I’ve long been known to have a pet peeve of the debris hikers drop along the trails, but one piece of trash has become more annoying: the ubiquitous tissues.
A worn handkerchief laid boldly in the middle of the path could indicate a person who doesn’t know any better. But a handkerchief hidden under a rock shows that someone knows he must be executed and is trying to hide the evidence.
As I wearily picked up yet another piece of used paper along a trail recently, I must have wondered why hikers don’t use tissues, or that incredibly versatile outdoor equivalent, the bandana.
Westerners know bandanas as a printed cotton square used as a tie or headband; a friend says these are also great napkins as they never need ironing.
Bandanas are used to blow one’s nose or wipe sweat from one’s face. Sometimes the same bandana is used for both purposes, although for some reason it seems to scare people away. We are, after all, talking about hiking, an activity in which you can spend days without changing your underwear or taking a bath. Plus, ladies, the humble bandana can be used as a rag to avoid leaving unsightly wads of toilet paper along the trail. Dangling his pee rag on the back of a bag allows ultraviolet light to kill bad guys.
A bandana is usually made of cotton but can also be nylon, wool, microfiber, silk or fleece. It can be red, navy, yellow, magenta or chip – you name it. Bandanas can feature area maps, livestock markings, illustrations of edible plants, flowers, or cloud formations. Some people may yearn to wear a bandana sporting delicately embroidered lavender paisley on a chartreuse background, why not?
A bandana can be used as a muffler to keep your neck warm, a scarf to keep your head cool, a hat to prevent your hair part from being scorched by the sun, or two tied in a belt to keep your pants up. It can be transformed into a trap for catching small animals, a fishing line, a hammock for squirrels, a filter for drinking water or a tie for your next official party.
Bandanas can be used to tie your hat so it won’t blow away with the wind. They can secure your bottle of milk or wine cooling in the river so it doesn’t get swept away in the rapids, or your hiking buddy so they can’t interfere while you rummage through their packet of chocolate (which, by the way, was tied to a tree with a bandana so he wouldn’t fall).
They can be used as an arm sling for a broken collarbone, a tourniquet for bleeding, padding for splints when resetting a bone, or a gag to stifle screams when resetting a bone.
Several bandanas can be tied together to make a tarp, a groundsheet, an air mattress to use in extreme haste, or perhaps an impromptu ball gown. They can be cut into pieces and used for playing checkers. They can be folded up and used to patch your jeans. They can be unraveled (or frayed) and woven into a macrame sash. They can be covered with aluminum foil and used to boil water.
Two can be tied together and used as bikini bottoms while the pants dry. They can be used to hold your hair up while you hike, hold your food while on your day hike, or hold your face while holding a train.
If soaked in water, bandanas can be used to lower the body temperature of a heat exhaustion victim, or twisted into a “rat tail” and used to painfully snap someone hiding their used tissues under a rock.
All in all, a bandana is something no hiker should ever be without. A bandana is truth, beauty, and a little Rit dye. And once you join the ranks of bandana lovers, you too can sing the Chiquita Bandana anthem: “bandana, bandana, bandana is good enough for me”.
Marjorie “Slim” Woodruff contributes to Writers on the Range, writersontherange.org, an independent nonprofit dedicated to stimulating lively conversation about the West. She is a Grand Canyon educator who also cleans the trails.