There are umbrella lovers, and umbrella detractors. You can count the SNEWS® team, after our test of the Birdiepal Swing Liteflex umbrella, among the umbrella lovers -- to a point.
In open forests, along open trails, in the desert under a blazing sun and when traveling, umbrellas are fantastic, serving as a sort of portable personal shelter whether moving, standing or sitting. Trouble is, most umbrellas are too heavy, too bulky or too flimsy to amount to much, especially if the wind is whipping. Not so with the Liteflex.
At 25.2 inches long, it is easily compact enough to tuck into most any suitcase or backpack. When open, the 39.4 inch-diameter canopy is more than sufficient to deflect rain and sun. Best of all, the entire umbrella weighs only 217 grams or just under half a pound. Our testers especially loved the look of surprise and appreciation on the faces of people to whom we tossed or handed the umbrella. More often than not, the catch was made with an appreciable gasp and then a requisite, "Whoa, this is so light," commentary, which is pretty much the same reaction we had the first time we had one in our hands.
Made of very durable polyamid fabric and sewn with double seams between sections, the canopy is as strong as any we've seen. The fiberglass frame appears darn near unbreakable. The closed-cell foam handle, while small, is quite comfortable to hold, even for extended periods of time. A strap around the handle helps to secure the umbrella to the user's wrist if desired. We especially enjoyed the carrying case with shoulder strap, which allowed one of our testers to carry the umbrella like a Ninja might carry his sword. He commented that he hardly noticed the umbrella even though he was trekking all around a European town, and since he was able to carry it hands-free, it was easy to access when needed, yet quick to put away when not -- and still take care of requisite shopping tasks or sightseeing.
Our testing team members have used the umbrella traveling around Europe, walking along local trails near SNEWS®'s Sierra headquarters, and while performing outdoor chores or chasing down the newspaper. We've stepped on it, kicked it, dropped luggage on it, caught it in a car door, struggled with it in the face of gale-force winds gusting to 45 mph, and at no time has the Swing Liteflex failed to perform.
That's not to say the umbrella will be the perfect solution to those seeking to replace rain jackets with a more ultralight and versatile solution, although the company touts it as a backpacking umbrella and proudly shows photos of mountaineers carrying them on high-altitude treks. If you are one who hikes with trekking poles, for example, it's quite difficult to hang onto the umbrella and manage both poles. Birdiepal has yet to come up with a suitable way to attach the umbrella to a pack or other surface so hands can remain free or otherwise occupied. In overgrown forests and in dense brush, the umbrella becomes a pain, grabbing and snagging on any wayward branch. Also, if the rain is doing anything but falling straight down, realize you will likely get wet from the waist down -- that's just the nature of an umbrella.
Still, if your preference is umbrellas, then we can assure you that there simply is not a better made one on the market. Perfect in every way for those umbrella aficonados.
SNEWS® Applause Meter: 4.5 hands clapping (1 to 5 hands clapping possible, with 5 clapping hands representing functional and design perfection)
Suggested Retail: $26
For more information:www.euroschirm.com/usa/index.cgi