How to Tie a Military-Style Shemagh/Keffiyeh

by A Manly Guest Contributor on January 9, 2013 · 51 comments

in Manly Skills, Outdoors, Survival

shemagh-featured-image

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Creek Stewart of Willow Haven Outdoor.

The shemagh (pronounced “schmog”) – also called a keffiyeh and ghutrah – originated in the Middle East. They are a scarf-type wrap commonly found in arid regions to provide protection from direct sun exposure, as well to protect the mouth and eyes from blown dust and sand. It’s similar to a bandana, except much larger – approximately 42″ x 42″. It has been adopted by military forces all over the world as a standard issue garment because of its sheer functionality.

For decades, keffiyeh have been issued to British soldiers. The garment’s use by some military and police units of the former British Empire dates back to before World War II. Because of its utility, it was soon adopted by Middle Eastern units as well, including the Palestine Police Force, the Transjordan Frontier Force, the Arab Legion, and many others. They were worn while operating in North Africa as a way to combat the harsh winds and frequent sandstorms. After the war the shemagh continued to be used in both desert and temperate environments. The garment has also been in use with Australian armed forces since the Vietnam War, and extensively during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Since the beginning of the “War on Terror,” these keffiyeh have been adopted by US troops as well, who usually use cotton olive or khaki ones with black stitching. They are often worn folded in half into a triangle and wrapped around the face, sometimes coupled with goggles to keep sand out. This style is also commonly practiced by troops in vehicles who use it in more temperate climates to combat the wind chill of being in a moving vehicle.

For an outdoorsman, survivalist, or bushcrafter, the shemagh can be a tool with literally hundreds of uses. This post is simply a quick tutorial in how to tie a shemagh as a face mask and/or head wrap. This is a very functional use in all kinds of environments. As you can see, with the right pattern, it can work as some effective camo as well. Using it as shown below is great for dusty/sandy environments. I went on a trip to the Sand Dunes in Michigan not too long ago and my shemagh was invaluable! I’ve also used it countless times in the winter for face and head protection.

I’m sure there are other ways to tie this as a face mask, but below is the way I do it. There is also a video at the bottom.

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Step 1: Start with it open in a full square.

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Step 2: Fold it in half to form a triangle.

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Step 3: Choose a point three-quarters the way along the folded edge and hold it to your forehead like you are going to tie it bandana style.

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Step 4: As you can see, one side will be short and one side will be long.

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Step 5: Take the shorter end and pull in under your chin and up toward the back of your head.

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Side view of Step 5.

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Step 6: Take the longer side and pull it across your face.

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Step 7: Then wrap it up over your head toward the other end on the opposite side.

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Step 8: Tie the two ends together using two overhand knots.

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Step 9: Adjust as necessary.

This green/black pattern makes for awesome camo. I also own a tan/white color scheme that makes for perfect winter camo as well.

How-to Video

____________________

Creek Stewart is a Senior Instructor at the Willow Haven Outdoor School for Survival, Preparedness & Bushcraft. Creek’s passion is teaching, sharing, and preserving outdoor living and survival skills. Creek is also the author of the book Build the Perfect Bug Out Bag: Your 72-Hour Disaster Survival Kit. For more information, visit Willow Haven Outdoor.

{ 51 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Eric Granata January 9, 2013 at 4:29 pm

Awesome! I came upon Mr. Stewart’s original post just a few weeks ago. A family member had brought me a Shemagh from his travels and I needed to learn how to use it. Was delighted that Willow Haven’s site was at the top of my Google search.

Keep up the good work!

2 Ares January 9, 2013 at 4:41 pm

Wearing a shemagh isn’t just useful for protection against weather and the like. It also prevents you from having to do the hot-brass-dance every time you end up being unfortunate to catch a casing in your collar.

3 Matt January 9, 2013 at 4:44 pm

Neat!

4 Kyle L January 9, 2013 at 6:15 pm

I work at an airport an the openess of the tarmac allows for some harsh winds especially in our sometimes frigid winter mornings. My shemagh makes for a night and day difference driving around on bag tugs at 4am. I happen to have the same color and print as the one pictured. Much smaller though.

5 Clay January 9, 2013 at 6:38 pm

I love mine! Have taken it on every trip for the past 3 years. It has been a blanket, a pillow, a scarf and a protective wrap for valuables. It proved its usefulness while backpacking last summer on an extremely hot day when I had to cross the top of a mountain ridge. There were no clouds, and no trees as the area had been burned out and resembled a desert. Just dust and sun. We had misjudged our next campside, and ended up having to detour across the ridge to find water. After about 20 minutes of hiking in direct sun, we had used all of our water and were quite dehydrated. The reason desert dwelling people wear full length clothes is to allow their sweat and breath to convex. Long pants, a long shirt and a shemagh allowed me to retain a drastic amount of moisture and while my companions were dehydrated, I was just beginning to feel the effects. These can really be life-savers.

6 Paul January 9, 2013 at 6:53 pm

Very interesting post – thank you.

You say “the shemagh can be a tool with literally hundreds of uses”. Perhaps you can do another post where you share some of these with us – I love these sort of multi-use items.

7 Stephen January 9, 2013 at 7:22 pm

Practical advise and yet they want you to finish it with a granny knot? (K)not very ‘manly’ if you ask me. Make use of a reef knot instead.

8 OkieRover January 9, 2013 at 7:30 pm

I bought one of these to use as a scarf during the winter. I wish I’d had them when I was in the Marine Corps.

9 Josh January 9, 2013 at 7:40 pm

Not only protects you from wind, but great for camouflage. If they dont already, the military needs to issuing these.

10 Hunter January 9, 2013 at 8:01 pm

I do a fare amount of snowboarding. Would this work for that when paired with a pair of snow goggles or would it leave some skin uncovered?

11 Ben W. January 9, 2013 at 9:22 pm

I should add that if you wore this in a city like Los Angeles or New York that you might get stopped by the police. They tend to think you are up to no hood because your face is covered like that, even if your intentions are to keep the cold out. I know that it’s pretty obvious but I figured I’ll point it out to be safe.

Moving onto a more positive note… Good job on the article! I look forward to new ones that detail the hundreds of uses. The immediate one I have in mind is to soak it in water and wrap it around my neck, useful for when it’s 100+ outside and we are shooting a match.

12 Ben January 9, 2013 at 11:33 pm

Living here in Australia, I can tell you all with perfect confidence that it gets hotter than the surface of the sun here. So seeing how to do one of these so that I can learn how to put one on after dousing it in water is absolutely PERFECT for what I need. Heck, if i could figure out how to freeze one and then put it on, I would.

FYI for all Americans out there: the US army comes here to train for the heat in the middle east. Yeah, it gets THAT hot. So if you think you guys have it bad with a heat wave there, you got nothing on Australia.

13 Rufus January 10, 2013 at 12:34 am

They’re useful and great items. Unfortunately too many people see wearing one as supporting Palestinians and against Israel. To those who know the colors they are matter more.

Just something to consider.

14 Morgen January 10, 2013 at 1:14 am

My brother-in-law brought one home from Kuwait just before I moved to Idaho. I ended up buying a tightly woven bit of wool fabric the right size and it’s been amazing.

It’d be way too hot once it gets north of 50F, but anything below that it’s great, and once you drop past 0F it’s indispensable.

There’s one modification that I make to the standard tie he showed. If you fold a little bit over and make sure it’s on the inside it tends to slip off the nose less. It’s probably not noticeable with a proper cotton keffiyeh, but it help with the stiffer wool.

As for other uses:

Look up Furoshiki for some really useful ways of improvising a carrying device with a square bit of cloth that just happens to be about the same size as a keffiyeh. There are several basic ties that’ll handle a range of regular to really awkwardly shaped objects.

Another fertile area for alternate uses is first aid: bandage, sling, split, tourniquet, etc.

The last one that comes to mind is that I have a 3 yr old who gets cold much easier than I do. When the wind kicks up unexpectedly I put the triangle folded scarf around her shoulders, cross the ends in the front and tie them (reef knot) a bit looser than snug in the small of her back. This keeps it from falling out, and the cross in the front makes little ‘pockets’ she can tuck her arms in. The wool keeps the wind off her, and really helps her stay comfortable.

I’d say carry one around with you for a week or so, it’s like a knife and three 1 yd bits of cord – if you have a tool, uses for it will just sort of come up.

15 Kevin January 10, 2013 at 1:50 am

They make for great scarves too, with a lot of different ways to tie them. With one item, you can look like you belong in a Counter Strike match or a Soho cafe.

16 Rocket Jones January 10, 2013 at 8:03 am

Or you could just use a Buff.

17 The Prepper January 10, 2013 at 8:07 am

Nice! I always wondered what the “correct” way to wear one of these was.

I hadn’t realized that this has been adopted by so many military forces around the world either.

18 J.J. Vicars January 10, 2013 at 8:24 am

Drape one with skulls printed on it around your neck and you’ll have the Keith Richards look down.

19 Joshua January 10, 2013 at 8:27 am

The pictures from all different sides are very much appreciated here, makes it easier to understand. I do agree with other posters about hearing some of the uses you or others have come up for one.

P.S. to Ben W. I’ve found that if you keep it losely around your neck and about ear height like a rather thick or fluffed scarf you can get away with wearing one in even the largest city or past the most stop happy officer.

20 Conner January 10, 2013 at 9:26 am

On the source site, you mention that it could be used as a makeshift backpack. Does that mean just holding it like a sack, or is there a way to tie one that keeps it on your back without having to use your hands?

21 Pastor Joshua January 10, 2013 at 10:10 am

This is one of the many things I learned at Creek’s “Survivacation.” I recommend it to any man willing to stretch himself by learning the basic techniques to survive in the wild. I wear my shemagh everyday as either a scarf or as a face mask when I am sledding with my kids on Hines Drive outside of Detroit.

22 Christian January 10, 2013 at 11:41 am

As a new dad, found that my old shemagh works great as a baby swaddler too. The method Creek shows is very similar to how we wrap the boy up before putting him to bed.

Have to remember to wash it before I wear it again, though- sometimes his bowel contents act as a liquid breaching tool through Pampers.

23 Tim January 10, 2013 at 12:48 pm

An earlier poster wanted some other ways this innovative item can be used. When I was in the army back in the 80′s, we used our t-shirts modified for the same use, but here are some other ways to use the shemagh: water strainer, hammock, belt, saddle bag, tournequet, sling, strangler, rope, smoke signal, wind sock, wash cloth, hand climbing protector, harness, bandage, headrest on hard surfaces, sponge, reins, cover, undergarment, windshield cleaner, heat shield. That’s twenty just to get your creative juices going.

24 Tony January 10, 2013 at 2:41 pm

I have two keffiyehs that I bought in the Middle East, one in Israel, and the other in Jordan. One is a red checked pattern on white, and the other is black checked. Unfortunately, as expected, one is often given the stink eye when wearing one of these in public.

They are totally awesome for wearing in the summertime, as the cotton fabric breathes yet keeps the sun off your skin. In wintertime, they are nice and snug, and keep the wind out of the ears. Now if I could just convince the local rednecks from trying to shoot at me when I wear one.

(By the way, I sometimes wear mine with the agal if I am not trying to keep my face covered so closely.)

25 Saudi January 11, 2013 at 8:11 am

I am a saudi and the badu invented the shumagh its much much harder and it needs a specific way to be ironed and folded but its okay to do this

26 DenisParis January 11, 2013 at 11:11 am

@ Hunter “I do a fare amount of snowboarding. Would this work for that when paired with a pair of snow goggles or would it leave some skin uncovered?”…

… Wear one in the wrong place and you’ll do a fair amount of waterboarding :-)

Joke aside, there is another manly oriental/military alternative to the keffiyeh : the chèche or tagelmust. French elite troops with a Saharan history still use it.

First link : a retired Legionnaire wears his chèche “leisurely”. Second link : a Spahi wears his “professionnally” during the first Gulf War.

http://www.maison-legionnaire.com/modules/actualite_seule.php?id=918&block=2&titre=cheche

http://www.flickr.com/photos/patrickpeccatte/6923821726/

27 dfoland January 12, 2013 at 12:03 am

we use to use them to keep the flies off in a guard tower ( there was no other escape) if you dunk them in water the wind cools you down and the bugs stay off

28 Hunter January 12, 2013 at 2:43 pm

@ DenisParis- Where can I buy a chèche? And I like the way it looks, but it also sort of looks like I might be viewed as a terrorist or something. I am not trying to be stereotypical myself, but hey, this is America. Anyone else’s opinions on other people’s opinions who might think it is unacceptable?

29 DenisParis January 13, 2013 at 6:36 pm

@ Hunter – If you’re interested mostly in the ethnic/cultural aspects try
http://www.ethnicembellishments.com/Tuareg-Scarves_c_7.html
- if it’s a “fashion” thing try
http://yhst-64477706453472.stores.yahoo.net/motudeves.html
- and it it’s a military thing try
http://www.amazon.fr/dp/B009OEVAH0/ref=asc_df_B009OEVAH011461859/?tag=hydra08-21&creative=22710&creativeASIN=B009OEVAH0&linkCode=asn&hvpos=2o1&hvexid=&hvnetw=g&hvrand=3718913602023949120&hvpone=&hvptwo=&hvqmt=

Personnally I couldn’t touch a keffyeh as people wearing them in France are 1° 2nd-generation Muslim immigrants who are basically “would-be Palestinians” 2° leftist activists (Trotskyites, anarchists, etc) 3° neo-Nazis, and none of those people are precisely role-models for me :-) On the other hand, chèche/tagelmust (I’m leaving aside girls using them as fashion accessories) are used by young white conservative Christian males from the well-heeled parts of Paris, or by authentic soldiers. Hence my (obvious) preference. But let’s be clear : Westerners wearing a chèche in a Western context, do it “leisurely”, not “professionnally” (cf my previous post). I can’t imagine anyone associating a chèche used in that way, to terrorism. Even in America.

30 Mountain Evan Chang January 14, 2013 at 5:26 pm

Who knew hipsters were wearing something so practical…

31 Matthew January 15, 2013 at 2:55 am

I have to say, the Kefiyah looks really stylish and can you look awesome, male or female, if you wear one. Obviously the Kefiyah is just a piece of clothing, but the big problem I would have wearing one is they make everybody who wears one look like a Palestinian activist. Obviously if I was visiting the Middle East, I would do as the Romans do and just wear one if I wanted to dress like a local, in a hot desert climate, but they just seem so inherently political…

32 Daniel Kim January 18, 2013 at 5:40 pm

If it is adjusted properly, it can serve as a set of blinders to cut out peripheral vision. That, and the tendency to muffle ambient sound, can make this an accessory to enforce work focus.
Joke? No. I used to do this kind of thing with a towel when I was in college. I called it the “turban of focus”, and it made me look like a complete fool. Still, I could keep at my studies when I had it on.

33 Greydog January 18, 2013 at 7:21 pm

Good post. I hadn’t concieved of the general usefulness of such a piece. In times past, the Scots wore long wool cloth wraps that served many purposes, though they were not so much head wraps as body wraps.

DenisParis, how are the longer Taureg scarves or the French soldier type wrapped/tied? They have much more cloth, and look different when worn.

34 CT January 22, 2013 at 7:49 am

Great. Now all we need is an article on how to ululate.

35 Grant Schooley January 24, 2013 at 4:38 pm

Thanks for the tutorial Creek. I work on a farm in Montana and will be working on a fruit orchard in California this summer. I am pale skinned and will use this over the summer to help prevent sun damage :-). Cheers!

36 Ian S January 25, 2013 at 7:51 am

If you don’t have a 3×3′ piece of cloth then try this…

T-shirt Ninja Mask
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LAZ7fB8PJk4

Not exactly the same thing but pretty close IMO.

37 Flynn March 16, 2013 at 6:51 pm
38 stan April 1, 2013 at 3:02 pm

When I was in the sandbox I never could bring myself to wear the same headgear as those who were shooting at me. I always just wore two big bandanas, one over my mouth and one as a do rag. Just me.

39 Sonia April 26, 2013 at 2:01 pm

Great tutorial… thanks for sharing it!

40 JT May 24, 2013 at 8:58 am

First tried one of these about 10 years ago as protection from the sun here in SE Arizona. Amazing that it kept me cool in searing 100+ degree desert temps.

41 emtdragon383 October 13, 2013 at 4:52 pm

Love mine I work offshore and it keeps the sun off when I work the deck of the boat for hours chipping and painting.

42 Matthew November 12, 2013 at 8:59 am

Been deployed to the Arctic Circle and now to the Persian Gulf. These kinds of wraps are invaluable. Nothing distracts more than a freezing face, or one that’s about to get sand-blasted off.

43 Martin November 26, 2013 at 1:11 am

I live in the Gulf and the ones you buy here on the local markets are actually about 55″x55″ so you can wrap them around your head twice. This make them a lot warmer as well, I am going to test it out when I return to Europe during the winter.
Anyway, awesome stuff. Keep it up!

44 Rick January 9, 2014 at 2:16 pm

The French Foreign Legion has been using them for more than a hundred years. I bought one in beige with no patterns and wear it as a scarf around the neck.

45 Mike January 9, 2014 at 2:18 pm

I have a shemagh that I use in the Western NY winters. The product links don’t work. I need one in the size shown. The one I have is much smaller.

46 jim January 9, 2014 at 2:21 pm

Stan, its not the same headgear as the people who are shooting at you. That implies that every single member of that culture is shooting at you when they are not. THe whole “they aren’t our enemy, our enemy just hides among them” kind of thing. Better to reach out to and understand that culture. That makes it easier to spot the guys who don’t belong.

47 Dan January 9, 2014 at 2:32 pm

I always used the “t shirt ninja mask” to do most of what is done with this. If it is really cold you can do the fleece pullover version. The only downside is that you look like a doofus in public with one.

48 Nur January 9, 2014 at 2:36 pm

Being from the Middle East, I’m just happy there are people in the West using these things the way they were intended for, and not for some hipster fashion trend.

49 JimmyBean January 9, 2014 at 7:43 pm

Intense unwavering stare optional.

50 Zman January 9, 2014 at 9:54 pm

Regarding the knot. Consider your are wrapping something around your head that if gets entangled in machinery or controlled by an adversary, could strangle you in a matter of seconds hence the granny knot or other slip style knot – not a square knot or stronger.

51 eska March 8, 2014 at 11:21 pm

Its awesome to see things like this being shared on the internet. Especially with such a civilized and informative thread of comments.
I bought a handmade shumagh from a bazaar in southern helmand when I was active duty. I have used this thing fir about a million different things. Right now I use it mainly for riding in the cold; I wear a 3/4 helmet and the thin cloth when doubled over makes an excellent windbreaker for my face haha. Its also been a towel, bag, blanket, pillow, seatcover, flag, splint, and kite haha I’ve had it fir almost three years and even with the few minor frays and tears it has UT is still endlessly useful

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