Hands-free umbrella rigging

Note: Earlier versions of these two articles appeared on my blog. I also now use the Six Moon Designs Silver Shadow (carbon) instead of the Golite Chrome Dome featured in the photos.

Several people have asked how I attach my umbrella to my pack so I can use it ‘hands-free.”  There are a few other ways to do it, but this method (that I learned from Jim (PITA)-thank you again!) is easy and inexpensive.

Hands-free, so I can use my hiking poles (or goof off).

For materials, get two shock cord loops with cord locks (3/32″ shock cord), and a short (3″) piece of 1/2″ (inside diameter) foam pipe insulation.

Shock Cord loops
Cut the shock cord to 8-12″ lengths (I made them longer to start and then cut them down when I figured out how much I used so they wouldn’t flop around).  Thread the shock cord into a cord lock, and tie into a loop.

Shock cord loops with cord locks.

The shock cord loops are attached to the pack at two points.  Location of the points depends on the pack (i.e., number and location of loops on the pack strap) and the angle you want the umbrella.  For greater flexibility, I larkshead the loops to the pack so I can make adjustments to change the angle of the umbrella as the sun or rain moves.  I leave the loops on the pack.

Shock cord loops on the pack and foam pipe insulation on the umbrella shaft.

On my Gossamer Gear Mariposa pack, I like the upper loop at the base of the load lifter and the lower loops near the chest strap.  Sometimes I attach the lower loop below the chest strap like shown in the previous photo, but other times I put the loop above the chest strap.  I wish there was another loop below the load lifter for the upper loop through and may end up sewing one on eventually.

In general, the distance between the shock cord attachment points affects the stability of the umbrella, so if the points are close together, the umbrella tends to move around more.  But if they are too far apart, the umbrella shaft may dig into your shoulder.

Foam Pipe Insulation
The foam pipe insulation goes around the umbrella shaft and slides up and down.  The foam keeps the umbrella more stable and provides a cushion when the upper shock cord loop is secured around it.  When the umbrella is collapsed, the foam pipe insulation slides down the shaft so the umbrella can be closed completely. After many uses, the foam started to come off, so I secured the foam pipe insulation to the shaft by wrapping it with duct tape.

Foam pipe insulation secured to the shaft

“Rigging” the umbrella
Thread the umbrella shaft through the top and bottom shock cord loops.  The upper shock cord loop goes around the foam pipe insulation and gets cinched down.  The lower cord lock rests in the groove of the umbrella handle.

Upper shock cord around the pipe insulation, lower cord on the umbrella handle groove.

Adjust the tension of the shock cords on the umbrella by tightening or loosing the cord locks.  This tension gives the umbrella less “wobble.”  If they are too tight, your shoulder may get bruised, so play with the tension or adjust the location of the foam insulation.

Hands-free without the pack
I also have a hands-free rigging method for when I’m not wearing the backpack.  I use my bra strap and shirt bottom (folded over) as the two “attachment” points.  It looks funny (especially with a purple bra), but it works when I can’t otherwise find a shady spot and want to have both hands free to eat.

Alternate hands-free “rigging” using bra strap and shirt


Notes about carrying an umbrella

While I just described how I use the umbrella hands-free, I have found that over the years, I use the umbrella more frequently by carrying it with one hand and stowing one hiking pole in my pack.  This method allows me to adjust the angle of the umbrella to keep more of the sun off me and so I can maneuver in overgrown trails.  I use the hands-free rigging mostly on long downhills (where I like to use my poles). With a light umbrella, I find my arm does not tire even after prolonged use.

Umbrella in hand while climbing over logs and ducking under brush.

Other hikers may give you strange looks for carrying an umbrella.  I’m used to getting funny looks- especially for wearing leg gaiters, arm sleeves, and DIY clothes- but the umbrella seemed to bring it to a whole new level.  I’ve learned to smile if other hikers gawk. More often, they are jealous of the awesome weather protection.

Carrying the umbrella at Canyonlands Nat’l Park.

As another umbrella-related aside, I finally figured out to reach my umbrella when it’s stowed in my pack WITHOUT having to take off my pack or ask anyone for assistance.  Just for fun, here is a video of the “quick draw umbrella”:

More about umbrellas:


And still not convinced about the utility of an umbrella? Here are some other uses beyond rain and sun protection. Umbrellas provide the protection I need to traverse trails unharmed safely.  When deployed, the shiny, silver reflective properties of the umbrella and it’s unique-deflecting dome shape shields me from any travails of the trail.

I am a mighty warrior, with my trusty umbrella at my side — photo by Jan.

No mountain lions would dare attack a creature with umbrella sized heads.

I can safely take a rest break under the protection of my umbrella. Plus my knees won’t get sunburned.

When rolled up, the umbrella turns into a magical sword that can slay any foe, animal, or vegetable.

Fighting the fierce jumping cholla cactus. Photo by Jan.

Slashing my way through thick vegetation that fought back with vicious spines.

Water tanks on the Arizona Trail would sometimes spray with water when I ventured too close. But I survived the attacks with my umbrellas.

I slept soundly knowing my trusty umbrella was within easy reach under my hammock.

If any situation gets out of control, I can always use the umbrella’s capacities for flight to escape just like Mary Poppins.

Just about ready to take off. Photo by Jan.


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10 months ago

The 2020 version of our fantastic umbrella will be available shortly. One of the enhancements is a new trekking pole style handle grip.

In addition to a more comfortable grip, the longer padded grip makes it easier to rig fir hands free.

In addion, we now offer a hands free umbrella kit on our website.

Happy stress free hiking!

Joan West
Joan West
10 months ago
Reply to  Ron

Ron- That’s great to hear! Many people will be excited about the release of the 2020 umbrella. 🙂

Diane Pinkers
Diane Pinkers
10 months ago

Yep, that’s the one. The Lightrek bungees from Gossamer Gear work great for this. They have a hook on the cordlock that helps in rigging the umbrella.

10 months ago

I have been a huge fan of umbrellas since first introduced to them by Pmags, LINT and especially Evan Hikes last year. Evan only used a tarp the entire PCT and the umbrella was often used along with the tarp.
Having said that, Joan has added so much more. Lots of new ideas and methods. Wow, golly, gee!
Thanks for this. I got a real keeper here.
Thank you Joan.

10 months ago

Thanks for the good tips Joan.
I go bra-less when I hike without a pack, but you’ve given me some good ideas. 🙂

Joan West
Joan West
10 months ago
Reply to  PaulW

PaulW- Glad to help. 🙂

10 months ago

We used umbrellas when we went cowboy camping with our infants. Whenever it snowed or rained on us at night, we’d break out the umbrella and rig it over the little one (sleeping between us) so she wouldn’t get wet.

Joan West
Joan West
10 months ago
Reply to  UtahBrian

UtahBrian- Awww that’s so wonderful! I’m impressed you brought you little one out so young- way to go!

10 months ago

Ah, this might just be the solution for me! At 83 I really need both trekking poles for support. Thank you, Joan! And Ron!

10 months ago

Great post. Thanks, I have been trying to figure something like this out.