We tested 10 popular beach towels to find our favorite for summer
Because you deserve to lounge around—and dry off—in style
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I’ve never given much thought to the towel I take with me to the pool or beach. It’s the towel that’s already right there, one that’s been folded or rolled up for an ambiguous number of years in a dingy tote bag designated for water-friendly activities, that can be used to wick off water or lounge upon, then shoved back into the bag.
But if you are planning to visit a recently reopened beach, or want to inaugurate your new above-ground pool, and need accessories, you may have found yourself facing an important question: If you aren’t me and don’t have an old, trusty towel at your disposal, what’s towel should you buy?
Also, if you aren’t me, you may be aware of just how many options there are when it comes to beach towels—fluffy Turkish cotton numbers, extra-thin, quick-drying microfiber ones, and perplexingly expensive designer options.
I purchased 10 well-reviewed towels from popular retailers, ranging from a $6 regular cotton Target towel to a $60 supposedly sand-resistant Tesalate towel, and tried them all out myself. I used them to dry off after swimming laps in a pool and brought them on a beach trip where I doled them out among my family members to get their feedback. If a towel’s manufacturer promised certain attributes, such as repelling sand, absorbing moisture, and drying off quickly, I noted how they did there, too. Finally, I washed them all, following the manufacturers’ instructions, to see if they bled dye, shrank, or lost softness or absorption powers in the process.
Did this change my general feelings on towels? Not exactly. I still think that the one that happens to be physically closest to you is the best one to use. But if you are on the hunt for a new beach or pool towel, here are some thoughts on the most popular ones out there, in order of how much I liked using them.
1. For staying comfy at the pool or beach: Tesalate
You may have spotted Tesalate on Instagram, where the Sydney, Australia-based brand does a great job of making its colorful, patterned towels—that supposedly repel sand and absorb water quickly—seem irresistible. I ordered the “Bohemian” towel, which features a kaleidoscopic array of mandala patterns. When it arrived, I was surprised it looked as good as it had on my computer screen, with vibrant coloring that looked unlike any towel I’d ever seen before. My family agreed—every time we set out for the beach, everyone wanted to snag it for themselves.
It also lived up to its sand-free promise. The towel has a slightly grooved, bumpy texture without any of the loops found on usual terry cloth. This texture, indeed, kept sand from clinging to the surface. It also allowed the towel to hold firmly in place when it’s laid out flat (unlike other towels that can flop around in the wind), so it’s a great all-day base, whether you’re sunbathing or using it as a makeshift yoga mat for a seaside vinyasa session. I liked using it for the pool, too, because its thin microfiber material absorbed moisture quickly and efficiently, and it folded into a small, compact package that slipped easily into my pool bag after I was done. After a few uses, I washed it in cold water and let it air dry (per the instructions), and it looked just as colorful as it did before I put it through the washing machine.
The catch: At $59, it’s the most expensive towel I tested and, if I’m being honest, not something I’m sure I would buy at that price for myself (rather than a work assignment). Still, the cost doesn’t seem totally gratuitous when you compare its rich, hyper-patterned design, quick-absorbing and -drying fabric, and sand-repelling abilities to other towels. If you tend to lose your towels or don’t go to the beach or pool that often, I wouldn’t recommend this one. But if you think of towels as investments and can see yourself holding onto one for many years to come, this is a great one to choose.
The Tesalate towel measures 63 inches by 31 inches (the XL towel "for two" is 63 by 63 inches) and comes in more than 30 designs.
2. For an all-purpose towel: The Company Store Turkish Towel
Turkish towels, also called fouta or hammam towels, are made of long-fibered cotton and named after the country of origin of the plants that produce the fibers. Devotees say this makes them lighter, easier to repurpose for decoration or apparel, and more absorbent than regular beach towels because the long fibers grow softer after several washes, as opposed to terry cloth fabric, which tends to get rougher the more it is washed. I tested three Turkish towels, but my favorite of the lot was the Company Store’s Santorini Cotton Towel. The brand recommends washing it a few times to get it to the peak of its absorption powers, but I found it ready to go from the start. Its fabric feels dense but not thick so it dried off quickly, and it has a texture that gives it just the right amount of friction against skin without feeling rough.
I mainly used it for drying off and lolling about on the beach, but I think it would also work as a throw on outdoor furniture or a picnic blanket. In fact, it’s so soft and absorbent that it would work well as a regular bath towel if you ever find yourself in need and without one.
The Santorini towel measures 69 inches by 38 inches and comes in six colors.
3. For drying off without breaking the bank: Sun Squad Cabana Striped Towel
This cotton towel from Target brand Sun Squad looks like a lot of the towels that show up beside a pool or on the beach, with its white base and alternating stripes (available in blue, green, or red). I liked packing it up for the pool, as it was easy to roll up and tuck in my bag. And though it isn’t technically a quick-dry towel, I found that it dried quickly all the same.
It emerged from the dryer fine after I washed it, but its thin fabric seems likely to become threadbare after a few seasons of use. Still, for a $6 towel, that’s not the worst-case scenario. If your kids need a new beach towel, or if you need a beach towel that you won’t care too much about losing, this is a great bet.
The Sun Squad towel measures 58 inches by 28 inches and comes in seven colors.
4. For something straightforward and nautical: Bed Bath & Beyond Turtles Towel
If you’re looking for a beach towel that looks more expensive than it is, the bestselling Turtles cotton towel from Bed Bath & Beyond is a good bet. The green-and-navy-blue towel is covered with a tasteful turtle pattern and feels soft but not too soft to the touch. It also has a substantial plushness to it that makes it comfortable to lie on.
Because it’s thick and fluffy, it gets a bit heavy when it’s wet. It also takes up more room than most when folded, so it’s not the best choice for a trip where you have limited packing space. But if you want something that looks great and feels nice on the skin, whether you’re lying down at the beach or toweling off after a swim, it’s a great option for less than $12.
The Turtles towel measures 72 inches by 36 inches.
5. For luxurious lounging: L.L. Bean Seaside Towel
After using L.L. Bean’s best-selling Seaside towel, my mom commented that it’s the kind of thing you expect to see on a beach known to attract the rich and famous, like the Hamptons or Nantucket. I had to agree—it’s luxurious to the touch, with a plush texture that feels closer to a bath towel than one you usually bring to the beach. The “Peach Sherbet” style I chose of alternating stripes of dark blue and pink has a subdued, unassuming pigment, which gives it the sun-faded look it might acquire from so many years of use.
One thing to be aware of is that there is a large L.L. Bean logo on the towel’s upper-left corner. I didn’t mind this—after all, I came of age in a time when wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with "Abercrombie and Fitch" was the highest point of sartorial pride a person could achieve. But some L.L. Bean reviewers pointed out that if you get the towel monogrammed—a service L.L. Bean offers for an extra $8—it makes the towel look “busy.” It’s also thick and fluffy, which is great for comfort, but less so for portability. Still, it’s a fantastic pool or beachside companion.
The Seaside towel measures 68 inches by 36 inches and comes in two striped patterns.
6. For bringing on the go: Packtowl Personal Towel
You can probably guess what the Packtowl purports to do based on its name: It’s an ultra-thin microfiber towel that’s easy to tuck into a bag without taking up too much space. It also claims to absorb four times its weight in water and wring out easily, so you can pack it wet (well, damp) and not worry about it making your other bag contents soggy. In my experience, it lived up to its absorptive and easy-to-pack promises with aplomb. A single swipe over the skin picked up a lot of water and it was easy to fold up or roll into a light, compact package.
I didn’t love the towel for the beach—it’s too thin for lying on and tends to attract sand—but it’s excellent for the pool and great for camping or traveling if you have limited space in your bag. I didn’t have any issues when I washed it (in cold water, then air dried) but some reviewers complain about the dye bleeding in the wash, so that’s something to be aware of if you choose to get it.
The Packtowl measures 59 inches by 36 inches and comes in seven designs.
7. For keeping the sand away at the beach: Dock & Bay Lightweight Beach Towel
Like the Tesalate towel, this Dock & Bay claims to wick off moisture and repel sand. It is successful at both. But unlike the Tesalate towel (and, really, any towel I’ve used), it has a slick, smooth texture. I found this off-putting—the microfiber material looked and felt like a shower curtain to me, which wasn’t too bad when I was just laying on it, but felt weird when I was drying off my skin. It also picked up what appeared to be scuff marks from the sand that didn’t come off after I put it through the wash (though that could have been a laundering error on my part).
That said, its bright, colorful stripes make it nice-looking and it lives up to its promises by wicking moisture off the skin, making it easy to shake off sand, and drying off quickly when it’s flung over a chair or deck railing. If you don’t mind the slick texture, you’ll be happy with it and its $20 price tag.
The Dock & Bay towel measures 63 inches by 31 inches and comes in more than 30 designs.
8. For decor, clothing, or moisture-wicking: Beachcrest Home Peshtemal Turkish Cotton Towel
I don’t have too much to say about the Turkish towel from Wayfair’s Beachcrest Home brand. I liked the cream-and-blue color scheme mine came in (it’s also available with red, navy, and gray stripes), and, in my tests, I found it worked ... just fine.
Most Wayfair reviewers say they use this fringed fabric as a furniture throw or a shawl just as frequently as they took it to the beach or pool. I found it decently absorbent, though it did take a little more work on my part to wipe off water. It also seemed a little stiff after I washed and air-dried it, but it may grow softer after a few more washes. All in all, it’s a nice, pretty, functional—if ultimately unmemorable—towel.
The Beachcrest Home Peshtemal towel measures 75 inches by 35 inches and comes in four colors.
9. For a decent lightweight option: Cacala Turkish Towel
The Cacala Turkish towel is a popular item on Amazon, with more than 2,000 reviews and a 4.5-star rating. But when I tried it, I found this towel thinner and less absorbent than the other Turkish towels, even after I washed it a few times. Some reviewers seemed to feel the same way, and commented that it resists moisture rather than wicking it away.
Still, it’s pretty, lightweight, and is easy to pack. For these reasons, I think it’s better suited as something to be draped over outdoor furniture, but if you use it at the pool or beach, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.
The Cacala towel measures 70 inches by 37 inches and comes in 20 colors.
10. For great aesthetics: Slowtide Beach Towel
Slowtide’s cotton beach towels, available in a wide range of patterns, colors, and graphics created by artists the brand partners with, are designed to be admired. I got the brand’s Mauka floral pattern, but you can also get stripes, paisley, or an ornate rug pattern, complete with a fringe.
I thought the towel was as soft and absorbent as any cotton towel I’d ever used, and its colors looked fantastic when it was laid out on the sand or a deck chair. It also didn’t appear to have any cosmetic changes after a wash.
Other than that, it’s not really anything special—it was a little thin compared to other cotton towels I tried, yet still took a while to dry my skin and dry out. But if you mainly want a beach towel to serve as a backdrop for your Instagram photos (nothing wrong with that!), a Slowtide will serve you well.
The Slowtide beach towel measures 60 inches by 30 inches and comes in 17 designs.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.