Best Cooling Towels

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Our Guide to 7 of the Best Cooling Towels for Hot Weather

Are you sensitive to hot weather? When the temperature outside is in the 80s or 90s (Fahrenheit) or anywhere above 28 Celsius, do you feel intensely uncomfortable?

   

(Affiliate disclosure – at no extra cost to you, using a link below to check product prices or buy through your location’s Amazon may result in a commission to Sleeps5.)

I do, too. My favorite temperature is 72, or about 22 Celsius. I love cool days, even cloudy days! A cooling towel draped around my neck, or placed on any body part, really cools me down.

Some people have medical reasons for being heat intolerant and they need to be very careful to monitor symptoms. Others, like myself, just really, really dislike feeling hot. It makes me sluggish, upset, and grumpy.

Whereas some travelers love to feel the sun’s radiance all around, I try to avoid it.

Going to Hot Places

For our family travels, I try to select times of the year when the climate isn’t so warm. That is not easy when we’re often limited to school summers for our family vacations. To see Rome, for example, I opted for the earliest possible June dates. We hoped the temperatures would remain in the ‘average’ for June.

Alas, that plan doesn’t always work. Italy had a June heat wave while we were there and I suffered immensely in 100 degree weather while visiting the Coloseum. I dashed from shady spot to shady spot. And all five of us used our Frogg Toggs Chilly Pads neck cooling towel every single day! Those things were a huge relief! 
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Sleeps5 Lists of Hotels in Hot Weather Cities:

See the Sleeps5 menu above or the search box for lists of large family-friendly hotel rooms and suites in cities worldwide and related blog posts. Click here to see Rome hotels for visiting Rome with kids, or for another hot climate destination — Barcelona family hotels.
 

All About Cooling Towels:

Keep reading below to find out: What is a neck cooling towel and how they work, and what kids of cooling towels are available? We hope this guide helps you buy the best cooling towel for your needs, whether you’ll be vacationing, picnicking, running, hiking, or just standing in hot weather!

 

Click to see prices and read reviews for the best rated cooling towels on Amazon — each cooling towel is under $20:

Name Photo Material Size Colors Check Prices
Chill Pal PVA 12″x32″ 10 solid Chill Pal
Frogg Toggs Chilly Pad PVA 13″x33″ 12 solid, + prints Chilly Pad
Chill-Its PVA 13″x29.5″ 5 solid Chill-Its
Perfect Fitness PVA 17″x26″ 3 solid Perfect Fitness
Mission Enduracool Microfiber 12″x33″ 9 solid, 11 prints Enduracool
Way 2 Cool Microfiber 12″x33″ 11 solid, 3 prints Way 2 Cool
Alfamo Microfiber 12″x40″ 17 solid/thread combos Alfamo

 

 

How to stay cool in hot weather

It’s so amazing what science and innovation have produced in terms of wearable cooling clothing and gadgets to keep you cool. Some of these items are perfect for sports workouts or hiking. But a traveler needs items that are lightweight, packable, and easy to take care of in any hotel room.

Clothes and accessories for keeping cool that require use of a freezer, or that are bulky, might work great for hot weather outdoor activities such as watching a sporting event, or hosting a barbecue. But those cooling items wouldn’t work at all for someone walking miles exploring a city all day, or hopping on buses and visiting museums while traveling.

Luckily, there is an amazing selection of cooling clothes perfect for traveling, and at a huge variety of price points! If you’re curious, check out Amazon’s selection of cooling hats, and evaporative bandanas. There’s even a cooling headtowel shaped like a hoodie!

From the world of athletics, travelers can opt for breathable fabrics that are easy to care for. Major manufacturers like Under Armour CoolSwitch and Adidas Climachill have Women’s and Men’s style lines of caps, tops, and shorts made of high-tech fabrics that decrease wetness and help to cool the body.


What is a cooling towel?

A cooling towel, sometimes referred to as a stay cool towel, is usually a hand-towel sized rectangle piece of cloth that is made of man-made fabric. It is big enough to wear across the shoulders or around the neck and to drape there without falling off the body. Some are long enough to tie around your head.

They come in two kinds of fabric made of synthetic blends. One is non-woven PVA, which is blends of polyvinyl alcohol or acetate and other synthetics. PVA types are usually smooth and may have one side that looks like mesh. They have a softness, but typically dry to a very stiff condition, and become squishy again when wet. The other kind is microfiber, which is blends of nylon and polyester and other synthetics. They feel more like regular fabric, and remain soft when dry.

Cooling towels are meant to be worn by people during workouts or strenuous jobs or, in our case, while traveling in hot climates. The various cooling towels brands claim a variety of cooling effects while being worn, such as reducing temperature, and staying cool for certain lengths of time.
 

How Do Cooling Towels Work?

In terms of scientifically describing how they work, it might be best to call them “evaporative cooling towels”, or just “wet cooling towel” because water is how the lower temperatures are generated.

The towel is first run under cold water. The fibers soak up the water and hold it well, but it’s recommended to wring the towel out a bit. Ideally, the cooling towel is holding the maximum amount of water without dripping.

This wetting step might take some trial and error to get the water quantity just right. Generally, the fibers are sponge-like and the cooling towel doesn’t drip or transfer water to clothing. It’s better than wearing a wet regular cotton cloth as a cold towel for neck or shoulders. Keep in mind, that the cooling towel may make your shirt damp just underneath it.

Is it necessary to ‘Snap’?

Note that some of the cooling towels’ instructions say to “snap” the towel after it’s wet to activate the cooling. Others do not include that step and just say to get it wet and put it on. One says you “can snap”, others say “snap three times”, and another says “twirl in air” as methods to activate the cooling. Some have differing instructions regarding the ‘snap’ between the areas of their own online product page. It’s unclear how necessary this step is, and many reviewers just describe only wetting and wearing and the cooling still worked.

Whether you decide to snap or twirl or not, basically, wearing anything containing water, much like being in a pool, feels cooler. The water remains colder than the air temperature. It feels better to have the towel that stays cold on you! As the water evaporates, the water vapor created from the towel may also help the skin feel cooler.

Cooling Towels Science

In 2013, a test was conducted to compare the cooling effects of cooling towels by Consumer Reports. The test results showed that the same cooling effect was achieved by two different cooling towels, one of PVA that dries stiff, and one of a polyester blend that dries soft, as well as a regular cotton towel.

However, the Consumer Reports test did not measure speed of evaporation, nor drippiness, which are the two factors where cooling towels outperform a regular cotton towel, according to online reviewers, and our own experience.

If you are particularly curious, read this technical and funny WIRED article on the science of evaporation. It describes why people feel cooler with a wet towel.
 

Our Frogg Togg Chilly Pad Review – Family Travel Experience

We first heard of cooling towels when looking for ideas of what to send to a cousin who was in the military stationed in Afghanistan. Cooling towels were included on a list of suggested items created by a soldier support organization. We sent a couple tan-colored Frogg Toggs to our cousin, and then we bought one for each of us for travel purposes.

Here is how we used them:

Each morning during our hot climate travels, we soaked our Frogg Toggs by holding them under running water from the hotel room sink. We draped the cooling towel around our necks and set off for the day.

Using a cooling towel for travel to hot destination with humidity.

Hubby and our three boys walking across a bridge in Florence, Italy. It was over 90 degrees and each is wearing a Frogg Togg draped on his neck.

We felt like we stood out, since every member of our family of 5 had a Frogg Togg around their neck, and each had a different color! But we found them crucial to our well-being! I had mine around my neck, but sometimes placed mine into my hairline so my entire neck was covered, keeping it cooler under my sun hat, and completely protected from the powerful sun. Sometimes I draped the two ends down the front of me, but sometimes I draped them down my back so from the front it might look like I was wearing a giant pink choker.

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In our treks around town, I’d sometimes pause and place it over my head for a moment of all-over coolness. Occasionally, I sat down and draped it over my legs, and then over each arm, to cool each limb! It really brought relief and then I could continue on to whatever tourist site was next on the itinerary.

Using a cooling towel on legs to stay cool while traveling in hot climate.

Near the Roman Forum in Rome, Italy, we found a shady spot to drape our Frogg Toggs on our legs.

Our cooling towels sometimes did make our shirts wet, but only directly underneath the cooling towel. It didn’t drip anywhere or spread beyond where it was resting. But in the hot weather, all fabrics, even the tee-shirts we were wearing, dried quickly. Usually, we got the water wrung out of the cooling towel enough so it didn’t wet our clothes.

After a couple hours, our cooling towels would approach dryness since they would have lost some water. We’d replenish them at a water fountain, or by pouring some water on them from the water bottles we carried. If we were sitting outside at a restaurant, we leaned toward the ground, and poured water from a glass on the table. Or, we’d use the restaurant’s restroom sink.

Re-wet a cooling towel to stay cool while traveling in hot weather outside.

At a water fountain re-wetting their Frogg Toggs in Rome, Italy.

At the end of the day, we wrung out our cooling towels and hung them to dry in the hotel room. If they had gotten sweaty, we’d rinse them thoroughly before hanging to dry. The next morning they were completely dry and stiff as a board. Then we’d soak them again, drape them on our shoulders around our necks, and leave the hotel.

On days that we had to move our luggage, such as when traveling between cities, we’d pack the cooling towels when dry. We placed them in the hard plastic containers they came in, but some travelers use a Ziploc baggie.

If the towel is dry, it doesn’t really need a container, and can be placed alongside clothes in a suitcase. If the towel is still damp when packed away, be sure to remove it from your suitcase and allow it to air dry as soon as possible, before it develops mildew.
 

How to Care for a Cooling Towel

All the cooling towels can be hand or machine washed in any liquid detergent. We’ve washed ours in the washing machine, and line dried them, numerous times with no problem.

Instructions say to rinse or wash before first use. Some reviewers noticed color loss, or fading, after washing initially. Rinsing or washing before first use also eliminates the slight chemical scent some people report noticing upon initially opening the container. One thing to note is that when the cooling cloths that are made of PVA are initially opened, they are soft. But after being rinsed or washed, they’ll dry to a hard, cardboard-like condition.

Cooling towels work! How to use them, wash and pack them.

When dry, a PVA cooling towel can stand up by itself!

Instructions also say do not place a cooling towel that is made of PVA in the freezer or the fabric can become brittle and break. Those that are made of polyester blends (the ones that dry soft) would probably be okay getting cold in a freezer, but check the manufacturer’s specifications or Q&A to be sure.

We didn’t notice any scent when we initially opened ours. Others have reported a chemical odor that went away with a washing or two.

After it’s washed, hang up to dry, or dry flat. Be sure to make sure it’s completely dry before packing it in a suitcase or storing them at home. If any moisture remains in the fabric, mold or mildew might grow and cause stains or odors.

We did have one that was put away before being fully dried. When we next went to use it, there was an odor. We machine washed it again, and the odor disappeared just fine.

From the Frogg Toggs’ website: If the towel has been stored damp and develops mildew or an odor, add 1 tablespoon bleach to 1 gallon of warm water and allow the towel to soak for an hour or two. Then, rinse thoroughly to remove any bleach residue. The towel can now be washed in the washing machine to remove any residual stains. Hang the towel to dry, or place the towel in a storage container.

The cooling towels that dry to a stiff, cardboard-like condition (the PVA-type) still can be folded or rolled for storage. It just takes a bit more effort! When our Frogg Toggs are completely dry, we fold them in half, then roll tightly to fit back into the container tube. But they can also be stored on a shelf or in a drawer, using the container tube is not necessary.

   
Cooling towels are easy to dry and pack for travel, sports, and fun!

Dry cooling towel rolled and placed back in container.

Some of the PVA cooling towels’ literature notes that the towel can be cut to any size, and that sewing or binding the ends is not necessary. Thus, a large cooling towel can be divided into two smaller sizes, or more, if needed. The microfiber cooling towels that do have stitching along the edge would likely need stitching along any edge that is cut, to prevent fraying.
 

What is the Best Cooling Towel for Travel?

Below, you’ll find seven of the brands that manufacture a top rated cooling towel. Some come in multiple colors or even prints to suit every person’s style or favorite color! Besides basic colors of white or black, there are shades of blue, yellow, pink, tan, green, orange, and prints like stars and stripes or camouflage. The Alfamo brand of microfiber cloth has contrasting stitching color combinations.

For us, Frogg Toggs was great because they’re highly rated and come in many colors. It was easy to buy a different color for each of us in our family of 5. For example, I didn’t need to buy a blue one from one brand, then find a pink one from another brand.

They Do Work in Humidity?

Do note that though plenty of online reviewers stated the cooling towels were great in humid air, and the reviewers felt better using a cooling towel, the towels aren’t optimal in humidity, simply because evaporation is required to achieve a cooling effect. If the air is holding a lot of moisture, then the water in the towel can’t evaporate as much. Still, many reviewers do report a cooling relief even in humid climates.

Decide on Fabric Type, Size, and Color

Some people are sensitive to the feel of the fabric. The cooling towels made of PVA do have a squishy, rubbery feel that some people dislike. For those who might not like the feel of PVA cooling towels, the cooling towels made of microfiber blends feel more like regular fabric. Those are the kind that also remain soft when dry.

The cooling towels of the two different types, of the PVA or the microfiber blend, all work well and function similarly. They soak up water and hold it for long periods of time, usually a couple hours or more. Choosing one depends on your fashion color desires, preference for the feel of the fabric, and size. The longest ones can be tied around your head, but they also might drape nearly down to your waist if placed around your neck. 

Click to see prices and read the best cooling neck wrap reviews on Amazon. Each under $20:

Name Photo Material Size Colors Check Prices
Chill Pal PVA 12″x32″ 10 solid Chill Pal
Frogg Toggs Chilly Pad PVA 13″x33″ 12 solid, + prints Chilly Pad
Chill-Its PVA 13″x29.5″ 5 solid Chill-Its
Perfect Fitness PVA 17″x26″ 3 solid Perfect Fitness
Mission Enduracool Microfiber 12″x33″ 9 solid, 11 prints Enduracool
Way 2 Cool Microfiber 12″x33″ 11 solid, 3 prints Way 2 Cool
Alfamo Microfiber 12″x40″ 17 solid/thread combos Alfamo

 
We hope this guide has helped in making your cooling towel selection. Are there other factors you’d consider when buying a cooling towel? Do you have any tips about using cooling towels for travel?

-Sandy Nielsen

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

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7 Best Cooling Towels for Travel, Sports, and Fun!

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