The way I smell after hiking, even after a single weekend, is horrendous.
Now, you might be thinking: ‘wow, this guy is gross. When I go camping I never smell.’
You probably smell worse than me.
Come on, admit it: it’s hard to stay clean in the great outdoors. Washing up in a river or a lake is always colder than it should be. But skipping a wash is not only a smelly habit but a dangerous one. The best way to prevent Lyme disease is to stop ticks from biting and a good dip underwater will make those little buggers fall off.
Drying off after a chilly wash will raise your core temperature quickly and make the process of staying clean that much more comfortable. Having a towel is also great for keeping the sun off your face, wiping condensation from inside a tent, and of course, is the ultimate mosquito/fly killing device.
Long story short: don’t forget to bring a towel.
Here’s what to look for in a backpacking towel:
Absorbent. Carrying a towel would be pretty stupid if it was terrible at absorbing liquids. Do your research and be sure to invest in one made from the correct material (we’ll get into what those materials are below).
Quick drying. Packing a wet towel in your backpack is a terrible decision. Not only will the towel never dry but all your other gear will get wet and start to smell. Pick a towel made from material that can dry quickly; many of the new fiber materials on the market are excellent choices.
Lightweight. Some would argue this is the most important aspect to every backpacking towel, its weight and size. If your towel cannot fit in your pack, it’s worthless in the backcountry. This is an important note because traditionally, towels are used as makeshift clothing and can be quite large. Your camping towel does not need to be worn, it only needs to dry you off.
Here at S&TT we want to help you stay clean, dry, and healthy. Below are four of the best towels for backpacking that spread the gamut of outdoor uses. And either one will make an excellent addition to your pack.
Not marketed as a backpacking towel, the Shamwow is actually an amazing little square of fabric. Super absorbent and fairly quick to dry, I was surprised at how awesome it worked for me. It dries extremely efficiently, absorbing water just as advertised. I really liked how good it performed cleaning condensation from my tent; having a wet rainfly in the morning is never a fun experience.
It is not as flexible as the other towels listed and not as soft on the skin, but the price point is unbeatable. At 15 inches by 15 inches the shamwow is easy to trim and customize. This pack actually comes with three, giving you an extra pair in case something happens to your first towel. My only gripe with this product is its bulkiness, it is not as easy to roll up and pack tight like some of the actual pack towels on the market.
Still, at the low price, the Shamwow is a decent budget option.
Sea to Summit has made a name for itself offering extremely lightweight products aimed at the long distance backpacking crowd. The microfiber is soft and becomes almost sticky when drying but it does work.
This towel is incredibly lightweight and can be squished into tight spaces, perfect for being the last item packed. This material is very nice to wrap around the head or face in sunny conditions, offering cool respite from the sun’s rays. There are many different sizes available, from 12×24 inches up to and including 30×60 inches- it gives you a lot of opportunities to find the perfect towel. You can find the Sea to Summit Trek Towel for $18 to $28 at REI.
I like this towel because it rivals the larger cotton towels found in bathrooms. It is big (36×60 inches) but because of the lightweight microfiber material, it packs down extremely well. This is a great towel for lounging lakeside and having a more comfortable experience. More for people at the opposite end of the ultralighting spectrum but if carrying a larger towel means a better hike, then the Waves Gear Microfiber Beach Towelis the correct purchase to make.
Raqpak is the culmination of backpacking technology merging with fitness gear. It is lightweight, made with the microfiber material we have all grown to love (or tolerate), yet it is large enough to be used in more settings other than camping. At 40×20 inches, it is the smallest size available: ample for covering the head and shoulders, but small enough to pack for a weekend trek. Treated with antibacterial agents to prevent mold, the Raqpack Microfiber Travel Towel towel will survive those inevitable wet packing days and not smell as bad as towels that were maybe not treated.
The microfiber material means drying off is more of a dabbing motion than a scrubbing motion. Some people, especially with longer hair, complain this new age material does not dry hair quite as well as the more traditional cotton towels.
The new kid on the block, this towel was invented because of the backlash to microfiber.
The material is soft and almost fluffy, allowing the user to dry as they would with a cotton towel. Its antibacterial properties allow it to stay smell free and softer long after other pack towels would. Folding up to the size of a smartphone with a total size of 34×58 inches, this towel is every bit as versatile as the competition. For the hardcore minimalist, the Discovery Trekking Outfitters High Tech Towelcan very easily replace the bathroom one. These will run ya $14 to $60 on Amazon.
Keeping dry in the great outdoors
It may seem like a silly purchase but your pack towel will be one of the most frequently used items in your backpack. Think about where you will be using it and which product most fits your lifestyle. Size, packability, and overall performance are all important characteristics to factor into your buying decision.