One dilemma for the long-term backpacker is what to do about a towel. Sure, those traveling on one-week vacations probably never ponder this issue since their hotel is going to supply fluffy towels on a rack. When you're paying $10 a night for a place to flop, however, you're on your own. And what about when you're camping in the woods?
Packing the kind of big fat Turkish cotton towel you would find in the Ritz-Carlton just isn't going to cut it: that would take up half your backpack. So you either have to use a sarong, use a cotton hand towel, or find some kind of travel towel, like this tiny one from Sea to Summit. This version I tested packs into a little pouch about the size of a hacky-sack, small enough to go into the palm of your hand. It's quick and easy to wash it in the sink and it dries in a couple of hours (less in direct sunlight).
To squeeze into this small a space, it is make from 70 percent polyester and 30 percent nylon. If you're thinking to yourself that those are the same synthetic fibers used in a wicking performance shirt where the moisture doesn't stick around, you have probably guessed the tradeoff this entails. Apparently the company is trying to taunt us or they enjoy a little irony: the words "super absorbent" are on the packaging.
Um, no. This travel towel will wipe off the wet, but it's about as absorbent as you would expect a synthetic fiber Hawaiian shirt to be. It took double the time to dry off my body than I usually manage with the same size towel in cotton from my local gym. It failed to wipe up a counter water spill I tried as a test without repeated wringing, something my chamois-style travel towel did with flying colors.
Let's be real though, if you're hiking through the wilderness camping or are staying in crappy guesthouses in a third-world country, comfort and efficiency are probably not very high on your priority list anyway. If packing space and weight are the key factors instead, this travel towel will get the job done without getting in the way and you know it will dry fast so you're not carrying a wet towel when it's time to pack up and head out. It should last for years and with a handy pouch to stuff it into, this is a breeze to pack.
The Sea to Summit travel towel comes in two sizes. The small one is 16 by 32 inches and the large one is 2 feet by four feet. The small one is $15 and the large one is $23.
Check your local gear or camping store, or get yours at REI.com.