I’ve mastered the art of car camping. And after several summers spent living in the back of a pickup truck (with a top, of course) and another summer calling my two-person tent home, I’ve learned that efficiency can lead to all sorts of luxuries — like not having to using my shirt as a camp towel.
Several companies offer travel and backpacking towels that are similar to the chamois used to dry cars. As advertised, the tiny towels absorb amazing amounts of water. But what no one mentions is that, after wringing out excess water, dry time can take as long as that of any cotton towel. Thankfully, the folks at Canada’s Discovery Trekking Outfitters realized that a good travel and camp towel needs to not only soak up water, it needs to dry quickly.
Their Wick-er Warm-Up Wicking Towel, which comes in four sizes, feels more like a technical running shirt than a bath towel. And since good technical shirts take awhile to absorb moisture, I wasn’t sure how well the Wick-er Towel would dry wet skin. Instead of crafting a scientific experiment of drenching and recording dry time, I put the towel through the real test: a week-long bicycle tour.
In just a week, I discovered that the Wick-er towel mops water off wet skin as well as any cotton towel, and dry time decreases with size. Whether it’s rinsed in murky river water and air-dried, or machine-washed and tumble-dried, the softness remains.
Its best feature, by far, is its ability to resist odor. The funky smells that often waft from technical sports clothing are caused by bacterial growth, not the dirt gathered on repeated outdoor adventures. Some companies dress fabrics with chemical antimicrobial treatments, but the Wick-er Towel is made from Polartec fabric that contains silver fiber yarn. Even in such a small amount, the antimicrobial properties of silver are put to work on the towel.
Anyone who’s camped for an extended length of time knows the smell of damp, unwashed polypropylene. Though I did manage to test the odor-resisting limits of the Wick-er Towel, it far outshined any other piece of clothing or gear on my trip. The real-life bike tour test involved using the towel not only after river swims, but also as a picnic blanket on dewy grass, as a way to wipe rainwater from my tent before packing it and as a post-swim dress. The slight smell that originated from a week of camp use and no real washes was eliminated with just one machine wash. I couldn’t say the same for my cycling jerseys.
When used for toweling off after a swim, the largest size, 58″ x 34″, dried easily in half a day, even when draped across a pitched tent, without direct sunlight. If soaked completely, dry time took a full day, with all excess water wrung out by hand. That’s about a day-and-a-half faster (or more, depending on weather conditions) than a cotton beach towel of the same size.
The largest size is big enough to double as a two-person picnic blanket and triple as a swimsuit cover-up. It’s best used for car camping, RV trips and pool outings. Though it packs to less than half the size of a typical beach towel, it’s still too bulky for backpacking.
The medium size, 28″ x 34″, works well as a kid-sized towel. It’s a bit posh for solo backpacking, but could double as a small pillow. The small size, 28″ x 16″, is ideal for backpacking and gym use, as it dries in as little as an hour. At 13″ x 10″, the extra-small would work well as a dishcloth when car camping.
The Wick-er Warm-Up Wicking Towel is available online from Discovery Trekking Outfitters. Costs run from $12 to $29 depending on size.
From the Editors: We spent a heap of time making sure this story was accurate when it was published, but of course, things can change. Please confirm the details before setting out in our great Centennial State.