Essentials for the Hajj: From sun hats to shoe bags, a guide to gear for the Muslim pilgrimage

Pilgrims buy souvenirs and bags at a shop outside the Grand Mosque during the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Saturday, June 24, 2023. Straw hats, cross-body bags, and collapsible chairs are some essentials pilgrims have on them as they perform the Hajj. The fifth pillar of Islam is a profoundly spiritual experience but requires practical and specific preparation to deal with hours of walking in scorching temperatures, camping stints, and massive crowds. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

Nigerian pilgrims carry bags outside the Grand Mosque Saturday during the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

MECCA, Saudi Arabia — Straw hats, cross-body bags, and collapsible chairs: These are just some of the essentials Muslims bring to the Hajj pilgrimage.

Spiritually, the five-day Hajj is awe-inspiring for the faithful, an experience they say brings them closer to God and to the entire Muslim world.


Physically, it’s grueling. Pilgrims walk outdoors for hours in broiling heat around holy sites in Mecca and the surrounding desert. They are caught in unimaginable and overwhelming crowds, all trying to get to the same place. Barriers directing the traffic mean that if you miss your turn, you might walk hours more to get where you want to be.

So the more than 2 million pilgrims don’t just learn the complicated rules of how to properly perform the rituals, which began Monday. They also pick up helpful hints and tricks of the trade to get by, learned from other hajjis — as those who have completed the pilgrimage are known.

Here’s a look at what they say is essential gear.

What to wear

Dress for the heat, since daytime temperatures regularly soar past 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit). The majority of rituals take place outdoors in the desert.

Sun hats are key. Pilgrims often opt for wide-brimmed straw hats or even cowboy hats. Umbrellas of every color are everywhere. Some balance their prayer mats on their heads or the canopies from umbrellas.

All men are required to wear simple white robes without any stitching, a rule aimed at uniting rich and poor. Women must forego beauty products and cover their hair but have more latitude to wear fabrics from their native countries, resulting in a colorful display of Islam’s multiculturalism.

When it comes to footwear, it’s best to wear something that’s durable for the long walks but that also slips on and off easily, as pilgrims must remove their shoes before entering Mecca’s Grand Mosque.

Sandals are sensible, but some pilgrims say it’s best also to wear socks as the mosque’s marble floor can be surprisingly cold as they walk around the Kaaba seven times.

What to carry

A daypack of some kind is essential for carrying food, water, sunscreen and other sundries. But backpacks can be a hassle when you’re crammed shoulder-to-shoulder.

Far more popular are cross-body bags that you can access without turning around.

Many pilgrims also carry a separate drawstring bag or pouch for their shoes. Usually at mosques, you can leave your shoes with an attendant at the entrance, but with hundreds of thousands at the Grand Mosque, that’s a sure way to lose your shoes, or at best waste a long time getting them back. It would also mean you have to exit the same way you entered, not always possible when the crowd takes you in another direction.

Umaima Hafez, a five-time hajjah from Egypt, packs like a pro.

Sitting on her portable plastic stool, she reaches into her large pack and pulls out a blanket, homemade granola and crackers, a travel towel that she wets and places on her head when it gets hot, an extra-thick prayer mat — for her knees — and some medications. The stool fits into the bag as well. She’ll carry it throughout Hajj, then leave it behind for someone else to use.

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