If you've read Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, you know how important a towel can be. Both Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect would have loved a towel anywhere close to what a PackTowl is. If you don't know what I'm talking about 'cause you haven't read the novels yet, do yourself a big favor and start now.
I may seem trivial, but having a towel with you that's light, can absorb lots of water and dries quickly is pretty important, especially for folks like us, who love to take showers in the backcountry. Many ultralighters don't carry a towel and use their bandana. We have bandanas, but their absorbency is not very good. I need something better, as I'm so hairy, I don't wear a sweater to the pool, I wear a fur coat.
The PackTowl Nano
There are quite a few different brands of ultralight towels, but when researching them, one stood out pretty quickly: PackTowl.
They have dozens of different versions, from huge, thick beach towels all the way down to their smallest offering, the Nano, measuring 19"x19" and weighing .8 ounces (my measurement). As per the description on their website it's for "drying hands and face". Well, we intended to use it as full-body towel and bought two.
The specs say it can soak up twice its weight in water, and it's true, according to my scale, the towel weighs about 120% more when really wet.
They come in these neat little pouches, but of course, we won't take those with us. Also, one corner of the towel has a tiny plastic clip sewed on (to connect to the interior of the pouch). We almost removed those when we realized that they are very handy for tying the towel to a tree branch or the pack.
We both tried them at home after regular showers. Em found that she can dry herself completely with one. I found that to get completely dry, I soak one, wring it out, dry myself some more, but my skin still stays moist a bit, so ideally, I'd need another. In many cases, especially where the weather is nice, not being completely dry is not a big deal. For times where it does make a difference, we figured out a routine: Em showers first, uses one towel, then I wring that out, get most of the water off myself with it, then use the second, still dry towel to finish. Works like a charm.
Also, it dries very quickly. Under ideal circumstances - tried to a tree branch in full sun in warm, breezy weather - it's bone dry in half an hour. Of course, don't expect that on a cloudy, damp, cold day.
The first two we purchased in 2011 and used them on every one of our backcountry trips. Unfortunately, we lost one around Peeler Lake on our first long Yosemite trip. I'm really pissed at myself for that, it was my fault. Hate leaving stuff out there.
Anyway, then we got another one, but the second of the originals still looks like new after approximately 200 nights in the backcountry. No tears, no worn patches, no permanent stains.
For car camping, we got a few larger and thicker towels from them and they perform just as well. One that's a bit bigger than the nano we always take to Sespe Hot Springs as we're in the water a lot. The nights can be really windy and chilly there and no matter how careful I am, I always get my hair wet a bit and the extra towel comes in very handy.
Em also has their RobeTowl, a really lightweight bathrobe made of the same material. It's expensive at list price, but we found a deal and she uses it a lot at home and when traveling. We even got one as a present for a friend and she's loving it, too.
Initially, I had no idea that PackTowl belongs to the same mother company - Cascade Designs - as Thermarest and Platypus. Well, they do, along with other cool brands such as MSR. I think they all share the same customer service, always very helpful and very professional.