Let's just get down to it: The Exped AirPillow UL is designed for ultralight backpacking. If you're looking for a plush and comfortable cushion, keep browsing. This pillow comes as close to being weightless as anything we've ever seen. It's super compact, very easy to use, and will definitely catch the attention of backpackers who are extremely conscious of size and weight. For those who don't care so much about ounces or packed volume, it simply isn't very comfortable and is pretty noisy. But, hey, maybe after crushing 25-mile days, you might not mind?
Exped AirPillow UL Review
Compare prices at 2 resellers Pros: Lightweight, smallest packed size, added texture keeps pillow in place
Cons: Uncomfortable, very bare bones design, noisy
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Our Analysis and Test Results
Consisting of nothing more than a laminated polyester bladder and air, this pillow doesn't add too much in terms of overall comfort. Fully inflated, this pillow is quite solid, and would most likely only work for back sleepers. However, with a little less air inside, we found it tolerable for our side sleepers. We found it a little challenging to get the right amount of air inside the pillow, and once we did, it was difficult to duplicate those preferred levels the next night.
In the end, it is one of the least comfortable pillows we reviewed. Other inflatable models do a better job regarding comfort. However, in all fairness, this pillow is designed for backpackers looking for the lightest and smallest pillow on the market. In this regard, the Air UL is a success and is as comfortable as can be expected.
If this pillow were a boxer, it wouldn't have a weight class. As previously mentioned, it comes as close to being weightless as any pillow out there. With a packed weight of 1.7 ounces, it is the lightest pillow we've ever tested. Its minimal design is right up the alley of adventurists who are looking to save on weight and space.
Ease of Use
The AirPillow UL uses a large flat valve for inflation and deflation. The value has a built-in rubber valve that opens a when you blow into it and seals off the opening in between breaths to prevent air leakage. We found this system very effective and easy to use, allowing us to fill the pillow in just three breaths or less completely. Normally, the polyester fabric that the AirPillow UL is made from tends to slide on the silky fabric of most mummy bags easily. However, we feel this pillow tends to stay in place a little better than most with the help of a micro-thin, honey-comb shaped coating called GripSkin. It fits well inside the hood of a mummy sleeping bag, deflates and packs up very easily, and can be hand-washed. We didn't like that the fabric tends to absorb water instead of being water-resistant. It's also a bit crinkly and tends to create and amplify noise from movement during the night.
Smaller than an energy bar when packed, we lost track of the AirPillow UL several times and eventually had to designate a specific location on our backpack to store it. Its packed size is so small, it can easily be overlooked, despite its bright orange color. This pillow really excels in this metric and outpaced all of its competition. We were most impressed with the ratio of this pillow's packed size compared to its inflated size. It's outstanding in this metric.
Being inflatable, the AirPillow UL is a very firm pillow. Most of our testers found it uncomfortable when completely inflated. While not very comfortable or plush, we did like one of the pillow's support design features. One end of the Air UL inflates higher than the other, giving it a little more versatility for back and side sleepers. The idea is the thicker end is placed under the neck of side-sleepers. For back-sleepers, the larger end is placed at the top of the head. We found this design to be relatively effective and were impressed that a pillow with minimal material and design could offer this feature. The pillow is also has vulcanized sections in its middle, which cup the pillow and allow it to cradle your noggin more effectively.
When we compare what you get for what you pay, we feel the AirPillow UL is hard-pressed to hold its value as a general-use camping pillow. This pillow serves a niche market, by catering to thru-hikers and backpackers. This is not necessarily negative. There is definitely a consumer for this type of pillow and However, in terms of general use, and when compared against a broad spectrum of other pillows we reviewed, the average consumer can find pillows that offer more for less cost.
Our review of the AirPillow UL possibly lists more of the pillow's negatives than its positives. However, the review shouldn't be viewed overall as negative. We are simply calling it as we see it. This pillow is not very comfortable. The product is well- made and is a potential option for adventurists who are solely concerned about a pillow's packed volume and weight.
— Jason Wanlass