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Hands-on Gear Review
Exped Air UL Review
Cons: Uncomfortable, does not stay in place, difficult to fully inflate
Bottom line: Lightweight and tiny, this model provides firm support to minimalist backpackers, but not much else.
After examining the specs for the Exped Air UL, we had high hopes for this extremely lightweight pillow. Compared to the other pillows in this review, it was the lightest and packed to the smallest volume. Although this is impressive, we soon found out that it was also the most difficult to use and least comfortable of the eight pillows reviewed. In the end, Exped compromised too much comfort in its effort to reduce this pillow's weight and packed size.
If you're looking for a more capable model for extended trips into the backcountry, our Top Pick for Backpacking, the Sea to Summit Aeros provides acceptable comfort at a minimal packed volume and weight. For beginner backpackers who balk at the $49 price tag of the Exped will appreciate the lower price of the REI Co-op Backpacker, which provides more comfort than both inflatables without weighing too much.
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Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
The Exped Air UL is an inflatable pillow made of polyester with the clear intention of being incredibly small and lightweight, which it has achieved. This pillow was the lightest and also packs to the smallest volume. It provides good support throughout the night, too. However, this minimal design left no room for comfort.
This was the least comfortable pillow that we reviewed by a significant margin. Despite its contouring, this pillow didn't feel much different from an inflated stuff sack. The polyester tricot fabric cover is not soft, nor pleasant against one's face. It was also the noisiest model.
To somewhat improve the comfort of this pillow, our reviewers recommend sliding it inside a t-shirt or fleece pullover.
Packed in its stuff sack, this pillow weighed a remarkable 1.7 ounces on our scale. It is the lightest of the pillows we reviewed. However, we would recommend either sacrificing a few more ounces and carrying the Sea to Summit Aeros, or just using a pile of extra clothes as your backcountry pillow.
Ease of Use
The Air UL fits inside the hood of a mummy sleeping bag and can be hand-washed. However, we were frustrated that we were never able to fully inflate this pillow. The amount of air was much more difficult to accurately adjust than both the Nemo Fillo and the Sea to Summit Aeros. We also found that if not positioned precisely in the middle of the pillow, our heads would easily roll off to the side. We woke up several times without this pillow under our heads.
When packed in its stuff sack, it's truly impressive how this pillow transforms to the size of a wallet. At 0.2 L, the Air UL scored the best in this category.
Being inflatable, the Air UL is a firm pillow. However, because we were unable to fully inflate the pillow due to its design, it did not score as high in this category as the Sea to Summit Aeros or Exped REM.
Hypothetically, this pillow would be best used on backpacking trips lasting several weeks or months, such as the Appalachian Trail, where minimizing volume and weight will have a great affect on the success of your trip. Given how little comfort this pillow provides, however, many hikers would do better to stuff a down jacket or other clothing into their sleeping bag stuff sack and use that for a pillow instead.
We found this pillow to have little value. At $49, it is the most expensive pillow we reviewed, yet did little to make our nights camping more enjoyable.
Stowed in a backpack, we loved that the Exped Air UL all but disappears. This made it great during our days of hiking. However, it just didn't deliver when we unpacked, inflated, and slept on it. In situations where ultralight pillows with a tiny packed size are called for, we are more tempted to fill the stuff sack from our sleeping bag with extra clothes already in our pack.
— Ross Robinson
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