Furoshiki: Easy, Sustainable Gift Wrap for the Holidays and Beyond

It’s that time of year again—already. Just like clockwork, your local retail outlets are switching over from the Halloween decorations they put up right after Labor Day to the fancy glitz of Christmas, Kwanza, Hannukah, Solstice, and any number of other winter-themed holidays before the last Jack-o-Lantern has even gone out.

While we’re in party mode, attending holiday gatherings, eating too much food and hopefully getting in those first few turns or pitches of ice climbing, a darker side to the holidays emerges, and it’s not just because the sun is setting at 3:30 pm.

Gifts of Garbage

That’s right, as much as you love them, you must admit that the holidays are a pretty wasteful time of year—it has been estimated that the average American’s waste stream goes up by 25% during the last six to eight weeks of the year. That’s an extra 1 million TONS of trash every week between Thanksgiving and the New Year, just here in the States. Of all that garbage, comprised mainly of wasted food and excessive packaging, 2.3 million pounds is wrapping paper. Almost all of that is unrecyclable, made from blended plastic content and contaminated by things like glitter, bows, stickers, tape, and other persistent plastic bits that eventually end up in the oceans and elsewhere, all in the name of aesthetics.

Hand holding Furoshiki wrapped gift with handle-bow

Furoshiki: The Sustainable Solution

Not to worry. There is a fantastic alternative and it’s been around for over 1,000 years, just waiting for you to embrace it. Furoshiki is a traditional Japanese way of simple and functional wrapping with cloth (furoshiki is both the name of the method and the actual wrapping cloth; learn more about the name and history here). Not only will it make your holidays a lot more earth-friendly, but it can spice up your gifts as well. Don’t let the origins scare you either. Unlike origami and other exacting Japanese arts, furoshiki is about the same as wrapping paper with one exception—it’s even easier. In fact, if you’ve struggled with getting that perfect wrap job with paper, you’ll love the simplicity of furoshiki.

Traditionally using cotton or silk, the concept of furoshiki has been around since the Nara Period (710-794 CE), when it was used to protect and transport valuables in fabrics called Tsutsumi. Through the years the application and name of this method have evolved but, by any name, furoshiki is a beautifully simple solution to the problem of wasteful and sometimes harmful single-use wrapping papers and plastics that plague the environment.

You’ll Need Just Two Things:

  1. A Gift: Preferably some outdoor gear, obviously. If you need ideas, may we suggest perusing our Holiday Gift Guide?
  2. Some Fabric: Since the whole idea is to reduce waste and plastics, go for natural fibers or synthetic ones that, when unwrapped, become a gift of their own (scarves are a natural choice here) or can be used as furoshiki by the next person. If you’re going synthetic, we suggest an additional gift for the outdoor lover in your life by using our favorite piece of fabric from our sibling brand—a PackTowl Ultralite. Sure, we’re biased, but you have to admit, no one has ever been upset about getting another PackTowl for next summer’s road trip and alpine lake swims.
  3. [Optional] Some Organic Bling: Want to dress things up a notch? Grab some cedar, holly, or a few sprigs of lavender, rosemary or whatever is still green (or pretty and brown!) in your neck of the woods.

How To Do It:

Start with a piece of fabric

  1. Start with a piece of fabric. Its diagonal length should be roughly three times the longest edge of the object you are wrapping. If it’s too big, you can cut or fold the center to length as we did here in the gif above, wrapping a PocketRocket® Stove Kit. If you really want to be fancy or are using fabric with a single-sided print, you can sew the two pieces together back-to-back as shown in this video, creating your own custom furoshiki.
    Place object in center of fabric
  2. Place the object in the center of the fabric, which you’ll lay out in a diamond shape.
    Fold one corner over object
  3. Pull the top down over the object and tuck it in neatly. Repeat with the lower corner, pulling it up and over.
    Continue folding corners over object
  4. The next step is just like wrapping with paper—fold in the sides to meet in the middle and tidy things up as best you can. You’ll be pulling those ends up over the top to make a knot, so they don’t need to be perfect.
    Tie ends together to make bow
  5. Now pull both ends of the fabric up over the top of the object and tie a single overhand knot.
  6. For added flair, lay the bits of nature of your choosing on top of the knot and tie a second knot over them to secure. Fluff the ends to perfection and you’re done!

It really is that simple.

Whether you’re using a PackTowl, a scarf or making your own furoshiki, we hope we’ve inspired you to take a more sustainable path in your wrapping this holiday season. And if you’ve got lots of wrapping to do on a budget, please consider a more traditional approach with recycled paper, newspaper, old topo maps, road atlases or even some brown grocery bags (break out the markers and customize your own wrapping paper). Make a statement that funky, frugal and sustainable is the new cool.

Furoshiki wrapped gifts

Tell us what other ideas you can come up with to be green with your wrapping ideas and chime in below with your best ones. We’ve only got one Earth to play on, so let’s celebrate this year—and every other one going forward—by giving her a break!

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Jim Meyers HeadshotJim Meyers

Jim Meyers survives between road trips by pushing all the buttons at Vertizon Photography He is also a recovering copywriter turned freelance writer. He’s climbed, skied, backpacked, cycled and fly fished extensively throughout North America and is selfishly raising two budding adventurers with his wife and Type-2 fun soulmate in Seattle, WA.

Updated. Originally Published October 27, 2022.

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