The Best Shemagh for Survival

Middle East head coverings aren’t just for the Middle East. You’ve probably noticed by now how shemagh (or keffiyeh) head scarves caught on quickly in the tactical community. This is because they are extremely versatile, lightweight, and pack down to virtually nothing. You don’t have to be operating down range to take advantage of a shemagh. Plus, the best shemagh will keep up with you in any environment and last for years.

There are a few options to consider when it comes to shemaghs or keffiyehs. This is where we come in. We’ve researched the best shemaghs, tested each of them, and now the results are in: the overall best, a budget option, and an upgrade option. If you need a versatile head covering in a survival situation, one of our picks will give you an edge.


Contents (Jump to a Section)


Rothco Tactical Shemagh

The Best Shemagh

Rothco Tactical Shemagh

Lightweight, Compact, and Durable

This shemagh stows away to hardly anything but is robust enough to protect you from a wide range of elements.

*Price at time of publishing; check for price changes or sales.

Rothco has developed one of the most lightweight offerings, letting it pack away down to virtually nothing. This makes it easy to justify adding it to any kit- even if you don’t have room inside your bag you can tie it anywhere. Despite being significantly less weight than other shemaghs, the tight weave of the Rothco lets it stand up to abuse surprisingly well. Here are the stats:

  • 42″ x 42″ (109cm x 109cm)
  • Woven Cotton 85 g/m2
  • 10 pattern/color options
  • Made in India

You may opt for a heavier-weight option from our other picks if you are in a cold-weather area, but as far as classic lightweight head-covering shemaghs go… the Rothco Tactical Shemagh is the best choice out of all of the competition.


Free Soldier Shemagh

Budget Shemagh

Free Soldier Shemagh

Budget Friendly, Cotton, and Breathable

With a lot of bang for your buck, this shemagh gets the job done while keeping you comfortable.

*Price at time of publishing; check for price changes or sales.

Free Soldier has developed the best cost-effective solution with their lightest weight shemagh. It comes in a variety of standard color patterns, so you can go as gray man or as tactical as you like with your color choice.

  • 43″ x 43″ (109cm x 109cm)
  • Woven Cotton 160 g/m2
  • 6 color options: Coyote Brown, Gray, Army Green, Tan, White, and Black
  • Made in China

Pick up the Free Soldier Shemagh to keep yourself covered, under budget.


Hirbawi Premium Shemagh

Upgrade Shemagh

Hirbawi Premium Shemagh

Large, High Quality, and Durable

Heavier weight durability with cotton breathability- this shemagh doesn’t skimp for cost and is the one to beat as a result.

*Price at time of publishing; check for price changes or sales.

I love my Hirbawi shemagh, and for good reason. These things do cost a bit but they are high quality and the real deal. They come out of Palestine, which isn’t really a selling point but does go to show that this is made by people that wear shemaghs and keffiyehs every day. The black one I have is one of the heaviest weight options, making it great for cold-weather environments as well as sun protection.

  • 47″ x 47″ (119cm x 119cm)
  • Woven cotton (heavyweight 170-220 g/m2 depending on pattern/color)
  • 36 pattern/color options
  • Made in Palestine

If you are looking for the best of the best, pick up a Hirbawi Premium Shemagh knowing it’s vetted and universally recognized as the top shemagh.


Everything We Recommend

Rothco Tactical Shemagh

Rothco Tactical Shemagh

This shemagh stows away to hardly anything but is robust enough to protect you from a wide range of elements.

Where to Buy

$15* at Amazon

*at time of reviewing

Free Soldier Military Shemagh

Free Soldier Shemagh

With a lot of bang for your buck, this shemagh gets the job done while keeping you comfortable.

Where to Buy

$12* at Amazon

*at time of reviewing

Hirbawi Premium Shemagh

Hirbawi Premium Shemagh

Heavier weight durability with cotton breathability- this shemagh doesn’t skimp for cost and is the one to beat as a result.

Where to Buy

$30* at Amazon

*at time of reviewing


The Shemaghs We Compared

Our research narrowed the field down to the several shemaghs/keffiyehs/scarves that we tested: Free Soldier, Rothco, Hirbawi, Texas Bushcraft, Condor, Tapp, Mission Made, and more.

You can see our full list of review criteria below in the what to look for section, with an explanation for each.

We focused on gear specifically called shemaghs and keffiyehs which weed out lightweight blankets, smaller bandanas, and even towels. Those have their own review roundups, and are great for serving similar purposes:

We’re always looking for new and better equipment, so if you have a shemagh that you swear by let us know in the comments. We review most of our tested gear annually, so we can always get it in the next roundup round and see if it makes the cut and we can see if it will beat out our top picks.


What to Look For

The best shemagh has several important features to look for:

  1. Value
  2. Material
  3. Stitching
  4. Size & Weight
  5. Versatility

When you get the right blend of these, you can find a reliable covering that will let you blend in a wide range of environments comfortably. Below, we break down what each of these features means for shemaghs that set themselves apart.

Value: Cost vs. Benefit

The amount of money you spend on something like a shemagh shouldn’t blow out your entire budget. Don’t go overspending or overdo it. Budget according to your risk and your needs rather than just spending lavishly.

On the flip side, you don’t want to go too cheap or just plain get the wrong thing. If the shemagh is paper thin and threadbare, it’s not going to last more than a few days- much less a season- in a survival situation.

You never want to spend too much money on one resource, especially something like a shemagh. It’s better to diversify your preparedness gear to make sure you are covered for a wide range of scenarios. There is a sweet spot where you get high value with not-to-high of a price, which is where our top pick sits.

Material

Most shemaghs (and all of the ones we suggest) are made out of cotton. What separates them apart is the weave types and weight of the weave (thread weight and count). Typically, you will find that the cheaper it is, the lighter it is. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing- but we’ll touch on that later.

Thicker, heavier-weight weaves will last longer. Quality can come into play, where the cloth should not have any picks or loose ends exposed to unravel.

Stitching

When you think about shemaghs or keffiyehs, the tassels definitely come to mind first. These warp ends are tied to keep it from unraveling, but they are also held in with stitching on quality shemaghs or even replaced with separate decorative tassels. For example, the Hirbawi folds the edge and stitches a tassel strand over the fold using an overlock stitch.

Size & Weight

Shemaghs are roughly twice the size of your standard bandana. You can fold to double up the fabric or use the extra size to wrap more of your head by using the traditional face wrap method. The shemaghs that we tested ranged from 42″ x 42″ all the way up to 49″ x 49″, so there is some variability in what is considered ‘standard’.

Weights and fabric weight also vary by brand. We list out fabric weight by the meter, so the size affects the weight, but we also found that some shemaghs can weigh twice as much as others! This doesn’t necessarily mean that the lightweight shemaghs are not great, but the highest quality shemaghs are heavier weight.

Versatility

Head coverings are already versatile, and shemaghs are even more so when compared to bananas due to their size.

There are unlimited ways to use and wear a shemagh, and the best way to figure them all out is to get one yourself and get used to all the different uses.


How to Use a Shemagh

Tying a shemagh is simple, but there are many ways to do it. Just to cover your head and face, there are over a dozen wraps you can do.

The traditional face wrap, a bandit (or cowboy) mask, head wrap, and neck gaiter are our go-to ties for shemaghs, but you may prefer an alternative.

Even those have multiple ways of being tied, and the never-ending question of whether you go one knot, two knots, or tucked.

Martin does a great job showing how to tie a shemagh in this video:


Who Needs a Shemagh?

A shemagh isn’t necessary for any kit since you can survive or improvise without it. In certain situations (and if you anticipate certain threats) it can really come in handy.

They are also extremely lightweight (even the ‘heavyweight’ ones), so there are not many drawbacks to getting one into your kits.

We suggest that you consider adding one to your:

There are a ton of uses, so it is very unlikely that you will regret adding one to your kit if you can afford it.

How We Review Products: We research thoroughly before selecting the best products to review. We consult experts in the field for a better understanding of what makes the gear great. Hours on end are spent field testing gear in stressful conditions. We assign performance criteria and impartially rate each tested item. You can support us through our independently chosen links, which can earn us a commission at no extra cost to you. After our review process, some of the items reviewed end up in our giveaways.

Sources and References

All of our experience and the testing we do to determine the best shemagh is useless without listing our research sources and references. We leaned on these for the book knowledge that we paired with our hands-on testing and practical military and prepping experience:

Al-ajmi, F., Loveday, D., Bedwell, K., & Havenith, G. (2008). Thermal insulation and clothing area factors of typical Arabian Gulf clothing ensembles for males and females: Measurements using thermal manikins. Applied Ergonomics. Volume 39. Issue 3. Pages 407-414. (Source)

Alorf, A. (2020). Primary/Soft Biometrics: Performance Evaluation and Novel Real-Time Classifiers. Dissertation: Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. (Source)

Sitvjenkins, I., Abele, I., Vilumsone, A., & Torbicka, H. (2012). Camouflage Quality Evaluation of the Combat Individual Protection System in the Thermal Infrared Spectrum. Riga Technical University: Material Science. Volume 7. Page 97. (Source)


The Final Word

Keeping your head covered can have a ton of benefits in an emergency. Whether you are aiming not to be recognized, keeping cover under the sun, or warming your face in the cold- a good shemagh can do it all. All it takes is a little prior planning to have the right gear on hand. Hopefully, we’ve helped you get a little more prepared today.

Here are a few related articles our readers have also found helpful:

We presented quite a lot of information, but as always: if you have any questions let us know and we would be happy to help. Our research and testing found the Rothco Tactical Shemagh to be the best option given its value, material, stitching, size/weight, and versatility.

If you pick up one of our suggested shemaghs- make sure you know how to use it before you need it. They have unlimited uses, but it’s good to know the typical wraps so you aren’t bogged down when you need to throw one on.

Keep exploring, stay prepared, and be safe.


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The Best Shemagh for Survival

Rusty Collins

I am an engineer by day, but a prepper 24/7. I am an Air Force veteran that developed emergency and disaster plans as an emergency manager and responded to many attacks and accidents as a HAZMAT technician. I have been exposed to deadly chemical agents, responded to biological incidents, and dealt with natural disasters worldwide. Check out my full story here: Rusty's Story

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