If you’ve seen an episode of Survivor in the last 41 seasons, you’ve seen a hiking buff. It is a long tube of thin, stretchy fabric that can be worn and used in over a dozen different ways.
Like Kleenex, buff is both a brand name as well as a product description. They can also be called tubes or neck gaiters, not to be confused with the other type of hiking gaiter.
While the bandana is a similar multifunctional item, the buff is an upgrade. Like every good base layer, breathable and moisture-wicking microfiber material dries quickly. The absence of seams or need for knots prevents skin irritation.
In my experience, bandanas feel scratchy, even when made from all cotton and after many washes. I used to wear a bandana to protect my neck from sun but would have to adjust it to cover the front or back. With a buff, I don’t have to choose.
The neck gaiter is a useful piece of hiking gear all year round, for sun protection and sweat absorption in the summer and warmth and wind blocking in the winter.
The buff can also be used as a towel or even to wrap around a minor injury. And as necessity is the mother of invention, maybe you’ll discover more ways to use a buff.
How To Wear A Buff
The most common way to wear a hiking buff is around the neck. It protects against sun, wind, cold, and can be pulled up over the nose.
The second most popular way to wear a buff is as a headband. The lightweight fabric folds into a couple inch wide headband for men and women. The headband can go under the hair at the neckline or be worn around the forehead like a sweatband. Pull the fabric out and hair can be protected.
The rest of the ways to wear a hiking buff involve a little bit of folding, twisting, or tying. That is all it takes to turn the buff into a balaclava, cap, Sahara hat, or pirate/durag style head covering.
Pull material from the back of the neck up and over the head. The material should now cover hair and go under the chin. Pinch together sides of the buff about halfway down the neck and pull it up over the mouth as a balaclava.
Turn the gaiter inside out and twist it in the middle. Flip it right side out again you have a two-layer beanie.
With the buff inside out, place a hand inside at the edge and push it against the forehead. Now, grabbing from the other end of the fabric, pull it up and over the head. You’ll be left with a cap and tails the cover the neck.
For a similar look to the Sahara with less neck coverage. Put both hands through the buff and grab the left side with the right hand, and the right side with the left hand. Arms should be crossed inside the tube. Pull both ends to uncross the arms and the buff will knot in the middle. Pull one side over the head as a cap and the rest will hang loose at the back.
More ways to use a buff are pulling up the back to cover the neck, wrapping it around the wrist, or under a hat or helmet.
How To Pick A Buff For Hiking
There are some cool colors, patterns, and designs out there but the variety of buffs also extends to materials. There are versions for hot weather, cold weather, wind, and more.
Neck Gaiters For Hot Weather
Blackstrap doesn’t make as many different neck gaiters as Buff but the ones they do make are top quality. The warm weather tube is a similar lightweight, stretchy, breathable, and cooling neck gaiter that blocks the sun and wind. What sets it apart is softer, thicker fabric that is milled in the USA, stitched as opposed to cut edges, and 78 colorful designs. Washing only makes the fabric softer, never pilled.
Like any good base layer, the recycled microfiber dries quickly and wicks moisture. It also provides UPF 50+ sun protection. The insect shield blocks most insects but isn’t enough to deter the most motivated black flies or mosquitoes.
What sets this neck gaiter apart from the rest is an elastic secured by a toggle that ensures that one size really does fit all and 39 different colors and pattern combinations.
For really hot weather, this gaiter is made of proprietary performance fabric with cooling technology. How does it work? The material absorbs moisture and perspiration into the fabric core where radiator-like fibers circulate water and regulate evaporation for an extended cooling effect. It works with your sweat but is even better dipped in water. Just wet it, wring it out, and snap it.
All-Weather Neck Gaiter
Natural fibers excel in a spectrum of weather, from warm to cool anyway. You’ll want a different buff for hiking in the hottest heat than the coldest wind but for almost everything in-between, a light- to mid-weight wool buff has got you covered.
This Merino neck gaiter works in all conditions from sun to snow.
Also made of 100% Australian Merino wool, this is a quality buff for a lower price. It is super elastic, soft, warm, and prevents abrasions. The face scarf can be managed easily with a machine wash and dryer.
Cold Weather Neck Gaiters
This version adds 9″ of PolarTec fleece to the usual buff. The fleece keeps out cold, wind, and snow while the rest of the material can be used to protect the face, head, or both. Similar to the Polar Buff, this version adds a length of Gore Windstopper fabric to the buff. Buff Windproof Multifunctional Headwear It works so well, it can be for motorcycle riding.
BlackStrap is a competitor to Buff at a similar price point. What sets the brand apart is a made in the USA product with exceptional fabric. The dual-layer tube includes tri-blend material and soft touch Apex thermal liner for maximum warmth. The fabric doesn’t just stretch, breathe, warm, and wick away moisture – it is also lens safe and machine/dryer friendly. Finally, the stitched edges add a color contrast to most of the 16 patterns and a finished look.
Designed for cold weather, the Phasic AR fabric wicks moisture, dries quickly, and resists odors. The soft double knit is peached (brushed for softness like the outside of a peach) on the inside for comfort and warmth. This gaiter fits larger than some brands so be sure to try it on.
Lastly, buffs are useful for any outdoor activity – biking, skiing, fishing, paddle boarding, boating, hunting, camping or whatever else you like to get up to out there.