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This summer might look a little different than last as some are already preparing for so-called “vaxications,” overnight outings and other travel plans. Beach destinations, including Myrtle Beach and Miami Beach, have been top of mind for travelers, according to data from hotel price comparison site Trivago. If you’re planning on being by the water this summer, you could also be searching for a beach towel to bring with you.
Unlike other towels you might have at home, a beach towel has to be able to handle the heat, so to speak. “A beach towel goes through a lot of wear and tear. It will be stepped on, exposed to the sun, saltwater, chlorine — and used as a tanning bed, cover-up and blanket,” said Johanna Lundgren, the director of product and design at hospitality tech company Jurny.
“While our instinct is to want a big, soft and fluffy towel, it is important to find a strong towel that isn’t too thick or it will take too long to dry,” Lundgren added. In order to help you find the right beach towel for the summer, we spoke to experts about the common types of towels you’ll see and gathered a few of the best beach towels out there based on their guidance.
SKIP AHEAD Best beach towels
What is the difference between a bath towel and beach towel?
Simply put, experts say a beach towel tends to be bigger than a bath towel. The size of a standard beach towel can range between retailers — popular brands like Brooklinen and Parachute offer options that measure 30 inches by 58 inches and 30 inches by 56 inches, respectively. Generally, most bath towels come in at around 27 inches by 52 inches.
Part of the reason that beach towels are bigger is practical: Oversized options are better for lounging on the beach or covering up, explained Lundgren, who oversees the interior design and furnishing of guest rooms at Jurny. And bath towels are usually made to be thicker than beach towels in order to absorb more water — but that thickness also means a bath towel can take longer to dry, which isn’t ideal when you’re at the beach, she added.
Stylistically, the two aren’t so similar, either — bath towels are likely to be one solid shade as opposed to beach towels, which may come in more colorful prints and patterns, said Susan Tosches, the towel textile expert on The Company Store’s product development team. You can see that shift at companies that carry both types of towels — for example, L.L Bean’s cotton bath towels come in colors like “Bluestone,” while this beach towel is covered in red lobsters. This might be more about aesthetics than anything — like how white towels can look classic in many bathrooms.
How to choose the right beach towel: Fabric and GSM
How a beach towel feels, dries you and dries itself off: these are important considerations when buying a beach towel. “People can end up going into a deep rabbit hole when it comes to towel shopping/selection,” said Mohan Koka, the general manager of the Kimpton Surfcomber Hotel in Miami’s South Beach. “As a first step, it’s important to consider your budget, whether you want a towel that is lighter weight (and may not be as durable over time) or if you are willing to invest a bit more and have quality and comfort with a longer rack-life.” And while you might think you need to feel a towel in person to tell if it’s right for a pool or the beach, experts emphasized the importance of looking at the kind of material a beach towel is made of and the grams per square meter (GSM) when shopping online.
Fabric: Cotton, microfiber and terry
When it comes to beach towels, three of the most common fabrics you’ll see are cotton, microfiber and terry (aka terry cloth). “Towels are woven in different ways and the different methods create different feels,” Lundgren explained. All the experts we consulted agreed that cotton is the best fabric when it comes to beach towels and they recommended those made with 100 percent cotton.
- Cotton can be more soft and absorbent while also drying quicker, said Lundgren. There are also common types of cotton you’ll see on towel tags, including Egyptian and Turkish cotton. Egyptian cotton has a finer yarn, making it softer and stronger than traditional cotton, said Koka. Turkish cotton features longer fibers compared to standard cotton, which helps make it much more absorbent, he added.
- Terry can be made from either cotton completely or a mix of mostly cotton and other materials, Koka explained. Terry towels are woven with loops — similar to how some sweat shorts are. This weave is important in terms of absorbency and weight — with terry, these loops mean there’s more surface area to absorb water but can also make a towel feel heavier, Tosches told us.
- Microfiber is made from synthetic fabrics, experts explained — often meaning man-made polyester, Tosches said. Microfiber also has an “almost magic ability” to absorb water, making it ideal for cleaning, Koka said. But while microfiber is absorbent, it doesn’t have the same comfortable feel as cotton, Lundgren argued. Those “sand-free” beach towels you may come across are typically made of microfiber.
GSM: The 'thread count' of towels
You can think of GSM as the thread count of towels, Koka explained. It’s how the weight of a beach towel can be measured, Lundgren said. And like traditional thread counts on bed sheets, a higher GSM can come with some caveats. A heavier weight can help a beach towel be more absorbent but might mean it takes longer to dry out, Tosches told us.
Koka suggested going for a GSM of 500 or above for a “hotel quality beach towel” but also mentioned that a more medium weight could be an option for those on a budget. “A mid-range GSM around 400 to 500 will ensure a thicker and more absorbent towel, but not too thick that it won’t dry,” Lundgren recommended.
Best beach towels of 2021
Given the expert guidance we received, we compiled a few of the best beach towels from retailers like Amazon, Target and Wayfair. A few have previously appeared in our guide to the best affordable beach towels, as well.
Best overall beach towel: Amazon Basics
For its affordability, absorbency and average star rating, the Amazon Basics set of beach towels is the best overall beach towel. Each towel is made from 100 percent cotton. This cotton has been ringspun — Lundgren recommended looking for ringspun cotton as ring spinning creates a yarn from twisting and thinning cotton strands — which can help a towel last longer. The two towels measure 30 inches by 60 inches each and come in colors like Sky Blue and Navy Blue. It has earned an average 4.5-star rating over more than 6,200 reviews.
Best highly rated beach towel: Utopia Towels
This highly rated set of four beach towels is made completely from cotton, which experts recommended to us. While the set is currently listed in the top three of Amazon’s bestselling beach towels, it’s the most highly rated out of the 50 featured. It boasts a 4.4-star average over more than 6,300 reviews. Each towel measures 30 by 60 inches and includes ringspun cotton. You can choose between colors like Green and Plum for a matching set.
Best affordable under $15 beach towel: Sun Squad
Made from 100 percent cotton, this towel is also OEKO-TEX certified, meaning it has been tested for harmful substances. We covered it previously in our guide to affordable beach towels. While the towel doesn’t detail its specific GSM, it’s described as being in the 300 to 450 range. The towel features contrasting stripes when flipped over and currently comes in four colorways: Black/Gray, Mint/Pink, Pink/Orange and Green/Navy.
Best affordable under $20 beach towel: Wayfair Basics
Another top rated option, this beach towel from Wayfair’s in-house line called Wayfair Basics has earned an average 4.7-star rating over more than 1,800 reviews. The towel is made with 100 percent cotton with a terry cloth weave that’s designed to be absorbent. The brand says this towel features a GSM of 450. While many colors are currently sold out, the Coral, Green and Orange shades are still in stock.
Best higher-end beach towel: Parachute
Parachute’s beach towel is slightly pricier than ones from Brooklinen or Ban.do, which are below — and it’s designed to be a blend of a beach blanket with a Turkish towel. The tasseled towel is 100 percent long-staple Turkish cotton with a 380 GSM for a lightweight feel. It measures 57 inches by 70 inches. You can choose between two colorways: White and Clay and Putty and White.
Best terry beach towel: Brooklinen
The brand says the towel has a 600 GSM that’s slightly thicker than its Classic Towel. The towel is made from mostly cotton with a terry back that’s supposed to be absorbent. It’s towel measures 34 inches by 70 inches. Brooklinen’s beach towel is also designed with three colorful patterns that are meant to resemble waves. There are three prints to choose from: Cabana, Sunset and Wave Runner. It measures 34 inches by 70 inches.
Best microfiber beach towel: Dock Bay
Another option that was featured in our roundup of affordable beach towels, this beach towel is made from microfiber, a mix of both polyester and polyamide. This fabric is meant to help the towel be both sand-resistant and quick drying, the brand says. You have two choices for sizes — Large, which measures 63 inches by 35 inches, and Extra-Large, 78 inches by 35 inches. You can also decide between colors like Cayman Khaki and Waikiki Coral Red for the stripes on this towel. It has earned an average 4.6-star rating over close to 1,500 reviews.
Best round beach towel: Ban.do
This novelty towel is made from terry cloth and features a cotton tassel trim all along the border. It’s designed to be oversized, measuring 60 inches by 60 inches in total. It comes in three distinct designs — including an orange slice, a daisy and one that’s printed with the words “one with the sun.” Out of the three, the orange slice seems to be the most popular with Ban.do shoppers, earning an average 5-star rating over 100 reviews.
Best oversized beach towel: Laguna Beach Textile Company
We previously covered this top rated beach towel alongside other affordable beach towels. The company claims the towel features a 630 GSM. It measures 70 inches by 35 inches for lounging around by the pool or staying on land at the beach. The 100 percent cotton towels currently come in six colorways including Black & Gray and Marine Blue & Seaglass Green. It has earned an average 4.6-star rating over more than 1,400 reviews.
Best personalized beach towel: Mark & Graham
With this beach towel, you can choose between monogramming or personalizing it with a phrase or name for an additional fee. The towel is made from Turkish cotton that the brand says has been treated with a spinning technique to make it more soft and absorbent. This towel measures 40 inches by 72 inches, with tassels trimming the bottom. It comes in five colorways: Orchid, Red, Turquoise, Sky Blue and Yellow.