6 Best Backpacking Pillows of 2021

Last Updated: April 2021

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To help you sleep well outdoors we have put together this guide to the best backpacking pillows available.

Backpacking doesn't have to involve "roughing it." In fact, even though you're sleeping outside, there are plenty of ways to be comfortable when you're curled up in your sleeping bag.

However, getting a good night's sleep under the stars is all about being prepared with the right equipment. A backpacking pillow is one of the best ways to sleep as well as you do at home when you're out in the mountains.

However, getting a good night's sleep under the stars is all about being prepared with the right equipment. A backpacking pillow is one of the best ways to sleep as well as you do at home when you're out in the mountains.

With so many different backpacking pillows out there to choose from, it can be challenging to determine which one is best for your needs. To get you started, here are our reviews of the best camping pillows on the market today.

Backpacking Pillow Reviews


Best Overall Backpacking Pillow: Exped Air Pillow

MSRP: $35.00

Weight: 2.5 oz (70.8g)

Construction: Inflatable

The Good: Lightweight, highly packable, easy to inflate and deflate.

The Bad: Somewhat expensive, no removable covering for washing.

The Details: The Exped Air Pillow wins our award as the top overall pick in our review because it offers a good mix of weight savings and comfort. This pillow features an inflatable construction that packs down into a tiny stuff sack for use in the backcountry.

It has a large central air chamber that can be easily inflated to just the right level of firmness for your needs. The Exped Air Pillow is built with a FlatValve inflation system with a built-in flap that stops air from escaping as you blow it up.

Additionally, this pillow has an asymmetrical shape, so you can orient it in whichever direction provides the most support for your head and neck. It also has a soft polyester tricot fabric covering that offers next-to-skin comfort for frequent use.

Next Best Option: Nemo Fillo Elite

For a pillow that provides even more comfort than the Exped Air Pillow at nearly the same weight, the Nemo Fillo Elite is a solid choice. This pillow is machine washable and highly packable but feels just like a regular pillow that you'd use at home. Plus, the Fillo Elite is made from 100% recycled insulation so you can feel good about your purchase.


Best Budget-Friendly Backpacking Pillow: Therm-a-Rest Compressible

MSRP: $24.95

Weight: 7oz (200g)

Construction: Compressible

The Good: Very comfortable, affordable price, recycled fabric and upcycled foam.

The Bad: Not very packable, fairly heavy for backpacking.

The Details: In the world of camping pillows, the Therma-a-Rest Compressible is a veritable classic. This compressible pillow is both affordable and comfortable, so it offers a good value for campers on a budget.

The Compressible is made from upcycled foam from Therm-a-Rest's sleeping pad manufacturing process. It also has a super soft 60% recycled polyester cover that's machine washable.

This pillow is one of the comfiest around as its compressible design makes it feel a lot like the pillow you might have at home. While it can't compress as much as an inflatable pillow, this model is relatively easy to pack down into its integrated stuff sack for easier transport on the go.

Next Best Option: Sierra Designs Animas

If you're interested in a budget-friendly inflatable pillow, the Sierra Designs Animas might be a good option. This pillow weighs in at just 2.1oz (60g) and compresses down into a small stuff sack for easy packing.

However, it's not the most comfortable pillow on the market. So, it's best for a lightweight camper that wants an affordable pillow that doesn't break the bank.


Best Inflatable Backpacking Pillow: Sea to Summit Aeros Premium

MSRP: $42.95

Weight: 2.7 oz (79g)

Construction: Inflatable

The Good: Contoured shape provides comfort in any sleeping position, very comfortable next to skin, small packed size and lightweight.

The Bad: Fairly expensive, not machine washable.

The Details: The Sea to Summit Aeros Premium pillow provides excellent performance in a compact package. This inflatable pillow weighs just 2.7 oz (79g) and packs down to about the size of a small medicine bottle.

It features a contoured TPU air bladder with a scalloped bottom edge, so it's comfortable for any sleeping position. Plus, this pillow has a brushed 50D polyester knit upper fabric and a thin lying of synthetic insulation, which both offer a good mix of both durability and next-to-skin comfort.

The Aeros Premium is also easy to inflate with a few breaths thanks to its multifunctional valve. It's also fully compatible with Sea to Summit's "Pillow Lock" system, which comes standard with all of their sleeping pads. This system locks down your pillow to prevent it from sliding away in the middle of the night for added convenience.

Next Best Option: Klymit Luxe

The Klymit Luxe is a good pillow option for people that want more comfort from their inflatable pillow. This model comes with a super cozy extra-plush quilted cover and an oversize shape for added comfort. But, while it's almost as large as your pillow at home, it packs down quite small for camping trips.


Best Backpacking Pillow for Side Sleepers: Therm-a-Rest Air Head Down

MSRP: $59.95

Weight: 4.9oz (140g)

Construction: Hybrid

The Good: Super comfortable down insulation covering, packs down small, contoured edge for side sleeping.

The Bad: Not cheap.

The Details: Side sleepers often feel that they're getting the short end of the stick when it comes to camping pillows, which mostly seem to be made with back sleepers in mind. However, the Therm-a-Rest Air Head Down pillow offers enough comfort for campers to sleep in any position they choose.

This pillow is made with a large inflatable core, which provides a good foundation for a nice layer of down insulation for a sleeping experience similar to what you'd find at home. Additionally, it has a brushed polyester cover for next-to-skin comfort that's also removable and machine-washable.

The Air Head Down is made from partially recycled fabric to help lessen your impact on the environment. Plus, it packs down into a surprisingly small size for such a lofty pillow for easier transport to and from campsites.

Next Best Option: Exped Mega Pillow

The Exped Mega Pillow is a good choice for side sleepers that prefer rectangular shape pillows but don't want to carry around a compressible model. This pillow has a large central air chamber that can be easily inflated as well as fleece padding for more comfort. Plus, it has three eyelets that can serve as attachment points to your sleeping pad. That way, you can roll over at night without losing your pillow in the process.


Best Lightweight Backpacking Pillow: Sea to Summit Aeros Ultralight

MSRP: $39.95

Weight: 2.1oz (60g)

Construction: Inflatable

The Good: Very lightweight, contoured shape with a scalloped bottom edge for added comfort, silent TPU air bladder for a better night's sleep.

The Bad: Not machine washable.

The Details: When weight savings are key, the Sea to Summit Aeros Ultralight is hard to beat. This pillow tips the scales at a measly 2.1oz (60g), making it one of the lightest offerings available.

The Aeros Ultralight is made with a 20D soft stretch polyester cover fabric that's comfortable next to the skin and easy to clean by hand. It also has a contoured TPU air bladder with multiple internal baffles to help keep your head in place as you sleep.

This pillow has a scalloped bottom edge for added comfort for side sleepers. Plus, the air bladder on the Aeros Ultralight is silent, so there's no annoying crinkling sound whenever you roll over in the middle of the night.

Next Best Option: Big Agnes AXL Air Pillow

The Big Agnes AXL Air Pillow blows nearly every other ultralight pillow out of the water with its minuscule 1.6oz (45g) packed weight. This makes it an excellent option for backpackers that don't want to carry even a gram more than they need to. However, it doesn't have a soft external fabric, so it's not as comfortable next to your skin as the Aeros Ultralight.


Backpacking Pillow Comparison Table

Pillow

Type

Weight

MSRP

Inflatable

2.5 oz

$35

Inflatable

3 oz

$44.95

Compressible

7 oz

$24.95

Inflatable

2.1 oz

$19

Inflatable

2.7 oz

$42.95

Hybrid

6.2 oz

$39.95

Hybrid

4.9 oz

$59.95

Hybrid

6.5 oz

$49

Inflatable

2.1 oz

$39.95

Hybrid

1.7 oz

$39.95


Backpacking Pillow Buying Guide

While a pillow might seem like a simple piece of gear, there's a whole lot that goes into making a fantastic backpacking pillow. Here's what you need to know to get the best camping pillows for your needs:

Types of Backpacking Pillows

There are quite a few different kinds of backpacking pillows out there, each with their advantages and disadvantages. Here's how each type stacks up:

Inflatable

Inflatable pillows are made with a single central air chamber that can be inflated using a small valve on the side. The vast majority of these pillows are designed to be inflated manually, but they're so small that they should only take you a few breaths to puff up.

Most of the time, inflatable pillows also come with a fabric shell, which provides a soft surface for your face to lie on as you sleep. Some of these fabric shells are removable for machine washing, while others can only be hand washed.

There are two main advantages to this type of pillow: weight savings and packability.

For the most part, inflatable pillows are the lightest options available. Since they can be deflated for packing, they also generally fit into a tiny stuff sack that's easy to throw in your pack when moving between campsites.

However, they are generally the most expensive options on the market, particularly if you opt for one that's both lightweight and comfortable. But for a good mix of weight savings, packability, and versatility, inflatable pillows are hard to top.  To learn more, check out the Exped Air Pillow or the Sea to Summit Aeros Premium.

Compressible

Compressible pillows are pretty much the exact opposites of their inflatable cousins. These pillows are designed to be quite similar to the one that you'd use at home as they are packed with cozy synthetic (or sometimes down) fill to cushion your head. Additionally, they will usually have a soft fleece or plush covering fabric for added comfort for your face.

While these pillows provide an unparalleled level of comfort, they're not always the most practical option for backcountry use. Unless they're purposefully designed to pack down into a small size, they're often slightly too bulky to bring on a longer backpacking trip.

However, if comfort is your top priority, a compressible backpacking pillow is a good bet.  Check out our top pick, the Therm-a-Rest Compressible.

Hybrid

For campers that want all of the weight savings and packability of an inflatable pillow without sacrificing comfort, a hybrid model is the next best choice. Hybrid pillows have an inflatable central chamber as well as a thick layer of synthetic or down fill.

The difference between a hybrid and inflatable pillow is that the purpose of the inflatable chamber in a hybrid pillow is simply to provide a bit of structure for your head. Meanwhile, the synthetic or down fill creates most of the comfort that you need to get a good night's sleep.

Thus, campers can adjust the firmness of a hybrid pillow by inflating it to their desired thickness. At the same time, a hybrid pillow provides a bit of weight savings over a traditional compressible pillow without sacrificing comfort. Lot's of good hybrid options, but we like the Therm-a-Rest Air Head Down and the Exped Mega Pillow

DIY/Stuff Sack Method

The final option for campers that want all the luxuries of a pillow without having to carry any extra weight is to use a stuff sack that's packed full of spare clothing. This option is the lightest, most packable, and most affordable when compared to buying a specialized camping pillow.

That being said, the stuff sack method does not provide as much comfort as a quality camping pillow. Additionally, if it's a particularly cold night, and you have to wear your spare clothing to stay warm, you'll end up without a pillow to support your head with this method.


Backpacking Pillow Buying Considerations

Since there are so many different backpacking pillows out there, the key is finding the one that's best for your needs. These are some of the most important things to consider as you shop:

Weight

No one wants to carry any more weight than they have to while backpacking, so a lightweight pillow is often the best choice. Inflatable pillows are going to be the lightest option available, followed by hybrid, and then compressible models.

For the most part, any pillow under 3oz (85g) can be considered lightweight. On the other hand, a pillow over about 9oz (255g) would be a bit on the heavier side for backpacking.

Compressibility

In addition to weight, compressibility or packability is one of the most important things to consider as you look for a new camping pillow. If you're going to be backpacking, you must have a pillow that can pack down into a small stuff sack.

Otherwise, you'll end up with a super comfy sleeping set up that's too bulky to carry between campsites. Inflatable and hybrid pillows are generally your best bet when it comes to maximum packability, while compressible pillows are often (somewhat ironically, given their name) a bit bulkier.

Fabric

Most camping pillows will have a fabric covering that's designed to provide comfort for your face as you snooze. Pillows that don't have a fabric covering are often very lightweight, but they don't offer nearly as much comfort as fabric-lined models.

However, not all fabrics are created equal, and some certainly perform better than others.

Microfleece and brushed polyester or nylon tend to be very comfortable against the skin without adding too much weight to the pillow. Alternatively, pile fleece is cozy and warm but is quite bulky and will weigh you down.

Washability

Washability is one of the most overlooked characteristics of a backpacking pillow, even though it's quite important. While people often focus on the weight and packed size, campers often forget that, at some point, they'll need to wash that lovely outdoor smell out of their gear.

Unfortunately, most backpacking pillows are not machine washable. If you're diligent, you can find an inflatable pillow with a removable outer covering that can be tossed in the washing machine for a quick clean. But, these removable covers mean added bulk and weight in your pack.

If you want to clean your pillow but can't throw it in the washing machine, you can always wash it by hand. A damp towel with a bit of non-bleach and non-scented soap is often a good way to remove any stains from your camping pillow. Then, you simply need to hang it up somewhere to dry before packing it away on your next trip.

Price

Price is a concern for nearly any piece of camping gear, and a pillow is no exception. Inflatable pillows are usually the most expensive options, especially if you want one that also has a plush upper fabric.

On the other hand, compressible pillows often offer good value for the money, particularly if you're okay with carrying a bit of extra weight. For people who want the best of both worlds, hybrid pillows are often a good middle ground.

Comfort

The main reason to buy a camping pillow in the first place is so that you're more comfortable while you sleep. While comfort is subjective, though, some types of backpacking pillows generally offer a bit more in terms of neck and head support.

Compressible pillows will usually be your top choice for maximizing comfort, but the newest inflatable models give their compressible brethren a run for their money. Some inflatable pillows have very plus fabric coverings that feel and perform just like your pillow at home for added comfort on the trail.

Summing up:

  • Lightweight: Inflatable > Hybrid > Compressible
  • Compressibility: Inflatable > Hybrid > Compressible
  • Cost: Inflatable > Hybrid > Compressible 
  • Comfort: Compressible > Hybrid > Inflatable

Final Words

Just because you are sleeping outside, that doesn't mean you should be uncomfortable.

A backpacking pillow is one of the best ways to sleep as well as you do at home when you're out in the mountains. And nowadays, there is a great range of options, with something for everyone. 

And while a pillow might seem like a simple piece of gear, there's a whole lot that goes into choosing the best backpacking pillow.  

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