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National Hobo Convention Swag: 7 Promo Products for Next Year

If you didn’t already know, each year the small town of Britt, Iowa hosts the National Hobo Convention. This convention has been held since 1900, and each year hoboes from east to west ride the rails into Britt in order to enjoy some free food and drinks, sit around the campfire, elect a new hobo king and queen, and share their history.

In case you were wondering, no, it’s not offensive to call these people hoboes. In fact, they take pride in their lifestyle. According to the National Hobo Convention website, “the hobo is a migratory worker, some with a special skill or trade, others ready to work at any task, but always willing to work to make his way.” So next year when the annual Hobo Convention rolls around and hoboes across the nation unite to celebrate their culture, your brand and local brands in Britt can hop on the rails too with these promo items fit for the hobo king and queen.


Custom Pep Rags

Bandanas – Bandanas are a staple in hobo culture. While browsing photos from this year’s convention you can see that almost every hobo sports a bandana as a sweatband on their head, wrapped around their neck, or in their pocket for a handkerchief. So, needless to say you won’t go wrong with Custom Pep Rags. That’s not to mention the stereotypical image of a hobo with a bandana tied around a stick for a makeshift knapsack. Which leads me to the next item on this list…

drawstring totebag

Drawstring Tote/Backpack

Drawstring backpacks – Many depictions of hoboes show them carrying a bandana knapsack, but you won’t find any bags like those at the Hobo Convention – they’re simply not practical. Real hoboes need a rough and tough bag that can endure all of the physical demands of riding the rails while simultaneously lugging all of their necessities across the nation. They need something like our Drawstring Tote/Backpack. Without it, they run the risk of losing any number of their possessions out the side of a boxcar.

outback cap

Outback Cap

Hats for all seasons – Another trend (and necessity) among hoboes is cool, protective headgear. We’ve got a wide variety of hats so there’s something for hobos of every style in any climate. In the event of a rainstorm, hobos will need something to keep their heads dry while they’re on the move. That’s where personalized hats come in. For older, classier hobos seeking ultimate protection from the sun, there’s the Outback Cap. And of course, for everyone else there’s the classic 5 Panel Mesh Back Cap(aka trucker hat).

lighter with child guard

Lighter with Child Guard

Lighters – Yes, it’s true that a lot of hoboes are smokers, but lighting up a cigarette isn’t the only purpose a lighter can serve. You may not want to encourage a nasty habit, but there are a lot of simple tasks we take for granted that a hobo could use a lighter for. Whether they’re starting up a bonfire to keep warm, using the flame as light to see at night, or preparing a serving (or barrel) of Mulligan stew, a lighter like our Lighter with Child Guard will turn any hobo into the lord of the flames.

h2go wide water bottle

H2Go Wide Water Bottle

Water bottles – If there’s one thing hoboes can agree on, it’s that a reliable bottle with a high volume capacity will be your go-to on the train. If you’re stuck in a boxcar for upwards of three hours, you can imagine that you’d get pretty thirsty. Whether they travel by rail, bike, or on foot, water is essential. A lot of hoboes recommend keeping at least a gallon of water on you, but this is as close as we can get. Help keep hoboes hydrated with big, durable custom water bottles.

Hoboes may not have a whole lot of disposable income of their own, but they sure do get around. Since they travel from state to state looking for work, a hat or backpack with your logo on it could be seen nationwide. So throw on your overalls, hop on the train (make sure you pee first!), and start ridin’ the rails to expand your brand.

What do you think? Have you ever heard of the National Hobo Convention? Which other products do you think a hobo would appreciate?

Photo courtesy of marcovdz.


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  1. Scooby

    I think lip balm would be a good addition… or even sun screen! 🙂

    • Jenna Markowski

      Good idea, Scooby! 🙂

  2. Eric

    Never knew the whole “Hobo v. Tramp v. Bum” difference in terminology until clicking on that link you provided, Jenna. I’m amazed to say it, but truth be told, there’s a lot to find admirable in the hobo culture. They’re sure a heck of a lot more resourceful than most people, that’s for certain. Still trying to figure out the ingredients to a “Mulligan Stew” (if there’s a set list to begin with), but nonetheless, really interesting stuff! Waterbottles also double as water-resistant containers in a pinch, too…I’d say all things on this list are spot-on, and beyond that, I’m sure there are unconventional ways to use other items to one’s benefit. Nice post!

    • Jenna Markowski

      That was new information for me, too! I totally agree with you. I loved that article (obviously, since I just HAD to write a blog post inspired by it). Thanks for commenting, Eric, and good luck figuring out Mulligan Stew!

  3. Amy Swanson

    I’m shocked that this convention has been going on for 112 years! I’d love to see pictures from the early days, but something tells me that their clothing style hasn’t changed much since then 😉

    Great post, Jenna! I never knew much about the hobo culture before but now I can say I know a bit more. Your promotional products that you selected I think would bring a smile to any hobos face, awesome finds!

    • Jenna Markowski

      Me too! I’m sure the old pictures are really cool.

      Thanks, Amy! I sure hope they would. Although I don’t know how fond a hobo would be of taking free handouts. Seems like they’d rather work to earn it!

  4. Jenna Markowski

    I had no idea either! It’s pretty interesting stuff, if I do say so myself.

    Ohh, that is a very good call, Mandy! Thanks for commenting! 🙂

  5. Rachel

    Hah, fun post, Jenna! I had never heard of this convention … very interesting! Thanks for enlightening us on the subject, and for all the great product suggestions. 🙂 Can’t go wrong with bandanas!

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