What is a shemagh? The shemagh (also known as a keffiyeh) is a scarf that originated in the Middle East. The shemagh has been used by Western armies as far back as World War II. As these forces returned home, they took their shemaghs with them. Now shemaghs are common across the United States.
Shemaghs are typically made of lightweight cotton cloth and are around 42 x 42 square. The weave is normally not all that tight which allows the material to breathe well and dry rapidly if the shemagh gets wet or is soaked in sweat. Shemaghs can be used in any way that other scarves and bandanas are used but its size and material make shemaghs much more versatile.
Today, the shemagh is used by militaries around the world as well as survivalists and other people that spend a lot of time outdoors. Its simplicity and versatility make the shemagh a great addition to most survival kits like bug out bags.
Its wide range of uses is what makes the shemagh so popular in Arab cultures and for tactical purposes.
Most people dressing for desert survival will have a shemagh with them.
Shemaghs are normally a 42 square but thats not the only size you can find them in. Its pretty common to find shemaghs in sizes up to about 47 by 47 square. If they are much larger than that, youll probably find that you just have too much material to easily wrap your head with it.
Shemaghs are usually made of light cotton thats loosely woven to allow a decent amount of airflow through it.
Sometimes you can find really poor quality shemaghs that are just a cotton square with a pattern printed on them. These arent what youre looking for when you want a quality shemagh.
The shemagh has so many uses its difficult to put them all into one list!
This is in no way an all-inclusive list. Youre really only limited by your imagination when it comes to possible uses for a shemagh.
Sun Protection Protecting you from the sun is where the shemagh really shines! Wrap your head to keep the sun off of your head and neck. You can also wrap it across your face to protect it as well.
Dust and Sand Protection Dust often goes with the heat, and its another thing that the shemagh was designed to protect you from. Wrap it loosely over your nose and mouth to keep the dust out of your lungs. You can also pull it low over your eyes and it will help keep the dust out of them as well.
Scarf in Cold Weather A shemagh is great as a scarf in the wintertime. You can wrap it around your entire head and face or just wrap it around your neck.
Sweat Rag A shemagh does a good job of keeping the sweat out of your face when its wrapped around your head but you can also just use it wipe away sweat whenever.
Cooling Towel If youre in hot weather, you can wet a shemagh and loosely wrap it around your head. Make sure its loose so you still get decent airflow to help cool you on top of the water.
Towel A shemagh makes a surprisingly good towel. If you just dont have a towel, or youre just in the field and had a chance to clean up, the shemagh will do as a towel in a pinch.
Improvised Sling Improvising a sling with a shemagh is pretty easy. Just tie the ends together tight enough so you can lay the injured arm in the shemagh and its holding the weight of that arm.
Improvised Splint You can improvise a splint with a shemagh by getting one or two stiff items, like sticks or poles, and tieing them to the limb with the broken bone. The good thing is a shemagh is usually long enough to nicely secure everything in place all by itself.
Tourniquet If youre trying to stop heavy bleeding and dont have a real tourniquet, you can make one with a shemagh. Tie the shemagh on the limb in between the wound and the heart like you would with any other tourniquet, then secure a windlass using a stick or a pole on top of that first knot. Twist the windlass until its as tight as you need it to be and secure it with the remaining length of the shemagh.
Length of Cordage You can use your shemagh as 3-4 feet of cordage to secure things in place if you need to without having to tear it or cut in any way. You can get even more usable lengths of cordage if youre willing to sacrifice your shemagh and cut it up.
Water Filter A shemagh isnt going to filter out any bacterial or microbes from your water, but it can get some of the bigger chunks out before you either boil your water, chemically purify it or run it through a true water filter.
Camouflage If you choose a shemagh thats similar in color to the area that youre in, you can use it as camouflage for you or your gear. When youre using it to camouflage yourself, its important to make sure that youre wearing it in a way that not only covers you but that it also breaks up the shape of your body as well.
Curtain If youre sleeping or living in a small area with multiple people, sometimes you just want to get some privacy. Hanging your shemagh in between you and other people, using it as a curtain, can help you get some privacy.
Bandage As a last resort, you can use a shemagh as a bandage for wounds. Try not to use it directly in contact with broken skin because its definitely not sterile and can cause infections. Itss better to use it to cover a dressing or hold a cold or heat pack in place.
Bag or Backpack A shemagh is actually great as a way to carry loose gear if you dont have another bad of you just ran out of space to put stuff. Lay the shemagh out flat, place the items that you want to carry in it into the center of the shemagh and then wrap them inside it. You can tie the ends together to secure it or you can just hold them.
Small Pillow The amount of material that makes up a shemagh can be a little deceiving, its actually quite a bit of material. You can either fold the shemagh several times into a small square pillow, or you can wrap things like t-shirts or other soft materials to make a more significant pillow.
Blanket A 42 square of light cotton material isnt going to keep you really warm, but it can keep you pretty warm if its just a little too cool to get comfortable without it. Youd be surprised how much warmer you can get with just a shemagh laying over your lap or thrown over your upper body.
Blindfold Wrapping your shemagh around your eyes can help you get some sleep if the sun is still up or you can put it over someone elses eyes if you have a reason to blindfold them.
Pot Holder A shemagh can be used as a potholder if youre cooking and need to move a hot pot or pan.
Wrapped Around a Heavy Item and Used as a Weapon It may not seem like something that makes sense, but a shemagh can be used as an effective improvised weapon. By putting a heavy object into the middle of the shemagh you can create a crude weapon that you can swing at a target.
Signaling Device A shemagh isnt the best signaling device, but you can use it if its all that you have. Swinging it in a circle over your head will help make you more noticeable to rescuers or other members of your team.
Ground Cover A 42 by 42 piece of cloth isnt going to be as good as some other types of ground cover, but it can still do the job in a pinch. Its especially useful when you have to sit on hot metal or to keep you and your gear clean when youre resting on the ground.
Silencer for Metal Equipment When youre trying to be quiet, theres almost nothing that seems as loud like a couple of pieces of metal gear clanking around. You can keep them from banging around by simply wrapping one or more of them in your shemagh to help silence them.
Shemaghs are great in the winter! Theyre often used in cold weather as a scarf or to wrap your head to keep in the heat.
When youre looking for a winter shemagh, you dont really have to get one thats especially heavy. Even though they tend to be light, they still hold the heat in really well. I use the same shemagh all year round.
Tieing a shemagh can be difficult the first few times that you try it. This video by Willow Haven Outdoor does a great job of showing one of the easiest ways to tie a shemagh.
A shemagh tied in this way is great to keep sand and dust out of your mouth and nose. It also keeps the sun and wind off of your head and is equally effective in hot or cold weather.
This is also a great way to quickly camouflage your face depending on the color of the shemagh.
In the end, anyway that you can wrap a shemagh around your head will work. Its really up to you as the wearer.
It is a piece of cloth around 42 square that is usually used as a scarf or a head covering that can protect the wearer to sun, wind, sand, and cold. Soldiers, who were introduced to them in the Middle East, use them because they have so many uses and weigh very little.
The shemagh is a great piece of equipment to add to your survival gear. You can pick up a wide range of colors and styles on Amazon right here if youre interested.
When youre choosing a shemagh over on Amazon, make sure you pay attention to what the reviewer has to say about them. They arent all made equal. Ive found the Rothco shemaghs to be of decent quality and price. The colors are also very close to what you see in the pictures.
Choose a color that would work well in your environment. White and sand colors work well for winter camouflage and black with olive or other dark colors are great for nighttime and woodland areas.
Make sure you read more of our articles about survival equipment before you leave.