I've been intrigued by the idea of hiking with an umbrella for many years (I think it started out as a Ray Jardine technique and then got picked up by the lightweight backpacking crowd in general to the point where trekking umbrellas are now readily available and you don't have to fashion your own).
I hadn't owned an umbrella since I was a little kid (I always figured, what's the point?). Then C got me a Totes trekking umbrella for Christmas, and I bought a euroSCHRIM Lightflex trekking umbrella before our trip. I had expected we'd need the umbrellas more for sun shelter than rain, and had intended to get a silver one, for better UV reflection, but there were none available at the time I ordered. As it turned out, we got at least as much rain as sun, and the umbrellas got a workout in wet weather
- I was surprised to find I really liked hiking with an umbrella, especially in the rain. It creates like a little micro-rain-free-environment (did everyone else already know this?).
- Both umbrellas were light and not too wide or unwieldy. I preferred the Lightflex for its slightly lighter weight and more comfortable handle, and the fact that it's not collapsible (for some reason that extra step annoyed me).
- When we were hiking in on-again-off-again rain, I didn't have to dig my raincoat out of my pack and put it on and then take it off and then put it on again (or hike in a sweaty plastic coat between downpours), but rather just pop the umbrella up and then down and then up.
- I didn't have a noisy, crackly hood over my head when it was raining.
- The umbrella provided some (but not total) protection to my day pack and camera.
- It made for a handy little shelter both in camp and during trail-side rest stops.
- I was able to take pictures under it during a light rain.
- The umbrella does not take the place of rain gear in a downpour. At the Sand Dunes, I walked to the camper registration booth and then stopped in the bathroom on my way back to our site. While I was in there, the skies opened up and by the time I got to our campsite, a few 100 yards away, I was soaked from the armpits down--the umbrella kept dry only the part of me that might be carved into a marble bust if I were an important historical figure.
- It's one more thing to pack and carry. Sometimes I did, sometimes I didn't.
- It didn't provide as much sun protection as I'd hoped. I picked a light color thinking it would be more reflective, but a lot of the sunlight shined right through. Before going on a serious desert or mountain hike in an exposed area, I would get a silver one.
- It takes up a hand. There are hacks people use to attach them hands-free to their backpacks. I didn't try this with my day pack, and I'm not sure if I'd want to lose the ability to control the direction of the umbrella.
Overall: I'm a convert. Just the convenience and elimination of annoying hood noise alone was enough to convince me. I can't wait to try it on a longer backpacking trip.