I bought this bandana for a quarter in 2004. Seven years later, it's still saving my butt.

While on a recent run down a mountain, I had the misfortune to catch my toe on a protruding rock and did a spectacular belly-flop onto the ground. My injuries weren’t severe- in fact, I’d say I got off lightly- but one knee was torn up enough that a regular band-aid wasn’t going to suffice. Unperturbed, I pulled my bandana off my head and wrapped it tightly around the injury before tying a firm square knot and continuing on my merry way. Not a perfect solution, of course, but it kept dust and germs out long enough for me to get back to the house for a proper cleaning.

This got me to thinking that bandanas might be the most useful accessory any GoGirl could carry with her. They’re compact, cheap, coloured and patterned to suit a variety of tastes, and so versatile that it makes my head spin. In fact, they just might be the Swiss Army Knives of the cloth world (towels notwithstanding) because of their dozens upon dozens of uses. Here are a few:

  • Hair accessory. While hiking, cleaning, flying, lugging your luggage, testing your photography skills, washing your face, building things…bandanas keep the hair out of your face like nothing else. Roll them up to create an Alice band-type look, tie it around your hair for a quick ponytail, or wear as a triangle kerchief. Either way, your eyes remain clear for taking in the local views.
  • Luggage marker. Got one of those ubiquitous black, blue, or brown suitcases? Tie your bandana around the handle of your luggage to make it easy to spot at baggage claim or under the bus.
  • Eye mask or sweat band. Tying the bandana around your head doesn’t have to be limited to hair purposes. When you need a few Zzzs and it’s still daytime, folding it and tying it across your eyes is a quick way to block the light. Or, if it’s still daytime and you’re exerting your butt off, use it to keep the sweat out of your eyes by tying it across your forehead.
  • Carrying a lunch. One of my favourite things to do in Germany was go to farmer’s markets on the weekend, buy up whatever struck my fancy (usually broechten and fresh goat cheese), and eat it for lunch. If I forgot a bag, a bandana served equally well if I bundled everything into the middle and tied the corners together. For the retro hobo look, you could always hang it off the end of a stick.
  • First aid. As my running adventure indicates, sometimes there are things that need a quick fix that band-aids won’t solve. They can be used to cover open wounds, act as an emergency compression bandage, or even help treat rashes when soaked with cold water. Useful if you’re without a first-aid kit!
  • Cooling. Working in the sun, hiking, or being in a hot place often means overheating. Dunk your bandana in water, tie it around your neck (or forehead or head), and experience the joys of instant relief!
  • Hygiene. If you’re without soap and a scrubbie, but have some water, you can always use a bandana and a splash of water to help keep the grime and grotesque odours at bay. Along with that, a clean bandana (or one you’re ready to discard for good) can be used for other day-to-day hygienic purposes. Think temporary pads, toilet paper, or handkerchiefs.
  • Cleaning. Gone camping and forgotten a dishcloth? Got dust on your camera lens? Hands all dirty after fixing your car while on a road trip? Yep, that’s right, your bandana’s going to be your best friend.
  • Group identifier. If you’re traveling with a large and chaotic group (oh hello, my family!), especially if you’re in a chaotic place (think local market or popular tourist destinations), matching bandanas can make picking each other out of the crowd much easier. If that’s too cheesy for you, but you’re into the lesbian night scene, use the bandana code to help find a friend or two for the evening. Just remember to keep yourself safe!

It might seem like I’m a little in love with bandanas…and maybe, truth be told, I am. But when you think about how much space it could save you for its relative utility, why not?