What is a Hiking Buff: Core Multi-Use Gear to a Backpacker

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When you are new to hiking you may have never heard the term “buff” before other than in reference to strength. What is a hiking buff you may wonder? A hiking buff is a specialized part of most hiker gear as it is able to be used in a variety of ways while out on the trail and away from civilization.

What is a hiking buff? A hiking buff is just a tube of lightweight, stretchy breathable and moisture-wicking microfiber. They can be very useful in many situations you find on the trail. Hiking buffs are very thin which allows them to be worn like a hat for extra warmth in the cold mornings. When worn around your neck it can provide a comfortable semi-scarf that helps keep your temperature up.

Now that we have a base understanding of what the buff is, let’s look into the many ways it can be used. This can help you understand in much more detail how you can use a buff along with how it can be beneficial to have in your hiking gear.

What Is a Hiking Buff Typically Used For?

A hiking buff is used by backpackers and hikers for many purposes, from covering eyes during bright times to keeping a wound bandaged to keep it clean.

A hiking buff is a multipurpose tool and can be used for many different purposes making it an excellent backpacking item to take with you as you should preferentially look to find multipurpose gear, this means it does more than one thing.

All of the below are all able to be achieved without the need for a sling, complex knot, or any additional tying aid.

Eye Mask

A quite frequent use for people is to cover your eyes when sleeping, especially if you are in a high light environment which makes it difficult to sleep.


Another use that many don’t appreciate until out on the trail is to get the buff wet and use it to clean or wipe off your face, giving you that clean feeling can make your day!


This is a use that just makes sense, using the buff to help wash and clean yourself while away from showers will help keep you clean and also keep you from stinking up the area!


This can be very helpful when it is cold outside to cover your nose and mouth allowing you to breathe without issue while protecting those areas which can’t deal with weather well. This also helps keep your body heat within and lessens the overall loss of heat through skin contact with the air.


Sometimes you get an injury on your hike that cant be managed by just a small bandaid or other first aid equipment, this is when a buff can be a lifesaver as you can use it to help bandage a larger wound until you can get it properly treated.

What Are Additional Benefits to a Hiking Buff?

When looking at whether a hiking buff is right for you and your gear loadout you have many factors you can look at to influence your decision. A buff is typically attached to you meaning it can be less prone to theft, can help you carry less equipment and even more.

Less Likely To Be Lost or Stolen

Since you typically carry a buff on your body the buff tends to be hard to misplace or lose while on the trail. One of the most frequent issues on the trail is stopping to take a break or eat some grub and then leaving stuff at the stop. This means you need to either chalk it up as a loss or you would need to hike back and pick it up, causing you delays in getting to your next camp spot.

No Need to Knot

When you need to knot a bandana or other fabric around as the knots over time cause discomfort and more issues like hot spots or consistent irritation leading to physical impairment.

Fewer Items To Carry

The buff can take the place of many items you would normally have to carry with you on a backpacking trip. Instead of needing to carry a scarf, hat, or even a towel your buff can accomplish multiple things for you allowing you to carry less overall gear.

Multi-Use Functionality

From looking online there appears to be at a minimum 12 different ways to wear a buff. Some of the most popular uses reported by hikers include a hat, headband, neck gaiter, balaclava, sun, wind or dust screen, bandana, helmet liner, scarf, pirate-style cap, and hairband.

How To Wear Your Buff

How Should You Clean A Buff?

While most are listed as machine wash friendly, take the time to ensure this is true on your purchase. Taking time to properly take care of your buff will extend the lifespan of the buff. Most will recommend you to hand wash and air dry as the material will dry out very fast due to the fabric used and the thinness of the fabric.

Final Thoughts on What is a Hiking Buff

When choosing the gear to take with you on hikes, whether this is a day, section or thru-hike, finding the proper multi-purpose gear to help limit your weight is vitally important. This is when a buff fills in multiple needs and makes it a near-perfect item to add into your backpack.

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