MONTBELL SUN BLOCK UMBRELLA
TEST SERIES BY NANCY GRIFFITH
December 04, 2015
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Northern California, USA
5' 6" (1.68 m)
130 lb (59.00 kg)
My outdoor experience began in high school with a canoeing/camping group which made a 10-day voyage through the Quebec wilds. I've been backpacking since my college days in Pennsylvania. I have hiked all of the Appalachian Trail in Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina. My typical trip now is in the Sierra Nevada in California and is from a few days to a few weeks long. Over the past few years I have lowered my pack weight to a lightweight base weight of 15 lb (6.8 kg) and use a tent, stove and quilt.
PRODUCT INFORMATION & SPECIFICATIONS
Manufacturer: MontBell USA
Year of Manufacture: 2015
Manufacturer's Website: http://www.montbell.us
Listed Weight: 8.6 oz (244 g)
Measured Weight: 8.6 oz (244 g) plus 0.3 oz (8.5 g) for storage sleeve
Color: Silver with black lining
Folded Length: 9.8 in (25 cm)
Canopy Diameter: 3 ft 3 in (1 m)
Made in China
The MontBell Sun Block umbrella is a folding umbrella made from 100% 70-denier polyester twill nylon fabric. The fabric has a UPF 50+ rating. The umbrella is manual operating meaning that it doesn't have a button to automatically open it. The outside of the canopy is silver while the underside is black. The strap to hold the umbrella neatly in a folded position is silver like the outside of the umbrella. The handle is a black cup-shape with 'montbell' in raised letters in two places. There is a thick cord attached to the black end cap (not to the handle) for hanging it when not in use.
There is a silver storage sleeve that slips over the umbrella with a zipper that runs half the length of the umbrella. The sleeve has elastic at the top and bottom and a hole in the bottom for routing the hang-cord.
My initial impression when the umbrella arrived was that it is pretty much as-advertised on the website except that the website doesn't mention that the arms have to be manually clipped in...more to come on that in a minute. The size and weight remind me of a typical drugstore travel umbrella. But the quality and workmanship seem much better. The silver color is unique in that it is quite reflective and not just a gray/silver color. I also noticed that the hang cord is attached to the tip of the umbrella and not to the handle as I've typically seen. This seems to make more sense to me because the force of hanging from the handle also tends to try to open the umbrella inadvertently.
Next I removed the storage sleeve and noticed some instructions. I read them while thinking it was funny to add instructions to an umbrella. But when I got to step 5 I was surprised to read that the 8 arms had to be engaged before opening the canopy fully. Hmm. As it turns out the stretcher arms do not control the very last section of the ribs so I have to clip each one into place before fully opening the canopy. This allows the umbrella to fold into a smaller configuration for storage. However, I compared it to my cheap drugstore folding umbrella which is even smaller but doesn't require me to do any clipping of arms. My immediate reaction is 'How difficult is it to clip in during a windy day?', 'How quickly can I clip them in during a rainstorm?' and 'How well are the clipped-in arms going to hold during a windy day?'. Well, I'll have to test it to find out.
I then stood in the direct sun with and without the umbrella overhead and noticed a distinct difference in cooling with the umbrella. In fact when I had the umbrella over my head I noticed how hot my legs were getting. I then shaded my legs with the umbrella and they immediately cooled. I also noticed how the black underside reduced glare considerably.
READING THE INSTRUCTIONS
I was surprised to find instructions for an umbrella until reading step 5. Here's what they say:
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
There is also a warning stating not to fully open the umbrella before engaging the 8 arms. Doing so may damage the canopy. Also, it states to pay careful attention to the fragility of the umbrella arms and fabric.
The MontBell Sun Block umbrella has a reflective silver canopy with a unique design that requires the 8 arms to be clipped in.
Silver reflective color
Clipping in 8 arms
Warning that fabric and arms are 'fragile'
This concludes my Initial report. Please check back in approximately two months for my Field report. Thanks to MontBell and BackpackGearTest.org for the opportunity to test this product.
FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS
I used the umbrella on three backpacking trips including two overnight trips and one eight-day trip.
|Hail during thunderstorm|
McKinstry Trail, Northern Sierra Nevada, California: 2 days, 9 mi (15 km); 5,510 to 7,050 ft (1,680 to 2,150 m) elevation; 40 to 75 F (4 to 24 C). Clear with breezy conditions in late afternoon.
Sun Rock Trail, Northern Sierra Nevada, California: 2 days, 10 mi (16 km); 6,200 to 6,600 ft (1,900 to 2,000 m) elevation; 38 to 68 F (3 to 20 C). Clear with cool conditions in evening and morning.
Pacific Crest Trail, Southern Sierra Nevada, California: 8 days, 87 mi (140 km); 6,299 to 12,126 ft (1,920 to 3,696 m) elevation; 31 to 89 F (-0.5 to 32 C). Mostly clear with some breezes and some afternoon thunderstorms.
PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD
The eight-day backpacking trip was in the Southern Sierra Nevada which had long sections above tree-line as well as transition areas into more desert-like terrain which were hot and exposed and burned areas with no shade. The umbrella was an absolute life-saver on this trip. Literally the water sources were so low that we were carrying three days' worth of water and drinking enough to stay alive but becoming dehydrated along the way due to our need to ration water. Having the umbrella to limit the amount of dehydration due to evaporation was much appreciated.
|Open burned area|
At first I was wondering what funny looks and comments I would get for carrying an umbrella on the trail. I felt like Mary Poppins wearing my skort, sun gloves and carrying an umbrella. But early in the trip the quick climb to high elevation of 12,000 ft (3,650 m) tested my tendency to get migraines from the combination of exposure, altitude sickness and exertion. But using the umbrella helped immensely and I didn't care one bit if anyone thought it looked funny.
On one stretch above tree-line we used the umbrella for some lunch-time shade where there was none to be found. It was welcome and even my husband didn't mind the chance of being seen under an umbrella. The shade is very dark so even where the tree shade was good, the umbrella provided even more shade. This was a factor in the hotter and more open areas. We would stop in the tree shade to give my husband a break from the baking heat and sun but I could shade him with the umbrella and see how much darker and more complete the shade was with it.
We had thunderstorms on a couple of the afternoons and when it started hailing at one point I wasn't even thinking of the umbrella having only used it for sun protection. Then it struck me that I was carrying it and so I pulled it out for some protection. It was very nice to have. It was able to protect me from the blowing hail and driving rain. And I'm sure that it also kept my backpack much drier.
The only down sides of the umbrella are that it isn't easily carried in windy conditions or in extreme conditions where it is so steep that I need my trekking pole for stability. I carried it in winds that were strong enough that I could barely hold onto the umbrella and I allowed the wind to get underneath the canopy to test the strength of the arms. The umbrella performed wonderfully. The limit in the wind became my strength to hold on rather than the strength of the umbrella. Also, the handle of the umbrella is a cup-shaped section that became uncomfortable to grip over many miles. I would much prefer something with finger grooves for using for longer periods.
I didn't really use the storage sleeve on the trail choosing to leave it at home rather than lose it. The umbrella fit fine in an outside pack pocket so the sleeve seemed extraneous.
The need to snap in the arms every time is a little bit of a pain in the neck but I found myself doing it once and then storing the umbrella in my outside pack pocket with the arms fully locked in. This way I could just pull the umbrella out and it was ready to go. This joint does seem to be very sturdy as I mentioned above so I really can't complain about the few extra steps.
LONG-TERM TEST LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS
The weather changed during this test period so I went from mostly testing the umbrella in the hot sun during the Field Test period to mostly testing it in rain during this Long-Term Test period. I used the umbrella for one overnight backpacking trip, multiple hikes, walks and just around town for use in the rain.
Foothills of Sierra Nevada, California: 12 mi (19 km); 1,200 to 2,500 ft (366 to 752 m) elevation; 40 to 55 F (4 to 13 C); drizzle, rain and cloudy conditions
Multiple hikes in Auburn Recreation Area, California: 2.5 to 4 mi (4 to 6 km); 500 to 1,500 ft (150 to 450 m) elevation; 45 to 65 F (7 to 18 C); varying conditions of partly cloudy, rainy, and clear
PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD
I tried some simple configurations but still can't figure out how to tie the umbrella to my pack to allow for use of two trekking poles. I've heard that some people manage to strap their umbrella to their pack but I have trouble understanding how this can work. It seems that I usually want to aim my umbrella either against a cold wind, hot sun angle or driving rain. So having the umbrella fixed in one spot doesn't seem very practical to me.
The silver canopy is amazingly able to reflect the heat of the sun while keeping the area underneath relatively cool. I've tried carrying a black umbrella on the trail before and the black canopy absorbed so much heat that it was uncomfortably hot underneath even in mild temperatures.
I continue to not fold the umbrella arms down when storing it on the trail but just leave them snapped open. Then I carry the umbrella in a side pack pocket. This way it is quicker to use when the rain hits and I don't have to get rained on while assembling the arms. I store it fully closed for airplane travel so that it fits easily in carry-on luggage. I rarely have used the hang loop on the end cap. I could see hanging the umbrella from my pack using this strap but I don't like having things that bounce around so I prefer to just keep it in a pocket. I continue to not use the storage sleeve...even for storage.
I'm sold on the usefulness of an umbrella for backpacking. Besides the great sun protection above tree line and in open/burned areas, it is more useful in the rain than I realized. I've never really minded hiking in the rain with a rain jacket, but after a while I end up getting pretty wet and sick of the rain hitting my face. An umbrella is a nice way to protect my face, keep me drier, keep my pack drier and provide a dry haven underneath. I've been in rain where it rained so hard for 20 hours straight that we never had the opportunity to eat lunch or it would've been soaked before we scarfed it down. There just wasn't enough of a break in the rain and the trees were so saturated that they provided no protection. But if I had this umbrella there would have been at least a small dry spot for eating and an easy way to protect the top of an open backpack from allowing the rain in as we pulled out lunch.
I plan to use the umbrella for backpacking some desert PCT sections in Southern California this winter.
The MontBell Sun Block umbrella is amazingly useful for protection from the blazing sun, driving rain and even cold wind.
This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1.
Copyright 2015. All rights reserved.
Silver reflective color
Very strong in wind
Clipping in 8 arms
Grip is uncomfortable
This concludes my Long-Term report and this test series. Thanks to MontBell and BackpackGearTest.org for the opportunity to test this product.
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Read more gear reviews by Nancy Griffith