Great Gear: The Neckerchief

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Today a minion discusses a favorite piece of gear–let us know what yours is in the comments (no woobies, that’s assumed!) Mad Duo

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Great Gear: The Neckerchief 

Dave Merrill

My favorite piece of gear isn’t complicated, high tech, or sexy.

Hell, it’s not even expensive or ironically fashionable. No, it’s not a shemagh (remember that part about hipster fashion?) it’s a neckerchief. Yes, you read that right. Now before you get PTSD flashbacks to your time in the Cub Scouts, allow me to give the complete name:

Neckerchief, Man’s, Cotton, knitted. NSN# 8440-01-148-4549.

While I suppose you could put a slide on it (or cobble a Turk’s head knot like the cool kids), unlike at Boy Scout meetings it’s not a requirement.

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Where did it come from? The source of 95% of undergraduate term papers, Wikipedia, has this entry:

The Scouting movement makes the neckerchief part of its uniform. A generally ceremonial item, the neckerchief is taught to be a practical wilderness item in the Scouting tradition. The neckerchief, unrolled, is designed to be the perfect size for use as a triangular bandage for first aid.

The origin of the Scouting neckerchief seems to be in Robert Baden-Powell’s participation in the Second Matabele War in 1896, where he worked with Frederick Russell Burnham, an American-born scout employed by the British Army. Baden-Powell copied Burnham’s practical style of dress, including “a grey-coloured handkerchief, loosely tied around the neck to prevent sunburn”. When Baden-Powell launched the Scout Movement with the book Scouting for Boys in 1908, he prescribed a neckerchief or scarf as part of the Scout uniform, which he stated was “very like the uniform worn by my men when I commanded the South African Constabulary”.

The neckerchief started as practical outdoors wear (think cowboys, though it surely predates the American West), then military wear, was transformed into ceremonial wear, and then found new life as practical military wear again. Though widely called a, ‘Desert Storm Scarf’ because that’s where it saw widespread use, it actually gained an NSN back in 1983.

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It’s not Coyote or Flat Dark Earth or Desert Sand or Burnt Bronze; instead, it’s plain old brown (actually US Army Brown #436) just like the old issued Army undershirts. Also like the undershirts, it’s dull and boring knit cotton. Shit, it’s literally an undershirt shaped like a 24×72” rectangle.

I should say “apparently” 72” long. I’m comparing three of them right now, and while they’re two feet wide, they’re only around 62” long. We can account for some shrinkage but 10” seems like pushing it. Regardless, a precision-fit uniform item it ain’t.

My introduction to the practical neckerchief (which henceforth shall be known as the ‘Desert Scarf’) was at a surplus store more than an hour off base. There was a huge box of them for only a few bucks each. I hated our hot, terrible, issued neck gaiter so I thought I’d give one a shot.

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Hernandez and Merrill hunting dinosaurs

I ended up liking it quite a bit. One day while espousing the excellence that is the Desert Scarf, a civilian friend asked me where I got it. I told him and the next day he had the entire bigassed box in the back of his truck. His uncle owned that store and graciously donated the entire load to my unit.

While the Desert Scarf had been recently issued to soldiers in the Army (my wife received one before her last Iraq deployment) and Air Force, I’d never seen one in the Marine Corps at the time. But a whole lot of us in my unit had several.

Just like the original Boy Scout neckerchief, the Desert Scarf has nearly endless uses. If you can do it with a bandanna or cravat dressing, chances are you can do it with a Desert Scarf just as well. Mine have seen use:

  • sun guard for neck
  • makeshift dust mask
  • towel
  • sweat rag
  • handkerchief
  • napkin
  • preventing sling burn
  • weapon cleaning rag
  • blindfold
  • lens cleaner
  • washcloth
  • blanket
  • ghetto water cooler (get the Desert Scarf wet, wrap it around a bottle and spin it around; the evaporation of the water chills the bottle).

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You can use it to filter debris from water before purification, as a bandage, cut it into bore patches or toilet paper, and on and on. You can spend quite a bit of time Googling other uses if you desire.

Now, you may be asking, “why not just use a shemagh?” and I’ll give you an answer: it packs down tighter than most shemaghs (around the size of a baseball without even trying), it’s lighter weight, doesn’t hold water as long so it dries faster, and is cheap as hell. For normal wear, I’d usually put it behind my neck and then tuck the tails down behind my gear.

When more material is needed, simply pull more out. Stupid Easy.

If you want to try one out for yourself, I found a few sources online (like here). And if you keep your eyes peeled, you might spot a bigassed box in a surplus store.

Much like the vaunted Vertx shirt, I wear this too much. You can tell the pictures span several years, as gear and my beard fluctuates considerably.

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-DFM


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About the Author: A combat veteran of the United States Marine Corps, Dave “Mad Duo Merrill” is a former urban warfare and foreign weapons instructor for Coalition fighting men. An occasional competitive shooter, he has a strange Kalashnikov fetish the rest of the minions try to ignore. Merrill, who has superb taste in hats, has been published in a number of places, the most awesome of which is, of course, here at Breach-Bang-Clear. He loves tacos, is kind of a dick and married way, way above his pay grade. You can contact him at Merrill(at)BreachBangClear.com and follow him on Instagram here (@dave_fm).

Ammunition sales and specials at Palmetto State Armory
Save $$$. Support Breach-Bang-Clear with your purchase.

DFM

Emeritus Dave Merrill wrote for Breach-Bang-Clear from late 2013 until early 2017, including a year as its Managing Editor. He departed our ranks in May of 2017 to accept a well-deserved position as social media manager for RECOIL Magazine. He is a combat veteran of the Marine Corps who describes himself as a "...former urban warfare and foreign weapons instructor for Coalition fighting men." Merrill's articles are well worth the time it takes to read them - there's a lot of knowledge tucked away in that skull.


DFM has 82 posts and counting. See all posts by DFM

6 thoughts on “Great Gear: The Neckerchief

  • June 18, 2015 at 10:28 pm
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    You know ebay has them for 7 bucks including shipping. Picked one up after reading this actually.

    Reply
  • June 11, 2015 at 11:59 pm
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    Got mine issued in ’07. Love the hell out of the thing. Lost it somewhere between then and now. Bought a shemagh to replace it. Just isn’t the same…

    Reply
  • June 10, 2015 at 9:10 am
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    I loved my Shemagh but haven’t taken it out of my gear box in years since the damn Hipsters stole the concept. I guess I would rather be sweaty, gritty and sunburned than be accused of being a Hipster.

    Reply
  • June 10, 2015 at 7:51 am
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    I always said the shemagh was just the Arab form of a neckerchief…maybe the American clothing item will get a comeback after all

    Reply
  • June 9, 2015 at 7:29 pm
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    Solid write up. Very interesting. My most useful and favorite piece of gear is my mesh and cotton full brim hat from Mtn Haedwear. $20 and I have used it as a water filter, bellow, kindling carrier (it has a draw string) and as a….hat. It has a plurality of uses and I can not even remember what color it is due to sun fade. It started life a a purplish-gray.

    Reply
  • June 9, 2015 at 6:19 pm
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    Canteen cup… Or poncho liner, its a toss up

    Reply

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