A shemagh, also known as keffiyeh or kufiya, is a traditional Arab headdress made from a square piece of cotton cloth. It has been worn by the people residing in Arabia, Jordan and Iran for over a century. It’s commonly used as a means for protection against sunlight, dust and sand. Over the years its presence increased due to the versatile uses this headdress can be put to. It is precisely because of this that the British military has included a shemagh in their equipment since the Second World War. Apart from becoming an irreplaceable piece of military equipment, the shemagh has been an extremely popular fashion accessory. If you happen to have one, and used it simply to incorporate it in your image, you are in luck because you have the opportunity to learn all about the various uses of a shemagh in a survival situation.

Protective gear

The first, and most common, use of this seemingly simple piece of cloth is wearing it as protection against sunlight, dust, sand and even cold. You can wear the shemagh as a headwrap, face veil and a scarf, depending on the conditions you happen to find yourself in. The headwrap/face veil combo is extremely useful if you get stranded in arid areas. It will provide you with much needed protection against dust, sand and, of course, sunlight so you don’t suffer a sunstroke. Using it as a scarf is pretty much self-explanatory; cold weather conditions can cause you to suffer from hypothermia, and using a shemagh can provide you with some degree of protection but keep in mind that it is not designed with cold weather conditions in mind and is not as thick as regular scarfs are. The headwrap/face veil combo can provide you with decent protection against snowfall if you are not equipped with better clothing for that particular situation. Some of you who already own a shemagh are probably familiar with the ways of wrapping one properly. If you are not familiar with them and want to get yourself one, then follow this link or check out the video below.

Sun shade

Another way to incorporate a shemagh in protection against sunlight is to create a sun shade out of it. The dimensions of a shemagh, which can go up to 42″ x 42″ (112 cm x 112 cm), allow for this use. If you can tie the ends to small vegetation or fashion poles out of some and then tie the ends to it, you can create a sun shade for much needed rest with an eliminated risk of a sunstroke to boot.


Hygiene is an important part of our lives and it shouldn’t be neglected even when you end up in a survival situation. Luckily, your shemagh is, once again, very useful in this field. As it is basically a large piece of cotton cloth, you can use it as a regular towel, a washcloth or a handkerchief. If you really must, and only if you really must, you can use it as toilet paper but keep in mind that it’s a single use only and that the versatile applications of a shemagh comes with its recyclable properties.

First Aid

In case of an injury, your shemagh will prove to be an immensely useful piece of equipment because it can help with treating several injuries. First, you can use it in case you cut yourself as a bandage. Due to its dimensions, you can cut it in several pieces so you can frequently change bandages and further reduce the risk of infection. In case you injure your arm or shoulder, you can use your shemagh to make a sling which will immobilize your arm and helps the recovery process. In case of a fracture, a shemagh can be put to use by tying a splint which is also used for the immobilization of limbs. A shemagh can also be turned into a tourniquet and used for constriction and compression in order to control venous and arterial circulation of an extremity. All in all, a shemagh can be used to treat many injuries which is excellent especially if you have limited resources.


Being in a survival situation means that, sooner or later, you will either have to fend off a foe or will have to hunt for food. It can be difficult to perform these tasks without the necessary equipment, but as long as you have a shemagh on you, you can make improvised weapons. How does one do that? It’s pretty simple actually. A shemagh can provide you with the option of making a melee and long range weapon. By placing a rock in the middle of the shemagh and twisting the ends around it, you can make a flail which you can swing by holding the ends in your hand. The other options is to create a shepherd’s sling by twisting a shemagh and making a pouch in the middle. You then place a small rock inside, grab it by the ends and swing it to cradle the rock in the pouch. When you are ready to launch the rock, let go of one end. This sling can be very useful for hunting small game. These may be crude weapons but could mean the difference between life and death.

Shepherd's sling

Braided shepherd’s sling

Fire starter

When it comes down to just you and cruel Mother Nature, you’ll want to keep yourself dry and fed. But first you will need a fire, because fire means warmth, light and a means of cooking a meal. The wonderful shemagh can help you with starting one, but this process is a bit tricky as in order to turn any piece of cloth into a slow burning but highly combustible fire starter you already need a fire and a couple of other items. Nevertheless, we will inform you on the process because it could be useful to you one day. Use a pair of scissors or a knife to cut your shemagh into small pieces and place them into any type of metal container that has a lid. After that, puncture a hole in the lid and place the metal container either into or over a fire. The fire will make the pieces charred which will turn the regular pieces of cloth into combustible fire starters. When you need to use one, simply put a piece of cloth into a bundle for kindling and try to make a spark into order to ignite it. Once again, this process requires you to prepare your cloth fire starter in advance.

Bundle kindling

Kindling a bundle with char cloth

Signaling device

A shemagh, and especially a brightly colored one, can be used for signaling other people or leaving a trail marker for yourself. In case you end up getting lost while on a hike then a trail marker comes in handy if you decide to risk venturing further. Cutting up or tearing your shemagh in stripes of cloth will allow you to tie them on branches so you can easily track your movement and prevent the risk of getting even more lost. In order to attract the attention of a helicopter which is flying by, you can wave you shemagh by itself or grab a stick and fashion a flag out of it and hope you will be spotted. This is where the brightly colored version will prove to be superior because waving with a camouflaged shemagh from a forest will not make you stand out.

Makeshift flag

A makeshift flag made from cloth and a stick

Water collector

One of the most important issues when you are out in the wilderness is finding clean drinking water. One way to get drinking water is to use your shemagh as a water collector. Tie each of the corners to a stick and put the sticks in the ground while making sure that the shemagh has a bit of slack. Then place a rock in the middle in order to create a large funnel. If it starts to rain, you can place a container right underneath the place where the rock is so that water pours into it. Another use with obtaining clean water is to use the shemagh as a filter. If you are uncertain of the purity of the water after filtering, boil the water if you can in order to eliminate any and all pathogens which might be present in it. Watch the video below to see an example of using a shemagh as a water collector.


You might think that a pouch is not that important when trying to survive in an unfamiliar environment, but every bit of equipment you have will, sooner or later, be used. If you start collecting useful items along the way or if you already have some but nothing to carry them in then simply place you shemagh on the ground and sort your items in the middle. Bring the ends together over your items and either tie them together or with a rope. Your stuff will stay safe in your makeshift pouch. You can also attach the pouch at the end of a stick to create a classic hobo pouch. This pouch might prove to be even more useful if you are certain that there are bears in the area you are in. Why? Well, so you can store your food at a safe place away from your camp, because you definitely don’t want bears snooping around it while you are asleep. You can do this only if you have a rope, since this will work only if the bag is secure on a branch. Tie a rock with the rope and swing it over a branch. Let the rock bring the end of the rope to the ground where you will remove it and tie the pouch. Pull up the pouch and tie the opposite end of the rope to the tree. Your food will be securely stored in this way.

Hobo pouch

A stereotypical hobo pouch

It is amazing how many applications a simple piece of cloth can have in an emergency situation. If you happen to own a shemagh you will appreciate the level of versatility this fashion accessory can offer to you. If you don’t own one, don’t wait too long and get yourself one as soon as possible.

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