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Exped AirPillow UL Review

Lightweight and tiny, this model provides firm support to minimalist backpackers, but not much else
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Price:  $45 List | $39.00 at Amazon
Pros:  Lightweight, smallest packed size, added texture keeps pillow in place
Cons:  Uncomfortable, very bare bones design, noisy
Manufacturer:   Exped
By Jason Wanlass ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Nov 21, 2019
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64
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#9 of 13
  • Comfort - 25% 2
  • Weight - 20% 9
  • Ease of Use - 15% 7
  • Packed Size - 20% 9
  • Support - 20% 6

Our Verdict

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?

Compare to Similar Products

Our Analysis and Test Results

Performance Comparison


Comfort isn't one of the AirPillow UL's stronger suits  but it does get the job done for adventurists looking to save on weight.
Comfort isn't one of the AirPillow UL's stronger suits, but it does get the job done for adventurists looking to save on weight.

Comfort


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.

From backpacking to traveling  we struggled to find much comfort in this Exped model.
From backpacking to traveling, we struggled to find much comfort in this Exped model.

Sliding a t-shirt, balaclava, fleece, or pretty much any (clean) fabric over this pillow will improve its face-feel and comfort to some extent. Don't use a dirty shirt — the smell factor will override any minimal gains in comfort.

Weight


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.

Smaller than a stick of butter  this pillow packs up better than any pillow we've ever seen and weighs less than our pocket knife.
Smaller than a stick of butter, this pillow packs up better than any pillow we've ever seen and weighs less than our pocket knife.

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.

The Exped's wide valve makes it easy to inflate and deflate. An additional flapper valve keeps the air inside  in between breaths.
The Exped's wide valve makes it easy to inflate and deflate. An additional flapper valve keeps the air inside, in between breaths.

Packed Size


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.

We used our AirPillow UL in just about every climate. From the snow-covered mountains of Utah to the Alabama woods  and a few places in between. It's so small  we almost lost it a few times in plain sight.
We used our AirPillow UL in just about every climate. From the snow-covered mountains of Utah to the Alabama woods, and a few places in between. It's so small, we almost lost it a few times in plain sight.

Support


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.

Value


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.

We really liked the manufacturer's GripSkin honeycomb-pattern coating on both sides of this Exped model. It worked well at keeping the pillow in place on a variety of surfaces  including the silky liner of our mummy bag.
We really liked the manufacturer's GripSkin honeycomb-pattern coating on both sides of this Exped model. It worked well at keeping the pillow in place on a variety of surfaces, including the silky liner of our mummy bag.

Conclusion


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