This trekking umbrella is a great multi-use piece…
Source: bought it new
Price Paid: $30 (got it on sale)
This trekking umbrella is a great multi-use piece of gear. It is ultra lightweight and offers protection from sun and rain, keeps you cooler, you can use it hands-free, and it does much more.
- Multi-use as rain gear and sun gear
- Attach to shoulder strap for hands-free use
- Keeps you shaded (SPF 50+)
- Keeps you cool
- Keeps you dry
- Large area of rain protection
- Sturdy and durable
- Might allow you to leave rain gear at home
- Additional uses – shelter, windscreen, more
- Attaching to shoulder strap has some tradeoffs
- Silver coating scratches easily
- You’ll get some funny looks
This is a review of the silver reflective-coated Swing Trek Liteflex Trek umbrella. I am not connected to the maker of this umbrella in any way. I got it on a good sale from Amazon, it typically retails for $40-$45.
This umbrella has been licensed and marketed through a lot of different channels, so this umbrella and all of the following are the exact same thing: the EuroSCHIRM, the old GoLite Chrome Dome, and what is now sold by Gossamer Gear, Zpacks, and Six Moon Designs.
You’ve probably scoffed at the idea of a backpacking umbrella, I used to as well. But then I began to see the wisdom of it. Form follows function, and whatever it may look like, this umbrella delivers a lot of functionality. It’s now my favorite piece of gear. It serves as excellent sun gear and also excellent rain gear, and it has other uses as well. And, I can strap it hands-free to my pack and use it all day without holding it.
This umbrella is super light, 7.9 oz on my scale without the carry case that comes with it. It features fiberglass shaft and ribs, EVA foam handle, and a Teflon-coated canopy. The canopy is 39.5" in diameter, a good size for protecting you. The umbrella height is 25.2".
There is a wrist strap attached to the handle, I have thought about cutting it off but hesitate because it is molded into the foam handle (it’s not a hole through the handle that could take a replacement cord). Cutting that off probably would save half an ounce. The silver model has a reflective silver coating applied to the outside of the canopy fabric, and the canopy is black on the underside to absorb sun and heat reflected up from below. There are different colors available, but believe me you want the reflective silver coating.
As a percentage of time used for each function, I use the umbrella more for sun and heat protection than anything else. And that’s really what an umbrella is designed for—after all, the root of the word umbrella is Latin for shade. The umbrella blocks the sun and keeps me cooler, but then the reflective coating maximizes and amplifies that effect by reflecting even more energy away. It protects from harmful UV rays and is rated SPF 50+.
And…because of the tremendous shade that the umbrella provides, I usually don’t even wear a hat, even on totally exposed terrain at high altitude. This allows the breezes to flow across my entire scalp. I am a head sweater, and any hat no matter how light and ventilated makes my head hot and the sweat pours down. With this umbrella, though, I can feel a clear difference in temperature, my head stays cool, and I drip less sweat.
Also, because of the umbrella’s size, It provides much more shade than any hat could, covering my face, ears, back of my neck, etc. (Note: I do bring a hat and use it during breaks and such, but I don’t bring a big and stifling sun hat just my Trailspace runner’s hat (it’s the lightest and best ventilated I’ve found.)
Of course, the umbrella also works extremely well as rain gear. Instead of just covering your body like a rain jacket and hood, an umbrella is like a small “shelter” with a usable area underneath, keeping rain well away from your face and upper body so your face stays dry.
As someone who wears eyeglasses all the time I especially appreciate not having my lenses covered in droplets. I can take photos from a dry vantage point. I can pull things out of my pockets or hip belt (notebook, map, first aid, etc) in a little dry bubble. Note: in the rain you want to make sure that the back of the umbrella goes over the top of your pack, not tucked between the pack and your body to avoid channeling rain down your back.
Since it covers my upper body so well I don’t need anything more than a windshirt for all but the heaviest and most wind-blown rain, saving weight on rain gear. I can supplement it with a simple 2 oz rain kilt I made from a piece of silnylon and drawcord. This way I don’t get that clammy moisture build-up from my own sweat that happens when wearing a waterproof layer. I rarely need more than a windshirt in the rain underneath the umbrella.
Strong and sturdy
This umbrella is surprisingly strong and durable. The fiberglass frame is very sturdy despite being very light. This past summer I was crossing the Evelyn plateau in Yosemite high country, a notoriously windy place, and caught some gusts that I estimate at over 40mph – the umbrella flipped inside out but didn’t break (the ribs are designed to flip inside out), I popped it back to its proper shape and it’s as good as new.
Umbrella flips inside out without breaking:
I also have brushed and scraped the canopy against pointy branches, bark on tree trunks and granite rock and nothing punctured the canopy, instead the fabric flexed and slid off the offending object very easily.
Attaching the umbrella to your pack for hands-free use is simple. There are a variety of methods described on multiple websites (and easily found with a google search), here’s what I do: I used a larkshead to attach a couple of short segments of cord to the daisy chain loops on my shoulder straps (2 attachment points on each side), with a cord lock on each. To attach I just slip the umbrella handle down through the top loop and then the bottom loop on whichever side I choose, I cinch the bottom loop tight around the umbrella's handle (which conveniently has some grooves dye-cut into the foam, giving the cord a channel to stay in place) and then cinch the top loop around the umbrella shaft.
It works really well. I can mount it either side, or if the sun is low on the horizon I can attach it diagonally across my chest to angle it how I want. This method holds solid all day without needing any adjustment, I'm totally hands-free (I use two trekking poles). I can even take my pack off and put it back on with the umbrella still attached.
Walking around with a silver umbrella strapped hands-free to your shoulder strap is intriguing to people—those I meet on the trail always comment. In the backcountry they are more likely to appreciate the benefits of the hands-free setup. A trail crew in the Sierra Nevada wanted to stop me and ask all about it, they were highly interested. More toward the frontcountry I’m more likely to hear ignorant remarks from day hikers (“why do you need an umbella when it isn’t raining?”, or even “hey, do you get HBO on that thing?” hardee har har – you laugh, I’ll stay cool).
As if all of that isn’t enough, this umbrella has many other uses:
- Set it up as a wind break for cooking.
- It makes a great privacy screen for potty breaks.
- It’s a great little mini-shelter from the sun for your face if you want to stretch out and take a nap.
- In a rainstorm, combine the trunk of a large tree to protect you on one side with the umbrella protecting another side and you’ve got an effective mini rain shelter.
- The umbrella also can supplement a full shelter—for example, my shelter has a beak in the front that does not come all the way to the ground, that area usually is protected but wind-driven rain can get underneath it; I can put the umbrella in that gap to block wind and rain. I can also use the closed umbrella as a short support pole for staking out some extra headroom in my shelter.
I keep finding uses for it!
Negatives and downsides:
There are some potential tradeoffs or downsides to mounting the umbrella to your shoulder strap.
- It cuts down on your field of view, upward in particular. For level terrain and downhills it isn't a big deal, most of what the umbrella is blocking is sky and treetops, but when going up a steep incline the terrain ahead is “up” in your field of view, and you may be leaned over a bit to hold your pack’s weight on your back, so some of your view ahead can be blocked. Keep in mind a hat blocks your upward view to some extent as well, with the umbrella I feel I generally have a pretty wide-open view.
- People’s bodies tend to curve or have an angle from chest to shoulder. Thus, a shoulder-strap-mounted umbrella would follow that angle and could end up tilted back pretty far and therefore not covering your face as well. If you try to compensate by lowering the umbrella so it is on a more “vertical” part of your shoulder strap, yes you might get a more vertical angle, but being lower it will cut down even more on your view. I've been experimenting with a way to prop the umbrella forward at the top loop.
- Since the mounted umbrella could be tilted towards the back it may not do a great job of blocking the sun when it’s straight ahead of you. This is another time I put the TS cap on, no biggie.
- The umbrella and the top of your pack could crowd each other behind your head if your pack is tall and/or has big stuff strapped to the top.
- It isn’t easy to detach and remove and store the umbrella when you’re on the move, so it can be a pain to deal with when you go into an area with low branches, high shrubs, narrow rock passages, etc. If it's just a short passage I try to leave the umbrella attached and just collapse the umbrella's canopy around my head until clear. Ducking under branches or fallen trees with the umbrella attached is challenging, that's a time to detach and store it on the side of your pack.
- A strong gust of wind can catch the umbrella, and if it’s strapped strongly to your pack (and your pack is strapped strongly to you) then it can pull you off balance if you’re not careful.
There also are a couple of small items to note in the potential “minus” column beyond the tradeoffs associated with attaching it hands-free.
- The shaft does not collapse, so this umbrella can’t pack any smaller than its full height of 25.2". I don’t find this to be a problem, if I’m not using it I can easily store it in a side pocket of my pack using the lash straps to hold it (same as carrying trekking poles on the side of your pack), but some people are bothered by the fact that the shaft doesn’t collapse to a smaller size (if it did it would come at the expense of the strength it offers).
- The silver coating on the canopy fabric scratches off pretty easily. My umbrella has what look like a few dark splotches or lines on it, which is where the silver coating was scratched off by some sort of abrasion. Even with what I've experienced I still have 99+% of the silver coating.
- The umbrella can be scary to wildlife. If you see a deer or a marmot near an established trail it’s probably pretty used to seeing humans and tolerates us from a distance, but then here comes some other creature on two legs with a giant reflective head—what the $%*#, I’m outta here. This actually could be a benefit if it helps scare off an overly-curious bear or mountain lion.
Silver coating can scratch off:
These are all minor quibbles, however, compared to the benefits you gain of walking around all day with your own personal cooling system, sun shield, and large rain-protected area following you around everywhere.
If you aren’t sure if you would like a trekking umbrella you certainly can give it a try with any “everyday” umbrella from Walmart or Walgreens or Amazon or wherever—any umbrella can deliver much of the same benefits as the Swing Trek Liteflex. But, you won’t optimize your performance because an “everyday” umbrella will have a smaller canopy, will be heavier, won’t be as strong, and/or won’t do as good a job at reflecting heat away from you. So for dedicated backcountry trekking use, nothing is more effective than the Swing Trek Liteflex umbrella.