Hands-on Gear Review

Exped Air UL Review

Price:  $39 List | $38.95 at MooseJaw
Compare prices at 3 resellers
Pros:  Lightweight, smallest packed size
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.
Editors' Rating:   
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Type:  Inflatable
Measured Weight (oz):  1.7 oz
Packed Volume (L):  0.2 L
Manufacturer:   Exped

Our Verdict

On paper, the Exped Air UL inspires awe. Tiny and ultra-lightweight, we couldn't wait to give it a go. Compared to the other pillows in this review, it is the most lightweight and packs 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 pillows we 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 shorter trips, check out our Editors' Choice Award winner, the Nemo Fillo.

Update for Spring 2018
There have been a few notable changes made to the Air UL this year. In addition to a change in color, the updated version of this pillow totes a new fabric. This Gripskin material is lightweight, yet grippy, to help reduce slippage and keep the pillow in place. The pillow also decreased in price from $49 to $39 for the medium size we tested. More details below!



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Our Analysis and Test Results

Review by:
Ross Robinson

Last Updated:
Tuesday
June 12, 2018

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The Latest Version of the Air UL


Exped made some changes to the color (now orange) and bottom-side material (now more grippy) of the Air UL, but we think the most significant change is the drop in price to $39. This is a big plus since the sticker shock was a significant drawback to this model. Pictured below is the latest version of the Air UL on the left, and the previous model on the right.


Here is a summary of the critical changes made in the updated version of this pillow:
  • Material — The new Air UL is bright orange and is constructed with Gripskin fabric. This material is honeycombed and designed to improve grip so that the pillow doesn't slide away under your head.
  • Price Drop — For the medium size, the price has dropped from $49 to $39, improving the overall value of this product.

We haven't gotten a chance to rest our heads on this new pillow, so the following review refers to the prior version.

Hands-On Review of the Previous Exped Air UL


The Exped Air UL is an inflatable pillow made of polyester with the explicit 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 pillow makes napping anywhere easy due to its incredible portability. Ross is seen here catching some sleep to the sound of rushing water in Minnesota.
This pillow makes napping anywhere easy due to its incredible portability. Ross is seen here catching some sleep to the sound of rushing water in Minnesota.

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.

Weight


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.

Inflating this ultralight pillow is not as easy as with the other inflatables. We were never able to fully inflate it.
Inflating this ultralight pillow is not as easy as with the other inflatables. We were never able to fully inflate it.

Packed Size


When packed in its stuff sack, it's truly impressive how this pillow transforms to the size of a thin wallet. At 0.2 L, the Air UL scored the best in this category.

With its thin  small packed size and negligible weight  it's easy to have this pillow handy for a nap at any time.
With its thin, small packed size and negligible weight, it's easy to have this pillow handy for a nap at any time.

Support


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.

Being inflatable  this pillow does give good support  even when not fully inflated.
Being inflatable, this pillow does give good support, even when not fully inflated.

Best Applications


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 effect 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.

Value


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.

Conclusion


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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Most recent review: June 12, 2018
Summary of All Ratings

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Rating:  
  • 1
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  • 4
  • 5
 (3.0)
Average Customer Rating:  
 (0.0)
Rating Distribution
1 Total Ratings
5 star: 0%  (0)
4 star: 0%  (0)
3 star: 100%  (1)
2 star: 0%  (0)
1 star: 0%  (0)


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