By September 5, 2011

How to Tie a Shemagh, and WTF to Do With One

A shemagh (also known as a keffiyeh and by a bunch of other names) is a square scarf meant to be worn around the neck, face, and head. It is of Arab origin and has become fashionable in the Western world. It is also a political symbol, so do a little research before you buy patterns and colors.

I use my shemagh when I go for hikes; it’s a great way to keep sun off of my bald head and the back of my neck. I soak my shemagh in water when the weather is hot and that helps me stay cool. When it’s cool, the shemagh acts as a regular ol’ scarf. We have a ton of mosquitoes and gnats here. I use my shemagh to cover my face and mouth and this keeps the bugs away. I also lightly spray my shemagh with bug repellent, so that helps too.

I’ve taken several firearms training courses this summer. It rained for about six hours during one course, and the shemagh served as a nice hood to keep the rain out of my eyes. Later this summer two fellow students sat out part of the class due to heat exhaustion. I had packed my shemagh in water and ice, and I kept on training without a hiccup. One of the instructors at a group I train with said it best: people spend a lot of money on your guns, a lot of money on ammunition, money on the class, possibly spend a lot of money on travel and lodging, and then fail to participate in the entire class due to exposure. Isn’t a $12 scarf with funny tassels worth it if it helps you take full advantage of your training?

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Sizes, weight, and construction

The traditional shemagh is about 44″x44″ square. The larger ones are easier to tie, but harder to find. The inexpensive shemaghs are usually 42″x42″. Mine is a 42″x42″ and after some adjustments on the traditional tying techniques I can tie the smaller size just fine.

There are two weights of shemaghs. The traditional shemagh is considered “heavyweight,” lightweight shemaghs are made for the fashion industry. I recommend getting the heavyweight. It will hold water better, should be more durable over time, and will insulate you more effectively in colder temperatures. The best way to make sure you are getting the heavier shemagh is to just avoid the “lightweight” ones.

A shemagh has tassels on it. Their added weight helps keep the shemagh from moving around in a slight wind, but I think they are mostly for looks. Traditional shemaghs have a unique pattern on them. It’s hard to describe, but it looks like a calligraphy stroke done with a fountain pen to me. If you want to make absolutely sure you avoid being misidentified with a political or religious group, there are shemaghs with non-traditional patterns on them. One of my instructors has one with the Jolly Roger (pirate skull and crossbones). There are other patterns available, including plaid, US flags, circles, and in an interesting appropriation, the crosslet, a Christian coat of arms dating back to the early 16th century. You can even find plain ones, if you want to avoid the whole pattern dilemma entirely.

Tying and usage

There are a ton of videos on YouTube on how to tie a shemagh. There are two typical ways to tie a shemagh, and they both wind up with the knot on top of the left side of the head.

Technique 1: under the jaw. This makes for a tighter wrap, but it is harder to wear the shemagh in different “modes.”

  1. Fold the shemagh into a triangle.
  2. Optional: roll the top edge of the shemagh once or twice.
  3. Put the top edge on the top of your head, with the point of the shemagh slightly off-center from your spine and to the left.
  4. Take the right side of the shemagh and pull it underneath your jaw against your throat. Hold the end of the right side up against your left ear.
  5. Take the left side of the shemagh and pull it over your nose and mouth. Wrap it around your head so that the left and right ends meet.
  6. Tie the left and right ends together at the top of the left side of your head in a double knot.

Technique 2: twice over the mouth. This is very similar to what I do; I think this allows for a more robust wrap around the nose and mouth, and makes it easier to move the front of the shemagh up and down as needed.

  1. Fold the shemagh into a triangle.
  2. Optional: roll the top edge of the shemagh once or twice.
  3. Put the top edge on the top of your head, with the point of the shemagh slightly off-center from your spine and to the left.
  4. Take the right side of the shemagh and pull it over your nose and mouth. Hold the end of the right side up against your left ear.
  5. Take the left side of the shemagh and pull it over your nose and mouth. This means you’ll have covered your nose and mouth twice. Wrap the left side around your head so that the left and right ends meet.
  6. Tie the left and right ends together at the top of the left side of your head in a double knot.

Technique 3: knot at the base of the skull. This is how I tie mine.

  1. Fold the shemagh into a triangle.
  2. Put the top edge on the top of your head, with the point of the shemagh slightly off-center from your spine and to the left.
  3. Take the right side of the shemagh and pull it over your nose and mouth. Wrap the right side all the way around your head, so that the end is near the back of your skull. I then hold the right end with my left hand.
  4. Take the left side of the shemagh with your right hand and pull it over your nose and mouth. This means you’ll have covered your nose and mouth twice. Wrap the left side around your head so that the left and right ends meet at the base of your skull.
  5. Tie the left and right ends together at the back of your neck in a double knot.

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I like my technique for several reasons. I find it’s easiest for me to tie my shemagh this way. The knot is also a little more loose, and this allows me to alter how I wear the shemagh more easily. I don’t like how tight the “under the jaw” method is against my neck.

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In both “traditional” methods, I don’t like how the knot is on the left side of my head. I found that the knot interferes with my ability to easily get a sight picture on a rifle or shotgun. Putting the knot on the back of my head eliminates this.

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The drawback to my method is that the shemagh is looser overall. This may be a problem if you live in a really windy environment with a lot of dust.

I mostly wear my shemagh with the top and face parts pulled down. This keeps sun off the back of my neck. I bring the “hood” part up on top of my head when the bugs start to act up or if I start to get too hot. If the bugs are out of control, I readjust the face part of my shemagh to protect my nose and mouth. In all cases, the knot on the back of my head serves as a hinge point, making it easy to transition from one position to another.

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Here’s a companion video on how I tie my shemagh:

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4 Comments on "How to Tie a Shemagh, and WTF to Do With One"

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  1. BushPutin says:

    Pretty sure that these pics are going to get you investigated.

  2. Myk says:

    “Due to my beard.” haha your fuckin awesome man.

  3. Tess says:

    Hey, hope you can help me out. I’ve bought like four different scarfs..but all fakes… where can i find the real deal? The one that is 44×44 or bigger… I have been searching the web but they’re really hard to find…

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