These days I nearly always keep a small umbrella with me. This wasn’t always so.
I live in Seattle, sometimes called “rain city”. But we don’t tend to use umbrellas much. I’m not sure why that is, maybe it’s just cultural or maybe it is the nature of our rain: it isn’t usually exceptionally heavy and often is just very wet air that seems to come at you from all directions…or if it is heavy it is often combined with wind that makes an umbrella more of a nuisance than a help.
I first really started using umbrellas on my first trip to Japan. It was during the typhoon season and even when you aren’t in the direct path you get serious downpours. The Japanese use umbrellas and have some very stylish ones, and some very cheap ones that are popped out for sale when the rain starts.
Even with rain gear on, an umbrella helps to protect you and your stuff from the rain when it is really dumping. But more than that: it is much easier to look around than with a hood.
An opaque umbrella can also be used for sun protection and it has the advantage over a sun hat is that your head can breath. In Japan that time the weather was swinging from hot (and humid) to torrential downpours. I found that an umbrella was the ticket to relative comfort while walking around.
The umbrellas I carry came from China. I have no idea if you can buy them stateside, however, most things you can, and I got at least one of them at a Walmart in Weifang, for the equivalent of $3. They have a metallic looking interior coating that really does a good job of blocking the sunlight. The way they fold up the water is contained within the fold on the exterior of the umbrella and if you watch how you carry it they don’t drip all over.
If you can manage it (or have a helpful companion) an umbrella can be useful for taking pictures both in sunny and rainy weather. In bright sunlight it can prevent lens flair without causing vignetting, as some len’s hoods do, and makes it easier to see the led display on the back of your camera for composing, and checking, the picture.
I’ve been tempted to test out whether the silvery interior coating would work as a reflector…