Have you ever been on a rainy hike and thought to yourself, “Why do I even bother with a rain jacket?” Even the most high-quality waterproof options can fall short when you’ve been hiking in the rain for long enough. My rain jackets have failed me during downpours, and I’m here to tell you there is a better, drier option. It might make you look like a dork, but it will keep you dry.

I present to you: the hiking umbrella. It is just an umbrella that you bring on a hike. It is a piece of outdoor gear best used in a pinch, and some will ridicule its use. But it also works.

The Hiking Umbrella Just Makes More Sense

a man smiling wearing a hiking umbrella

Image from Andrew Burd

“What!?” you say, already forming arguments against the idea of using an umbrella on a hike. “Hikers don’t use umbrellas!” But you would be wrong: i’ve hiked over 2,000 miles with mine.

I understand the idea is uncomfortable. I was a non-believer once. Rain jackets are what outdoor enthusiasts use, and I am among them. But I was fed up with my rain jacket. I had just spent the first 10 days of my Appalachian Trail thru-hike soaked to the bone when a new friend told me to try a hiking umbrella.

Long story short: I did try it, and I’ll never go on a rainy hike without one again.

Why Umbrellas Are Better Than Rain Jackets

I understand why people are quick to reject umbrellas. Rain jackets were designed with the outdoor community in mind. They leave both hands free for trekking poles, drinking water, or catching your balance when navigating uneven terrain. Additionally, a rain jacket is another layer that can add warmth and block the wind. But a rain jacket can also feel suffocating when you start to work up a sweat. And, as we’ve all experienced, they can leak.

Hiking umbrellas keep you drier

Now for umbrellas. First and foremost, they really keep you dry. An umbrella is like carrying a tarp over your head, so even your top layer stays dry. Better yet, on warm days or going up steep hills, you have all the airflow you need.

You can adjust your hiking umbrella in the wind.

To block the wind, simply turn the umbrella sideways, and voilà—you have just created a shield to protect yourself from the horizontal elements. This also works extremely well in sleet and snow. Do be careful with this though. If the wind blows from the wrong direction you might end up with an inside-out umbrella.

An umbrella is much cheaper than a rain jacket.

You’d be astonished by the price difference! Rain jackets can cost over $100, and a really nice one can be more than $300. An umbrella? A nice ultralight option might set you back $50, or like me, you can go for the cheap supermarket option.

I spent a grand total of $7.50 for two umbrellas, which have collectively lasted for 2080 miles and counting.

Ok, fine. The hiking umbrella looks a little less cool. 

While umbrellas may reign supreme in keeping you dry, they don’t do as well when it comes to backcountry fashion. I can promise that people will make fun of you. But you’re probably drier than those people, so who cares? The best thing you can do is tilt your umbrella down a little lower and block out all the haters.

How to Rock a Hiking Umbrella

I keep my hiking umbrella in the same pocket as I keep my water bottle, making it easy to grab when that surprise rainstorm hits.

For carrying a hiking umbrella, you have two options. The first and easiest is to carry it as you would when you aren’t backpacking. This gives you the most mobility and allows you to adjust to wind and rain direction. This is my preference, even though I use trekking poles when I’m hiking. I either put both trekking poles in one hand or stash one pole so I can hold the umbrella.

The second method is to pin the base of the umbrella in between the sternum strap of your pack and your chest. Tucking the hiking umbrella into your backpack strap works best if you need to be using both hands. It requires your sternum strap to be very tight though, and it’s not always comfortable. It’s also more difficult to adjust the angle for the direction of the rain.

Carrying an umbrella while hiking sounded ridiculous to me at first, too. Now It’s one of my favorite hiking accessories. So I give you the same challenge I faced: Just try it. And then get all of your friends to try it, too.

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