How to Choose the Best Travel Towels

Stacey Ebert

Each day I am grateful for access to clean, safe, running water. When traveling to urban centers in the developing world, camping, hiking, sailing, exploring, spelunking, or whatever your pleasure – at the end of the day we’re all grateful to remove at least the first layer of dirt and gunk that we’ve accumulated on our adventures. Whether your set up is a shower, stream, bucket of water, or the full on luxurious extravagance of a soaking tub, dripping dry isn’t a great option.

With the advent of the travel towel, no longer are travelers having to hope for the best or bring bulky towels from home in order to dry our hair and pits.  The question is no longer, ‘Can I get a travel towel?, now it’s, ‘Which one do you purchase?’ Sometimes it’s a difficult decision to make around the microfiber madness that makes up the travel towel market. There’s not a one size fits all rule taking into account the difference in comfort, size, and price for every traveler.

Why a Travel Towel?

Travel towels are quick dry, light weight, and super simple to pack. Most brands sell ones made of microfiber which air dries easily. A travel towel is often tiny enough to hook to your belt loop or fling in a daypack. They fold down to nothing, will clean up any ‘ick’ that comes along, and come in shapes and sizes to suit every type of traveler. Travel towel versatility is endless.

Here are some reasons you might want to invest in a travel towel:

  • Lower impact option than full size hotel towels (fewer resources used in washing & drying)
  • Avoid hostel fees for renting towels
  • Perfect option to toss in your daypack for day trip outings
  • Keep one in your go-bag for spontaneous adventures
  • Perfect for everyday at home adventures like a hike, swim, picnic, boat outing, or yoga
  • Use to dry dishes, wipe sweat from your body, mop up a spill in the car, as a headscarf, to keep food bags clean or (if it’s a bigger one)  wear it as a pareo/sarong.
  • Impromptu travel pillow for cars, planes, hostels, or even campsites.
  • Sharing can be kind of gross: Now the ‘germaphobe’ in all of us can relax knowing whatever is on the towel our own

Choosing the Best Travel Towel

Whether you’re at your local travel store or searching the web – the options for travel towels feel endless. From small to large, green to fuschia, hard to soft, and everything in between – how on earth do you choose? For best travel towel search results, consider checking the varied materials, pricing, size, and weight of each product. As with anything in life, do your research, ask around, and check reviews before take the plunge.

Consider the following in comparing travel towels:

  • Is there a snap closure or hanging loop?
  • Do you want a carrying case to come with your towel?
  • What color appeals to you?
  • Do you need more than one?
  • Are you in search of one with a lifetime guarantee?
  • How does the absorbency rate stack up against competitors?
  • What’s the durability of the fabric?
  • Is this product compatible with my packing style?
  • Based on material of the product, how easy it is to clean?
  • How attractive is the design?
  • Does it have a zipper closing pouch?
  • How’s the ‘feel of the fabric’?
  • How good is this product for odor resistance?
  • Does the size of the towel work for me?
  • Are there enough pouches and clips?
  • What are the anti-microbial capabilities of this product?
  • How quickly does this towel dry?
  • How much does this towel cost?

Examine the Travel Towel Options

In travel towels, size definitely does matter! Initial products on the market were ridiculously tiny and made of a horrible felt like material. That’s not comfy. When you go to your local store to purchase your traditional bathroom towels you hold them up, check their size, feel the material, read the labels, and make sure it fits and feels you the way you’d like. Depending on the size of the user and their preferences, each of us might choose a different towel. Kids towels might be smaller, while double person beach mats are huge.

When shopping for the best travel towel, take the measurements of your own regular towel with you or have them on hand when you’re surfing the web before you finish and click your purchase. This way, you’re assured that when you open the package, your purchase isn’t fit for a child’s toy doll.

Consider the following in choosing the best travel towel:

  • For a bath towel, consider the larger sized ones
  • If you’re thinking this is an extra towel to go along for the ride, the smaller ones might do
  • When traveling to a humid and wet climate, consider linen over microfiber as a better option because microfiber has a harder time drying in those sticky conditions
  • Linen is a great fabric for odor protection

Travel Towel Materials

Know your preferences and check the material before you buy a travel towel. Cotton, microfiber, linen, bamboo, as well as other synthetic options are all available. Most synthetic fibers have minimal bulk, limited weight, and quick drying capabilities. Quick drying means less stench and moisture which you’ll appreciate for repacking in the middle of a journey. Don’t forget that it’s best to wash towels before first use in order to keep the color from bleeding.

Here’s the basic breakdown of the best travel towel materials:

  • Cotton: Feels great, takes forever to dry, not best for daily travelers or those without either a full day of direct sunlight to line dry, or an actual dryer cycle after each use
  • Bamboo: Eco friendly substance, soft,  dries easily, often a bit more expensive
  • Linen: Great for odor protection, soft-ish to the touch, dries quickly in sunlight
  • Synthetic options: Varied ‘new’ materials sometimes hold in odor or sweat but dry fairly quickly – pricing varies
  • Microfiber: Most available material on the market, minimal weight, dries quickly, line dry when possible (as there have been cases where these actually melt in a high heat dryer), breathable, durable, fairly soft

Best Travel Towels: The Options

There are hundreds of travel towels on the market. Some come with extras, some have a limited shelf-life and others are way too plush for my liking. While the guidelines for purchasing a travel towel are not as specific as the ‘measure twice cut once’ adage before slicing a piece of timber, it’s still best to at least glance at the details before handing over your credit card. Filter your decision making process by price, material, size, weight and color and don’t forget to consider your travel style. Happy shopping.

Top Travel Towels

These towels provide consistent value and a range of options, depending on what your towel priorities are.

More Travel Towel Options

In case you didn’t find what you were looking for above, there are lots of other options. Many of the below are micro-fiber, which is the most popular travel towel material. Although natural materials are worth taking a look at, particularly bamboo.

Travel Towel Extras

No matter where you look, someone is always trying to ‘sell you something’. There’s that ‘gift with purchase’, ‘additional products to look at’, upgrades, add-ons, and up-sales on everything. Remember that you don’t necessarily need to buy only because it is out there. As nice as that extra carry case, extra items, or free hand towel sounds, if it’s going to weigh you down or lie around the house, do you really need it? If you decide that’s the one for you and you change your mind about the extra gift – always consider donating to someone who could benefit or take it with you on your next adventure – you’re sure to find a traveler who will be thrilled with your kind gesture.

What you actually need to go with your travel towel is a wet/dry bag. This little piece of magic is the perfect place to toss your damp travel towel when you repack your bag. The anti-microbial and anti-fungal coating ensures that you won’t have that signature “funk” of a soured damp towel permeating your bag.

TL;DR

Whether you’re headed out on a day’s adventure or a month of urban travel, don’t forget to add a travel towel to your bag. Whether it’s a car coffee spill, liquid bag breach, or fantastic after beach shower – you’ll be glad you have that travel towel handy.

  • Consider your travel style, needs and budget
  • Choose the best material for your needs (cotton, linen, bamboo, microfiber/other synthetics)
  • Wash in cold water before first use
  • Always keep one ready for adventure