Shemagh scarves, also known as keffiyeh scarves, originated on the Arabian Peninsula and have spread worldwide due to their combination of versatility and aesthetic appeal. While originally worn to provide protection from the harsh desert environment, shemagh scarves today appeal to hunters, hikers, the fashion conscious, and members of the military.
Western military personnel stationed in the Middle East use the keffiyeh for traditional reasons, and to blend in better with the local population. Hunters, hikers and other outdoor enthusiasts use them for multiple reasons, including camo, emergency bandages, protection from the cold and more. While the fashion conscious enjoy their 100% cotton nature and the fact that they look good with just about any outfit. Below are the best shemagh scarves on the market today.
1. Mora Premium Shemagh Scarf
The Mora Premium Shemagh Scarf hits all the right notes. It’s the traditional size at 47 x 47 inches, it’s 100% cotton like any real shemagh is, and the weave is thick and luxurious. This is an incredibly versatile scarf that will serve multiple purposes both tactical and practical, while also appealing to the fashionistas out there. Once you wrap yourself in one of these you’ll wonder how you ever got by without it.
This scarf feels great, whether you have it wrapped in a traditional way, or are just loosely draping it around your neck for aesthetic purposes. The weave is thick, as we mentioned, which means it will stand up to lots of wear and tear, while also providing decent protection from cold winds. Wear it to protect yourself from the sun during the day, then roll it up and put it under your head at night in the tent. With 11 patterns to choose from there’s one for every taste and need.
2. Hirbawi Premium Arabic Scarf
The Hirbawi Premium Arabic Scarf is another great looking, thick, 100% cotton keffiyeh that will perform tactical and aesthetic duties with equal aplomb. It’s the traditional 47 x 47 inches, features a lush cotton weave, is available in a dozen colors and traditional patterns and it’s made by Palestinian workers in the West Bank. By purchasing one of these you’ll be helping to support a region that has been economically depressed for decades.
The Hirbawi Premium Arabic Scarf will suit you well whether you’re tracking game, protecting your head from the blistering sun in the Grand Canyon, or stepping out on the town with some attitude. Because it’s 100% cotton this scarf can also be used by outdoor enthusiasts in the event of an emergency. Cut it into strips to make effective bandages. Or use it to signal your location to search parties if you’re lost or hurt.
3. Rothco Shemagh Desert Keffiyeh Scarf
With 18 color and pattern combinations everyone is likely to find a Rothco Shemagh Desert Keffiyeh Scarf that will serve their purpose. While slightly smaller than tradition demands at 42 x 42 inches, it’s not so small that it warrants exclusion from our list. That’s because, let’s face it, not everyone is the same size and so there is some wiggle room available here. Not much, but some.
The weave is first-rate. The color choices range from the strictly traditional to the overtly fashionable to those that will serve well as camo for hunters. Though the makers, to their credit, don’t deviate from the traditional patterning. The cotton weave on these scarves feels great. It’s very soft and pliable the minute you unpack it and will assume any of the traditional forms with ease. But while they say it can be machine washed, we wouldn’t risk it.
4. Optimal Designs Outdoor Hiking Shemagh Scarf
One thing all of the keffiyeh scarves on our list have in common is that they’re made with premium cotton and feel great against the skin. This shemagh from Optimal Designs is no exception. The weave here is dense but supple, the patterns traditional and evocative, and the scarf is available in half a dozen colors, including the traditional black and white.
At 43 x 43 inches this shemagh is 4 inches smaller in each direction than the traditional scarf it emulates. But it’s close enough to still be plenty versatile. The Stars and Stripes motif on one of the scarves is questionable at best, however. Not that we’re down on the US, but the keffiyeh has very strong historic ties to Arab culture and the Palestinian movement and it would seem wise if those associations were respected. That said, this is still a great scarf.
5. ChinFun Keffiyeh Desert Scarf
The Chinfun Keffiyeh Desert Scarf is light and breathable and available in nearly 20 different colors. This is a 100% cotton scarf with a multitude of tactical, practical and aesthetic uses. Wear it to provide protection from the summer heat or winter cold. Wear it when you’re on patrol in the Middle East. Wear it to provide camouflage when deer or duck hunting, or wear it to put the finishing touches on your outfit.
The scarf is light at just over 6 ounces, so it won’t slow you down if you take it hiking or hunting. At 42 x 42 inches it’s flirting with being too small. But those who are not 6 foot 3 and 220 pounds will likely find it plenty big enough. Chinfun is also one of the few keffiyeh scarf makers who offer a 100% money back guarantee if you are not completely satisfied. So you really have nothing to lose here.
6. Mato & Hash Shemagh Cotton Scarf
The Mato & Hash Shemagh Cotton Scarf is billed as a ‘military’ scarf. But there is nothing particularly militaristic about it. It’s a traditional (almost) keffiyeh that can be used for whatever purpose you have in mind, military or otherwise. We say it’s ‘almost’ traditional because at 43 x 43 inches it’s slightly smaller than the true keffiyeh, which is 47 x 47 inches. But it’s close enough that it won’t be an issue for most people.
The Mato & Hash Shemagh is extremely versatile, features a thick comfortable 100% cotton weave and will serve hikers, hunters, and club hoppers equally well. Wet it down and wrap your head to stay cool on a blistering hot day. Roll it up and use it as a camping pillow. Or use it to camouflage your face when hunting. Whatever you need it to do, it’s ready and willing to do. Just remember to keep it out of the washer and dryer.
7. Explore Land Cotton Shemagh Scarf
The Explore Land Cotton Shemagh Scarf is light and airy and feels great. It’s versatile, practical and available in some 2 dozen colors. At 41 x 41 inches this is as small as we could justify including on our list. Any smaller and you wouldn’t be able to achieve some of the traditional wraps associated with the keffiyeh. And that would undermine its claim to being a true shemagh. But at 41 x 41 it slips in under the wire, so it’s all good.
One thing the Explore Land Shemagh definitely has going for it is the extra thick weave. This gives it a leg up on the competition when it comes to cold weather applicability. That extra thick fabric also does a good job absorbing sweat on hot days and keeping it off your body. At just over 6 ounces the scarf is lightweight, and with so many colors to choose from you’re likely to find one that speaks to you.
8. Vochic Shemagh Keffiyeh Scarf
The Vochic Shemagh Arab Keffiyeh Scarf is thick and warm when you want it to be, protective when you need it to be, and stylish all the time, if that’s what you’re after. This scarf feels great, is light and versatile and is available in 13 colors to suit everyone’s tastes. The weave here is dense and satisfying, the scarf flexible and easy to mold to your preferred style and the price very agreeable to most budgets.
At 43 x 43 it’s a wee bit smaller than the traditional keffiyeh, but not so much that it inhibits the scarf’s usefulness. Whether you’re navigating the frigid, wind-blown streets of Boston in the winter, or the summiting Half Dome under the relentless summer sun, the Vochic Shemagh scarf has you covered. Literally.
9. Tapp Collections Premium Shemagh Scarf
The Tapp Collections Premium Shemagh Scarf features a lighter weave than some of the other scarves on our list. Which, if you’re using it to protect yourself from the summer sun will serve you perfectly. At 42 x 42 inches it’s also smaller than a traditional keffiyeh, but unless you’re an NFL linebacker it should still be plenty of scarf for your purposes.
While light, the scarf does not in any way feel insubstantial. And with 30 colors to choose from you are certain to find one, or two, or maybe three that tickle your fancy. These scarves are 100% cotton and feature traditional Arabic patterns. And although they say they’re machine washable you should be careful to always wash them by hand.
10. Armyu Shemagh Desert Keffiyeh Scarf
The last of our best shemagh scarves is this one from Armyu. Their Shemagh Desert Keffiyeh Scarf is light and attractive and breathable. Woven from high quality 100% cotton it blocks the sun, breaks the wind, filters dust and dirt out of the air and makes a fashion statement regardless of what you pair it with.
The number of colors is limited, and the size is a less-than-traditional 43 x 43 inches. Still, the scarf is comfortable, affordable, durable, and versatile. Not sure what more you could ask of a scarf than that.
What Is a Shemagh Scarf?
The shemagh (pronounced ‘schmog’) is a traditional cotton scarf that originated in the Middle East, where it is known primarily as the ‘keffiyeh’. No one is quite sure when the first shemaghs appeared, but they were already considered traditional Arab dress at the time of T. E. Lawrence – better known as Lawrence of Arabia (1) – during World War I.
Local history has it that the shemagh originated on the Arabian Peninsula, although over time their popularity spread throughout the entire Middle East. During the 1930s they became a symbol of the Arab Revolt (2). And during the 1970s the keffiyeh became the trademark look of Palestinian Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat (3).
In the intervening years the popularity of the shemagh spread beyond the borders of the Middle East. Western soldiers stationed in the region have taken to wearing the keffiyeh to block the sun and blend in more easily with the local population. In the US, hunters and other outdoor enthusiasts have adopted them as protection against the elements. And in the US, Europe and Japan the scarf has become a fashion accessory.
What are the Benefits of Wearing a Shemagh Scarf?
Shemagh scarves provide protection from the sun. This has always been an issue of paramount importance to the people of the Arabian Peninsula where there are precious few places to hide from the relentless sun. Today, the shemagh/keffiyeh serves the same purpose for hikers, hunters and other outdoor enthusiasts. Keeping the sun off your head and neck helps retain moisture and reduce the chances of suffering dehydration.
A shemagh scarf enables you to keep cooler in the blazing heat. The sun isn’t the only enemy in the Arabian Desert. Temperatures in that part of the world can reach 130 Fahrenheit. Keeping the sun off their skin with a keffiyeh helps the desert peoples mitigate the effects of extreme heat. And it can do the same for you when you’re hiking the Bright Angel Trail in the Grand Canyon in July.
A shemagh scarf also helps you stay warm on those cold desert nights. Just as the desert can get baking hot in the daytime it tends to get cool at night as there is nothing to hold the heat, which vents into the atmosphere. In that case, the keffiyeh has historically been used to provide warmth against the desert cold. Today, it is used by people all over the world as a winter scarf.
Shemagh scarves provide protection from dust storms. Granted, dust storms aren’t a major concern for most Americans, although they do pop up from time to time (4). It’s a different story, however, for those who live or are stationed in areas of the Middle East, where dust storms are a commonplace occurrence (5). When the choking clouds of dust and sand roll in, the shemagh provides invaluable protection that allows you to breathe until you can find significant cover.
Shemagh scarves can be used as pillows. Sleeping in a tent is hard enough. It’s even worse if you don’t have any way to support your head while you try to sleep. If you have a shemagh with you it can be rolled up and used as a very acceptable pillow in its own right. Or, if you have an inflatable pillow, you can wrap it in your shemagh to make the surface more agreeable to your skin.
A shemagh scarf can be used to carry things. The keffiyeh has many unanticipated benefits, including the ability to use it as a makeshift sack with which to carry things. With more and more stores refusing to hand out disposable plastic bags having a shemagh with you can save the day. Simply drop everything in the middle of the opened scarf and then tie the corners together.
A shemagh scarf makes an excellent sling. Another good reason to have a keffiyeh along on a camping, hiking or hunting trip is in case you or one of your companions injures an arm. The shemagh can be used to make quite an effective sling that will immobilize the injured arm and protect it while you make your way back toward civilization or wait for the mountain rescue team to arrive.
A shemagh scarf can be used as a towel. Hunters and hikers have to wash up just like everyone else. Problem is, carrying a bath towel into the wilderness with you is extremely impractical, since it takes up space in the pack and adds to the weight. If you have a shemagh with you, you can use it as a rudimentary towel to dry yourself off.
A shemagh scarf can be used to filter water. Should you find yourself in a situation where clean water is scarce you can use the keffiyeh/shemagh to filter particulate matter, including some bacteria (6). Of course, the shemagh is not going to filter out all bacteria, but it will clean the water of dirt, twigs and other objects that could make it undrinkable. Once filtered, the water can be boiled and then used for drinking or cooking.
Shemagh scarves can be used as emergency bandages or tourniquets. Serious injuries are something no hiker or hunter wants to contemplate. But they happen. If you have a keffiyeh with you however, you have a fast and effective means of creating a tourniquet (7). If you don’t need something as drastic as a tourniquet but still need to cover a wound to prevent infection, the shemagh can be cut into strips and used as bandages.
A shemagh scarf can be used as a signal flag. Should you become lost in the wilderness, or have an accident and require assistance, a shemagh is large enough to make an effective signal flag. It can be tied to a tree or waved should you have the energy. If your keffiyeh is brightly colored then it will do an even better job drawing attention to your location.
Shemagh scarves have long been a sought after fashion accessory. Most people in the West have only known the shemagh as a fashion accessory. And a great one it is. It will enhance any outfit from punk to playful and is often seen used in concert with leather biker jackets, denim jackets, and even with t-shirts.
Are Shemagh Scarves Impractical?
The shemagh is a lot of scarf. There is no doubt about it. For some folks it’s simply too much material to be slinging over their shoulders, wrapping round their heads or using to protect their neck from the cold. So there is certainly an argument to be made for its impracticality. On the other hand, there are just as many people, maybe more, who appreciate all that material, enjoy the pure cottony goodness of it, and like the fact that they can configure it in myriad ways depending on their needs and wants.
If you’re using it as a hiking or hunting accessory it has the dual advantages of being both large (which translates into ‘versatile’) and light, which is always a positive for anything you will be lugging miles into the backcountry. If you are concerned that the shemagh is just too much cloth we’d advise you to learn something about tying it properly (8). This can save you a lot of aggravation, ensure you always look good, and ensure you get the most from the scarf in a practical sense right from day one.
What Should I Look for When Buying a Shemagh?
A real shemagh/keffiyeh is made of 100% cotton. There are a lot of so-called shemaghs on the market today that look the part, but are a mixture of cotton and synthetic fabrics like polyester. So lets be clear: a polyester shemagh is not a real shemagh.
Size is another consideration. The classic Arab keffiyeh is 47 inches by 47 inches. We’ve seen them as small as 29 x 29 inches. But nothing like that made our list. That’s because size is important sometimes, and this is one of them. The smaller the scarf, the less versatile it is. And whether you’re wearing one on patrol in Iraq, or while hunting in Idaho, versatility matters.
Color is another consideration. If you are wearing a shemagh simply as a fashion statement, then more power to you and you can get whatever color your heart desires. But if you intend to wear one in the bush, you’ll want one that dovetails with the local flora so that you’re not obvious to your quarry.
What is the Right Way to Care for a Shemagh?
Because the keffiyeh/shemagh is made of 100% woven cotton you need to be pretty careful about how you wash it. You should avoid putting it in the washing machine, and avoid the dryer at all costs. Just a few times through the washing machine/dryer cycle will be enough to destroy your shemagh. So, hand wash your keffiyeh with warm water and a mild soap. And always hang dry it. Getting this right will ensure your shemagh scarf is with you for years to come.
The Bottom Line
Shemagh scarves are traditional Middle Eastern head and neck scarves that have found popularity throughout the world thanks to their versatility and handsome looks. Whether you call them shemaghs or keffiyehs and whether you wear them for tactical, practical or fashion purposes you’re sure to become enamored of this clothing accessory in short order.
All of the shemagh scarves on our list are made of traditional 100% cotton and feature traditional patterns. They make a great addition to a bug out bag. They’ll keep you warm or cool, protect you from the sun or wind, fulfill numerous roles on the trail, and allow you to blend in more completely with the local population if you are stationed in the Middle East. Among other things.