A Tale of Four Towels

TL;DR. If you are looking for a small, light, fast drying towel to use while backpacking or traveling, I recommend the PackTowel Ultralight. I found I can effectively dry my body with a 25″x35″ towel, but the body size lets me wrap the towel around my waist or be worn like a shawl which can be useful.

While in Japan, I visited Hiker’s Depot a wonderful store dedicated to ultralight backpacking. I purchased a “quick dry”, packable towel which was very fuzzy and felt nice against the skin on one side, with an open waffle pattern on the other side which looked like it might enable rapid drying and also make a cozy scarf. My wife tried the towel after using an onsen. I strapped the towel to the back of my pack. It seemed to dry in less than 30 minutes while we were drinking tea. Excellent I thought, maybe it’s time to retired the PackTowel Ultralight I have used for the last 10 years. Or maybe not…

When I got home I compared four towels. The terrycloth bath towel that lives in our bathroom, a Turkish towel that lives in our car for emergencies, a Packtowel “Ultralight”, and my new towel.

The test was simple using a real world scenario: drying my body after a shower and then hanging the towel inside, no sun, 60F, 60% humidity. The method was

  • Weight towel
  • Take shower
  • Dry off with the towel
  • weight the towel
  • hang it up
  • reweight every 30 minutes until it reaches original weight

I did this measurement for each towel four times, taking back to back showers so the conditions were similar for all the towels and rotating the order of which towel was used first. Each towel was consistent with itself on the four cycles so I didn’t feel the need to collect additional data.

TowelDrying TimeWeight Gain (gm)
New Towel2.5 hours20
PackTowel Ultralight3 hours33
Turkish5 hours40
Terrycloth20 hours49

Towels drop between 1-7 grams / 30 minutes, mostly between 3-5 grams / 30 minutes.

Something I immediately noticed was the time to dry was related to the amount of water that was absorbed. I was reminded of By The Numbers: Testing the Performance of Mountain Hardwear AirMesh Garments – Backpacking Light which was doubly appropriate because not only did this report cover drying time, but the fabric that triggered the investigate was Teijin octa, which is the fabric in my new towel.

Subjective Experience

  • The Teijin octa towel got me functionally dry, but I didn’t feel 100% dry.
  • I felt dry after using the pack towel but the drying process required more care than the heavier towels.
  • The Turkish towel was easy to use but felt rough against the skin.
  • The Terry towel was the easiest to use – you could just wrap yourself and wait a couple of minutes and been nearly dried. It felt the best, and apparently got me slightly drier than all the other towels.


  • While Teijin octa has a number of nice properties, it’s not ideal as a towel. It seemed to absorb less water, and took longer to dry when considering how much water it absorbed
  • The PackTowel untralight is 1/3 the weight of the Turkish towel, making it the more absorbent towel / weight. From other times I also found it was the least painful to use when I had a bad sunburn.
  • The Turkish towel certainly dries faster than a traditional terry towel. The added durability compared to the Pack Towel makes a Turkish towel more appropriate for these multiple use cases but with a substantial weight penalty
  • Thick terry cloth towel dried significantly more slowly that the thin towels, even when controlling for the amount of water absorbed. It seems like it sucks the water deep into the material and then is slow to release it. There is a good reason nice hotels often have heated towel racks.

A towel is the most important item a Hitchhiker can carry. Ford Prefect and his fellow hitchhiker and friend Roosta both emphasise the importance of towels throughout Hitchhiker’s and are both known to carry one with them at all times. Although towels are repeatedly mentioned in every version of Hitchhiker’s, they are only seen visually in the television series and 2005 film


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