We tested 9 popular beach towels to find our favorite for summer

We tested beach towels from PackTowl, Sand Cloud, Tesalate and more to find the best.

We tested beach towels from PackTowl, Sand Cloud, Tesalate and more to find the best.

— Recommendations are independently chosen by Reviewed’s editors. Purchases you make through our links may earn us a commission.

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.

After weeks of research and testing, the PackTowl Personal Towel is our top pick. 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:

  1. PackTowl Personal Towel

  2. Sun Squad XL Sand Resistant Beach Towel

  3. Aysesa Sandproof Turkish Beach Towel with Pocket

  4. Bay Laurel Turkish Beach Towel with Travel Bag

  5. Tesalate Bohemian Beach Towel

  6. The Company Store Hammam Cotton Beach Towel

  7. Brooklinen Beach Towel

  8. Sand Cloud Whale Shark Towel

  9. L.L. Bean Seaside Beach Towel

1. Best Overall: Packtowl Personal Towel

The PackTowl Personal Towel absorbed water quickly and efficiently during our testing.The PackTowl Personal Towel absorbed water quickly and efficiently during our testing.

The PackTowl Personal Towel absorbed water quickly and efficiently during our testing.

The PackTowl Personal Towel wasn’t the most exciting towel to look at—the color selection is limited. However, it more than exceeded our jaded expectations for microfiber beach 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 our absorption test, the PackTowl absorbed over 80% of its weight in water, but this didn’t come close to its abilities. After the standard test, 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, 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 tested and 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 (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, 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 Packtowl comes in several sizes. The beach towel is the largest and most expensive at 59 inches by 36 inches and comes in seven designs.

Get the Packtowl Personal Towel from REI from $12.95-$44.95

2. For drying off without breaking the bank: Sun Squad Cabana Striped Towel

For a basic towel, you can't do much better than this basic Target option.For a basic towel, you can't do much better than this basic Target option.

For a basic towel, you can’t do much better than this basic Target option.

The Sun Squad towels from Target hit a middle-of-the-pack score in testing. It doesn’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. While it landed in the middle on both those tests, some of the towels it outperformed are three to four times the price, making it feel like a great value.

The Sun Squad performed well on the stain test, releasing cola after a regular wash. In addition, the towel picked up some dirt markings during testing 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, 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.

The Sun Squad towel measures 58 inches by 28 inches and comes in several colors and patterns.

Get the Sun Squad Tie Dye Shark Icon Towel from Target for $12

3. For clever, convenient pockets: Aysesa

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 performed well on both the water absorption test and retained very little sand, the second-smallest amount at 20 grams. Despite the cotton’s softness, the stain test’s dark soda easily came out in the wash. This striped beach towel will leave the sand on the shore and get you dry quickly.

The Aysesa towel measures 75 inches by 39 inches and is available in 11 colors and patterns.

Get the Aysesa Sandproof Turkish Beach Towel w/Pocket for $23.90

4. For Turkish towel comfort and absorption: Bay Laurel

This towel does the job, but there's nothing memorable about it.This towel does the job, but there's nothing memorable about it.

This towel does the job, but there’s nothing memorable about it.

The Bay Laurel is a brightly-colored Turkish style towel with tassels and stripes. Our testing definitely confirmed the glowing reviews this towel has earned. It dried water similarly to our top pick, although it held on to more sand than several of the others.

This towel had no issues with staining, with cola coming out in the wash easily. 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.

The By Laurel towel is 39 x 71 inches and comes in over 40 colors.

Get the Bay Laurel Turkish Beach Towel for $28.95

5. For the Insta TL: Tesalate

If you're going to the beach, the Tesalate towel is a great option.If you're going to the beach, the Tesalate towel is a great option.

If you’re going to the beach, the Tesalate towel is a great option.

Tesalate’s Instagram-famous microfiber beach towel was our previous top pick, but this time around it got mixed results, especially for the price. It performed relatively poorly in absorption tests, and came in third at repelling sand.

The texture of this towel improved after a couple of washes, feeling 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 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.

Shop Tesalate Towels starting at $59

6. For an all-purpose towel: The Company Store Turkish Towel

The Company Store's Turkish towel feels great on the skin.The Company Store's Turkish towel feels great on the skin.

The Company Store’s Turkish towel feels great on the skin.

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.

The Hammam Cotton Beach towel measures 69 inches by 38 inches and comes in six colors.

Get the Hammam Cotton Beach Towel from The Company Store for $32

7. Short-Lived Plushness: Brooklinen

Brooklinen has a solid reputation for great linens; their bedsheets remain one of our top picks. Their beach towel line offers plush terry cloth in great abstract prints. But after our first wash and dry, blue fluff from the Brooklinen completely filled the dryer filter.

Fluff isn’t unusual after a first wash, but even after the third wash and dry, the lint trap continued to be full of blue, and the towel developed 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 performance, I question its longevity.

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, it was only average at absorbing water. It did outperform similar terry cloth towels on the sand test, but middle-of-the-road scores and premium pricing, the Brooklinen doesn’t feel like a great buy for a beach towel.

The Brooklinen towel measures 70 inches by 34 inches and is available in three color schemes

Get the Brooklinen Beach Towel for $65

8. Trendy and cute: Sand Cloud

Sand Cloud is the newest Instagram-favorite beach towel, and it’s easy to see why. It has a subtle aquatic life pattern, 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.

Unfortunately, it struggled during the absorption test: It was the only towel that dripped and couldn’t absorb a whole cup of water, despite being advertised as pure organic Turkish cotton. Two other Turkish cotton towels handled the absorption test with no problems: One of those was about a third of the weight of the Sand Cloud towel, and both are less than half the price.

The towel held onto less sand than the terry cloth towels, but more than the other Turkish style towels. And while it’s a petty irritation, two of the tassels got unknotted after the first washing and never regained that spiral look after. This towel is better as home decor than on the beach.

The Sand Cloud offers several sizes, including a 64 inch by 38 inch beach towel. They have dozens of colors, patterns, and licensed designs.

Get the Sand Cloud Whale Shark Beach Towel for $48

9. For luxurious lounging: L.L. Bean Seaside Towel

L.L. Bean's signature towel feels plush and luxurious.L.L. Bean's signature towel feels plush and luxurious.

L.L. Bean’s signature towel feels plush and luxurious.

I was surprised with the L.L. Bean towel’s low results. It’s plush, and the lobster print screams summer fun. The towel performed well at absorption, soaking up water quickly. However, other towels half the size 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. 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.

The Seaside towel measures 68 inches by 36 inches and comes in two striped options or a variety of fun patterns.

Get the Seaside Towel from L.L. Bean for $34.95

How We Test Beach Towels

The Tester

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, having solid equipment on a beach trip can make the difference between a tropical get-away or a cast-away misery.

The Tests

We tested beach towels for water absorption, stain releasing and of course, sand retention.We tested beach towels for water absorption, stain releasing and of course, sand retention.

We tested beach towels for water absorption, stain releasing and of course, sand retention.

We designed tests around three expectations for beach blankets: sand retention, water absorption, and stain releasing.

For sand retention, beach blankets were weighed, then tossed on the sand, swirled around, and placed into a bucket. We weighed the bucket, subtracting the towel’s original weight to determine how much sand the towel had collected. To account for size differences, we scored the sand weight as a percentage of the towel’s weight. The higher the sand weight, the lower the score.

To test water absorption, we placed each beach towel in a donut shape on a glass table. We poured a cup of water in the middle of the towel circle, then squished the towel inwards to soak up the water. After ten seconds, we removed and weighed the towel, marking the water’s weight as a percentage of the towel’s weight. Most of the towels soaked up the majority of the water, but some smaller towels really shone, absorbing a significant portion of their weight in water.

We then tested for stain retention by soaking a corner of each towel in a cup of dark soda, paying particular attention to stain light-colored fringe and tassels. We air-dried each towel for a couple of hours, then washed them in a top-loading washing machine with detergent. We then let the towels dry in a tumble dryer and assessed them for any change in color, using 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, 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.

Terry cloth: 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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Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.

This article originally appeared on Reviewed: We tested 10 popular beach towels to find our favorite for summer

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