Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Gear Review : Lightload towels

Forget to pack your first aid kit, and you might not notice unless you hurt yourself. Forget your packtowel, and you'll realize it on the trail at some point.

It's not an "essential" piece of gear, like a sleeping bag, that you can't leave home without, but it's just one of those things that you'll make a mental note not to forget it next time.

So when George from Lightload towels sent me a sample of his towels, I was eager to test them out so I could replace my beat-up brown washcloth with one.

The Lightload 12 in by 24 in towels come in a three-pack and sell for $5 - $6 (available on their website, REI, and many other retailers). Each one weighs 0.5 oz according to the manufacturer.

Once out of the plastic wrapping, you're holding a cicular disc that looks like a vacuum packed handful of kleenex. It's condensed incredibly tight. I assumed a disposable towel so light would rip easily, so I slowly negotiated it apart. But once it started to come apart, I realized it was actually much stronger than it appeared, and was actually quite soft and usuable. It is possible to rip these things by hand, but it's not easy.

The actual size is 11 in x 19 in about the size of a small kitchen towel, or about two giant washcloths stuck together. It's not quite long enough to tie around my neck on a hot day or around my head (is my head really that big?!).

It has a papery feel to it right out of the package, but it's tough and dries quickly. I got to test it out on a recent backpacking trip in Ojai, California where I put it through the not-so-tough paces of drying off my wet pot after cooking a meal and mopping up some spilled water on my groundcloth.

After arriving home, I threw the lightload towel in the washing machine and dryer with my other gear. I found the result was a much softer version of the towel...and we're talking feathery soft. There is minimal fraying, but nothing that would affect performance. It also results in a slightly larger size -- 12.5 in by 22 in.

After a washing

The only other product on the market that could compare to the Lightload towel is the MSR Nano Packtowel which weighs .4 oz., and costs $8 for one. The big difference is the semi-disposable nature of the Lightload towel. At under $2 a towel, if you often find yourself mopping up messy dinner spills, misplacing or needing multiple towels, the Lightload series is your answer. However, if you're looking for a more permanent solution, you might want to look at the MSR series.

The Lightload towel now has a spot in my backpack -- I'm definitely not going back to the grimy brown washcloth I used to use as a packtowel. At a half ounce, there's no reason not to carry one. If you want to get even lighter, you can always cut the towel in half, resulting in a .25 ounce towel (Lightload carries this size as well). Because I carry chlorine dioxide tablets for purification, the Lightload towel will act as a good silt filter when dipping into a lake. I can also see carrying an extra "just in case" towel for long-term hikes.

I also have a Lightload "beachtowel," which I plan to include in my travel kit and test out as a better substitute for hotel towels and beach towels while travel backpacking. Stay tuned!


  1. Great Review. The lightload Towels too are the only towels for survival. You can use them as a diaper, fire starter, cold insulator, static electrical insulator, blister patch, bandaid, padding, mask and much more.
    They are also more absorbent than the that grainy brown wash cloth and dry much quicker.

  2. MSR towels are made from oil derivatives. The country and world are trying to move away from that.

    The Lightload Towels are made from plant cellulose and are biodegradable.

  3. Tremendous post and will look forward to your future update.

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  4. hate to inform you but, to turn plant cellulose into fabric takes a nasty chemical stew and lots of energy. It is a little discussed problem with so called green fabrics like Bamboo. To really assess environmental foot print you have to look at production and long term product durability.