I never thought the day would come when I would include an umbrella with a lightweight hiking set-up. But it has. For the past few day hikes, enjoying some of the best summer days the UK has experienced in some time, Three Points of the Compass has been tucking a Swing Liteflex umbrella from EuroSchirm into the side pocket of an Osprey Manta 28.
Umbrellas do not form part of traditional British hiking. They have been used by thousands of long distance hikers in the US for years, especially when passing through hundreds of miles of desert sections on longer trails, but in our less UV intense, wetter and windier climes, there are very few hikers using such an item on UK trails.
An umbrella is obviously of use when it rains. I have commuted to London for decades for work and hate with a passion the use of umbrellas on crowded streets. I have been poked in the ear and eye, walked into, jabbed, bashed and scraped by hundreds of unwary, uncaring and selfish umbrella brandishing folk. If not literally scarred, I am mentally scarred for life. You will never see me using an umbrella in a city. Even as a glasses wearer, where rain is the bane of our life, I simply put on a brimmed hat, sometimes combined with the raised hood of a waterproof. Perhaps that is one reason why I have resisted carrying an umbrella for so many years while hiking. However I attempt to be open minded, there are obvious benefits to an umbrella. The question is do the benefits from an umbrella on trail outweigh the increase in weight and bulk when carrying such a piece of kit?
EuroSchirm is a family business based in Germany, Eberhard Göbel have been making specialist umbrellas since 1919 and Three Points of the Compass has been considering purchasing one of their trekking umbrellas for a number of years. It was only while browsing their website toward the end of 2019 that I noticed their move toward the cheaper, possibly more rubbish, end of the market that I began to wonder how long they would bother to continue to offer what is quite a niche and relatively expensive product. So I bought one. Then put it on a shelf and ignored it for another half a year.
In this strange, dangerous and odd year, my hiking plans have gone awry. About the best I am managing are day walks. Living in the South East corner of England, I have no grand mountains to scale, sweeping airy ridges to stride along, few decent cliff paths to speak of. I have walked most of the longer named trails in my corner of the country- North Downs Way, South Downs Way, Wealdway, London Countryway, London LOOP, I am steadily working through the Greensand Way with Mrs Three Points of the Compass, so it was time for me to finally complete the Saxon Shore Way as a series of day hikes. This is something that I can tackle mostly by utilising trains to return to each days start point.
This long distance path is 163 miles (262km) and commenced in Gravesend, Kent, then follows the coast of South East England as it was in Roman times, following the line of Roman and later fortification, ending at Hastings in East Sussex. Walking through a grand summer, I felt this may be an ideal opportunity to carry this umbrella with me to try it out with intense UV. If it is a wet winter, I’ll be giving this umbrella another crack to see how I get on with it while hiking in constant rain.
The Euroschirm range includes trekking, golf and city umbrellas. The trekking collection includes fixed length and collapsible umbrellas in a wide range of colours. I purchased the Swing Liteflex. This a fixed length umbrella that cannot collapse. While this means that it has a length that constantly has to be contended with, there is less to go wrong and break, and less moving parts so less weight. There are no metal parts to this umbrella at all. There are no clips to the opening/closing mechanism, it simply slides and locks into place under tension. The umbrella has a fibreglass shaft and ribs. Covering the ribs is a Teflon coated polyester canopy. It has a short, dense EVA foam handle with a short adjustable wrist loop. My canopy is a silver metallic outer that reflects sunlight, with a dark interior. This has a UV protection of UPF 50+. The classic hiking umbrella for many years in US circles was the Golite ‘Chrome Dome’. More recently, other US companies also advertise their own variants. Almost all of these are actually the umbrella that I have purchased, made by Euroschirm, and simply re-branded with their company logo. There are eight ribs on my model, this gives greater strength over the six ribbed models also available.
The weight of an umbrella is an obvious downside, even with a model such as this that excludes excess fittings wherever possible. My Swing Liteflex tips the scales at 241g (8.5oz), EuroSchirm advertise it as weighing 207g, it does not. Weight is excluding the carry case that I immediately dumped. The other hassle with this umbrella is its length. I realised this prior to purchasing it but I prefer the lack of things to go wrong over any advantage from a collapsible model. It is 635mm long and you can see in a couple of images here how it looks when stowed on my day pack. There are collapsible trekking versions available from EuroSchirm that close to a length of 275mm but, as said, these probably introduce points of failure to the product. I may yet buy one of those too as they will probably travel better overseas.
When in use, it is a doddle to hike with hands free. I have my sternum strap done up over the shaft, the wrist loop is passed through my packs hip belt before that is fastened, then it simply rests on my pack and back of my head. It can be carried over one shoulder or the other depending on sun aspect, or in the case of wind and rain, from what direction that is coming.
The umbrella is a metre wide and provides total shade to head, shoulders and top of upper body. I haven’t carried a thermometer with me to accurately measure, but on a recent day hike, on an exposed section of seawall, the sun in a cloudless sky and measuring 32°C (89.60 °F), I would guess it was between five and ten degrees cooler beneath the umbrella.
This umbrella would have been absolutely fantastic on some hikes I have done on exposed Mediterranean islands. I have sweltered along relying on my faithful Tilley LTM5 AIRFLO hat to keep shaded. I will definitely be taking this or a similar umbrella when I next return to those hot and exposed islands.
I haven’t carried an umbrella with me while hiking since I packed along a small folding city type ‘brolly’ when hiking the bald Bavarian hills over a couple of summers in the 1980s. After almost forty years it feels strange to return to one. The upside is that I can walk hands free with no bouncing or discomfort from such a piece of kit. Downsides already noted is the width and extra height. This set-up is in no way suited to paths with overhanging branches, nor on narrow tracks with brambles and thorns. I shall persevere, for now.