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Therm-a-Rest Air Head Down Pillow Review

A comfortable blend of down softness and air cushion
Therm-a-Rest Air Head Down Pillow
Photo: REI Co-op
Top Pick Award
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Price:  $60 List | $48.09 at Amazon
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
Manufacturer:   Therm-a-Rest
By Jason Wanlass ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  May 13, 2020
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71
OVERALL
SCORE


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

Our Verdict

We were a little skeptical, but the Therm-a-Rest Air Head Down proved itself as one of the more comfortable inflatable pillows we've ever used. The Air Head Down's differentiator is a thicker, stretchier internal air bladder, a healthy topping of soft down covered by a very quiet polyester quilted exterior. Its twist-top air valve makes inflating and deflating a breeze, and easily accommodates even the smallest air adjustments. A non-slip bottom fabric keeps the pillow in place and an ergonomic shape makes it perfect for side and back sleepers. The only drawbacks we found are based on weight and the price. A thicker bladder bumps up the pillow's ounces, and the addition of down makes for a heavier price tag.

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Price $48.09 at Amazon
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Pros Very comfy, easy to adjust air volume, ergonomically shaped for back and side sleepersVery comfortable, great support, easy to adjust thickness, washable exteriorLightweight, small packed size, down pillow topVery small packed size, lightweight, great supportLightweight, small packed size, easy to use
Cons More expensive, down is allergenic to some users, a little heavier than its inflatable peersHeavy, not for extended backcountry tripsHigh price tag, not overly comfortable, pillow top fabric is noisyNot super comfortableLess comfortable than other models, can be punctured, noisy
Bottom Line This model adds significant comfort, but at a weight penaltyThis pillow provides excellent comfort and is adjustable for all kinds of sleepers in most camp settingsA high premium for a good pillow, complete with a down topper and lightweight portabilityThis is our favorite model for extended backpacking tripsYes, you can find something more comfortable, but you won't find many this lightweight and packable
Rating Categories Air Head Down Pillow NEMO Fillo Sea to Summit Aeros Down Sea to Summit Aeros Big Agnes AXL Air Pillow
Comfort (25%)
7
9
6
5
3
Weight (20%)
6
3
8
8
9
Ease Of Use (15%)
6
9
6
6
7
Packed Size (20%)
7
6
8
8
9
Support (20%)
9
9
7
8
7
Specs Air Head Down Pillow NEMO Fillo Sea to Summit... Sea to Summit Aeros Big Agnes AXL Air...
Type Hybrid: Compressible and Inflatable Hybrid: Compressible and Inflatable Hybrid: Compressible and Inflatable Inflatable Inflatable
Measured Weight (oz) 5.4 oz 9.0 oz 2.6 oz 3.1 oz 1.8 oz
Packed Volume (L) 0.6 L 1.4 L 0.4 L 0.4 L 0.3 L
Length 18 in 16 in 13 in 14 in 16 in
Width 12.5 in 9.5 in 9 in 8 in 10 in
Thickness 4 in 4.5 in 4.7 in High side: 5 in; Low side: 4 in 4 in
Stuff Sack included? Yes, with drawstring Integrated Stuff Sack. Velcro strap as well. Yes, with drawstring Yes, with drawstring Yes, with drawstring
Materials Partially recycled polyester, down, urethane Polyester, microfiber / microsuede outer layer 10-denier nylon top, 20-denier nylon base, thermoplastic urethane bladder Polyurethane bladder, Brushed 50D Polyester Knit Cover 4-Way stretch nylon w/ TPU coating

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.

Performance Comparison


Considering its overall weight, packed volume and inflated size, the...
Considering its overall weight, packed volume and inflated size, the Air Head Down is one of the more comfortable inflatables we've studied -- especially after a long day on the trail.
Photo: Jason Wanlass

Comfort


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 internal bladder is made from thicker material than most...
The internal bladder is made from thicker material than most inflatables. It's also more pliable, making for a more comfortable snooze.
Photo: Jason Wanlass

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.

The Air Head Down is a little heavier than other inflatable pillows;...
The Air Head Down is a little heavier than other inflatable pillows; however, the extra ounces are worth the extra comfort.
Photo: Jason Wanlass

Weight


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.

Adjusting the air level is a breeze. The Air Head Down's...
Adjusting the air level is a breeze. The Air Head Down's easy-to-find twist valve allows for micro adjustments to be made without having to sit up or even open your eyes.
Photo: Jason Wanlass

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.

The greatest benefit of inflatables with twist valves is the bladder...
The greatest benefit of inflatables with twist valves is the bladder can be removed. This makes washing the outer shell easy and repairs or replacements very simple.
Photo: Jason Wanlass

Packed Size


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.


The Air Head Down packs up to about the size of an apple, making it...
The Air Head Down packs up to about the size of an apple, making it easy to stow away anywhere in your pack.
Photo: Jason Wanlass

Support


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.


A thicker bladder makes this pillow more stable and provides...
A thicker bladder makes this pillow more stable and provides exceptional support for just about any sleeper. The extra layer of quilted down gives the pillow a cushy, comfortable, welcoming level of support.
Photo: Jason Wanlass

Value


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.

We loved placing our noggins on this pillow at the end of the day.
We loved placing our noggins on this pillow at the end of the day.
Photo: Jason Wanlass

Conclusion


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.

The Air Head Down is comfortable, lightweight, and easy to use. It...
The Air Head Down is comfortable, lightweight, and easy to use. It also packs up small and offers amazing support, making it our Top Pick for Lightweight Luxury.
Photo: Jason Wanlass

Jason Wanlass