Best Backpacking Pillow
After a long day of hiking, a good night’s rest is exactly what you need to prepare for another day in the backcountry.
That won’t happen if you don’t have a comfortable pillow, and you probably won’t be carrying the one from your bed through the woods. So, a camping pillow that’s easy to transport and still a dream to lay on is a must.
Let’s look at the best backpacking pillow, starting with what you should consider when making your choice.
Things To Consider
When you’re selecting your backpacking equipment, you want the convenience of gear that’s easy to pack and lightweight enough to carry. When it comes to the best camping pillow, you also want comfort.
Camping pillows come in different types, so you’ll want to consider what’s best for you.
An inflatable pillow for camping is usually the lightest in weight, and it holds its shape well because it’s firm when inflated. The best inflatable pillow will also provide good height and support for those who sleep on their side, but some find them wobbly because they are filled with air. Some people also find them too firm.
A compressible pillow is made of materials that can compress and expand, such as memory foam or shredded foam. Some even like a down camping pillow, as long as allergies aren’t a concern. They will take up more space than a blow up camping pillow.
A hybrid of the two combines an inflatable pillow with a layer of foam or other insulation on top. That makes them heavier than an inflatable pillow but can also be more comfortable.
Finally, a stuff sack is simply a pillow cover that uses a jacket or other type of soft clothing, stuffed inside, to create a portable pillow.
You can also find some sleeping bags with pillows attached, which can be convenient if you haven’t yet chosen your sleeping gear.
Pillows are usually fairly light, but when it comes to choosing a packable pillow, you may even want to opt for an ultralight pillow. Those could weigh as little as 1 ounce. Either way, check the weight to ensure you choose a light backpacking pillow.
It’s also important to ensure you’re comfortable, so it might be wise to carry a little extra weight to ensure you get a good night’s sleep. For instance, a stuff sack pillow may be very light, but if you need to wear your clothes at night, or air them out instead of stuffing them in the pillow, you won’t have a pillow!
A similar consideration to weight is the ability to compress the pillow to pack it. If your backpacking pillows have to fit into a small pack and be carried long distances, you’ll want one that compresses to a small size. If your pillows for camping will be used exclusively for car camping, you can choose one that isn’t quite as small when compressed. But you’ll probably still want a quality smaller pillow, as you have to get from the car to the campsite, and you don’t want to camp with your home pillow and risk it getting wet or dirty.
The best camping pillows will be somewhat resistant to water and dirt, but there’s still a good chance that your pillow will get dirty when you’re living in the woods. So the ability to wash your pillow may be an important consideration for you.
Some have a camping pillow case that can be removed and washed. Depending on the material, some entire pillows can be washed. Memory foam, foam chips and down can probably all be washed, but require special care. Plastic, inflatable air pillows for camping can simply be wiped clean.
If you hike in the backcountry during cool weather, you may want to choose a hiking pillow that insulates your head and face from the cold. An inflatable pillow, for instance, may allow the coldness from the ground below to penetrate through the pillow and transfer to your face. Adding a barrier of insulation like a camping pillow case, or choosing a hybrid pillow that comes with a bit of insulation, would be a better choice than a plastic-covered inflatable.
The same is true if you hike in hot weather. A plastic pillow could lead to a sweaty sleep, so adding a barrier that will wick away sweat and keep you cool is a good option.
While the material of a backpack pillow is a factor in some of the other considerations, such as compression, washability and temperature, there are additional components of material that could impact your decision.
For instance, light sleepers may want to avoid the ultralight pillows that have a “crinkly” fabric exterior such as Dyneema or plastic. The noise made when you shift positions at night may wake you or your camping companions.
Similarly, some pillows slide out from under your head, which leads some to choose a sleeping bag with an attached pillow. Or, look for a pillow with tabs or zippers that be used to secure the pillow to your sleeping pad or sleeping bag. You could add two-sided tape to your pillow, or you could look for an inflatable one that allows you to adjust the inflation, allowing you to “squish it down” so it doesn’t slide.
Best Camping Pillows
As the name suggests, this camp pillow compresses to one-fifth its full size, rolling inside of itself to make it easy to carry. To pack it, simply roll it up and stuff it into a sleeve contained on one side of the fabric cover, then cinch up the compression cord. It fluffs up quickly when unwound, reaching full size within about 10 minutes.
It comes in three sizes (these dimensions are all the size when unwound):
- Small: 16 x 12 inches, 7 ounces in weight
- Medium: 18 x 14 inches, 9 ounces in weight
- Large: 23 x 16 inches, 12 ounces in weight
It’s about 4 inches thick and covered with polyester. It has an “earth-smart” filling made of leftover bits and pieces of the high-quality foam used to construct Therm-A-Rest’s sleeping pads. That makes it a bit bulkier than some of the other options, but also softer and more comfortable.
It’s also machine washable. The soft covering means you don’t have to pack a pillowcase.
- Available in 3 sizes.
- Machine washable.
- The foam filling can take a while to dry.
This ultralight pillow features a reversible design, with 100% waterproof Dyneema® composite fabric on one side, and Polartec® 100-weight fleece on the other. The cozy fleece side is great for sleeping and the waterproof side makes it excellent to pack extra clothes while hiking to keep them dry.
The seams are also fully taped to provide extra water protection, and the zipper is water resistant.
While it is ultralight, you’ll need to stuff clothing or a puffy jacket in it, so it isn’t ideal if you’ll need that clothing for sleeping, or you need to air out your clothing overnight. The Dyneema side can also be slippery and “crinkly” sounding.
Comes in two sizes: small (10 x 14 inches, 1.16 ounces) and large (12 x 17 inches, 1.69 ounces).
- Comes in 2 sizes.
- Waterproof cover allows you to store a few things in it during the day.
- The waterproof fabric makes a “crinkly” noise when you lay on the pillow.
This lightweight, compact pillow has a lightweight nylon shell. It’s 13 x 17 inches and just under 3 ounces in weight, and packs down to 4 x 2 inches.
This ultralight backpacking pillow features an inflatable, exchangeable air core underneath a layer of synthetic filling and a double-sided exterior shell of soft Denier Nylon and microfiber. The case is machine washable.
A twist valve on the pillows lets you customize the inflation level, allowing you to adjust to your comfort and support desired. There’s a small zipper so that if the air core fails, you can insert a small sweater or blanket to provide support in an emergency.
- Adjustable support level.
- Packs down to a compact size.
- Nylon shells aren’t for everyone, so you may want to pack a pillowcase.
This extremely compact pillow is smaller than a soda can when you want to pack it away. At just 2×5 inches and 2.75 ounces,, it can fit in any backpack. It inflates with only a few breaths, and a press of the button deflates it.
The pillow has an ergonomic design, with neck support and a curvature for your head, making it good for side, back and stomach sleepers. When inflated, it measures 16 x 12 x 4 inches.
It’s made of durable elastic TPU fabric that is water-resistant and slip-resistant. It comes with a storage bag for packing.
- Extremely compact for packing.
- Easy to inflate without special equipment.
- Plastic cover won’t be comfortable for everyone.
This light pillow consists of a baffled air bladder with a primaloft layer that provides a light band of synthetic insulation on top. It’s covered with a jersey-cotton case that’s breathable and machine washable.
It’s easy to inflate and has 3-inch baffled air cells that creates more of a natural pillow shape than the feeling of an inflated balloon. It weighs just 3 ounces and packs down to the size of a lemon into an integrated stuff for carrying.
- Ultra-lightweight and compact.
- Machine washable case.
- Might be too firm for some sleepers.
This camp pillow is made of the same poly fiber fill as the sleeping bags made by Teton, with a brushed poly-flannel pillowcase. The pillow packs down tight for packing but doesn’t require any inflation.
After packing down, it lofts up on its own, making it ideal for camping, backpacking or even traveling by car or airplane. Its pack size is 4 x 7 x 9 inches with a weight of 0.8 pounds.
The pillow and pillowcase are both machine washable and can be washed together or separately. Comes in a choice of pillowcase colors that match the sleeping bag selections.
- Small but supportive pillow.
- Pillow and case are machine washable.
- Might be too big for some backpackers.
This is an inflatable pillow with a sturdy flat valve that inflates and deflates the pillow. Also has a deflation pin for quick packing.
The inflation allows you to adjust the height of the pillow, making it great for side or back sleepers. It also has an ergonomic curve to hold your head in place, and a honeycomb-patterned coating called “GripSkin” that makes it anti-slip.
Comes in medium and large sizes. When inflated, the large size measures 12 x 6 x 2 inches and weighs 1.11 pounds. It deflated into a small size and fits in the included stuff sack at a weight of just over 2 ounces.
- Deflates to an ultralight, small size for packing.
- Can adjust the size.
- Can be slippery.
This inflatable pillow has a no-leak air valve that allows you to inflate the pillow in 3-5 breaths. Simply pull the plug the quickly deflate.
Inflated, it measures 16 x 12 x 4 inches and weighs just 2.75 ounces. It then folds down into the included carrying bag that is small enough to sit in your hand.
The pillow has an ergonomic design that provides head and neck support, and can be adjusted using the air valve. The cover is waterproof knitted cotton that’s also puncture resistant with a non-slip surface, and comes in multiple color choices.
- Inflatable and adjustable.
- Packs down to a compact size.
- Still have to be careful laying it on rocks.
This versatile pillow gives you two options: pack it as a pillow, or take only the stuff sack. You can use the full package, the DriDown pillow top with the synthetic insert. Or choose to go ultralight by leaving the insert behind and using spare clothing as filling for the down pillow top.
Also comes with a provided stuff sack for storing.
The pillow top is made of a high-performance water-resistant down, protecting either the insert or your clothes from the elements, and giving your head a soft place to rest. The insert is made of synthetic fiber for comfort and flexibility.
- Flexible options depending on your desired pack size.
- Water-resistant and cushioned cover.
- May not be enough support for some.
These are all good products and have some different features, but we like the Hyperlite stuff sack option and here’s why:
- Ultralight, making it an ideal pillow for backpacking, hiking and camping.
- The reversible design makes it great for carrying gear when hiking, and doubling as a pillow at night.
- Taped seams.
- Water resistant material, seams and zipper.
- Comes in 2 sizes.
Sea to Summit Aeros Pillow Premium
This pillow gets a mention as our Extra Product Award winner, and here’s why we think it’s the best backpacking pillow for side sleepers.
It has an ergonomic design with firm sides and a sloped spot for your head makes it comfortable and supportive for side sleepers. It is perfect weight, and considered ultralight, at just 2.7 ounces. It packs down into a carrying case that’s about the size of a soda can.
And what most people love about is the fact that it features an air bladder with a synthetic topper inside a polyester knit cover that’s comfortable to the touch.
- A high-flow valve makes deflation quick.
- Easy to inflate.
- Flimsy lining.