There’s not much better than sleeping outdoors with the sounds and smells of nature all around you. Waking up in the morning to a fresh cup of coffee, dew on the tent, and the sun on the horizon.
Now imagine waking up with a super sore neck from sleeping on the ground. A pillow is one of the most important pieces of everyday life if you sit down and think about it. You spend roughly one-third of your life with your head on a pillow, assuming you get 8 hours of sleep every night (which is a stretch these days).
When spending time camping or backpacking having the best backpacking pillow that you actually enjoy makes a world of difference. Sure, you could be an ultralight hardcore backpacker who doesn’t need nothin, but where’s the comfort in that.
Backpacking pillows are extremely lightweight, compact, and easy to carry. No reason that your neck should suffer because you’re hard-headed.
Table of Contents
- What is a backpacking pillow?
- How is it different from my pillow at home?
- Factors when considering a backpacking pillow
- Best backpacking pillows
What is a backpacking pillow?
Good question and we’re glad you asked…
A backpacking pillow is quite a bit different from the pillow (or pillows) that you have laying on the bed at home. If you’ve ever tried bringing a pillow from home on a backpacking trip, you realize before you start, how unreasonable that idea is.
A backpacking pillow is first and foremost comfortable, then lightweight and compact come in tied for second. They should be small enough to fit into your pocket, easy to set up, and made of durable material that will last.
How is it different from my pillow at home?
They are lighter and break down into a small area. Generally, they won’t be as comfortable as the pillows you have at home and they are not meant to be.
Backpacking pillows are designed to be lightweight and compact more so than comfortable and cozy. That doesn’t mean that they aren’t comfortable, just don’t expect the same feel as the pillows that you have at home.
Styles of backpacking pillows
Backpacking pillows generally come in three different varieties: inflatable, compressible, and hybrid. Each style has its own unique qualities and differs in portability and comfort.
Inflatable pillows, as the name suggests, are filled with air. While this gives you a much different feel from your pillows at home, they break down into next to nothing. Most inflatable pillows weigh no more than a few ounces making them super practical to take on any backpacking trip.
The one thing that’s tough to get used to, the fact that you’re resting your head on air. There’s no getting around the fact that they don’t feel familiar like the pillows most of us are used to.
They are blown up with a small valve, and once broken down can fit into a pants pocket if necessary.
Compressible pillows are filled with synthetic materials that smoosh down into a bag when you’re not using them. They are the most similar to the pillows that you’re used to sleeping on at home.
The best part about these pillows is how comfortable they are. Compressible pillows pack down into a small area but are still just as cozy as can be.
In terms of size and weight, they are going to be heavier than inflatable models. What you sacrifice in size and weight you gain in comfort and a good night’s sleep.
The hybrid backpacking pillow is somewhere in between an inflatable and compressible. They come with an inflatable layer on the bottom and a fabric layer on the top.
The top layer gives you that familiar feel of a regular pillow while the bottom gives you support. They don’t break down as much as an inflatable and are a little heavier. This pillow is a tweener, somewhere in between an inflatable and compressible pillow.
Factors when considering a backpacking pillow
When considering a backpacking pillow for your next adventure you want to ask yourself a few questions beforehand.
What size backpacking pillow do I need?
Since we’re talking backpacking pillows size, is everything (next to weight). Sleeping on the ground is already challenging enough and having a pillow that doesn’t fit your head is pointless.
The sizes are going to differ in the style of the pillow and are tailored to how you sleep. If you sleep on your side than a higher pillow is necessary while back sleepers will be fine with a shorter pillow.
How much should the pillow weigh?
When dealing with weight the question always arises, “Do I really need this?” The short answer is, yes you do. You can sacrifice a lot on the trail but a good pair of boots and good pillow are not typically areas of regret.
Inflatable pillows are going to be the lightest pillows coming in at around 3-5 ounces. Next is hybrids, and after that is compressible. Compressible pillows are on the heavier end of the spectrum weighing anywhere from 7-12 ounces.
The pillow weight is going to be dependant on how much you are willing to sacrifice in the name of comfort.
How portable is it?
As a backpacker, the main goal is to keep the weight and mass of your backpack to a minimum. Portability is always one of the first considerations when adding any piece of gear to the load.
This is what makes a backpacking pillow different from that pillow sitting on your bed. They take up far less space in your backpack and weigh less than 16 ounces.
All of the pillows come with some sort of bag that you can stuff the pillow into when you’re not using it. They all break down into a relatively small area and are easily thrown into the mix with all your other gear.
What position do I sleep?
This may seem like a silly question because a pillow is a pillow right?
Some backpacking pillows are made specifically for side sleepers while others are designed for people that sleep on their backs. The biggest difference is going to be the height and contour of the pillow.
Waking up with a kink in your neck that lasts a couple days is the last thing you want. Ideally, your pillow is going to support your neck evenly creating a comfortable and relaxing position to rest on.
How durable is it?
This is solely dependent on how you intend to use the pillow. If your planning on taking it for weekend trips and overnighters then you don’t have much to worry about.
For the long distance backpacker, durability is critical. You’ll be sleeping in less than favorable places and a small puncture in an inflatable will piss you off real fast. Cheaper materials puncture easier, and as the old saying goes, “You get what you pay for.”
Best backpacking pillows
While roughing it sounds like a romantic notion there are a few places of comfort that should never be sacrificed. A comfortable backpacking pillow is one place that you shouldn’t skimp on, your neck will thank you later. Here are our recommendations of the best backpacking pillows for 2018.
Therm-a-Rest Backpacking Pillow
- Ultralight compressible travel pillow with soft foam filling that packs down small for road trips, plane travel, camping, and backpacking
- Foam filling expands into a 4-inch thick pillow for head, neck, and back support in tents, cars, planes, and other tough-to-get-comfortable places
- Compact design packs into a backpack, duffle, suitcase, or tote; drawstring and cord lock keeps pillow securely compressed when not in use
- Brushed polyester cover is soft against skin for comfort; lofty urethane fill is an upcycled byproduct of Thermarest mattresses
The Therm-a-rest compressible pillow is the quintessential backpacking pillow. The pillow is large enough that if you move around at night your head won’t hit the floor. It has a soft feel to it and is surprisingly thick.
In terms of weight the pillow is on the heavier size coming in at 8.4 ounces, however, what you sacrifice in weight is made up for in comfort.
In order to pack this pillow up, you simply roll it into the lip of the pillowcase and pull the drawstring tight. No bags to lose and the pillow breaks down into the size of large running shoe.
Cleaning this pillow is super easy, you just throw it into the washing machine on a light cycle and then into the drier.
- Easy to clean
- Multiple colors
- Built-in bag
- Sits high
- Firm foam
Teton Sports ComfortLite Pillow
- SELF-INFLATING TRAVEL PILLOW: Wake up comfortably even in the car or airplane; No more getting to your destination with a sore neck; Lightweight at only 12 ounces (.3 kg); Portable pillow packs to 13x3.5x3.5 inches (33x9x9 cm) to fit in your bag easily
- DURABLE BUT SOFT: Microfiber top feels soft against your face; Grey non-slip bottom keeps pillow in place; Washable-just wipe it off with a damp cloth
- NO PUMP REQUIRED: Don't wear yourself out blowing up your inflatable pillow; Open the twist valve and watch the pillow fill itself up to 18x10x4 inches (46x25x10 cm) in minutes; Push and twist to set any level of inflation you prefer
- THE COMFORTLITE SERIES: Companion camping gear to the whole ComfortLite Self Inflating Camp Pad Series--you'll hardly know you're carrying any of it, but will love the comfortable sleep it provides
Teton Sports ComfortLite pillow has a foam core and is self inflating. In terms of size, this backpacking pillow is on the larger end of the spectrum, coming in at 18 x 10 x 4 inches.
This pillow has two types of fabric, the top layer is a microfiber cover for sleeping on and the other layer is a non-slip material. The pillow is large enough that you can move around and has a familiar feel to it.
The self inflating part gives you the flexibility to let a little air out and adjust the firmness to however you prefer. Even with the non-slip underside, the pillow manages to remain pretty quiet throughout the night.
- Easy to use
- Good value
- Large when packed
- May get lumpy
Sea to Summit Aeros Pillow
- Brushed 50D polyester knit is very soft and durable
- Synthetic fill between pillow case and TPU bladder increases comfort and wicks away perspiration
- Curved internal baffles create contours that cradle your head
- Scalloped bottom edge centres pillow over your shoulders whether you are sleeping on your back, side or upright in a chair
The Sea to Summit Aeros pillow finds a nice balance between comfort and support. It’s a hybrid pillow with a synthetic fill between the air bladder and the pillowcase. The pillowcase has a polyester covering making the pillow comfortable to sleep on in most conditions.
It blows up super easy, it just takes a few breaths to go from flat to full. In terms of packing, it breaks down into a surprisingly small package making it ultra portable.
You’ll notice the curved shape of the pillow, it gives you a comfortable position to lay your head at night. It inflates to 5.5 inches when full of air and you always have the freedom to deflate it to your personal preference.
- Can tear
- Rare air leaks
Trekology Dreamer Comfort Pillow
- SMALL in SIZE - BIG on COMFORT! This is the most compact & lightweight inflatable camp pillow on the market - folds down to 5x2 inches, smaller than a soda can! Inflates to a comfortable pillow for head or lumbar support. Deflating back down in only seconds. This backpacking pillow can easily be carried in your backpack or pocket for convenient access. Weighing a mere 2.75oz (78g), lighter than a can of soda! This is the only travel pillow you will ever need period!
- NEWLY DESIGNED with YOUR ULTIMATE COMFORT in MIND - Improved Ergonomic Design with Enhanced neck support for a restful night's sleep! The Dreamer Comfort Air Pillow is ideal for back, side and stomach sleepers alike. Inflates to a generous 16 x 12 x 4 inches, in a mere 3-5 breaths (approx.). Ergonomically designed for superior neck and back support while you travel-sleep like at home. The only thing left to decide is where to go. You can Rest easy with our 100% Satisfaction Guarantee!
- NOW MORE DURABLE THAN EVER! Enhanced design with added layers for head support that is constructed from highly durable elastic TPU fabric that boasts water resistance. So, whether sleeping under the stars in the mountains, in your boat on the open seas, tenting at your favorite national park or staying at a hotel on holiday-your Dreamer comfort travel pillow is the perfect travel companion.
- EASE OF USE! With the simple click of a button, Inflate pillow by mouth with approximately 3-5 breaths. Once you are done you can conveniently deflate the pillow with the Quick Deflate feature which rapidly releases air after use in only seconds. With the unique technology in this compact and light pillow, you are able to adjust firmness to your personal sleep preference.
The Trekology Inflatable Pillow is both ultralight and compact, weighing in at 2.75 ounces. It blows up to 16 x 12 x 4 inches making it big enough to feel familiar to the pillows at home.
This pillow has an ergonomic design with a slight curve for lumbar and neck support. The material you lay your head is 80% polyester and 20% TPU making it comfortable to sleep on. The underside of the pillow is non slip to keep it from moving all over in the evening.
The best part of this pillow is the small area it packs into, the carrying bag fits into the palm of your hand at 5 x 2 inches. Overall this inflatable pillow is an ultralight and comfortable addition to any backpacker repertoire.
- Rare air leaks
- Can puncture
- Moves at night
Cacoon Air45 Core Ultralight
- A new pillow that features an inflatable air core underneath a layer of premium synthetic fill
- Offering the support and the comfort of a superior synthetic pillow
- Minimum packing size!
The Cacoon’s comfort to weight ratio is a winner with this pillow, technically it’s a hybrid pillow. It has a Microfiber shell on one side and is made with ultralight nylon on the other.
It has a synthetic filling which adds a little cushioning between the air core and the pillowcase for increased comfort. Since the pillow is made of fabric on both sides does move around a little at night.
Being that it’s inflatable it is prone to punctures, so just be careful and don’t throw it around. The overall weight is 3.7 ounces making it practical to add to any backpacking set up.
- Packs small
- Rare air leaks
- May puncture
- Moves at night
Finding the best backpacking pillow for your next trip will make getting a good night’s rest easy to come by. There’s nothing better than waking up refreshed and rested after sleeping soundly on the trail.
With so many great options available at your fingertips there is no excuse for laying your head on the extra clothing or even worse the ground. Live a little and enjoy a lightweight backpacking pillow that fits your every need. Keep calm and backpack on.