Pillow Fight! The Best Backpacking Pillow?

I’m a big fan of sleep, and I prefer to do it well. If there is anywhere that I spend a good deal of time, it’s in my sleep system. Surprisingly, a good pillow is hard to find. Tired of waking up to neck pain and a poor nights sleep, I began searching.

I gathered up all the best backpacking pillows that I could find, and put them to the test. Most pillows did not make the cut here, but these are the final 6, and these are the ones who deserve your attention.

Big Agnes Air Core pillow

Simple, but large, the Air Core pillow is a minimalist pillow with a solid design. Unlike most inflatables, the pillow has baffles stitched throughout which keeps your head stable, to avoid that “head banging” bubble effect that many inflatables have. The pad is light at just 4.5 ounces, and packs down tiny (have an extra pocket?). It’s comfortable enough, especially for those side or back sleepers, but it lacks something in the feel. Tucking it into an extra shirt or jacket to add some texture and softness certainly helps. Quite usable, if nothing extraordinary. Good for the minimalist backpacker.


Big Agnes Sleeping Giant Memory Foam Pillow

Blunt and large, the Sleeping Giant demands a good night sleep with little regard to the means. The sleeping giant is the Air Core pillow, plus a layer of memory foam to top it off. Large and cushy(16 x 12 inches), the sleeping giant offers plenty of snuggle for your ounces. at 8.5 ounces, it is one of the heavier pillows I have personally used, but also one of the most comfortable. Being inflatable allows for quick adjust-ability in the height and firmness, working equally well for back, stomach and side sleepers depending on how much you’ve inflated it. Max loft is quite satisfying, closely resembling a large firm home pillow. It’s warm, well regulated, and feels great against the skin. The inflatable insert can be left behind to shave 4.5 ounces off your weight, and can be supplemented by a garment. packs to about 7 x 9 x 3 inches. Worth every ounce if you’re looking for a good nights rest. Retails about $40.

Big Agnes Sleeping Giant Pillow

Sierra Designs DriDown Pillow

The Dridown Pillow is a combination of a synthetic inner, and 600 fill DriDown quilted into the top. The synthetic fill insert can be removed and left at home to save weight, and replaced with your jacket or shirt to compensate. The entire kit weighs 5.8 ounces, or a scant 2.8 ounces without insert. While a bit small, it still manages to be quite comfortable in all positions, and stays put throughout the night. There is enough loft for the side sleeper to sleep well, while adjustable enough to work for stomach sleepers as well. The quilted down feels fantastic against the skin, and keeps you just warm enough without overheating your face during those warm nights.

Sierra Designs DriDown Pillow


Kelty Luxury Pillow

This is the only pillow that I’ve found that resembles the pillows I use at home. Packing in 8 ounces of down fill (10 ounces total weight), the pillow offers lots of loft and squish-ability. The pillow has a sleeve for tucking in a jacket or shirt to add extra lift. This is great news, since the down alone will almost flatten completely under your head when used without a supplement article . When paired with a complementary garment, however, the luxury pillow offers loft, and comfort that lasts all night and most closely resembles that of your own bed. It regulates well, keeping me warm but not overheated. It’s heavy at 10 ounces, but if you’re a real pillow snob like myself, you’ll find yourself happily carrying the extra weight. Retails around $35.

Kelty Luxory Down Pillow

Kelty  Camp Pillow

The budget king. If you’re broke, cheap, or just thrifty, this pillow may find a home in your pack. It will, however, take up your entire couch, with a packed size of 5 x 9 inches. The pillow retails for around 15 bucks, but offers moderate loft and comfort, exceeding expectations for it’s price range. On the down side however, the pillow uses a cheap synthetic fill that clumps together over long term use. Expect some lumps after just a few trips. It’s hard to complain for the price, and still offers a decent nights sleep. It will not satisfy those who need a large amount of lift though.

Kelty Camp Pillow

Cocoon Ultralight AirCore Pillow

The AirCore Pillow is an inflatable, bubble style pillow with a thin sheet of synthetic feel on the surface to add comfort and warmth.It’s light, has tons of lift, and feels great to the touch. Plus, it only weighs 5.8 ounces, and packs down into oblivion. The inflatable design offers adjust-ability, but also creates instability. The pillow has a bit of a head rocking effect, and can be a challenge to keep in place throughout the night. The pillow roll can be managed if you really snuggle up with it or tuck it into your sleeping bag to add stability. Not for everyone, but many testers rave about it, especially those who like lots of loft for little weight. Retails at around 35 dollars.

Cocoon Ultralight Pillow


Thermarest Compressible Pillow

Upcycled polyurethane foam packed into a brushed polyester pillowcase with a sleeve and cinchfor compressible it down, the Thermarest stands out in this list. The medium weighs in at about 8 oz, and packs down to a fairly workable size, although it’s larger than anything else on this list. It’s also more comfortable, in my experience. The soft foam molds to the head, and offers more loft and weight distribution than anything else I’ve tried. The foam inside also provides ample warmth for cold weather, and the pillow performs admirably in every sleep position. Multiple sizes and weights are available, so campers can choose the one that fits them best. A favorite among testers. The medium costs about 23 dollars.

Thermarest Compressible Pillow

My favorites?

Honestly, all of these are my favorites. I chose these pillows because each of them had a certain trait that would appeal to someone’s needs. If I had to choose, I’ll be carrying the Thermarest Compressible Pillow for it’s home like feel and soft compressible foam that provides better support for my hips and shoulders. What you choose, is ultimately up to you.

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6 thoughts on “Pillow Fight! The Best Backpacking Pillow?

  1. Pingback: How to Sleep Better in the Backcountry | TreeLineBackpacker

  2. Pingback: My Favorite Gear of 2014 | TreeLineBackpacker

  3. Thank you. Therma rest pillows are double the USA price in Australia.
    Yet sold out I’m looking at making my own using some similar foam removed from an old bean bag. I can sew a cover and hopefully have a great pillow.

  4. I’ve been using the Therm-a-rest pillow for a few years and love it. Regardless, I have been looking for something that packs smaller and weighs less, and I’ve tried a few others but keep coming back to the Therm-a-rest. Good quality sleep is worth the extra space and few more ounces of this pillow. : )

    • If you do find something better, do let me know. Like you, I’m pretty well committed at this point to the Thermarest. Nothing else really compares, although the Nemo Fillo seems pretty decent too.
      I happily lug mine around for many, many miles. Glad you’re enjoying yours too!

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