Whether you’re using them during a sweat session at the gym or to get through a hot summer day, studies show that cooling towels can significantly boost endurance levels. We put five top-rated cooling towels to the test to determine which ones perform best, wearing them while doing housework on a hot day, outside in the heat of the sun and during a workout at the gym.
The best cooling towel was the Chill Pal – PVA Cooling Towel, a highly absorbent towel that kept us cool and comfortable for a span of two consecutive hours. If you’re looking to not spend a lot per towel, but still want solid performance, we chose the YQXCC as our budget pick. We also chose the best cooling towel for sports — the BOGI – Cooling Towel, a mesh poly blend towel that felt especially lightweight and breathable as it cooled us off during our gym time.
To put together our lineup of test-worthy cooling towels, we first looked over the top-rated best-sellers on Amazon and searched for user recommendations on Reddit and YouTube. We also read through buyer reviews on Amazon to determine what cooling towel features were most important to users, which we then used to filter and narrow down the top towel choices on our list.
Out of those top picks, we chose towels that were highly rated on Amazon and under $30 each. We also made sure to test a variety of fabrics and materials — polyvinyl alcohol (PVA), 100% polyester and polyester-nylon blends — to determine which were most effective at cooling us down.
The final filtered list included two cooling towel giants: the ShamWow-like Frogg Toggs – Chilly Pad and two cooling towels by Mission, an “instant cooling gear” brand touted by big-name athlete ambassadors like Serena Williams and Dwayne Wade. The other two brands, Alfamo and Chill Pal, were dark horses by comparison, but were highly rated on Amazon and had received raves in YouTube and Reddit reviews.
How do cooling towels work?
When a moistened cooling towel is placed around the neck or on any skin surface, evaporative cooling comes into play — the skin’s temperature causes the towel’s moisture particles to heat up and evaporate, further cooling down the temperature of the towel. The result is a refreshingly cooling feeling against the skin.
A study published in the Journal of Athletic Training found that those who wore a cooling towel during exercise could endure the workout longer because it changed the participants’ perception of how much thermal strain they were experiencing. In our own research, we found that cooling towels seem to be used by everyone from gym enthusiasts and festival-goers to menopausal women battling hot flashes and mothers giving birth.
Ideal for vacationers, golfers and those who work outside or in perpetually hot environments (such as chefs), cooling towels seem to take the edge off of a variety of overheated situations and help keep wearers cool during the summer months.
Important features to consider
The fabric of the cooling towel you choose will depend largely on how you intend to use your towel. If you want to cool off without soaking your clothes, polyvinyl acetate (PVA) towels like the Chill Pal – PVA Cooling Towel are great because they will retain moisture and cool you off without sacrificing your outfit. Mesh polyester blend or 100-percent polyester towels such as the Mission – Enduracool Techknit Cooling Towel have a wetter feel and tend to be drippier, so they’re better for use at the gym, during a sports activity or in any situation where you don’t mind your clothes getting a little wet.
Cooling towels come in a variety of sizes, with some brands (such as the Alfamo – Cooling Towel) offering a broader range than others. A small-to-medium size (about 10–13 inches by 32–40 inches) is perfect for wearing around the neck during a workout. Larger-sized towels (14–30 inches by 41–60 inches) are great for keeping the entire body cool — after sports events, during heat waves, etc. Many cooling towels offer UPF sun protection, making them perfect for draping over the shoulders while outside in the sun.
Washability and storage
Since you will most likely want to wash your cooling towel often, it’s a good idea to pick one that can be conveniently thrown into the washing machine.
PVA fans, take heed: Since PVA dries to a hard, cardboard-like finish, you’ll want to wash your towel and then fold or roll it up while still wet. Attempting to fold or roll your towel after it dries may result in tearing. If you don’t need to fold or roll your towel for storage, feel free to lay it out flat to dry.
Some cooling towels come with storage pouches and even hooks to attach to your gym bag or backpack for easy transportation while wet or dry.
How we tested
To determine the best cooling towels out of our top five picks, our testers wore each towel around their neck and shoulders for a span of two consecutive hours while doing housework and yard work. We also wore them during gym sessions to find out how well they cooled us down while we were hot and sweaty. Our testers then rated the towels using the following criteria.
After wetting/activating the cooling towel with room-temperature water, how long does it actually stay cool?
How cool does it feel against the skin (without re-wetting) within the first 10 minutes of use? Within the first 30 minutes? Within the first hour?
How pleasant does the towel’s fabric feel against the skin?
Does it get clothes wet, or do they remain dry during use?
How well do the size and shape of the towel work for its intended purpose?
Is it machine washable?
How easy is it to store?
Top Pick: Chill Pal - PVA Cooling Towel
Our pick for best cooling towel overall is the Chill Pal – PVA Cooling Towel, which remained moist and cool throughout our testing periods, didn’t get our clothes wet and was soft and comfortable to wear. Made of cushy polyvinyl acetate (PVA), the Chill Pal feels buttery against the skin, with one side textured and the other smooth. Its 12 inch by 32 inch size was ideal for draping easily around our neck or over our shoulders.
After soaking it in water and wringing it out according to the directions, the towel immediately felt cool against our neck and retained that coolness for the next hour of use. In the hour following that, the towel did begin to warm slightly, but we were impressed by how long it remained moist — well beyond our two-hour consecutive testing period — and even more impressed that it only lightly dampened our shirt during that time.Read more…
As a PVA cooling towel, the Chill Pal dries stiff. Though it can be washed cold in the washing machine, it shouldn’t be dried in the dryer. We recommend folding or rolling the towel while it’s still moist and pliable, and then air-drying it to prevent molding before storing it in its pouch.
Priced at about $13, the Chill Pal comes with a storage pouch and carabiner, so it can be clipped onto your bag or backpack before and after use. Because it does an excellent job of cooling the body down without soaking your outfit, we recommend it for those who need to cool down at work, while out and about on a hot day (Disneyland, anyone?) or during house and yard work.
The Chill Pal – PVA Cooling Towel impressed us with its marathon moisture retention.
The towel remained cool longer than any of the others in our testing lineup.
Because it leaches little to no water onto clothing, the Chill Pal is ideal for use at work or in situations where you need to preserve your outfit.
Since it dries stiff, you need to air dry and roll it up while it is still pliable.
Budget Pick: YQXCC
The YQXCC – Microfiber towels come in a four-pack with various colors and are larger-sized cooling towels at 47 x 12 inches. We used these towels during intense workouts and hot summer days running errands or at the beach outdoors. It’s made of a similar microfiber fabric to other brands, like Tough Cool. These brands have a mesh pattern that produces a cooling effect when soaked and wrung out.
During tests, we found them to work similarly to other microfiber towels–they produce a cooling effect once you wet and move the towel back and forth to activate it. It stays cool for about 10 minutes and needs to be forcefully aired out to consistently produce the same cooling effect; however, the more you move the towel around, the more the water evaporates, and the YQXCC towels are less cold each time. No matter how long we used the towels on our clothes, they didn’t wet our shirts either.Read more…
We liked that the YQXCC comes in a pack of four with different colors, so if you’re sharing this pack with other people, you don’t get any colors mixed up. Each towel also has a plastic carrier and a carabiner to attach to bags or belt loops; however, we wouldn’t recommend storing these towels damp inside the pockets because they could produce mold. For a 4-pack of cooling towels under $13, the YQXCC coolings towels are a really affordable budget option.
Best for sports: BOGI
The BOGI – 2 Pack Cooling Towels are our favorite for exercising because they’re super affordable, keep you extra cool during hot workouts, and are lightweight. What differentiates the BOGI cooling towels is that they are made of soft cool bamboo fiber that is more sustainable than polyester towels. The bamboo fabric is gentler on the skin with its silky and lightweight texture.
We tested these towels outdoors in hot weather and intense workouts to see how long the towels kept us cool. Surprisingly, they kept cool for over three hours, and we didn’t need to re-wet them during a one-hour, hot yoga class. We tested the medium size (40 x 12 inches), which fit perfectly around our necks during the workout. BOGI also offers a larger-sized towel measuring 47 x 14 inches in over ten colors.Read more…
Each towel comes in a plastic bottle with a hook at the top to attach to bags or just to hold; however, we didn’t find these bottles useful because they were bulky. Since the towels were lightweight, they were easier to stuff into our fanny packs. The BOGI towels come in a box of two for $11.99, making each towel under $6. The BOGI cooling towels are an excellent option if you run hot and need help cooling off during intense workouts like hot yoga or HIIT classes.
Lightweight, soft and breathable, the Alfamo – Cooling Towel is great to use while at the gym or during sports. After we “activated” (wet) the towel with water, it remained cool against our skin throughout our hour-long workout.
Made of 45% polyester and 55% polyamide mesh, the Alfamo is not as absorbent as the Chill Pal PVA towel and therefore doesn’t distribute moisture evenly throughout the towel for long, making it a bit drippy. However, we found the wetter quality of the towel to be especially refreshing while working out and a non-issue for gym clothes, since we were already sweaty. We also like that the Alfamo offers UPF 50 sun protection, which will come in handy for those who exercise outdoors.Read more…
The Alfamo gets extra points for its sizing variety; while the other towels in our lineup only come in one or two sizes, Alfamo offers four different sizes: 11 by 33 inches, 13 by 40 inches, 14 by 47 inches and 29 by 60 inches, priced from around $8 for the smallest size to about $27 for the largest.
Like the Chill Pal towel, the Alfamo comes with a waterproof storage pouch and carabiner for easy transportability. The towel is machine washable, and can be dried in the dryer on low heat. Bonus: Alfamo also offers a lifetime guarantee on their towels.
Light and breathable, the Alfamo – Cooling Towel was the perfect weight to wear while exercising.
The towel’s polyester blend delivered slightly more moisture when wet, which provided extra cooling power during sweaty workouts.
The Alfamo offers four different sizes to wear around the neck, shoulders, torso or entire body.
It’s not as absorbent as PVA towels, meaning it’s a bit drippy.
The Tough Outfitters cooling towel is a popular cooling towel and it ranked #1 on many reviews, but we found that it didn’t keep its cool as long as other brands we tested, like the YQXCC or Bogi towels. It’s made up of a polyamide and polyester blend that boasts a durable fabric and a cooling effect that is supposed to last at least two hours. Our workout tests found that the Tough Outfitters lasted only 20 minutes after wetting and activating the towel, but under non-activity circumstances, it stayed cool for at least two hours. While we liked that it didn’t soak our clothes, we wished it stayed cold longer.
We also tested the Tough Outfitters towel during various workouts, from hot yoga to HIIT classes, and found that no matter the temperature in the room or how often you try to re-activate the cooling towel, it would start to lose its cooling effect within 20 minutes of a workout. However, it is useful to wipe the sweat off during exercises where you don’t wet the towel beforehand or use it for cooling purposes.Read more…
The size of the Tough Outfitters is a medium-sized towel at 38.5 x 12 inches and comes with a breathable mesh bag with a fabric loop to attach to gym bags. We like that the mesh bag is small and packable, but we would’ve preferred a carabiner instead of a loop for easy attachment.