How to Choose the Best Gym Towel 

What’s the best gym towel for you? It may not be a question you have considered, but you’re likely to use a towel every time you go to the gym. Having the right one keeps your gym bag dry from sweat and prevents odor and bacteria buildup.

It’s especially important when you’re training martial arts. Bacteria left unchecked can lead to nasty skin infections, or a reputation as the stinky one in class. It’s also important to bring a towel with you if you’re training weights before/after class, so you don’t transfer sweat and bacteria from one part of the gym to another.

It’s easy to think a towel is a towel. Yet a high-quality towel can make a big difference to your quality of life, compared to an ordinary rag.

Some of it is a personal preference, but there’s much more tech going into modern towels than one might think. Things like packability, absorbency, and odor-resistance are all factors that you should consider when choosing the best gym towel for you. 

Read on and we’ll discuss:

  • How do you choose the towel for the gym?
  • Common features of the best gym towels
  • How to care for your gym towel and make it last
  • Personal recommendations of the best gym towels on the market

What Makes a Great Gym Towel

There’s a lot of things that play into making a gym towel great. Here, we break down the specifics of what makes some gym towels work better than others.

Material

One of the main differentiating factors from one towel to the next is its material. Standard towels are made from cotton, like your ordinary bath towel. These are simple, affordable, and do the job. There’s a reason towels have been created primarily out of cotton for decades. Honestly, you can’t go wrong with one of these. They’ll absorb sweat pretty well.

But it’s 2020, and even though cotton is a fantastic gym towel solution, the best gym towels on the market are typically made from microfiber. While coming in at a higher price premium, these towels absorb more water, they are usually fast drying, and pack down smaller than any other material. Microfiber towels will absorb a lot of sweat, while maintaining comfort and durability (more so than cotton).

A close up view of microfiber material

While cotton and microfiber are the most common gym towel materials available, they can also be made from linen, cotton-polyester blends, and even bamboo. Each element has its own set of perks and pitfalls, but cotton and microfiber tend to make the best towels for gym use, because they perform the best.

Packability

Another factor you might want to consider with a towel for gym use is how much surface area you get to how small it packs down. It’s going in a gym bag, after all, so the ability to pack it down small is essential.

This is even more important if you’ve also got to pack a Gi and/or a bunch of kickboxing/MMA gear in your bag as well.

But how small you can pack your towel down depends on the size of the towel you buy, and may be one of those things you need to experiment with a little to get right. A big gym towel is nice in theory, but you’ll have to make some sacrifices when it comes to packing. This is another area where microfiber will excel because they are more absorbent with less material, so they pack down small and weigh very little.

However, if you don’t have to pack your towel into a small bag, like if you have a home fitness gym, cotton is likely going to be the best option, only due to its affordability, especially in bulk, and its accessibility. So they’re easy to replace when they inevitably get lost or wear out.

Absorbency

The primary function of your gym towel is to absorb sweat and water, so how much water a towel can absorb is essential to it being the best gym towel. Typically, we see this measured in how much water the towel can hold compared to its dry weight. Generally, if you want a great gym towel, make sure to get a super absorbent towel that can hold several times its weight in water.

Although maximum absorbency is excellent, the more absorbent a towel is, it typically means it is thicker, so it doesn’t pack down as well and is more likely to harbor bacteria than their thinner counterparts. On top of that, a thicker towel generally will dry out slower as well, so it is a balancing act when it comes to absorbance and packability.

Cost

The last thing we should cover is towel cost. While there isn’t necessarily a hefty price markup when going from a standard gym towel to the best gym towel, you get what you pay for.

This isn’t to say that paying less for a gym towel gets you a low-quality product. On the contrary, gym towels tend to be pretty good, even at the lower price point. Take the Coney Island Cotton Towels, for example, $23 for a dozen of them, and they do everything you need a gym towel to do, just with minimal added features and benefits. But if you want a stack of functional gym towels to choose from, they are a great option.

On the other end of the spectrum, there’s a high-tech, microfiber gym towel like the PackTowl Luxe. At a higher price point than the last example for just one gym towel, these towels last a long time, pack down small, weigh next to nothing, and absorb many times more than their own weight in water. For someone who wants the best gym towel around, or needs to get more out of one towel, this gym towel may be the choice for you.

Top 10 Best Gym Towels for Workouts, Martial Arts, Yoga

KinHwa Microfiber Workout Towel

Microfiber towels are a great choice for lightweight, high-quality gym towels. The KinHwa workout towel is 85% polyester, 15% polyamide microfiber, and ticks all the boxes you want in a gym towel.

They’re engineered to perform for athletes or outdoorsmen – whether it’s hiking, camping, sports, working out, martial arts, you name it. They’re smaller than a regular bath towel, but big enough to use on a bench, and roll up to be incredibly compact.

The microfiber material is great at absorbing sweat and is really quick to dry.

A nice extra touch is a press-button loop, which lets you hang the towel nearby during sets, rather than having to throw it on the ground.

SINLAND Microfiber Gym Towels

This is another awesome microfiber towel, which works brilliantly at absorbing sweat and keep you – or gym equipment – dry and free from bacteria. These SINLAND towels come in an affordable 3-pack too, with a ton of different color options.

Another plus of the microfiber material is how fast it dries. With a microfiber gym towel like this, you can wash it after a night session, and wake up to it being fully dry the next morning.

The size is 16″ x 32″, which may be too small for some, but is big enough for wiping down sweat during a workout.

Desired Body Fitness & Gym Towels

These microfiber towels are super absorbent, fast-drying, high-quality gym towels. Desired Body towels are an awesome choice if you usually lug a ton of gear with you to the gym. They are lightweight and compact, yet stretch out to a generous 44″ x 16.5″ size. The size is perfect to covert a bench or other gym equipment, or to put down for exercises like stretching/planks. Another plus of a towel of this size is that it’s going to be able to absorb a ton of sweat before getting overloaded.

The price on Amazon includes 2 towels, making it decent value for money, for a high-quality gym towel made from the best material.

The Rag Company 3-Pack Microfiber Towels

If you’re after value, it’s going to be tough to beat this 3-pack set of microfiber towels. They’re a little on the smaller side, but have the plus of being easy to squeeze into your bag, and big enough for wiping down sweat or equipment.

The material is quick drying 320 GSM microfiber, with overlocked stitched edges for durability. They’re soft on all areas of the skin (including mat/GI burn!), and only get softer with more washes.

OlimpiaFit Towel Set & Travel Pack

OlimpiaFit’s offering ticks all the boxes – great value, convenience, and quality.

These gym towels come in a pack of three, with three different sizes. The smallest is a super compact 15″ x 15″, while the largest is a generous 50″ x 30″. Add the mid-sized towel between these two, and you’ve got a towel for every occasion.

The towels come in a handy travel pack, which makes the tetris act of packing your gym bag a lot easier.

All the towels are high-quality antibacterial microfiber, gentle on the skin but savage on sweat. They’re an excellent choice for hot and messy situations, like Jiu Jitsu or yoga.

MAYOUTH Sports Towel Set

These towels are made from 80% polyester microfiber, and at 16” X 32” in size, they’re the perfect size for multipurpose fitness use. You can use one of these towels as a cooling towel, to wipe away sweat, cover equipment, or to make a soft surface for stretching/ab work.

Lightweight and fast drying, these are some of the best gym towels in terms of convenience. They come in a great value pack of three, and a range of color options.

Rainleaf Microfiber Travel, Sports & Beach Towel

Rainleaf spoils you for choice with their high-quality, quick drying microfiber towels. You’ve got ten colors to choose from, as well as six sizes. The smallest is a compact 12″ x 24″, while the largest is a huge 40″ x 72″. Whether you need a towel for benching, wiping down equipment, or any use case.

The microfiber material feels like soft suede, a great feeling in the middle or after a heavy workout. It also happens to be super absorbent, taking in five times its weight in water. That’s a lot of sweat!

Alfamo Cooling Towel for Sports, Workout, Fitness and More

The Alfamo towel comes in a range of convenient sizes and designs. All sizes are 20% longer than normal, however -the smallest is 33″ x 11″, perfect size for use with equipment or ground exercises. The increased length and cooling fabric means it also doubles as a head cover, bandana or neck wrap. This cooling material makes it the best choice for outside use, such as running, and will aid you in keeping temperature low while pulling away excess sweat.

Coney Island Cotton Salon Towels

These towels are 100% cotton, machine-washable and lightweight. They’re super affordable in 12-unit bulk pack, which means you can stock up and not have to do a wash every day.

While they’re made primarily for salon use, they work perfectly as gym towels. The ring-spun cotton feels great, which is awesome when your body’s feeling broken after a hard training, and they are extremely absorbent. The Coney Island towels are also easy to clean, and won’t break down too quickly. If you need something simple to keep sweat off equipment or mats, this will do the job.

The towels are a little on the smaller side, so if you prefer a big towel you may want to look elsewhere.

Towel Care

With everything we have talked about so far in mind, no gym towel will perform at its best if it’s not properly cared for. No amount of odor-reducing technology can substitute for a good wash. Plus, if you absorb a bucket load of sweat and don’t properly wash your towel after, you’ll just end up wiping yourself or equipment down with the same sweat and bacteria from your last training session.

So, before you go out and spend your hard-earned money on a quality gym towel, make sure you’re aware of how to properly care for a gym towel first.

We’ll start with a list of what a proper towel washing routine should look like, and get into the details after.

Proper Towel Care:

  1. Separate clothes and towels
  2. Put towels in washing machine
  3. Mix a teaspoon of baking soda with laundry detergent
  4. Add detergent as directed
  5. Dry on low

If you’re not separating your towels from the rest of your clothes when doing laundry, start there. When you wash clothes and towels together, the fabric softeners that you may use to wash your clothes will cause your towels to perform worse since they soften fabric by incorporating a wax coating into the fibers. This is fantastic for static-free t-shirts, but not so great when it comes to your gym towels’ absorbance.

You can employ a few other tricks when washing your gym towels to ensure they last longer and always come out smelling fresh and clean, like adding baking soda to your washing detergent. The baking soda will help the fibers of the towel stay loose and absorbent and continually fight odor buildup in your towels.

What to do when you can’t wash right away

One of the worst things you can do for your towel is balling it up at the bottom of your bag after use. With all the sweat it’s absorbed, you’re just asking for it to cultivate bacteria.

Ideally, you should wash it right after the gym, but if you’re not going home after the gym (say it’s the middle of the day and you’re headed back to work/school), that can be tough.

If you can’t get home straight away and need to wash your towel, gym showers can be an option. When you’re done washing up, wash your towel in the gym shower, and ring out the water. It will still be wet, but you’ll get a lot of the sweat and bacteria out of it.

It also helps to be able to separate it from other areas of your bag. If you can use a plastic bag, or your gym bag has different sections for clean/dirty gear, this will help to stop your towel and the accumulated sweat from spreading to everything else in your bag.

Final Thoughts

It’s worth mentioning that many of the examples that we just discussed are the far ends on the price spectrum. The market for gym towels has so many options, you’re destined to find one that fits your needs both functionally and at a price point you can be happy with.

Again, a gym towel may not be something you put much thought into. But having the right one is one of those luxuries you didn’t know you needed until you have it. Having a towel that comes out of the wash fresh every time and can pack down and be easily moved between your home and the gym is essential to an effective workout routine.

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