Backpacking can sometimes be exhausting – always carrying a heavy backpack, walking for hours, camping, wandering cities, hiking, scuba diving… Then, at the end of the day, when you just want to go to sleep or get into your sleeping bag, you realize you don’t have a good pillow, or you don’t have a pillow at all. Some backpackers and hikers fill a sack with dirty clothes and use it like a pillow. It’s okay; I’ve done it many times and it works.
However, if you are looking for a proper rest, especially if you’ve been traveling for a long time, a good pillow will be very welcome, believe me! You need something light, durable and comfortable. That’s when backpacking pillows come in handy.
One thing I love about backpacking pillows is their versatility; you can use them for air travel, hiking, winter expeditions, etc. As you probably know, this blog is all about adventure. That means a lot of outdoor sports, especially hiking. When you go hiking, you need a good rest so you can continue your trek with energy the next day, right? Some sleeping pads feature a pillow but most of the time it’s just too small. If you use a backpacking pillow, you’ll get a better sleep and you won’t wake up with torticollis. I like to use a hiking pillow over my pad; then I get into my sleeping bag and that’s all I need to sleep like a baby.
Some people don’t like camping pillows or aren’t used to them, but they probably haven’t tested today’s models. Technology has also advanced in this market, creating efficient and comfortable backpacking pillows. Forget about those old inflatable pieces of plastic. The best pillows feature anatomic shapes, new materials, packability options and more. Moreover, most brands have worked very hard to create ultralight, resistant materials that withstand hard conditions.
I know, there are hundreds of models out there and it’s difficult to make the right choice. But don’t worry! You don’t have to spend hours comparing models and reviews. I’ve done it for you! Just like that. I’ve created a list based on the reviews of real customers so you can find exactly what you’re looking for and trust the product.
BEST PILLOWS FOR BACKPACKING – OUR LIST:
- Sea to Summit Aeros
- Exped Air UL
- Instant Camp
- Nemo Fillo
- Exped Rem
- Big Agnes
- Therm A Rest
- Sierra Designs
- Teton Sports
- Therm A Rest Lumbar
REVIEW OF THE BEST PILLOWS FOR BACKPACKING. INFLATABLES
SEA TO SUMMIT AEROS
“Great comfort at minimal weight”
The Sea to Summit Aeros is one of the most popular pillows among outdoor lovers. Why? Because it packs really small and it’s ultralight and super comfortable. Some plastic pillows can be uncomfortable to use, keeping you awake with a sweaty face, right? You won’t find that problem with this model; the lined polyester knit fabric on the cover feels soft, providing a nice sleep. Moreover, there’s a special fill between the pillow cover and the bladder that increases comfort and decreases perspiration.
The ergonomic curvature will help you keep your head on the center of the pillow. Another great advantage is that you can find it in several sizes depending on your preference. We know that small pillows can sometimes be uncomfortable. You can get the large size to enjoy a better sleep.
It’s very easy to inflate with a couple of breaths, thanks to its multi-functional valve.
Pros: Packs small, lightweight
Cons: Not the most comfortable but quite good
Recommended for: Long-term trips, backpacking, camping, hiking
EXPED UL AIR
“The lightest on the list”
The Exped UL Air might be one of the best backpacking pillows in terms of weight and space. It’s the lightest on the list and it also packs to the smallest volume. While this is a big advantage, you’ll find that it’s not very comfortable as compared to the other models. It’s easy to use, has good support and is super portable, though the polyester cover doesn’t feel very comfortable or soft against the face. Another downside: It’s one of the most expensive options on the list.
I’m not saying it’s not a good pillow, but I think the Sea to Summit offers more comfort while being just a bit heavier and bulkier.
Pros: Ultralight, packs very small
Cons: Not comfortable
Recommended for: Ultralight backpacking
“Ultralight backpacking pillow”
The Instant Camp is a budget option for those looking for a lightweight backpacking pillow. It’s one of the lightest pillows on the market and it packs ridiculously small. It provides decent support, holding your head and offering good overall stability. However, I don’t like the feel of the nylon on my face. It’s far less comfortable than other pillows. I guess you could solve that problem by using a shirt to cover the pillow, but I think there are better options if you’re willing to spend just a few more dollars.
It’s a budget, super compact pillow for ultralight backpackers and hikers.
Pros: Lightweight, packs really small
Recommended for: Ultralight backpacking and hiking
PILLOWS FOR BACKPACKING, CAMPING AND HIKING. HYBRIDS
“Comfort and versatility”
The Nemo Fillo is considered one of the best backpacking pillows by many happy customers. It has a regular rectangular shape and provides excellent comfort and versatility. It’s adjustable to all kind of sleep preferences, both on a surface or while sitting. You can easily control how much air you’re putting inside, and thus adjust the thickness just the way you like. It features an inch of foam combined with a three-inch bladder to provide extra comfort for back and side sleepers.
The Nemo Fillo packs pretty small, especially for a hybrid pillow. It’s not the lightest on the list and that’s why I wouldn’t recommend it for long-term travel. However, I think it’s perfect for weekend getaways, car camping and short backpacking trips. The stuff sack is built into the design of the pillow, which is great for backpacking trips. You don’t have to worry about losing it.
Despite its small packed size, it provides a large surface area for your head, being one of the most comfortable backpacking pillows on the list.
Pros: Super comfy
Cons: A bit heavy
Recommended for: Short trips, camping
“Lightweight hybrid pillow”
The Exped Rem is another amazing hybrid pillow. This model features a great valve system that makes inflating and deflating very easy and quick. If you’re looking for a thick pillow, you’d like to know that the Exped Rem is the thickest on the list, even though it’s not the most comfortable one.
If we compare it with the Nemo Fillo, we see some differences; the Exped Rem provides good comfort at a lower weight, but packs considerably bigger.
On the other hand, the Nemo Fillo is more comfortable because of the memory foam, but it’s heavier. Personally, I’d recommend the Nemo Fillo because it’s more comfortable and packs smaller.
Pros: Lightweight for a hybrid
Cons: Bulky, noisy
Recommended for: Short trips, camping
BIG AGNES GIANT MEMORY FOAM
“Good value for the money”
The Big Agnes Giant Memory Foam is the last hybrid pillow on the list. I wanted to include it because even though it’s heavier than other models, it has a fantastic price and a very good overall performance. It has a big air core, plus a layer of memory foam on top. It feels very solid, comfortable and soft against the skin, while the memory foam adapts to the curves of your head, providing a great rest for side, stomach and back sleepers.
The inflatable insert can be removed if you want to save some weight. Then you could use it only with the memory foam, or place one of your jackets or some of your other clothes inside. A great option for campers on a budget!
Pros: Super comfortable
Cons: Heavy, bulky
Recommended for: Camping, short trips
PILLOWS FOR BACPACKING AND CAMPING. COMPRESSIBLE
THERM A REST COMPRESSIBLE
“The most popular compressible pillow”
The Therm A Rest Compressible is one of the best rated and most popular pillows on the market. It’s not the lightest on the list and it’s not inflatable, so it doesn’t pack small. So why is it so popular? Because it has a great price and it’s super comfortable. It’s a compressible pillow with a soft polyester cover on the outside and soft urethane foam inside that offers more loft and weight distribution than any other compressible pillow. It feels like one of the pillows you might have in your bedroom.
It’s easy to use and simple, and you’re going to like that the stuff sack is built into the design of the pillow, so you won’t worry about losing it. There are four sizes to choose from, so I’m pretty sure you’ll find the one that best fits your needs. The XL measures a generous 16.5 x 27 inches. Not bad, huh?
This classic pillow is perfect for camping or car trips. On the other hand, I’d never recommend it for hiking and backpacking trips because it takes up too much space in your backpack.
Pros: Price, comfort
Cons: Heavy, bulky
Recommended for: Camping
SIERRA DESIGNS DRIDOWN
“Soft compressible pillow”
The Sierra Designs Dridown is an extra-soft compressible pillow for camping and outdoor adventures. The cover of the pillow is made of 30D durable polyester, while the insert is filled with 600 dridown. You can remove the synthetic fill insert and leave it at home if you want to save weight, and then fill the cover with a jacket or a few shirts (though I don’t recommend it). It’s a soft pillow that provides a good rest for back, stomach and side sleepers.
The pillow feels soft against your face, but it might lose a bit of support overnight. Some people who reviewed it said that it becomes a bit warm a few minutes after use. Overall, it’s a great, versatile pillow for campers.
Pros: Softness, comfort
Cons: Little support
Recommended for: Camping
The Teton Sports Pillow is one of the most affordable options on the list. It has a simple and easy-to-use design at a great price. It’s comfortable, solid and soft, and provides good support. Actually, it looks like the pillows we all have at home. The cover is made of extra-soft brushed flannel and it comes with a limited lifetime warranty and great customer service. Of course, it has its downsides; it’s not lightweight and it doesn’t pack small.
It’s a good option for those looking for an inexpensive pillow for car camping and other outdoor sports in which you don’t have to walk too far before you pitch your tent.
Pros: Softness, comfort
Cons: Heavy, bulky
Recommended for: Camping
OTHER ITEMS YOU MIGHT LIKE:
“Best pillow for long flights”
The J pillow is one of the most popular choices for long-haul flights, bus rides, etc. I wanted to include it on the list because some travelers have serious problems sleeping when they take any kind of transport and this type of pillow could certainly help. It’s designed to wrap slightly around your neck, but the main purpose is to hold your chin and your head, preventing neck and back problems. You can also use it at home on the couch, or while reading in bed. You can wash the whole pillow – not just the cover – in the washing machine.
THERM A REST LUMBAR
“Comfort for the lumbar”
The Therm A Rest Lumbar is a great solution for those experiencing back problems and having to face a long flight or ride. It’s adjustable, super comfortable and easy to use. The pillow self-inflates in about one minute and then you can adjust the amount of air as you like. Some people also use it when driving as extra help for the lumbar area.
WHICH ARE THE BEST PILLOWS FOR CAMPING AND HIKING?
Do you still have doubts? Let me give you a few suggestions!
If you’re looking for a lightweight, packable pillow for general backpacking and some camping or hiking, I would definitely go with the Sea to Summit Aeros.
On the other hand, if you need something comfortable and solid for your camping adventures, regardless of the weight and size, the Nemo Fillo and the Therm A Rest Compressible might be your best options.
TYPES OF CAMPING PILLOWS
As you can imagine, there are many types of backpacking pillows depending on the purpose, shape and materials. However, most of the time we can classify them into compressible, inflatable and hybrid pillows.
This kind of pillow is typically filled with foam, down, fibers or synthetic mixtures. It is usually the most comfortable and softest option; it’s pretty much like sleeping on the pillow you use at home. Those with down tend to be lighter and more expensive.
On the downside, this type of backpacking pillow is heavier than an inflatable pillow and takes up more space. It’s more difficult to clean because dirt and dust can get inside the pillow. Personally, I recommend this type of pillow only for camping, never for backpacking and hiking. It takes up too much space!
Inflatable pillows are one of the best options for backpackers because they are ultralight, compact, packable, easy to clean and affordable. These pillows are filled with air, so you can adjust the pillow’s thickness the way you want. You can pack a light pillow in your backpack and you won’t notice any extra weight. This is the favorite choice for hikers and outdoor lovers, too.
On the downside, they can be noisier and are usually less comfortable.
As the name suggests, these pillows are a combination of the last two types. They usually have a compressible and comfortable part while the rest is inflatable. This is another interesting option for backpackers, though you must be careful not to choose a bulky model.
TRAVEL PILLOWS vs BACKPACKING PILLOWS
The main differences between travel pillows and backpacking pillows are the shape and the use. Travel pillows are great for long flights, bus rides, etc. They typically have an ergonomic “U” shape that curls around your neck. They are the best option for sleeping while sitting, like on a plain or train. The best models tend to be compressible.
Backpacking pillows are designed to be ultralight and packable. The main difference is that they have a traditional rectangular shape, like any regular pillow. This way, you can use them to sleep horizontally, like when you’re sleeping in a hammock, in a camping tent, etc. The purpose of this kind of pillow is to be like the pillow you have at home, but portable.
ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES OF BACKPACKING PILLOWS
- More compact
- Easy to clean
- Not so comfortable to sleep while sitting
A FEW THINGS TO CONSIDER BEFORE BUYING A BACKPACKING PILLOW:
Most models require nothing but a deep breath (sometimes a few breaths) to completely inflate. These are manual models. They are lightweight and pack very small. On the downside, inflating with your breath can introduce bacteria and moisture inside the pillow. This is usually difficult or impossible to clean.
Self-inflating pillows are equipped with a valve that inflates the pillow in just a few seconds. Due to this inflating mechanism, these pillows tend to be a bit heavier and bulkier. One of the advantages is that they don’t get any breath inside them and, therefore, they don’t get any fungus or bacteria.
I prefer manual models because they are lighter and still very easy and quick to inflate. I wouldn’t worry much about bacteria inside your pillow. Thousands of bacteria are all around us anyway. Once you close the seal, they’ll remain inside and won’t bother you.
As we said before, compressible pillows may be filled with foam, down and fibers, while having a synthetic exterior cover. Inflatable pillows are usually made of brushed polyester or nylon. These materials are soft, comfortable and hygienic. Most of the time, you can wash the whole pillow, not just the cover.
This is one of the key aspects in choosing the right backpacking pillow. I’d always recommend that you keep your backpack as light as you can. However, some people prefer a heavy and bulky pillow to guarantee good sleep. It really depends on the kind of travel you are about to undertake.
This is a very personal aspect. What’s comfortable for you might not be that comfortable for your friend, right? Think about what position is more comfortable for you. What is your favorite position in which to sleep? Are you going to use your pillow mainly for backpacking, hiking, camping, etc.? Do you want to use it for long airplane trips? Some models are designed for side sleepers, while others are more comfortable for back sleepers.
If you choose a travel pillow with a “U” shape that curls around your neck, keep in mind that they aren’t so comfortable for camping.
For long-term travelers, it would be kind of like suicide to buy a bulky pillow. Where will you keep it when it’s not in use? You don’t want to carry bulky stuff. If you’re a backpacker, you need a compact, lightweight pillow. You can pack it inside your backpack and forget about it until the next time you need it.
The use of the pillow and purpose of your travel will define the kind of pillow you need. Do you require it for long-haul flights, camping trips, short backpacking trips or long-term trips? We’ve already seen the main differences, so I’m pretty sure you know what you’re looking for.
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Hi, I’m Miguel; Adventure traveler, scuba diver and hiking lover. I have been traveling the world for the last 7 years and I hope my experiences, photos and hiking routes inspire you to travel the world too.