The Swiss army knife of fabrics
Why a 28 in by 80 in cut of fabric made of woven wool and silk is the most important item to bring with you anywhere.
I recently took a November camping trip to the Suwannee River in North Florida around Halloween. The beauty of this place is unique in all the world with its meandering spring fed rivers and large oaks with hanging moss that capture the essence of a wilderness kissed with voodoo magic. It has taken some time for the importance of this trip to digest and now I feel like I am well versed enough to share with you what I currently think is the secret to unlocking comfort in this life anywhere you go.
Now, if you have been reading my other blog posts, you already know that I owe wool my life. It’s ability to keep you warm when wet can save you from sub-freezing temperatures, so it is advisable that you throw away all your cotton base layers and find some merino to hug your skin if you are going to be exposed to the elements. But let’s assume that you are not in a position where you are facing life and death. How about being comfortable?
Let’s say you’re hanging out by the campfire. Let’s say you’re taking a short hike from your campsite to a vista point or a river bend to go for a swim. Maybe you’re backpacking through a desert climate or a high elevation where you are subjected to big temperature swings and unpredictable weather. Or maybe you live in a city and there are different sorts of elements to be faced.
Smoke? Bees? Scorching sun? Smelly people on the subway?
How much crap do I need to be ready for all these potential elements that may be thrown my way?
Well, if you’re a minimalist like me and like to be ready for anything, but also don’t want to be weighed down with the weight of the world as you trudge from location to location. You might want to try on a pashmina.
When someone first recommended this to me, I was like, “No, I’m really into my bandanas, they work for me well enough, and that seems like too much to carry”… little did I know. prior to using a Pashmina, my only real experience with the word came from an episode of Friends where Rachel catches Ross in a lie with one.
Essentially this cut of fabric has the basic look of a slightly larger than usual scarf. It is just a little bit longer and a little bit wider than the classic scotch plaid scarfs your mother wrapped you up in before playing in the snow. From this larger size, you have the gift of versatility, and from 50% silk component, you have packability.
Pashmina comes from the Indian word for wool, and is actually derived from the underbellies of goats, in the west it is known as “Cashmere”. Pashminas are made usually part from wool and part from silk for extra softness and they can be found in simple solid colors, but are usually quite beautifully ornate and unique (especially those that are hand woven in the state of Kashmir, India).
Now, what’s all the fuss about?
In short, it is the perfect self-regulator of body temperature.
If you are cold, you can double wrap it around your neck for extra warmth (an early preventer of hypothermia). If the wind is biting, you can open it up and use it as a shawl, or as a windshield to start a fire. It works as a picnic blanket. If the smoke is blowing your way while sitting around the campfire, you can flip it over your face to protect your eyes. You can use it to swat bees and flies without fear of the sting. It can act as a hood to keep the sun out of your face on hot exposed hikes. And if you get sweaty in the heat of the day, you can wet it or use it as a wick to keep you cool. Towel off after a dip. Throw it on a lantern or lamp to dim the lights. It’s a pillow, it’s a blanket, it’s a blindfold, it’s a neckerchief. Who knew that a simple cut of fabric could be the most useful thing on the planet?
I just completed my Wilderness First Responder last month and learned some great lifesaving traits that the pashmina also has in its arsenal. In an emergency it can act as a soft collar for spine stabilization and has the strength of fabric to act as a tourniquet in stopping deadly bleeds. It has enough length to operate as cordage to tie splints for broken bones. And can be easily used as a sling to immobilize or elevate extremities. The woolen fabrics are anti-microbial and can be useful for helping mitigate the threats of infection, and will also keep warm when wet. And if you’ve had enough of it for the moment, just tie it around your waist and wait until you need it.
I am currently in the honeymoon phase with the pashmina, and I know there is a long road ahead. But I’m telling you: This is the thing. I continue to find new uses for it every time I use one in the wild.