Read Our Backpacking & Camping Pillow Reviews
The Therm-a-Rest Compressable Travel Pillow is a solid, durable option for those seeking out comfort in the backcountry. Made of a compressible foam for ease of packing, this pillow is quite comfortable and fits into tight places. Another bonus is its durability. An inflatable pillow can pop and fail without warning, whereas this pillow is virtually indestructible and is even machine washable. However, the user pays for this comfort and durability in weight. This option comes in at around 9 ounces (size medium), which makes it slightly heavy, especially for weight-conscious backpackers making their way through the wilderness on extended backcountry treks. Overall, the Therm-a-Rest pillow is a high quality option made by a respected outdoors brand. This option is ideal for those insistent on comfort but who are not particularly concerned with weight. For car camping or shorter wilderness treks, this pillow is nearly ideal, especially considering how affordable and durable it is.
The Premium Shredded Memory Foam Pillow by Coop Home Goods is a true luxury option on this list. This pillow is almost like a standard memory foam pillow from home just a little bit smaller. With dimensions of 19 by 14 inches, this option will remind you of home while you sleep in the field. Its bamboo-derived rayon and polyblend cover disperses body heat to keep sweat and discomfort at a minimum. Plus, you can add or remove foam to customize this pillow for your preferences. However, all this extra comfort comes at the price of weight. Coming in at around 2 pounds, this pillow is quite heavy, and therefore less ideal for backpacking on an extended wilderness trek. However, while weight is a terrible liability in the deep wilderness of Alaska, this pillow is truly ideal for car camping, where weight is a non-issue. Want to forget you’re not sleeping in your own bed? This pillow is what you’re looking for. Memory foam is the perfect material for camping at a drive-in campsite where weight is not a great concern. For those seeking maximum comfort in their tents, or for those wishing to avoid neck pain, this pillow is the perfect answer.
The Nemo Fillow Inflatable Pillow is another inflating option on this list. Weighing 10.5 ounces, this pillow is not super-light, but it does have a key feature that makes it stand out. The Nemo comes with a microsuede cover for enhanced comfort while sleeping. This will keep you from sweating on a simple nylon pillow material. Furthermore, this pillow is quite a bit larger than most outdoors pillows, coming in at 5.8 by 4.5 by 4.2 inches. Despite its large inflated proportions, it still collapses down small for portability. Though not as light as some other options on this list, the Nemo offers a good balance of comfort and weight, and would work well for either car camping or shorter backcountry trips. The Nemo is an excellent choice for anyone seeking a comfortable yet reasonably light weight pillow during their travels.
The Sea to Summit Aeros Pillow Premium is a fantastic, lightweight option for people who want a comfortable pillow without adding too much weight to their pack. Coming in at an astounding four ounces, the Sea to Summit is a high quality, lightweight option for anyone seeking to reduce the weight on their back. This pillow inflates with only a few breaths and even has a curved shape to cradle your head in your sleep. Made of 50 denier nylon, this pillow is rather tough, though no inflatable system is perfect with regard to long-term reliability. Despite this drawback, the Sea to Summit is an astoundingly light choice, truly made for longer backcountry excursions. Even better, when deflated this pillow compresses to a size smaller than a fist, allowing you to store it nearly anywhere in your backpack. It also contains a synthetic filling beneath the pillowcase to wick away sweat.
The Teton Sports ComfortLite Self Inflating Pillow is another entry best-suited for people seeking comfort without adding too much bulk to their pack. As the name suggests, this pillow has a self-inflating valve, unlike the Sea to Summit pillow. This adds an extra level of convenience. This option weighs in at twelve ounces, making it somewhat heavy for an inflatable pillow, though the self-inflating feature does add functionality for the user. As noted previously, no inflatable pillow is perfect, so you should be wary of leaks. Make sure to test all your gear before heading out to the field, whether that be for a single night car camping, or a two month expedition in the Brooks Range. That said, this pillow is quite tough, and should stand up well to use in the field. All-in-all, the Teton Sports offering is an excellent portable camping option.
Next on our list is the Trekology Ultralight Inflating Travel Pillow. This is, as the name would indicate, an extremely light pillow, coming in at a meager 2.75 ounces. Yes, 2.75 ounces. Compare that to some other options on the market and then come back to this pillow. There is light and then there’s light. With a comfortable curved shape, this pillow even supports your head properly while you sleep. Since it’s inflatable, the Trekology compresses down to nearly nothing. This is an absolutely fantastic option for almost anyone, but especially for those seeking an ultralight option for the backcountry. Every ounce in a backpack adds up into pounds, and pounds make pain. This pillow is the perfect way to avoid that problem. The great combination of comfort and weight makes this pillow a fantastic choice. It’s a standout option on this list, great for everything from luxurious car camping to longer wilderness trips.
Finally, the Teton Sports Camp Pillow is a great option for car camping or other activities where bulk and weight are not a tremendous issue. Made of a polymer filling and coated in flannel, this pillow is quite comfortable, helping you drift off to sleep quickly. Also, coming in four varieties of plaid flannel, this option is the most stylish on the list, giving a nice rustic charm to your camp. Weighing in at ten ounces, this option is surprisingly light weight given its size and construction. The pillow will compress down when needed, though because it is not able to squeeze as small as an inflatable pillow can, it is not as recommended for backpacking. However, when operating out of a vehicle, this pillow is great. Overall, it’s an economical, stylish, and comfy choice for anyone spending a weekend camping with family or friends.
How to choose the best backpacking pillow for camping
How should you decide which pillow is right for you? You’ll need to balance cost, comfort, durability, and weight. It’s easiest to divide these pillows by their intended uses. Are you car camping? If you’re driving your car or RV into an established campsite, then weight really doesn’t matter too much, so comfort takes precedence. For this type of use, the Teton Sports Camp Pillow or Coop Homes Good Pillow make the most sense. Both of these options weigh quite a bit, even up to two pounds in the case of the Coop Homes Goods Pillow. However, in a vehicle, this weight means little. Also, these larger, more traditionally styled pillows are the most comfortable options on this list. So when weight is not crucial, these are the best pillows around.
How about for backpacking? If you’ll be hiking into your campsite with all necessary gear strapped to your back, then you’ll have different requirements for a camping pillow. As I’ve already said, ounces make pounds and pounds make pain. So weight is the most important factor when buying a pillow to be carried in the wilderness. Of course, the lightest and cheapest option here is to simple pile up your own spare clothes and use them as a pillow. However, this is not the most comfortable, and after a few weeks in the field, these clothes are guaranteed to stink.
What type of pillow should you buy? The two perfect options on this list are the Sea to Summit Aeros and the Trekology Ultralight Pillows. The Sea to Summit weighs 4 ounces, and the Trekology is a shockingly light 2.75 ounces. While Sea to Summit certainly does have a fantastic reputation in the outdoors industry, the Trekology is also high quality, and it is so incredibly light that it really is the finest backpacking option here, if your number one priority is reducing the weight on your back. However, both pillows are great and compress down to tiny spaces, making them quite easy to carry around in the field. As ever, any inflatable pillow can spring a leak, so make sure to test your equipment before heading out. Better yet, ask a friend to try their gear out and get a sense of exactly what you like before buying your own.
Climate is another consideration. If you like to camp in a hot or humid climate, you’ll want to choose your pillow carefully: look for materials that dissipate body heat and wick away sweat to keep you dry and comfortable all night. The Sea to Summit and Coop Home Goods pillows, for example, are especially worth a look if you tend to run hot while you sleep, or if you’re expecting a warm night.
Finally, your preferred sleep position may determine which pillows are ideal for you. In general, back sleepers should stick to just one, relatively thin pillow (rather than stacking up two or more), whereas side sleepers typically need a fluffier pillow to maintain neck alignment. Luckily, many of the pillows on this list are adjustable! The memory foam pillow by Coop Home Goods can be made either flatter or fluffier by adjusting the amount of foam. It works for any sleep position and will conform to your unique shape. If you tend to experience neck stiffness or pain, this pillow is a superb choice. Pillows such as the Therm-a-Rest, Nemo Fillo, and Trekology measure around 4 inches thick, though since they’re inflatable, they can also be somewhat adjusted.
How to get a good night’s sleep while camping
So how do you get a good night’s sleep in the backcountry? Of course, your pillow of choice is important, but there are many more factors involved too. First off, it’s important to maintain a good sleeping position, which will help you avoid sore muscles in the morning. Sleeping on your back is generally very recommended, as it places the least amount of stress on your spine. To stay in perfect alignment, you can also place a small pillow (or some clothing items from your pack) under your knees.
If you have problems with snoring or sleep apnea, you may want to give side-sleeping a try instead. It’s the most popular sleep position, and the majority of people have the easiest time falling asleep quickly on their sides. Plus, some research indicates that sleeping on your left side can alleviate heartburn (sleeping on your right side, however, can exacerbate heartburn). Just make sure not to squash your shoulder and arm—especially important when you’re sleeping on the hard ground. Try to shift your weight slightly back so that your weight is distributed onto your shoulder blade (demonstrated at 7:48 here) instead of directly on the shoulder joint.
Next up, what surface are you sleeping on? As a general rule, you should reuse preexisting campsites when possible to avoid causing damage to the local environment. Sleeping on fresh ground can kill the vegetation there, which often take years to regrow. In a campsite, packed dirt is superior to gravel, and a cot beats both. Unless you own an RV, I don’t recommend trying to sleep inside your car (least comfortable night of my life). Sleeping in your car seat may seem like a good idea at first, but it will end up restricting your movement, so you’re better off in a tent on the ground.
Next, purchase a good sleeping bag rated for the temperature you’ll be in. Don’t cheap out for equipment that will not keep you warm. Equally vital to the sleeping bag is the sleeping mat, which keeps you elevated off the ground. Even on a fairly warm day, the ground is typically pretty cold, and will suck the heat straight out of you. In extreme cases, this can lead to hypothermia. Avoid this by using a quality sleeping mat, to trap your heat under you. A good mat will keep you warm even when sleeping on snow or granite (I have personal experience with both; I had good gear and stayed warm).
Whatever you’ve chosen to sleep under—a shelter, a tent, a tarp, or a bivvy sack—make sure you’ve tested it prior to stepping off on your adventure. There is no worse feeling than finding out five days into a month-long wilderness expedition that a vital piece of sleeping gear doesn’t work right. Even if everything works as it should, it can be exhausting setting up a new tent for the first time after a long day outside; better to practice pitching it a few times in your living room, so that when you’re actually at the campsite, you can put it up on autopilot.
Whether you’re new to hiking or an experienced backpacker, buying new equipment can be intimidating—So here are a few general guidelines:
- Lightweight is good, but don’t sacrifice durability just to save a few ounces.
- Test out your gear before the actual trip, and know how to repair equipment in the field. Most gear failure will occur either when the piece is very new (in this case if it came flawed from the factory), or after extensive use, once the piece has simply reached the end of its useful life.
- Try to borrow things from friends before buying, find out exactly what you do and don’t like. Hiking gear can get really expensive, so do thorough research before pulling the trigger on equipment.
Tips to fall asleep quickly when camping
If you already practice good sleep hygiene in your regular routine, these habits should carry over well to your camping trip. But if you’re not used to sleeping outdoors, you might still toss and turn before drifting off. While it can be incredibly relaxing to retreat into nature, some people find that the relaxation stops as soon as they actually try to sleep! Hard ground, strange noises, and an unfamiliar environment can all add up to one sleepless night. Some of these problems will fade away as you become used to camping. Other problems can be mitigated by investing in appropriate gear; as explained above, a high-quality sleep mat and pillow will set you up for success. Here are some additional tips to help you fall asleep fast:
- Earlier in the day, try to get some exercise: simply taking a hike may help you fall asleep later. Try to fit your hike in during the morning, afternoon, or early evening, since rigorous exercise too close to bedtime can keep you awake.
- In the hours before bedtime, avoid consuming substances that will interfere with sleep—keep caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol to a minimum.
- If you’re out camping in the middle of nowhere, chances are you won’t have your usual access to electronics—which is great! You may be surprised how easy it is to fall asleep without a phone or laptop to keep you up late in the evening.
- Keep a regular sleep schedule: maintaining a regular schedule at home and sticking to it while camping will help you fall asleep more easily in the backcountry. In general, you’ll feel better rested if you go to sleep and wake up at roughly the same times each day, though understandably this is more difficult when you’re camping or traveling.
- Wind down from the day with relaxing activities—reading or stretching, for example—just before bed.
What if, no matter what you do, you just can’t sleep? Instead of trying (and failing) to force yourself to fall sleep, get up and do something low-key and relaxing. Read a book in the light of your headlamp, listen to some music, meditate, and so on. Return to bed when you feel yourself becoming drowsy.
Why sleeping on the ground is good for your posture
It’s likely that if you’re new to camping or sleeping on the ground, you’ll have a hard time falling asleep, and you may wake up feeling a bit sore. This is totally normal and will get better the more often you camp! Over time, you may even find yourself preferring the simplicity of a mat on the firm ground.
Over the past few centuries, we’ve become used to mattresses as a simple necessity in life. Who doesn’t sleep on a mattress?! But maybe it’s time to reevaluate whether sleeping on a mattress all the time is the best option for everyone. Moreover, many people sleep on a mattress that is too soft: although research on the subject is still incomplete, experts generally recommend a supportive, medium-firm mattress rather than a soft one, which allows your body to flop downward and prevents you from moving naturally in your sleep. Since soft surfaces like super cushy mattresses tend to lead to back pain, it’s no surprise that people are taking a renewed interest in firmer, more supportive surfaces—even going so far as to try out the ground or floor.
Some experts advocate ditching your mattress entirely in favour of a thin mat on the floor. A firmer surface will keep your spine and neck in alignment. No more sinking into your mattress and throwing out your back! While you might miss the soft comfort of your mattress at first, you can rest assured that your body is probably lined up just as well, if not better, on the floor. Many people who have experimented with floor-sleeping report that they wake up feeling better-rested and with reduced joint pain and discomfort.
You can still reap the benefits of floor sleeping even if you use a mat, since the underlying surface will still be very firm. Using a mat will help cushion pressure points; for instance, if you’re a side-sleeper, you may find that your hip bones press uncomfortably into the floor, which a mat will help alleviate. A word of caution: if you have any medical conditions that you think might be exacerbated by floor-sleeping, check in with your doctor first. It’s also best not to sleep on surfaces like concrete, which is simply too hard, so if your floors are concrete, probably best to stick to a traditional bed.
I’m not ready to toss my mattress out just yet, but it’s nice to know that spending a few nights camping on the ground won’t hurt—and may just help—my posture. Camping outdoors is an ideal opportunity to try sleeping on a firmer surface. Usually, you’ll be sleeping on a material like a mossy forest floor or the packed dirt of a campground, which will provide a great amount of support and facilitate your natural sleeping movements, rather than holding you in one static position. Since you’re outside, you will want a sleeping pad, both to add cushioning and to keep you warm. Your first few nights camping will likely be a bit uncomfortable if you’re not used to it—but don’t let that scare you off from longer backpacking trips! Most people find that their bodies adjust after a few rough nights. You can also give our tips in the section above a try; I always find that if I’ve exhausted myself on a long, steep hike earlier in the day, I’m tired enough to fall asleep anywhere.
Making smart choices about planning your adventure and investing in good equipment will go a long way toward having an unforgettable time. Most importantly, remember that your skills and mindset are always more important than your gear. Know the limits of both your skills and your gear! Proper equipment is certainly an amazing asset to have, but without a willingness to learn, adapt, and keep calm under stress, even the best equipment in the world is useless. So get out there and camp! If you have friends with a lot of experience, learn what you can from them. Finally, know that even if you were to make poor equipment choices, a good adaptable mindset will help you succeed in the backcountry. Whatever you do, stay safe and have fun out there.