If your summer plans involve rays of sun and a sandy beach, you’re going to need a water bottle and towel. Not just any towel—a towel that will protect you from rough sand while gently absorbing water off you. I speak of a magnificent beach towel.
Larger than your average bath towel, the best beach towel offers a dry and sand-free lounge area as well as a quick way to soak up water after a dip. Ideally, it should be resistant to any sloppy, staining drinks like cola—and be colorful enough to add some pizzazz to your vacation photos.
After weeks of researching and testing nine top-rated beach towels, we can tell you that the PackTowl Personal Towel(available at Amazon for $33.69) is the best beach towel for most people. Available in a range of sizes, it is quickly absorbent, shakes off sand easily, and dries quickly in a breeze.
Here are the best beach towels we tested ranked, in order:
PackTowl Personal Towel
Sun Squad XL Sand Resistant Beach Towel
Aysesa Sandproof Turkish Beach Towel with Pocket
Bay Laurel Turkish Beach Towel with Travel Bag
Tesalate Bohemian Beach Towel
The Company Store Hammam Cotton Beach Towel
Brooklinen Beach Towel
Sand Cloud Whale Shark Towel
L.L. Bean Seaside Beach Towel
PackTowl Personal Beach Towel
The PackTowl Personal Towel wasn’t the most exciting towel to look at—the color selection is limited and travel towels have often promised great things then failed to deliver on dryness, resulting in sad smearing after-shower experiences. If that matches your experience with microfiber, read on. The PackTowl exceeded our expectations, based on earlier experiences with other travel towels. It excelled in our cup-of-water test, quickly absorbing one of the highest amounts of water and scoring just higher than the all-cotton towels.
In this test, the PackTowl absorbed more than 80% of its weight in water. And this amount of water didn’t hit the top of the PackTowl’s abilities. After testing was completed, I checked out the advertised claim that the PackTowl could absorb four times its weight in water. With a bit of coaxing, it absorbed more than four cups, but couldn’t quite hit five cups, placing it in the ballpark of four times its weight. Considering past experiences with poly-fiber travel towels involved pushing around water rather than absorbing it, the PackTowl’s capabilities are much improved.
To add to its beach towel cred, the PackTowl sheds sand quicker than kids kicking their shoes off at the shoreline. Since any trip to the beach results in sand in unexpected places, having a towel that doesn’t hold onto sand reduces the amount of cleanup after a fun day outside.
When it is dry, the towel weighs in at a svelte 9.2 ounces, making it one of the lighter towels we tested. If you’re packing gear in a beach bag, any weight saved is appreciated. The colors currently available for the PackTowl aren’t exciting when compared to some of the brighter patterned options, so if the aesthetics are important, you might want to check out one of the other poly towels (like the Tesalate) or cotton towels (like the Aysesa or Bay Laurel). All three of these towels tested similarly well for sand retention.
The PackTowl has a handy loop with a snap, letting you secure it while it hangs to dry. The included pouch zippers shut (helpful for keeping the sand in until you can wash it) and also has a loop for hanging.
The only downside to the PackTowl is the price—at this size, many travel towels are going to run a bit higher than regular towels for the bathroom. If you consider the extra use this towel can give you in other outdoor activities like camping, hiking, or boating, the cost feels similar to other outdoor and travel gear.
The Sun Squad towels from Target hit a middle-of-the-pack score in testing, similar to other terry cloth towels but with a slight difference in fabric. The Sun Squad towel doesn’t quite feel like a terry cloth, since the loops are only on one side and the other side is a flat weave. This mix pays off, resulting in a decent absorption and sand retention (sixth from the top on both tests). With the Sun Squad being right in the middle on both those tests, the price really makes the Sun Squad towel stand out since the towels it outperformed are three to four times the price.
The Sun Squad performed well on the stain test, releasing the cola after a regular wash. In addition, during our testing, the towel got some dirt markings which also washed out well.
The fabric feels a bit rough, not unpleasantly but more in an enthusiastic exfoliation sense. There are a range of colors and prints available, allowing you to match colors with any of your other beach gear—a practical decision since it makes the towel more easily identifiable as yours. If it happens to look more appealing in photos or on social media, we’re not here to judge. With a decent score in testing, the Sun Squad is a great budget selection for a beach towel.
My name is Rebecca Boniface and I don’t like to stay at home. So, I moved into an RV and made travel a priority. One of the mental shifts that I’ve found with living in an RV is that my gear needs to do double duty—everything travels with me, most of the time, so there’s no such thing now as a ‘house mug’ and a ‘travel mug’, for example.
Add in a pinch of frugality to my insistence on durability and you’ve got my mix for figuring out what gear works for my lifestyle. I need my gear to last and, with a limit on my space, if I don’t love it then I don’t have room for it. I hold these same standards to gear that I test—I want the item you purchase to have great quality and value. I believe that good gear can make life just a bit easier and keeping that extra money in my pocket makes me a bit happier, too. Like any sort of travel, even a beach trip can be improved by good gear. Having solid equipment on the beach can make the difference between a tropical get-away or a cast-away misery.
We designed tests around three expectations for beach blankets: sand retention, water absorption, and stain releasing.
For sand retention, beach blankets were tossed on the sand, swirled around, then picked up and placed into a bucket. The bucket was weighed, then the weight of the towel (taken before the sand-tossing) was subtracted from the weight to give the weight of the sand collected by the towel. Since some of the towels are significantly bigger than others, the sand weight was considered as a percentage of the towel weight. The higher the sand weight, the lower the score.
For the water absorption test, the beach towel was placed in a donut shape on a glass table. A cup of water was poured in the middle of the towel donut, then the towel was squished inwards to the water. After ten seconds, the towel was picked up and weighed. To compensate for the larger towels, this weight was also recorded as a percentage as well as a weight. Most of the towels soaked up the majority of the water but where the difference was really noticeable is when it came to the weight of the towel compared to the amount of water. For some of the smaller towels, the amount of water they absorbed was a significant portion of their weight.
We then tested for stain retention using a cola. A corner of each towel was dunked and soaked in a cup of dark soda, paying particular attention to including light-colored fringe and tassels. The towels air-dried for a couple of hours, then were washed in a top-loading washing machine with laundry soap. The towels were dried in a tumble dryer, then assessed for any change in color. This test was scored in a binary ‘did or did not stain’ rating.
What You Should Know About Buying a Beach Towel
Beach towels are admittedly a low tech piece of outdoor gear, easy to use and handy to have. Here are some aspects that you might want to consider:
Turkish Towels: Turkey has been famous for great cotton for a while, since the cotton there produces a longer fiber that is more absorptive than cotton from other countries. While the new towels are sometimes a bit rough, after a couple of washes, they are often noticeably softer. During this testing, we noticed by wash five that the towels had softened.
Consider me newly converted to the joys of Turkish towels. Before this testing, I considered luxury in towels by measuring how far my hand disappeared into the fluffy cloud of folded towels. If I could still see my wrist, I wouldn't be impressed. After doing testing with these thinner towels, I changed my mind—they absorb just as quickly as those fluffy clouds of terry cloth, without holding onto the scads of sand that terry cloth likes to pick up.
Travel Towels: Travel towels in the past have been a lukewarm experience. On the positive side, they’re lightweight and dry quickly. On the negative side, using them to dry off has ranged from frustrating (where it feels like you’re just pushing the water around your body) to unpleasant (with a texture of a paper towel at best). It seems like the material has changed recently, with some brands having a softer, flocked surface and other brands unlocking new absorption technology. If travel towels have been an unpleasant experience for you in the past, this is the time to revisit them. The experience (and the fabric tech) has improved.
Terry Cloth: A type of fabric formed with little loops that greatly increases surface area, terry cloth has been a commonly used fabric in bathroom textiles. When you think about absorbing liquids (like drying off after a shower), it makes sense to have as much surface area as you can squeeze into each square meter. That measurement per square meter or GSM is a way to compare different types of terry cloth. For example, the L.L. Bean towel we tested has a 450 GSM while the Company Store towel has a 360 GSM. If you think of GSM as the towel equivalent for the thread count for sheets, you’re on the right track.
What Makes a Towel a Beach Towel?
It’s all about the size. Generally, a beach towel is expected to be long enough to lay on, so at least 60 inches by 30 inches. Of course, anything bigger will give you a little bit of wiggle room. At this size, the towel should be easy to wrap around you to help you warm up if needed and, in a pinch, provide some privacy for switching out of a bathing suit. Anything smaller is really just a bath towel.
Other Beach Towels We Tested
Aysesa Sandproof Turkish Beach Towel w/Pocket
The Aysesa is a Turkish style towel with a zippered pocket that blends into the striped pattern, giving you a quick place to stash your keys, cash or whatnot while hanging out on the beach. The weave is an attractive, almost herringbone pattern, with a couple of shades of blue and cream with cream stripes. Like the other Turkish cotton towels, the Aysesa performed well on both the water absorption test and retained very little sand, the second smallest amount at 20g. We were surprised the cola didn’t stain this towel, since the cotton felt like it would hold onto the dark soda color but it came out easily in the wash. Overall, this towel will leave the sand on the beach and get you dry quickly.
The Bay Laurel is a Turkish style towel with tassels and stripes. The color is bright, a uniform hot pink with white flecks and stripes. After testing, the high star reviews the Bay Laurel towel received online are definitely confirmed. The score on the water absorption test was on par with our top pick but the Bay Laurel held on to more sand than several of the towels. The Bay Laurel had no issues with staining, with the cola coming out in the wash easily. Like the other Turkish style towels, after several washes, the towel is soft and it also folds up compactly. On its own, this isn’t a bad towel but for the same price, you could get a feature like a hidden pocket.
Oh, Tesalate, you’re so pretty. You did ok on the absorbency test but you were pretty average at retaining sand. For both tests, Tesalate scored poorly in absorption but was the third best at repelling sand. Considering the price makes me wince, for mediocre performance, there are better options. That said, the texture of this towel improved after a couple of washes, feeling less plastic-like. The loop for securing while drying is a thoughtful feature as well as the included drawstring bag. If the color and the print is more important than water absorption and price, go for the splurge.
The Company Store Hamman beach towel has a slightly rough texture on one side with short terry cloth loops on the other. The alternating pastel strips feel like cheerful holiday material. This was the only towel that was stained with the soda after we washed it, which was slightly surprising. During the water absorption test, all the towels were exposed to some dirt, and the Company Store towel was again the only towel that got stained. While the cola stain disappeared after another couple of washes, the dirt stain remained.
The Company Store towel held onto the second-highest amount of sand but did well on the absorption test, where it collected most of the cup of water quickly. Considering several of the other towels are 100% cotton, like this one, and they did not stain, this issue knocked this towel down in the ranking.
Brooklinen has a solid reputation for great linens; their bedsheets remain one of our top picks. The beach towel line offers great abstract prints with a thick plush terry cloth. I was eager to get this towel outside and tossed it in the wash with the others. After drying all the towels, I cleaned the lint trap and was surprised at the amount of blue fluff completely filling the filter. I figured it was due to the towels being washed for the first time. After the third wash and dry, with a lint trap that continued to be full of blue fluff, I checked the Brooklinen to find a smattering of small bald spots, like bad pixels on a monitor screen. While the bald areas didn’t seem to impact the towel’s usage, it made me question the longevity of this towel.
As one of the heavier towels in the testing, the Brooklinen is more than twice the weight of some of the others we tested. Even with all that extra surface area, the Brooklinen was outperformed by several towels when it came to absorbing water. It did well on the sand test, since it did not hold as much sand as other, similar terry cloth towels. With middle-of-the-road scoring and premium pricing, the Brooklinen doesn’t feel like a great buy for a beach towel.
The Sand Cloud has a subtle aquatic life pattern, with a soft cotton feel and boho tassels. The weave is slightly textured, looking almost handwoven. For a laid-back beach look, this is a whole mood board in a towel. But the Sand Cloud struggled during the absorption test: it was the only towel that dripped and couldn’t absorb a whole cup of water. We were surprised by this result since the brand advertises the material as pure organic Turkish cotton. Two other Turkish cotton towels handled this test with no problems, including one about a third of the weight of the Sand Cloud. Oh, and both of those towels are less than half the price of this one.
The towel didn’t hold onto sand as much as the terry cloth towels did, but didn’t score as high as the other Turkish style towels. While it’s a very petty irritation, two of the tassels got unknotted after the first washing and never regained that spiral look after. This towel is better on a wall as home decor than on the beach.
I was surprised with the resulting ranking for the L.L. Bean towel. For a towel, it’s plush and the contrasting lobster print screams summer fun. During the absorption testing, the towel performed well and soaked up water quickly. When comparing the size and weight of the towel, the water absorption is less impressive—other towels half the size of the L.L. Bean did the same job just as quickly. The sand test is what really sunk the L.L. Bean; the towel held onto the most sand at 169 grams (or more than 23% of its weight). All those plush terry cloth loops didn’t really want to let go of sand or water, so that might be an aspect to keep in mind. If the towel is intended for a pool, no problem. But if you take the L.L. Bean to the beach, you’re going to take a good part of the beach back with you.
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