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Reviews > Rain Gear > Umbrellas > Montbell Sun Block Umbrella > Test Report by David Wilkes

Test series by David Wilkes

MontBell Sunblock Umbrella

Initial Report - August 4 2015
Field Report - Oct 24 2015
Long Term Report - December 8 2015

Tester Information

Name: David Wilkes
E-Mail: amatbrewer@yahoo.com
Age: 47
Location: Yakima Washington USA
Gender: M
Height: 5'11" (1.80 m)
Weight: 200 lb (90.7 kg)

Biography:

I started backpacking in 1995 when I moved to Washington State. Since then, I have backpacked in all seasons and conditions the Northwest has to offer.  I prefer trips on rugged trails with plenty of elevation gain. While I continuously strive to lighten my load, comfort and safety are most important to me. I have finally managed to get my basic cold weather pack weight, not including consumables, to under 30 lb (14 kg).

Product Information

Manufacturer:

MontBell America

Year of Manufacture:

2015

Manufacturer’s Website:

http://www.MontBell.com

MSRP:

34.00 US$

Weight (listed/measured)

8.6 oz (244 g) /
 8.65 oz (245 g) [without cover]

Folded Length (listed/measured) 

9.8“ (25 cm) / 9.8“ (25 cm)

Open diameter (listed/measured) 

3’ 3” (1 m) / 3’ 3” (1 m)

Sun Block Umbrella

Product Description:

Description
The MontBell Sun Block Umbrella is a lightweight sun umbrella for hiking. The outer shell is Silver with black inner liner. Designed for sun protection with a UPF factor of 50+ but also provides some rain protection.


Initial Report

August 4 2015
Marry Poppens?The most noticeable aspect of the Sun Block Umbrella is its reflective canopy. It appears to be a rather standard black nylon umbrella material with a silver coating on the outside. The rest of the umbrella is black. The pole/shaft is in 3 collapsible sections. The ribs (referred to as “arms” by the manufacturer) and stretcher arms are mostly of plastic with the hinge pins and a few key sections being metal. When collapsed the inner section of the ribs automatically fold while the outermost hinge of each rib must be manually operated for deploying and folding. The spike has a plastic cover and comes with a piece of plastic cord tied into a loop. The handle (knob) is a simple plastic cap that when the umbrella is closed the cap holds the exposed ends of the ribs. Finally like many umbrellas there is a strip of material (same material as the canopy is made from) with hook-n-loop tabs (the hang tag says “Velcro) that is use to wrap the umbrella when closed. The umbrella also came with a storage sleeve made from the canopy material that has a hole in the top for the spike/loop and a 3/4 length zip to hold it snug around the umbrella.

The umbrella came with a hangtag that included instructions and a warning. The instructions are simple and similar to most umbrellas I have used. “1) Remove storage sleeve 2) Extend handle by pulling knob 3) Release Velcro strap 4) Partially extend canopy 5) Carefully engage arms of canopy 6) Open canopy fully for use 7) Reverse order for storage.” When I saw the “WARNING!!!” I was expecting something along the lines of not using it in thunderstorms or allowing it to come into contact with power lines, but was surprised that it is actually a warning about making sure the arms are properly engaged before fully opening the canopy or it could result in damage to the ribs or fabric.

Folded and coveredMy gear is constantly evolving as I try to find the optimum balance of weight, safety, comfort, and as much as I hate to admit it style does come into play. Living in the Pacific Northwest (central Washington State) weather conditions are difficult to predict and often change rapidly. While the central part of the state tends to be quite dry (the terrain is referred to as shrub steppe, similar in many ways to “high desert”), the central and southern Cascades where I do most of my trips can be quite wet. But even in the Cascades with its glorious pine forests, many places I go involve stretches of exposed trail (either due to logging, fires, meadows, or are above the tree line) where combined with the altitude can result in significant sun exposure. Year round, a rain shell AND sun screen tend to be included in my “essentials” list. Recently I have been contemplating using an umbrella for both rain, possibly eliminating a rain shell, as well as sun protection. I have read many accounts on the pros and cons of an umbrella for hiking and have internally debated how/if one would benefit me. And as luck would have it, while researching what umbrellas are available this test was announced so I jumped at the chance.

InsideI would note that I have recently adopted a section of the Pacific Crest Trail, so I went out to hike my section to better acquaint myself with the area and document any maintenance needs there may be. As it turns out my section involves many exposed areas and it was a VERRY hot day. I was often removing my hat to help cool off, but putting it back on to help prevent burning my rapidly thinning scalp. I knew this umbrella was scheduled to arrive on Tuesday (the hike was on a Sunday) so throughout most of the 10 or so hours I spent on the trail, the umbrella, or more precisely my not having it, was foremost on my mind (along with how much water I had left and if I should have refilled at the last stream). There were many times along the way when I believe the umbrella would have been a blessing and I think this was good timing since it will give me some recent experience to compare with during the duration of this test. I am very interested to find out if the weight of the umbrella can be offset by weight savings such as not carrying a rain shell in wet conditions, not needing to carry as much water in sunny conditions, or simply an improvement in comfort that offsets the weight penalty.

Field Report

October 24 2015
Hot and dryUse
  • 1 day hike Central Washington, Yakima Ridgeline trail - very hot and dry 97F (36C) 
  • 5 days car camping Salt Lake City Utah - hot, humid, some rain (temp unknown)
  • 1 day hike/fishing Naches River (Foothills of the eastern Cascades Washington) – Hot & sunny (temp unknown)
  • 2 day hikes/fishing Naches River (Foothills of the eastern Cascades Washington) – Cool comfortable (carried but did not use the umbrella temp unknown)
  • 2 nights backpacking Pacific Crest trail Washington (Chinook Pass) – cold, windy, raining off/on  45F (7C)
 
As an engineer one of the things I love is when something, despite huge advances in materials and technology, seemingly just can’t be improved upon in any significant way. And the umbrella seems to be one of those. As is my nature, this test got me thinking about and then looking into umbrellas past and present. As far as the present goes, for this test, all that matters is how this specific Montbell Sun Block umbrella performs, but the history of umbrellas is fascinating (at least for a geek like me). The most interesting aspect is that while I normally associate umbrellas with rain, umbrellas are believed to actually have been invented to protect the user from sun, and that has been its main use for most of its history. So by that, the Sun Block umbrella is kind of a throwback to ancient Egypt, and maybe even further if you count people holding palm fronds over their heads.

HappyWifeHappyLifeSo I am testing a sun umbrella, during one of the hottest and driest summers the Pacific Northwest has seen in at least a few years. So as I would expect, I had very few opportunities to actually use it to protect me from the sun (thanks Mother Nature!). My first and most intense use of the umbrella was for a hike that I have long avoided simply for the fact that it is hot, dry, and exposed. So with the air temperature at around 97F (36C)  I hit the trailhead and commenced to climb up the steep rugged trail. I brought no sunscreen and even more abnormal for me, no hat. The heat radiating off the walls of the canyon made what was already an uncomfortably hot day almost unbearable. Even the occasional gust of wind that would come up the canyon was hot and unpleasant. Soon after leaving the trailhead I was sweating profusely and stopping to rest often. As an experiment I would occasionally drop the umbrella to my side to judge how effective it was only to put it back almost immediately. Without the umbrella the heat combined with direct sun was totally unbearable. I only managed about 1 hour of this torture before turning around. There is no doubt in my mind that even with a hat I would have turned around far sooner. My second opportunity to use the umbrella for sun was under far less extreme conditions. The protection is provided, combined with better ventilation than any hat, made me appreciate its functionality, even under moderate conditions where I would normally have been satisfied with just a hat. I was quickly becoming an umbrella convert.

Dry gearOne item I noticed very soon into that first hike is that even a slight gust of around 7mph (11kph) was enough to just about pull the umbrella out of my hand if I was not paying attention. However, further use suggests that the umbrella is surprisingly resilient and can handle significant gusts without damage.

As mentioned above Mother Nature has not been very accommodating and so my first opportunity to take the MontBell Sun Block umbrella backpacking…did I mention we have been having record high temperatures and drought? Well on this trip the high temperature was about 45F (7 C), with rain and constantly shifting/gusting wind. The umbrella got quite a bit of use that weekend. I used it to cover my pack while I was setting up my hammock, I used it a LOT while wandering around camp and exploring the lake. And I wish I had someone to take a picture of me while I was fishing; umbrella in one hand and fly pole in the other, it must have looked silly but I could not have been having more fun. After a full day of hiking, setting up camp, exploring the lake and a bit of fishing I returned to camp to start dinner and get some much needed time off of my feet. Since the area under my hammock was mud by this time, I ended up sitting under the branches of a tree with the umbrella propped against my shoulder in order to make/eat my dinner. I love weather of any kind as long as it is not dangerous, so I loved every minute of the trip. The umbrella experienced some significant gusts of wind during that trip, and I found the plastic ribs to bend and accommodate the force rather than break, giving me confidence that it is more durable than its delicate construction would suggest.

In addition to hikes I have been carrying the umbrella with me whenever I think it might be useful. The umbrella is small enough for me to carry in many ways from simply holding it in my hand, to storing it in a pack water bottle pocket, or even slipping it into the cargo pocket of my pants. While in Salt Lake City Utah for the Outdoor Retailer show we experienced warm, humid evenings combined with rain. I appreciated not having to wear/carry a hot rain shell, but still remain dry. I would like to mention that when I first received the umbrella my wife was skeptical about using it (or at least being seen with me should I use it) however early in the testing a social occasion had us and some friends sitting in the direct sun and my wife sheepishly asked if I could put up the umbrella for her and her friend. I had a similar occurrence during another social outing where my wife gave me a hard time about carrying the umbrella only to end up borrowing it for a friend of hers to use. She now asks me if I am going to bring the umbrella.

Believe it or not I was actualy having funIf it is not evident from the above I am quite happy with the umbrella. While I have tried to be careful with it, I have not always followed the instructions of having all the ribs fully extended before deploying. I find as long as they are mostly straight, when the canopy goes taut, the ribs snap into place by themselves, but I could see how a strut could break or the canopy rip if the strut was mostly folded, so I try to avoid this.
Depending on what I am doing I have found often it is simpler to store the umbrella without folding the ribs, this makes it longer but about half as thick so it can be easier to secure into a water bottle pocket while also quicker to deploy.

I do have two small things about this umbrella I would change if I could. First is the lack of a lanyard. I really don’t trust using it in any sort of wind without a lanyard. I have no doubt at some point it would get pulled from my hand and possibly lost or destroyed. I have attached a loop of cord around the shaft for that purpose and am trying to figure out a more permanent solution but that would require modifying the umbrella so I will wait until after the testing is complete. Second is the small strap used to secure the umbrella while closed (see the top photo in the Initial Report). I would have attached that to the outside of the umbrella. During use I find the strap is often either hanging in front of my face, or what is even more annoying behind me tickling my neck. During my first use I thought a fly kept landing on my neck. I have tried to remember to attach it back on itself while in use to help minimize this. With the strap on the outside it would still function to secure the umbrella when fully collapsed, while also functioning to hold it closed when only the canopy is collapsed (ribs not folded). This is another modification I will likely make after the completion of the testing.

In summary, this is a very lightweight but strong umbrella that is quite functional. Aside from the two minor items mentioned I have no complaint about the MontBell Sun Block umbrella except to wonder why it has taken so long for me to learn how effective and useful an umbrella can be.

Long Term Report

December 8 2015
The weather has not been conducive to umbrella testing (sun or rain) since I submitted the Field Report. I have continued to carry the umbrella in my vehicle with me and have brought it along for two hikes. One a night hike to enjoy an early snow shower. Unfortunately the predicted snow did not materialize so the umbrella remained in my pack. The second was a quick hike on a local trail to participate in #OptOutside (go outdoors rather than participate in Black Friday shopping). It turned out to be a cold and clear day with some fresh snow on the ground, and again the umbrella remained in my pack.

To summarize my experience I would say the umbrella is light and compact, it does in fact work remarkably well at sun protection. Providing better coverage than a hat and I can’t imagine any other sun protection that provides as much ventilation. It also works just fine for rain, making it more versatile than any garment I know of. It seems more sturdy and durable  than its weight or appearance would suggest. And is easy to operate. Of the two slight negatives I found the first (lack of lanyard) is easily remedied with a bit of cord, and the second is quite minor and could be me just nitpicking.
I inspected the umbrella for any signs of wear. The metallic coating appears to be fully intact with no signs of wear or deterioration despite the fact that I have rarely used the storage sleeve. There also seems to be no loosening or noticeable wear of any of the movable parts.

This umbrella is now part of the gear I consider for every trip, and I fully expect will go on most of my outings in the future. I am an umbrella convert. So if you see an old fat guy strolling down the trail under a silver umbrella (rain or shine), stop and say hello, it is likely me.

Likes: 
  • Folds small/opens full size
  • Light
  • Reflective outer layer
Opportunities:
  • Lack of a lanyard
  • Securing strap attached on inside (as mentioned in the Field Report section)

This concludes my  Report. I would like to thank the folks at MontBell America and BackpackGearTest.org for the opportunity to test this product.

 



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