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Sure, showers are few and far between in the ground outdoors, but when you have the opportunity to wash, well, it’s a smart idea to take it — whether it’s in a campground shower or in a crystal-clear stream (just make sure you’re using eco-friendly toiletries if you go au naturel). What isn’t a smart idea, however, is bringing along a regular old bath towel — or a beach towel — to dry off with when you’re done. Regular towels are thick, heavy, slow to dry, and bulky to pack — and beach towels, which tend to be even thicker, are even worse to deal with on the trail. The solution? A backpacking towel.
Sure, a T-shirt could work — but those get a little smelly after repeated uses, and if you’re packing right for a backpacking trip, you won’t have extras to use (and you don’t want to use a dirty one to dry off once you’re clean). Backpacking towels are super-absorbent, lightweight, quick-drying and easy to pack. We’ve rounded up the best backpacking towels from around the Internet — read on for our top pics.
Best Overall: Youphoria Quick Dry Travel Towel
One of the most popular backpacking towels on the market, Youphoria’s Quick Dry Travel Towel is a sensation for all the right reasons. Made from a fine blend of microfiber, this executes the best features of a backpacking towel at a top level, so it’s sure to become a trusted companion on backpacking adventures. It comes in three sizes, 20 by 40 inches (this small size is great for sweaty hikes: the microfiber will almost immediately absorb any sweat on your skin), 28 by 56 inches, and a relatively massive 32 by 72 inches.
The material is designed to be anti-mildew and anti-odor, which is great after a few days of hiking, and it dries up to 10 times faster than terrycloth or cotton — you can air it out with the attached loop. People also say they’ve used this towel for sleeping bag liners and travel blankets, which we think is brilliant.
Best Budget: REI Co-op Multi Towel Lite
REI’s own brand is full of value-priced gear for outdoor enthusiasts, and they’ve really hit the mark with their backpacking towels. The towels come in two gorgeous colors — a vibrant light blue and a dusky pink — but most important, they’re beloved by backpackers for their low profile and absorbency.
The microfiber towels can absorb up to eight times their weight in water and wring out to be almost totally dry. Each comes with its own breathable carry case so it doesn’t get clothes inside the pack wet and lets it breathe if it’s still a bit damp. We also love the snap-closure loop that lets you hang these from a hook — or convenient tree branch.
It also packs down really compactly, with the medium condensing down into about the size of a tennis ball. The smallest size is 14 by 10 inches but there's a larger one that measures 54 by 25 inches.
Best for the Beach: PackTowl Personal Microfiber Towel
Any of PackTowl’s backpacking towels do a great job on the trail, but we love that they make a specific size for the beach. It’s 59 by 36 inches, so there’s quite a lot of room to spread out without all the bulk and heaviness of a standard beach towel, which tends to take approximately forever to dry. This one, on the other hand, dries 70 percent faster than a regular beach towel — and that’s after absorbing four times its weight in water (the thin material helps you ring it out easily, too).
If you’re at a lakeside beach in the backcountry, the hang loop makes airing this out easy. That being said, you don’t have to worry too much about musty smells with this towel, thanks to polygeine odor control that keeps odors from building up, even after a few trips to the lake.
It comes with its own storage pouch for easy, contained, and breathable transport, and doesn’t add too much weight to the pack at 9.7 ounces.
Best Quick-Drying: Wise Owl Outfitters Camping Towel
So soft that it feels like suede, Wise Owl Outfitters camping towels are beloved among the backcountry crowd for their high absorbency and quick-drying abilities — up to 10 times faster than a traditional towel (about 10 minutes in direct sunlight and about 30 minutes in the shade, more if it’s very humid out). Like the best backpacking towels, this one comes with a snap-closure loop, so you can hang it from wherever to let it dry it and air out before going back in the backpack — though it does come with its own carry bag if you need to head out before it’s fully dry.
We also love that you get a free washcloth with the large towel and a free handtowel with the extra-large size — so you’re all set for washing your face or cleaning up the occasional spill at the campsite.
They don’t dry in that hard, scratchy way that some towels do, either — it’s super soft and ready to go for the next time. The downside is it’s not antimicrobial treated, so be sure to hang it out so it doesn’t mildew.
Best for Looks: Dock & Bay Microfiber Travel Towel
If all the choices so far have seemed a little utilitarian, well, we don’t blame you: Outdoor gear is often on the rugged side, both practically and aesthetically speaking, and form often takes a far, far backseat to function. But for those of us who love a little color in our lives, there’s Dock & Bay.
The brand has a line of bright, boldly styled travel towels that take outdoor gear to new (if preppy) heights. After all, why not have a little fun? They come in a comparatively extra-large size, so it might be too big for those who are really eyeing every square inch, and the hanging loop lets you attach it to a branch or hook while you rinse off.
Although we love the huge variety of stripes and geometric designs, do note that it doesn’t dry quite as quickly as other microfiber towels — about three times as fast versus up to 10.
Best Towel Set: OlimpiaFit Three-Towel Set
If you’re not quite sure what your needs are going to be when you’re on the trail, a towel set is a great way to be sure you’re prepared for everything. The small towel measures 15 by 15 inches; the medium measures 15 inches by 30 inches, and the large clocks in at 30 inches by 50 inches. Each has snap-close hooks for hanging and airing — they hold up to four times their weight in water but dry out 10 times faster than cotton or terrycloth.
We love the large and small ones for washing and drying off on the trail, and then heading to the gym with the medium-size one — after all, the antimicrobial properties are great for guarding across gym-equipment germs, too.
The only downside is that there's not an individual carry bag for each, but it’s hardly a dealbreaker with this set. Just remember to wash them before your first use!
Best Microfiber Alternative: Green Foster Product Natural Soft Linen Flax Towel
If you’re looking to avoid synthetic microfibers — the default when it comes to backpacking towels — but you still want material that will dry quickly, absorb a ton of water, and not weigh too much in the pack, Green Foster’s towels are fantastic. Measuring 28 by 58 inches, these linen-flax blend towels are softer than they might seem, and they’re super-lightweight.
They’re also great as a beach towel since sand won’t stick to these towels like they would the hook-and-loop weave of a standard towel — plus, the natural material is stain-resistant and anti-bacterial, so you won’t see mildew build up on these.
Although these aren’t meant specifically for backpacking, they tick the boxes you need for a backcountry trip — all that’s missing is a breathable carry case, but we recommend you grab a cheap lingerie bag to clip on to your backpack’s exterior. At the end of the trip, feel free to toss it in the washer and dryer.
Best Anti-Bacterial Coating: Sea to Summit DryLite Antibacterial Towel
Sea to Summit’s DryLite towel is a favorite with backpackers — after all, the brand’s inspired a legion of devotees, thanks to high-quality products that can take a bit of a beating on the trail but stay durable. This towel is super-soft microfiber, with an ultra-suede finish that honestly feels like velvet against the skin. It comes in its own foldover-close mesh bag and has a snap-hook attached for easy hanging and drying.
What does the trick against the germs here is the silver-ion coating, which keeps microbes off away from the material — and keeps it from smelling musty or smelly while you’re on the trail. The smallest available towel is 16 by 32 inches and weighs just 2.8 ounces, with the large measuring 30 by 60 inches at 10.4 ounces.
Some users have sworn by placing these under their sun hat in hot regions — and with a little splash of water to cool down the towel, we think that that sounds like just the thing on a hot hike.