I have spent far too many nights camping without a pillow. I always think that I’ll be tired enough to sleep through the lumps and bumps of whatever is my backpack ‘pillow’. And although I generally do sleep pretty well on most things, my sore neck the morning after always reminds me that I should have brought my camping pillow. When car camping, I usually embrace the luxury of the pillow from my bed at home. It really does make things so much more cosy. But of course that’s just not feasible when backpacking. Thankfully, the best camping pillows are light enough to carry and comfortable enough to be worth carrying. This makes them an essential on any backpacking or camping checklist. So take a leap into the lap of camping luxury with one of the best camping pillows on the market.
- Different types of camping pillow
- The best compressible camping pillows
- The best inflatable camping pillows
- The best hybrid camping pillows
- What to look for in a great camping pillow
Summary of the best camping pillows in 2020
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|Product||Pillow type||Fill material||Weight||Best use|
|Therm-A-Rest Compressible Pillow||Compressible||Upcycled sleeping pads||255g (9oz)||Camping and backpacking|
|Sierra Designs DriDown Pillow||Compressible||Duck down||165g (5.8oz)||Backpacking|
|Kelty Luxury Pillow||Compressible||Down and synthetic combo||300g (10oz)||Car camping|
|Sea to Summit Aeros Pillow||Inflatable||Air||88g (3.1oz)||Backpacking|
|Big Agnes Air Core Pillow||Inflatable||Air||128g (4.5oz)||Backpacking|
|Teton Sports Comfortlite Pillow||Inflatable||Air||340g (12oz)||Car camping|
|Exped Air UL Pillow||Inflatable||Air||51g (1.8oz)||Backpacking|
|Nemo Fillo Pillow||Hybrid||Memory foam and air||260g (9.2oz)||Camping and backpacking|
|Cocoon Ultralight Air Core Pillow||Hybrid||Synthetic and air||165g (5.8oz)||Backpacking|
|Big Agnes Sleeping Giant Memory Foam||Hybrid||Memory foam and air||241g (8.5oz)||Camping and backpacking|
Different types of camping pillow
There are three main types of pillows that fit the criteria of what the best camping pillows should be:
- Compressible – most comfortable but often heavy and large
- Inflatable – least comfortable but light and packs down small
- Hybrid – a combo of the above that can be a good compromise
Bear in mind the implications of each of the above factors for your own use, and you should have a good idea of which type of camping pillow is for you. Once you know that, you can narrow down your search for the best camping pillow.
The best compressible camping pillows
These are usually the most comfortable type of camping pillow and most closely resemble the pillow on your bed at home. Compressible pillows are made from duck or goose down, synthetic foam or fibers, or a combination of both. They are best suited to car campers or weekend backpackers willing to sacrifice the space and carry a little extra weight.
- They take up more room in your pack than other types of pillows
- They are heavier than inflatable pillows
Eco-conscious: Filled with upcycled sleeping pad scraps
This Therm-a-Rest camping pillow is one of the most comfortable and best value options for your wilderness sleeps. Filled with upcycled sleeping pad scraps, and covered with a luxurious brushed polyester finish, you’ll have home away from home snoozes every night. The integrated stuff sack, although convenient, isn’t able to pack the compressible down to much less than a quarter of the pillow size. So together with its moderate weight, it is the perfect cuddler for car camping or one-nighters in the backcountry.
If you’re looking for a great allrounder camping pillow then the DriDown is right up there as one of the most versatile options on the market. At its heaviest (165g / 5.8oz), the super soft 600 fill duck down insulated top encases a synthetic insert. Plush and very comfortable — ideal for car campers or luxury backpackers. But replace the synthetic insert with your clothes and you’ve cut it down to a featherweight 79g (2.8oz) – perfect for long distance backpackers.
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For those on a budget, the Kelty Luxury pillow is the one for you. At 300g (10oz) it’s not especially light and it doesn’t pack down particularly small. But the 550 fill power down combined with Kelty CloudLoft Pro insulation more than make up for it. The result is a pillow that will make you feel like you’re at home. Plus, it cosy fill makes is suitable for side and stomach sleepers alike. It has the tendency to flatten overnight, so fill the sleeve up with a down jacket or sweater to help it hold up all night long.
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The best inflatable camping pillows
Of the three types of pillows, these are the lightest and pack down the smallest. They are usually made from TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane) and are laminated on top with soft polyester or similar. They are used by blowing air into a valve to inflate to a level that suits you. Their low weight and packability makes inflatable camping pillows best suited to long backpacking trips.
- They are usually the least comfortable type of camping pillow
- They can be noisy when you turn over or move around on them
Incredibly light, and crazy small when packed down (7 x 8cm (2.8 x 3.3in). The Aeros provides high performing camping luxury and is one of the best backpacking pillows available. It doesn’t quite compete with compressible pillows on comfort. But the soft and durable polyester knit cover, combined with an easily adjustable inflatable body, makes the Sea to Summit Aeros pillow as cosy as inflatable comfort gets.
Another small and light option that is very well suited to the minimalist backpacker is the Air Core pillow. Its slippy surface isn’t as cosy as other camping pillows. That said, it sure stays put in the pillow pockets of Big Agnes’ sleeping bags that it is designed to fit inside. The baffled panels do a very good job at eliminating cold spots in lower temperatures and the I-beam construction creates a highly stable inflatable camping pillow.
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Eco-conscious: Organic cotton outer layer
The luxurious Comfortlite owes much of its cosiness to the brushed organic cotton shell that covers the top of the pillow. The non-slip bottom provides a really tough and durable base. This makes the Comfortlite equally at home as a fireside seat, as it is in your bed. Side sleepers can enjoy 4 inches of support when fully inflated. But it can also be deflated very easily to suit front and back sleepers. A little too heavy for long-distance backpackers, but ideal for canoeing and kayaking expeditions, or car camping.
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Weighing in at a miniscule 51g (1.8oz), the Exped Air pillow is one of the lightest camping pillows you can lay your weary head on. Fully inflated, the pillow offers decent comfort levels for side sleepers. Deflate to your desired level and the anatomically shaped design will also cradle backsleepers to sleep in no time. The lack of soft finish leaves lovers of luxury wanting for something more. But for lightweight backpackers the Exped is an ideal option. Although, is it so tiny, once packed down, that it can easily get lost amongst all your other gear!
The best hybrid camping pillows
In an effort to maintain comfort whilst keeping things as packable as possible, many campers and backpackers use hybrid camping pillows. These have a soft and compressible top, and an inflatable bottom or core. Due to their ability to perform really well in most camping scenarios, good hybrid camping pillow are suited to car campers and backpackers alike.
- They are often heavier than inflatable pillows
- They are not quite as comfortable as compressible camping pillows
The Nemo Fillo backpacking pillow is a highly versatile and very well designed option for all types of campers. And for a large pillow, it packs down into its integrated stuff sack to a very tidy 10 x 15cm (6 x 4 in). The memory foam microsuede outer ensures comparable comfort to that of a compression pillow. Plus, the inflatable core provides excellent and adjustable support. A bit on the heavy side for long-distance backpackers, but potentially worth the extra weight for a guaranteed good night’s sleep.
This Cocoon pillow is an impressively lightweight hiking pillow in the hybrid range. And one that will find its way onto the checklist of car campers and backpackers alike. The inflatable bladder provides OK stability, but it performs best when tucked into the hood of a backpacking sleeping bag. This prevents excess movement. The outer has a synthetic fill that provides a comfortable finish, and when packed down, the whole thing will disappear into your backpack.
This isn’t the lightest camping pillow in the world, and you’ll certainly notice it in your backpack when packed down. However, what the Sleeping Giant does offer is an exceptionally satisfying comfortable place to get some zzz’s. The top layer of memory foam, backed up by an inflatable core, ensures the perfect balance of stability and firm comfort for a deep sleep like no other. Take out the inflatable bladder and replace with clothing, and you can shave off enough weight for a mega lightweight yet cosy set up.
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What to look for in a great camping pillow
If you’re going to bring a pillow it might as well do what it’s supposed to do: be as comfortable as possible. But this can be a very personal thing that is often dependent on what you are used to. Make sure you know what you like in your home pillow and try to get as close to that as possible with your camping pillow choice.
Some pillows will only provide support when sleeping in a certain position. If you are a side sleeper then you’ll need something that is higher than if you are a front sleeper. And if you turn lots, then something less firm will be more suitable.
Even when car camping, a packable pillow is preferable over one from your bed. And for backpackers, the smaller it packs down, the better.
As with its pack down size, the weight of your camping pillow should be as little as possible. That said, if you need a bit of comfort for a good night’s sleep, it can often be well worth carrying a little extra.
It’s not often that campers and backpackers consider adding non-essentials to their packing checklist. But with so many excellent backpacking and camping pillows available that will hugely heighten your chance of a great night’s sleep, it seems silly not to pack one. So snuggle up and say goodnight to restless wilderness sleeps.