It’s a common misconception that camping is equivalent to roughing it. Gone are the days of wadding up your down jacket and turning it into a makeshift pillow while you try to get a few winks. The truth is, sleeping in the great outdoors is just as comfortable as you make it. Nowadays, there are camping pillows for campers of every stripe.
Developers have been putting in some serious zzz’s when it comes to putting together the best camping pillow, and it shows. You’ve got everything from heavy, ultra-plush pillows for car campers to ultralight inflatable ones for backpackers. There are even pillow options for side sleepers. We took a good, hard look at some good, soft pillows, and we found the best pillows for camping and backpacking on the market.
The best sleep systems for backpacking and camping include a sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and a pillow that mimic your bed at home as closely as possible.While pillows may seem trivial and are often overlooked, they can make all the difference between sleeping like a baby and tossing and turning through the night. We spent countless hours taking afternoon siestas and sleeping under the stars on dozens of backpacking and camping pillows to narrow this list down to the best of the best.
Stuff Sack Pillows are ultralight and excellent for backpacking, but they require a puffy jacket or other soft clothing to give them loft. They can be very comfortable with the right stuffing, but depending on what you fill them with, they can also be hard or compress too much. Our top picks: ZPacks Medium Dry Bag Pillow & HMG Large Stuff Sack Pillow
UL Inflatables Pillows are lightweight and can stand alone, holding their shape and offering good height and support for side-sleepers. But inflatable pillows can also feel unstable and wobbly at times. In addition, ultralight air pillows tend not to be nearly as soft and comfy as other pillow types, and may be hard on the ears after a few hours. Our top picks: Sea to Summit Aeros Premium & NEMO Fillo Elite THE THERM-A-REST AIR HEAD IS PRICY, BUT IT’S LARGE AND HAS A VERY COMFY SHAPE
Compressible Pillows are made of materials that expand, like shredded pieces of foam. They’re often very comfortable and mimic home pillows closely, but they also tend to be much bulkier and heavier than stuff sack pillows and ultralight inflatables. Our top picks: Therm-a-rest Compressible & HEST Pillow
COMPARING THE BEST STUFF SACK PILLOWS
Hybrid Pillows use a combination of components, usually an air bladder topped with a layer of foam or down insulation. They share the same height and support benefits of ultralight air pillows, but they’re typically much more comfortable. That said, they also tend to be heavier and bulkier. Our top picks: Nemo Equipment Fillo & Therm-a-Rest Air Head INFLATABLE PILLOWS ARE NICE BECAUSE YOU CAN ADJUST THEIR FIRMNESS BY CHANGING THE AMOUNT OF AIR INSIDE
SLEEPING STYLES - Size, shape, warmth, and surface all come together to determine how comfortable a camping pillow is. Look for one that compliments the position you like to sleep in, accommodates your size, and satisfies your preferences for softness or firmness. Side sleepers commonly prefer pillows with a bit more height to support the neck and shoulder, while back sleepers might prefer softer, lower-profile pillows.PILLOWS ARE A GAME CHANGER. ONE OF OUR STAFF CARRIES 2 ULTRALIGHT AEROS PILLOWS FOR A GREAT NIGHT’S SLEEP ON THE TRAIL
TEMPERATURE - Just like it’s important to have a sleeping pad that insulates you from the cold ground, it’s key to have a pillow that protects your head and face from the cold night air. Especially if you go for an inflatable, consider that the air temperature will penetrate through the baffles of the pillow and transfer to your body. Having a barrier of insulation (like fleece, down, or foam) between your head and the air chamber will keep you a lot warmer and more comfortable. Similarly, you’ll want to choose a pillow that has a comfortable fabric surface that will wick away sweat and keep you cool on warm summer nights.THE NEMO FILLO (BACK) AND THE SEA TO SUMMIT AEROS PREMIUM (FRONT) ARE TWO OF OUR FAVORITE ULTRALIGHT PILLOWS FOR BACKPACKING
SLIDING - A pillow that keeps sliding out from under your head can be really annoying and disturb your sleep, and that’s a common annoyance with backpacking/camping pillows. But there’s an easy fix! Some pillows have tabs on the sides to attach an elastic cord that will secure around your pad, or you can use a few inches of adhesive velcro to create your own pillow-lock system. Simply adhere the soft side (loops) to your pad and the rough side (hooks) to the underside of your pillow being careful to line them up right. And voilà, your pillow will stay put much better.
QUIETNESS - Unfortunately, some of the lightest pillows are also the noisiest due to the crinkly materials they’re made from. While dyneema and plastics may be ultralight, it can be like trying to sleep with your ear pressed up against a potato chip bag. Everyone shifts and moves some during the night and it’s liekly you’ll hear some rustling no matter which pillow you choose. If you’re a particularly fidgety sleeper, you may want to choose accordingly or bring ear plugs for your tentmate.
WASHABILITY - Dirt and grime are part of the backpacking/camping lifestyle and many just learn to live with it. But for more fastidious hikers, there are pillows with removable cases that can easily be machine-washed with your clothing after each trip. Down pillows require a bit more care as dirt, sweat, hair oils, and drool can eventually cause them to lose their loft, but it isn’t difficult to rejuvenate them with a little know-how. Check out our tutorial on How to Wash a Down Coat for some pro tips.