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Rating and Summary
The Sea to Summit AirLite Towel performs pretty well as a backpacking towel. It wrings out well, it dries quickly, has odor protection, is dirt repellent, and weighs only 69 grams / 2.4 ounces.
However, after a few months of light usage, I found that the quality isn’t the best, and can be improved. This is a pretty big issue for me, so in my opinion, the AirLite towel isn’t the best pick as a backpacking towel.
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Check out the Sea to Summit AirLite:
Here’s what we’re going to discuss here:
- In the Box
I bought the Sea to Summit AirLite towel along with a whole bunch of other Sea to Summit gear, and they all came together in a small cardboard box. I bought the AirLite towel in an Extra-Large size, which is the biggest size for the AirLite towel.
Here’s what the front and back of the Sea to Summit AirLite Towel looks like:
For the unboxing or clearer images of the above, please watch the video embedded above instead; it’s much nicer there and definitely clearer too.
What’s in the Box?
A storage pouch, the Sea to Summit AirLite towel, and you can find the care instructions rolled up in the towel.
These are my personal measurements of the Sea to Summit AirLite Towel in an Extra-Large size. These may differ from the marketed dimensions given by Sea to Summit.
- Length: 51 inches / 130 cm;
- Width: 20.25 inches / 51cm;
- Weight of towel: 2.4 ounces / 69 grams;
- Weight of storage pouch: 0.14 ounces / 4 grams;
- Packed size: 4 x 2.5 x 2.25 inches / 10 x 6 x 6 cm;
- Blend: 85% polyester and 15% nylon; and
- Made in: China.
The Sea to Summit AirLite towel doesn’t have a hanging loop, but it does come with a fastener that you can attach to a press stud on the inside of the storage pouch.
You can then use the storage pouch’s hanging loop to hang your towel in most places, like on a hook. To hang your towel on a clothesline or on your pack, you’d need an additional carabiner.
For additional convenience, it is also machine washable and can be tumbled dry on low heat.
The storage pouch is made of 15D nylon, and you can use a carabiner to hang it outside your pack.
Testing and Performance
And now, moving on to the meat of this blog post, here’s what we’re going to discuss next:
- Drying 1
- Drying 2
- Odor Resistance
- Dirt Repellence
- Sand Repellence
- Quality and Comfort
To test absorbency, I measured the maximum amount of water the Sea to Summit AirLite Towel can absorb when soaked, which is about 150 mL / 5.1fl oz of water. As it weighs 69 grams / 2.4oz, total absorbency is 150 divided by 69, which is about 2.2 times.
I also performed the same test on a similar-sized cotton bath towel, which absorbed 1,100 mL of water and has a much higher absorbency of 3.26 times.
As the cotton towel is a lot fluffier, it beats the AirLite towel in terms of absorbency.
After soaking the Sea to Summit AirLite towel, I wringed out as much water as possible.
After wringing, the AirLite Towel weighed 131 grams, or 4.6 ounces. This means that 41% of water was left. Here are the calculations in case you’re interested:
Water absorbed before wringing = 150 milliliters (5.1 fluid ounces)
Water left after wringing = 131 grams (weight after wringing) – 69 grams (original weight) = 62 grams = 62 milliliters (2.1 fluid ounces), because 1 gram = 1 milliliter.
Percentage of water left after wringing = 62 milliliters / 150 milliliters = 41%.
As for the cotton towel, it weighed 842 grams, or 29.7 ounces, after wringing, and 46% of water was left.
Drying Test 1 (With Wringing)
After wringing, I left both the Sea to Summit AirLite Towel and the cotton towel to dry outdoors. This is to recreate the situation where you’re drying your towel after you wash it while backpacking.
The AirLite towel started off at 131 grams (or 4.6 ounces), and dried completely in about 14 minutes. On the other hand, the cotton towel took 2 hours and 15 minutes to dry.
When left indoors to dry after wringing, the AirLite towel took 2 hours to dry completely. In contrast, the cotton towel took much longer, drying only after 27 hours.
Drying Test 2 (100mL)
For this next drying test, I measured 100mL (or 3.4 fluid ounces) of water for the Sea to Summit AirLite Towel, and also for the cotton towel, and left both to dry outdoors. This is to make sure that both towels absorbed the same amount of water.
The AirLite Towel started off at 169 grams (or 6.0 ounces), and dried completely in about 22 minutes. As for the cotton towel, it took much longer, drying in about 40 minutes.
I also conducted the same test indoors. When left indoors, the AirLite towel took 2 hours and 45 minutes to dry completely. On the other hand, the cotton towel took much longer, drying in about 7 hours.
I soaked both the Sea to Summit AirLite Towel and the cotton towel in seawater, wringed out whatever I could, then sealed both in separate plastic bags for 4 days, or 96 hours.
At the 4-day mark, the AirLite Towel had a faint smell, while the cotton towel started smelling like food that had gone bad. I also checked for mold, and there wasn’t any.
For the second odor resistance test, I took a shower and then dried off with the Sea to Summit AirLite Towel once, then sealed it into a plastic bag immediately, also for 4 days.
After 4 days, the AirLite Towel had no smell. This means that you can pack up your AirLite Towel without drying if you’re in a rush, and it wouldn’t smell.
For the third odor resistance test, I used the AirLite Towel every single day for 7 days without washing it. In between uses, I hung the AirLite Towel indoors on a rack.
After the 7 days of continuous use, the AirLite Towel had no smell at all.
The Sea to Summit AirLite Towel comes with antimicrobial odor protection, as advertised on the packaging when I bought it, so that’s likely why it performed pretty well in the odor tests.
In contrast, the cotton towel started smelling like rotten food in the first seawater test, smelled musky in the second shower test, and had a musky (but not too strong) smell in the third continuous use test.
For this grass and dirt repellence test, I dragged both the Sea to Summit AirLite towel and the cotton towel along some grass and stepped on them.
The AirLite towel picked up a couple tiny pieces of dry grass, but it was very easy to shake them off.
The cotton towel picked up a little more dirt, which I thought came off easily, but after getting home, I noticed some dirt was still stuck to it.
For the sand test, I covered both the Sea to Summit AirLite Towel and the cotton towel with sand. Only a little bit of sand stuck to the AirLite Towel, which shook off super easily. Here’s what it looked like before I shook the sand off, where you can hardly see the sand:
More sand stuck to the cotton towel, but shaking it did the job as well.
The Sea to Summit AirLite towel weighs 69 grams, or 2.4 ounces, whereas a similar-sized cotton towel weighs 337 grams, or 11.9 ounces. It is also significantly more compact. Here’s what it looks like beside the cotton towel from the side:
Unfortunately, the AirLite towel doesn’t come with a hanging loop. Its storage pouch does have a hanging loop though, so you can hang it on your pack using a carabiner.
To fold the AirLite towel, just halve it 5 times, roll it up and fit it back into the storage pouch. You can also just stuff it back into the pouch easily without folding.
Comfort and Quality
The Sea to Summit AirLite towel is kind of soft, smooth to the touch, and it’s not stiff at all. It does stick to my skin, so I have to pat instead of wipe, though I don’t feel damp after drying off. It feels thin, and nothing like a regular towel. As for sizing, the AirLite towel is slightly smaller than my regular cotton bath towel.
As for quality, the edges are laser-cut instead of stitched. After about 2-3 months of light usage, there are signs of fraying on the edges.
My AirLite towel also lost about 1 gram of material, which is about 1.4% of its original weight. The Pacific Blue color that I bought is pretty good though and doesn’t seem to bleed very much.
As for the press stud, it doesn’t feel very secure, and comes apart with fairly minimal tension. I’m not a big fan of this feature, and I prefer the conventional snap loop found on other camping and backpacking towels. I do like the storage pouch though. It’s strong and lightweight, though the bottom isn’t waterproof.
What Other Reviews Say
I read the reviews on Amazon, and here’s what I found.
Positive reviews said that the Sea to Summit AirLite towel dries off well, is fast drying, and is compact and lightweight. Do I agree with this? It does dry my body off pretty well without me feeling damp. Also, it dries about 82% faster than a cotton towel, and is my second lightest backpacking towel.
On the other hand, negative reviews said that the sizing runs a bit small, which I agree with.
Pros and Cons
For pros, the Sea to Summit AirLite towel is very portable, weighing just 69 grams or 2.4 ounces, and packing down at least 10 times smaller than a regular cotton towel. It’s fast drying, and dries 82% faster than a cotton towel. The AirLite towel also has antimicrobial odor protection, and is grass, dirt and sand repellent.
As for cons, the AirLite towel’s quality isn’t the best because there are signs of fraying on the edges, and it also lost 1.4% of its original material after just a few months of light usage. The material is also very thin and not the most comfortable. This isn’t really a con for me because I got used to it, but just keep this in mind if this is important to you.
Would I recommend the Sea to Summit AirLite Towel?
As for the AirLite towel’s performance, it’s actually pretty good. It wrings out well, it’s fast drying, has good odor resistance, good dirt repellence and it’s super portable.
But I think its biggest flaw is that the quality is lacking. After a few months of light usage, there’s already signs of fraying, and a pretty significant material loss. So, long-term durability is definitely questionable. Based on this, I don’t think I can recommend the AirLite towel as the best backpacking towel out there. There are definitely other better options available.
Bonus: Must Read!
To check out those other options, you can click here: The 5 Best Backpacking Towels: I Bought & Tested Them All (complete with YouTube video).
Or, check out the Sea to Summit AirLite: