Best bandana for hiking and backpacking

BEST BANDANA FOR HIKING AND BACKPACKING

The days of the bandanas are back! There is hardly any clothing gear for hiking and backpacking that is as versatile as the good ol’ bandana. You can wear it in a ton of ways and use it for summer protection, dust protection, survival and first aid. But to get the best out of this ultralight cloth, you need to go beyond the style factor and pick the best bandana for hiking and backpacking.

So, which are the best bandanas for hiking and backpacking? How are they different from buffs? Are there some options that work well for both men and women?

In this article, we will look at answering exactly the same questions and list some of the best bandanas available in the market for outdoor excursions. We will look at how bandanas are different from buffs and the factors to consider before picking the best bandana for hiking, backpacking, hunting, survival, and other outdoor adventures. Buckle up and read on!

You can also check out our article on the best towels for backpacking if you still want to take the traditional route and pick a towel for your outdoor trip.

Best bandana for hiking list

Some of the best bandanas and buffs for hiking, backpacking, and other outdoor adventures are listed below:
PictureProductSpecifications 

Colter Co. Cypher Survival Bandana22” x 22”
100% Cotton
Single bandana



Buff Original Multifunctional Headwear20.5" x 9"
100% polyester microfiber
Single buff


UST Survival Bandana22” x 22”
100% Cotton
Single bandana
ExOfficio BugsAway Woven Bandana23” x 23”
100% Cotton with Insect Shield
Single bandana


Printed Image Topographical Map Bandanas22” x 22”
100% Cotton
Single bandana
Levi's Men's Cotton Bandana Set20” x 20”
100% Cotton
Set of 2 or 3 bandanas
Explore Land Cotton Shemagh Desert Scarf43” x 41”
100% Cotton
Single Shemagh
OHSAY USA Cotton Bandana Set21” x 21”
50-100% Cotton
Set of 3 bandanas
Outdoor Research Echo Ubertube20" x 9"
100% AirVent polyester
Single buff


Tough Headband Buff Headwear19" x 9"
100% polyester microfiber
Single buff
Hoo-Rag Mossy Oak Seamless Buff Bandana19.5" x 9"
100% polyester microfiber
Single buff

What is a bandana and how can it be useful?

A bandana, in its purest form, is nothing more than a square or rectangular piece of cloth that can serve more than a handful of purposes in the wilderness. Most bandanas are made of 100% cotton or poly-cotton, which has the ability to wick moisture and sweat. These headgear clothes come in a couple of different sizes, but most options are anywhere from 20 inches to 25 inches in length and width.

Closely related with the bandanas are Shemaghs which are essentially woven, oversized bandanas with the tassels tied down in the end for breathability and durability. Shemaghs are basically meant to be worn as desert scarfs and provide protection against both dust and sun as a single unit.

Then you also have the elasticized microfiber gaiters – the buffs. Buffs are made of polyester microfiber blend and more geared towards providing a secure cover to the neck, mouth or head, depending upon how one they are worn.

A bandana is an extremely versatile gear for its weight and size. Some of the ways in which you can use a bandana during hiking are:

  • As a headgear or hat to prevent from direct exposure to sun or rain.
  • As a neck cooler by dipping in water and tying around (ala cowboys in old Westerns).
  • As a handkerchief, washcloth or towel.
  • As a pre-filter to remove sedimentation from the water. It can also be used as a colander or strainer while cooking.
  • For making bandages, tourniquets or slings during emergencies.
  • As a signaling device or trail marker.

To make the bandana even more useful, some manufacturers also print useful information like survival and navigation tips and trail maps.

There are situations, however, in which a buff is more useful. Buffs do a better job at working as neck warmers, face masks, insect protectors and face masks.

Considering the fact that bandanas, Shemaghs and buffs are not very costly, you are better off getting one of each type and carry one or more of them as per your preference.

Which are the best bandanas for hiking and backpacking?

Colter Co. Cypher Survival Bandana – Best bandanas for hiking and backpackingColter Co. Reflective Survival Bandana, High Visibility for Camping, Hiking, Hunting, Backpacking | 100% Cotton, Made in The USA (Stayin' Alive)

Material: 100% cotton fabric.
Specifications:

  • Size: 0″ x 22.0″.
  • Set: Single bandana per pack.

Price: $$.
Features:

  • High-quality tactical survival bandana featuring a 100% cotton cloth construction. Made and printed in the US.
  • Printed with high visibility reflective ink on an orange base that glows when hit by a flashlight beam.
  • Features useful survival information printed on the bandana for reference in an emergency situation.
  • Machine and hand washable and built to last. The ink does not bleed on washing.
  • A set of three tactical bandanas is also available from the same manufacturer. The manufacturer also offers bandanas pre-treated with Insect Shield Permethrin coating.

Details:

Colter Company’s bandanas are one of the most versatile cotton bandanas available in the market. Dedicated to the spirit of John Colter, these bandanas are made and printed in the US. The Cypher Survival Bandana is one of their popular tactical designs and hence our favorite.

The Colter Co. Cypher Survival Bandana is made of soft and high-quality 100% cotton. The bandana is printed with high-visibility reflective ink on a hunter orange base. The bandana is well visible even in low light and glows when hit by a light beam from a flashlight, making it ideal to mark trails if required. The dye and ink used for bandana are lead-free.

And that is not all! The bandana is printed with useful survival information based on the Stop, Think, Observe and Plan principle. The information may look too basic for an experienced outdoorsman, but for a scout or beginner, the content is indeed useful.

Like all Colter bandanas, the Cypher bandana is about 22″ x 22″ in size and easy to clean – it is both machine and hand washable and dries quicker than heavy cotton clothes. The best part is that the ink does not bleed during the wash.

The Colter Co. bandanas are backed by a satisfaction guaranteed commitment by the manufacturer. And if you are interested, you can also look at getting the three tactical bandana set or bandanas pre-treated with Insect Shield for protection against insects and bugs.

For its excellent quality and design, the Colter Co. Cypher Survival Bandana is our pick for the best bandana for hiking and backpacking. These tactical bandanas are much more than bandanas and a perfect gift for a scout or an avid outdoorsman.

Pros
  • High-quality tactical bandana made of 100% cotton. Made and printed in the US.
  • Features a reflective ink printing on a hunter orange base that is visible in low lights and under flashlight beam.
  • Pre-printed with useful survival information for beginners. Other options with different content are also available.
  • Machine and hand washable. The ink does not bleed on washing.


Cons
  • Costlier than most other cotton bandanas.


Buff Original Multifunctional Headwear- Best buff for hiking and backpackingBUFF Original Multifunctional Headwear, Blue Damask, One Size

Material: 100% REPREVE microfiber blend.
Specifications:

  • Size: 5″ x 9.0″.
  • Set: Single buff per pack.

Price: $$.
Features:

  • Best-selling, all-season buff made of 100% REPREVE microfiber blend which is a 100% recycled fabric made from plastic bottles. Made in Spain.
  • Features a knitting process that weaves in a tubular manner creating a unique product with no irritating seams or hems. Coated with Polygiene active odor control formula.
  • Ultralight at only 1.4 oz., Crushable and extremely packable. Machine and hand washable.
  • Rated at UPF-50 to provide 98-99% protection from UVA and UVB rays. Moisture wicking and quick dry.
  • Available in over twenty designs and unisex colors suitable for most men and women. Can be worn in 12-ways.
  • Backed by a lifetime warranty by the manufacturer.

Details:

The Spain-based Buff has been a popular manufacturer of bandanas and other headgears for years and their Original model has been one of their best-selling options in the market. And with the improvements the latest versions have gone through, there is a good reason to why it is the best bandana buff in the market for outdoor excursions.

The Buff Original Multifunctional Headwear has been re-engineered to use the ultra-stretch 100% recycled REPREVE® Performance Microfiber. This microfiber fabric is exclusively made from the plastic bottles dumped in the oceans and water bodies around the world, so every purchase gets you an environment-friendly product. The headwear is made in Spain using fabric imported from France or manufactured within Spain itself.

The Buff bandana is seamlessly knitted using a proprietary process that weaves in a tubular manner creating a unique product with no irritating seams or hems. This seamless knitting provides maximum comfort and wicking while wearing the buff. The buff is coated with Polygiene active odor control formula to prevent any odor build-up.

The Buff Original Multifunctional Headwear can be worn in 12 different ways like most other buffs. It is rated at best-in-class UPF-50 rating, meaning that it can block up to 98-99% of UVA and UVB rays from the sun. Weighing only 1.4 ounces with a dimension of 20.5″ x 9″, the Buff headwear is crushable and extremely packable to a small size. The buff is both machine and hand washable and dries quickly – about 3 times quicker than a cotton bandana.

12-ways to wear a buff
12-ways to wear a buff (Source: Buff Original)

The Buff Original Multifunctional Headwear is available in over 20 designs and color combinations, suitable for both men and women. And it is backed by a limited lifetime warranty by the manufacturer – a big testament to the quality the buff offers.

For its excellent quality and durability and superior in-field performance, the Buff Original Multifunctional Headwear is our Editor’s pick for the best bandana buff for hiking and other outdoor adventures.

Pros
  • High-quality bandana buff made from 100% recycled REPREVE microfiber blend with Polygiene active odor control formula. Made in Spain.
  • knitted using a proprietary process that weaves in a tubular manner creating a unique product with no irritating seams or hems.
  • Features a best-in-class UPF 50 rating that blocks 98-99% of UVA and UVB rays.
  • Weighs only 1.4 oz. and stretchable to fit most people. Both machine and hand washable.
  • Available in over 20 designs and color combinations suitable for both men and women.
  • Backed by a lifetime warranty by the manufacturer.


Cons
  • Has print only on one side and is not reversible. Largely unprinted white on the other side.
  • Costlier than most other buffs in the market, but you get what you pay for.


UST Survival BandanaUST Survival Bandana

Material: 100% cotton fabric.
Specifications:

  • Size: 0″ x 22.0″.
  • Set: Single bandana per pack.

Price: $.
Features:

  • Budget, survival bandana with 100% cotton fabric surface. Made in China for US-based survival and outdoor gear company.
  • Reflective orange color is visible even in low lights and beam of a flashlight. Ultralight at weighs only 1.3 ounces.
  • Printed with a collection of basic survival tips on hiking safety, navigation, knots, first aid suitable for kids and beginners.
  • Machine or hand washable and quick drying. Does not bleed color on washing.
  • Competitively priced at under 5 dollars for a single bandana.

ExOfficio BugsAway Woven BandanaExOfficio BugsAway Woven Bandana, Bone, ONE

Material: 100% cotton fabric with Insect Shield coating.
Specifications:

  • Size: 0″ x 23.0″.
  • Set: Single bandana per pack.

Price: $$$.
Features:

  • Versatile, full-sized bandana made of 100% cotton with bug-repelling Insect Shield coating. Made in China for the US-based company.
  • Larger size when compared to most other options. Woven fabric provides better wicking when compared to stitched cloth.
  • Coated with odor-less, Permethrin-based Insect Shield coating to provide bug protection even after multiple washes – can last for 40-50 washes.
  • Has a UPF-30 rating capable of blocking 96-97% of UVA and UVB rays.
  • Multiple unisex colors are also available with paisley designs.

Printed Image Topographical Map BandanasThe Printed Image Glacier National Park Bandanas

Material: 100% cotton fabric.
Specifications:

  • Size: 0″ x 22.0″.
  • Set: Single bandana per pack.

Price: $ to $$ depending upon the print.
Features:

  • Tactical backcountry bandanas with detailed topographical maps of common US national parks. Made and printed in the US.
  • Feature a 100% cotton fabric with lead-free, colorcast reflective ink dye.
  • Machine and hand washable and built to last. The ink does not bleed on washing.
  • Available for over 7 national parks and backed by satisfaction guaranteed commitment.
  • The manufacturer also offers additional options with different printings.

Levi’s Men’s Cotton Bandana SetLevi's Men's 100% Cotton Bandana Headband Gift Sets, Assorted One Size

Material: 100% cotton.
Specifications:

  • Size: 0″ x 20.0″.
  • Set: Two or three bandanas per pack.

Price: $.
Features:

  • Budget all-weather bandanas made of high-quality 100% cotton fabric. Made in China.
  • Printed with Cowboy western paisley designs and printed on both sides.
  • Suitable for hand wash and air dry. Designed to wick sweat and moisture.
  • Competitively priced at under 10 dollars for the set of three bandanas. Available in over 20 design patterns and colors.

Explore Land Cotton Shemagh Desert ScarfExplore Land 100% Cotton Military Shemagh Tactical Desert Keffiyeh Scarf Wrap (Tan)

Material: 100% cotton fabric.
Specifications:

  • Size: 0″ x 41.0″.
  • Set: Single Shemagh per pack.

Price: $$.
Features:

  • High-quality tactical desert shemagh scarf made of 100% cotton. The woven fabric is made in China.
  • Features unsewn, same fabric tassels tied on the edges for superior durability.
  • Thick and soft material protects the head and neck from sun, sand, wind and dust. Also works well in moderately cold weather.
  • Hand washable with mild soap and water and quick air dry.
  • Available in over 15 color combinations and backed by a one-year manufacturer warranty.

OHSAY USA Cotton Bandana SetBandana 3-Pack - Made in USA For 70 Years - Sold by Vets - 100% Cotton –Sewn Edges (Black, Charcoal, Navy)

Material: 100% cotton fabric, except for Flag, Camo, Tie Dye & Skull styles which are 50/50 poly-cotton.
Specifications:

  • Size: 0″ x 21.0″.
  • Set: Three bandanas per pack.

Price: $.
Features:

  • Soft cotton bandana set featuring three 100% cotton (50/50 polyester-cotton for some designs) bandanas with classic paisley designs. Made in South Carolina, US by a 70-year old company.
  • Hand-sewn and marketed by a veterans-supporting organization. Uses a lead-free and colorfast dye.
  • Feature rolled hem edges on all four sides to prevent fraying during use.
  • Machine washable and get soft with every wash. Sweat absorbent and quick drying.
  • Available in over 15 color combinations and backed by a lifetime satisfaction guaranteed commitment by the manufacturer.

Outdoor Research Echo UbertubeOutdoor Research Echo Ubertube, Alloy, 1Size

Material: 100% AirVent polyester fabric.
Specifications:

  • Size: 0″ x 9.0″.
  • Set: Single buff per pack.

Price: $$.
Features:

  • Lightweight, all-weather buff made of ultralight, breathable 100% Airvent Polyester fabric. Imported.
  • Features a flat-seam construction with stitching-free edges. Coated with Polygiene active odor control formula.
  • Lightweight at only 3.3 oz., Crushable and extremely packable.
  • Rated at UPF-15 to provide some protection against UV-rays. Moisture wicking and quick dry.
  • Available in over six unisex colors suitable for most men and women. Can be worn in 12-ways.
  • Backed by a lifetime warranty by the manufacturer.

Tough Headband Buff HeadwearTough Headband 12-in-1 Headwear - UPF 30 Versatile Outdoors & Daily Headwear - 12 Ways to Wear including Headband, Neck Gaiter, Bandana, Helmet Liner, Balaclava. Performance Moisture Wicking Microfiber

Material: 100% polyester microfiber (80/20 polyester-polyamide blend).
Specifications:

  • Size: 0″ x 9.0″.
  • Set: Single buff per pack.

Price: $.
Features:

  • Budget, all-season buff made of 80/20 polyester-polyamide microfiber blend. Made in China.
  • Features a UPF-30 rated buff with unstitched edges. Capable of blocking 95% of UVA and UVB rays. Wicks moisture and dries quickly.
  • Stretch fabric woven with soft, seamless fit, suitable for most men and women. Can be worn in 12-ways.
  • Available in sixteen male and female-friendly color combinations and backed by a lifetime warranty by the manufacturer.
  • Competitively priced at under 8 dollars for the buff.

Hoo-Rag Mossy Oak Seamless Buff BandanaMossy Oak Blades Seamless UPF 30 High Performance Moisture Wicking Bandana Made of 100% Polyester Microfiber by Hoo-Rag

Material: 100% polyester microfiber (80/20 polyester-polyamide blend).
Specifications:

  • Size: 5″ x 9.0″.
  • Set: Single buff per pack.

Price: $$$.
Features:

  • High-end all-weather buff made of 100% polyester microfiber. Stitched in the US from imported or US-made cloth.
  • Features a UPF-30 rated moisture-wicking, face-mask cover with unhemmed edges. Capable of blocking 97% of UVA and UVB rays.
  • Stretch fabric woven with soft, seamless fit, suitable for most men and women. Can be worn in 12-ways. Machine washable.
  • Available in five color combinations and backed by a 100% satisfaction guaranteed commitment by the manufacturer throughout the lifetime.
  • The manufacturer also offers a wide variety of designs including their best-selling Hoo-Rag Old Glory American Flag Bandana.

How to pick the best bandana for hiking and backpacking?

With so many different options available in the market, picking the best bandana or buff for outdoor adventures can be a challenging task. After all, you need a bandana that feels comfortable on the skin, wicks water, dries quickly and is lightweight and compact.

Once you have decided on the broad budget that you have, you need to look at a few important factors before picking the best bandana for hiking, hunting, backpacking or other outdoor adventures. These major considerations are summarized below. Considering that bandanas are not very costly, you can buy a bunch of them and use as per your preference:

  • Fabric Material
  • Size of the bandana or buff
  • Color and Design
  • UPF Rating
  • Warranty

Fabric Material of the bandana

The manufacturing material of the bandana or buff is an important factor as it governs the softness, wicking capabilities and sunlight protection of the bandana. Why else do you think there is so much variation in the price of these simple products?

The best bandanas are made of high-quality 100% natural cotton fabric, though some specialized bandanas also use poly-cotton (50/50 polyester-cotton blend). Cotton helps in providing excellent softness and wicking capabilities to the bandana and allow them to be used for a number of purposes. The printing and color dye used on the fabric is generally lead-free and colorcast to prevent bleeding.

A buff, on the other hand, is made of 100% polyester-based microfiber blend. The microfiber blend uses is generally 80% polyester and 20% polyamide (nylon) – providing a nice balance between weight and comfort. This material also ensures that the towel does not absorb sand and grime easily. Anti-microbial and odor-prevention coating like Polygiene also helps if you are going to put the buff to some rigorous outdoor use.

In order to provide better bug protection, bandanas and buffs are sometimes coated with Permethrin and marketed as Insect Shield or BugsAway products. These specialized options are costlier, but they provide excellent odor-less protection against bugs and insects even after 30-40 washes.

Check out the fabric material of the bandana or buff before picking the best bandana for hiking or other outdoor excursions. If in doubt, pick one of our top choices, as we have listed only the most well-built and durable options in the market.

Size of the bandana or buff

The size, weight and packability of the bandana is also something to factor in before zeroing in on the best bandana or buff, especially if you have a larger than normal head or body size.

A square size of the standard home towel – 20-21″ is probably the most favorable size for all types of outdoor adventures. Though buffs are made of stretchable fabric, still you should avoid any option that is less than 19 inches as that may be uncomfortable. Among bandanas, our top pick – the Colter Co. Cypher Survival Bandana has one of the best well-balanced size of 22″ x 22″. Among buffs, the Spain-manufactured, Buff Original Multifunctional Headwear offers a generous dimension of 20.5″ x 9″.

Check out the overall size (both open and packed), weight and packability of the bandana or buff before picking the best bandana for your needs.

Color and design

The color and design of the bandana is also something to look at. As stated earlier, a bandana is more than a fashion accessory. But the color combination and printed contents can be of significance in the wilderness.

Most fashion bandanas have paisley designs printed or woven on them to give them an elegant look. Most patterns and colors are unisex, though there may be some options that may find more favor with one of the genders – male or female.

In addition, some specialized options such as the UST Survival Bandana and Printed Image Topographical Map Bandanas go well beyond this and print useful information such as survival tips and park maps that can transform a bandana into a tactical survival gear. Moreover, they come in reflective colors which are visible even in low lights.

Most of the options for buffs, bandanas and Shemaghs that we listed are available in a bunch of colors and designs by the same manufacturers. So, you have a lot of choice before picking the best color combination for your needs.

UPF Rating

UPF stands for Ultraviolet Protection Factor. This means it refers to the blocking provided for both UVA and UVB rays.  UPF is a measurement that indicates how much of the sun’s UV rays is absorbed by a fabric. If a fabric is rated UPF 50, it allows only 1/50th of the UVA and UVB rays to reach your skin.

So, if you are looking for a bandana or buff that can prevent you from harmful rays in sunlight, you should check the UPF rating of the fabric. Microfiber buffs that we have listed have a UPF rating ranging from 15 up to 50 for our top pick – the Buff Original Multifunctional Headwear.

Cotton bandanas do not have a UPF rating because they provide a protection less than a UPF-15 rated fabric (typically white shirts have UPF rating of around 5). That does not mean that these products are not very useful, its just that they do not provide extensive UV-protection.

Check the UPF rating of the bandana or buff before picking the best bandana for your all-weather needs.

Warranty

In addition to the major factors discussed above, there are some other miscellaneous considerations that can make a particular bandana a preferable choice over other options.

One such additional consideration is the warranty and after-sales support offered on the bandana or buff by the manufacturer.  The general rule of thumb is that longer the warranty period, the more durable and comfortable the towel would be.  Most of the options that we listed are backed by some excellent satisfaction guaranteed commitments and warranties, so you can use such bandanas for a long time without worrying about their durability.

You can look at all these features to determine if they make a specific bandana a better choice over others.

Final thoughts on the best bandana for hiking and backpacking

For outdoor exploration, a bandana is much more than a fashion accessory. It is a versatile, ultralight piece of cloth that can be used among other things, for protecting against the sun and wind, wiping the body after a bath, filtering water and even as a sling in case of emergencies. But the main challenge is picking a bandana of the right type, size and design.

In this article, we reviewed and listed some of the best bandanas for hiking and other outdoor adventures. We covered both the traditional bandanas, and their close relatives – shemagh and buffs. We also discussed the major factors to consider before picking the best bandanas for hiking and backpacking and shared our top picks.

We hope that you found this article useful and it would help you in picking the best bandana for your next outdoor adventure. Do let us know your feedback by commenting below. Until next time, happy outdoor exploration!

Image credits:Amazon.com

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