Without question, the “big four” necessities of survival are food, water, fire and shelter. But when it comes to versatility, one item surpasses all others: a simple piece of cloth!


The bandana, most widely known as a small accessory for cowboys of the West, can be easily adapted for dozens of uses in survival or emergency situations. Some applications may be known while others might never have been considered or expected. However, with a little knowledge and ingenuity, this staple of any bug-out bag or survival kit may just play a critical part in keeping you alive and well when the unexpected occurs and you’re stranded in the wild.

Survival Bandana

Keep harmful fumes or debris out of your nose and mouth by tying a bandana around the lower portion of your face.

Personal Protector

The bandana can be applied directly on your body for numerous beneficial purposes. Soak the bandana in cold water and apply it to the back of your neck to cool yourself in hot environments. Conversely, use it to cover your face and exposed skin from cold winds and frigid temperatures to prevent the onset of frostbite. You can wrap the bandana around your mouth and nose to protect from dust, sand or possible biological contaminants, or use it as a washcloth when bathing or cleaning any superficial wounds that you may have sustained. The bandana will help keep sweat out of your eyes, keep your neck or head from getting sunburned under the midday sun, and it can even act as toilet paper when nature calls while you are under emergency conditions.

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Campsite Pro

Around your base of operation, the bandana can be your go-to accessory. Shred the bandana for tinder to create a fire. When cooking, the bandana can act as a useful pot-holder, a food wrap or a makeshift plate. A bandana can also serve as a strainer for your boiled items or for pre-purified muddy or gritty water. After eating, use it as a rag for cleaning and drying your plates and cutlery to prevent bacteria and insects from finding a new, inviting home. Rip the bandana into strips to create lashings for your shelter or cordage for smaller projects. Use several brightly colored bandanas when exploring to mark your trail and avoid getting lost on the way back to camp. Gather wild edibles and wrap them within the cloth for transport until you return to your campsite. And when you’re ready to move out from camp, secure your items in bandana bundles for easy transport and accessibility.

Survival Bandana

Rip bandana into strips and tie them around trees as trail markers.

Weapons & First Aid

The wilderness can be a dangerous place. Bandanas aid in personal protection and can help treat many types of unexpected wounds. Use a bandana as a sling to throw rocks at advancing animals or two-legged predators out to steal your supplies or do you harm. Wrap larger rocks within small squares of your bandana and tie it with cord to create a bolas for personal protection or hunting small game. Tie two or more bandanas together to create a spear sling. This is used to maximize the impact velocity of the spear when threatened by man or beast, or when hunting for food. If injured, use the bandana as a sling or wrapped around broken or sprained limbs. It can also serve as a tying aid when constructing a splint. If you’re cut badly and excessive bleeding occurs, twist the bandana with a strong stick around the injured limb to create a tourniquet to stop further blood loss. On minor cuts or scrapes, use it as a compress or makeshift bandage until proper medical attention can be obtained.

Backwoods Utility

Think outside of the box when limited on supplies and equipment. Other uses for bandanas that may have escaped your initial thoughts include using it as a net for fishing for small minnows or other bait fish. Wrap it around your head and use it as an eye patch to prevent dirt from infecting an injured eye. Stuff a bandana with leaves and tie the ends together to create a comfy pillow when sleeping outdoors. You can tie one or more brightly colored bandanas to a tall staff to use as a signal flag to attract others to your location. Wrap and tie a cloth around each of your hands to create makeshift gloves for carrying jagged firewood or prickly branches. When there is no access to grocery or drug stores, women can use bandanas for feminine hygiene applications. Also, add oil to the bandana for a perfect gun cloth, or use it to clean your smudgy eyeglasses, camera lenses or other reflective surfaces.

You have nearly limitless applications for this universal tool, and the more bandanas you pack beforehand, the better off you will be when the time comes to put your survival training to the test. All that is required from you is some creativity, a bit of trial and error and steady persistence to find new and useful applications for this simple yet extremely versatile “go-to” tool!

This article was originally published in SURVIVOR’S EDGE ™ Winter 2015 magazine. Print and Digital Subscriptions available here