What might seem like a silly question at first can be an important one for your time management when traveling. Microfiber, or quick-dry, towels are designed for campers and frequent travelers when they’re not likely to find a drying machine. Although they’re called “quick-dry” – and do dry faster than cotton, for example – the amount of time it takes varies widely depending if they’re hanging in a hotel room or by the beach.

Knowing the amount of time it takes to the average microfiber towel to dry in a variety of conditions can help you plan prior to packing. (A towel that’s even slightly damp can make your entire backpack smell of feet by the time you reach your destination.) As you can watch in the video above, I ran several experiments in order to determine average dry times indoors and out so you have a good idea of how many hours before prior to packing to hang your towel.

The Test Conditions

I ran four basic drying experiments with the REI Co-op Multi Towel Lite Large I’ve been traveling with for years in several common travel conditions.

  • Test 1: Indoors on a clothesline.
  • Test 2: Indoors hanging from a hook.
  • Test 3: Outdoors in the shade.
  • Test 4: Outdoors in direct sunlight.
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rei quick dry towel

The ambient temperature in all the tests was between 20-22C (68F-72F). The Multi Towel Lite was completely dry at the beginning of each test; I took a shower, then used the quick-dry towel. I then hung the towel, set a stopwatch, and checked in occasionally to see the progress of water evaporation. These were the results:

  • Test 1: Indoors on a clothesline: 8 hours 5 minutes.
  • Test 2: Indoors hanging from a hook: 7 hours 58 minutes.
  • Test 3: Outdoors in the shade: 2 hours 43 minutes.
  • Test 4: Outdoors in direct sunlight: 36 minutes.

Indoor Versus Out

It’s probably not surprising that drying the towel outdoors was less time consuming. Though the difference in drying time – nearly 6 hours – might be a bit unexpected. How the towel was hung didn’t make much difference but it’s clear outdoors is preferable; even if the outdoor temperature is the same or less than indoors.

The Over-Under

Add more time obviously if you’re got longer hair needing more water absorption from the towel. Of course, you can shave even more time off by wringing the towel, or placing it near or (carefully) on a heater. Indoor drying times though are going to be 8 hours, in ideal conditions like I had during these small experiments. I suspect I greatly underestimated dry times in general, which has probably cost me a few extra laundry washes on several trips.

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So, if you’re going to be using a quick-dry towel, keep in mind to schedule your shower a bit earlier on travel days when you might not have access to a balcony or backyard. Don’t pack more than two weeks of stuff, even for longer trips, and following the 80% rule might give your clothes just enough air not to stink for times you’re feeling a little less patient.