Now for a bit of gear that's actually been in use here at Go See Run Eat Drink World Headquarters for months already. In fact, it was one of the first bits of kit I picked up when I started contemplating this whole crazy plan last summer - The MSR Packtowl Personal.
Having your own towel is compulsory when trying to travel cheap and light. I'll need one when staying in most hostels, and they're also essential for helping wring out sink-washed clothing, and that's something I'll be doing a lot of. Ages ago I had some kind of sport towel that felt like stiff, synthetic felt, and it absorbed moisture about as well as waxed paper. Thankfully, techno-towels have come a long way.
The MSR Packtowl still doesn't feel at all like a terrycloth towel, but it's miles better than that towel from my dim past. It's quite thin, and about 24" wide x 53" long. That's large enough to wrap around my body and get me from locker to shower in a reasonably modest state, while still packing up into a square about 7" x 7" x 1" high. Mine is the extra-large size - it also comes in large, medium and small - which is a mere 10" x 14". The towel is thin, but it'll soak up a lot of water, even when it feels wet. If I were just drying myself I could probably manage quite well with a smaller size, but the larger dimensions make it easier to wring out wet clothing efficiently.
The material is some kind of techno-miracle microfibre stuff (85% polyester/15% nylon microfiber) and feels like a cross between chamois and ultra-suede. I think they sometimes call it a "peach" finish. It feels a bit odd, and doesn't have that scrubby, satisfying feeling of terrycloth. The texture takes some getting used to, but it does get the job done. You also have to get used to feeling a bit clammy; because it'll keep soaking up water when it's wet, that means you're "drying" yourself with something wet. It's odd, but really, it works, and it takes up much less pack space than a conventional towel.
It gets most soaked when used to wring out hand-washed clothing, but even then it will dry completely overnight, or possibly even sooner. It's also got a little snap-closing loop on one corner that's useful for hanging it up. I got mine at Outter Limits (not a typo) in Saskatoon for about $44.00.
I also have a small "personal sized" techno-towel made by Bilt that's got a nubblier, more pleasing finish. However, MEC doesn't carry them anymore, probably because Bilt doesn't seem to make them anymore, and it doesn't look like they ever came in any larger sizes. Also, the extra fuzziness in a larger towel would take up more pack space. I may take the Bilt with me too since I think it will be a useful thing to keep in my day pack. It's also nice to have around for toweling off after a run, and for helping with stretching.
I've also looked at the Aquis Adventure Towels, which have a fuzzier, more terry-cloth-like finish. I like how they feel, but I worry that the extra-large sized towel (29" x 55") would take up a lot more room in my bag. Also, the extra large size if $65.00!
I'd give the MSR Travel Towel one and a half thumbs up. It's earned a spot in the Aeronaut.