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I recently took a short camping trip with a couple of friends when we encountered some intermittent showers. I foolishly forgot to check the forecast and forgot my waterproof jacket. I was handed an umbrella and managed to stay relatively (cheap construction didn't stand up to PNW rain) dry the rest of the trip.

What should I look for in an umbrella for use in the backcountry and/or backpacking?

While I do not mind a researched answer, I prefer an experience-based answer.

Note: I am not dead-set on this as a replacement for rain gear. I am considering it as a supplement and possible alternative to a hooded outer shell.

  • 2
    I think you might be better off packing a poncho. Umbrellas in the backcountry just sounds silly. – ShemSeger Aug 13 '15 at 4:54
  • I'm willing to take the funny looks if it means I can turn my head & keep my glasses dry. – Zach L Aug 13 '15 at 4:58
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    Well wouldn't you know it, there's such a thing as a "trekking umbrella." – ShemSeger Aug 13 '15 at 5:00
  • A lot of through-hikers on the PCT and AT like umbrellas. – Ben Crowell Aug 13 '15 at 12:48
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So trekking umbrellas are apparently a thing. And no one can really argue the claim that they are the most "breathable" form of raingear. There are a couple varieties, some are designed ultra compact to be lightweight and packable, and others are designed to be rigged to your backpack for handsfree trekking.

U.L. Trekking Umbrella

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Swing-Hands Free: The handsfree backpacking umbrella.

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  • 3
    Gotta say, I enjoy the slight disbelief in the tone of this answer. The hands-free gizmo/vest/attachments are....interesting. – Zach L Aug 13 '15 at 5:24
  • Flat surface --two trekking poles --silly. rain coming straight down -- it never does --silly. No hats -- silly. the ad on the next page Is for a bridge. – ab2 ReinstateMonicaNow Aug 13 '15 at 11:04
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    @ab2 In the deep woods (like the tall cedar forrests in BC), there is no wind, and the rain falls straight down. – ShemSeger Aug 13 '15 at 12:51
  • OK. I'll take an umbrella next time I go there. – ab2 ReinstateMonicaNow Aug 13 '15 at 13:06
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    I really can't wait to walk a grown-in path through the underbrush with one of these attached... ;) – fgysin reinstate Monica Feb 15 '16 at 7:41
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After years of experience doing short and long treks in various climates this is the first time I hear of a trekking umbrella. And honestly, I'm not convinced.

Yes, rain protection will be good, breathability is excellent and they are easy to set up and take down when the weather changes (even without taking of the backpack). The single big problem I see is:

Wind

Even the slightest wind will make carrying an umbrella, even hands-free, very annoying. Apart from the thing erratically pulling you here and there, or even breaking, wind will also very much lower the rain protection: if the rain falls with a slight angle you'll be almost sure to get wet at least up to your belly, not to talk of the arms which stick out anyway. So the umbrella will not be able to replace a solid rain jacket (which is important for other reasons anyway, like wind-chill).

So what are you essentially left with carrying an umbrella in windy weather? A very heavy and unwieldy hat. :P

If you are looking for additional rain protection beside your standard rain jacket I'd suggest looking into:

  • a poncho/tippet: can be very comfortable as it feels a bit like standing inside a tent. Also I like to be able to just flap the whole thing back over my head (so it only covers my backpack) when the weather gets better, and be able to flap it back down once the rain starts again. Very useful in places like Scandinavia, Scotland or Alpine conditions, where the weather changes quickly and frequently.
  • a decet hat: this is up to taste, but a rain hat will give you a lot more freedom (and breathability) than the hood of your rain jacket. And it will keep your glasses dry :)
  • except with a poncho a/ you don't see where you step, quite an issue in alpine conditions and b/ the wind is annoying too – njzk2 Sep 8 '15 at 16:54
  • While I would not use an umbrella whilst hiking (unless in a really easy terrain and wind-free weather), they are really useful at the camp. They solve an issue of putig on and off all the rain gear when getting out from a tent to fetch something. It helps to keep the tent dry, particularly during rainy night toilet visits. – Klara Feb 11 '16 at 9:38

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