Let’s face it; the great outdoors doesn’t always smell so great. Just because you’re going on a camping expedition doesn’t mean you should neglect basic hygiene. One of the best tools you can use to wipe away all the sweat, oil, and grime that inevitably accumulates on your body and tent is a high-quality, lightweight towel.
Backpacking and camping towels aren’t like the standard cotton hand towels you use at home. Usually made with microfiber, they have been designed to absorb a ton of moisture, dry quickly, and fit into any backpack with ease. Below, we’ll explain what to look for in a good towel and share a few of the best options on the market today.
Table of Contents
- Editor’s Choice
- Best Value
- Benefits & Features of a Great Backpacking Towel
- Best Backpacking Towels: The Results
REI MultiTowel Lite
The standout feature of the REI MultiTowel Lite is that it can absorb eight times its weight in water. Yes, you read that right: eight times! You’ll be hard-pressed to find a camp towel with a higher absorbability rating than REI’s MultiTowel Lite.
Made out of 85 percent polyester and 15 percent nylon microfiber, the REI MultiTowel Lite isn’t only highly absorbable, it’s also fast drying, durable, and easy to pack. The largest MultiTowel in REI’s catalog will add 6.4 ounces to your backpack, and all of these camp towels are thin and easily compressible.
Hikers looking for superior absorbability technology will get good use out of the REI MultiTowel Lite. Even if absorbability isn’t your primary concern, the REI MultiTowel Lite is a good all-around microfiber camping towel that’s easy to pack and will last for years.
Sea to Summit Tek Towel
If you’re the kind of hiker who needs a camping towel that feels just like your hand towel at home, then you need to look into Sea to Summit’s Tek Towel. Although this towel is made out of a standard microfiber, it has a unique overlay of soft terrycloth. This special layer of terrycloth feels exactly like a regular hand towel against your skin.
Unlike most thin microfiber travel towels, you won’t have to bother delicately patting yourself dry with the Sea to Summit Tek Towel. Feel free to rub this towel’s incredibly durable and absorbable fabric against your skin after a long hike or a quick dip in a stream.
Of course, since the Tek Towel has a layer of plush terrycloth, it can be a tad cumbersome to pack. If you don’t mind sacrificing ease of transport for luxurious quality, however, then you have to check out Sea to Summit Tek Towel.
Campers who prioritize how much weight a towel will add to their backpack should consider the PackTowl UltraLite. The UltraLite lives up to its name offering customers four towel sizes that all weigh under 5.1 ounces. No matter how heavy your backpack is already, you shouldn’t have an issue squeezing this thin microfiber towel into your travel gear.
Although the UltraLite’s main selling points are its weight and compressibility, this tiny towel is quick-drying and can handle a ton of moisture. The PackTowl UltraLite dries 80 percent faster than cotton products and can absorb at least four times its weight in water. Since this towel is so thin, however, you should dab your skin dry to avoid tearing.
Bottom line, if you’re someone who’s looking for one of the lightest towels on the market and doesn’t mind sacrificing a bit in the durability department, then look into the UltraLite.
Benefits & Features of a Great Backpacking Towel
The Many Uses Of A Camping Towel
When most people think of camping towels, they tend to think of drying off after taking a quick bath in a nearby stream, lake, or river. While that is a common use of traveling towels, there’s so much more you can use these towels for on your expeditions.
Most campers use camping towels while out in the wild is to quickly wipe away excess sweat, body oils, and dirt both on your body and around your camping area. Since most hiking towels are antimicrobial, there’s no better way to keep yourself clean than by using a quick dry towel.
Anyone traveling to hot or humid areas will get a ton of use out of their camping towel to wipe away puddles of sweat and naturally ward off mosquitoes or flies. You could even put your towel over your head to provide some extra UV protection.
Camping towels in colder regions, on the other hand, can provide extra safety against serious conditions like hypothermia. Since hypothermia sets in faster if your body is wet, it’s critically important to stay dry while out at night in the wild. If you happen to be caught in a damp area, or if it starts to rain, you’ll need a fast-drying towel to reduce your risk of developing this deadly condition. In an emergency scenario, a good camping towel can even provide much-needed additional warmth.
Why Not Bring A Towel From Home?
New hikers might be tempted to just pack a regular hand towel on their trek into the wild. Using a standard cotton hand towel, however, is a bad idea for a multitude of reasons.
First off, most of the towels we use at home take a long time to dry. When you put this damp towel in your sack, all of the accumulated odors, oils, and dirt can more easily pass from your towel to other products and into your backpack’s fibers. This creates an ideal breeding ground for bacteria, mold, and fungi, which you obviously don’t want to happen on your trip.
Besides poor hygiene, a regular hand towel will take up more space and add more weight to your backpack than a microfiber towel. It’s also easier to dry out camping towels made out of microfiber fabrics than standard hand towels.
What To Look For In A Backpacking Towel
First off, every camping towel should have a high degree of absorbability. What’s the point of taking a camping towel with you if it can’t pick up water and sweat? So you know, most manufacturers measure their product’s absorbability against the towel’s weight.
After you’ve ticked off absorbability from your checklist, you should examine how long it takes for your towel to dry. If your towel doesn’t dry off in a timely fashion, then it will leach all the nasty odors it has absorbed into other items in your backpack. Ideally, your towel should also be durable enough to handle a good strong wring after usage without tearing.
Lastly, closely examine the size and weight of your camping towel. There are a few camping towels now on the market that are touted for their ability to cover your entire body like a beach towel. Most hikers recommend, however, that you look for a small, lightweight towel that’s easy to compress in your pack. For the average backpacker, camping experts recommend getting towels that measure 17 inches by 35 inches or lower and weigh no more than four ounces.
The Major Camping Towel Fabric Materials
Never Use Cotton Towels
Here’s a simple rule every new camper needs to memorize: never buy a cotton towel. Indeed, don’t wear or use anything made of cotton while backpacking, especially in damp areas. Cotton towels are heavy, difficult to compress, and slow drying, three factors that will really slow you down on hiking treks. Although you might find some companies trying to sell cotton products to campers, we highly recommend leaving all your cotton towels at home.
Why Microfiber & Synthetic Are The Preferred Fabrics…
Of all the materials on this list, microfiber and synthetic towels (particularly nylon and polyester) are the most commonly used in the world of camping towels. The reasons for these fabrics’ broad appeal are simple: they are thin, lightweight, highly absorbable, antimicrobial, and dry off quickly. All of the towels on our list are microfiber.
Most campers say microfiber towels have a gentle, soft feel against the skin. While most of these towels are quite durable, you should get in the habit of patting yourself dry to extend your hiking towel’s lifespan. It’s easy to tear one of these thin towels if you rub your skin too aggressively.
The major drawback of using microfiber towels is that they tend to leach odors more than other towels. While a layer of antimicrobial treatment like Polygiene can help with odor protection, you should get in the habit of regularly washing your microfiber towels to keep the stink under control.
Uses Of Linen Towels
Although nowhere near as popular as microfiber, you might run across linen products in your quest for the perfect camping towels. A major pro for linen over microfiber towels is that it takes a longer time for them to pick up an odor thanks to linen’s antimicrobial properties. Linen towels are also highly absorbable and comparable to microfiber in terms of weight.
On the downside, linen takes a longer time to dry than microfiber. Linen towels are a better option for people who do a lot of traveling (especially in hostels) and want to have a reliable, clean towel.
The Benefits And Drawbacks Of Bamboo
Yes, bamboo can be used as a towel fabric! Amazingly, these bamboo towels have a greater absorbability than their cotton counterparts and feel comfortable against the skin.
While their absorbability is a great feature, bamboo has issues in the toughness department. Plus, bamboo towels are often difficult to compress and nowhere near as lightweight as microfiber towels. While you might be tempted to check out these towels due to their exotic allure, it’s better to stick with the tried-and-true microfiber towels.
Clean Your Microfiber Towels Often
As soon as you get your first microfiber towel, put it through one wash with just detergent and hot water. This will get rid of any synthetic smells sometimes attached to the towel and cut the risk of color bleed. After the wash, either put your microfiber towel in the dryer on low or hang it in a sunny or well-ventilated area.
Note, microfiber towels have a nasty habit of attracting lint. Be very careful if you choose to put your camping towel in with another batch of laundry.
Bonus Tip: How To Get Rid Of Nasty Towel Smell
As mentioned above, one common complaint campers have using microfiber towels is that they easily leach odors. People who go on a ton of camping adventures will probably notice their backpacking towel gets a little stinky after a few uses. Thankfully, there is an easy and cheap solution to this common dilemma.
All you need is a bottle of distilled white vinegar, a washer, and a dryer. Put your microfiber towel in the washing machine and use hot water. Add about a tablespoon of white vinegar to the washer and put it through a complete cycle.
Once the washing cycle is complete, take out your towel and give it a good whiff. If it still smells funky, you could put it in the washer again with hot water and a pinch of baking soda. Lastly, put your towel in the dryer for about ten to fifteen minutes.
Best Backpacking Towels: The Results
R.E.I. MultiTowel Lite
The most impressive feature about the REI MultiTowel Lite is its high absorption rate. Every MultiTowel Lite is designed to retain eight times its weight in water, which is one of the highest absorbability rates in the camping towel world. Not only is the REI MultiTowel Lite good at absorbing, it can also dry off quickly after usage.
REI’s MultiTowel Lite is made out of 85 percent polyester and 15 percent nylon microfiber. As with many other camping towels, the REI MultiTowel Lite is available in four sizes ranging from small to x-large. The large REI MultiTowel Lite measures 36 inches by 16.5 inches and weighs 2.9 ounces.
Environmentalists will be happy to know that every REI MultiTowel Lite is created following Bluesign System’s standards for sustainable textile production. Each of these towels is also has a layer of antibacterial treatment.
The REI MultiTowel Lite is a good companion for intermediate or experienced hikers who need a durable, lightweight, and highly absorbent camping towel that can handle extreme camping adventures.
- Absorbs eight times its weight in water.
- Highly durable microfiber with anti-bacterial finish.
- Lightweight and convenient to pack.
- Only two colors designs to choose from.
- Absorbent microfiber fabric soaks up 4 times its weight in water, which can be…
- Dries 80% faster than comparable cotton towels
- Soft fabric packs down tiny when space is at a premium
- Hang loop and zippered storage pouch included for easy drying and packing
- Hand size measures 16.5 x 36 inches weighs 1.5 ounces. Machine washable
The PackTowl UltraLite towel is manufactured in South Korea out of 80 percent polyester and 20 percent nylon microfiber. This particular brand of towel is available in four different sizes: face, hand, body, and beach. PackTowl’s body towel measures 54 inches by 25 inches when opened and weighs 3.4 ounces. When it’s compressed into its Velcro backpack, the PackTowl towel will only take up about 12 cm by 18 cm of space.
Although this towel’s strong points are its compressibility and weight, that doesn’t mean the UltraLite can’t handle a fair amount of water. Manufacturers claim the PackTowl UltraLite can absorb four times its weight in water and dry off 80 percent faster than cotton products.
One slight con for the PackTowl UltraLite is that it’s not as durable as other towels. Remember, this towel was designed with ease of transport in mind. When you get this towel in your hands, you’ll notice that it’s thin and delicate. It’s important to always dab yourself dry when using the PackTowl UltraLite and to wring it with extreme care.
The main positive for the PackTowl UltraLite is that it’s one of the most lightweight towels in the industry. If you’re a true weight weenie and don’t mind sacrificing on durability, this is one of the best backpacking towels out there.
- One of the lightest camping towels in the industry.
- Soaks up four times its weight in water.
- Four different sizes available.
- Dries 80 percent faster than cotton.
- Sacrifices durability for lightweight construction.
- You must dab your skin and wring gently to avoid tearing.
- Lightweight, portable towel fits in a jacket pocket for camping, backpacking,…
- Made from silky, durable, woven microfiber fabric that absorbs three times its…
- Dries in a flash; microfiber has a surface area around 40 times that of a…
- A press-stud tab attaches towel to a pack or clothesline; includes a molded EVA…
- X-Large / Beach Towel measures 30 x 60 inches, packs to 8 x 3.25 x 2.25 inches,…
Sea to Summit Pocket Towel
While you can’t fit every Sea to Summit Pocket Towel in your pocket, this camping towel deserves props for its compactness. Sea to Summit sells its Pocket Towels in four sizes ranging from small to extra-large. The medium Sea to Summit Pocket Towel measures 40 inches by 20 inches when open and weighs 3.8 ounces. These Pocket Towels come with a zipper EVA case that has a few holes to help with drying.
All of Sea to Summit’s Pocket Towels are made with a fine knit construction. This enhances the durability of the microfiber towels and gives them a softer, almost silky, feel. The ratio of polyester to nylon in each Pocket Towel is 70 percent to 30 percent, respectively.
Each Pocket Towel is designed to absorb three times its weight in water. While this isn’t the highest absorption rate in the camping towel industry, it will get the job done on shorter camping trips.
The Sea to Summit Pocket Towel is a good choice for campers who are most concerned with portability. What it lacks in the absorbability and weight departments the Pocket Towel makes up for in convenience and durability.
- Easy to pack and compact.
- Knit construction increases durability.
- Four sizes to choose from.
- Ideal for occasional hikers who want a convenient, nice-feeling towel.
- Absorption rate isn’t as high as other towels.
- A tad heavy, especially in the cases.
- Quick-drying microfiber towel for camp, beach, sport, and travel
- Super absorbent fabric soaks up four times its weight in water; wrings out…
- Dries nearly 70 percent faster, and is much more compact than comparable cotton…
- Polygiene keeps towel fresh, even during extended use
- Body towel measures 25 x 54 inches and weighs 6.4 ounces; hang loop and zippered…
PackTowl designed its popular Personal line of towels to mimic the feel of ordinary towels as much as possible. Available in four sizes, PackTowl Personal towels are made out of 85 percent polyester and 15 percent nylon microfiber. The body towel measures 54 inches by 24 inches when it’s unrolled and will add 6.4 ounces to your pack.
One nice feature of the PackTowl Personal towels is that they come with a Polygiene odor control layer. Each PackTowl Personal can absorb four times its weight in water and dries off 70 percent faster than cotton towels.
Living up to the “Personal” name, PackTowl’s Personal line has a wide variety of colors and prints to choose from. Whether you want an understated or a flashy towel, one of PackTowl’s color/print designs is sure to make you smile.
Although the PackTowl Personal is often used by budget travelers roaming from hostel to hostel, it’s a good option for hikers who want a decent camping towel. While there are other towels that excel in certain categories (often at the expense of another feature), the PackTowl Personal is average in all common specifications.
Campers looking for a reliable all-around camping towel that wasn’t designed to highlight any specific quality should look into the PackTowl Personal.
- Good for campers looking for all-around use.
- A decent four-times absorbability rating.
- Soft microfiber texture and lightweight construction.
- Four sizes to choose from.
- Dozens of prints and colors to choose from.
- Doesn’t excel in any one category.
- Designed with hostel travelers in mind.
- Ultra-plush bath towel is ideal for camping, backpacking, hiking, boating, and…
- Made from thick, soft, super-absorbent microfiber fabric with a terrycloth…
- Dries in a flash; microfiber has a surface area around 40 times that of a…
- A press-stud tab attaches towel to a pack or clothesline; includes a molded EVA…
- Large / Bath Towel measures 28 x 48 inches, packs to 7.5 x 4.75 x 3.25 inches,…
Sea to Summit Tek Towel
When you hear the name Tek Towel, you should immediately think of texture. Yes, Sea to Summit’s Tek Towel is made out of standard microfiber materials like almost all other camping towels, but it also has a special terrycloth overlay. This layer of terrycloth makes the Tek Towel thicker and softer than most other microfibre travel towels.
You don’t have to be as gentle patting yourself dry with the Tek Towel in hand. If you’re used to rubbing against your face, hands, and body with a ton of force, then the Tek Towel is perfect for you. This towel is durable and won’t fade easily even after years of use.
In addition to its durability and softness, the Tek Towel’s unique design helps with absorbability. The Tek Towel can absorb six times its weight in water and dry off within a few minutes. Don’t worry about tearing this towel when wringing it out after you’ve finished using it.
The Tek Towel is available in five different sizes ranging from x-small to x-large. The medium Tek Towel measures 40 inches by 20 inches and weighs 7.2 ounces.
As you can see, the Tek Towel is a bit bulkier and trickier to pack than other towels on our list. The hikers who will most appreciate Tek Towels are those willing to sacrifice extra space in their backpacks for a superior quality product. Our pick for the best camping towel.
- Feels just like a standard hand towel.
- Can handle aggressive drying and wringing.
- Absorbs six times its weight in water.
- Available in five sizes.
- Difficult to compress.
- Heavier than most other camping towels.
- Ultralight: size Medium (19″ x 19″) weighs just 0.9 oz making it the lightest…
- 2X rapid-cycle absorbency: soaks up twice its weight in water; then wrings out…
- Laser cut: smooth finished edges without stitch bindings or fraying on This…
- Easy care: Machine wash, then hang Dry using the convenient towel snap loop or…
- Best uses: perfect multi-sport ultralight towel for when space is limited and…
The Nano is a special towel design created by PackTowl primarily for active campers who are looking for optimal sweat absorption. Although you can use the Nano for drying your entire body and campsite, it was primarily designed to be worn around your head as a bandana.
The PackTowl Nano is only available in a medium size that measures 19 inches by 19 inches and weighs 0.9 ounces. Manufacturers claim the PackTowl Nano can absorb double its weight in water, which is perfect for campers who are only interested in using their towel to wipe away excess sweat.
The main selling point for the PackTowl Nano is its fast drying rate. PackTowl executives say the Nano can dry off 90 percent faster than cotton towels, which is one of the fastest rates in the industry.
Although it’s primarily used as a headband, the PackTowl Nano is so thin and delicate that it can be used to wipe off eyeglasses or goggles without scratching the glass.
The PackTowl Nano comes with a pocket-sized mesh packet that has a Velcro opening. One unique feature about this packet is that you can attach the towel to a clip on the top of the pack.
Hikers looking for a thin, lightweight, and easy-to-carry towel designed to keep the sweat out of your eyes should look into the PackTowl Nano.
- One of the fastest drying towels in the industry.
- Superb for sweat absorption.
- Weighs 0.9 ounces.
- Thin and versatile microfiber fabric.
- One size available.
- Can only handle double its weight in water.
- Compact & Lightweight: This is the perfect travel towel because along with the…
- Multi-Use: At 20”x40” you can use this quick-dry towel for multiple…
- 100% Money-Back Guarantee: Not happy with your microfiber towel? Trip cancelled?…
- Support a Great Cause: 5% of each microfiber towel sale is donated to the…
Active Roots Microfiber Travel Towel
Adventurer Will Hatton, founder of “The Broke Backpacker” website, personally designed the Active Roots Microfiber Towel with campers in mind. Hatton claims his towels are made of 100 percent microfiber and great traveling companions for campers, hikers, and globe trekkers.
Active Roots Travel Towels only come in medium and x-large sizes. There is a smaller face towel available, but you have to order this towel as a part of a combo deal.
The medium Active Roots Travel Towel measures 20 inches by 40 inches and weighs just under four ounces. Designers say this towel can hold several times its weight in water and has a quick-drying technology. Every Active Roots Towel comes with a 100 percent money back guarantee.
There are three colors in the Active Roots Travel Towels line: purple, grey, and blue. Whatever color you decide on, you’ll get your Active Roots Travel Towel with a microfiber pouch that’s thin and easily compressible into a travel sack.
Anyone who’s interested in protecting the environment will appreciate Active Roots’ dedication to conservation efforts in Laos. A small portion of every Active Roots Travel Towel purchase is donated to the Elephant Sanctuary in Laos.
Campers who want to minimize their footprint on the environment and don’t mind using a thin microfiber towel with few frills should look into Active Roots’ Travel Towel. In our opinion, the best travel towel.
- Thin microfiber fabric easy to pack.
- Can absorb several times its weight in water.
- 100 percent money back guarantee.
- Part of your purchase will help elephants in Laos.
- Only two sizes available.
- Heavier than other options.
- Not compact enough to fit in your pocket.