If your vacation plans involve sunshine and sandy beaches, you’re going to need a water bottle and towel. Not just any towel—an oversized beach towel that will protect you from rough sand while gently wicking away ocean spray.
Larger than your average bath towel, a quality beach towel offers a dry, sand-free lounge area and a quick way to soak up water after a dip. Ideally, it should be stain-resistant enough to withstand picnicking, and colorful enough to add some pizzazz to your vacation photos.
The recommendations in this guide are based on thorough product and market research by our team of expert product reviewers. The picks are based on examining user reviews, product specifications, and, in some limited cases, our experience with the specific products named.
PackTowl Personal Beach Towel
The PackTowl Personal Towel isn't the most exciting towel to look at—the color selection is limited. However, the PackTowl more than exceeded our jaded expectations for microfiber beach towels. It excels in quickly absorbing water and does better than all-cotton towels.
The PackTowl absorbs over 80% of its weight in water, but this doesn't come close to the PackTowl’s abilities. We went ahead and checked out the advertised claim that the PackTowl could absorb four times its weight in water.
With a bit of coaxing, it absorbs more than four cups, but couldn’t quite hit five, placing its absorption at roughly four times its weight. Past experiences with poly-fiber travel towels involved pushing water around more than absorbing it, so the PackTowel excelled by comparison and on its own.
To add to its beach towel cred, the PackTowl sheds sand quicker than kids kicking their sandals off at the shoreline. This greatly reduces cleanup after a fun day outside.
When dry, the towel weighs a svelte 9.2 ounces, making it one of the lighter towels we found and therefore great for packing in a beach bag. The colors currently available for the PackTowl are a little underwhelming, so if aesthetics are important, you might want to check out another poly towel or cotton towels.
The PackTowl has a handy loop with a snap, so you can secure it while it hangs to dry. The included pouch zips shut (helpful for keeping the sand in until you can wash it) and also has a loop for hanging.
The PackTowl’s one downside is the price, but at this size, many travel towels are going to run a bit higher than regular towels for the bathroom. If you consider this towel’s extra utility when camping, hiking, or boating, the cost feels similar to other outdoor and travel gear.
The Sun Squad towels from Target don't quite feel like other terry cloth, since the loops are only on one side with a flat weave on the other. But this unusual mix pays off offering decent absorption and sand retention. Despite doing just okay with absorption and sand retention, it is a great value.
The Sun Squad beach towel won't stain easily and washes without issue.
The fabric is a bit rough, not unpleasantly but more in an enthusiastic exfoliation sense. There are a range of colors and prints available, so you can match your other beach gear—a practical decision since it makes the towel more easily identifiable as yours, with the fringe benefit of looking great in photos. With decent test scores and a great price, the Sun Squad is a great budget beach towel.
Because this is a seasonal item for Target it does tend to go in and out of stock but if you're able to grab one, you'll surely be pleased.
The Aysesa is a Turkish style towel with a zippered pocket that blends into the striped pattern, giving you a quick place to stash small goods like keys or cash while hanging out on the beach. The weave is an attractive pattern, with a couple of shades of blue and cream stripes.
Like the other Turkish cotton towels, the Aysesa has good water absorption and retains very little sand. Despite the cotton’s softness, it doesn't stain easily. This striped beach towel will leave the sand on the shore and get you dry quickly.
The Bay Laurel is a brightly-colored Turkish style towel with tassels and stripes. We can confirm the glowing reviews this towel has earned. It dries water similarly to our top pick, although it held on to more sand than other towels.
This towel has no issues with staining, and easily washes out without issue. Like the other Turkish style towels, the towel becomes soft after several washes and also folds up compactly. The Bay Laurel performs well, but for the same price you can get features like a hidden pocket.
Tesalate’s Instagram-famous microfiber beach towel gets mixed results, especially for the price. It performs relatively poorly when it comes to absorption and doesn't repel sand the best.
The texture of this towel improves after a couple of washes, maiking it feel less like plastic. The loop that secures it while drying is a thoughtful feature, as is the drawstring bag. If color and print are 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, in a cheerful pattern of alternating pastel stripes. Surprisingly, this towel doesn't wash as easily as some others and may stain.
This towel performs well when it comes to absorption, but unfortunately holds onto a lot of sand. Ultimately, the fact that it stains when several other 100% cotton towels won't, knocked it down in the ranking.
Beach towels are admittedly a low-tech piece of outdoor gear, but there are still some aspects that to consider when finding the most soft, absorbent, and durable towel you can find.
Turkish towels: Turkish towels have extra long fibers, and with use and washing, they become incredibly soft. Before testing beach towels, I considered luxury in towels by plushness alone. After testing these thinner towels, I changed my mind—they absorb just as quickly as fluffy clouds of terry cloth, without holding onto the scads of sand that terry cloth likes to pick up.
Travel towels: Travel towels are lightweight and dry quickly, but using them to dry off has traditionally ranged from frustrating to unpleasant (with a texture of a paper towel at best). Newer travel towels have offered a softer, flocked surface and better absorption. If travel towels have been unpleasant for you in the past, it’s worth revisiting them.
Terrycloth: Formed with little loops that greatly increase surface area, terrycloth is common in bathroom textiles. The extra surface area can help absorb liquids, like when you’re drying off after a shower. Terry cloth is rated in grams per square meter, or GSM, which indicates weight and density and is roughly similar to thread count in sheets.
What Makes a Towel a Beach Towel?
Generally, a beach towel is expected to be long enough to lie on, so at least 60 inches by 30 inches. Of course, anything bigger, like 72 inches by 40 inches, will give you some extra wiggle room. The towel should be easy to wrap around you to help warm you up if needed and, in a pinch, should provide some privacy for switching out of a bathing suit. Anything smaller is really just a bath towel.
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