How to Survive With a Bandana

In the right hands, this little square of cloth is so much more.

Start a fire (two ways)

1. Soak a few strands of your bandana in hand sanitizer to make a fire starter that will take a match easily and burn for a minute or more.

Survivalists know that semi-burnt cotton (char cloth) can light with just a spark. To make some, ignite a stamp-size piece of bandana, then snuff it out after a few seconds. Note: Making char cloth is pretty simple, getting it to take a spark is harder.

Signal for help

If your bandana contrasts with the landscape, hang it over a tree branch in an open area so it’s level and as visible as possible from the sky (and helicopter rescuers).

Make a hat

Tie an overhand knot in each corner to create a crude container. Wet it and wear it on your head to block the sun if it’s hot. Stuff it with dry leaves or other dry, fluffy material for an insulating cap if it’s cold.

Collect water

Dip your bandana in a puddle or rub it against dew-soaked vegetation, then wring it into a vessel. For a hard-to-reach seep in a rock, use a stick to poke part of your bandana into the source, then hang the bandana so the lower end is downhill from the water level. Gravity will slowly draw that water toward you.

Filter water

Remove big chunks and muck from a water source. Make a cloth container (see “Make a hat,” left), fill it with the murky water, and let it drip into your drinking vessel. This will get out the yucky-looking stuff, but microorganisms will persist. Boil the strained water, if possible.

Make lashings

Tear your bandana into inch-wide strips, then braid them together to make a rope. Use it like cordage for repairs, as replacement boot laces, or to haft a blade or sharpened stone onto a stick.

Stabilize an arm

Make a sling to reduce pain on a busted arm. Rip the bandana into strips to secure a splint.