Hands-on Gear Review

REI Co-op Backpacker Review

This budget-level pillow is capable of camping and weekend backpacking trips.
REI Co-op Backpacker
By: Ross Robinson ⋅ Senior Review Editor  ⋅  May 23, 2017
Price:  $25 List
Pros:  Easy to use, inexpensive, adequate comfort and support
Cons:  Average weight and packed size
Manufacturer:   REI
72
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort - 25% 7
  • Weight - 25% 7
  • Ease of Use - 20% 9
  • Packed Size - 20% 6
  • Support - 10% 7
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Our Verdict

REI Discontinued the Backpacker Pillow as of August 2017
The Backpacker is a small and straightforward pillow from REI that offers solid performance at a low price. It's easy to use and has a few tricks up its pillowcase, like providing protection for fragile items and the ability to increase its loft with extra clothing. It stuffs into itself too, eliminating the need for a stuff sack. It's the second-most lightweight compressible pillow reviewed and more comfortable than a wad of socks and underwear at an affordable price. This pillow wins the quadruple B, the Best Buy for Budget Backpackers Award.

While the Backpacker provides a lot for its small price tag, spending more cash achieves better performance. For extended backpacking trips, the Top Pick Sea to Summit Aeros is more lightweight, supportive, and packs up tiny, although not as comfortable. If you are trying to save cash and don't plan on taking it backpacking, our other Best Buy Award winner, the Therm-a-Rest Compressible, is inexpensive and our champion in comfort.


Our Analysis and Test Results

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The REI Co-op Backpacker brings pillow comfort to backpacking at a lower price than most, costing $25. The outer shell features a polyester and cotton blend on the face side and nylon taffeta on the bottom. The inside of the pillow consists of a synthetic core of polyester beneath a layer of duck down and feathers.

Performance Comparison


Backpacking on a budget? Save on this pillow and spend your extra cash on a tent  pad  or pack.
Backpacking on a budget? Save on this pillow and spend your extra cash on a tent, pad, or pack.

Comfort


The Backpacker offers above-average comfort. Our testers remarked that it doesn't heat up like the Sierra Designs DriDown. It's not noisy or wobbly like the inflatable Exped models, either. It is one of the smaller models, but like the other compressible pillows, you won't slide off when your head isn't dead center.


On the downside, the polyester and cotton blend isn't the softest surface of all contenders. It also lacks the plush comfort found in others like the Therm-a-Rest Compressible. It won't replace the pillow on your bed at home, but it provides reliable backcountry comfort.

Waking up fresh with the morning light after a comfy night's sleep is a pillow's purpose.
Waking up fresh with the morning light after a comfy night's sleep is a pillow's purpose.

Weight


This REI model weighed 7.5 oz on our scale, the lightest contender of the budget options. Every model that weighed less in this review costs $7 to $24 more, which is a big difference for a pillow. Our top performer overall, the Nemo Fillo, weighs even 1.5 oz more than the Backpacker.


This pillow is lightweight enough for short backpacking trips lasting several days, where a good night's sleep is worth the extra ounces. For longer trips, spending more cash for the Aeros saves significant weight and space in your pack.

In its price bracket  the REI pillow is a lightweight.
In its price bracket, the REI pillow is a lightweight.

Ease of Use


We love the simplicity of the Backpacker. Stuffing into its own zipper pocket, there is only one piece; no more searching around for the stuff sack when packing up camp. It does take a little effort to get the pillow into its pocket, but this lasts but a few seconds and the tradeoff of fewer things to keep track of is acceptable. We prefer this feature over separate stuff sacks that come with the two other backpacking models, the Air UL and Aeros.


The half-moon shape of this pillow fits great into the hood of a mummy sleeping bag and stays put. The user-friendliness of this model also shines through in its versatility. Slip any fragile items (phone, camera, etc) into the zipper pocket for protection from bumps along the trail. And to wash this pillow, just throw it in a washing machine on a gentle cycle.

We like this design feature of the Backpacker. No stuff sacks to chase down  just a simple zipper pocket for quick and easy packing up or unpacking.
We like this design feature of the Backpacker. No stuff sacks to chase down, just a simple zipper pocket for quick and easy packing up or unpacking.

If this pillow feels a little lumpy upon unpacking it, a few whacks against your leg or tent partner levels out the fill.

Packed Size


We wish this model packed up into a smaller space. The layers of down and synthetic insulation pack up into a 2.3L rectangle. Our Top Pick for Backpacking, the Sea to Summit Aeros, takes up much less space and is better suited for long backpacking trips of a week or longer.


To increase space in your pack, putting this pillow in a compression sack saves almost a liter inside your backpack.

This model targets short range backpacking trips, where space management isn't such an issue. Plus, larger packed sizes correlate with above-average comfort, as seen also in the Therm-a-Rest Compressible and Teton Sports 12 x 18. Only our Editors' Choice Award winner packs smaller and received a higher comfort score. If space in your pack comes at a premium and you tend to be too tired to notice poor comfort performance, consider the Exped Air UL, which packs smaller than a thin wallet.

The REI model is quick to pack up  but doesn't shrink to a small size unless inside an aftermarket compression sack.
The REI model is quick to pack up, but doesn't shrink to a small size unless inside an aftermarket compression sack.

Support


Average support is offered by the REI Co-op model. As with other compressible products, its loft decreases throughout the night, yet our heads never bottomed out. This pillow is comprised of two layers of fill. The top is down and feathers which compress quickly, while the bottom layer of polyester fill provides the majority of support. Our back and stomach sleeping testers enjoyed the level of support from the Backpacker.


Being compressible, though, means you can double its support by folding the pillow in half. Unique to this pillow, too, is the option of stuffing extra clothes inside zipper pocket to increase support. Our lead reviewer prefers to sleep on his side, and this method proved effective for him. Our favorites in the realm of support, though, were models with an adjustable air chamber, like the Fillo, Aeros, Air UL, and the top scorer in this metric, the Exped REM.

Offering moderate support  this pack is most appreciated by back sleepers.
Offering moderate support, this pack is most appreciated by back sleepers.

Best Applications


The Backpacker is great for overnight and multi-day backpacking trips. Back and stomach sleepers will enjoy the support of this model most, although our side-sleeping testers also liked this model.

Both of these pillows are solid choices for backpackers  but can you guess which one is more affordable?
Both of these pillows are solid choices for backpackers, but can you guess which one is more affordable?

Value


This product has strong value. It's the lightest, packs down the smallest of any model under $30, and provides a solid option for budget backpackers who would rather spend their cash on the big-ticket items like a pack, sleeping bag, pad, or tent.

The REI pillow isn't the best option for long distance backpacking trips  but it is a great option for backcountry overnighters on a budget.
The REI pillow isn't the best option for long distance backpacking trips, but it is a great option for backcountry overnighters on a budget.

Conclusion


We're fans of the REI Co-op Backpacker. Some of our reviewers have never spent $40 on a pillow even for the bed in their house and don't enjoy the idea of dropping that kind of dough on a high-end camping pillow. This model fills a budget niche, providing a comfortable cushion at a reasonable price for your dome in the backcountry. It's not for the ounce-counting, toothbrush cutting ultralight crowd, but if you want an affordable pillow for short backpacking trips lasting a weekend or a few more days, this is your pillow.

Ross Robinson

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Most recent review: May 23, 2017
Summary of All Ratings

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


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