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When it comes to packing for a backpacking trip in the wild, a pillow is almost a second thought: After all, every inch and every ounce counts for a lot when you’re trying to pack as lightly and efficiently as possible. If not a second thought, they fall into the luxury category — but some of the best backpacking pillows out there will have you reclassifying it into an essential. After all, there are a ton of ultra-light models out there, and many pack into a stuff sack that’s the size of a tennis ball. And when it comes time to use them, you can bet that they beat extra clothes rolled up in a jacket for comfort any night. People’s primary pet peeve with camping pillows — the fact that they can scoot out from under you at night — has also largely been engineered out (some even have nonstick coating).
To help you choose from the almost endless options out there, we’ve combed through the best camping pillows the Internet has to offer narrowed it down to the ones that really deliver. Take a look below for the best backpacking pillows to buy and pick one up before you head out on your overnight trip outdoors.
Best Overall: Sea to Summit Aeros Premium
You can tell from your first look at this pillow that it’s been well designed: The curvature of the pillow surface does a great job of supporting and cradling tired heads, while the scalloped bottom edge is handy for car, train or plane travel. It has a decent amount of substance as well, thanks to a thick-but-compressible layer of stuffing and a TPU bladder.
The surface is a brushed 50D polyester knit that isn’t just soft, but holds up great over time — and we love that the pillow is wicking on hot summer nights. You do have to inflate the pillow with a few breaths, but it thankfully isn’t a hard job. The pillow comes in small or large sizes if you’d like a bit more space for tossing and turning (and don’t worry: this pillow is decidedly not noisy, so you won’t wake your fellow campers up). In the morning, you can deflate it surprisingly quickly before packing it up into its included bag.
Best Budget: Therm-a-Rest Compressible
With cute geometrically patterned and brightly colored covers, the Therm-a-Rest Compressible is a great budget pick from one of the best names in comfort camping gear. This pillow takes it back to the basics in the best way possible, with soft foam filling that’s thick (four inches) and comfortable when you need it and condenses down into an easily packable size when you don’t. (Speaking of, we love the drawstring and cord lock that keeps the pillow from busting open unfolded when you have it put away.)
The outside cover is brushed polyester, which is super comfortable for sleeping, and the fill has a great eco-friendly bonus: It’s an “upcycled byproduct” of Thermarest mattresses. It comes in four sizes, from a small 12 inches by 16 inches to an extra-large 16.5 by 27 inches — some of the biggest dimensions we’ve seen for a backpacking pillow. One tip: Wash and dry this pillow before you use it for maximum fluff and firmness on the trail.
Best Inflatable: Cocoon Hyperlight Air-Core Pillow
Weighing just 3.7 ounces, Cocoon’s Hyperlight Air-Core Pillow isn’t just light, but super-comfortable, thanks to its inflatable, urethane air core tucked away under premium synthetic filling — sort of the next best thing to having an actual (non-inflatable) pillow. Of course, the major plus of an inflatable pillow is that you can adjust the firmness to whatever level you’re most comfortable sleeping at.
One side of the pillow is covered in a soft, smooth microfiber for a restful night’s sleep when it’s chilly out; the other side is nylon, which users love when it’s hot in the summer (it’s cooler and more breathable than it sounds). We like the fact that if you’re using a hooded sleeping bag, this pillow slips right inside. When you’re done, the pillow packs up perfectly inside its carry bag. After a few uses, you can just hand wash it with some soap and water.
Best Lightweight: Sea to Summit Aeros Pillow Ultralight
Sea to Summit makes some of the best backpacking pillows in the business, and the Sea to Summit Aeros Ultralight pillow is no exception. It’s made from 20D laminated polyester that’s lightweight but durable — made even more so by its durable RF-welded construction and abrasion-resistant high-strength TPU lamination. It’s also extremely comfortable: It’s designed with an internal contour that cradles your head while you sleep, no matter which position you might be in (even in a chair).
The cover on it is super-soft, too, with a velvety feel that’s comfortable on the face. Should the worst happen, the pillow comes with a small patch for middle-of-the-night, great-outdoors fixes. Although it’s going to be a manual inflation, it doesn’t take more than a few breaths to have this all filled and ready for a solid night’s sleep before tomorrow’s adventure begins. Like other makes on this list, the pillow comes in both regular and large sizes, though the pack size difference and weight is hardly noticeable.
Best Down: Sierra Designs DriDown Pillow
There aren’t a lot of down pillows out on the market, but Sierra Designs DriDown Pillow is one of the leading models — and for good reason. It packs up surprisingly small and light at 5.8 ounces for its size and composition: It’s made up of an inner and an outer shell, the former of which is stuffed with polyester, the latter of which is filled with 650-fill power PFC-Free Dridown (we like that they keep the down close to the top, where it counts).
Backpackers looking for a super-light option on the trail can make it even smaller and lighter by ditching the inner pillow and stuffing the outer shell with clothes. It’s a little on the thin side compared to what some like, and does tend to be best for stomach sleepers, since it can tend to slip out from under snoozing heads at night — though if you have a hooded sleeping bag, it will fit right in.
Best Luxury: Klymit Luxe
Luxury at not-luxury prices is one of our favorite combinations, and the Klymit Luxe delivers a decadent night’s sleep at a cost that’s cheaper than a few on this list. It starts off by looking fancy (we see those tufted buttons), but it’s the sleep you get on this that’s truly a luxury: the pillow’s hybrid design tops a layer of inflatable support with a lofty polyester one, and it holds your head really nicely for a supportive sleep.
The outer material is really soft as well — no scratchy nylon here — but the durable material on this pillow is also well-constructed from 75D polyester for excellent abrasion and, importantly, puncture resistance. Like many upmarket camping pillows, it’s designed to fit well inside a hooded sleeping bag. It’s one of the heavier ones on our list at 6.2 ounces but packs down into a 3-inch-by-7-inch sack (included) for travel — though it’s actually almost as big as your pillow at home once inflated.
Best Almost-Real Pillowcase: Nemo Fillo Elite
Weighing only 2.8 ounces, Nemo’s Fillo Elite pillow is close to the real thing — and not just because it’s super-comfortable. We really love the cotton-polyester jersey fabric that covers the pillow, which makes for a welcome change from the nylon and microfiber covers we see on so many other backpacking pillows (and the pajama-like stripes are cute, too).
We also like the two-sided support system: The bottom half of the pillow is inflatable, while the top is where all the support is — i.e. the good stuff is exactly where it’s supposed to be packs down into a stuff sack that’s smaller than an orange, so carrying it on the trail won’t be a problem. At the end of your trip, just take off the pillowcase to wash it in the machine — no delicate hand-washing required with this backpacking pillow. Bonus: Users say this pillow is also great for lumbar support on road trips and planes.
Best for Those Who Want a Non-Slip Sleep: Exped Air Pillow UL
For many people, the worst part about camping pillows is that they have a tendency to move around at night, thanks to slick undersides on tarp-like tend floors — the minute you roll over or rotate, it seems, these pillows shoot out from under you. Not so with the Exped Air Pillow UL, which at 1.95 ounces and even being almost throw-pillow size, is insanely light — and provides plenty of space with a shape that will hold your head in position, even if you’re a side sleeper.
But what we really love is that you can attach it to your camping mat via two fabric grommets, so no matter how much you toss and turn at night, it will stay put — a feature enhanced by the pillow’s anti-slip GripSkin coating (you can see it in the honeycomb pattern on the pillow’s shell). The pillow’s also easy to set up at night and deflate in the morning, thanks to input and output from two different flat valves. Our tip: Don’t blow it up all the way — a little give makes for a better night’s sleep.