The Versatile Shemagh

A shemagh is a large square of cloth made from loosely woven cotton. It originated in the middle east, but has gained worldwide popularity, both among the fashionable and the practical. I tend towards the latter, and treasure my shemagh as one of my most useful woodland multi-tools. I often also pack a small bottle of Dr. Bronner’s or similar liquid soap, to wash the shemagh as needed. Following is an illustrated list of some of the many uses for this simple and inexpensive piece of gear.

Firewood carrier
Wrapped around the neck and stuffed inside the collar, a shemagh acts as a gasket and helps trap warm air in your anorak
Tie the shemagh around spare clothing or gear for a pillow
A source of thread for quick repairs
A brightly colored shemagh makes a great trail marker to find your way back to camp when briefly stepping off-trail. Just keep it in eyesight!
On cold nights, boil your water in your stainless steel bottle, then return the lid, wrap in your shemagh, and snuggle it in your sleeping bag. Or, use it to keep drinks and soups cold or hot longer.
Head cover
Source of cotton cloth for char material
Foraging sack
Pressure dressing for hemorrhage control. (NOTE: NOT A TOURNIQUET! Don’t cut off blood flow; use this to apply pressure to the site of bleeding. A sterile or clean dressing goes against the wound, and the shemagh applies pressure. The cord anchoring the windlass should be loose. If you don’t have a commercial tourniquet, don’t improvise one and just apply pressure, unless you’re familiar with palpating a distal pulse.)
A similar concept for emergency lashing.
A ground cloth for keeping gear or food free of dirt
Water pre-filter to remove debris before boiling. Several passes may be needed; clean sand, gravel, grasses, etc can be used to increase performance.
Insect/bait/fish/foraging net
Face mask
Rifle sling
Flail. Wrap a fist-sized stone in the middle of the shemagh, grasp both ends, and swing as an effective blunt weapon to dispatch game.
Kneeling pad
Tool roll
Lamp wick
Pet leash. (That’s Java. She’s the best dog.)
Thread for fish lures. This fly was tied without tools, using shemagh thread, a few barbs from a pheasant tail, a bit of gum wrapper, and a No. 14 nymph hook.
Curtain/insect screen
Eye patch
Pot holder
Ice pack
Sling for an injured extremity
Gear attachment
Dust mask
Warm/cold compress for sprains/strains, contusions with unbroken skin, tired eyes, etc.
Wrap for protecting delicate or silencing noisy gear
Water pre-filter by capillary action. Fill a container with turbid water, immerse shemagh, leave a corner hanging out into another container, lower than the first.
Sweat band
Winnowing tray
Evaporative cooling
Dish rag/towel
Seat cushion
Head carry padding
Infant carrier. Please be sure to double check your knots after loading and re-check often.
A sleep mask for midday naps
Rain collector
Food cover
Dew collector
Camouflage for gear or hunting
Belt pouch
Fanny pack/belt
Pest prevention
Heavy cordage
Extracting & refining clay
Leaching acorns/cooling food
Starch extraction from cattail roots

Furoshiki is a Japanese art of wrapping various objects in cloth for carry, using a wide range in cloth sizes. Google yields lots of different methods. Below are nine.

Phew. That’s more uses than my Leatherman. You can pick up decent ones on Amazon for less than $20, which is cheap enough that I don’t feel terrible if I happen to ruin one. Though, one thing I don’t use my shemagh for that I see folks mention a lot, is as toilet paper. I use it for so many other things, that…no. No thanks. I’ve never had that much trouble finding something else, and Dr. Bronner’s only fixes so much.

Special thanks to Megan and Theo Normansell for her contributions to this article.

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