In Summary: Sometimes carry on travelers want to pack a towel but they don't have a lot of free space in their bag. They also need something that is going to stay fresh and not get funky too quickly. I grappled with the problem and picked out the Ravens Landing 100% Linen as my suggestion for a great travel towel (make sure you get the linen version).
It stood out because:
I choose the Raven's Landing because it was one of the few 100% linen Turkish Peshtemal's that I could find. Only the tassels are cotton. Peshtemal's are very versatile and can be used as scarves, throws or blankets. But most of them are made from cotton. And cotton is not so odor resistant as linen.
If you're going to pack a towel. Pack a towel that earns its place in your luggage.
I also discuss the pros and cons of microfiber and also look at some natural alternatives.
Finally, I disagree with the great Douglas Adams. The towel is not the most useful thing a traveler needs. At least not on planet earth! I think I have an alternative that's even better!
"If you want to survive, you've gotta know where your towel is." - Ford Prefect
Most people are aware that carry on luggage needs to be under certain size dimensions. But not everyone realizes that airlines sometimes impose weight limits too.
For example, it is common for airlines in Asia to have a carry on weight limit of 15 lbs.
A regular fluffy bath towel can weigh 2 lbs.
Oops... That's 13% of your weight allowance gone already.
Even if your airline has generous a weight limit you will enjoy the freedom of travelling with a lighter bag.
And besides weight, regular fluffy bath towels take up a lot of space in your carry on too.
What I'm trying to say is that packing a huge big towel in a small carry on is a dumb idea.
And if you actually use that big fluffy towel it will take forever to dry and you might end up packing it damp. Hello stinky clothes!
A big bath towel is a luxury you are better off leaving at home.
The smart packers alternatives are to pack a small travel towel or to look at multi-purpose solutions.
An Exceedingly Brief History Of Towels
When archaeologists discover ancient human remains they often find 2 possessions: A knife... And a towel. That's how important towels are. If you're flying carry-on you'll need to leave your knife at home but make sure you pack a towel! Even if it's just a tiny towel just to wipe your brow. You won't regret it.
You need to make the judgement about towel size yourself but I'll give you some tips.
You can easily dry your entire body with a small hand towel but you can't keep yourself warm or cover your modesty.
Bear in mind that a travel towel is also a great towel to stuff in your gym bag or sports bag. So the investment might not just be for travel. Think about all the times and places you will use it.
The microfiber hand towels pack down very small. They are handy to keep in your handbag or daypack in case you get caught in the rain or are sweating buckets on a hot day.
I recommend packing a small travel towel even if you will be staying in hotels that provide towels. Especially if you are traveling with anyone clumsy that spills things. Considering their small packing size they are handy to have around for emergencies.
However if you are going to the beach, hanging out at the pool, going for picnics...
Well that's a different ball game.
In this scenario you will want something larger and more versatile. But it's still a good idea to get something lighter than the chunky terry-weave style bath towel you have at home.
"The incredible art of polishing poop"
A New Technology
Rumor has it that the Japanese first developed microfiber in the 1970's. They were hoping to make a body hugging swimsuit.
The new material was body hugging, but it was a terrible swimsuit because it absorbed too much water!
Microfiber is a synthetic cloth made with very thin thread. It's usually polyester mixed with a little polyamide (nylon).
In layman's terms... it's plastic.
These synthetic threads can be 100 times finer than human hair.
The end result is that microfiber cloth is both highly absorbent and quick drying. So far so good.
Because the fibers are so small microfiber cloth turned out to be great for cleaning.
But your towels main job is not for cleaning. It's main job is to wick the droplets of water off your skin and to stay fresh so it can be used more than once.
Scientists quickly came up against their next problem.
Untreated microfiber is a stink magnet!
As well as picking up dirt and dust particles this new fabric was a breeding ground for bacteria. This caused it to start to smell funky very quickly.
Microfiber towels are the worst possible starting material for a travel towel.
But here's the rub...
If you can take a cheap material and somehow make it work the profit margins are enormous.
To stop microfiber towels from stinking manufactures treat them with silver nanoparticles. When wet the silver releases ions and the ions kill the bacteria and stop the bad smells.
Well that's the theory anyway. But they do still start to stink after a while, it seems the silver nanotechnology has it's limits.
And there's more...
We don't know what effects silver nanoparticles have on our health and the environment.
So if "better safe than sorry" is your motto you might want to avoid these types of fabrics.
Instead I suggest choosing a towel that is naturally odor resistant like linen. Which is what every travel towel manufacturer would do if they were not primarily motivated by profit.
The end result is a cheap towel with dubious origins and unknown potential consequences for your health and the environment.
For that reason I'm only going to highlight 1 microfiber travel towel for you to consider. To be honest... they are all much the same anyway.
End of rant 🙂
Giving It The Hard Sell
Sellers market microfiber travel towels with a breathable carry bag. They also have a hanging tag and sometimes include zip pockets.
But these extra features are usually a sign of a competitive market. Money is being made and manufacturers are adding features to distinguish themselves.
The truth is everybody pushes microfiber towels because they are cheap and have high profit margins. You can manufacture a microfiber travel towel for $1 or $2 and sell it for $20 with clever marketing.
So they begin with the worst possible material to make a towel. Then try to fix it with science and tart it up with marketing.
If we ignore the environmental and health concerns microfiber towels are better travel towels than cotton terry-weave bath towels. Which partly explains why they are reviewed positively. But they are not the best, and that's what this post is about.
Users biggest complaint about microfiber travel towels is how they feel. The truth is while they get the job done they don't feel anything like a normal towel experience.
With a microfiber towel it's better to pat yourself dry because they don't glide easily when you rub.
Some people just can't get used to the new feeling. They want the cotton towel experience.
On the plus side these towels come in a wide range of colors. It's a small thing but a bright color makes it easy to find in your bag. So that's something to think about.
The Rainleaf is a very popular travel towel that comes in 7 different colors and 6 different sizes. So you will be able to find a size to suit your needs. It's very typical of this style of travel towel.
Things That I Liked
The 30x60 inch X-Large towel weighs 0.61 lbs and rolls up to be only 9.65 x 4.65 x 3 inches.
So a relatively large towel packs light and compact.
They RainLeaf towels are treated with silver nanotechnology to help prevent bacterial smells. Don't expect too much here. The best way to stop the towel from developing odors is to hang it up to dry. If you pack it wet it will still start to smell bad despite the manufacturers claims.
The xx-large version of the Rainleaf also features a zip pocket in the corner to put your cellphone or keys. This makes it an good beach towel.
Things I Didn't Like
They are 85% polyester and 15% polyamide. Microfiber is not a natural textile it's synthetic and it actually melts at high temperatures. Some people complain of a chemical smell with the towel is new but this fades after a few machine washes and it's recommended to wash the towel before your first use it.
An Ancient Technology
Is it possible that despite all the tech and marketing claims microfiber towels are not the best?
You bet your soggy ass it is!
In 1922 they discovered the burial place of the Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun. When they opened up his long abandoned tomb they found his linen curtains were still intact. More than 3 centuries later!
Linen towel are a great natural alternative to synthetic microfiber towels.
They are a very strong material and even stronger when wet.
They are naturally antibacterial and odor resistant.
Linen isn't fluffy but it is moderately absorbent and dries quickly. Because linen towels are thin they fold down into something reasonably compact. They are lighter and smaller than your usual cotton bath towels.
On the downside they can be a bit scratchy especially when new. They are also expensive but you pay for quality.
For a towel that won't stink up easily that you can use multiple times I always recommend linen.
They are not as easy find. Always look for 100% linen. Here are 2 good options to consider for linen travel towels:
The Sofia's Linen comes in 2 sizes. The smaller one (25x52 inches) is great for light packing it's a stretch of the imagination to call this a bath towel but it's a good travel size if you are keeping it light.
The main complains about the Sofia Linen towel are related to the size. If you have the space in your suitcase the larger one (40x65 inches) would make a great beach or pool towel.
Things That I Liked
Unlike a cotton towel this linen towel won't start to stink up so fast. This means you have more change to actually have a usable towel for the duration of your trip.
Things I Didn't Like
You need to be aware that a linen towel is not soft and fluffy like a cotton terry-weave. Some people say the linen towel is good for exfoliating. That gives you an idea of the feel of the towel. But remember for a travel towel we are seeking something that is not voluminous and fluffy. We need something that packs small.
LinenMe have quite a few different styles of linen towels. They also make all sorts of linen products like bed sheets, throws and table cloths.
Things That I Liked
This particular bath towel comes in two sizes. 26 x 51 inches and 39 x 57 inches. The main selling point is the odor resistant qualities of linen. You can use a towel like this all week and it's not going to stink.
The small packing size is great too meaning it doesn't take up too much space in my carry on.
Things I Didn't Like
You need to be careful about how you wash linen because it can shrink. It's advised not to tumble dry them, but actually why do we want to tumble dry something if you can hang it up and it will be fully dry in the morning.
These towels are not the cheapest option, but if you want the best travel towel then you need to be considering linen.
The Turkish Peshtemal is the swiss army knife of towels.
A peshtemal can be used as a scarf, a summer throw, a picnic blanket, a gym towel, or a yoga mat cover.
They are typically made from cotton and they are longer than a typical bath towel.
Cotton, in terms of odor resistance is not the top choice, but they are very versatile and a cotton peshtemal may earn its place in your luggage because of this.
Cotton peshtamals weigh around a third of a standard bath towel of the same size while still being absorbent enough for drying off with.
They come in lots of beautiful designs and typically have tassels at the end.
Let's face it. Even if your hotel provides towels are they they type of towel you want to take with your to the pool side? Probably not.
What's more, if you look carefully you can find large 100% linen peshtemals. They outperform cotton in odor resistance but are more expensive.
If versatility is your priority then consider these Turkish peshtemals:
The Raven's Landing Sea Bluez style is a linen turkish pestemal. Be careful because the other Raven's Landing towels are cotton. The Sea Bluez is 100% linen apart from the tassels which are cotton.
Things That I Liked
This linen towel is lightweight, packs small and is odor resistant. It's also long and wide at 79 x 38 inches. This means it's a super towel for using at the beach or by the pool.
Yes this doesn't pack as small as the tiny microfiber travel hand towels. But it has so many more uses. You can even use it as a blanket.
Things I Didn't Like
It's hard to find fault with this as a larger travel towel.
The Cacala Peshtamal comes in a wide range of colorful styles.
Things That I Liked
It's cotton so it's not as good at resisting odors as linen. However it's still a lightweight towel compared to terry-weave bath towels. The fact that it's light means it's easier to pack and it dries quicker.
Just drying quicker means it will be more odor resistant than a standard fluffy bath towel.
It's great that there are so many different styles to choose from and the price is cheaper than linen.
Things I Didn't Like
These are not the most absorbent option or comfortable option. Despite being cotton, it's not the terry-weave cotton bath towel experience.
This may be controversial... but I think I've saved the best for last.
I propose a new paradigm in post-shower drying off techniques. Remember, you heard it first here on CarryOnGuy.com
The best travel towel for ultralight travellers is not actually a towel...
It's a sponge.
At least for people with short enough hair.
Now now... suspend your disbelief for a moment and I'll explain.
You can use any sponge but something soft and absorbent works better. I like a regular cellulose sponge, the type that is hard when dry and soft when wet.
You can scrub your skin in the shower which is always nice and then simply turn the focet off.
Before you step out the shower work your way from the head down to your toes soaking up all the water droplets off your skin. Squeeze out the sponge as you go to improve absorbency. It takes less than 2 minutes.
If you soak up all the droplets the remaining moisture on your skin will simply evaporate very quickly. And a towel doesn't get you 100% dry anyway.
In fact, if you wear breathable fabrics like merino wool you can dress immediately.
Voila! No need to even take a towel with you anymore!
I like these sponges that have a little rope so you can hang it outside your suitcase.
The sponge is undoubtedly the lightest thing you can pack to dry yourself off quickly after a shower.
I will concede it's no use as a beach towel though!
Well that's travel towels covered pretty well I think. If you agree a social share would be a wonderful way to say thanks. Or let me know what you think in the comments section.
I'm going to end this post with some wonderful writing from Douglas Adams about how useful a towel can be:
“A towel is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value. You can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapors; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a miniraft down the slow heavy River Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (such a mind-boggingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can't see it, it can't see you); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.” - Douglas Adams The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
But sorry Douglas, if I go on an intergalactic journey I'm going to pack a sponge!