Bring a big scarf

You know you want to pack light, so you focus just on the essentials. But what if there were an ‘essential’ item that you didn’t know you needed? A traditional headscarf, or ‘shemagh,’ takes up almost no space in your luggage and serves so many potential purposes that you may never leave home without it again. 

First let’s establish what we’re talking about. This is not a plaid cashmere scarf from Burberry or even a long, hand-knit wool scarf from Dr. Who. The shemagh is as old as history itself, and is really no more than a large square cloth, usually made of cotton, and traditionally having fringe or tassels. Starting in ancient times, the scarf could be wrapped and folded to provide protection from dust and wind while leaving enough eye-space for unimpaired visibility. It is basically a gigantic bandana.

The fact that this solution remains in use, unchanged after literally 1000’s of years, is a testament to its success and efficacy.

But if you were not traveling by camel in the Fertile Crescent, you may ask why you would need such a thing? Firstly, if you have no fear of appropriation, the Lawrence of Arabia look never goes out of style. But even when not wrapped in the traditional manner, the shemagh can still prove useful in a number of instances.

Get a scarf that is comprised of sufficiently high-quality material and it can serve as a lightweight towel. Whether you need to dry off or need to cover the ground for a picnic, the cloth’s size makes it ideal. It can even serve as a blanket or wrap to stave off a chilly breeze.

Depending on the nature of your expedition, you can also use the scarf as a sling or emergency bandage. There is enough material for the scarf to be rolled up into a ball and used as a pillow to rest your head in comfort on the bus or train.

There are other common uses that you may not have thought of. Use it as a pot holder at the campfire. Conceal valuables from view. It can even be worn as a sarong.  In the category of uncommon uses, you can put a rock in the middle of the cloth and swing it as a weapon. Hopefully that need will not arise on your adventure.

Regardless of what you travel plans entail, you can probably find use for the timeless scarf that has been used by Sultans and US Army Rangers alike.