Sun Umbrella Showdown — Pros and Cons of 4 Ultralight Options!

Gear ReviewsRafael 'Horsecake' Mujica
Best Ultralight Umbrellas UL Sun Desert Hiking PCT CDT

Taking on the Arizona sun with my trusty sun umbrella. I attach my umbrella to my pack for hands free use, with the
SMD Umbrella Kit

Umbrellas are some of the most versatile pieces of gear a backpacker can have in their arsenal. They can provide shade from the midday desert sun, keep you dry in torrential sideways rain, and help augment your shelter in wet conditions. When moving on trail, no rain jacket will give you as much ventilation as an umbrella offers. 

During the early days of ultralight backpacking, the only option available was the Golite Chrome Dome, coming in well over 8 ounces. Since then, cottage brands have refined the old design to make umbrellas tougher AND lighter. Let's review the current state of the ultralight umbrella


HMG Essential 

SMD Silver Shadow Carbon

GG Lightrek

Zpacks Lotus

Weight (g/oz)

193g / 6.81oz

180g / 6.35oz

167g / 5.89oz

189g / 6.67oz

Diameter (cm/in)

94cm / 37in

94.5cm / 37.2in

93.5cm / 36.8in

94.5cm / 37.2in

Closed Length (cm/in)

64.5cm / 25.4in

64cm / 25.2in

63.5cm / 25in

64cm / 25.2in

Shaft length

61cm / 24.0in

61cm / 24.0in

60.5cm / 23.8in

60.5cm / 23.8in

Materials 

Waterproof Pongee polyester 


Carbon fiber shaft, ribs,  and stretchers with a short foam handle 

Waterproof polyester 210T silver reflective canopy 


Carbon fiber shaft, ribs, and stretchers with a long foam handle

Teflon coated polyester canopy


Carbon fiber ribs and stretchers


Aluminum shaft and  short foam handle

Teflon coated polyester canopy


Fiberglass ribs, stretchers, and shaft.


Short foam handle

UPF

50+

50+

50+

40

Price (USD)

$59

$45

$39

$44.95


*Weights were measured on a personal scale. Diameters and lengths were measured using a standard tape measure. Prices and materials used were taken from the manufacturers. You can shave 3g off the weight of these umbrella measurements if you remove the wrist leash. 


Best Ultralight Umbrellas UL Sun Desert Hiking PCT CDT

How the four umbrellas vary underneath their canopies. Pictured top left, the HMG Essential. Pictured top right, the GG Litetrek. Pictured bottom left, the SMD Silver Shadow Carbon. Pictured bottom right, the Zpacks Lotus. 


Now that you have the stats, let’s do a speed run of each umbrella’s positive and negative attributes, starting with the new kid on the scene. 


The Hyperlite Mountain Gear Essential Umbrella

Pros

Hyperlite employs a very easy to use button to facilitate the opening and closing of their umbrella, making deployment in rain or closing under tree limbs exceptionally easy. 

The Essential is the only umbrella on the list that sports a dual canopy. The genius design allows strong winds to move through the vents created by the two canopies, keeping the umbrella open and deployed in high winds, rather than collapsing. 

Lastly, the Hyperlite Essential is the only umbrella on the list that showcases a reflective leash, making it easy to find in the dark. 


Cons

Weight is a relevant factor most ultralight backpackers consider when putting together a kit. The Essential is the heaviest umbrella on the list. However, it is over an ounce lighter than its GoLite Chrome Dome ancestor from years past. For all the unique features it offers over its competitors, many will find the weight penalty negligible and acceptable.  

Hyperlite Essential Best Ultralight Umbrellas UL Sun Desert Hiking PCT CDT


The Hyperlite Essential Umbrella, deployed in four angles. Notice the double canopy


The Six Moon Designs Silver Shadow Carbon 

Pros:

The Silver Shadow Carbon is the most utilitarian umbrella on the list, as it does not use any springs along its ultralight carbon shaft to catch the runner, making it tremendously easy to deploy and close. Yet, it stays in the open position under stress, despite the lack of a spring at the top.

Six Moon Designs also offers a variety of umbrellas, including the more affordable Silver Shadow that uses a lightweight fiberglass frame; the Silver Shadow Mini, which is compact and collapsible; and the Rain Walker SUL which is both lighter and more collapsible than nearly all umbrellas on the market. 


Cons

The Silver Shadow Carbon sports a long foam handle that can be a bit sloppy to use. The very bottom of the handle can wiggle and move, giving you less control over the umbrella under high wind. Of course, you could use epoxy or super glue to steady the placement of the handle, but that could add some precious grams to the umbrella.  


Six 6 Moon Designs Silver Shadow Best Ultralight Umbrellas UL Sun Desert Hiking PCT CDT

The SMD Silver Shadow Carbon, deployed in four angles. The coverage is stellar. 




The Gossamer Gear Lightrek

Pros

The Gossamer Gear Litetrek leads this umbrella list in both price AND weight. It does so by wielding a minimalist set up, without sacrificing sun and rain protection. It offers no frills nor superfluities. A true ultralighter's dream.


Cons

The Litetrek uses two springs to catch and hold the umbrella in the closed or open position. However, it does not provide a button to release the springs. The result is that it is cumbersome to deploy or close, making its utility harder than the other entries on this list. 


Gossamer Gear Litetrek Best Ultralight Umbrellas UL Sun Desert Hiking PCT CDT

The Gossamer Gear Litetrek, deployed in four angles. I can hardly feel it on my back. 


The Zpacks Lotus

Pros

The Zpacks Lotus features a button and two springs that are easy to use, which makes deploying and closing the umbrella immensely easy. Zpacks also chose to use a delectably smart and unique system of bendy dual fiberglass ribs to help keep the umbrella rigid in high winds, yet allowing enough flexibility so the umbrella doesn’t break. It’s a clever solution to a common problem among umbrellas, yielding strong results. 


Cons

The leash that Zpacks includes with the Lotus is quite small — so small that my hand can barely fit through its opening, and I have average-size hands. The Lotus also sports the lowest UPF rating on this list. However, at 40 UPF, it still blocks 97.5% of UV rays. 


Best Ultralight Umbrellas UL Sun Desert Hiking PCT CDT

The Zpacks Lotus, deployed in four angles. I’m a big fan of the dual rib system. 

 

 

The Commonalities  

Now that I’ve spent nearly 900 words describing just four of the different umbrellas on the market, let’s round out the discussion by sharing what they all have in common. 

All four umbrellas do their best to keep the use of metal to a minimum — a useful trait in case you find yourself in a summer mountain thunderstorm. In fact, the Silver Shadow Carbon sports zero metal components, and the other three only have small springs to catch the runner and keep it in place.


Best Ultralight Umbrellas UL Sun Desert Hiking PCT CDT

An up-close shot of how I attach my umbrella to my pack for hands-free use via the SMD Umbrella Kit. Also pictured, the WEBO Shoulder Pouch and the Town Shirt Mariposa Sun Hoody


Another commonality is that all four umbrellas do not seam seal nor tape the stitching where the close tab is located. There won't be much of an effect from this on the umbrellas' sun protection performance. However, when under constant rain, this could be a weak spot that allows a slow drip of water to leak and fall onto you. Feel free to tape the small line of stitching or seam seal it yourself.

All four umbrellas are incredibly lightweight. As a desert wanderer who saves as much weight as possible in order to carry gallons of water on my back, I appreciate that I don't have to skimp on sun protection. Taking any one of these umbrellas is a no brainer. 



Closing Thoughts

There is only a 26 gram difference between the lightest and heaviest umbrella on this list, or 0.92 ounces. There is only a maximum 1 cm difference between the varying diameters the umbrellas showcase. All four umbrellas are relatively close in terms of length and the performance of the materials used. There is no wrong choice when deciding between these modern ultralight umbrellas. 


Best Ultralight Umbrellas UL Sun Desert Hiking PCT CDT

Thanks for reading, and happy trails. 


 

 

Best Ultralight Umbrellas UL Sun Desert Hiking PCT CDT
Ultralight Hiking Umbrellas

 

 

Rafael ”Horsecake” Mujica is a freelance writer and adventurer based in the Mountain West. You can find him trail running, backpacking, or sampling the best tacos during his free time. Follow all his adventures over on Instragam @horsecake22, or read more of his work over on his website

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5 comments

Mark O. Rosacker

Mark O. Rosacker

WELL? Where are they made? Are ANY of them made in the United States?

Mart from Texas

Mart from Texas

Where are these umbrellas made? China?

Midwest Mike

Midwest Mike

I’ve used umbrellas while backpacking for years, with great results. Ray Jardine introduced me to their benefits.
My favorite models are made by Mont Bell.

Midwest Mike

Midwest Mike

I’ve used umbrellas while backpacking for years, with great results. Ray Jardine introduced me to their benefits.
My favorite models are made by Mont Bell.

Kevin Carlyle

Kevin Carlyle

Not one of the weights in this article match the item description weight. Including the three at this site.

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