and it was ready to be stowed back in my pack.

Handsfree Clamp

To pair with the umbrella, the Handsfree Umbrella Clamp is a must-have. I’ve heard many impressive examples of creating a personal umbrella rig, but for $6.00 this simple device is well worth it. The bungee cord and clamp wrap around any shoulder strap to keep the umbrella in place while hiking, without having to work your biceps at all. Also, this allows you to keep using your trekking poles while holding an umbrella above you. I found the clamp extremely easy to use, and 100% necessary as I focused on getting uphill under the summer Sierra sun. However, when it was windy and rainy, I inevitably had to carry the umbrella myself.

Breaktime Bliss

Post alpine lake swim perfection.

Whenever I sat down for a brief siesta, my umbrella came out. Historically, I have been scorched by the sun while lounging on a rock or floating in a lake. I love being able to prop my umbrella up against my pack and lie down in a small circumference of shade. A worry-free nap is better than two shots of espresso.

Testimonials from the Trail

I’m an umbrella newbie. I honestly scoffed at the idea at first, thinking that it would seem unnecessary and annoying to carry. Then, both rain and sunshine were mediated on my most recent backpacking trick with one 8-ounce piece of gear. I’m not alone in vowing to never forget my umbrella again; these seasoned thru-hikers all swear by their umbrellas as well.

Zach “Badger” Davis

Photo via Zach Davis

“Lightweight backpacking is all about avoiding redundancy, and there is no other piece that casts much-needed shade under a punishing summer sun while also keeping you dry in (most) rainstorms.  If you’re backpacking in conditions where you can expect hot, direct sunlight and/or relatively mild storms, an umbrella is a great option.  For about 1,000 miles of the PCT, this was one of my most essential pieces of gear.”

IG: @zrdavis

Brandon “Moxie” Chase

“In wet and humid conditions, rain gear is miserable. An umbrella is my go-to on well-maintained trails to maximize ventilation and dwindle the sweatfest.”

IG: @brandonchase

Owen Eigenbrot

Photo via Owen’s partner, SpiceRack

“My umbrella is hands down the most versatile and surprisingly useful piece of gear that I own. Like rain gear, I never want to have to use it, but I always do, whether it is for protection from rain, hail, sun, or mosquitoes, or for catching rainwater in the desert. Leaving it at home is always a mistake.

Josh Burson

“Besides being able to refill my water bottles, my umbrella has many other invaluable traits. These include a square canopy, so if set downwind it won’t escape as easy. It also has a fiberglass/plastic frame that makes it thunderstorm-safe. It’s perfect for those ultra-muggy hikes with the flash downpours when I don’t want to bring a shell.”

David Kurneta

Photo via David Kurneta

“My first experience with using a sun umbrella was during my 2016 thru-hike of the Arizona Trail. I knew that shade can be at a premium in the desert, especially during the hottest parts of the day. When I was able to take a break in those afternoon hours, my sun umbrella gave me ready shade to relax under when the Saguaros offered no shadows.  On the days that I had to keep making miles, I was able to attach the open umbrella to the shoulder strap of my pack and enjoy 15 degrees cooler feeling temperatures in its shade.

Another unexpected benefit of my umbrella was its ability to deter the threatening advances of an over-territorial bull in southern Arizona. Rapidly open and closing it as I crossed his range, I was able to keep the bull at bay. Or perhaps, just confused it enough to allow me to pass safely. I’ve carried the umbrella on every desert backpacking trip since.”

Chelsea “Sugarpine” White

Photo via Chas White

“I love having a sun umbrella. As someone who has suffered in the past from heat exhaustion, having a guaranteed form of shade has helped me while hiking in areas that are hot and exposed.”

IG: @atomicchelsea

It’s safe to say this half-pound piece of equipment will be in my pack on any trip into the backcountry. Whether your trip calls for rain, shine, or a mixture of the two, Gossamer Gear has got you covered. All of the hikers mentioned, myself, and the hundreds of five-star reviews on Gossamer Gear’s website all have one thing in common: we will be rockin’ the umbrella until personal weather controllers are created. It’s the next best thing.

This is a sponsored post courtesy of Gossamer Gear

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Comments 4

  • Andrew Skorka : Jul 31st

    At least give some credit to euroschrim who has been making those umbrellas for decades. Golite, zpacks, gossameargear they resell their products.

    Reply
  • Gionna : Aug 2nd

    Me on the trail with sandals.

    Reply

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