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.
REI Co-op Backpacker Review
Cons: Average weight and packed size
Our Analysis and Test Results
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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