It was on my first backpacking trip a handful of years ago that I first packed a Buff. I had never heard of a Buff before that trip, but my hiking partner suggested I buy one before heading into the southern Adirondacks. During our autumn weekend trip, my new lightweight Merino Buff served a multitude of purposes. It was the ideal neck gaiter while moving on trail and sitting in camp. When my head got cold, I twisted it, folded it in on itself, and wore it as a beanie. At night, I packed a layer into it, tied both ends, and used it as a camp pillow.

Looking back, I realize how lucky I was to score a piece of gear that can be used in over 12 different ways, including as a bandana, facemask, and hood.

Hiking with a Buff
Credit: Tim Peck

I was also left to wonder why everyone wasn’t talking about Buffs. The neck gaiter has long been a staple of outdoor recreators. And the colorful, multi-purpose accessory has been a primetime television star, helping to distinguish different tribes on the show Survivor. It’s easy to comprehend the versatility of a Buff after seeing how people living in Fiji can use one for sun protection, clothing, and everything in between.

With different models designed for specific conditions, a trusted Buff has been by my side since that first backpacking trip. During early summer weekend trips in the Adirondacks, it was common for two Buffs to accompany me on the trail: the CoolNet UV and Insect Shield.

Lightweight, breathable, and featuring UPF 50 sun protection, the CoolNet UV is what I reach for when the breeze is howling, but the sun is beating down—it makes a great gaiter and headband. It’s also perfect for simply wiping sweat away from my face. Using HeiQ cooling technology, it’s designed to keep you cooler the warmer your body gets. I pair my CoolNet UV Buff with an Insect Shield Buff—it’s treated with an odorless repellent that lasts up to 70 washes and is a must-carry when it’s bug season in the ’Dacks.

UV Buff
Credit: Tim Peck

My first lightweight Merino model was a frequent companion on some of my earliest winter trips and provided an alternative to investing in a face covering or balaclava. Since then, I’ve added a Polar Buff to my kit. It features a breathable, stretchy upper portion that wraps and a neck area made from PrimaLoft Bio fleece. Warm and comfortable like other fleeces, PrimaLoft Bio is a mostly biodegradable material, which helps keep microplastics out of our oceans, landfills, and waterways. Like other Buffs, when the Polar becomes too warm, it’s easy to take off or move around to a new position, thanks to its adaptability and flexible materials.

While I’ve enjoyed a Buff for all types of hiking, they were originally founded in 1992 with motorcyclists in mind. Buff’s founder, Joan Rojas, designed them to provide protection and warmth while touring the roads of Catalonia, Spain. While the Buff was born in Barcelona, it’s expanded over its more than three decades of existence; today, Buff products are present in over 70 countries.

Keeping with Rojas’ original mission of protecting against the sun, wind, and cold, Buffs are available in a variety of different materials and treatments—as mentioned above, guarding against frigid winter winds, biting bugs, and the beating sun. They’ve also partnered with companies like PrimaLoft and HeiQ to deliver earth-friendly and efficient products. Buffs walk a tightrope of being a jack of all trades and a master of one. In the right season, a single buff can do the job of two, three, four, or more pieces of gear.

Skiing with a neck gaiter
Credit: Tim Peck

Since my first backpacking trip, I’ve continued to find new ways to use Buffs and new models. I most recently added a ThermoNet Buff—intended for high-output activities in cold and windy conditions—to my collection after seeing one at a local outfitter. There are also Buffs available for those with four-legged hiking buddies.

Although I love to treat my gear collection to new Buffs, the truth is, whether rain or shine, wind or snow, my ol’ reliable lightweight charcoal gray Merino wool Buff serves me just fine.