The 5 Best Backpacking Towels (2021): I Bought & Tested Them All

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For this review, I bought and tested these 5 best backpacking towels:

  1. Matador NanoDry Shower Towel;
  2. Matador NanoDry Trek Towel;
  3. PackTowl UltraLite;
  4. Sea to Summit AirLite Towel; and
  5. Sea to Summit Pocket Towel.
Me holding all 5 backpacking towels. From left to right: Sea to Summit AirLite Towel, Matador NanoDry Trek Towel, Matador NanoDry Shower Towel, Sea to Summit Pocket Towel, and PackTowl UltraLite.
Me holding all 5 backpacking towels. From left to right: Sea to Summit AirLite Towel, Matador NanoDry Trek Towel, Matador NanoDry Shower Towel, Sea to Summit Pocket Towel, and PackTowl UltraLite.

Summary

Here are all the backpacking towels that I tested and recommend:

Towel Recommendation Score  Price
BEST OVERALL
Matador NanoDry (Shower)
  • Weight: 2.4oz
  • Fastest drying
  • Antimicrobial
8.6
8.6 / 10
MOST COMFORTABLE
PackTowl UltraLite
  • Weight: 3.2oz
  • Velvety soft
  • Super absorbent
8.5
8.5 / 10
SUPER MINIMAL
Matador NanoDry (Trek)
  • Weight: 0.6oz
  • Face towel
8.2
8.2 / 10

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All the backpacking towels that I bought and tested:

Backpacking TowelFull ReviewCheck Price
Matador (Shower)Read ReviewAmazon, REI, Moosejaw, Backcountry
PackTowl UltraLiteRead Review Amazon, Moosejaw, Backcountry
Matador (Trek)Read Review Amazon, Moosejaw, Backcountry
Sea to Summit AirLiteRead Review Amazon, Moosejaw
Sea to Summit PocketRead Review Amazon, Moosejaw, Backcountry
From left to right: Sea to Summit Pocket Towel, PackTowl UltraLite, Sea to Summit AirLite Towel, Matador NanoDry Shower Towel, and Matador NanoDry Trek Towel.
From left to right: Sea to Summit Pocket Towel, PackTowl UltraLite, Sea to Summit AirLite Towel, Matador NanoDry Shower Towel, and Matador NanoDry Trek Towel.

*These are my measured specifications of the 5 best backpacking towels, and may differ from the brand’s marketed specifications.

 Towel Dimensions Towel Weight Pouch Weight Packed Size Blend Made in? Hanging loop? Storage pouch?
Matador NanoDry (Shower) 46 x 23.5 in
2.4 oz 2.6 oz 5 x 3 x 2 in
 85/15  China  Yes  Yes
PackTowl UltraLite 54 x 23.5 in  3.2 oz  N.A. 7 x 2.5 x 2 in  70/30  U.S.  Yes  No
Matador NanoDry (Trek) 15 x 14.75 in  0.56 oz  0.6 oz 2.5 x 1.75 x 1.25 in  85/15  China  Yes  Yes
Sea to Summit AirLite 51 x 20.25 in  2.4 oz  0.14 oz 4 x 2.5 x 2.25 in  85/15  China  No  Yes
Sea to Summit Pocket 46 x 22.5 in  4.1 oz  0.9 oz 6 x 3 x 2 in  100/0  China  Yes  Yes

I spent over $130 buying, and 3 months testing and reviewing these 5 backpacking towels.

Over 3 months, I used these backpacking towels every single day while camping as well as at home. To test them, I dried them both indoors and outdoors, dipped them in seawater, dragged them along grass, dirt and sand, amongst other things. After all that, here’s how I scored each of the 5 backpacking towels (10 is the best, 1 is the worst).

Backpacking TowelOverall Rating
Matador (Shower)8.6
PackTowl UltraLite8.5
Matador (Trek)8.2
Sea to Summit AirLite7.9
Sea to Summit Pocket7.6
Cotton (Control)5.8

Top Picks

Which backpacking towels are in my Top Picks?

Best Overall: Matador NanoDry Shower Towel

Me holding the Matador NanoDry Shower Towel.
6
Absorbency
9.4
Wringing
10
Drying
10
Odor
10
Grass
9
Sand
10
Portability
4
Comfort
8.9
Quality
Overall Score 8.6 / 10

Key Info

  • Absorbency: 2.2x
  • Drying: Dries 100% faster than cotton
  • Odor Resistance: Antimicrobial coating
  • Weight: 2.4oz / 68g

Pros and Cons

Most lightweight
Fastest drying
No odors at all
High quality
Thin and not the most comfy
Pouch is heavy (2.65oz)

Summary

The Matador NanoDry Shower Towel is a gem of a backpacking towel. It’s made of nanofiber, making it weigh 5x less than my regular cotton towel, and pack down 10x smaller. It’s also the lightest of all my backpacking shower towels, it dries faster than any other towel that I have, it never has a smell, and no grass, dirt or sand ever sticks to it. On top of all that, the quality is superb.

The primary drawback is that it’s very thin, and not the most comfortable. Also, the storage pouch really packs on the ounces, weighing slightly more than the towel itself. However, minus the storage pouch, the Matador NanoDry is an absolute steal for backpackers who want the best performing towel out there.

Where to buy?

Amazon
REI Co-Op
Moosejaw
Backcountry

Need more info?

Want to read the complete review of the Matador NanoDry Shower Towel? Includes unboxing, full specs, features and YouTube video.

Most Absorbent and Most Comfortable: PackTowl UltraLite

Holding the PackTowl UltraLite Towel
Me holding the PackTowl UltraLite.
7.8
Absorbency
9.2
Wringing
9
Drying
9.7
Odor
9
Grass
8
Sand
9
Portability
6.5
Comfort
8.7
Quality
Overall Score 8.5 / 10

Key Info

  • Absorbency: 4.4x
  • Drying: Dries 82% faster than cotton
  • Odor Resistance: No antimicrobial coating
  • Weight: 3.2oz / 90g

Pros and Cons

Most absorbent
Most comfortable
High quality
Not the most lightweight
Does not come with storage pouch

Summary

The PackTowl UltraLite is a lightweight backpacking towel that’s full of surprises. Boasting an absorbency of 4.4x (much higher than even my cotton towel’s!), it’s super absorbent and incredibly easy to dry off with. It’s also the softest, thickest and least sticky of all my backpacking towels, and the only one that is the perfect size for a shower towel.

However, this additional comfort and absorbency comes with a slightly heavier weight. At 3.2 ounces, the PackTowl UltraLite isn’t the lightest backpacking towel around. However, I think that this is a small price to pay, and the PackTowl UltraLite is still the obvious choice for backpackers who prioritize a little more comfort and absorbency.

Where to buy?

Amazon
Moosejaw
Backcountry

Need more info?

Want to read the complete review of the PackTowl UltraLite? Includes unboxing, full specs, features and YouTube video.

Super Minimal: Matador NanoDry Trek Towel

Me holding the Matador NanoDry Trek Towel
Me holding the Matador NanoDry Trek Towel.
4.3
Absorbency
9.6
Wringing
0
Drying
10
Odor
10
Grass
9
Sand
10
Portability
3.5
Comfort
8.9
Quality
Overall Score 8.2 / 10

Key Info

  • Absorbency: 2.5x
  • Odor Resistance: Gold-coat antimicrobial coating
  • Weight: 0.6oz / 16g

Pros and Cons

Size of a lip balm
Dries super quickly after wringing
No odors at all
High quality
Much smaller than shower size

Summary

The Matador NanoDry Trek Towel is the tiny counterpart to the Matador NanoDry Shower Towel that we discussed above. This is a face towel, not a shower towel. This small size gives the Trek Towel its negligible weight of 0.6 ounces and its packed size that’s not much bigger than a lip balm. I hardly even notice that it’s there when I carry it around.

However, because it’s so small, I need to wring it out once or twice while drying off after a shower. If you don’t mind doing this, the Trek Towel could be a possible option as your shower towel if you need to cut as many ounces as possible.

Where to buy?

Amazon
Moosejaw
Backcountry

Need more info?

Want to read the complete review of the Matador NanoDry Trek Towel? Includes unboxing, full specs, features and YouTube video.

The Other Towels I Tested

These are the backpacking towels that didn’t really impress me, but you can still read on to find out more.

Sea to Summit AirLite Towel

Me holding the Sea to Summit AirLite Towel
Me holding the Sea to Summit AirLite Towel.
6
Absorbency
9.4
Wringing
9
Drying
9.7
Odor
9
Grass
9
Sand
10
Portability
4
Comfort
5.2
Quality
Overall Score 7.9 / 10

Key Info

  • Absorbency: 2.2x
  • Drying: Dries 82% faster than cotton
  • Odor Resistance: Antimicrobial odor protection
  • Weight: 2.4oz / 69g

Pros and Cons

Towel is lightweight (2.4oz)
Pouch is lightweight (0.1oz)
Quality is not the best
Thin and not the most comfy

Summary

The Sea to Summit AirLite towel reminds me a lot of the Matador NanoDry Shower Towel (which is my “Best Overall” Top Pick), because both towels are almost identical in material, absorbency, comfort and even weight (with just a 0.04-ounce difference!).

However, the Sea to Summit AirLite towel is inferior to the Matador NanoDry Towel in all other aspects – it dries more slowly, picks up more odors, and is less dirt repellent. And the biggest flaw of all is that the AirLite towel’s quality isn’t the best. There are signs of fraying on the edges, and it also lost 1.4% of its original material after just 2-3 months of light usage.

In all fairness though, you do pay significantly less for the Sea to Summit AirLite towel than the Matador NanoDry Towel. So, if you’re on a really tight budget, you could consider the AirLite Towel.

Where to buy?

Amazon
Moosejaw

Need more info?

Want to read the complete review of the Sea to Summit AirLite Towel? Includes unboxing, full specs, features and YouTube video.

Sea to Summit Pocket Towel

Me holding the Sea to Summit Pocket Towel
Me holding the Sea to Summit Pocket Towel.
6.3
Absorbency
8.2
Wringing
8
Drying
9
Odor
9
Grass
8
Sand
9
Portability
4.5
Comfort
6.8
Quality
Overall Score 7.6 / 10

Key Info

  • Absorbency: 3.0x
  • Drying: Dries 48% faster than cotton
  • Odor Resistance: No antimicrobial finish
  • Weight: 4.1oz / 115g

Pros and Cons

Silky soft
Very sticky
Heaviest
Slowest drying
Quality is not the best

Summary

The Sea to Summit Pocket Towel is outstanding in only one feature – it’s incredibly silky soft, and I really love the way it feels.

However, there’s nothing else that’s really great about it, and it has some pretty massive flaws compared to the other backpacking towels that I bought and tested here – it’s my stickiest, heaviest and slowest-drying backpacking towel, and the quality isn’t the best with loose stitching and slight material loss after 2-3 months of light usage.

Because there are so many better options above, I’m unfortunately unable to recommend the Sea to Summit Pocket Towel as a good backpacking towel.

Where to buy?

Amazon
Moosejaw
Backcountry

Need more info?

Want to read the complete review of the Sea to Summit Pocket Towel? Includes unboxing, full specs, features and YouTube video.

Recommendation Summary

Here’s a summary of all the backpacking towels that I bought and tested:

Top Picks:

The Others:

If you’d like to compare how each of the 5 best backpacking towels performed in each test, here’s a cool graphic where you can do so:

All the test scores of all the backpacking towels.
All the test scores of all the backpacking towels.

For more information on how I tested each backpacking towel and came up with these scores, I’ll explain all of it in detail in the next section.

Performance and Test Results

I put each backpacking towel through these 9 different tests:

  1. Absorbency
  2. Wringing
  3. Drying
  4. Odor Resistance
  5. Dirt Repellence
  6. Sand Repellence
  7. Portability
  8. Comfort
  9. Quality

At the end of all the tests, I compiled all the data and came to a decision in the Overall Performance section.

Sizing and Dimensions

Before we go into the tests, I just want to write a quick note here on the sizing of each of the 5 backpacking towels that I tested.

The PackTowl UltraLite, the Sea to Summit Pocket Towel, the Sea to Summit AirLite Towel and the Matador NanoDry Shower Towel are all shower-sized towels. However, the Matador NanoDry Trek Towel is a face towel, which is much smaller.

From left to right: Sea to Summit Pocket Towel, PackTowl UltraLite, Sea to Summit AirLite Towel, Matador NanoDry Shower Towel, and Matador NanoDry Trek Towel.
From left to right: Sea to Summit Pocket Towel, PackTowl UltraLite, Sea to Summit AirLite Towel, Matador NanoDry Shower Towel, and Matador NanoDry Trek Towel.

Here are the dimensions of each towel from the smallest to largest:

TowelDimensions
Matador NanoDry (Trek) Towel15 x 14.75 inches
Sea to Summit AirLite Towel51 x 20.25 inches
Sea to Summit Pocket Towel46 x 22.5 inches
Matador NanoDry (Shower) Towel46 x 23.5 inches
PackTowl UltraLite54 x 23.5 inches

And with that out of the way, let’s get into the tests.

Absorbency

For absorbency, I measured and tested 3 different things.

  • The total amount of water the backpacking towel can absorb;
  • The backpacking towel’s absorbency ratio; and
  • How well each backpacking towel dries you off after a shower.

For the total amount of water each backpacking towel can absorb (the first point), I soaked each towel entirely in water, while measuring the amount of water in the bucket before and after soaking. Here are my findings:

TowelTotal (mL)Total (fl oz)
Cotton (Control)1,10037.2
PackTowl UltraLite40013.5
Sea to Summit Pocket35011.8
Matador NanoDry (Shower)1505.1
Sea to Summit AirLite1505.1
Matador NanoDry (Trek)401.4

All these towels are backpacking towels, so nothing even comes close to the absorbency of a regular cotton towel, but I guess that’s to be expected.

For the second point, the absorbency ratio, which you can get by dividing the total amount of water absorbed (in mL) with the weight of the backpacking towel (in grams), here are my calculations:

TowelAbsorbency Ratio
PackTowl UltraLite4.4x
Cotton (Control)3.26x
Sea to Summit Pocket3.0x
Matador NanoDry (Trek)2.5x
Matador NanoDry (Shower)2.2x
Sea to Summit AirLite2.2x

The PackTowl UltraLite is the only towel to have a higher absorbency ratio than the cotton towel, and it’s really impressive at 4.4 times.

Soaking the PackTowl UltraLite in water
Soaking the PackTowl UltraLite in water.

Third, how well does each backpacking towel dry me off after a shower? Some towels leave a thin layer of moisture on your skin, and you don’t feel completely dry, which can be unpleasant for some people.

This is really subjective, but I tried my best to come up with this list.

TowelAfter Shower Absorbency
Cotton (Control)Excellent
PackTowl UltraLiteGood!
Matador NanoDry (Shower)Good
Sea to Summit AirLiteGood
Sea to Summit PocketFair
Matador NanoDry (Trek)Fair

Again, nothing comes close to the regular cotton towel, but I was very pleasantly surprised by the absorbency of the PackTowl UltraLite. It’s the most absorbent and the easiest to towel off with, hands down.

The Matador NanoDry Shower Towel and the Sea to Summit AirLite Towel did not leave a thin layer of moisture on my skin, but it took more effort to towel off with these 2 towels than the PackTowl UltraLite, probably because of the lower absorbency.

The Sea to Summit Pocket Towel’s material left me feeling a bit damp, while the Matador NanoDry Trek Towel was really small and got soaked fast. But they are still pretty absorbent and I guess not too bad.

Drying off with the Sea to Summit Pocket Towel.
Drying off with the Sea to Summit Pocket Towel.

Based on all 3 absorbency tests above, here are the absorbency ratings (out of 10, with 10 being the most absorbent):

Backpacking TowelAbsorbency Rating
Cotton (Control)8.7
PackTowl UltraLite7.8
Sea to Summit Pocket6.3
Matador NanoDry (Shower)6.0
Sea to Summit AirLite6.0
Matador NanoDry (Trek)4.3

I was really surprised by the PackTowl UltraLite, which is easily the most absorbent of my backpacking towels. In last place, we have the Matador NanoDry Trek Towel, which scored the worst because of its small size.

Wringing

For the wringing test, I soaked each backpacking towel in water and then wringed out as much as possible. After, I weighed each towel and calculated how much water was left, in percentage.

Towel% of Water Left
PackTowl UltraLite27%
Sea to Summit Pocket35%
Matador NanoDry (Trek)38%
Sea to Summit AirLite41%
Matador NanoDry (Shower)43%
Cotton (Control)46%

All the backpacking towels are lightweight and thin, so they were much easier to wring than the cotton towel.

Wringing out the Sea to Summit AirLite Towel
Wringing out the Sea to Summit AirLite Towel.

After soaking and wringing each towel, I let them dry outdoors and indoors, to simulate conditions where you have to wash your towel and let it dry after. Here are the timings:

TowelOutdoorsIndoors
Matador NanoDry (Trek)13 minutes1 hour 30 minutes
Matador NanoDry (Shower)14 minutes1 hour 45 minutes
Sea to Summit AirLite14 minutes2 hours
PackTowl UltraLite23 minutes3 hours
Sea to Summit Pocket32 minutes4 hours 30 minutes
Cotton (Control)2 hours 15 minutes27 hours

The Matador NanoDry and the Sea to Summit AirLite towels dried the fastest, and the cotton towel was the slowest.

Drying the Matador NanoDry Trek and Shower Towels outdoors
Drying the Matador NanoDry Trek (left) and Shower (right) Towels outdoors.

Based on the wringing and drying time after wringing, I rated each backpacking towel and here are those ratings (out of 10, with 10 being the best at wringing out):

Backpacking TowelWringing Rating
Matador NanoDry (Trek)9.6
Matador NanoDry (Shwer)9.4
Sea to Summit AirLite9.4
PackTowl UltraLite9.2
Sea to Summit Pocket8.2
Cotton (Control)2.8

All the backpacking towels actually wring out pretty well and dry quite quickly, though some are better than others.

Drying

For this drying test, I measured 100mL (or 3.4 fl oz) of water to absorb with each backpacking towel, and let them dry outdoors and indoors. This is to simulate drying off after taking a shower.

Here are the timings, starting from the fastest drying:

TowelOutdoorsIndoors
Matador NanoDry (Shower)20 minutes2 hours 30 minutes
Sea to Summit AirLite22 minutes2 hours 45 minutes
PackTowl UltraLite22 minutes2 hours 45 minutes
Sea to Summit Pocket27 minutes3 hours 45 minutes
Cotton (Control)40 minutes7 hours

The Matador NanoDry Shower Towel dried slightly faster than the Sea to Summit AirLite Towel and the PackTowl UltraLite. The Sea to Summit Pocket Towel dried the slowest of all the backpacking towels, but still dried much faster than the cotton towel.

Drying the Sea to Summit Pocket Towel (left) and the PackTowl UltraLite (right) outdoors.
Drying the Sea to Summit Pocket Towel (left) and the PackTowl UltraLite (right) outdoors.

As conditions may vary when you’re doing the drying test, here’s a better representation of drying time, which is based on how fast the backpacking towel dries in comparison to a regular cotton towel. This is based on the outdoor timings above:

TowelDrying (vs. Cotton) Outdoors
Matador NanoDry (Shower)100% Faster than Cotton
Sea to Summit AirLite82% Faster than Cotton
PackTowl UltraLite82% Faster than Cotton
Sea to Summit Pocket48% Faster than Cotton

I dried all the backpacking towels in a climate with super high temperatures (about 32 degrees Celsius or 90 degrees Fahrenheit) and fairly high humidity (about 70 to 80%), and I somehow happened to dry the towels in the hottest time of year (earlier in the year).

Based on the timings above, here are the ratings (out of 10, with 10 being the fastest drying):

Backpacking TowelDrying Ratings
Matador NanoDry (Shower)10
Sea to Summit AirLite9
PackTowl UltraLite9
Sea to Summit Pocket8
Cotton (Control)4
Matador NanoDry (Trek)Not Tested

Unfortunately, I was not able to test the small Matador NanoDry Trek Towel because it cannot absorb 100mL (3.4 fluid ounces) of water. The maximum amount of water it can absorb is only 40mL (1.4 fluid ounces) of water. But I did a similar drying test for it in the full review of the Trek Towel, which you can find by clicking here.

Odor Resistance

For odor resistance, I conducted these 3 different tests.

  1. Seawater Test (4 Days);
  2. Shower Test (4 Days); and
  3. Continuous Use Test (7 Days).

The first test was to soak the backpacking towel in seawater, wring it out as best as I could and seal it in a plastic bag for 4 days. After 4 days, here’s what each towel smelled like, starting from the best:

TowelSeawater (4 Days)
Matador NanoDry (Shower)No Smell
Matador NanoDry (Trek)No Smell
PackTowl UltraLiteFaint Smell
Sea to Summit AirLiteFaint Smell
Sea to Summit PocketDamp Sea Smell
Cotton (Control)Strong Sour/Bad Food Smell

Only the Matador NanoDry towels had no smell, but the rest of the backpacking towels did not smell too bad. The cotton towel was by far the worst with a strong sour smell of food going bad.

The second test was to shower and dry off with the backpacking towel once, and then seal it in a plastic bag immediately, also for 4 days. After 4 days, here’s what each towel smelled like:

TowelShower (4 Days)
Matador NanoDry (Shower)No Smell
Matador NanoDry (Trek)No Smell
PackTowl UltraLiteNo Smell
Sea to Summit AirLiteNo Smell
Sea to Summit PocketVery Faint Smell
Cotton (Control)Heavy Musky Smell

The Matador NanoDry, PackTowl UltraLite and Sea to Summit AirLite towels had no smell. Only the Sea to Summit Pocket towel had a smell, but to be fair, it was very faint. In contrast, the cotton towel had a heavy musky smell.

The third test was to use the backpacking towel every single day for 7 days without washing it. In between uses, the towel was left on a rack indoors. Here’s the breakdown:

TowelContinuous Use (7 Days)
Matador NanoDry (Shower)No Smell
Matador NanoDry (Trek)No Smell
PackTowl UltraLiteNo Smell
Sea to Summit AirLiteNo Smell
Sea to Summit PocketNo Smell
Cotton (Control)Musky Smell

All the backpacking towels had no smell, which was great. On the other hand, the cotton towel smelled musky.

Based on all the odor tests above, here are the ratings (out of 10, with 10 being the most odor resistant):

Backpacking TowelOdor Ratings
Matador NanoDry (Shower)10.0
Matador NanoDry (Trek)10.0
PackTowl UltraLite9.7
Sea to Summit AirLite9.7
Sea to Summit Pocket9.0
Cotton (Control)4.7

All my backpacking towels actually did really well, with the Matador NanoDry towels being slightly better than the rest.

Testing the odor resistance of each backpacking towel by sealing it in plastic bags. The Matador NanoDry Towel was tested separately with the camping towel review.
Testing the odor resistance of each backpacking towel by sealing it in plastic bags. The Matador NanoDry Towel was tested separately with the camping towel review.

Whether the towels are resistant against odors depends on whether there is an antimicrobial coating on each towel. For the backpacking towels I bought, only the Matador NanoDry Shower and Trek Towels, as well as the Sea to Summit AirLite towel, had some form of antimicrobial coating or odor protection. The PackTowl UltraLite and the Sea to Summit Pocket Towel had no such protection.

Generally, with an antimicrobial coating, there should be better protection against odors. However, I was surprised to find that the Sea to Summit AirLite towel did not perform as well as the Matador NanoDry Towels, and that the PackTowl UltraLite performed as well as the Sea to Summit AirLite towel even without an antimicrobial coating.

Dirt Repellence

For this dirt repellence test, I dragged each backpacking towel along some grass and stepped on them. After, I checked each towel. If there was any grass, leaves or dirt picked up, I shook the towel to see how easily the grass or dirt will shake off.

Dragging the Sea to Summit Pocket Towel along some grass.
Dragging the Sea to Summit Pocket Towel along some grass.

Here we have the amount of dirt picked up by each towel, before and after shaking:

TowelBefore ShakingAfter Shaking
Matador NanoDry (Shower)NothingNothing
Matador NanoDry (Trek)Nothing Nothing
Sea to Summit AirLiteMinimalNothing
PackTowl UltraLiteMinimalNothing
Sea to Summit PocketMinimalNothing
Cotton (Control)MinimalMinimal

Both the Matador NanoDry Shower and Trek towels picked up nothing at all, even before shaking. The Sea to Summit AirLite Towel picked up only a couple tiny pieces of dry grass, which were easy to shake off. The PackTowl UltraLite picked up a few pieces of dry grass, which shook off easily. The Sea to Summit Pocket Towel also picked up a few specks of dirt, which shook off easily.

Dirt picked up by the Sea to Summit Pocket Towel
Dirt picked up by the Sea to Summit Pocket Towel after dragging it along some grass.

On the other hand, the cotton towel picked up a few specks of dirt, but these could not be shaken off.

Here’s how I rated the towels based on my observations (out of 10, with 10 being the most dirt repellent):

Backpacking TowelDirt Repellence Ratings
Matador NanoDry (Shower)10
Matador NanoDry (Trek)10
Sea to Summit AirLite9
PackTowl UltraLite9
Sea to Summit Pocket9
Cotton (Control)5

All the backpacking towels are very dirt repellent, because they’re very thin and flat, although some are more repellent than others. The Matador NanoDry Towels seem to have the best dirt repellence of all the backpacking towels.

Sand Repellence

For the sand repellence test, I covered each backpacking towel with sand, and then picked it up to see how much sand would stick to it. If there was sand stuck to it, I shook each towel to see whether it could be shaken off easily.

Here’s the amount of sand picked up by each towel, before and after shaking:

TowelBefore ShakingAfter Shaking
Matador NanoDry (Shower)MinimalNothing
Matador NanoDry (Trek)Minimal Nothing
Sea to Summit AirLiteMinimalNothing
Sea to Summit PocketModerateNothing
PackTowl UltraLiteModerateNothing
Cotton (Control)ModerateNothing

The Matador NanoDry and the Sea to Summit AirLite towels performed equally well, picking up only a minimal amount of sand that could be shaken off super easily. The Sea to Summit Pocket Towel and the PackTowl UltraLite picked up more sand, but the sand could be shaken off easily as well.

Sand stuck to the PackTowl UltraLite.
Sand stuck to the PackTowl UltraLite.

Here’s how I rated the towels based on my observations (out of 10, with 10 being the most sand repellent):

Backpacking TowelSand Repellence Ratings
Matador NanoDry (Shower)9
Matador NanoDry (Trek)9
Sea to Summit AirLite9
Sea to Summit Pocket8
PackTowl UltraLite8
Cotton (Control)8

Although all the backpacking towels are sand repellent, I wouldn’t recommend using them as beach towels because they’re super lightweight and will fly away easily.

Portability

For portability, I looked at the weight and the packed size of each backpacking towel, without the storage pouch.

Here’s the weight of each towel starting from the lightest, in both ounces and grams.

TowelWeight (Ounces)Weight (Grams)
Matador NanoDry (Trek)0.6oz16g
Matador NanoDry (Shower)2.4oz68g
Sea to Summit AirLite2.4oz69g
PackTowl UltraLite3.2oz90g
Sea to Summit Pocket4.1oz115g
Cotton (Control)11.9oz337g

All the backpacking towels are significantly lighter than the cotton towel. The Matador NanoDry Trek Towel is the lightest of all the backpacking towels because it’s a face towel. But even the Matador NanoDry Shower Towel is still the lightest of all the backpacking towels, although there’s only a 0.04-ounce weight difference between that and the Sea to Summit AirLite towel.

Here’s the packed size of the Sea to Summit Pocket Towel, the PackTowl UltraLite, the Sea to Summit AirLite Towel, the Matador NanoDry Shower Towel, and the Matador NanoDry Trek Towel, in comparison with the cotton towel. The first photo is the side view, and the second photo is the top view.

Side view, from left to right: Cotton towel, Sea to Summit Pocket Towel, PackTowl UltraLite, Sea to Summit AirLite Towel, Matador NanoDry Shower Towel, Matador NanoDry Trek Towel
Side view, from left to right: Cotton towel, Sea to Summit Pocket Towel, PackTowl UltraLite, Sea to Summit AirLite Towel, Matador NanoDry Shower Towel, Matador NanoDry Trek Towel
Top view, from left to right: Cotton towel, Sea to Summit Pocket Towel, PackTowl UltraLite, Sea to Summit AirLite Towel, Matador NanoDry Shower Towel, Matador NanoDry Trek Towel
Top view, from left to right: Cotton towel, Sea to Summit Pocket Towel, PackTowl UltraLite, Sea to Summit AirLite Towel, Matador NanoDry Shower Towel, Matador NanoDry Trek Towel

Based on this, here’s how I rated the towels (out of 10, with 10 being the most portable):

Backpacking TowelPortability Ratings
Matador NanoDry (Trek)10
Matador NanoDry (Shower)10
Sea to Summit AirLite10
PackTowl UltraLite9
Sea to Summit Pocket9
Cotton (Control)3

Comfort

For comfort, I looked at the softness, the thickness, and the sizing of each backpacking towel.

TowelSoftnessThicknessSizing
PackTowl UltraLiteVery softThickest54 x 23.5 in
Sea to Summit PocketVery softLess thick46 x 22.5 in
Matador NanoDry (Shower)SoftThin46 x 23.5 in
Sea to Summit AirLiteSoftThin51 x 20.25 in
Matador NanoDry (Trek)SoftThin15 x 14.75 in

For softness, the PackTowl UltraLite and the Sea to Summit Pocket Towel feel very soft and smooth against the skin. The Matador NanoDry and the Sea to Summit AirLite towels feel just a tiny bit less smooth and less soft, but honestly the difference is not that much.

As for thickness, the PackTowl UltraLite is the thickest and most comfortable of all the backpacking towels, followed by the Sea to Summit Pocket Towel. The Matador NanoDry and the Sea to Summit AirLite towels feel the thinnest.

This photo here shows that they’re all quite thin, and it may not seem like there’s a big difference in their thickness. But I personally felt that there was a huge difference in comfort between the feeling of the thin towels (like the Matador NanoDry) and the thickest one (the PackTowl UltraLite).

From top to bottom: The thickness of the PackTowl UltraLite, the Sea to Summit Pocket, the Matador NanoDry Shower, and the Sea to Summit AirLite.
From top to bottom: The thickness of the PackTowl UltraLite, the Sea to Summit Pocket, the Matador NanoDry Shower, and the Sea to Summit AirLite.

For sizing, only the PackTowl UltraLite has dimensions close to a regular shower towel. The dimensions of the Sea to Summit Pocket, Sea to Summit AirLite and the Matador NanoDry Shower towel are a bit smaller. And lastly, we have the Matador NanoDry Trek towel, which is extremely tiny.

Next, whether the backpacking towel sticks to your skin is important as well, and here’s my opinion on the stickiness of each towel:

TowelStickiness
PackTowl UltraLiteLeast sticky
Matador NanoDry (Shower)Quite sticky
Matador NanoDry (Trek)Quite sticky
Sea to Summit AirLiteQuite sticky
Sea to Summit PocketVery sticky

The PackTowl UltraLite is a bit sticky, but is the least sticky of all the backpacking towels. On the other hand, the Sea to Summit Pocket Towel is the stickiest. For all the backpacking towels, even the PackTowl UltraLite, I still recommend patting dry instead of wiping.

And with that, here are the comfort ratings:

Backpacking TowelComfort Ratings
Cotton (Control)10.0
PackTowl UltraLite6.5
Sea to Summit Pocket4.5
Matador NanoDry (Shower)4.0
Sea to Sumit AirLite4.0
Matador NanoDry (Trek)3.5

The PackTowl UltraLite is easily the most comfortable backpacking towel that I have, but even this doesn’t come close to feeling anything like your regular cotton towel, as it is still quite a bit thinner. Just something to keep in mind if this is important to you.

Quality

For quality, I looked at these factors:

  1. Edges of each backpacking towel;
  2. Whether there was any loss of material after a few months of usage;
  3. Bleeding issues;
  4. The quality of the hanging loop; and
  5. The quality of the storage pouch.

After 2 to 3 months of usage, for the towel edges and loss of material, here’s how the backpacking towels are holding up:

TowelEdgesMaterial
Matador NanoDry (Shower)GoodNo Change
Matador NanoDry (Trek)GoodNo Change
PackTowl UltraLiteGoodNo Change
Sea to Summit PocketLoose0.9% Loss
Sea to Summit AirLiteSlight Fraying1.4% Loss

The Matador NanoDry towels and the PackTowl UltraLite have edges that are not fraying and are still holding up well. There’s also no weight loss, so no material was lost over the last few months.

For the Sea to Summit Pocket Towel, the stitching isn’t very consistent, and it’s also kind of loose. It lost 1 gram of material, which is 0.9% of its original weight.

Stitching of the Sea to Summit Pocket Towel is a little loose
Loose stitching of the Sea to Summit Pocket Towel.

As for the Sea to Summit AirLite Towel, there are signs of fraying on the edges, and it also lost 1 gram of material, which is 1.4% of its original weight.

From top to bottom: Sea to Summit AirLite, Matador NanoDry Shower, Sea to Summit Pocket, PackTowl UltraLite.
From top to bottom: Sea to Summit AirLite, Matador NanoDry Shower, Sea to Summit Pocket, PackTowl UltraLite.

If you look carefully at the picture above, you might notice that the edges of the Sea to Summit AirLite (blue) isn’t the best quality and the cutting is rough.

As for bleeding of colors, here’s the list of towels from the least to the most severe bleeding:

TowelColorBleeding
Sea to Summit AirLitePacific BlueSlight (1 wash)
Sea to Summit PocketLimeSlight (1 wash)
PackTowl UltraLiteBloom NoirYes (3 washes)
Matador NanoDry (Trek)CharcoalYes (5 washes)
Matador NanoDry (Shower)RustYes (5 washes)

The Sea to Summit AirLite Towel and the Sea to Summit Pocket Towel had only a slight bleeding on the first wash, and not much after.

The PackTowl UltraLite bled for about 3 washes, and the Matador NanoDry towels bled for about 5 washes.

Bleeding of the PackTowl UltraLite
Bleeding of the PackTowl UltraLite.
Bleeding of the Matador NanoDry Charcoal color (left) and the Rust color (right)
Bleeding of the Matador NanoDry Charcoal color (left) and the Rust color (left).

As for the quality of the hanging loops, here’s my list:

  • PackTowl UltraLite: Best quality
  • Sea to Summit Pocket: Good quality
  • Matador NanoDry (Shower): Good quality
  • Matador NanoDry (Trek): Good quality
  • Sea to Summit AirLite: Not secure

The PackTowl UltraLite had the best quality hanging loop, which felt the most secure. As for the Sea to Summit Pocket Towel and the Matador NanoDry towels, they had good quality hanging loops, but less secure than the PackTowl UltraLite’s.

The only one that I did not like was the Sea to Summit AirLite’s. It actually doesn’t come with a hanging loop. Instead, it has a fastener that you can attach to a press stud on the inside of the storage pouch, and then use the pouch’s hanging loop to hang your towel. But the problem here is that this doesn’t feel secure to me, and comes apart with minimal tension.

Hanging loops of all the backpacking towels. From bottom left: Sea to Summit AirLite, PackTowl UltraLite, Sea to Summit Pocket, Matador NanoDry Shower, Matador NanoDry Trek.
Hanging loops of all the backpacking towels. From bottom left: Sea to Summit AirLite, PackTowl UltraLite, Sea to Summit Pocket, Matador NanoDry Shower, Matador NanoDry Trek.

And lastly, here’s the quality of the storage pouches, the material that they’re made of, and also the weight:

TowelQualityMaterialWeight
Matador (Shower)ExcellentSilicone2.6oz / 74g
Matador (Trek)ExcellentSilicone0.6oz / 17g
Sea to Summit AirLiteVery Good15D Nylon0.1oz / 4g
Sea to Summit PocketVery GoodEVA0.9oz / 26g

I felt that all the storage pouches were of really good quality.

From left to right: PackTowl UltraLite (no storage pouch), Sea to Summit Pocket, Matador NanoDry Shower, Sea to Summit AirLite, Matador NanoDry Trek
From left to right: PackTowl UltraLite (no storage pouch), Sea to Summit Pocket, Matador NanoDry Shower, Sea to Summit AirLite, Matador NanoDry Trek

The Matador NanoDry Shower and Trek Towels had really awesome-looking and high-quality storage pouches that are made of silicone. However, my only issue is that they’re really heavy, and they’re both heavier than the towel itself.

My personal favorite storage pouch is the Sea to Summit AirLite’s. It’s made of 15D nylon, it’s super strong, and also incredibly lightweight.

The storage pouch of the Sea to Summit Pocket Towel is of good quality too, made of EVA, but isn’t the most compressible.

As for the PackTowl UltraLite, it doesn’t come with a storage pouch.

Based on everything above, here are my ratings for quality:

Backpacking TowelQuality Ratings
Matador NanoDry (Shower)8.9
Matador NanoDry (Trek)8.9
PackTowl UltraLite8.7
Sea to Summit Pocket6.8
Sea to Summit AirLite5.2

The Matador NanoDry Towels and the PackTowl UltraLite are of much higher quality than the Sea to Summit Pocket and AirLite towels.

Overall Performance

Based on all 9 tests above (absorbency, wringing, drying, odor resistance, grass and dirt repellence, sand repellence, portability, comfort and quality) and the scoring in each test, here’s all the scores of each backpacking towel side by side for easier comparison:

All the test scores of all the backpacking towels.
All the scores for each of the 5 backpacking towel + the cotton control towel.

I color-coded the ratings to make it easier to look at. Green is for good, yellow is average, and red is pretty bad. The overall performance scores are in the last column. I got to these scores by weighing each test equally.

In case you just want the overall scores without the individual tests, here you go:

Backpacking TowelOverall Ratings
Matador NanoDry (Shower)8.6
PackTowl UltraLite8.5
Matador NanoDry (Trek)8.2
Sea to Summit AirLite7.9
Sea to Summit Pocket7.6
Cotton (Control)5.8

The Matador NanoDry Shower Towel and the PackTowl UltraLite were basically neck and neck, and I felt that they performed almost equally well.

The Matador NanoDry Trek Towel came after, because I scored it kind of badly for comfort.

The Sea to Summit AirLite Towel and the Sea to Summit Pocket Towel did not do too badly either.

How to Choose the Best Backpacking Towel for Yourself

There are quite a few considerations to keep in mind when choosing the best backpacking towel for your needs. Here are a few:

Weight of Towel

Easily one of the most important factors in a backpacking towel, all the towels that I chose and tested for this review are at most around 3.5 ounces, which is about 100 grams, or much less. Preferably, the lighter the better.

That’s why my 2 best picks are the Matador NanoDry Shower Towel, weighing 2.4 ounces or 68 grams, and the PackTowl UltraLite, weighing 3.2 ounces or 90 grams. That’s also why I’m not recommending the Sea to Summit Pocket Towel, because it’s the heaviest towel on this list, at 4.1 ounces or 115 grams.

In case you want to refer to the weight of each backpacking towel in this review, here you go:

TowelWeight (Ounces)Weight (Grams)
Matador NanoDry (Trek)0.6oz16g
Matador NanoDry (Shower)2.4oz68g
Sea to Summit AirLite2.4oz69g
PackTowl UltraLite3.2oz90g
Sea to Summit Pocket4.1oz115g
Cotton (Control)11.9oz337g

Packed Size of Towel

Generally, the lighter the towel, the smaller the packed size. All the backpacking towels that I bought for this review pack down very small compared to a regular cotton towel.

I noticed that the PackTowl UltraLite doesn’t pack down as small as the Sea to Summit Pocket Towel despite being much lighter, but I suspect this is due to the way I folded it. The difference is not that much though, so I don’t think it’s a big issue.

Side view, from left to right: Cotton towel, Sea to Summit Pocket Towel, PackTowl UltraLite, Sea to Summit AirLite Towel, Matador NanoDry Shower Towel, Matador NanoDry Trek Towel
Side view, from left to right: Cotton towel, Sea to Summit Pocket Towel, PackTowl UltraLite, Sea to Summit AirLite Towel, Matador NanoDry Shower Towel, Matador NanoDry Trek Towel

Weight of Storage Pouch

Not all backpacking towels come with storage pouches, but if they do, do be mindful of their weight. Here’s the weight of all the storage pouches in this review:

TowelMaterialWeight
Matador NanoDry (Shower)Silicone2.6oz / 74g
Matador NanoDry (Trek)Silicone0.6oz / 17g
Sea to Summit AirLite15D Nylon0.1oz / 4g
Sea to Summit PocketEVA0.9oz / 26g

For example, the Matador NanoDry Shower Towel comes with a high-quality silicone storage pouch that looks super cool, but is quite heavy, weighing more than the towel itself. That’s one of my few gripes about this excellent backpacking towel. Here’s the weight of the towel and the weight of the storage pouch:

  • Weight of Matador NanoDry Shower Towel: 2.4oz / 68g
  • Weight of Matador NanoDry storage pouch: 2.6oz / 74g

If the storage pouch is too heavy, you can ditch it and go backpacking without it. As an alternative, you can use your own pouch or even a zip-lock bag (this has negligible weight!) to hold your backpacking towel.

Sizing of Towel

The size of your backpacking towel will affect its weight as well. For example, the Matador NanoDry Shower Towel (46 x 23.5 inches) weighs 68 grams or 2.4 ounces, while the Matador NanoDry Trek Towel (15 x 14.75 inches) weighs 16 grams or 0.6 ounces, or 4x less. The former is a shower towel, while the latter is a face towel.

As such, if possible, don’t pick a size that’s unnecessarily large, as that will add unnecessary ounces to your pack.

Sizing of the Matador NanoDry Trek Towel (left) and the Shower Towel (right)
Sizing of the Matador NanoDry Trek Towel (left) and the Matador NanoDry Shower Towel (right).

Towel Hanging Loop

Having a hanging loop on the backpacking towel itself is important if you need to dry your towel on the go. You can easily clip the towel to your pack while you’re hiking, and it won’t take up space in your pack either.

Hanging the Matador NanoDry Shower Towel on my pack.
Hanging the Matador NanoDry Shower Towel on my pack.

Some towel hanging loops are more secure than others. I found that the hanging loop on my PackTowl UltraLite is a lot more secure than the hanging loops of the Matador NanoDry and the Sea to Summit Towels.

Also, some hanging loops allow the towel to drag on the ground (not a good thing when you’re not tall like me – 5’3″). For example, my PackTowl UltraLite (pictured below) drags on the ground when I hang it on my pack, while the Matador NanoDry Shower Towel (pictured above) does not.

PackTowl UltraLite drags on the ground when hung from a pack
Hanging the PackTowl UltraLite on my pack.

Storage Pouch Loop

Another way that you can hang your backpacking towel outside your pack while hiking or backpacking is with the storage pouch hanging loop.

Hanging the pouch of the Sea to Summit AirLite Towel on my pack.
Hanging the storage pouch of the Sea to Summit AirLite towel on my pack.

The Matador NanoDry towels, the Sea to Summit Pocket towel, and the Sea to Summit AirLite towel all have good quality hanging loops on the storage pouches. However, the PackTowl UltraLite doesn’t come with a storage pouch (and of course, not the loop as well).

Price

After buying a whole bunch of camping and backpacking towels, I realized that backpacking towels are generally more expensive, and it’s hard to find a cheap one. Nevertheless, all my more expensive backpacking towels are of incredible quality, and I believe that the long-term durability will give you more bang for your buck.

You could go for those on the cheaper end of the spectrum if you’re new to backpacking and you’re not sure how often you want to backpack, but do be mindful that they tend to be of lower quality and may not last as long as you expect.

Full Guide

The above is a short guide on some of the most important factors that you might want to consider when buying a backpacking towel.

If you want to read more, or watch a personalized YouTube video, you can click this link right here: Full Guide to Choosing the Best Backpacking Towel for Yourself.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Why You Should Trust Us

I spent over $130 buying, and hundreds of hours testing and reviewing these 5 best backpacking towels. I don’t accept free products from manufacturers, and don’t accept sponsored posts or YouTube videos. Each and every product is bought by me with my savings, and all opinions are my own, from months of real-world testing and usage.

Over 3 months, I used these backpacking towels every single day while camping and at home. To test them, I dried them both indoors and outdoors, dipped them in seawater, and ran them over grass, dirt and sand, amongst other things.

I looked at and examined every important aspect of each backpacking towel, including but not limited to absorbency, drying, odor resistance, dirt repellence, portability, comfort and quality. I also cover all features, specifications and even unboxings. Hopefully this comprehensive review has helped you to find the best backpacking towel that suits your needs.

Conclusion

Ultimately, of all the 5 best backpacking towels that I bought and tested, I think there’s one that will best suit your needs, and here’s quick summary of all of them:

Top Picks:

The Others: