When you are backpacking, you need to make sure you are taking the best items with you. As there may be times when you need to carry your pack for long distances, you want to make sure that everything you are taking is essential but not heavy. You want to make sure that the item you are taking is appropriate for your mode of travel or destination as well. A heavy and bulky pillow is not a good idea if you are traveling by air as you can only have so much weight. Therefore, you may need to purchase new items to take with you and picking the cheapest item may cost you in the long run. For instance, you can buy a package of noodles for pennies but they may not taste as good as the more expensive ones, and as a result, you won’t eat them. Sure, you didn’t spend as much but if you aren’t willing to eat them, then you wasted your money.
Many of these pillows can do double duty as they can be used to sleep on but you can also use them on your lower back for lumbar support or to sit on. If you are going to use the pillow for these purposes, you may need to deflate the pillow a bit so that they do not accidentally pop due to pressure.
- 1. Trekology Ultralight Inflating Travel/Camping Pillows
- 2. Sea to Summit Aeros Pillow Premium
- 3. WELLAX Ultralight Camping Pillow
- 4. TheBigBlueMtn Ultralight Backpacking Inflatable Camping Pillow 2 Pack Set
- 5. TETON Sports Camp Pillow Perfect for Anytime You Travel
- 6. Klymit Pillow X Inflatable Camp & Travel Pillow
- 7. MARCHWAY Ultralight Compact Inflatable Camping Pillow
- 8. Camping and Travel Pillow with Bamboo Derived Viscose Rayon Cover
- 9. RikkiTikki Inflatable Camp Backpacking Pillow
- 10. Therm-a-Rest Compressible Travel Pillow for Camping
- Backpacking Pillow Selection Tips
- Types of Backpacking Pillows
- Top Backpacking Pillow Brands
- Frequently Asked Questions
1. Trekology Ultralight Inflating Travel/Camping Pillows
Coming in at $15.47, it may be one of the cheapest pillows that you can find on the market but that doesn't mean that you are sacrificing quality by purchasing it. Inflating the pillow is quick with three to five breaths being all it takes for most people to get it inflated and it will be 16 x 12 x 4 inches. When it is deflated, it rolls up smaller than a can of soda which can easily fit in your backpack or other space.
Weighs less than 3 ounces
Designed with ergonomics in mind, great support for neck and back
Ideal for any position of sleeper -- stomach, back or side
Quick deflate feature to allow you to pack it up fast
Made with slip resistant material so your head doesn't move around while sleeping
Comes with a storage bag
Need to be careful where you put the pillow so you don't puncture it
2. Sea to Summit Aeros Pillow Premium
For the person who wants luxury even when they are traveling, this backpacking pillow may be a good option. It is finished with brushed polyester knit which makes it soft but durable enough that it can be treated roughly and still give you a great night's sleep. It has a valve to make inflating and deflating simple and a little bag to store it in. While the Sea to Summit pillow may be a little bit more expensive with the smaller pillow being $30.65, it is still very reasonable.
Designed to cradle your head
Synthetic fill to wick away perspiration
Comes in two sizes to fit your needs -- Small: 14 x 10 x 5 inches or large 16.5 x 11.5 x 5.5 inches
Lightweight at 4 ounces
Limited colors available
Is not designed for airplane travel
3. WELLAX Ultralight Camping Pillow
No matter what you need a travel pillow for; this is one that you should consider. This pillow provides support whether you are a back, side or stomach sleeper and is made with strong, water resistant material so you do not need to worry about the elements. Due to its design, it is also great for lumbar support if you are going to be sitting for a long period of time. When inflated, it is 16 x 12 x 4 inches and weighs less than 3 ounces. You get a lot for the price of $19.90 when it comes to this pillow.
Smaller and lighter than a can of soda when deflated
Minimal breaths required to inflate
Slip resistant material on the back to keep from moving when you sleep
Bonus sleeping mask
Not a lot of color options
4. TheBigBlueMtn Ultralight Backpacking Inflatable Camping Pillow 2 Pack Set
When it comes to getting the best bang for your buck in regards to a backpacking pillow, there is no need to look any further. For $19.99, you get two pillows with a storage sack for each and a carabiner so you can attach them to your bag and not take up precious interior space. Each bag weighs in at just under 3 ounces so don't really notice them in your bag and they blow up easily and quickly so you don't need to carry any extra equipment.
Slightly larger than other pillows at 17 x 12 x 4 inches
Valve can be difficult to use
5. TETON Sports Camp Pillow Perfect for Anytime You Travel
For the traveler who wants a pillow that looks like a pillow, this may be the one that they want. If you have a Teton Sports sleeping bag, these are designed to match the lining of those. While there are only four different patterns, it should still be enough to be able to tell whose pillow belongs to who if there are multiple people with pillows. The pillow and the case that it comes with are machine washable for either routine washing or due to it getting dirty. The case is made with 100% flannel which makes it soft on the face and more comfortable. It won't stick to you or become clammy while you sleep which can be a problem for some people.
Sack with a drawstring for storage
12 x 18 inches
No need to inflate
Heavier than many others at 10 ounces
May not be firm enough
Due to the material in the pillow, may need to fluff
6. Klymit Pillow X Inflatable Camp & Travel Pillow
When it comes to pillows that are multi-functional, this pillow fits the bill. Not only can you use it to sleep but it is designed to be a seat cushion too. The X design allows your head to self center and to stay oriented on the pillow so that you stay comfortable while you sleep. Due to the size of this pillow when it is deflated, it is possible to store it in the hood of a mummy bag which helps free up some space for other items. A great option with a small price tag of $19.96, this is definitely a strong contender when you need a new backpacking pillow.
Weighs under 2 ounces and compacts to the size of a lighter
Inflates to 15 x 11 x 4 inches
It may take some getting used to due to the X design
7. MARCHWAY Ultralight Compact Inflatable Camping Pillow
The design of this pillow is such that it is great for a variety of different uses. Once deflated, you can easily put it into your pocket or into a backpack to take with you. The material is soft elastic polyester which allows it to be strong and water resistant. When it comes to cleaning, all you need is a mild soap and it will be good in no time. It is ergonomic which will give you a good sleep no matter where you are or how you sleep and the shape helps to cradle your head and keep it from moving. Due to the ergonomic nature of this pillow, it can also be used in your car while driving or in a chair at work or home to provide lumbar support. If price is a big factor for you, then this is going to be one of your best options when it comes to the top backpacking pillows as the price is $9.99.
Inflates to 16 x 12 x 4 inches
Less than 3 ounces
Double layer air valve so that air in and air out go through different valves
Designed to stand up to the elements and will stay soft in cold weather
8. Camping and Travel Pillow with Bamboo Derived Viscose Rayon Cover
This pillow has a cover which is made with bamboo derived from rayon and polyester which helps to regulate temperature, is hypoallergenic and resistant to dust mites. The pillow itself is made with CertiPUR-US foam. When you feel the pillow needs to be washed, you can throw it in the washing machine and it will be as good as new.
5 year warranty
19 x 14 inches when uncompressed, 10 x 6 inches when compressed
Can add or remove foam to have the perfect pillow
36 ounces which may be too heavy depending on weight restrictions
No color options
Stuff sack isn't waterproof
9. RikkiTikki Inflatable Camp Backpacking Pillow
This pillow can easily be used in any number of situations such as in the outdoors, when you are on a car or bus trip or on an airplane. You could sit on it at a sporting event or somewhere else where you may not be comfortable sitting for long periods of time. As with many others, you can easily use this for lumbar support when you need it. Inflating the pillow is easy and should only take three or four breathes to do. When you deflate this pillow, you fold it and it becomes about the size of a can of soda for easy transport.
15 x 12 x 4.5 inches when inflated
Inflates in 30 seconds and deflates faster
Not machine washable
Bottom may be slippery and cause the pillow to move around
10. Therm-a-Rest Compressible Travel Pillow for Camping
This pillow may resemble a typical pillow but you will find it isn't when you purchase and use it. Instead of having one piece of foam it is made up of smaller chunks which are a byproduct of Thermarest mattresses. As a result, you are helping the environment and keeping items out of the landfill. The chunks make it easier to manipulate the pillow into awkward or small spaces and allow you to get more comfortable. The small pillow starts at $14.97 and is 12 x 16 inches but if you feel this isn't big enough, you can select a larger pillow.
Compresses down and expands back to a 4 inch thick pillow
Drawstring and cord lock to keep the pillow compressed when not in use
Comes in 4 sizes and multiple colors
May be difficult to get as fluffy as you want
Backpacking Pillow Selection Tips
Shopping for a backpacking pillow may seem like a simple task until you start looking at all your options. One cannot be faulted for being overwhelmed by the number of products on offer. This has its pros and cons. The good thing is that you are likely to find something great for your specific needs. On the other hand, it might take you a while to go through all the choices and end up with a subpar product if you are not careful. Make your shopping go faster and smarter through the following tips for selecting a backpacking pillow:
1. Don’t carry more than what you have to.
If you have ever tried to go backpacking before, then you should know just how grueling it can be. The wilderness is filled with rough trails that will test your feet and legs. The weight of your pack is going to make matters worse. Be kind to yourself by bring the lightest gear possible. Leave things behind if they are non-essential. Get lighter alternatives if you can for those that you really have to bring on the trip. Every single gram counts. Shave off a few grams here and there and you will realize that they add upto a significant weight.
2. Even small pillows can provide massive comfort.
There is a misconception that your pillow needs to be large and fluffy for you to have a comfortable sleep. This is far from the truth. Thanks to the efforts of the outdoor industry, backpackers have a wide range of ultraportable options for their sleeping gear. They can be folded or compressed into a tiny mass that is able to fit with ease into any bag. There is no need to take large conventional pillows to the mountains even if you are a picky sleeper. You can enjoy a soft and supportive cradle for your head by going for specialized products.
3. Consider your own personal sleeping preferences.
Sleeping habits and preferences are unique to each individual. These are developed over time through experimentation. Backpackers will want to replicate ideal conditions as much as possible even if they are hundreds of miles away from a warm bed. For example, some might like a very soft pillow that their heads can disappear into. Others might want a stiffer pillow with enough support for their neck as well. Many will not be able to sleep without at least two pillows: one for the head and another for the legs. Shoppers should give in to what they want and make decisions accordingly.
4. Think about long-term maintenance.
The wilderness is not the most sanitary place to be in. Even if you try to keep the tent clean, it is likely that dirt, dust, and other impurities will make its way inside. Pillows will get soiled and stained eventually. They have to be cleaned from time to time to prevent them from developing odors and germs. Make sure that you get a product that does not readily attract dirt. Some have materials that repel moisture and particles so cleaning will not be much of an issue. Just wipe the surface and they are good to go. Others are designed to be a breeze to wash because of removable pillow cases.
5. Find a durable and reliable pillow to reduce frustration.
The pillow must be able to withstand the inevitable abuse that comes with traveling. It will be crammed into tight spaces and used in inhospitable environments. Damage is a real concern. Every piece of gear taken on backpacking trips should be of high quality in terms of materials and construction. Pillows are not excluded from this rule. Regular ones are too big, too bulky, and too fragile for backpacking. Aim for specialized products that are small, lightweight, and durable. These will perform well even if the ground is not ideal. They can last several washes without developing tears or punctures.
Types of Backpacking Pillows
There are three major types of pillows for backpacking. The most common ones are the compressible options which are usually made from foam and other solid yet spongy materials. Their main draw is that they can be reduced in size considerably by pressing on them until they are in their most compact form. They can be placed at the bottom of the pack since they will not be needed for the trek. The weight of the other items above them also help to decrease their size. Once it’s time for bed, they can be taken out and allowed to expand to their normal size.
Inflatable pillows are also quite popular. These are made from soft yet durable shells that are designed to take nothing but air inside them. When not in use, they can be folded into much smaller sizes than compressible pillows can manage. They can be blown up to any size and shape. It is possible to use large pillows for sleeping if you go with inflatables. The downside is that they are prone to punctures and leaks. Some of them will require manual inflating which means the user must blow into the mouthpiece to fill it with air. Others have self-inflating mechanisms that make them easier to use at the cost of added weight and bulk.
Both compressible and inflatable pillows have desirable characteristics. As such, it should be no surprise that certain companies have created hybrids that have elements of these two extremes. Many feel that compressible pillows are more comfortable as they provide a similar feel to regular pillows. However, they are not as light and compact as inflatables. Hybrids are able to give the familiar softness and warmth without taking up too much space. They can still curl up into a very small ball and get out of the way during the day.
Top Backpacking Pillow Brands
1. Big Agnes
Nearly all of the large outdoor brands offer their own backpacking pillows. One of these is Big Agnes which is also known for their lightweight tents, sleeping bags, and other camping gear. They may not be among the industry giants but their name is well-respected thanks to consistent quality and innovations.
2. Sierra Designs
This company came out of California which has a strong backpacking culture thanks to all the national parks around the state. Sierra Designs became famous for their parka because of their cutting edge fabric. The product line has continued to expand to include other outdoor clothing pieces, sleeping equipment, and shelter.
3. Therm A Rest
In an increasingly competitive market, Therm A Rest continues to thrive by focusing on an underserved niche. Their line of sleeping gear is arguably one of the best available today. They offer mattresses, quilts, blankets, pillows, and sleeping bags or different types.
4. Sea to Summit
This brand is more known for their dry bags and other camping solutions. However, they have also added bags, cook sets, and sleeping gear to their lineup. These are compelling enough to turn heads and win new fans.
5. Teton Sports
The Teton Range in Wyoming attracts mountaineers from all over the US and abroad. It makes sense for an outdoor brand to name itself after such a grand destination. Outdoor enthusiasts can check out their tents, backpacks, hammocks, and sleeping systems.
The price of these backpacking pillows range from as little as $15 to as much as $50. The most expensive ones do not necessarily provide the best experience. Consider what you personally want in a pillow and go from there. Once you see the features you need, read the reviews to learn about what users are saying. Take them with a grain of salt. You may also want to ask fellow enthusiasts for their suggestions.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the correct way to inflate pillows?
When filling pillows with air, users should make sure that they don’t blow too much. It should be under the maximum volume to decrease the pressure inside and reduce the possibility of leaks developing over time. Giving some allowance will also enable the pillow to conform to the shape of the head instead of being too stiff.
How do fillings influence comfort?
Synthetic fillings tend to lump together after a while which hardens the pillow and makes it uncomfortable. This can be reduced by mixing down filling but the price will go up. Another workaround is to opt for hybrid pillows that which are soft and adjustable.
Are inflatables noisy?
Some can produce noise when you move your head. That can keep people awake at night. If you are a restless sleeper, then you should make it a point to find ones with fabric covers like polyester or cotton to minimize noise.
What is the Best Camping Pillow?
The best product will always depend on the needs of the buyer. The Big Agnes Sleeping Giant Deluxe is a great hybrid option with memory foam and inflatable interior for those who don’t want to compromise on size. The Sierra Designs DriDown 650 Fill compressible pillow is soft and affordable. The Therm-A-Rest Compressible Pillow is among their most popular products, coming in multiple sizes and colors. The Sea to Summit Aeros is a nice compact choice for those who don’t mind inflating manually. The Teton Sports ComfortLite can inflate itself for ease of use.
What Can I Use for a Pillow When Camping?
A lot of people simply use their clothes as a head rest. This might work for some but it may not provide the best sleep. You need to recharge during the night to be ready for the following day’s trek. More comfortable backpacking pillows are worth paying for in this situation.
How Can I Sleep Better in a Tent?
Put up the tent on flat and smooth ground. Remove rocks and debris so they won’t poke you when you lie down. Use a sleeping mat for cushion and a sleeping bag if it’s cold. If it is hot, then you should open the tent’s air vents. Finally, rest your head on a comfy pillow and drift off to sleep.
Elizabeth Sparks received a Masters Degree in geology from The University of Colorado. Elizabeth has been working as a full-time geologist for the past 5 years. In her spare time, Elizabeth participates in rock climbing competitions and frequently goes camping with friends.