It doesn’t take many miles on the trail before every hiker finds themselves reaching for their towel.
Whether it’s to wipe away the sweat after a steep climb, or to dry off after a spontaneous dip in the creek, the best backpacking towels must be up for everything.
Because the expectations are so high and the needs are so diverse, finding just the right towel for your hike can be a tricky task.
Here are the five most important features your backpacking towel must have. Read on and you might be surprised to learn that a hemp towel may be the ideal choice.
1. Highly absorbent & quick to dry
The primary purpose of a backpacking towel is to make drying off easy and fast. Because backpacking towels are typically much smaller than your usual bath towel, they need to absorb more water per ounce of fiber.
Microfiber is the most common towel for hiking. However, a more absorbent option is a hemp and linen (flax) blend. Hemp and flax fibers are highly coveted for their ability to absorb up to 20 % of their weight in water before feeling damp. This linen and hemp travel towel, in particular, is capable of absorbing up to 50% more water than a microfiber towel of the same size.
When it comes to quick-drying capabilities, both microfiber, and linen (flax) and hemp blend towels are very fast to dry. Hemp and flax dry quickly due to their hollow fibers and their ability to wick, or spread, the water across the material. Cotton towels, on the other hand, will take much longer to dry.
Backpacking inherently means that all your items will encounter some harsh environments. The blistering sun can easily fade some towels and boiling water and hot pots can quickly burn or melt synthetic materials like microfiber. And when your towel is tied on the ouside of your pack to dry while on the trail, it may encounter sharp branches and spiky thorns.
Loosely woven Turkish towels and towels woven with small loops of yarn like common bath towels will easily snag. Instead, look for a tightly woven, plain weave towel.
A towel with a tight, plain weave made of linen (flax) and hemp is ideal.Not only does the reduce your snag risk, flax and hemp fibers are two of the strongest plant fibers used in textiles (up to 30% stronger than cotton).
The best outdoor gear is capable of being both a workhorse and a creature comfort. If your towel makes drying off after a swim feel like a luxurious experience, but it can’t clean up a spill, that’s not good enough.
We recommend a blended linen and hemp towel because it is bothsoft and absorbent so drying off is a pleasant experience, AND stain resistant and tough so scrubbing your dishes is worry-free.
There is only so much space in your pack. Versatility is key to making your life on the trail easier and it’s a big reason why a linen and hemp towel is ideal.
Space in your pack is a hot commodity and your towel shouldn’t take up more than its fair share.
For short trips, opting for a small towel will help save space. For packing purposes, the dimensions of your towel when rolled is more important than the dimensions of your towel when laid flat. This has everything to do with the towel's material and weave.
A typical fluffy cotton bath towel could easily take up a third of your pack. Thin, cross weave towels like this one made of linen (flax) and hemp is a full-size bath towel that packs down to the size of a water bottle.
5. Leave No Trace Compatability
One of the most important and yet, most overlooked, aspects is whether our gear leaves a trace.
As responsible adventurers, it’s imperative we all practice the seven Leave No Trace (LNT) principles to preserve the outdoors. In the simplest terms, Leave No Trace means packing out trash and not leaving behind scraps of food. But if you’re not careful, your backpacking towel may leave behind a trace.
Many of the lightest towels are made of microfiber, which is a synthetic material. In other words, microfiber towels are comprised of tiny plastic fibers.
When microfiber towels are used, they break down and shed tiny pieces of fiber called microplastics.From your backyard stream to Mt. Everest, microplastics are increasingly found in natural places – much of it due to our synthetic gear.
Towels made of plant fibers such as hemp and flax help us practice LNT more deeply and more completely.
When preparing for a backpacking trip, every piece of gear needs to be heavily scrutinized for both its performance capabilities and its weight.