A Hunt for the Best Camping Pillows
Pillows are personal, and we know it. Our experts researched more than 30 camping pillows, narrowing the field to six best-in-class options. Our selection includes compressible and inflatable options that testers compared over a six-week period in the backcountry, the back of cars, and the backyard hammock. We brought them on multi-day trips to assess packed size, judged them side by side for comfort and stability, and determined which required the least fidgeting. And with so many options available, we know how difficult choosing one can be, but through our tests, we determined the models that work best for your specific needs.
Read the full review below >
Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
Updated April 2017
The birds are chirping, and it's almost camping season, so we've updated our review as of April 2017 to include the information you'll need to choose a camping pillow for your summer trips. Our Editors Choice winner still remains our number one choice, and we've added information on minor design changes.
Best Overall Camping Pillow
Read full review: NEMO Fillo
Best Bang for the Buck
Read full review: Therm-a-Rest Compressible
Top Pick for Backpacking
Sea to Summit Aeros
Read full review: Sea to Summit Aeros
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Analysis and Test Results
In selecting pillows to test for this review, we chose six top-rated camping specific pillows specifically designed to help you snooze better in the backcountry. An ideal pillow is one that provides your head with comfort and support through the entire night, not only when you first lie down on it. Each pillow we tested had a unique approach to comfort and support, differing in size, shape, material, and pillow type. Furthermore, a good contender should also be easy to use and maintain, and not add complication to setting up or packing up camp. And as anyone who has ever packed a backpack knows, it shouldn't take up much space in your pack, nor weigh you down.
Across the board, we found that the products we tested improved our camping experience. In order to determine a winner, we were forced to get very critical. Each pillow has unique features that we enjoyed, yet the top model is the one that strikes the best balance among all criteria. Check out the individual reviews if you are interested in their various aspects and best uses.
You might not find a pillow to be necessary on camping trips. However, it is hard to contest that folded jackets, climbing ropes, and stuff sacks filled with dirty clothes generally make for lousy nighttime comfort. If you've ever woken up with an achy neck with a full day of hiking or paddling ahead of you, you know that it will be a painful annoyance all day long. For a small (and in some cases, tiny) sacrifice of space and increased weight in your pack, you can improve the comfort level of camping, and greatly reduce the chances of waking up feeling like you rode a violent carnival ride.
Types of Pillows
For this review, we selected a variety of pillows to see which ones worked the best. Camping pillows come in three basic types: compressible, inflatable, and hybrid. Below, we have explained the general differences between these categories.
Compressible pillows, such as the Sierra Designs DriDown Pillow, TETON Sports 12 x 18, and Therm-a-Rest Compressible, are filled with down feathers, various foams and synthetic fibers, or a combination of these. In our review, the compressibles were the softest and came closest to resembling a pillow from our bedrooms. As a result, we found them to be generally more comfortable than the inflatable pillows. Needing only to take them out of their stuff sacks, they were also the easiest to use. Down feathers are the softest, most compressible, and most lightweight, but also increase the price of the pillow significantly. Synthetic fiber and foam fills are firmer, heavier, and cost less than down feathers. The compressible pillows we tested were clearly heavier than the inflatable pillows, and provided less support as they flattened out under the weight of our heads. They also took up more space in our packs. We liked them best for car camping, or outdoor adventures lasting no more than a few days. If you prefer a firm and ultralight pillow with a small volume, a compressible pillow might not match your needs.
The inflatable pillows in our review, the Sea to Summit Aeros and Exped Air UL, are all filled with air, making them naturally lighter and firmer than the compressible and hybrid pillows in this review. To use one, just unpack it from its stuff sack and blow in air through a valve. The thickness of each inflatable we tested could be adjusted by letting air out through the valve. When packing these pillows into our bags, they deflated quickly and folded up into a fraction of the space needed by the compressible and hybrid pillows. On the other hand, we found the inflatables to provide the least comfort. They were also the noisiest pillows, producing the most noise in our ears as our heads shifted on them. We liked them best for multi-day backpacking ventures, but preferred more comfortable pillows for car camping.
The hybrid pillows, such as the NEMO Fillo, that we tested, attempt to bridge the gap between compressible and inflatable pillows. They generally have a compressible top for the head to rest comfortably upon, as well as an inflatable bottom side to increase support while reducing its packed volume. In our testing, we enjoyed the compromise that the hybrid Fillo provided.
Criteria for Evaluation
In order to compare each product and find the best performers, we selected five criteria and scored each pillow on a scale from one to ten. Below, we have detailed the factors we considered for each category during our testing period.
Put simply, this scoring method is the "Ahhh" effect this pillow gives you. For car campers, this is likely the most important criteria for selecting a pillow. Several factors play into the comfort of a pillow, such as pillow type, shape and contouring, size, and the fabric of the outer shell. Among the pillows we tested, the Therm-a-Rest Compressible was the most comfortable, being soft, relatively large, and featuring polyester outer shell that is very pleasant against the face. The TETON Sports 12 x 18 and NEMO Fillo were also very comfortable. The inflatable pillows we reviewed scored the poorest in this category.
While the comfort derived from a pillow is subjective by nature, we have outlined the comfort features that each one offers. To find the best one for you, we recommend reading through the individual product reviews and comparing them to your specific needs.
If you plan to use your camping pillow on multi-day backpacking excursions, the weight of your pillow is probably a top priority. We used our own scale to measure the weight of each pillow, stuff sack included. In our review, the inflatable pillows were much lighter than the hybrid and compressible pillows, with the ExPed Air UL being the champion lightweight. Somewhat surprisingly, NEMO Fillo hybrid pillow was the second-heaviest, with the TETON Sport 12 x 18 being the heaviest. To put things into perspective, the difference between the lightest and the heaviest pillows was just over eight ounces.
Ease of Use
If we are being honest with ourselves, a good camping pillow should be easy to use, and not a pain to deal with. In this metric, we considered how easy each pillow was to set up and pack up, clean and dry out, and how well it stays in place in our mummy sleeping bags and under our heads. All pillows reviewed here came with a stuff sack. However, we preferred pillows with permanently attached stuff sacks. The TETON Sports 12 x 18 pillow came out on top in this category for its overall simplicity and ease of use, while the Exped Air UL sank to the bottom.
For this metric, we carefully measured the volume of each pillow when packed in its stuff sack. The Exped Air UL again received top marks in this category, packing down to the size of a billfold. The largest volume, in its packed form, belonged to the TETON Sports 12 x 18 pillow. Our reviewers agreed that the greater the packed volume, the less-suited a pillow is for multi-day backpacking trips. However, packed size becomes much less of a factor when considering a pillow for car camping.
In this metric, we scored the pillows on how firm the pillow was from sunup to sundown. A pillow can be soft and comfortable, but still not provide enough support to make the next day ache-free. While compressible pillows might be the most comfortable, the inflatable and hybrid pillows supported our heads the best. The Sea to Summit Aeros provided the greatest support of all pillows we tested, with two different heights on opposite ends of the pillow to choose from to better fit your preferences. Falling to the bottom of this category was the Sierra Designs DriDown pillow, as it flattened out significantly by the time we woke up.
If you prefer softer pillows, then you may actually want to look for a product that earned a lower score in our support metric.
— Ross Robinson
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