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Travel Towels

We’re on the road for ten years, so the more we can make things seem like home while taking into account the needs of space and weight, the better we like it.

One of the small but important things is a towel – with so much exercise, we need showers every day. Partway through our cross-country cycling trip in 2006 we spotted the MSR PackTowl Original in an REI store. We took the plunge and bought two.

We have never regretted it, and we have in fact added a few choice selections to our original towels.

Why would you want a travel towel? Anyone who has ever had to carry a terrycloth towel in a backpack or on a bike, or even in luggage for that matter, knows how heavy they are. Not only are they heavy, they take forever to dry. Though they feel great after a shower, they simply aren’t practical.

Travel towels are definitely the answer. They are extremely lightweight, they pack easily (taking up much less space than a regular towel), they dry quickly, and they absorb an amazing amount of water for their weight.

We now have four different kinds. Three of them have loops for hanging (the loop unsnaps so you can hang it around something). It’s extremely convenient when you need to put it someplace quickly, or you want to hang it to dry (though the loops aren’t all that big). They dry quickly on their own, and they are very easy to wash and dry in machines. We haven’t had any of ours bleed color, but we’ve always washed them with the dark colors so I might not know…

We’ve used ours on the road under a lot if different circumstances for over two straight years now and there are no signs of wear or damage.

I love the fact that there’s no fluff or lint or residue left after toweling dry. I use one of the hand towels when I take my contact lenses out and put them in, and it’s truly great for the no-lint aspect.

The towels also stay fresh smelling after a number of uses, unlike regular towels (sometimes it’s tough to find laundromats on the road).

The towels are a no-pile, thin towel, and they definitely don’t feel like fluffy, thick cotton towels. Made of microfibers, they function differently than the terry cloth towels, so you’ll need to adapt your drying methods. Chelsea says she pats herself dry with the MSR Packtowl, but I use a combination of patting and regular towel drying methods. They do tend to stick to the skin, and they will bunch up a bit.

The viscose/polypropylene towels like the MSR Packtowl do get softer after washing.

I find that when I dry with them, the water tends to stick to the outside before absorbing and I feel cold for the first minute or so when I dry off with them (and I don’t like that). Chelsea doesn’t report the same feeling.

The ones made of microfiber feel much better to me, but they do feel a bit rubbery. I don’t mind it at all though, especially given the big advantages to using the travel towels.

Even if you’re not on the road like we are, the uses for these towels are almost too many to count – they can be used for diving, sailing, hiking, swimming, camping, cycling, taking to the gym, kayaking, and snorkeling.

You can keep one in the car for rain, for your dogs that love to swim, and for drying off your cats or dogs when they come inside wet. One woman I know uses them for her mom who is older and doesn’t have enough arm strength for bigger and heavier terrycloth towels.

I’ve used the bigger MSR towel to roll up my hand washed WinterSilks shirts so I can squeeze out excess water before I hang them up to dry.

Ours don’t have them, but all the travel towels now seem to come with their own mesh bags. That’s something I wish we had – we use an Eagle Creek pack-it cube instead.

Be sure to take note of the measurements of each towel before you buy so you know the size you’ll be using.

Here’s a list of the towels we have.

MSR PackTowl Original

This was our first towel, and it’s what we still use for showers. It’s good sized, it does get softer with washing, and it really does absorb a lot of water and dry quickly. MSR says that the large Packtowl Original can absorb a full liter of water; it releases 90% of the liquid when it’s wrung it out; and even soaks up water when wet.

The 92% viscose/ 8% polypropylene material feels very different that the REI towel or the Aquis towels. I think MSR is now making a towel that feels more like the Aquis towels.

The Packtowl Original comes in at least four sizes.

MSR PackTowl Personal Body Towel

We haven’t tried this ultra-thin towel, but I’d be very interested in seeing it and trying it. It appears to be even lighter than the original – it weighs a mere four ounces and is made of 85% polyester/15% nylon. It’s available in four sizes and two colors.

It hangs to dry with a loop and becomes softer with each washing.

Aquis Adventure Microfiber Towel, Large (19 x 39-Inches);

I wanted a hand towel and I somehow came across this at REI. I’ve had it for over two years now and I really, really like it. At 19 x 39 inches it seemed too small for a bath towel, but I’ve used it for my hair after showers, as well as for a hand towel.

I have since replaced it as a hand towel with a smaller REI towel, but I’ve kept this for a variety of uses. Ours is navy blue, really soft, dries quickly, and feels more like a real towel.

I like the feeling against my skin better than the viscose towels, and it still has all the advantages of the viscose towels. I must say though, that I think the viscose towels dry a bit faster.

It’s astonishing as a “hair turban” – it literally wicks away water causing my thick hair to dry much faster. It’s also lightweight enough so it doesn’t break or damage hairs.

It does pack really small, and it’s easy to cart around – and it feels tough, as well.

When I knew I’d be writing this article, I decided to try using it as a bath towel and I was shocked – it works as well as the larger towel! I dried myself completely after a shower and then wrapped my hair, and it handled all of that and still dried quickly. I also liked the feeling against my skin a lot better.

REI brand hand towel

I couldn’t find this towel in REI online, but maybe you could find it in a store if you’re lucky enough to be near an REI store. It’s a true hand towel size. The fabric is a waffle weave, very comfortable. We’ve got it with our toiletries system, so it goes with us to the bathrooms wherever we are. I love using it for my contact lenses, as it leaves no lint, and it’s small enough to carry with me easily.

Eagle Creek, McNett and Rick Steves/Kiva

Each of these companies also makes good quality travel towels (Kiva makes the Rick Steves brand towels). I’d feel comfortable buying any of these. We’ve bought a lot of Eagle Creek products over the years (up to 20+ years) and they are an extremely reliable company with good products.

Liberty Mountain Lightload Towels (12 x 24)

Someone at a bike store showed us these, and we decided to buy a pack. We haven’t used them yet, because I keep saving them for special occasions, but after reading some reviews on them, I will pop one open and try it.

These little towels come in the shape of a hockey puck (but weigh only a half ounce) and they are incredibly easy to put in a purse, briefcase, the car glove compartment, your bicycle front bag, or anywhere else. They are compressed into their package, but once opened they expand to 24 x 12 inches.

They are like the MSR super-absorbent viscose fiber towels – they absorb up to ten times their weight in water. They are quick drying and the material is biodegradable and reusable. They are machine washable.

You need to know that once opened, the towel will not fit back into the original package.

We bought them to use them for wiping up spills, and for cleaning our hands after having to change a bike flat on the road. We’ve thought of soaking them on hot days and using them on the back of our necks to help keep us cool, but haven’t done that yet.

They can be used like paper towels, but they’re much more durable, and can be reused.

Lightload Towels Beach Towel (36 x 90)

This is the same towel as above, but bigger. Once removed from its packaging, the towel expands to a full-size (90″ x 36″) beach towel. It’s got all the same properties as the other travel towels, but it’s a lot less expensive (though keep in mind that it wouldn’t last as long as the MSR and Aquis towels).

This one seems like a great buy for the occasional use instead of everyday use, or for use when you wouldn’t want to use a more expensive towel (like dealing with chlorine in swimming pools).

Apparently they are rough right out of the package, but they do soften with use and washing. You may want to wash this one before using it as a bath towel.

Dollar General Microfiber towels

These are available at places other than Dollar General, but I couldn’t figure out how else to describe them. They are washcloth size or a little bigger, and are very inexpensive, very soft, and are featherweight.

I keep one exclusively for cleaning my reading glasses, and it works incredibly well – it never scratches or damages, and it gets my glasses really clean immediately.

We use another one for drying our dishes – they absorb an amazing amount of water and they dry almost in a heartbeat. They don’t smell after extensive use either.

I’ve been thinking of using one as washcloth, but I’ll need to buy another one. We can’t spare any of our current ones.

Where to buy

Check our Amazon store to find the MSR towels, the Aquis Adventure towels, Lightload towels, and towels from Eagle Creek, Rick Steves, Kiva, and McNett. They also carry the Eagle Creek pack-it cubes.

Check out REI ( for a great selection of travel towels – they carry a full range of the MSR towels, the Lightload towels, and the REI store brand. REI has a good selection of Eagle Creek pack-it cubes, too.

Check Magellan’s ( for the Eagle Creek pack-it cubes and the Eagle Creek towels.