The Shemagh

Are you familiar with what shemagh may be? Well, you will most likely recognize it by seeing it being worn by large ethnic groups of native people who live in the Middle East. Our general idea towards the shemagh is that it’s viewed as a traditional scarf and sometimes a fashion statement. 


In this post, we will review a bit of the history of the shemagh and we will discuss its many uses, like how it can also be useful in any survival situation. We’ll also check out a few pros and cons.

The History of The Shemagh

This traditional scarf, the shemagh, also known as ‘keffiyeh’ and ‘ghutrah’, originated in the Middle East. Depending on the occasion, culture, and location, donning the shemagh can mean many different things and have many different uses. Colors and styles hold symbolic meanings. 


Going back to the civilization of Sumerians and Babylonians, it is said that the priests worthy of wearing the shemagh hold a symbol of high rank or honor. Decades later, this headdress was also adopted by peasants to be worn as a protection from the sun, sand & dirt protection, sweat protection, and to serve as protection against cold weather.


In 1936 Arab Revolt amidst the British Mandate, the shemagh was used by the Palestinian rebels to evade identification, and thus avoiding arrest and imprisonment. Palestinians donned it to make it difficult for the authorities to single out the rebels from a group of civilians which made it a symbol of resistance in Palestine.

How is a Shemagh Useful?

In any living or survival situations, shemagh can prove to be useful in many ways.


  •         Sun Protection

You can use it to cover your head and partial parts of your upper body to protect your skin from the scorching sun.


  •         Dust or Sand Protection

You can use it as well as a cover for your face in order to prevent the dust coming into contact with your face and the sand going into your eyes when a strong wind blows.


  •         Face Towel

Shemagh is thick enough to dry yourself off after taking a bath. It is also worth mentioning that it is generally lightweight and fast-drying.


  •         Ground Cloth

If you do not want to get your butt dirty, you can lay it on the ground.


  •         Warmth

Due to its thickness, wrapping yourself around it can provide you the warmth that your body needs.


  •         Bag

In case you have some stuff to carry and you don’t have a bag handy, the shemagh can be transformed into an instant sack by tying two ends together.


  •         Sarong

If you are under the circumstance that your pants had some holes on it or you just need to hang it to dry, you can use this as a temporary cover by wrapping it around your waist.


  •         Sweat Rag

Sweat is part of our daily lives especially when you are one who is physically active. In that case, you can definitely turn this into a sweat rag to wipe those sweats off your head.


  •         Arm Sling

This could be put to use as an arm sling by tying both ends around your neck if you sprain a wrist or break an arm.


  •         Emergency Bandage

This can be a quick solution to put pressure on the fresh wound to make it stop from bleeding. It will serve as instant protection for the wound.


  •         Pillow

You can fold this a few times until it is comfortable enough to lay your head on.


  •         Water Filter

You can at least filter out dirt and sand by folding it up multiple times after the water has been boiled.


  •         Pot Holder

Granting it is thick, you may still want to fold this up to two times to ensure you won’t feel any heat while holding the pot.


  •         Keeping Cool

You can use this to keep yourself cool during the warm weather conditions by soaking it up in cold water and wrapping it around your neck.


  •         Signal Flag

Relatively large to get other people’s attention and ask for help.


  •         Blanket

This can be used as a blanket to cover your upper or lower body—serves as an additional layer to provide you warmer relief.


Pros & Cons


  •         Multi-functional

  •         Lightweight

  •         High Quality

  •         Economical

  •         Woven Pattern

  •         Available in Different Colors


If you are somewhere in the Middle East, you should be mindful of the colors that hold symbolic cultural meanings for different ethnic groups. The most commonly known colors are black/white and red/white.

  •         A Red and white shemagh is associated with the ethnic group of Jordan, as well as the Arabian Peninsula.
  •         A Black and white shemagh is associated with the ethnic group of Iraq, and it is also associated with Palestine.
  •         The Pure white shemagh is often associated with the Persian/Arabian Gulf.

The Shemagh in the Military

Shemagh is widely used by the military, usually when getting deployed to the desert regions or the Middle East. This scarf benefitted military personnel whose operation was located in hostile settings as it provides protection from the sun, sand, dust and hot/cool temperatures. The shemagh is typically made out of cotton or other cloth and its length is about the size of a guitar. Usually the better quality ones are embroidered with a woven pattern. Some factories make shemagh out of polyester while others do a mixture of cotton and polyester as well.

The Conclusion

As you can see, a shemagh can be a valuable possession in any survival situation. You can maximize its potential at any point given that it is multi-functional at best—it is also used by the military when deployed. It is an excellent alternative for most of the things you must need to bring with you, considering that it is lightweight and does not take up too much space in your bag.