Therm-a-Rest Air Head Down Pillow Review
Compare prices at 2 resellers Pros: Very comfy, easy to adjust air volume, ergonomically shaped for back and side sleepers
Cons: More expensive, down is allergenic to some users, a little heavier than its inflatable peers
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Our Analysis and Test Results
If you've spent a few days on the trail with a cheaper blow-up pillow, most likely you've spent a few late nights rummaging around your tent for something to wrap your pillow into for extra comfort. There's no longer a need to cocoon your inflatable with an extra down puffy jacket, Therm-a-rest has basically done it for you. The Air Head Down is a very pleasant combination of air-cushion support and the softness and comfort of down. The result is a lightweight, backpacking pillow that offers adventurers a legitimate inflatable option that really delivers after a long day on the trail. The extra comfort is attached to a few extra bones, but we found the extra zzzs worth the price.
Generally speaking, inflatables can be fairly comfortable, but most end up severely lacking when it comes to luxurious comfort. The Air Head Down still has a ways to go before receiving top comfort marks, but its down-topped design and thicker, stretchier air bladder are certainly allowing this pillow to close the gap between comfort and weight. We enjoyed sleeping on the Air Head Down for several reasons. The first thing that caught our attention is the thickness of its down top and the softness of its quilted polyester fabric. When combined, these two features work in perfect unison to provide a pleasing layer of softness.
Additionally, the pillow incorporates a thicker, more pliable bladder. One of the greatest challenges with air-filled camp pillows is the bladder — it needs to be durable but lightweight and stretchy. Most bladders don't stretch much (the equivalent of a thicker Ziploc bag). The result is the inability to displace air, making the pillow too firm. This firmness gives the pillow reverse pressure that pushes back on your head all night.
The Air Head Down's bladder is thicker and durable, but at the same time more flexible. It's added ability to stretch allows air the bladder to displace when under pressure. The result is a pillow that accommodates and cradles your head, instead of pushing back on it. Additionally, the thicker bladder material is more weighted, giving the pillow a greater feeling of stability during sleep.
A heavier bladder and a dense layer of down, bump the Air Head Down toward the bottom of the list on weight when compared directly to the rest of its ultralight peers. When we compare it directly to other inflatables, this pillow is a few ounces heavier at 5.4 oz on our scale; however, when compared to the entire fleet of pillows we've studied, the Air Head Down receives impressive scores for weight.
In short, it's a little bit heavier than the lightest inflatable pillows on the market, but it's lightweight when compared to pillows that offer comparable comfort. We think the added ounces are worth it, and we are very impressed with this pillow's comfort in relation to its weight.
Ease of Use
An easy to use twist valve makes it simple to inflate and deflate the Air Head Down. A slight twist in the middle of the night also allows for easy adjustment from a firmer pillow to a softer one. The valve is easy to find and easier to use than wide-mouth flat valves. In addition, the valve is directly connected to the interior bladder, allowing the entire bladder system to be removed.
The ability to separate the bladder from the down pillow top covering allows the user to throw the fabric part into the wash for a quick clean. It also makes it much easier to repair the bladder while out on the trail (very unlikely) or replace it altogether if severe damage occurs. Pillows with flat air-valve systems are usually a self-contained system and don't have this option. The Air Head Down also stays in place during the night and fits easily into most mummy hoods.
In addition to being comfortable and supportive, the Air Head Down also packs up easily and without taking up a lot of space. This pillow lands near the top of our list for best packed size. It's about the size of a medium apple when packed, making it easy to take on any adventure, especially those involving a backpack and several days on the trail. Trail junkies looking for a little extra comfort at night will certainly be happy to find the Air Head Down doesn't take up valuable pack space.
There are a lot of subtleties when considering pillow support. For example, bricks are extremely supportive, but we doubt you'd want to prop your head on one all night. There's a big difference between support and comfortable support. The Air Head Down walks this thin line very well by offering a near-perfect symphony of forgiving firmness and cradling softness. This pillow's ergonomic shape allows it to fit the needs of most side or back sleepers. It's thick enough and firm enough to properly lift the head and neck, yet soft enough to allow most sleepers to completely forget they're sleeping on a blow-up pillow.
Its price tag comes more than doubles some of the other pillows we have tested; however, the comfort, functionality, size, weight, and support that come with the Air Head Down make it worth the bucks. The manufacturer didn't skimp on the down feathers — they're plentiful and soft. It also didn't cut any corners on materials or design. This is a great pillow that simply cost a lot but delivers.
The Therm-a-Rest Air Head Down is an excellent blend of comfort and support, all from a pillow that weighs just a few ounces. We were skeptical at first, but our doubts quickly faded when our heads hit the Air Head Down for the first time. As with nearly all true inflatables, comfort will be an issue for the foreseeable future; however, this pillow is one of the first inflatables that comes very close to crossing that bridge entirely.
— Jason Wanlass