I’ve slept in some funny places while backpacking.
Under trees in parks. Under upturned boats on beaches. In tents at the top of mountains. In hammocks between palm trees. At the side of a road in the bush of Northern Thailand…
Luckily for me I’m a pretty heavy sleeper!
Yet up to 70 million people suffer with sleep disorders in the US. It must suck. After all, lack of sleep has profound negative effects on your well-being. You feel tired, unfocused and irritable. The longer it goes on, you increase your risk of stress, anxiety, pain conditions and even obesity.
Obviously, none of these go down well on the road! You want enough energy to actually enjoy the experience. How do you make sure you get sufficient sleep when travelling?
Though it might seem like a luxury, but packing a pillow can make all the difference. I can’t count the number of times I’ve yearned for one to help me get some shut eye while travelling.
With that in mind, I decided to look into the best one for the job. And I compiled the results! Looking for a pillow to take travelling?
Keep reading for my ultimate buying guide to the best backpacking pillow of 2019.
Best Pillow for Backpacking 2019- Summary Table
What Makes the Best Backpacking Pillow?
Not all pillows are created equal.
Some are simply better than others for travelling.
For instance, everything you take must be small and lightweight. The same goes for your pillow. It has to be reasonably sized.
Unfortunately, that means you probably can’t take your deluxe duck down pillow from your bed at home…
Below you’ll find some other considerations for picking your pillows!
It must be practical.
Your travel pillow needs to offer genuine comfort and support for your neck and head. After all, it’s there to help you sleep! It should also be durable enough to withstand a bit of rough treatment on the road.
Oh, and it shouldn’t slip around in the night. That’s just downright annoying.
Think about the materials used as well.
Certain so-called ‘face-fabrics’ are simply more comfortable and enjoyable to sleep on than others.
Micro-fleece and polyester are generally solid options. Ripstop nylon is common. However, this nylon is sometimes both slippery on the ground and sticky to the touch. Oh, and other materials tend to squeak as they move around. No-one wants that.
Be sure to pay close attention to the particular face-fabric when deciding the best backpacking pillow for your trip.
Sleeping Style Requirements
Finally, keep in mind your personal sleeping style.
For instance, restless sleepers move a lot, so a larger pillow may be better.
It’ll stop you falling off! Likewise, those who sleep on their side may require a thicker pillow than a front-sleeper (to adequately fill the space between their head and the ground).
Oh, and a neck pillow may be great for journeys. But for normal sleeping situations, the hole in the middle is only going to be problematic. And so on…
Types of Pillow to Choose
There are actually four different types of backpacking pillow to choose between.
Each has their own set of pros and cons. It’s important to know which is which when choosing what’s right for you and your trip. Here they are:
Compressible pillows are the closest you’ll get to the pillow on your bed at home.
They’re filled with comfy materials (usually synthetic fibres, foam, or a combo of the two) that, you guessed it, you can compress.
You can actually find down feather compressibles for ultimate comfort. It’ll be heavier than most other travel pillows, but nothing like your down pillow at home!
Go for a compressible if comfort is primary goal.
However, be prepared to sacrifice on space. These won’t be appropriate for ultralight backpackers. They’re big, bulky, and heavy to carry.
Inflatables are best for anyone trying to save on space and weight.
Folded totally flat when not in use, you simply inflate them when required.
You’ll find two types. The basic one requires you to blow it up manually. The lazy option is an automatic inflatable that uses a valve to auto-inflate.
Both are undoubtedly practical. They take up essentially no room and add zero weight when uninflated (even inflated they won’t weigh much…after all, it’s just air!).
The downside is in terms of comfort.
Inflatables can feel stiff to the touch- like sleeping on a super lightweight, pillow-shaped rock. You’ll need to deflate a little to get a bit of ‘spongey-ness’.
They can also squeak when you move. Oh, and there’s always the risk of them getting a puncture and/or deflating.
Hybrids offer a neat combination of inflatable and compressible pillows.
You get the best of both.
Think balloon wrapped in comfy material and you’re pretty close! There’s a small inflatable inner section and a layer of compressible material around it. This provides a nice balance between size and comfort.
The idea is generally the same, but there can be significant differences between individual hybrids. Different brands use different ratios of inflatable to compressible.
The distinctions impact the weight-to-comfort ratio!
However, it isn’t all smooth sailing. Hybrids are undeniably smaller than compressibles. But they don’t come close to a deflated inflatable. You still sacrifice on size and weight.
Ultimately, you have to weigh up your personal requirements and desires.
Pillowcase-Style Stuff sacks
Stuff sacks are an alternative form of pillow.
To be honest, they aren’t pillows at all.
But they can function as one. They’re just sacks designed for you to stuff your soft items (such as clothing) into for safekeeping. You can then use it as a pillow.
It’s not a bad solution. After all, effective travel packing calls for saving space wherever possible. Multipurpose items are ideal for that.
It saves buying an actual pillow. And it can function as one anyway.
If you’re short on space and decide a travel pillow isn’t necessary, then they’ll do the trick. However, expect awkward lumps from the contents inside and general discomfort versus actual pillows.
Similarly, everyday stuff sacks aren’t usually designed to be slept upon. The materials are often waterproof. That makes them sticky, sweaty and generally gross (think drool…everywhere).
Do yourself a favor and at least purchase a fabric stuff sack!
The Best Backpacking Pillow for the Road
On to the main event. Here are 8 top pillows that should help any backpacker sleep better wherever they are on the road.
Best Inflatable Backpacking Pillow
Let’s start with the best inflatable options.
Button valve for easy manual inflation
The Trekology would win hands down in terms of cost to material ratios.
It is 16” long when fully inflated! That’s enormous! Some might say it’s too large. Be sure to check it’ll actually fit in your sleeping bag hood if that’s how you intend to use it.
This pillow boasts a novel button-valve design. You press a button to open up the valve. It’s quick and easy to inflate. I’ve seen a couple of reviews praising its ease of use. That said, I’ve also seen one or two stating the loss of air they experienced at night…
Overall, Trekology have made a great all-rounder that’s suitable for all sleep-styles.
Lightweight and small
Includes storage bag
Heavier versus other inflatables
Scalloped bottom edge
The Sea to Summit Aeros seems like an ideal pick for your next adventure.
From all accounts, it’s arguably the best inflatable on the list.
A lot of thought has gone into the design. And it looks cool, which is an added bonus. But the main advantages are practical.
It’s incredibly small and lightweight when packed down. That makes it perfect for anyone eager to space-save. Sure, you don’t get the comfort of a compressible. That said, the contoured headrest and scalloped bottom edge mean it’s as comfy as an inflatable gets. Added comfort comes from the polyester material.
Incredibly small when packed
Easy to adjust for better support
Less comfortable versus other choices
The Wellax Ultralight camping pillow is another popular choice online.
It ticks all of the right boxes for an inflatable pillow. Again, the comfort won’t compare to compressibles or hybrids. But the packed size and weight are equivalent to a can of coke! Short on space? The Wellax is a good bet.
The anti-slip material underneath is a nice touch. The nylon on top helps with comfort.
Of note is the occasional report of deflation during the night. That said, this is a cheap purchase. You’d expect the odd problem. Overall, the Wellax is undoubtedly a quality product at a discount price.
Oh, and it’s no risk. There’s a 100% money-back guarantee for this product. You literally can’t lose.
Finally, check out the matching Wellax Ultralight sleeping pad. Combine it with the pillow and you’ll be sleeping like Snow White, wherever you are!
Extremely small and lightweight
Suitable for back, side and front sleeping
Anti-slip material on underside
Comes with silk sleeping aid
Lower levels of comfort
Occasional reports of deflation
High durability design
Self-centering sectional X design
Dual purpose (seat cushion)
For the price, you’ll struggle to find a pillow that weighs less than the Klymit X.
Likewise, you probably won’t find anything smaller. It packs down to about the size of a small wallet. At that size, the real danger is losing it in your backpack! The Klymit requires your breath to inflate. However, it only takes a couple of breaths to fully inflate- so no trouble there.
By all accounts this pillow is ideal if you enjoy sleeping on your back. The novel ‘X-shaped’ design helps to cradle your head in the centre. However, side and front sleepers might find it less comfortable.
Likewise, I’ve seen a couple of reviews complaining about the lack of comfort. The novel design might look cool, but seems to sacrifice on practicality. It’s also said to slip around a bit.
However, overall, the Klymit X is a solid choice for backpackers salvaging every iota of space.
Incredibly small and lightweight
Stuff sack included
Reports of valve durability issues
The Best Compressible Backpacking Pillow
Now for the best compressibles I could find.
4 different sizes
Built-in stuff sack
You get to feel good about yourself with this purchase.
The Therm-a-rest pillow is made from upcycled therm-a-rest mattresses. They take the same material and use it as a filler for the pillow. It’s a win-win: the pillow is super comfortable and saves on waste too.
This is undoubtedly one of the comfiest pillows on this list. It’s the perfect balance between firm and soft, and thick enough to provide genuine neck and head support (possibly too thick for front-sleepers).
How about down-sides? Top of the list is the size and weight. Nicely, the pillow’s stuff sack does a good job of compressing it down. But it’s more than double the size of inflatables.
Overall, you can’t go too far wrong with the Therm-a-Rest compressible. It is a top budget option.
Size and weight
Adjustable levels of foam
The Coop compressible pillow is arguably the comfiest option on this list.
It’s definitely a popular one online.
Made using a memory foam filler, the pillow ends up becoming a unique fit for you. And you can adjust the thickness to by adding or removing foam. Good news for all sweaty sleepers too: it’s thermos-regulating.
Comfort comes at a price though. This pillow is huge! It weighs a kilo with the stuff sack. For some backpackers that’s just unfeasible- think airplane weight limits!
You probably won’t have space for the Coop inside your pack either.
Sure, if you’ve got a suitcase it would probably be fine! But without a backpack are you still technically backpacking? Hmmm…
The pillow does come with a stuff sack though, which is a big help. Backpackers could slip a carabiner to it and attach the pillow to the outside of their pack. Problem solved. And for the price (it’s cheap!), the comfort is arguably worth it.
Still worried it’ll be too big? I don’t blame you. But the company offers a 100% money back guarantee if it isn’t right. That means you can give it risk-free a shot to see if it’ll work out.
Suits all types of sleep position
Best Hybrid Backpacking Pillow
It’s time for the hybrids!
Inflated size similar to home pillow
I’ve got another Klymit for you.
This one comes incredibly well recommended online. All the reviews are raving about it.
The Klymit luxe lives up to its name as a luxury option. It inflates easily and to a size comparable with your pillow at home. The inflatable core has a polyester fill for comfort. And a quilted cover adds another level of comfort to it.
Remember the X design of the inflatable Klymit pillow I talked about before? Well, the same internal structure is used here. That serves to center your head throughout the night.
The flaws follow what you’d expect from a hybrid. It’s heavier than an inflatable (though lighter than most compressibles). Other than that it’s hard to fault the Luxe hybrid. It’s cheap and comes with a lifetime warranty, making it totally risk free.
Good weight to comfort ratio
3” air chamber & 1” memory foam
Integrated stuff sack
The NEMO is a versatile backpacking pillow that offers serious comfort.
Again, it’s highly rated everywhere you look. You’ll struggle to find any negative words about it.
The thickness is easily adjustable through varying its inflation. The inch-thick memory foam layer offers awesome comfort. And an additional pillowcase tops it all off. It’s suitable for all sleep-styles.
Your only consideration may need to be its size and weight. However, that isn’t a major issue either. Thanks to the stuff sack (included), it packs down smaller than a water bottle. I’s true that the weight remains somewhat heavier than other options though.
Long term backpackers may want something lighter. But the NEMO is a top shout for shorter trips where sleep is a priority.
Thickness is easily adjustable
Packs up relatively small
Machine washable pillowcase
Bonus #1: the Best Hiking Pillow Review
Backpacking and hiking often go hand in hand. That’s why it seemed appropriate to include a pillow I thought would be especially suited to overnight hiking.
It made sense to choose a hybrid.
After all, in my experience, most multi-day hikes are between 2 and 5 days. Or thereabouts…
That makes them short enough that weight probably isn’t a deciding factor. They’re long (and strenuous) enough that you definitely want a good night’s sleep!
I reckon the Klymit Luxe is the best bet. It’s the lighter of the two hybrids on this list. But it sacrifices none of the practicality.
Bonus #2: the Best Camping Pillow Review
Most backpackers are sure to camp at some point on their trip.
The Wellax Ultra-Light camping pillow that I talked about above seems ideal.
It’s one of the smallest, lightest, and most durable pillows I found, while remaining relatively well-rated for its comfort. That makes it everything a camping backpacker needs!
However, for anyone taking an ordinary camping trip, with no space limitations, then 100% opt for a compressible!
Of these, the Coop compressible may well be enormous. But it’s also the comfiest in this buying guide. If space isn’t a problem, then it makes sense to go for comfort above all else. The Coop seems perfect.
Time to Get Some Sleep…
There you have it: a buying guide to find the best backpacking pillow for your trip.
You should never underestimate the importance of a good night’s sleep on the road. There’s nothing quite like tiredness to sap the enjoyment from the experience. That’s bad news when you consider how backpackers often find themselves sleeping in funny old places.
In those situations an extra bit of comfort can make all the difference.
That’s where a backpacking pillow comes in handy. Even if it seems like a luxury, there will be times when you’ll thank your lucky stars you packed one.
Hopefully, this post has highlighted a pillow that will be perfect for what you need!
Now I’d love to hear from you. What’s the worst night’s sleep you’ve had while travelling? Let me know in the comments when a pillow would have come in most helpful!
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