The unassuming travel towel: a simple yet critical element to any nomad packing list. During my van life travels I kept three microfiber towels on-hand, which ended up being some of my most-used items.
That time I spilled a full jar of Alfredo sauce all over my van? Needed a towel. That time I jumped into a freezing cold river because I desperately needed a shower? Also desperately needed a towel. Or maybe when I stayed at that budget hotel whose bath towels had stains all over them–yes, I was very grateful to have packed my own travel towel.
Basically, travel towels are simple and multi-purposeful tools for travelers to carry, whether your main mode of transportation is plane, train, camper van or hiking trail. Because you never know when you may need a towel!
Best Travel Towels at a Glance
What Makes a Towel "Quick Dry"?
A quick dry towel is usually made of microfiber, although some are made of a cotton blend (such as Turkish towels) or even 100% cotton. The tradeoff between a cotton and microfiber towel is that microfiber towels do not do quite as good a job of absorbing water, while the cotton towels take longer to dry.
All quick dry towels are thin and lightweight, since a lightweight towel dries much faster than a thick, heavy one. A quick dry travel towel also does a good job at repelling sand and dirt, because the grains don’t become lodged between the fibers, as they do with a traditional terry cloth towel.
It’s best to choose a lightweight towel like a travel towel for van life or other nomadic adventures because their antimicrobial quality makes them less prone to developing bacteria. They require less washing while also helping you stay on top of your personal hygiene.
The Best Quick Dry Travel Towels for 2024
Let’s take a look at some of the best quick dry travel towel options available this year. To compile this list I looked at absorbency, dry time, weight, how compact the towel is, and price.
Personally, I love the feel of a terry cloth towel after a shower, so for me, finding a towel that mimics that feel and leaves me feeling as dry as a thick cotton towel is crucial.
REI Co-op Multi Towel Deluxe
The REI Co-op Multi Towel Deluxe is a soft, fuzzy towel that’s my favorite because it’s the perfect balance between price and quality. The material is super soft and almost feels like a regular terry cloth towel, but super quick-drying and lightweight. It comes in two colors and three sizes.
The towel is also super absorbent, capable of absorbing water up to 6.5x its weight and wringing out almost completely dry. It comes with a small carrying case and takes up very little space in your backpack, so it’s the perfect camping towel.
Nomadix Original Towel
If you’re after something a little more fun and funky, the Nomadix Original pack towel comes in a range of fun prints and patterns. It’s also treated with an anti-microbial coating to prevent bacteria growth, and the material is slip-proof, meaning it can double as a yoga mat or sleep pad.
This packable towel also made my list because it’s made from GRS-certified recycled plastic, so it’s green, sand resistant and holds up to multiple uses and washes. While it has lower water absorption than the REI towel, it is quick drying, with a faster drying time.
Packtowl Luxe Towel
The Packtowl Luxe towel is a camping towel that feels as soft as your regular towels at home. Made with lightweight cotton-like microfiber, it is quick drying, super absorbent, and packs down small. It absorbs up to 5 times its weight in water.
It comes in three sizes and five colors, and is treated with silver-ion treatment for odor resistance. It’s a slightly cheaper alternative to the REI travel towel, with a similar absorbency and weight profile.
Matador x Volcom Packable Beach Towel
The Matador x Volcom towel is one of the pricier towels on the list, and doesn’t have the same fuzzy, terry cloth feel of some of the others, however it makes up for it by being incredibly light, packing down crazy small, and looking ultra sleek.
The nanofiber material absorbs up to 3x its weight in water, and dries in minutes. It comes in a compact carrying case with a hidden pocket to stow your keys, wallet, etc. The only downside to this towel is that it doesn’t have a hanging loop to decrease drying time.
Decomen Beach Towel
The Decomen Beach Towel is made from micro-cotton, so it’s durable, super absorbent and quick drying. The material has been dehydrated to make it extra absorbent and leave your skin feeling ultra dry. The size is large enough to lay out on at the beach, but it packs down into a small, convenient compact case.
The towel usually retails for $24.99, but you can grab it from Amazon for just $9.99. It comes in a range of fun, tropical prints.
Wise Owl Outfitters Camping Towel
Wise Owl is a trusted name in affordable and durable camping gear, so you can be sure the Wise Owl Microfiber towel gives you bang for your buck. This is definitely the budget towel on the list: it’s cheaper than the other options, but that comes at the cost of being less fuzzy and less absorbent.
The towel is quick drying and withstands multiple uses and washes. Just don’t expect to get that “towel dried” feel on your skin after using – it tends to leave a slight damp sheen. It comes in four sizes, all of which pack down small enough to fit into a backpack.
Calm at Sea: Recycled Sand-Free Beach Towel
Not only is this Calm at Sea travel towel just one in a variety of unique colors and patterns, but it’s a great option for eco-conscious travelers. Each towel is made from twenty plastic bottles and maintains all of the best features of a quick dry travel towel: fast-drying time, lightweight and easily storable.
The towel designs are also created by California-based artists, where each artist receives a commission on towel sales. A nice way to support your local artists.
Benefits of Quick Dry Travel Towels
Quick dry towels make for great travel campions for the following reasons:
Avoid mold and mildew: Thanks to antibacterial properties of microfiber towels and the fact that water or liquids quickly evaporate out of of them, mold and mildew don’t stand a chance.
Save space: Quick dry travel towels are lightweight and compact, so they can easily be stored in your carry-on, gym bag, travel backpack or beach tote.
Keep money in your pocket: Quick-dry towels are made of durable, long-lasting fabric so you can really get your money’s worth. They’re less likely to develop a mildew smell that some “normal” towels develop, so you won’t have to toss them just because they stink.
A towel for any need: Quick dry towels come in all different shapes and sizes, so you can have a towel that fits any of your daily needs.
Get a deep clean: Specifically, microfiber towels can do a better job at capturing dust, dirt, oils and water than “regular” towels, giving you a better clean.
Is a Quick-Dry Towel a Worthy Investment for You?
There are so many reasons to carry a towel beyond just wanting to dry off at the beach. It can double as a sitting mat at the beach, on grass, or even on a park bench. It can be used as a yoga mat in a pinch. Microfiber towels also trap heat surprisingly well, so they can be used as a blanket on a long bus ride, at the airport, or in your van.
Quick drying towels don’t smell or grow bacteria like regular towels, meaning they require less washing and maintenance. They’re perfect for scuba divers, water sports, camping, the beach, yoga, concerts, or in a kid’s backpack.
A travel towel is a great camping or backpacking accessory, but it’s also a good idea to keep one in your purse or daypack in case of emergencies. You never know when you might need one, so like Towlie always says: don’t forget to bring your towel!