There are very few pieces of travel gear I consider as “must haves.” Through 15 countries across 3 continents, you could count the number of items I don’t dare leave home without on 1 hand.
The items that make this rarified list usually have an incredible ratio of functionality to weight & size.
Enter one such item: The shemagh.
The shemagh (pronounced “Schmawg”) is basically a super-sized bandana at over 1m in length. You’re basically combining the uses of a bandana with those of a length of rope – and what we end up with is one of the best pound-for-pound travel items on the planet.
I consider the Shemagh one of a few “must have” pieces of travel gear, as it’s size & weight to functionality is off the charts – right up there with ear plugs and extra TP!
The shemagh – otherwise known as a keffiyeh or ghutrah – originated in the Middle East as a method of protecting its desert-dewlling wearers from the sun and sand. You may also recognize it as a traditional headscarf in many Arab nations.
It’s become standard-issue for military forces all over the world because of its versatility and functionality – some British military and police units even employed them before the Second World War. More recently, survivalists, bushwhackers, and outdoors-folk have adopted it as a favorite multi-purpose tool.
And it’s time for travelers to get on the bandwagon. For the shemagh is one of those rare items that’s useful practically everywhere, even if it’s unpredictable as to how – kind of like duct tape and rope.
While the classic uses for the Shemagh have to do with whethering the heat, sun, and dust of the desert, it doesn’t take long to find a whole host of other uses. Where many travelers use bandanas, a shemagh often will do the same job better. Here are a few ideas to show the incredible versatility of this garment:
Can you think of any others?
Here’s a quick tutorial for tying a shemagh:
Even though shemaghs come in all sorts of color & pattern combinations, travelers should avoid traditional black & white and red & white patterns while traveling in the Middle East, as these have certain cultural connotations and may cause tension if worn in the wrong area. You wouldn’t intentionally strut through gang territory wearing another group’s colors in LA or Detroit, so respect the same basic precautions if you intend to sport a shemagh in the Middle East.
This potential problem is easily avoided by choosing any other color pattern: It’s easy to find non-traditional colors such as tan & olive, blue & black, red & black, and even completely non-standard combinations to suit your taste and your environment.
As a rather pragmatic guy, I’m mostly interested in a good ratio of quality to price – though for clothing I lean towards slightly higher-price, more-durable designs. You might prefer something else – like authentic design, a bargain basement price etc. With that in mind, I’d recommend checking out the selection on Amazon.com, reading some user reveiws, and deciding what best fits your needs & desires.
Whether you’re going on safari, the north pole, or any other sort of adventure travel, a shemagh probably deserves a spot on your packing list.
Have you ever worn/used a shemagh? How did you find the experience?