I’ve tried more than a few travel towel solutions in my two decades of traveling and I can say with no reservations that most of them really sucked. They’ll do the job as a sweat rag at the gym or to buff your car after waxing, but they usually either feel nasty or don’t really absorb enough.
This Discovery Trekking towel made from Polartec fabric is the best one I’ve put next to my skin and it does a serviceable job of getting the water off. It still doesn’t measure up to a nice cotton one in a hotel room, but if you’ve tried lugging one of those along you know that it’s not a practical solution when you’re packing light and staying at cheapo guesthouses and hostels.
The towels are made from odor-free Polartec fabric with silver—so the bacteria-killing part never washes out. They simulate the “normal” towel experience by not being completely slick on both sides. Little tufts, like a normal towel, whisk the water away from your skin, so you can dry off in a regular fashion. When you’re done though, the towel dries three times as fast as a cotton one, great for when you’re on the move. They weigh next to nothing (only 4 ounces for the backpacker version) and don’t take up a lot of space, so they’re a good choice for a round-the-world journey or a trip where you’re going to be river rafting or camping.
For now you can just get these travel towels at the Discovery Trekking site, but soon they’ll be stocked at REI as well. They come in a wide range of colors and in different sizes—smaller ones that soak up the sweat at the gym and larger ones for after a shower. Prices range from $13 to $30, but check out the clearance section if you don’t care about the color.