ActiveMSers stumbled onto an umbrella, the Gustbuster SunBLOK, which claims to block 96 percent of harmful UVA/UVB rays and, more importantly for us MSers, claims to be up to 10 degrees cooler than the typical umbrella. If true, this would be an absolute boon for those of us with multiple sclerosis-related heat issues. Perfect for the sidelines of soccer games, catching an outdoor daytime concert, or lining up for Broadway tix on a sunny afternoon in NYC. So ActiveMSers put their cooling claim to the test. The results were surprising.
The Competitors We pitted the Gustbuster SunBLOK “Spectator” umbrella--with a true diameter of 38” (a listed canopy of 48”)--against two other umbrellas with different pedigrees. On the one side, a freebie from Conde Nast for subscribing to Traveler, bright blue in color with a 38” wingspan. In the other corner, a large 50”-diameter golf umbrella trimmed in wide bands of red and white.
The Test To properly test and compare these three umbrellas, ActiveMSers set up a few controls to ensure the results would be accurate. First, the same brand of thermometer was used (three $9.97 Radio Shack travel alarm clocks, which record temperatures digitally in increments of .5 degrees). The thermometers all read the same indoor ambient temperature (72 degrees) prior to testing. The next priority: have a bright, cloudless day with high temps. A record-high day in Albuquerque in early June set a perfect 100.8 degree stage. Lastly, the umbrellas were placed on grass for less heat reflection from the ground, and then canted in the same general direction toward the sun. Thermometers were placed in the center of each umbrella’s shade canopy and the test was on.
The Results ActiveMSers roasted the three umbrellas for 45 minutes, all the while gathering the stares of concerned neighbors and nearly causing two car accidents with drivers eager to crane their necks at the next apparent Christo offering. The blue cheapie Traveler umbrella performed as expected: terrible. Within 10 minutes the temperature read 97.5 degrees and, after 45 minutes, a roasting 104.0 degrees. The massive golf umbrella faired slightly better, likely due to its large, open-air shadow and lighter colors. Temps also reached 97.5 in 10 minutes, eventually reaching a comfortably warm 101.5 after our 45 minute test. The Gustbuster SunBLOK, on the other hand, actually bested the manufacturer claims. After 10 minutes, temps hovered in the rather cool environs of 90.5 degrees. Even after 45 minutes, the SunBLOK shadow registered only 93 degrees--a full 11 degrees cooler than the Conde Nast offering and 8.5 degrees cooler than the larger golf umbrella.
ActiveMSers Bottomline Buy the Sun BLOK umbrella. Now. It’s no contest. We’d expect a typical black umbrella to be at least as hot as the blue Traveler, and even an all-white golf umbrella would not be significantly cooler than the red-and-white offering we tested. The specific SunBLOK umbrella we tested, the “Spectator” ($99.95) could be additionally helpful for MSers. Flip it over and the handle doubles as a seat that can hold up to 280 lbs--nice for taking a break under a shady tree. The downside: the seat adds weight, making it heavier than a typical umbrella, and since it is essentially a chair on a stick, it’s not that comfortable or stable. ActiveMSers prefers two other SunBLOK umbrellas. Number one on our list for those with multiple sclerosis: the massive 68” version ($39.95), which gives us, appropriately, the chills. This blot-out-the-sun oversized version is available only at www.innovagolf.com. We also like the compact 43” Metro ($34.95), which is collapsible, ideal for travelers. It doesn’t hurt matters that the Gustbuster has been wind-tested by the College of Aeronautics at 55+ mph and is guaranteed leak proof for the times when MSers actually need it for the rain. For more info on the umbrellas, visit the manufacturer’s website: www.gustbuster.com.