The Swing Trek LiteFlex hiking umbrella is a stunning product, winning our Editor's Choice Award. It performed well in all of our tests, and across all metrics, but really stood out for its durability. When we pushed it to the max in winds or strapped it to backpacks, it bounced back from every bump, unscathed. The Swing Trek was designed with a keen sense of geometry, maximizing rain protection in a surprisingly compact product. It has a fixed-length shaft which inevitably makes it larger, but this one is on the smaller side of fixed umbrellas, and it is so incredibly lightweight that it was competitive with models far more compact.This is a trekking umbrella optimally suited to day hikes and backpacking trips, but also very capable in the city. It's also a great choice for the user that destroys every telescoping umbrella with fragile metal joints and metal stretchers.
Swing Trek LiteFlex Review
Cons: Fixed shaft length makes it a bit longer
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Swing Trek is an excellent product to take on your next adventure, for both the pouring rain and the blistering sun.
The Swing Trek umbrella is a mastery of geometry. The canopy is the ideal size and shape to maximize coverage from the rain (and sun!) while remaining light and compact enough for ease of transport--a high demand for a product geared toward ultralight trekkers and backpackers!
In our OGL Rain Test, the rain would sprinkle us mid-forearm on our hanging arm (which was both arms!) and mid-thigh. The Swing Trek also has a distinct competitive edge with its reflective silver upper which is designed for use while trekking in the blazing hot desert sun. While this review focuses on rain protection, we toted this around on sunny days and found that it reduced the greenhouse effect of holding it overhead in the sun. For achievement above and beyond the scope of most of its competitors, the Swing Trek gets our Editor's Choice Award.
Ease of Transport
What sets the Swing Trek apart in this review is its hands-free design. This product is easy to lash to a backpack (best if that backpack has a Velcro loop normally used for the hose of a hydration bladder), providing truly hands-free operation. We tested this in rain and snowstorms, as well as sunny hikes. Note this means you must have a backpack that it can attach to. But we found many ways to get creative in our lashing methods.
The Swing Trek is so light that even though it does not retract like most of the telescoping umbrellas in this review, it didn't lose points for being longer. It was easy to lash this model to a backpack when the rain stopped on our hikes. It was not as long as other traditional models we tested, so we could tuck it into most of our duffels, and hand and shoulder bags. Because it's so lightweight and well balanced, it also wouldn't tip out of our reusable grocery bags when our hands were too full to deploy it.
The Swing Trek is longer because it is designed with a fixed-length shaft, instead of a telescoping shaft. This means it doesn't collapse: the length of the shaft is the same whether stowed or deployed. Any annoyance this may have given our testers quickly dissipated with the vast benefits afforded by that same feature: it made it remarkably lightweight by simplifying the design and dramatically improved its durability.
It comes with an adjustable shoulder sling storage and transport bag which adds another carrying option for trekkers and general users, with or without a backpack to strap it to. The sleeve it slides into is also mesh, keeping it lightweight while allowing a wet canopy to dry at least a little when stowed quickly after a downpour.
During the OGL Wind Test, we thought we pushed this product so far that we broke it. It snapped and the canopy folded sideways--then as we slowed the wind down (read: hit the brakes on our vehicle), it popped right back into place, no perceptible damage done. We were floored.
The only catch is that the canopy snapped sideways at a relatively low speed of 20mph, and it bucked around significantly at 15mph, and it inverts easily at 10mph. This meant it just wouldn't function in the wind, but if a gust catches you off guard as you crest that mountain pass on the Pacific Crest Trail, know that the stays will bounce back unscathed. The fiberglass frame of this umbrella proved to be indestructible in our testing. For those with a distinct preference for reducing metal, this is a great choice.
The SwingTrek looked as if it was designed to be twisted, torqued, and inverted without any damage. It was easy to collapse after it had inverted, as well as when it was under tension from a headwind. Unlike umbrellas with metal stays and multiple joints in the spokes, there is little to break or bend. Additionally, there is no button on this model which means one less mechanical feature to break.
Ease of Use
The highlight of this review is the hands-free feature. It works best if you have a backpack with a hip belt and velcro loop on the shoulder strap for the hose of a hydration bladder. In this case, you just cinch the handle around the hip belt and strap it into the velcro loop, and it sits nicely overhead. But there are ways to get creative, and we found many options for making this product hands-free. On our day packs with no Velcro loop, we tried a toy carabiner and ski straps with great success.
It's easy to lash this product to things like trekking poles, allowing us to take breaks with the umbrella propped overhead. The handle has a lower profile and the shaft is a bit thicker than most telescoping models, which meant that we could wrap a ski strap around a trekking pole and it would rest flush and secure on the trekking pole. Imagine the bulbous handle of a typical umbrella--that design is imbalanced, and the change in size from shaft to handle makes it much harder to wrap a ski strap around and lash to a trekking pole handle. Additionally, the soft handle of the Swing Trek provides enough friction with whatever it is mounted to, helping to keep it securely in place. Also, the drawcord leash at the bottom of the handle gave us another adjustable lashing tool.
We liked that all of the typical pokey bits on the tips of the canopy were covered with plastic caps and that there is nothing pinchy here, from handle and shaft to stretchers and tip. We liked this for working outdoor education programs with little kids in the rainy Pacific Northwest spring season. The deployment action of the Swing Trek feels like unsticking a magnet: it is smooth yet securely closed when collapsed. The Swing Trek is longer than your classic collapsible umbrella.
This umbrella is certainly more "hikey" looking. The foam handle is soft, light, and ergonomic, but overall contributes to the more casual nature of this model. The black and silver color make the Swing Trek slightly more formal looking than more color-happy models, and overall more subtle as an accessory.
When judged among trekking models, the Swing Trek is well worth the cost. However, it is much more expensive than your average drugstore umbrella. If you regularly break or bend umbrellas, or if you use them for trekking, or if you just hate holding an umbrella but you also don't like to wear rain jackets, this will be an excellent and longer(er) lasting option.
Overall, this umbrella is one of the lightest in this review. It is on the longer side, but this allows a much larger and deeper canopy, giving it by far the best rain (and sun!) coverage for its incredibly low weight. Some trekking umbrella connoisseurs might recognize the design of this product as eerily similar to the now-defunct GoLite Chrome Dome, an old favorite.
— Lyra Pierotti