A bandana is just a piece of cloth for blowing your nose, right?
For most, yes, but if you’re a serious survivalist you know that a single piece of cloth can be an extremely valuable resource.
A Survival bandana is any bandana put to good survival use.
So today I’m going to share with you, my 23 favorite survival uses for a bandana. But first a quick story…
How I Used A Survival Bandana In Real Life
It was somewhere outside of Pai, Thailand around 2:00 AM when I crashed my motorbike crossing a bridge at 85 kilometers-per-hour. That’s 53 mph. Yeah, too fast for a beat up country road on a shitty rental bike. Especially after a rainstorm and a few Chang lagers. But hell, I wasn’t alone.
In front of me my two friends, Aldus and Carino had crashed just seconds earlier. One after another that puddle-covered bridge kicked our motorbikes out from underneath us and tossed our bodies like rag dolls into the brush and darkness beyond the road.
It was an absolute miracle that none of our bikes, which careened off past us, didn’t decapitate anyone. Thankfully, we were alive.
So we brushed ourselves off and stood in shocked awe to assess the damage. It was rough, but nothing serious: widespread road-burn over all our legs and arms, several cuts, a lot of bruises. No one was going to the hospital but we were going to be extremely sore over the next few weeks.
The Moral Of The Story
I tell this story for one reason in particular: after that fiasco, I had to cover my calves and forearms to protect them from the intense Southeast Asian sunlight and the relentless bugs that wanted to lay eggs in my wounds. But I only had shorts and short sleeve t-shirts.
Besides, I wasn’t about to spend the next few weeks sweating in long-sleeve and pants waiting for my injuries to heal. The solution? Survival bandanas tied around my arms and legs.
They kept drying blood off our clothing, kept sunlight out of reach, bugs off, and while allowing some air to help promote scabs and healing. Soon we all adopted the tactic, and it helped immensely.
Those bandanas became useful several more times on that adventure, and for many different reasons. To protect our wounds, to protect our skin from sunlight, to keep moisture from evaporating from exposed skin, as pot holders and washcloths, even eventually as cordage for binding.
It was on that trip that I realized bandana’s are one of the simplest, most versatile, lightest weight, and cheapest survival tools you can take with you. Almost everyone can afford at least one, they easily tie onto a pack, can be worn everywhere, are inconspicuous, and serve a multitude of purposes.
List Of Survival Bandana Uses
So what follows is a list of potential uses for bandanas in the survival context.
Maybe you’ve just crashed motorbikes in a foreign country, or climbed out of a helicopter crash in the wilderness. Perhaps the end times have arrived at last, and society has decayed to an every-man-for-himself basis, and you’re ready to hightail it into the high country…
Whatever the reason, I highly encourage everyone to keep at least one survival bandana in your Bug Out Bag and more in all your supply caches (Get Home Bags, Medical Bags, Survival Vehicles, Survival Cabins, Underground Food Containers, and Survival Caches).
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You never know when the need may arise to use a bandana in a survival situation. Sure, maybe you never get the chance or maybe tomorrow you’re plunged into a chaotic series of events that spits you out miles away from anywhere, lost, disoriented, and confused.
Bandana’s are one of those pieces of equipment that are easy to keep around, and can honestly save your life if you actually need them.
So here’s a list of some of my favorite uses for a survival bandanas.
23 Survival Uses For Your Bandana
1. Signaling For Rescue –
Sure, that camouflage pattern bandana looks badass and blends in perfectly from a distance but let’s be honest: a bandana isn’t going to make you invisible, but they can do exactly the opposite.
Let’s say you’re out hunting and break your legs while you’re decked out in full camo – wouldn’t it be more helpful to reach into your pack and grab a couple of bright neon bandanas and make a flag or hang them around you?
Just like with signal mirrors, search and rescue teams across the country recommend using brightly bandanas as signals to wave down search aviation because they stick out from natural colors.
More than that, if you need to signal to someone else without speaking or making noise, different brightly colored bandanas can be used to communicate to one another over distances.
2. Establishing Trail Markers –
Sick of getting lost when you go bushwhacking in the wilderness? Lot’s of hunters, hikers, and other explorers use neon plastic tape to tie to tree branches and mark their way home. Like Hansel and Gretel; only no one is going to come around eating plastic stuck in trees so that you won’t get lost.
Likewise, brightly colored survival bandanas can be torn into ribbons and tied to trees to mark progress and keep your bearings straight. Don’t be afraid to tear that bandana up into several trail marker ribbons. It’s a large part of its usefulness, and they are easy to replace. If your bandana is sentimental, leave it at home and instead invest in a cheap new one to add to your survival gear.
3. Dirty Dish Rag –
I love to cook when camping. I have a nice set up of camp cookware that I take with me everywhere. But when I’m out and away from sinks and sponges, sometimes washing dirty dishes can be a serious pain.
In a pinch, bandanas can be soaped up and used as dish rags to get in there and clean up.
4. Napkin/Handkerchief –
I don’t know that this one needs a lot of explanation. If you sneeze or have allergies, wipe that nose with your bandana and clean yourself up. If you don’t have proper paper napkins or paper towels laying around, use your bandana. Either way, make sure you rinse it out when you’re done.
5. Neck Gaiter for Cold Weather –
Winter is without a doubt, my favorite season. Why? Because it is ski season, and snowshoe season, igloo season, and the season of big warm jackets and crisp silent nights.
But everyone’s face can get cold in that kind of weather, and even a very thin layer of cloth can make a BIG difference. So if you’ve got a survival bandana handy and the cold weather is biting at your face, cover up like a bandit and use it as a neck gaiter. You’ll be surprised at how efficiently this works to keep the cold at bay.
So if you’ve got a bandana handy and the cold weather is biting at your face, cover up like a bandit and use it as a neck gaiter. You’ll be surprised at how efficiently this works to keep the cold at bay.
6. Makeshift Tourniquet –
No one expects to amputate a limb when you leave the house in the morning, but you can never be entirely sure. Should the need for a tourniquet arise, bandanas can cinch really tightly in a pinch, and will do an OK job in lew of an actual rapid application tourniquet. (But for snake bites use a Sawyer Extractor, this will work much more efficiently to prevent venom from spreading)
7. Cordage –
As I mentioned earlier: never hesitate to tear your survival bandana up to increase its usefulness. Often, bandanas are more useful in pieces than they are wholly intact.
If you need to bind a broken bone to a splint, bind tent poles together, bind something to your pack, bind a person’s hands, bind an animal, whatever! Bandanas can do the job. The fabric makes for decently strong cordage.
I’d rather have paracord with me as cordage but bandana works too if push comes to shove.
8. Washcloth or Towel –
If I forget something when I pack my backpacking backpack, it is a washcloth and a towel. I will ALWAYS remember everything else, but never that. The problem got so bad that I have just resorted to using bandanas.
They are smaller, easier to pack, and much easier to remember to bring (for me at least). So you can’t wrap it around your waist to cover yourself after bathing, but who doesn’t love a little nudity in the wilderness? You may be naked but at least you’ll be dry.
9. Waist pack/pouch –
If you tie the right knots in the right places, you can fashion a small waist pack for yourself. Like a homemade fanny-pack to keep your favorite goodies close. I’d rather have this tactical molle pouch for survival but I’m assuming you’re having to improvise.
This works in the wilderness for recreation or for survival.It could even come in handy at the next music festival you go to sneak goodies inside (but you didn’t get that idea from me).
10. Pot Holder –
Hot stuff burns hands. That’s science. So protect your grabbers with a survival bandana next time you reach for that hot pot in the fire. I can’t promise you that will mitigate all of the heat, but it will help –
especially if you soak it in water beforehand. update: a wet cloth will provide less heat protection than a dry one. For more info, refer to comments section.
11. Pouch for Collecting Wild Edibles and Ingredients –
Now, don’t go out picking berries, mushrooms, and roots without at least a basic understanding of what you are picking. It can be extremely dangerous to eat whatever you come across in the wilderness, but it can also be highly useful if you have the right wild edible knowledge base.
Get the book “From Dirt To Plate” on foraging if you’re seriously interested. Needless to say, once you know what you are doing, bandanas can be used as containers to collect such edibles from your surrounding area, and transport them back to home base or bug out location.
12. Sun block/sweat catcher for your neck –
When I was traveling in Asia I would often tuck one end of my bandanas underneath my hat. This served two purposes: first, to keep the Asian sun from burning the crap out of pasty white skin. And second, to keep sweat contained, and to prevent it from evaporating off of my pasty white skin.
When you’re in intense heat like that, the last thing you want to do is take off your clothes and let your sweat disappear into the scorching air. It is better to use cotton garments to keep as much moisture as close to the skin as possible – so that means, leave the t-shirt on and use that bandana to save your sweat!
13. Sling –
Luckily, when we crashed our bikes there were no broken bones. But if there had, a bandana would have been the perfect fabric to make a sling out of. Slings keep injured body parts close to the body and elevated to minimize swelling.
Anyone who has ever needed to use one knows that they help SO MUCH when you’ve got an injured arm/shoulder. Doctors and first responders always carry triangle bandages in their medical kits to create slings on the fly – but homemade med-kits might not have any of those.
In the absence of a real sling or triangle bandages, bandanas can be substituted to hold injured limbs aloft – although they are slightly smaller than regular triangle bandages.
14. Sling –
Yeah, you read that right, I put “slings” on here twice. That’s not a typo – I mean to say that you can make two different kinds of slings out of the same single survival bandana.
The first was discussed above; the second is the kind that David used to defeat Goliath, the kind that our ancestors from long ago used to hunt animals, and fire projectiles at their enemies with.
Look up a simple DIY on how to make a sling and you’ll be able to see how you can use a bandana to achieve a similar effect. This can come in useful for hunting small animals when you have no other source of food, or for defending yourself when you have no other means of doing so.
15. Eye patch –
Losing an eye would suck. My condolences to anyone out there who’s suffered such a serious inconvenience. But shit happens, and if you were to lose an eye in a survival situation, you probably aren’t going to be able to get to a hospital to bandage you up.
Without covering the wound, it could get infected much more easily and will be exposed to the elements and unwanted guests (like the bugs that tried to infest my road-burn wounds).
16. Pre-water Filter –
You know how coffee filters work? Well, bandanas can achieve a similar function with water. By using a piece of mildly tight-knit fabric (like the cotton of a bandana) to filter water in the wilderness, you can significantly cut down on debris and unwanted waterborne guests.
This won’t replace your pump-action water filter, or iodine tablets (by ANY means) but if it is the only method you have available for filtering water, definitely use it. While it won’t protect you from every waterborne nasty, it will protect you from some of them.
17. Hobo Pack –
This one’s a Great Depression Era classic. Find yourself a stick, tie the corners of your survival bandana together on one end of it, and voila! You have yourself a handy little shoulder pack.
Granted, it isn’t great for holding tons of stuff. But it can take the weight out of your pockets at the very least and allow any traveler a little extra packing space.
18. Cleaning Patches for Firearm –
Every gun owner knows that keeping a survival firearm clean is imperative if you want to rely on and trust in your firearm.
But you never know when and where you might have to use your gun – if you need some cleaning patches to polish up your weapon, bandanas make great fabric segments for exactly that purpose. Just tear it up into small pieces and gently dab some gun cleaning oil on them, then get to it!
19. Bullet Patches for Muzzleloader –
If for whatever reason, you’re stranded, and you have a muzzleloader with you, bandanas can also serve as decent bullet patches to keep the bullet and gunpowder separate.
20. Toilet Paper –
Need I say more?
21. Earmuffs –
They won’t be the warmest earmuffs on the market, but if your ears are exceptionally chilly, wrap your bandana around your head and cinch it tightly. It is no replacement for a wool cap or fleece-muffs, but it is certainly better than nothing.
A survival bandana may be just enough to save your ears from frostbite.
22. Bind A Stone and Toss A Line Over A Limb –
Let’s say you need to throw a line over a tree branch or steel beam.
Tying cord or line to a stone can be a difficult endeavor. But if you wrap the stone up in your bandana, and tie the line to that, you have a much more efficient tool and a much lower chance of failure.
23. Dust Mask –
I always think of that scene from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas when Thompson’s out on the desert following dirt bikes around in a buggy, dust so thick in the air visibility is negligible. Breathing in heavy amounts of dust or soot or smoke can be unimaginably stressful on human lungs.
Especially if you have to inhale that crap for an extended period of time. Of course, a gas mask or respirator is almost always the best option in such a circumstance. But those are rarely available.
Tying a survival bandana around your face can help filter out a significant amount of air pollution and will save your lungs. Even that thin layer of cotton can go a long way when it comes to breathing in toxic air.
Survival Bandana Wrap Up
Obviously, these aren’t all of the potential uses for a survival bandana, but a few of the obvious ones, and some of my favorite creative uses. You can surely think of a few more, and in an emergency, under pressure, who knows what kind of crazy ends you’ll use your bandanas to achieve.
If I hadn’t been prepared with my survival bandanas when I was traveling, I could have gotten an infection, severe skin damage, or worse – baby flies popping out of my skin. But because I was prepared, and because I understood the versatility of the survival bandana, I was able to save myself from those horrors.
Finally here’s a good video that details 101 survival uses for a bandana. From bushcraft, to medical, from tactical to humor; this video covers them all.
If you have any more survival bandana ideas or stories, feel free to share them. People need to understand how easy these are to keep around, and how helpful they can be in a dangerous situation.