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Shemagh (Keffiyeh) Scarf: Why I Travel With One

Shemagh Scarf Guide
Traveling with a Shemagh Scarf
Travel Gear

One of my favorite & most used pieces of travel gear. The Shemagh or Keffiyeh is an incredible multi-use essential tool when traveling. I always have one with me.

The Shemagh (pronounced “shamay” or “schmog“) is a soft piece of woven cotton cloth, kind of like a giant heavyweight bandana.

You can also think of it as a smaller (yet thicker) sarong.

You may recognize it as a traditional headscarf in many Arab nations. Unfortunately, ignorance in the world runs rampant, and because of this the Shemagh often gets a bad rap.

Once you start using one though, you’ll quickly discover those Arabs sure knew what they were doing when they created these!

In my opinion it’s more useful than a bandana, plus more convenient & durable than a sarong. In fact I’d argue the shemagh has 101 different uses…

Multiple Shemagh Uses

Shemagh or Shesh
The Moroccan “Shesh” Headscarf
  • Dust Protection – Cover your face on motorcycles, trucks, and buses.
  • Sun Protection – Great for when you’re stranded without shade.
  • Towel – Small, lightweight, fast drying, but thick enough get the job done.
  • Ground Cloth – Keep your butt clean & dry when sitting on the ground.
  • Warmth – Wrap it around your neck as a scarf to keep warm.
  • Bag – Put stuff in middle, tie corners together. Instant hobo sack.
  • Sarong – Wrap around your waist for modesty. Shorter than a normal one.
  • Sweat Rag – Great for hiking, running, or other sweat-inducing activities.
  • Arm Sling – Sprain a wrist or break an arm? Temporary immobilization.
  • Emergency Bandage – Help stop bleeding & protect the wound.
  • Pillow – Thick & soft enough to ball up & use for bus rides/camping trips.
  • Weapon – Twist a rock up in the middle. Swing away. Self-defense tool!
  • Concealment – Often used to hide my camera in sketchy neighborhoods.
  • Rope – Long enough to be rolled up and tie things together.
  • Water Filter – Fold multiple times to filter debris out of water before boiling.
  • Pot Holder – Take that boiling water you just filtered off the fire!
  • Keeping Cool – Soak in cold water and wrap around your neck.
  • Signal Flag – Large enough to wave and get someone’s attention.
  • Blanket – Decent for covering some of your upper or lower body.
  • Eye Mask – Sleep during the day or in a hostel when lights are on.

These are only a few of the Shemagh’s many applications!

The Shemagh In Military Use

Shemagh Military Use
Military Checkpoint in Afghanistan

This simple piece of cloth is so practical that Australian, British, Irish, Thai, Afghan, and even US Special Forces all issue the Shemagh to their troops!

I’ve been traveling the world for the past 10-years with my Shemagh, to over 50 countries like Iceland, Fiji, Mexico, Cuba, Greenland, Israel, and even Afghanistan. It’s one of my most useful pieces of travel gear.

So if you don’t have one yet — because you’re worried about what people will think — get over yourself and find out what you’ve been missing!

Where To Buy A Shemagh

White Shemagh Scarf
Many Colors Available

So, where can you get a good shemagh? I’ve bought them on Amazon.com, as well as in person from local markets in Afghanistan, Israel, and Morocco.

Honestly the scarfs that are available on Amazon are kind of hit or miss when it comes to quality. Many are just cheaply made.

If you can’t buy a good one in a local market, I think the next best option is this company called Mora. I own two Mora shemaghs, and they are very well made. Plus there are many colors to choose from.

Check Shemagh Prices On Mora →

Bonus Video! How To Tie A Shemagh Headscarf

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(Click to watch How To Tie A Shemagh Headscarf on YouTube)

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READ MORE BUDGET TRAVEL TIPS

I hope you enjoyed my guide on why I travel with a Shemagh (or Keffiyeh) scarf! Hopefully you found it useful. Here are a few more wanderlust-inducing articles that I recommend you read next:


Have any questions about Shemagh scarves? What about other suggestions for uses? Drop me a message in the comments below!

Ivan

Thursday 23rd of July 2020

It even works as a face covering during this Covid-19 pandemic and looks far more elegant than the usual gimpy surgical masks.

If you are worried about offending people from Palestine, just get one with a non traditional design. Even better, buy it from the last traditional factory still producing them, the website is kufiya.org

Keffiyehs are awesome, and so practical.

Toby Bartels

Sunday 5th of April 2020

If you have your shemagh with you, then a strag will automatically assume that you are also in possession of a toothbrush, washcloth, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet-weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend you any of these or a dozen other items that you might accidentally have "lost". (Apologies to Douglas Adams.)

India

Thursday 20th of February 2020

You can wrap your bosom down tightly with them underneath your clothing which is helpful as a woman traveling alone abroad under certain circumstances when you are well endowed. On the other hand you can wrap it like a bandeau or halter top in countries where showing lots of skin is appropriate. It’s just an absolute travel staple, you can wear it as a woman as a garment in SO many ways. For extended travel I bring two identical- you can make a dress out of them with just a simple bracelet, and one different pattern. Google ‘fashion with scarves’ and lots of good video tutorials come up. I have also used mine as a colander for pasta while camping!! Rinse it in the river and .... clean enough! There are so many uses for these... gift wrap a present for someone going on a trip. Tie it to a stick to flag down help in an emergency. Use it to trap fish. Camping? Cut off the top of an empty water bottle put your flashlight in there and cover with scarf ... instant romantic tent lighting. Hmmmm.. I’m going to be thinking of this all night.

Matthew Karsten

Thursday 6th of May 2021

Excellent tips! Thanks for sharing. The shemagh is one amazing piece of kit to take with you while traveling.

Aaron Jasko

Sunday 7th of July 2019

Matthew,

I recently got into these while traveling in Jordan. Picked one up while I was in Petra. What is the Jordanian style of tying? I am American, and since I started wearing it, I don’t know why I didn’t do it earlier! Thanks for your input.

anita

Tuesday 4th of June 2019

OMG thank god I found you! Running out of time to plan our London-Norway-Iceland spur of the moment trip which leaves at the end of June! I think I'll just use your Iceland Ring Rd tour-very well laid out. Wish you had one for Norway. We will be there x2 weeks. If you have any suggestions, please email! Love your website/blog! Thanks so much!

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