Hiking Hacks: 4 Ways You Can Use a Bandana

Some gear manufacturers would like you to believe that you need a specific gadget for each task on the trail. And while special tools are needed on hikes in certain cases, smart and space-saving hiking requires that you find items that serve multiple tasks. That creativity and versatile gear especially comes in handy if you find yourself in any kind of pinch.

In that vein, a bandana can be a great hiking tool to have. This unassuming square of cloth can be put to all kinds of uses.

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Bandage or Brace

A woman hiker filters water from a stream while backpacking through the Purcell Mountains.
Dan Shugar / Getty Images

When it comes to first aid, a bandana can be used as a bandage, a splint or even a tourniquet. If you forgot your knee brace at home, a makeshift knee brace can be fashioned with some closed-cell foam and bandanas.

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Trail Marker

If you want to mark a side trail or if you are hiking above treeline and want to mark the re-entry point into the bushes, you can attach a bandana to a bush or tree as a marker.

You can tie the bandana around a tree limb, but that results in a bundle that's actually fairly hard to spot. Rather, cut a slit near one corner of the bandana (or use a bandana that already has a hole in it). Then wrap the bandana around your target and pull the rest of the bandana through the slit. The result is a super-easy-to-see flag.

Of course, you can also mark turn-off and still leave very little impact by making an arrangement of sticks or rocks that you're sure you can spot easily on the way back -- at which point you can put any rocks you used back where you got them from. 

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Sun Protection

Photo © Lisa Maloney

Sun protection is actually one of the 10 essentials of hiking. A floppy sun-hat, or one of those legionnaire hats with the flap to cover the back of your neck, are great for protecting the back of your neck.

But if you don't have those or want to save space, you can improvise some protection by draping a bandana over your head so it covers the back of your neck. Then put a hat or ball cap on top to hold it in place. If you don't have a cap, then use a second bandana to hold the first one in place. 

Bandanas can also offer protection from other weather elements. If there is a lot of dust blowing around, tie the bandana over your face for a little extra protection. Or if the day is really hot, wet that bandana and drape it around your neck for some welcome relief.

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Water Filter

Photo © Lisa Maloney

If you do not have a pre-filter for your UV water purifier, just drape a bandana over the mouth of your water bottle and fill it up. It'll strain out many of the particles that might interfere with your purifier's function.

If you do not have a water filter, purifier or water treatment tablets, using a bandana as a filter won't prevent giardiasis but it will reduce a number of visible floaters.