What makes a good towel for camping or backpacking? In this post, you’ll learn everything you need to know about good camping and backpacking towels.
Here, I’ll be listing out plenty of important features. Take note that not all of them will be important to you. For example, if you’re car camping, portability might not be that important. Feel free to skip what’s not important, and focus on what is important.
A good camping or backpacking towel should be able to absorb water droplets off your body after a shower. This is likely the main reason you’ll be needing a towel for your camping or backpacking trips. This is hard to measure in quantitative terms, and you will need to rely on people who have previously used the towel. You can find reviews on Amazon, REI, or other retailers of towels. I’ve also personally used all the towels that I recommend, and comment on how well it dries me off after a shower.
Another thing to look out for is the total amount of water the towel can absorb. This is not as important if you’re only going to be using the towel for showers, as you probably need to absorb at most 250mL (8.5fl oz) to 300mL (10.1fl oz) of water. For me personally, as a 5’3” person with slightly longer than shoulder-length hair, I only need absorption of up to 50mL (1.7fl oz) to 75mL (2.5fl oz). Nevertheless, this might be important if you usually need to clean up the campsite, do dishes, or clean up water leakages in your tents.
Usually, fluffier towels tend to be more absorbent.
Many camping and backpacking towels tend to wring out a lot of water, more than your average cotton towel. This is because the more water you can wring out, the less water there’ll be left in your towel, and the faster it’ll dry. This is important to you if you plan to wash your towel often, and you don’t have a lot of time to dry it.
Generally, the thinner and more lightweight your towel is, the easier it’ll be to wring out.
Drying is arguably one of the most important features of a good towel for the outdoors. A good backpacking towel is usually thinner, and can dry 80% to 100% faster than a cotton towel when left outdoors. Camping towels tend to be a bit thicker and fluffier, and will probably dry more slowly, around 30% to 70% faster than your average cotton towel.
The general trend is that the thinner your towel is, the faster it’ll dry.
Camping or backpacking towels with good odor resistance usually are lined with some kind of odor control, or treated with some sort of anti-bacterial treatment. For example, the PackTowl Personal and the PackTowl Luxe are lined with Polygiene odor control, and thus had no smell even though I soaked both of them in seawater and sealed them up for 4 days. In contrast, the PackTowl Ultralite has no such treatment, and therefore had a faint smell after the same test.
Many towels without odor control or treatment actually smell much worse, developing sour smells or even the smell of food going bad.
When you’re in the outdoors, it’s important to have towels that don’t pick up a lot of dirt. Typically, towels that are thinner, smoother, and with shorter piles tend to pick up less dirt. Even if they do pick up a few specks of dirt, it’ll shake off really easily.
In contrast, fluffier towels with longer piles tend to attract a lot of dirt, much of which would not shake off easily. It can be a pain to pick dry grass, sticks and dirt out of your towel when camping, so this is pretty important too.
The thinner and smoother your towel, the more dirt repellent. Some towels of mine picked up absolutely no dirt at all.
Sand repellence is quite closely related to dirt repellence above, in that thinner towels normally pick up less sand. However, there were a few anomalies to this general trend during my sand test.
Nevertheless, this isn’t that important of a test if you never plan to bring your camping or backpacking towel to the beach.
Portability is a highly important factor when you’re backpacking or hiking. I have towels that weigh as little as 68 grams (2.4 ounces), or as much as 488 grams (17.2 ounces). If you’re backpacking or hiking, and portability is a key factor for you, you might want to pick something that’s at most 100 grams (3.5 ounces).
Lightweight towels are also highly compact, while fluffy towels can be around 5 to 10 times the packed size of lightweight towels.
Generally, towels that are comfortable tend to have a few of these factors – fluffiness, good sizing (around 54 by 25 inches), softness and as little “stickiness” as possible.
For this, you might have to rely on the reviews of people who have used the towel. While dimensions are something that are clearly stated, the rest are subjective factors.
However, generally, fluffier towels tend to be more comfortable and feel more like a regular cotton towel at home, while thinner towels may be strange feeling to the user at first.
For the quality of your camping or backpacking towel, do pay attention to the stitching around the towel. This is important because once the stitching starts unravelling, it’s only a matter of time before the entire towel falls apart. From my experience, stitching is generally the weak point in a camping or backpacking towel.
The main body’s material is important as well, and towels that are lower quality tend to become thinner, shed, or form loose threads over time.
Bleeding issues might be another thing to look out for. The more your camping or backpacking towel bleeds, the more times you’d have to wash it before taking it on your first use. While not a dealbreaker of sorts, it can be a little troublesome to keep having to wash your towel.
You can also pay attention to quality of the hanging loop and the storage pouch if that’s important to you. Not everyone uses the hanging loop and the storage pouch, so feel free to ignore if that’s you.
To help you make your mind up about which towel to purchase, do consider your intended use; what activity will you be doing?
If you’re backpacking, go for something that’s super lightweight and highly portable. If you’re car camping or glamping, you can afford to go for something fluffier and more comfortable. If you’re going to the beach, I suggest avoiding lightweight towels as they tend to just fly away.
Remember here that there are many trade-offs when it comes to camping or backpacking towels. If comfort is your priority, and you love fluffy towels, be prepared to take on more weight and space. I think it’s impossible to find a towel that’s super absorbent, super comfortable, super fast drying, and also super portable at the same time.
Also, what will you be using the towel for? Showering? Chilling at the beach? Wiping sweat off your face?
This brings us to the next point- Size.
The size that’s ideal for you will depend on what you’re using the towel for.
If you’re buying a towel for wiping sweat off while hiking, you can go for a small face towel. This also clips to your pack easily without dragging on the ground.
For drying dishes, you can use a medium sized towel.
For showering, a towel with dimensions of around 54 by 25 inches would be good, like those from PackTowl. Some brands run a bit smaller, like Sea to Summit, Matador, Wise Owl and Rainleaf, but I find that it’s okay for me.
For lounging at the beach, some brands have Beach sizes, like the Nomadix, which comes in at 71 by 30 inches.
When buying from any brand, don’t just look at the size, also double check the exact dimensions.
Color & Design
Having different colored towels can be important when you need multiple towels for multiple purposes.
For example, if you like Extra-Large shower towels to dry off with, which might be the same size as beach towels, you might not want to get that mixed up with a towel that you put on the ground or at the beach.
For pure aesthetics, you can look at the design of the towel. I think Nomadix has the best designs and are the nicest looking, and the material doesn’t seem to fade even after months of usage.
Some towels have hanging loops that are stitched in place, like the Nomadix. With these hanging loops, you’d need an additional carabiner if you want to hang it in most places.
Other towels have snap loops so there’s no need for an additional carabiner. Most of my towels have these snap loops.
And some towels don’t have hanging loops at all, like the Sea to Summit Airlite towel.
Most towels come with an accompanying storage pouch, and only my Nomadix towel and my PackTowl Ultralite did not come with storage pouches.
The quality of the storage pouch also differs from towel to towel. I personally prefer storage pouches that are lightweight with smooth zipper openings, instead of having heavy storage pouches or Velcro openings. Having ventilation is also a bonus.
Most storage pouches come with hanging loops, so you can hang the towel in the pouch outside your pack. The only storage pouch I have that didn’t come with a hanging loop is the Sea to Summit Drylite’s.
For added convenience, you might want to pick a towel that’s machine washable. I actually threw all of my towels into the washing machine without reading instructions, and they all turned out okay. But I advise you to check out the instructions on the packaging or on the towel tag before doing so.
All of the camping and backpacking towels I bought are made of microfiber, which is a polyester and polyamide, which is nylon, blend. Microfiber towels are very popular because they’re absorbent, quick drying, and lightweight, amongst other things. This is the material that I recommend.
To me, the blend of the microfiber isn’t very important. I’ve read that a 70% polyester and 30% nylon blend is the most absorbent and the softest, while an 85% polyester and 15% nylon blend is less absorbent and less soft.
But to me, comfort is more than just how soft the towel is. There are other factors like how well the towel dries you off, whether it sticks to your skin, and what the size is. Likewise, just because a towel can absorb a large amount of water in a bucket doesn’t mean that it’ll dry you off well.
So, I just ignored the blend of each towel when testing them. My top recommendations, like the Matador NanoDry and the PackTowl Personal, both have 85/15 blends, while my Sea to Summit towels that have 70/30 blends performed quite badly.
Last but not least, always remember to pick a towel that’s within your budget. Some of the towels I bought cost close to $40 U.S. dollars, and some can cost just $10.
If you don’t plan to camp or use the towel often, I’d recommend going for something more affordable. My Best Budget Pick is the Wise Owl Outfitters Towel.
If you plan to use the towel more often (whether camping or at home), I’d spend a little more to get a camping towel with better performance, like the PackTowl Personal, which is my Best Overall Camping Towel.
The camping or backpacking towel you should buy will depend on what’s important to you. Remember again, there are always trade-offs.
The fluffier your towel, the more comfortable and absorbent it will be. However, fluffier and comfortable towels also tend to have lower portability, lower dirt repellence and longer drying times.
On the other hand, the less fluffy your towel is, the faster it’ll dry, the more dirt repellent it’ll be, and it’ll be much more portable as well. However, it’ll be less comfortable and less absorbent.
So, based on the important features I mentioned above, here are the camping or backpacking towels that I would recommend:
- Best Overall: PackTowl Personal
- Most Absorbent: PackTowl Luxe
- Best at Wringing: Matador NanoDry
- Fastest Drying: Matador NanoDry
- Best Odor Resistance: PackTowl Luxe, PackTowl Personal, Matador NanoDry
- Best Dirt Repellence: Matador NanoDry
- Best Sand Repellence: Matador NanoDry (but I recommend not using the Matador NanoDry as a beach towel because it’s super lightweight and will fly away easily)
- Best Portability: Matador NanoDry
- Most Comfortable: PackTowl Luxe
- Highest Quality: Nomadix Towel
- Best Durability: Nomadix Towel
- Best Design and Colors: Nomadix Towel
- Most Durable Hanging Loop: Nomadix Towel
- Best Storage Pouch: Matador NanoDry or Sea to Summit Tek Towel (although I really don’t recommend the Sea to Summit Tek towel)
- Best Budget Pick: Wise Owl Towel
Hopefully this guide has helped you to find the best camping or backpacking towel for yourself, and feel free to contact me if you still need help.