Backcountry Hacks: 36 Ways to Use a Bandana

August 29, 2016
ways to use a bandana
REBECCA M. FULLERTONSun shield, sweat stopper, fly swatter: Learn these and 33 more ways to use a bandana.

A simple square of cotton can do amazing things. If you don’t have a bandana stashed in your pack or pocket, you’re missing out on a world of possibilities, beginning with the 36 below.

Head First
Head cover: Keep your backcountry mane contained and away from open flame. Neck protection: Tucka bandanna under your hat, draped downward, to shield your nape from the sun. Dust guard: Fold it in half to make a triangle, tie it around your neck, then position it over your mouth to keep out grit. Snot rag: So useful, so yucky. Sweatband: Keep the salts of your labor from running into your eyes. Sleep mask/blindfold: Block out the visible world for a better night’s sleep (or a game of pin the tail on the tree trunk). Cooler-downer: Soak in cold water and place across your neck. Face cloth: Wipe down your grimy visage. Smoke filter: In a worst-case fire scenario, cover your mouth with a damp bandana to make breathing easier.

Cooking and Eating
Water pre-filter: Strain turbid water before treating it. Colander: Hot  water goes through; pasta, rice, and other food items don’t. Coffee filter: No java maker, no problem. Hot mitt: Protect hands from scorching pot handles. Bib: Deploy for messy foods and messy eaters. Napkin: Stop wiping your hands on your shirt! Placemat: Add a touch of backcountry elegance. Dish cloth: Wipe up, wipe clean.

First Aid and Survival
Wound stancher: Apply direct pressure to a bleeding injury. Cold compress: Soak in cold water and apply to sprains, burns, and other injuries. Sling: Tie two together to support an injured arm. Splint binder: Tie around an emergency splint to secure in place. Emergency signal: Invest in a bright-colored model for better visibility. Tourniquet: Use to cut off blood flow only in the event of a life-or- death scenario.

And Beyond
Cordage/ties: Twist tightly or tear into strips. Tent sponge: Soak up water invading your tent and wipe down your rainfly before packing up. Bug swatter: Wave away mosquitoes, black flies, and other biting insects. Dog collar: Give Fido some style and increase his visibility, especially if he’s naturally camouflaged. Hat band: Give yourself some style. Boot wipe: Polish your hiking kicks. Wind vane: Dangle your bandana and watch which way it blows. Gear protection: Wrap up breakable items in your pack. Stocking stuffer: Share the love next holiday season. Stagecoach hold-up: For desperate times, if you find yourself lost in the 19th century. Hobo bindle: Have stick and bandana, will travel. Toilet paper: Where bandanas go to die.

Bandana Buyers Guide
Consider the following features when selecting your all-purpose textile multitool. First, make sure it is cotton, which readily absorbs water, and not polyester or another synthetic fabric, which doesn’t. (Bonus points for organic cotton, a more sustainable and less polluting choice than conventionally grown.) Look for brightly colored bandanas, which are easier to spot and don’t absorb as much heat as darker options. Last, some bandanas are printed with maps, survival tips, and other how-to information—a potentially useful feature.

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Matt Heid

Equipped blogger Matt Heid is AMC's gear guru: He loves gear and he loves using it in the field. While researching several guidebooks, including AMC's Best Backpacking in New England, he has hiked thousands of miles across New England, California, and Alaska, among other wilderness destinations. He also cycles, climbs, and surfs.