Whether you’re jumping in alpine lakes, chasing the surf, wading in streams, or cleaning up at the campground, you’ll need to dry off with a towel at some point. When you’re shivering in the woods or on the beach, any towel is better than none. But the best kinds for outdoor activities are camping towels that dry fast, pack down easily, weigh almost nothing, and resist odors.
We’ve rounded up some of the best performance towels that’ll help you stay dry but won’t weigh you down (or start to stink after just one use). These are the top picks to know.
The Best Camping Towels 2021
1. PackTowl Personal
The perfect tech towel is soft against the skin, absorbent, and compact, and this one checks all the boxes. Even after three years of use, the PackTowl is still a go-to choice for one tester’s car camping and travel kits. Its polyester and nylon microfiber is velvety and feels comfortable on even the most sensitive areas like the face, and the “body” size packs down to about the size of a shoebox and weighs just 10 ounces. Within an hour of getting soaked it’s completely dry, and polygiene odor control keeps it from smelling like lake water (or worse). In addition to body, it comes in three other sizes: face, hand, and beach.
2. Lava Linens Classic Travel Towel
When washed, synthetic garments shed tiny microfibers that pollute our water resources. More and more brands, including Lava Linens, are becoming mindful of this issue: The company makes towels from French linen that doesn’t shed. The material isn’t as soft as microfiber at first, but it wears in over time. This towel is also heavier than other options (17 ounces), but it dries quickly (especially when you hang it from the attached organic hemp loop). It earns even more environmental points for being hypoallergenic and biodegradable, too.
3. Sea to Summit Airlite Towel
For a super lightweight option, consider Sea to Summit’s Airlite Towel. One of the most compact and lightweight models on the market, it comes in four sizes—small, medium, large, and extra-large—for drying your face, hands, or whole body. The polyester microfiber absorbs more than three times its weight in water, but the largest option weighs less than three ounces, making it perfect for backpacking, bikepacking, or other human-powered adventures where every pound matters.
4. Matador Ultralight Travel Towel
Manufactured by the masters of tiny, useful accessories, this Matador towel is so small you might lose it in your pack. It packs down into a mesh storage bag with a carabiner that you can clip to your keys like a keychain. It offers big performance when unpacked, however. When wet, it can absorb up to 2.3 times its own weight in water. Pick from two sizes: The large body towel is 2.9 ounces and the small hand towel is a paltry 0.88 ounces.
[$36 for large size; matadorup.com]
5. Nomadix Original Towel
Solid-colored towels can get boring, but Nomadix works with talented designers to add personality to its lineup. The company’s Original Towel comes in more than 80 designs, including several inspired by U.S. national parks like Grand Teton, Glacier, and Joshua Tree. Each one is made from post-consumer recycled MicroTerry fabric that’s slip-resistant when wet; the fabric also repels sand, odors, and pet hair.
6. Rumpl Everywhere Towel
Rumpl, maker of outdoor blankets, and OluKai, a Hawaiian-inspired footwear brand, teamed up to create this limited-edition run of Everywhere Towels in tropical colors. Each one measures 26.5 by 72 inches (about the size of a regular beach towel), is made with polyester microsuede for a soft feel, and rolls up to the size of a yoga mat. Take it from the beach to yoga to the pool. Added bonus: It ships for free.
7. Wise Owl Outfitters Microfiber Beach Towel
Looking for a larger option that you can wrap around yourself? This option from Wise Owl Outfitters is 30 percent larger than standard towels and measures four feet by seven feet. Lay out when the sun is shining or bundle up in it after a dunk beneath the waves. The polyester microfiber, which feels a bit like soft flannel, is great for sopping up perspiration after a hard workout or drying moisture after a day in the water.