This post is my solution to using an umbrella hands-free. Sometimes when hiking, or walking with trekking poles, it can be useful to use an umbrella. Now, before I get shouted down by the ultra-lightweight hikers, it is, of course, a personal choice. The problem with an umbrella –aside from weight – is that it requires a means of support, usually a hand, but this is incompatible with using trekking poles, or indeed dealing with using a camera, a phone, or just about anything else.
Why use a trekking umbrella?
So why use one at all? Walking the Camino in 2016, I found I was walking sometimes in warm weather, sometimes in rain. In terms of heat, I was walking West in the mornings, and hence the sun was almost always at my back. Despite a hat, and the shade of the backpack, I found I was getting a sunburnt neck, and there were times when it would just have been nice to have a shady tree to walk under. There are not many of those on the rolling plains of the Meseta in Spain, so some form of shade is a good idea. It was too hot for a hood, and it was nice just to be able to take advantage of whatever light breeze might be available.
I did carry a lightweight umbrella last time, but had no way of attaching it to my pack, so it was always a choice between using the poles or using the umbrella – so it got very little use.
As I prepare for my next Camino, I thought I’d sort this issue – and researched hands-free umbrellas for trekking. I wound up buying the ‘Dainty’ model of the Euroschirm trekking umbrella [this is not an affiliate link, and my opinions are my honest response] – it was the lightest one (195g/7oz) that folded down to the smallest package. And it was reflective silver, and UV treated so it can be used equally as a sunshade or against the rain.
Alas, it didn’t have any mounting system, so it was time to devise my own.
How to attach it
My backpack has two loops on each of the front straps – designed to run the hydration tube down either side. The umbrella did not have a loop of any kind, so I drilled a small hole in the plastic handle to take a keyring ring from a $2 shop and threaded the keyring loop through so it was permanently on the umbrella. I then bought a set of four velcro cable ties – called ‘One-wrap’ from Officeworks – $7.30 (NOTE: this is also not an affiliate link – just there to show what I used). The reason I chose these is that they can thread back through themselves, so I could attach it to the backpack loops making them always available for attaching the umbrella. The free end of the velcro is then wound around the umbrella and attached to itself. When you undo it, the velcro remains on the pack and the umbrella can be easily put away for another time.
I threaded one velcro loop on one pack loop and another on the other pack loop on the shoulder strap. I then used these to secure the keyring ring to the lower one and the upper one around the shaft of the umbrella. This gives a secure hands-free mount which can be used on either strap depending on which side the sun is shining. It works like this:
This system will work with any manual or automatic umbrella and does not require any specialist fasteners (or a specialised umbrella).
Update 2018 on the Camino: Did it work?
In a word – YES! Not only did the umbrella provide useful cooling shade when no other shade was to be found on teh Meseta, but it turned out to be a lifesaver. You see, we had walked for a good part of the day in fairly featureless rolling farmland. We saw about half a kilometre away a farmer starting to bring his flock of sheep out from a large barn. He came out, driving the sheep up the track when he stopped, looked at the sky, and whistled his dog to bring the sheep around and back into the barn. We figured he knew something, and within half an hour there was dry thunder all around us. There was not a tree or building in sight. At the first drops of rain we quickly dug out our jackets and rain pants. Moments later came the hail. It hurt through the thin GoreTex jacket and base merino. Sharon and I looked at each other — umbrellas! We soon had them up and attached to our packs. There was almost no wind and the hail came down vertically. We hoped that the hailstones would not get any bigger. But we were safe enough to walk and within another half hour we reached a village.
The result is I can have my own personal shady tree equivalent regardless of the presence of any shade. And the umbrella has the added bonus of keeping the rain off the top of the backpack too, so is suitable for light rain. Does it work? I took a daypack with me sketching on a clear mid-summer day in Australia with a temperature approaching 40C/104F and deliberately sat out in the full sun while I sketched for an hour and a half. The umbrella performed brilliantly and kept me cool enough to focus on my sketching, rather than on the way the bitumen was melting. With the UV protection and the silver reflective covering, it was like sitting under a shady tree. It felt several degrees cooler than the ambient temperature. From this test, I have decided the umbrella is well worth its 190g/7oz weight and will be coming with me on all future Caminos.
Just a small aspect of my Camino preparations for our 2018 walk across Spain.
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