I’ve never carried a bandana, and didn’t quite “get it”. Why carry around a nasty old “snot rag”? However, lately I’ve been reading a lot on what people carry every day in their pockets. A bandana seems to be on 85% or those lists. Why? Because they’re so useful! Wilderness survival guru Dave Canterbury considers them a “must have” item.
Most bandanas are about 22 in by 22 in and are usually 100% cotton. The first thing you’ll notice about carrying a bandana is how it virtually disappears and becomes unnoticeable in your pocket — definitely not a burden to carry.
If you’re racking your brain trying to come up with ways to use a bandana, stop. I’ve done it for you (or at least got you started). Some are boring, mundane uses, but most are survival uses for a bandana.
Emergency Medical Uses for Bandanas
- Tourniquet — Tie one around a limb that is gushing blood to restrict the flow so you don’t bleed out.
- Bandage — Cover an open wound to keep foreign matter out; can also hold a poultice in place.
- Sling — Immobilize an injured arm.
- Ice Pack — Load a bandana with ice and use it where ice is needed for swelling.
- Dust Mask — Tie it around your face so you aren’t breathing in dust or airborne contaminants. It might not be as good as one of these N95 masks, but they’ll do the job.
- Smoke Mask — Soak a one with water and wear over your nose and mouth to provide some protection from smoke inhalation.
- Eye Patch — Fold one bandana up into a square to place over your eye, and tie a second one around your head to hold the first in place.
- Pressure Dressing — Use to put direct pressure on a wound.
- Splint Binding — Tie a splint to a limb to keep it straight.
- Compression Wrap — If you sprain your wrist or ankle, wrap a bandana tightly around to keep it from bending.
- Cold Compress — Soak a bandana with water, squeeze it out so that it’s still damp, and spin it around your head. This will make the bandana cool, and you can put the cold compress substitute on a burn, a bee sting, or on your head to soothe a headache.
Bandanas for Hygiene
- Bathing — Wash up head to toe if need be, or just to clean your face; keep a dry one to dry off with, too.
- Feminine Hygiene — If you don’t already have tampons and feminine pads in your bug-out bag (which both have awesome survival uses in their own rights), a bandana will do as a substitute.
- Toilet Paper — If you’re in an area with little to no foliage, it will do in a pinch. I’m not sure I would wash it and reuse it, though.
- Diaper — Running out of things to wrap the baby’s behind in? Go old-school and fold your bandana into a triangle and tie it around baby for a cloth diaper.
- Baby Bib — If you’re not in a SHTF situation, and you don’t want the little one making too much if a mess, tie it around baby’s neck loosely for an impromptu baby bib.
Grouping and Carrying Bug-Out Gear
- Padding — For sensitive items such as shooting glasses, sunglasses or electronics, wrap them loosely in your bandana so they’ve got an extra layer of protection in your bug-out bag. Bonus: You can also wipe lenses and touch screens clean when you unwrap them.
- Hobo-Style Bindle — Tie opposing corners together to make a bag to carry all sorts of loose items — like nuts and berries when foraging.
- Small Item Pack — Keep small things such as nuts, bolts, spent brass, and the like organized together in your backpack so you don’t lose them.
- Noise Reductive Wrap — Wrap up noise-making items in your bag to prevent them from making noise — that’s good OpSec (Operations Security) whether you’re in a SHTF situation or just enjoying a nature hike and don’t want to disturb the animals much.
- Tethering — Tie items like your water bottle to your bug out bag so they’re easily accessible.
Food and Water During SHTF
- Sponge — Soak up morning dew or rain water and squeeze into your mouth if you’re in need of a drink.
- Napkin — Wipe your mouth, hands, and face — no need to be messy on account of the apocalypse.
- Water Filtration — A bandana acts as a pre-filter, but it will definitely stop large particulate matter from clogging your main filter.
- Hot Glove — Fold the bandana up multiple times so you can wrap it around the handle of your pot, pan, or whatever other cooking vessel you have over the fire so you don’t burn yourself.
- Coffee/Tea Filter — Use your bandana like a tea bag to keep particles out of your drink while still imparting their flavorful goodness into the water. Can be used to make wilderness herbal tea from foraged leaves and berries (as long as you know what you’re doing).
- Dish Rag — Keep your camp dishes clean. ’nuff said.
- Salad Spinner — Even if you’re foraging for leafy greens, you’ll want to wash them to be sure there isn’t any nastiness on them. Put them into a dry bandana, cinch the corners together, and give it a whirl.
- Drink Cozy — If you forget your drink cozy (or koozie as I’ve always called them), you can wrap one around your ice cold (or scalding hot) beverage.
- Strainer — Much like the salad spinner idea, if you happen to be eating pasta or something that needs to be strained, your bandana will get most of the liquid off the food.
- Foraging Basket — Gather nuts, berries and other wild edibles in one for easier carrying. You could also just learn to weave baskets out of sticks, vines and pine needles.
- Grease Catch — If you’re cooking sausage or bacon, and you have no napkins, lay them to drain on a clean bandana.
As Emergency Clothing
- Head Covering — Probably the most common use for a bandana, right? One can be tucked under a hat to protect your neck from the sun, or cover your entire head.
- Sleep Mask — Covering your eyes will help you sleep during the day if you’re traveling at night.
- Sweat Band — Keeps the sweat out of your eyes.
- Hair Tie — May as well keep the hair out of your face, too.
- Improvised Gloves — Protect your hand when rock climbing or handling sharp objects.
- Mend Clothing — If your clothing or gear tears, you can use part or all of a bandana to patch those holes. Just be sure you have your emergency sewing kit with you, too!
- Ear Covering — Tie it around your head to cover your ears to keep frostbite at bay.
- Head Cooling — Soak a bandana in water and wear it on your head to keep cool.
- Snow/Sand Mask — Wear two pushed tightly together over your eyes like a blindfold with just a little space between the two to prevent snow blindness or keep sand out of your eyes in a sand storm.
Offensive / Defensive Uses
- Weapon Concealment — Many people who pocket carry their concealed carry weapon will place a bandana on top of the gun to further cover it and disguise the outline.
- Flail Weapon — Tie a rock onto one corner and swing it around.
- Sling — Fold your bandana into a strip like you would for a sweat band, grab the two corners, put a rock in the middle, swing it around, and let one end of the bandana go to set the rock flying (think David and Goliath).
- Wick/Fuse — If you’re in a SHTF combat situation, a bandana can serve as a wick for a Molotov cocktail or a fuse to an improvised explosive device (IED) (but let’s hope you never have to do this one).
- Blindfold — You don’t want your prisoner to see what you’re doing or where you’re going.
- Gag — You also don’t want them talking much.
- Handcuffs — They probably shouldn’t be allowed to use their hands, either. Bonus points if you can tie their hands together around a tree.
- Cleaning Patches — Tie a bit of bandana with some 550 paracord so that the knot is just a hair larger than the bore of your firearm, then run the unknotted end through the barrel, pull it, and the knotted end with the bandana will come through and clean the barrel.
- Gun Cloth — Since you’re cleaning your weapon, you’ll need to oil it, too, right? Oh yeah, you should probably include gun oil in your bug out bag if you carry a weapon.
- Bullet Patches — On the off-handed chance that you use a muzzleloader, and you’re in a bind, tear pieces of your bandana to use as bullet patches.
- Staff Sling — Using a long stick with a Y-shaped end, tie a bandana in a pouch across the Y and sling away (think lacrosse).
Other SHTF Uses
- Padding — Use a folded bandana to pad your shoulders for carrying a heavy load.
- Tent Gear — Hang a tactical flashlight from your tent ceiling, or tie all four corners of your bandana across the tent peak to create a “gear hammock” for small items.
- Signal — A bright colored bandana can be hung up as a flag over your campsite that might be lost in tight brush or tall grasses. You could also swing it around on a stick as a signal flag to attract attention.
- Fire — Make char cloth from a bandana, or soak it in oil for a torch, or use it dry as back-up tinder for emergency fire starting.
- Messages — Write notes on it if you have a Sharpie or other permanent marker.
- Mark a Trail — Whole or in pieces, mark your trail and then collect the pieces before you bug out of that area.
- Cordage — Tear off strips or use the whole bandana twisted into a cord.
- Line Weight — Bind a rock inside a bandana, tie it to your cord, then toss it over a limb (for things like elevating food from animals and such).
- Mark Lines — …and by “lines” I mean guy lines on your tent, clothes lines, etc. so you won’t run into them.
- Pet Items — Use a bandana for a dog muzzle, leash or collar. Likewise, you can blindfold an aggressive dog to calm them.
How many other survival uses for a bandana can you come up with?
That’s all I’ve got for now. If you have something to add, leave me a comment, and I’ll add it to the list!
Oh! In case you’re going all out on the survival gear checklist, you can use a shemagh for any of the stuff in this list, too!