The Best Camping Pillows of 2017

After a full morning of paddling  Jacob Busiahn enjoys the comfort of this hybrid pillow under the sun in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness  Minnesota.
Ready for a boost in camping comfort? To find the best camping pillows on the market, we researched 30+ models and tested 8 popular and high-performing products side by side. Our selection includes compressible, inflatable, and hybrid options that testers compared over a two month period in the backcountry, the back of cars, and the backyard hammock. We brought them on multi-day trips to assess packed size and weight, judged them side by side for comfort and support, and discovered which required the least fidgeting. Pillows are personal, and with so many options available, we know how difficult choosing one is. Through our tests of the top products, we determined the models that work best for your specific needs, whether you sleep on your side, stomach, or back.

Read the full review below >

Test Results and Ratings

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Analysis and Award Winners


Review by:
Ross Robinson
Senior Review Editor
OutdoorGearLab

Last Updated:
Tuesday
May 23, 2017

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Updated May 2017
Camping season is every season, and we updated this review for the Spring with the addition of two new popular pillows, the Exped REM and REI Co-op Backpacker. Both performed well, and the Backpacker took home a Best Buy Award for Budget Backpacking. The Nemo Fillo remains seated as the overall champion in 2017. This review is also reformatted to better guide you to your right product.

Best Overall Camping Pillow


NEMO Fillo


Editors' Choice Award

$39.95
at Backcountry
See It

Comfortable
Adjustable and solid support
Easy to use
Heavy
The NEMO Fillo maintained its status as Editors' Choice Award winner in 2017 because of its solid performance across our scoring categories. This pillow's all-around satisfaction potential is high, with a microsuede cover and foam filler providing comfort. It features an inflatable air chamber that provides customized support, too. Packing into its internal stuff sack, the design is intuitive, and the packed size is small. Its main drawback is its above-average weight, which keeps it from being our first choice on extended backpacking trips. But the majority of camping happens on sites close to parking, and so for the most common circumstances, this model is the best.

Read full review: NEMO Fillo

Best Bang for the Buck


Therm-a-Rest Compressible


Therm-a-Rest Compressible Best Buy Award

Great value
Top-level comfort
Easy to use
Heavy
Large packed size
The Therm-a-Rest Compressible pillow combines supreme comfort for a decent price, which earned it our Best Buy Award. Updated in 2017 to include new colors, eight options give you the ability to personalize your pillow. It is also supportive and easy to use, helped by its simple design and built-in stuff sleeve. We liked that the internal filler material comes from upcycled mattress foam, too, checking our eco-friendly box. For weekend and car camping trips, this pillow rocks. At $20 MSRP, it's an excellent product at a low price.

Read full review: Therm-a-Rest Compressible

Best Buy for Budget Backpackers


REI Co-op Backpacker


REI Co-op Backpacker Best Buy Award

$25 List
List Price
See It

Easy to use
Inexpensive
Adequate comfort and support
Average weight and packed size
The engineers at REI fulfilled a niche in the pillow market with the Backpacker by providing a pillow ready for multi-night trips that costs $25. This versatile pillow is comfortable for car camping and small and light enough to take along on excursions lasting several days. Our testers love that there is no extra stuff sack with this model. Instead, if stuffs into its own zipper pocket, which also doubles as a safe pocket for storing fragile items (read: phones, cameras). Yes, there are more lightweight pillows that pack down smaller for week-long treks and thru-hikes. This model, however, gets the job done for short backpacking trips. We also know from experience that some folks can't stand sleeping on inflated pillows. It's a great choice for beginner backpackers or anyone who desires comfortable nights deep in the backcountry without spending a ton of dough.

Read full review: REI Co-op Backpacker

Top Pick for Backpacking


Sea to Summit Aeros


Top Pick Award

$31.60
at Amazon
See It

Small packed size
Lightweight
Great adjustable support
Not super comfortable
The Sea to Summit Aeros was awarded our Top Pick for Backpacking, scoring well in our weight, packed size, and support metrics. What sets this one apart is that it is still reasonably comfortable and easy to use, despite its minimal design. The soft polyester cover and contoured lines in the pillow go a long way toward providing a good night's sleep, even when deep in the backcountry. This is the pillow we prefer to bring on backpacking trips lasting several days or more. The Sea to Summit Aeros also comes in Ultra Light and Premium Deluxe versions, so depending on which end of the ultralight spectrum you fall on, you can customize your experience.

Read full review: Sea to Summit Aeros

select up to 5 products
Score Product Price Our Take
78
$40
Editors' Choice Award
This pillow provides excellent comfort and is adjustable for all kinds of sleepers in most camp settings.
76
$43
Top Pick Award
This backpacking model increases nighttime head support and decent comfort at minimal weight and volume.
75
$45
This pillow is a great option for top-notch support when camping and on short backpacking trips.
75
$23
Best Buy Award
For those who don't travel far from their vehicles to the campsite, this model is inexpensive and comfy.
72
$25
Best Buy Award
This budget-level pillow is capable of camping and weekend backpacking trips.
67
$49
Lightweight and tiny, this model provides firm support to minimalist backpackers, but not much else.
65
$33
This model is soft, small, and best for stomach sleepers who prefer flat pillows.
61
$20
If you need a simple and comfy pillow strictly for car camping, this is a solid and affordable choice.

Analysis and Test Results


For this review, we purchased eight of the highest rated and most popular camping-specific pillows and sent them to our lead author. With the help of camping buddies and backpacking partners, these pillows were found under a head on a nightly basis throughout the two-month testing period. Whether car camping, backpacking, or paddling into the wilderness, we took meticulous notes and compared the products side by side. Our lead tester often switched pillows throughout the night to get down to the nitty-gritty details of performance. Each model was scored in five exclusive test metrics on a scale from one to ten. These metrics are explained below in detail, including highlights of the top performers in each category.

Generally speaking  we really liked each camping pillow we reviewed. When it comes to selecting the right product for your camping adventures  be sure to focus on the characteristics most important to you.
Generally speaking, we really liked each camping pillow we reviewed. When it comes to selecting the right product for your camping adventures, be sure to focus on the characteristics most important to you.

Comfort


Put simply, this scoring metric is the "Ahhh" effect a pillow gives you. For car campers, this is the most important criteria for selecting a pillow, and a strong consideration for backpackers, too. If you aren't comfortable, chances of quality sleep decrease and impact your next-day energy. Several factors play into the comfort of a pillow, such as pillow type, shape and contouring, size, and the fabric of the outer shell.


The compressible pillows (not inflatable) rose to the top in this metric. A common tradeoff for high comfort is a large packed size. All that plush filling compresses but doesn't disappear. Hybrid models consist of an air chamber and a compressible top layer in an attempt to achieve high comfort without a ton of baggage. The Nemo Fillo best combines comfort with a reasonable packed size. Our reviewers also loved the feeling of the microsuede external shell when laying down for a kip.

Jenna Ammerman maximizes the comfort of a hammock by adding the Editors' Choice winning NEMO Fillo to the mix.
Jenna Ammerman maximizes the comfort of a hammock by adding the Editors' Choice winning NEMO Fillo to the mix.

Among the pillows we tested, the Therm-a-Rest Compressible is the most comfortable, being soft and thick, large, and featuring a polyester outer shell that is pleasant against the face. The TETON Sports 12 x 18 most closely resembles a house pillow. The Sea to Summit inflatable pillow didn't overwhelm us in this metric, yet its soft polyester knit cover goes a long way and is much more comfortable than the other inflatable pillow, the Exped Air UL.

Campers young and old will enjoy the comfort the TETON Sports model brings to the campsite.
Campers young and old will enjoy the comfort the TETON Sports model brings to the campsite.

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, read through the individual product reviews and comparing them to your specific needs.

Weight is a key factor for backpackers  but not so for car campers.
Weight is a key factor for backpackers, but not so for car campers.

Weight


If you plan to use your camping pillow on long distance backpacking excursions, the weight of your pillow is a top priority. Shorter backpacking trips lasting a handful of days allow for some leniency in this category. This metric doesn't have great consequence for car campers who don't carry camping equipment far from their vehicle. We used our own scale to measure the weight of each pillow, stuff sack included.


In our review, the inflatable pillows were lighter than the hybrid and compressible pillows. The stripped down ExPed Air UL is the champion lightweight at 1.7 oz, with the 3.1-oz Aeros placing second lightest. The NEMO Fillo hybrid pillow is the second heaviest, with the TETON Sport 12 x 18 weighing the most of all contenders. To put things into perspective, the difference between the lightest and the heaviest pillows was 8.3 oz.

We love that this model from REI packs into its zipper pocket. This is convenient but also seconds as a protective pocket for delicate pack items.
We love that this model from REI packs into its zipper pocket. This is convenient but also seconds as a protective pocket for delicate pack items.

Ease of Use


A good camping pillow is easy to use, 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. For simplicity's sake, we preferred pillows with attached stuff sacks. Searching for a misplaced stuff sack while packing up camp is less than desirable.


None of the tested models are complicated, yet some are more of a joy to use. A top scorer in this metric, the Backpacker stuffs in and out of its own zipper pocket, no extra sack needed. It also serves as a multifunctional piece, providing a protective pocket for delicate pack items, such as a phone or small camera. To clean this model, toss it into the washing machine on a gentle cycle. The Therm-a-Rest and Teton pillows are also simple and easy to use.

This pillow has two simple valves; one for inflation and one for deflation.
The inflation valve is open here  yet the air stays inside. This pillow has a built-in stopper (blue) to prevent air from escaping as you close the valve after inflating.
Here  the deflate valve is open  releasing all the air very quickly through the wide opening.
 

Inflating a pillow takes more setup time. Our favorite valve system, though, is on the Aeros, which allows for quick inflation, easy adjustment, and rapid deflation (see photos above). In comparison to the competition, the Air UL scored lowest in this category with an air chamber that was tough to fully inflate.

For size comparison  we laid the two inflatable pillows out next to a Motorola Moto G phone and a pair of sunglasses.
For size comparison, we laid the two inflatable pillows out next to a Motorola Moto G phone and a pair of sunglasses.

Packed Size


The perfect do-everything camping pillow provides five-star comfort while taking up almost no space and weighing nearly nothing in a pack. We're still seeking that elusive and dazzling unicorn in the world of cranium cushions. Instead, manufacturers compromise between these opposing characteristics. This metric isn't important, however, to car campers who don't have far to travel between their vehicle and the campsite. Volume becomes an issue when you have to fit everything you're bringing along in your backpack and sacrifices must be made.


For this metric, we measured the volume of each product in its packed form. The Exped Air UL receives top marks in this category, packing down to 0.2 L, the size of a billfold. Our Top Pick for Backpacking, the Sea to Summit model, comes in second with a volume of 0.4 L. The largest volume belongs to the TETON Sports 12 x 18 model.

Models with compressible fill are made smaller by using a compression sack.

The thickness of this pillow provides sufficient support and great comfort.
The thickness of this pillow provides sufficient support and great comfort.

Support


In this metric, we scored the pillows on how firm it remains from sunup to sundown. A pillow can be soft and comfortable, but still not provide enough support to make the next day ache-free. Your preferred sleeping position influences the amount of support your need. In general, stomach sleepers need a flatter cushion with little support, while side sleepers need a thicker, more supportive pillow to keep the spine aligned. Back sleepers need support somewhere in the middle. Matching the best support to your sleeping habits is the best way to wake up fresh and minimize the chances of developing neck or back aches.


While compressible pillows trend toward the most comfortable, the inflatable and hybrid pillows supported our heads the best. Moreover, they allow for a range of support preferences with the ability for the user to control the amount of air inside the pillow. The Exped REM provides the most support among all contenders, achieving a full 6 inches of firm loft supported by the internal air chamber. We also like the varied support of the Sea to Summit product, which has a lower and a higher end of the pillow. Falling to the bottom of this category is the Sierra Designs DriDown pillow, as it flattened out by the time we woke up.

If you prefer softer, flatter pillows, look for a product that earned a lower score in our support metric.

The down  feather  and polyester fill of this model kept this camper comfortable throughout the night.
The down, feather, and polyester fill of this model kept this camper comfortable throughout the night.

Conclusion


Picking a pillow for your camping or backpacking needs and sleeping style makes this gear category quite subjective. Focus on the high scoring products in the metrics that matter most to you instead of the overall scores. After all, selecting the right one increases the quality of your rest, reduce aches and pains, and improve the experience of overnighting outside of permanent walls. We hope this review helps you determine which pillow will keep you happy on your after-hours adventures at campsites and in the backcountry.
Ross Robinson

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