Fabric Utility Skills
Recently, I was given a new Merino wool handkerchief from the good guys over at North x North. If you follow my exploits and travels, you know their neckerchief is something that is always with me. I’ve taken mine with me just about everywhere including the Alaskan Arctic for a hunting and fishing trip down the Sag River to the desert of Northern Mexico to film for the History Channel. I was excited to receive the newer and smaller size from NxN as sometimes a larger neckerchief isn’t needed but the smaller handkerchief utility is. It falls into a category of clothing/gear called “fabric utility”. This new acquisition got me thinking about some various ways to utilize a handkerchief or similar piece of cloth.
Whenever seeking out a handkerchief to add to your daily carry, look for one that will fit your noggin. For me, this means a minimum of 24” by 24”. When folded into a triangle, this lets me wear it covering my entire head and when rolled into a 2” strip, I can wrap my head with this headband. I also use my handkerchief to cover my neck when sleeping out in the open under the stars. Our necks are sensitive and a good handkerchief will protect you from the cool air close to the ground as well as creepy crawlies looking to make your neckline home. Depending on your environment, you may wear your handkerchief around your neck, mouth and nose, forehead or entire head. It’s really the Swiss Army Knife of apparel accessories.
My friend and former boss, Marty Simon, is a retired US Army Survival Instructor and Owner and Chief Instructor of the Wilderness Learning Center for over 20 years. If anyone knows a thing or two about preparedness, it’s him. After all, the WLC’s motto is, “Always Prepared, Prepared All-Ways”. When Marty would give his brief about daily carry, he would always pull out his handkerchief from his back pocket and refer to it as his first-aid kit. To paraphrase his message, he would joke about using his handkerchief to wipe sweat from his brow and say he would have no qualms about using it to cover a bloody wound. Remember, losing blood will kill someone long before any infection sets in. There’s a cure for infection but no cure for death. A good handkerchief can be used as a dressing and it can also be used as a tourniquet. All that is needed is some training and a turnbuckle. Once it is twisted to tension, the tied ends of the handkerchief can tie around the turnbuckle too. (FYI, as an added tip. The center body of a t-shirt is usually large enough to cut a square of cloth to fashion a tourniquet. That tip could save a life.)
If you’re still reading this blog, you probably are the type to carry more in your pockets than just a wallet, keys and cell phone. If you have a small fixed blade (I tend to pocket carry my Fiddleback Forge Pipsqueak), a lighter and other odds and ends, you will need somewhere to put them when you change into your gym shorts, get ready to jump into that mountain spring or when you are hammock camping and need to hang your stuff from the ridgeline. A handkerchief makes an excellent carry all for all your pocket-carry items. It works well as a container for collecting bark and it can be used with a stick like the iconic image of a hobo walking the tracks. I’ve used my handkerchief to pick up recently fired brass from a range, hold handfuls of berries picked in the woods, and even a few 12 ounce cans on the way to a barbecue.
A handkerchief can be used up close and personal as well as at distance. With a rock inside, the handkerchief can be used to hurl rocks in a slinging motion. With that same rock inside, the bandana can be used as a bludgeon. You’ll find running a handkerchief through a steel carabiner will create a more durable weapon than putting a rock inside. That internal weight has a tendency of ripping through the fabric. A handkerchief can also be used tied in a continuous loop like a sarong. Anyone well-versed in Filipino martial arts will speak to its potency. Ask me around a campfire and I’ll gladly give you demonstration. Just remember to tap when it hurts. Curious? Seek out my Sayoc and Atienza Kali brothers and they’ll show you more.
Ever try holding a knife with an injured hand? 0ur hands are critical links between our skill set and the tools we use. A handkerchief can be used as an improvised pot holder to protect your hands from burning. It can be used as a hand wrap when working with sharp materials or when climbing a rusty fence. Hands can be wrapped when it is cold outside and you need to protect your skin from the wind. Just because the handkerchief is meant to be worn around the neck or around the head doesn’t mean it can’t be used around a hand, or foot for the matter.
Just as you lash a handkerchief around your head, you can tie it around other objects in the same manner. A length of fabric, rolled tightly, makes an excellent emergency cordage. A handkerchief can be used to carry small bundles of wood this way. It can be used to secure a patient’s broken leg to the good leg in an anatomic splint in a backcountry wilderness first-aid scenario. A handkerchief may be all you have to keep your trunk lid shut after an off-road mishap. Maybe you have a drunk uncle who needs to be tied to a chair (yes, this works exceptionally well with some good wrapping and frapping). Don’t be afraid to use your handkerchief as a lashing, it will probably hold.
I hold up the handkerchief in the same light as a Swiss-Army Knife, WD-40, Duct Tape and Bourbon. These are all items that can be pressed into multiple roles and help you accomplish tasks otherwise considered difficult or impossible. I didn’t even mention other ways to use one such as a strainer for your water bottle, emergency patch material, signal panel, or carry strap if your shoulder strap breaks. Next time you get dressed, consider throwing a folded up handkerchief in your back pocket. You never know when you’ll need to save a life, beat someone, protect your hands or wipe your butt. That last example, BTW, is only to be resorted to in the most dire of circumstances when you run out of socks.