Ultimate Guide to Hiking Umbrellas

Hiker using a Hiking Umbrella in the desert. Silver Shadow Sun Umbrella protects against harmful rays at UPF 50+

What is a Hiking/Trekking Umbrella?

As the name suggests a hiking umbrella, sometimes called a trekking umbrella, is an umbrella one uses along a hike to help protect them from the elements. Hiking umbrellas come in many forms from super ultralight collapsible models like the Silver Shadow Mini, to a full-size, long-handled umbrella like the Silver Shadow. No matter what the design, all hiking umbrellas have some similar characteristics of being able to withstand harsh weather, be comfortable in the hand to hold, and can complement even the biggest gram weenies kit by providing one more essential piece of multi-use gear.


The History Behind Hiking Umbrellas

A Walk Across America and The Pacific Crest Trail Hiker's Handbook

Ask most ultralight hikers these days how they discovered the hiking umbrella and they will most likely tell you a friend or other hiker they met, but let’s take a deep dive. Back in the 1990s, when the ultralight philosophy (and the gear that followed suit) was making its way into the lexicon of backpacking, no one really gave much thought to using a hiking umbrella. That was, until 1991, when Ray Jardine released his book, The PCT Hiker’s Handbook, which is credited as being the birth of ultralight backpacking. Inspired by Peter Jenkins book, A Walk Across America, where Jenkins used an umbrella to fight off the blazing southern sun, Jardine popularized the use of a hiking umbrella to help reflect the sun’s rays in the desert of California. Of course, his was the ultimate DIY reflective umbrella, having added mylar to the canopy to help reflect the sun.

The Chrome Dome being used on the JMT by Allgood

In the US, the hiking umbrella really gained popularity when the ultralight brand GoLite started producing ultralight gear for the mass consumer market. One piece of gear that really took off for them was the reflective umbrella they called the Chrome Dome. This approximately 8oz reflective umbrella quickly became the standard hiking umbrella of the long-distance hiker.  Like most things in the hiking and backpacking world, a small handful of thru-hikers adopted the use of umbrellas as a standard item in their kit and, once others saw all the benefits, the hiking umbrella took off and is now almost commonplace on most US long-distance trails.

With the fall of GoLite, the hiking umbrella world rapidly changed in the US with many ultralight brands stepping in to fill the void for the consumer. Six Moon Designs, in the constant pursuit to make our products lighter and better, spent the next couple of years working closely with our factories to make the best hiking umbrella line out there. We’ve even innovated our line further by introducing carbon fiber frames and shafts to provide the ultimate ratio of strength to weight.

7 Reasons to Use a Hiking Umbrella

Rain Walker SUL provides shade in the sun for world-renowned hiker Swami from TheHikingLife

1. Shade on a sunny day

We all know the risks of overexposure to the sun and the potential for skin cancer. If you are like me, you burn easily, and having to slather on tons of sunblock while hiking can be a chore, not to mention the extra weight in your pack. By using an umbrella, I can walk in the shade all day long, it helps protect me from harmful UV rays all the while keeping me cool as I pound out the miles.

Allgood and FeMike bundle up for a cold, wet day on trail.

2. Dry cover on a wet day

Let’s face it, hiking all day in the rain sucks. Besides being soggy, it can chill you to the bone and it makes breaks less than desirable. With an umbrella, I can often hike with my rain jacket unzipped, it helps me remain drier as I move along, and, best of all, it gives me a dry place to relax and snack during breaks.

3. Better condensation management in rain gear

As stated above, I often use my umbrella in conjunction with my rain gear. Every hiker has experienced that clammy, wet feeling when trudging along in their rain gear, and often ask themselves, “Am I really any drier in this sweat jacket?” Well, with an umbrella, the outside of my jacket stays dry, reducing the condensation. It also allows me to vent my jacket as I move along, minimizing the sweat and condensation against my skin.

4. It’s the door to my tarp

When using a flat tarp as a shelter, I will often open my umbrella and use it at my head as a makeshift door. While this will not keep out the critters, I have often found it to be a great way to create a small windbreak at night. It also provides the mental security of nothing looking at my mug while I sleep soundly in the woods.

5. Protection during nighttime bathroom trips

The only thing worse than trudging through the rain for days on end is when you lay awake at 3 am in your shelter as the rain comes down debating if you should get up and pee or try to hold it until the morning. No one wants to fight to get on rain gear to relieve themselves, but, with an umbrella, this task becomes easy. Simply crawl out of your bag, slip on your shoes, deploy the umbrella, and now you have a dry place to go relieve yourself.

6. Moon blocker when cowboy camping

I cannot tell you how many times I have been cowboy camping only to be woken up in the middle of the night by a big, fat moon shining its light down on me like a spotlight. Instead of trying to get creative using my Buff as a sleep mask, I simply open my umbrella and lay my head under its canopy for a great light blocker.

7. Dry place to cook

I won’t get into the details here, but in 2016 I might have burned a hole in the side of my pyramid tent when I was cooking inside trying to avoid the rain. While I came out of the situation unscathed, I can’t say the same for my shelter. I realized that I had the perfect place to stay dry while cooking the whole time - my umbrella. Now when it’s time to heat up some water and cook the morning or evening meal (cold soaking is for folks much harder than me), I simply sit under my umbrella, nice and dry.


How to Choose a Hiking Umbrella

When going about choosing a hiking umbrella the choices may seem daunting and you may become overwhelmed, but alas that is why we are here to help you figure out the right model to choose for your own needs. To help you decide, first, you need to answer the following questions:

  • What type of environment will I be using the umbrella in? 
  • Will I be using the umbrella for mainly sun protection or will I be using it in inclement weather such as rain or snow?
  • Will I be using this umbrella on a well-established trail or on cross-country travel?
  • How much tall brush will I have to walk through when using the umbrella?
  • Will I mind if, when stored, the umbrella is above my pack or do I prefer one neatly tucked away?
  • Do I want to hold my umbrella or will I be using one of the Six Moon Designs hands-free kits?

Once you sit down and answer these simple questions deciding becomes much easier, here are a few examples:

  • What type of environment will I be using the umbrella in?
    • Sun in the desert.
  • Will I be using the umbrella for mainly sun protection or will I be using it in inclement weather such as rain or snow?
    • Sun mainly and rain secondarily.
  • Will I be using this umbrella on a well-established trail or on cross-country travel?
    • Some trail but mainly cross country.
  • How much tall brush will I have to walk through when using the umbrella?
    • Very little given the desert I am visiting.
  • Will I mind if, when stored, the umbrella is above my pack or do I prefer one neatly tucked away?
    • It is okay if it sticks up some.
  • Do I want to hold my umbrella or will I be using one of the Six Moon Designs hands-free kits?
    • Hands-free kit when possible.

Given this users plan to use the umbrella primarily in the desert with little to no brush and by employing the hands-free kit and not minding it sticking up when stored, we would recommend a Silver Shadow or Silver Shadow Carbon.

  • What type of environment will I be using the umbrella in?
    • The Appalachian mountains.
  • Will I be using the umbrella for mainly sun protection or will I be using it ininclement weather such as rain or snow?
    • Rain but maybe sun when above treeline.
  • Will I be using this umbrella on a well-established trail or on cross-country travel?
    • Well established trail, Appalachian Trail, and possibly the Long-Trail.
  • How much tall brush will I have to walk through when using the umbrella?
    • Maybe some tall rhododendrons and laurel in the south but the trail should be fairly well maintained.
  • Will I mind if, when stored, the umbrella is above my pack or do I prefer one neatly tucked away?
    • I don’t really care either way I carry a foam pad on top of my pack.
  • Do I want to hold my umbrella or will I be using one of the Six Moon Designs hands-free kits?
    • Both- it really depends on the day, wind conditions, and my mood.

Given this user is planning to hike the AT which is notoriously wet, we would recommend the Rainwalker SUL or any of the Silver Shadow series.

  • What type of environment will I be using the umbrella in?
    • Cobblestone roads, trails, and villages in Europe.
  • Will I be using the umbrella for mainly sun protection or will I be using it in inclement weather such as rain or snow?
    • Both as the weather can vary given the hour.
  • Will I be using this umbrella on a well-established trail or on cross-country travel?
    • Well established trail, primarily the Camino de Santiago.
  • How much tall brush will I have to walk through when using the umbrella?
    • None.
  • Will I mind if, when stored, the umbrella is above my pack or do I prefer one neatly tucked away?
    • I want it as small and as tucked away when not in use.
  • Do I want to hold my umbrella or will I be using one of the Six Moon Designs hands-free kits?
    • Holding it most of the time.

Given this user's planned use along the Camino de Santiago and possibly other travels in and around Europe, then wishing it to be small and tucked away when not in use, we would recommend the Silver Shadow Mini.


How to Store a Hiking Umbrella While You Hike

The type of hiking umbrella you use (collapsible or full length) will most likely dictate how you store your umbrella while hiking and while storing it. With a collapsible umbrella, its short folded length (10”-11”) makes it easy to tuck into a side pocket on your pack, perhaps next to a water bottle. This way it’s out of the way and easy to grab when needed.

For a full-length hiking umbrella like the Silver Shadow, Silver Shadow Carbon, or the Rainwalker SUL, your storage options can vary. The two most popular ways to store the umbrella would be with the top down, shove it into your side pocket next to your water bottle, then use the side compression straps to hold the shaft up and in place along the side of your pack. If you prefer to have your umbrella not taking up space in a side pocket you could use one of your ice axe loops to hold the umbrella. With the top down, insert it into the loop and twist the webbing around it until it is secure. Then, just like an ice axe, use a strap near the top of your pack or a side compression cord to hold the shaft securely.  


When not to Use a Hiking Umbrella

While an umbrella is a solid choice for dealing with blazing sun, cold hard rain, and even snow, there are some times when it’s best to put it away. The following are a few times when an umbrella could be a hindrance or even a danger:

  • Super strong winds.

    Do you know the kind of wind when anything not securely tied down goes flying away? Well, unless you are going to be careful to keep the umbrella positioned properly into the wind to prevent it from tacoing (flipping inside out), you may want to collapse it and store it until the wind dies down.
  • Lightning storms!

    While the Silver Shadow uses a fiberglass structure, which is an insulator, our other models can all conduct electricity from a lightning strike due to the use of carbon fiber and, at times, even some metal. So don’t be a statistic of a lightning-struck hiker. Instead, tuck it away and assume the lightning-safe position.
  • Bushwhacking through high brush or on a poorly maintained trail.

    Umbrellas can get snagged on branches and brush and if you are moving at a good clip and don’t realize it the next thing you know you might hear a snap! as one of your umbrella ribs snaps in half. It’s best to securely store your umbrella for this terrain.

Conclusion

Allgood with the Silver Shadow Carbon Hiking Umbrella

While, in the past, a hiking umbrella may have seemed like some weird piece of gear only used by the fringe ultralighter trying to push the envelope, they are now a widely used piece of hiking gear in the US and abroad.  With numerous benefits and a variety of options to choose from, we encourage you to consider getting an umbrella before you set off on your next hike. Our Silver Shadow family of umbrellas includes 3 different models to suit everyone’s budgets, both financially and weight-wise. Heading to the rain and looking for the worlds’ lightest full-sized hiking umbrella? The Rainwalker SUL is for you. 

Over the past 4+ years we have been perfecting our umbrella's shape to make sure it can stand up to the harshest elements out there. So, before you lace your boots and hit the trail, make sure you have an umbrella tucked away on that pack. We’re sure you’ll be happy you did.


Silver Shadow Silver Shadow Carbon Silver Shadow Mini Rain Walker SUL

Weight

8.9 oz - 252 g

6.8 oz - 193 g

6.8 oz - 193 g

5.5 oz - 156 g

Materials

Fiberglass, UPF 50+ Rating, EVA Foam

Carbon Fiber, UPF 50+ Rating, EVA Foam

Aluminum, UPF 50+ Rating

Carbon Fiber, 10d SilNylon, EVA Foam

Closed Length

25" - 63.5cm

25" - 63.5cm

10" - 25.4cm

25" - 63.5cm

Best For

Rain, Snow, Sun, Thru-hiking, Bushwhacking

Rain, Snow, Sun, Thru-hiking, Backpacking

Rain, Snow, Sun, Travel

Rain, Snow, Travel, On-Trail Hiking

Price

Sold out
Sold out
Sold out
Sold out
Silver Shadow Silver Shadow Carbon Silver Shadow Mini Rain Walker SUL

Weight

8.9 oz - 252 g

6.8 oz - 193 g

6.8 oz - 193 g

5.5 oz - 156 g

Materials

Fiberglass, UPF 50+ Rating, EVA Foam

Carbon Fiber, UPF 50+ Rating, EVA Foam

Aluminum, UPF 50+ Rating

Carbon Fiber, 10d SilNylon, EVA Foam

Closed Length

25" - 63.5cm

25" - 63.5 cm

10" - 25.4 cm

25" - 63.5cm

Best For

Rain, Snow, Sun, Thru-hiking, Bushwhacking

Rain, Snow, Sun, Thru-hiking, Backpacking

Rain, Snow, Sun, Travel

Rain, Snow, Travel, On-Trail Hiking

Price

Sold out
Sold out
Sold out
Sold out

Silver Shadow
Six Moon Designs Silver Shadow Hiking Umbrella Open

Weight

8.9 oz - 252 g

Materials

Fiberglass Shaft, UPF 50+ Rating Canopy, EVA Foam

Closed Length

25" - 63.5 cm

Best For

Rain, Sun, Snow, Thru-hiking, Bushwhacking

Sold out
Silver Shadow Carbon
Six Moon Designs Silver Shadow Hiking Umbrella Open

Weight

6.8 oz - 193 g

Materials

Carbon Fiber, UPF 50+ Rating Canopy, EVA Foam

Closed Length

25" - 63.5 cm

Best For

Rain, Sun, Snow, Thru-hiking, Backpacking

Sold out
Silver Shadow Mini
Six Moon Designs Silver Shadow Hiking Umbrella Open

Weight

6.8 oz - 193 g

Materials

Aluminum, UPF 50+ Rating Canopy

Closed Length

10" - 25.4 cm

Best For

Rain, Sun, Snow, Travel, Bikepacking

Sold out
Rain Walker SUL
Six Moon Designs Silver Shadow Hiking Umbrella Open

Weight

5.5 oz - 156 g

Materials

Carbon Fiber, 10 denier Siliconized Nylon Canopy, EVA Foam

Closed Length

25" - 63.5 cm

Best For

Rain, Snow, Travel, On-Trail Hiking

Sold out