The 9 Best Beach Towels, According to Our Tests
A quality beach towel could make a big difference on your next coastal vacation. Ideally, you want a beach towel that is absorbent and quick to dry. But after that, it really depends on your needs. Plan to spend all day on the beach? Look for a towel that provides a comfortable barrier between you and the sand. Packing your suitcase for a long weekend? Look for a lightweight towel that's compact and easy to transport.
To help you find the best beach towels, we tested 35 towels in our Lab, evaluating them based on quality, texture, absorbency, durability, and overall value. We also received expert tips on buying and using beach towels from Kelly Kasouf, chief marketing officer at Kassatex: "For a beach towel you want something that is absorbent, dries quick, and is soft, comfortable, and lightweight since you will carry it back and forth."
Our top pick, the NovForth Oversized Beach Towel, is made with a soft microfiber that's lightweight and quick to dry, yet still very absorbent. We love that it comes in an extra-large size that's big enough to cover an entire lounge chair.
Keep reading for more of our beach towel picks, including versatile options that can also be used for camping, picnics, and more. Plus, find expert tips on how to choose the right beach towel for your needs.
Our Top Picks
- Best Overall Beach Towel: NovForth Oversized Beach Towel
- Best Budget Beach Towel: Better Homes & Gardens Cabana Reversible Beach Towel
- Best Cotton Beach Towel: Clowood Bamboo Oversized Beach Towel
- Best Microfiber Beach Towel: Rainleaf Outdoor Microfiber Towel
- Best Tasseled Beach Towel: Serena & Lily Mallorca Beach Towel
- Best Round Beach Towel: Laguna Beach Textile Company Round Beach Towel
- Best Quick-Drying Beach Towel: Kassatex Block Pareo Fouta Beach Towel
- Best Lightweight Beach Towel: Matouk Amado Beach Towel
- Best Beach Towel for Travel: Tesalate The Alchemist Sand-Free Beach Towel
The NovForth Oversized Beach Towel is our best overall pick because it's lightweight and quick to dry, yet still soft to the touch. Plus, it performed incredibly well in our absorbency testing and comes in a variety of sizes and fun patterns.
Our Testing Process
To come up with this list, we put 35 beach towels through a series of tests in our Lab. First, testers completed a visual inspection of each towel to evaluate its quality, noting things like design, construction, size, and comfort. We then folded each towel to evaluate its portability and see how easy it would be to carry in a beach bag or suitcase.
Next, we looked at each towel's texture and ability to repel sand by placing it on a sandy surface. We laid down on each towel to ensure it made full contact with the sand and to mimic laying out on a beach. Testers then picked up the towel and shook it three to five times, taking note of how much sand remained on the towel.
To test each towel's absorbency, we used it to dry our hands after wetting them. Testers also laid each towel over a shallow bowl with one-fourth cup of water and measured its absorbency based on the amount of water that remained after five minutes. We repeated the same tests after washing each towel to determine if the absorbency was affected. Before washing, testers also took note of their impression of the durability of each towel and then assessed how it held up after washing.
Finally, testers received the price of each towel so they could decide whether or not it was worth the money.
How to Shop for Beach Towels Like a Pro
Cotton: Because of its absorbency and plushness, cotton is considered the gold standard for beach towels. Some towels are made with a blend of cotton and other materials (such as polyester or bamboo), which gives them a softer, more velvety texture and helps prevent shrinkage. But the tradeoff here is that they'll be less absorbent than a towel made with 100 percent cotton.
Turkish Cotton: Many premium quality towels are made with Turkish cotton, which has superior absorbency and dry time. Turkish beach towels are typically constructed with a flatweave of long cotton fibers, as opposed to a loop weave. That's what makes Turkish towels thinner and lighter than your standard cotton towel.
Microfiber: The least conventional of the bunch, microfiber beach towels are becoming increasingly popular. (Towels marketed as "sand-free" are often made of microfiber.) They're made from synthetic materials, typically a blend of polyamide and polyester. Microfiber towels are extremely absorbent, lightweight, and fast-drying, and they can fold up into a fraction of their original size, making them some of the best beach towels for travel. Microfiber towels can have varying degrees of thickness, but usually, they aren't as soft and plush as cotton towels.
It's important to remember that beach towels are not bath towels. The fluffiest, thickest towel is not necessarily the one you want to pack for your beach trip—these towels can take a long time to dry and make it hard to remove sand and other debris. Thinner towels are much easier to transport and can dry off in time for your next swim, but they don't always give you the plushness and absorbency of a thicker towel. For a beach towel, it's best to look for something in the middle.
The weight of a towel is measured in grams per square meter (GSM). The higher the GSM, the heavier the towel. Most beach towels will fall somewhere in between 400 and 650 GSM—anything below this isn't going to be quite absorbent enough, and anything above this is going to dry too slowly and keep sand on it.
If you prefer a more luxurious and fluffy beach towel, look for one that's closer to 650 GSM. If your priority is something quick-drying that won't hold onto sand at the beach, look for a beach towel that's closer to 400 GSM.
Keep in mind that a plush terry cotton towel will take up a lot of space in your carry-on or beach bag, while a microfiber towel with a lower GSM is going to be pretty compact and fold up nicely in your luggage. Turkish beach towels and other towels with a flat weave are also great in terms of portability thanks to their ultra-thin construction.
A standard-size beach towel is typically around 63 x 31 inches. Oversized beach towels—usually measuring 70 x 40 inches—are becoming increasingly popular because they can completely cover a pool chair and give you more space to spread out. Just keep in mind that a bigger towel means more material to store and transport.
More Beach Towels to Consider
Laguna Beach Textile Co. Striped Cabana Beach Towel: This classic striped beach towel is very similar to our best cotton pick in terms of both design and performance, but it costs just slightly more.
Anthropologie Out to Sea Beach Towel: We love the unique, beach-themed design of this cotton velour towel, and it performed surprisingly well in our tests. But if the colorful design doesn't speak to you, there are many comparable towels available at a lower cost.
Questions You Might Ask
What's the difference between a beach towel and a bath towel?
For starters, beach towels are generally much longer than bath towels. Beach towels are meant to accommodate the full length of your body for lounging and they can act as a barrier between you and the sand. But more importantly, beach towels tend to be thinner and less plush than bath towels so they dry more quickly and hold onto less sand: "They need to be comfortable to lie on, light to carry, and absorbent," says Kasouf. "They are also exposed to more elements so they should be more resilient and not pull easily." For those reasons, we do not recommend bringing your bath towel to the pool or beach.
How do you wash beach towels?
Before washing your beach towels, thoroughly shake out the sand and then wash on the cold setting to help preserve the colors and prevent shrinkage. Once they're clean, beach towels can either be hung to dry or tumble dried on low. "Avoid items like bleach, fabric softener, and dryer sheets since they can damage the cotton and make the towels less absorbent over time," says Kasouf. As always, refer to the tag for the manufacturer's specific instructions.
And considering they come in contact with sand, water, sweat, and sunscreen, beach towels should ideally be washed after each use. If this is not possible (say, if you're on vacation without access to a washing machine), shake the sand out and hang the towels to dry in the sun. To keep the colors from fading, rinse your towels after going to the pool to remove chlorine residue.
Take Our Word for It
This article was written by Melanie Fincher, associate commerce editor for Real Simple with nearly three years of experience writing product reviews and lifestyle content. To compile this list, we tested 35 beach towels in our Lab and evaluated them based on their quality, texture, absorbency before and after washing, durability, and overall value. For expert tips on buying beach towels, Melanie consulted Kelly Kasouf, chief marketing officer at Kassatex.