Yoga Mat vs. Yoga Towel: Is One Better?

Yoga is one of the lesser demanding exercises when it comes to necessary materials. If you’d like, you can get away practicing without any materials at all, as some yoga styles don’t even require a mat. However, if you’re on your way to becoming a dedicated yogi, you’ll probably want to invest in a few props and materials. 

Yoga uses various materials, including mats, towels, blocks, straps, bolsters, and bags or slings. For a newbie, the materials list can be overwhelming, especially since yoga equipment can be pricey. So, do you actually need everything on this list? What about mats and towels? Can you use one or the other, or do you need both?

Technically you don’t need anything on this list to practice yoga, but having a mat or towel will be helpful. Although yoga mats and towels are similar, they serve slightly different purposes, so having both is beneficial for practicing. Here’s what you need to know. 

What Is A Yoga Mat?

Yoga mats are rectangular sheets of specially fabricated material designed for exercise. These mats come in varying thicknesses, so you can choose the best thickness for the level of cushion you need. Thicker mats are often used for restorative yoga sessions, while thinner mats are typically used for more active flows, such as in hot yoga classes. 

Yoga mats can be made of a few different materials, but the most common is PVC (vinyl). However, other materials are rising in popularity as the demand for environmentally friendly options grows. These materials include natural and recycled rubber, organic or natural cotton, and jute. 

Do I Need A Yoga Mat?

Yoga mats aren’t necessarily required to participate in a yoga session. Beginners in the practice might not have a yoga mat yet, which is entirely okay. However, a mat is a good idea if you plan on advancing your yoga practice. 

Mats offer a hygienic barrier between you and whatever surface you’re practicing on, which is ideal when you’re in a yoga studio. Additionally, the mat provides a small amount of padding, which supports your joints as you move through each flow.

That said, a few specialized yoga styles don’t use yoga mats at all. So, if you participate solely in these styles, you don’t need a yoga mat. 

Benefits Of Yoga Mats 

Adding a yoga mat to your yoga routine offers a range of benefits. Here are a few notable upsides to using a mat during yoga:

Improves Stability And Balance

When you practice on the floor, especially slippery hardwood and linoleum floors, your feet and hands might slip as you try to maintain a pose. With a yoga mat, you don’t need to worry about falling (unless the surface is wet from sweat).

Most yoga mats are somewhat sticky, which ensures the mat itself won’t slip, and neither will you as you move through your yoga class. So, in those tricky stability and balance poses, your hands and feet will stay where they’re supposed to. 

In addition, you don’t need to worry about the mat moving around underneath you while you move from one pose to the next. Since these mats are grippy, they’ll stay in place even while you move and breathe through your flow. 

Hygienic Barrier

Lying on a public yoga studio floor doesn’t sound appealing, especially considering many folks walk around barefoot on the floor. Getting up close and personal with the floor without a mat can present a hygiene issue, as the floor is bound to have some grime from people walking around on it (even if they don’t track in the dirt on their shoes). 

When you use a yoga mat, you have a barrier between you and the floor. Since cleaning your own yoga mat is your responsibility, you can guarantee the surface is clean (definitely cleaner than the studio floor). 

Of course, you’ll want to invest in a mat large enough to support your entire body. Standard mats likely won’t work for taller folks, so if that sounds like you, you might want to consider investing in a longer mat. 

Extra Support For Joints

Yoga mats come in several thicknesses for varying yoga styles. Generally, yogis use thinner yoga mats for active flows, like those in hot yoga sessions. Thicker mats are ideal for restorative yoga, bedtime yoga, and other relaxed flows. 

If your yoga flow involves spending considerable amounts of time with your weight on your knees, hands, or bottom, you might want to consider a thicker mat. Many dedicated yogis have several mats of varying thicknesses, which allows them to use different mats based on their yoga style. 

Added cushioning from thicker mats offers support for achy joints and relieves pressure on your knees, hands, and bottom when you shift your weight to these areas. 

What Is A Yoga Towel?

Unlike yoga mats, yoga towels are made of soft, absorbent materials and feature a rectangular shape that mirrors the width and length of a standard yoga mat. Generally, these mats are made of soft microfiber material, but some feature fully recycled materials, such as plastic water bottles. 

While these towels can serve as a substitute, they’re often used as a topper for yoga mats. The absorbent material wicks sweat, keeping you safe as you move through challenging sessions. 

For example, let’s say you’re participating in a Bikram yoga class. The temperature in the studio is a whopping 105 degrees Fahrenheit, so between the grueling moves and scorching temperatures, you’re sweating profusely. In some cases, sweat can create a slippery surface on your mat, especially if you have a PVC mat. 

If you add a towel to the top of your PVC mat, you’re less likely to create a slip ‘n’ slide of sweat on your yoga mat. The towel will absorb sweat as it falls, keeping your surface safe and dry as you work through the class. 

Do I Need A Yoga Towel?

Yoga towels aren’t necessary to practice yoga. Like yoga mats, yoga towels are an optional addition to your yoga practice. However, whereas a yoga mat is usually ideal if you want to advance your practice, yoga towels aren’t necessary to improve your skill. 

However, yoga towels can keep you safe as you move through sweaty sessions, as they ensure you have plenty of traction. Most yoga towels become slip-resistant when damp, so there’s no need to worry about slipping on a sweaty yoga towel.  

Benefits Of Yoga Towels

Like yoga mats, yoga towels have a few notable advantages. Here are a few aspects to consider:

Better Traction

If hot yoga sessions are your go-to yoga style, a yoga towel will be your best friend. These towels absorb moisture as you sweat during class, ensuring your mat doesn’t become wet and slippery. 

In poses where you don’t have a full foot or hand on the ground, your yoga towel will come in handy, as it will help prevent you from slipping. 


Yoga towels are multipurpose – you can use them for just about any other exercise. Headed to the gym for a core session after class? Use your yoga towel as a barrier between you and the floor. Forgot a beach towel? Use your yoga towel. 

More Convenient To Wash Than A Mat

Yoga mats can be inconvenient to clean, as you’ll need a special cleaning solution for quick wipe-downs. Although it isn’t hard to clean a yoga mat, you might need to soak the mat in the bathtub or create your own cleaning spray. 

With a yoga towel, simply toss it in the washing machine. Be sure to pay attention to specific washing instructions, as some towels might require hot, cold, or delicate cycles. However, cleaning is much more convenient than washing a yoga mat, as most yoga towels are washing machine safe. 

Should I Use A Yoga Mat Or Towel?

Most yogis use a yoga towel on top of their yoga mats, but you can use one or the other. Generally, folks opt for a yoga mat first, then add a yoga towel later. However, if you prefer the feel of a soft, absorbent yoga towel, you can use a towel instead of a mat for your yoga practice. 

If you decide to use a yoga towel instead of a mat, make sure it won’t slip around on the floor underneath you. Since they’re usually made of soft microfiber materials, these mats can slip around on hard floors, like hardwood or linoleum. So, if you decide to use the mat by itself, be careful as you move through the session. 

Yoga mats are usually somewhat sticky, so they grip the floor enough to prevent excessive movement as you work. If you decide to go with a yoga mat instead of a towel, remember to wipe away sweat as it falls during your workout. 

If you let your yoga mat get wet, it can become slippery, raising the potential of falling and injuring yourself as you work. So, keep a small towel on hand to wipe the mat as necessary. 

Ideally, you could use both at the same time, as this would give you the best of both worlds. Lay a yoga towel on top of your mat for extra support, absorbeYoga Mat vs. Yoga Towel: Is One Better?ncy, and non-slip benefits. However, having both is not technically necessary, so choose whichever option works better for you. 

Can A Yoga Towel Replace A Yoga Mat?

Yoga towels can replace your yoga mat. However, if you decide to use a yoga towel instead of a mat, you need to be careful of slipping. While the probability of slipping on a sweaty yoga towel is low, these mats are usually made of soft materials that can slip on the ground. 

So, be sure to practice on a surface where the towel is unlikely to slip, such as a textured gym floor or on a carpet. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Are Yoga Towels The Same As Regular Towels?

If you’re new to yoga, the prospect of buying a yoga mat, towel, blocks, bricks, and so on can be overwhelming (and expensive). So, do you really need a yoga towel, or can you get away with using a regular cotton towel? Technically, you can use a regular towel instead of a yoga towel. 

However, the cotton towels you dry off with are softer and more pliable than yoga towels. While this is great for drying off after a swim at the beach or a shower, it’s not ideal for yoga. Yoga towels are stiffer and less pliable than regular towels, so they don’t move around as much underneath you compared to a regular cotton towel. 

On top of that, mat towels work wonders for wicking moisture as you sweat through the class. While a regular towel will do the same, they’re often thinner and will get damp faster. Working on a wet or damp mat doesn’t sound particularly appealing, so a yoga towel is usually the better choice.

That said, you don’t need a yoga towel if you’re just starting. You can use a towel in the beginning, then invest in a yoga towel later down the road.