Olivia Round

Bandanas are a Cyclist's Best Friend

Mar 10, 2020

There’s no need for applause or fanfare: the bandana is a modest accessory. A humble servant. A beacon of hope, with seemingly limitless possibilities for utility and function housed within that unassuming square of thin cotton fabric. Will you be in need of a napkin, a tourniquet, a washcloth, or an eye mask? Or perhaps your fancy camp towel is in the washing machine and you’re desperate for a shower? A bandana (or three) can come to the rescue.

When I’m gearing up for a bicycle tour, I always pack two bandanas. Why two, you ask? Because bandanas are so dang versatile. I use one as a hanky (or a “snot rag,” as my mom so aptly calls it), and another to wear around my neck or use as a headband. And, obviously, I’m not going to use just one bandana for all those purposes: that’s how you get boogers in your hair. (On that note, I recommend that the two bandanas be different colors. To avoid the mix-up.)

Olivia Round sports a bandana in several fashions
Napkin? Washcloth? The humble bandana does it all.
Olivia Round

I realize there are a dozen brands of fancy camp towels and moisture-wicking, state-of-the-art headbands available, but can your camp towel or headband do all the things listed below, at any given moment? If not, consider inviting the lowly cotton bandana on your next bicycle adventure.

10 Tried-and-True Uses for Bandanas on a Bike Tour

1. Napkin

For those polite side-of-the-road lunches.

2. Washcloth

Sometimes a good scrub is just what the doctor ordered.

3. Headband

Way better than the '90s plastic, scratchy things. This one blocks sweat from the eyes, hair wispies from the mouth, and whatever else might get in the way.

4. Head covering

This is an excellent way to conceal your helmet hair until you can get to a shower.

5. Towel

The word “towel” is a bit optimistic to describe the experience of drying your entire body with one bandana. But in a pinch, it’ll work to remove most of the moisture from your skin/hair!

Ways to wear a bandana for bicycle touring
Bandanas are the ultimate utilitarian neck and head coverings.
Olivia Round

6. Eye mask/blindfold

Some campgrounds are brightly lit, and those lights can sear right through the thin walls of your tent and make it hard to sleep. Also, if you’d like to catch some extra z’s on a rest day, an eye mask can help you relax enough for a daytime nap.

7. Hanky

In my experience, wrestling a flimsy paper tissue from a travel pack in the middle of a rainstorm is tricky. A pocket hanky is so much easier to access for a quick sneeze.

8. Balaclava

While riding in hot, windy areas, you can cover your nose and mouth to avoid inhaling a bunch of dust or blowing sand every time you take a breath.

9. Neckerchief

You'll resemble a Boy Scout, but keeping the back of your neck covered from the sun could spare you future skin cancer. Also, wetting the bandana provides a lovely cooling effect for staying comfy in hot climates.

10. Tiny purse

Tying the corners together can help contain small items in your pannier if you run out of zippered pouches.

Now, if you do make the rookie mistake of confusing your snot-rag bandana with your headband bandana, don’t fret: there’s a chance that mucus is really nourishing for your hair, and you’ve just stumbled upon a DIY beauty secret. At least, that’s what I told myself the first (and only, I swear) time it happened to me.

Did I miss any major uses for bandanas? What’s your go-to problem solver for a bicycle tour? Tell us in the comments below!


Related Reading


John March 18, 2021, 12:58 PM


As a backup for your pour-over coffee strainer.

A light diffuser, for your basic flashlight that doesn't have dimming function or red lens, while tenting.

Allen Mankin July 2, 2020, 11:45 AM

Use the bandana to prefilter debis from the water before using your water filter. It will help prevent your filter from clogging up too fast.

Dylan May 20, 2020, 7:20 PM

Nice info on all the bandana uses! I was just writing a post of my own about how a bandana can be used as a face covering amid coronavirus (https://biketoeverything.com/2020/05/17/the-best-face-mask-for-biking-exercising-around-coronavirus/), and I found this in my research. Good stuff.

Duncan March 25, 2020, 11:39 PM

I think I was 11 when I learned the true name for what you all are referring to as a "bandana". At summer camp that year, I was introduced to the "AP" which is short for "All Purpose". I've kept an AP in my back pocket ever since, and used it for all the purposes mentioned above and more, some I won't mention here! I carry more than three on a trip, but I've never learned how to pack light either. I also like a little bigger and a little heavier fabric for my AP's as it just extends their usefulness that much more. Thanks for a nice homage to a humble but indispensable accoutrement!

Kate March 13, 2020, 1:39 PM

Pee rag. I use darker coloured ones and keep it tied to the outside of my panniers to dry between wipes and rinse/wash it every night..Same deal when hiking/backpacking/XC skiing...

Linda Gryczan March 11, 2020, 6:32 PM

I also carry two bandanas, though I like then a bit larger than standard issue, so I sew my own from cotton quilting fabric.

I keep one wrapped around my spork for all food and cooking tasks. The second shelters my neck from the sun, and is for everything else--towel, dust mask, pre water filter, ice-on-the-back-of-the-neckerchief.

I cut up a 3rd bandana and velcroed it inside my helmet to protect my noggin from the sun.

Keith March 11, 2020, 4:30 PM

On a super hot day:

* Lay a bandana on a flat surface,

* Pile some crushed ice along the diagonal.

* Fold the bandana along the diagonal, then roll it up.

* Tie it around your neck.

Keeping the ice near the large vessels in your neck will noticeably reduce your core temperature if you're overheating.

Also: As the ice melts the water will drip down your torso, which also helps.

Richard March 11, 2020, 2:04 PM

Yes! A bandana is one of my "helmet stuffers" - gloves, head sweat, and bandana. One step in attiring for a ride is to tie a bandana loosely around my wrist, using two adjacent corners and a square knot, then tucking the rest into that wrist loop. My bandana is always "at hand" for deployment with a tug of the teeth. Or use on freezing descents, for farm machine dust clouds, as bandage ties (torn in half), for leverage on stubborn skewer handles, as hot pan holders... the list goes on. Take three!

Log in to post a comment

Forgot Password?

Enter your email address and we'll send you an email that will allow you to reset it. If you no longer have access to the email address call our memberships department at (800) 755-2453 or email us at memberships@adventurecycling.org.

Not Registered? Create Account Now.