We sought out to find the market's best camping pillows by researching 30+ models available in 2019 and buying 10 top head-cushions to test hands-on. From hammocks in the backyard to high altitude camps in the Himalaya, we tested and compared inflatable, hybrid, compressible, and stuffable versions and scored them on several important factors, including nighttime comfort, adjustable support, and ease of use. We did a lot of sleeping on the job in campgrounds, cars, planes, and the backcountry to get a firm grasp on the ins and outs of each pillow. Keep reading to find the one that will work best for you.
The Best Camping Pillows of 2019
|Price||$39.95 at REI|
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|$27.95 at Amazon|
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|$37.00 at Amazon|
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|$18.99 at Backcountry|
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|$25.00 at REI|
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|Pros||Very comfortable, great support, easy to adjust thickness, small packed size||Large but lightweight, adjustable, small packed size, quilted top||Very small packed size, lightweight, great support||Great value, very comfortable, easy to use||Plush fabrics, lightweight and packable, easy to use|
|Cons||Heavy||Silky outer fabric slides causes pillow to slide around, a little heavy for ultralight backpackers||Not super comfortable||Heavy, large packed size||Comfort is limited to user's items, a little wide for tighter mummy bags, requires external source for padding|
|Bottom Line||This pillow will please the vast majority of campers due to its superb comfort, adjustable support, and small packed size.||This is as close to the size of a standard bed pillow as any camping pillow we've tested. It's large and comfortable.||This backpacking model increases nighttime head support and decent comfort at minimal weight and volume.||For those who don't travel far from their vehicles to the campsite, this model is inexpensive and comfy.||Shed weight and size without sacrificing comfort and support.|
|Rating Categories||NEMO Fillo||Klymit Luxe||Sea to Summit Aeros||Therm-a-Rest Compressible||Rumpl Stuffable Fleece|
|Ease Of Use (20%)|
|Packed Size (20%)|
|Specs||NEMO Fillo||Klymit Luxe||Sea to Summit Aeros||Therm-a-Rest Compressible||Rumpl Stuffable Fleece|
|Type||Hybrid: Compressible and Inflatable||Inflatable||Inflatable||Compressible||Stuffable|
|Measured Weight (oz)||9.0 oz||6.4 oz||3.1 oz||8.6 oz||4.9 oz|
|Packed Volume (L)||1.4 L||0.8 L||0.4 L||2.6 L||1.1 L|
Best Overall Camping Pillow
For several years now, the NEMO Fillo garners our Editors' Choice Award. Once again, we are pleased with its solid performance across all of our scoring categories. This pillow dons a microsuede cover and a foam filler that provides comfort we know we can count on. It also has an inflatable air chamber below the foam padding that gives you customized support. While it isn't tiny in packed form (about the size of a softball), it offers an awesome combination of comfort and support. And the stuff sack is attached to the pillow — one less thing to hunt down when packing up camp.
The key drawback to the NEMO Fillo is above-average weight, which hinders it from being our first choice on extended backpacking trips. Weight conscious users may find it difficult to justify this pillow's half-pound packed weight. And while we like the stuff sack being attached, some testers found it difficult to get the pillow stuffed into it. However, those who aren't as particular with the scale will enjoy the benefits of the Fillo in just about any outdoor setting.
Read review: NEMO Fillo
Best Bang for the Buck
Almost like lying on a mini bean bag or Luvsac, the Therm-a-Rest Compressible pillow perfectly combines supreme comfort with a decent price, earning it our Best Buy Award. It is also supportive and easy to use, helped by its simple design and built-in stuff sleeve. We also like that the internal filler material comes from upcycled mattress foam, checking our eco-friendly box.
While it weighs more or less the same as our Editors' Choice winner, it doesn't pack up nearly as small, taking up precious room in our packs. This one is meant for weekend and car camping trips. It's available at a great price for a fine product.
Read review: Therm-a-Rest Compressible
Top Pick for Backpacking
Sea to Summit Aeros
We gave the Sea to Summit Aeros our Top Pick Award for Backpacking. Very compact and weighing only a few ounces, this pillow removes all fence-sitting over whether to bring a camping pillow on your next big trip. For its size, it offers great extra support and packs down super small, fitting into the palm of our hand. The soft polyester cover and contoured lines in the pillow go a long way toward providing a good night's sleep, even when deep in the backcountry.It's not as comfortable as most of the compressible options that we tested, but it keeps your head off the ground and provides a firm layer of support. The Sea to Summit Aeros also comes in Ultra Light and Premium Deluxe versions, so depending on which end of the ultralight spectrum you fall on, you can customize your experience. This is the pillow we prefer to bring on backpacking trips lasting several days or more.
Read review: Sea to Summit Aeros
Why You Should Trust Us
Our panel pillow testers share more than 30 combined years of hiking and backpacking, including thousands of hours sleeping in the outdoors. Ross Robinson is a Senior Review Editor at OutdoorGearLab who has hiked and backpacked the world for more than a decade. He has lived and backpacked in Thailand, Peru, and Germany, with at least 500 miles hiked in each country. Ross is joined by Jason Wanlass, an avid solo hiker and solo backpacker who has logged hundreds of hours alone on trails in Iceland, Nepal, and the Patagonia Regions of Argentina and Chile. Both reviewers have also spent many nights sleeping under the stars in the great mountains of the Western United States. They know the value of getting good sleep while on the trail. After decades of backcountry adventures, both reviewers have developed an extensive knowledge (and quite the personal collection) of camping pillows through their own personal trial and error processes.
For this review, we purchased and tested many of the highest rated and most popular camping-specific pillows. With the help of camping buddies and backpacking partners, these pillows were found under a head on a nightly basis throughout months of testing. Our review included a vast amount of travel to a wide variety of locations, including the backcountry of Montana and Wyoming's Grand Tetons. We tested them on the red rock of Utah's National Parks, and remote areas of Alaska, the High Sierras of California and Nevada. We even took a few to Nepal as we trekked through the Himalayan Mountains.
Related: How We Tested Camping Pillows
Analysis and Test Results
Whether car camping, backpacking, or paddling into the wilderness, we took meticulous notes and compared the products side-by-side. Then we scored each model in five test metrics, including their comfort, support, ease of use, weight, and packed size. We go through these different metrics below in detail and highlight the top performers in each category, as well as discussing performance in relation to price.
Unlike some other categories that we test here at OutdoorGearLab, all of the products in this review don't cost in the hundreds. Thank goodness, because they are pillows, after all. But they don't all have the same value, as some of the most expensive ones were the least comfortable. By spending more money in this category, you're typically paying for less weight and smaller packed size. To achieve this, most high-priced pillows have an inflatable bladder. Lower-priced models are bulkier due to being completely made of foam or other soft padding. This also makes low-priced options typically much more durable than the high-end stuff, adding to long term value. They are also, on average, more comfortable than the more packable, more expensive pillows.
We liked the Therm-a-Rest Compressible and its low price point. It's a perfectly good cushion for most folks who head out on a handful of nights out of the year and aren't searching for a pillow that's ultralight or ultra-packable. Consisting of foam, this model will last you for a long, long time. The Rumpl Stuffable Fleece rings in at the same price, and while it requires some DIY to stuff it full of extra clothes, it saves weight by utilizing what's already in your pack for cushioning. Some will like it; some might find this annoying. Our Editors' Choice winner, the NEMO Fillo, is also reasonably priced for how premium it feels. While you may be hesitant to shell out even that amount for something you've accomplished with your down jacket and a stuff sack for years, trust us; the biggest value you'll get from a camping pillow is a better night's sleep and a happier neck in the morning.
Put simply, this scoring metric is the "Ahhh" effect a pillow gives you. For car campers, this is the most important criteria for selecting a pillow, and a strong consideration for backpackers, too. If you aren't comfortable, chances for quality sleep decrease and impact your next-day energy. Several factors play into the comfort of a pillow, such as pillow type, shape and contouring, size, and the fabric of the outer shell.
The compressible pillows (not inflatable) rise to the top in this metric. A typical tradeoff for high comfort is a large packed size. All that plush filling compresses but doesn't disappear. Hybrid models consist of an air chamber and a compressible top layer in an attempt to achieve high comfort without a ton of baggage. The Nemo Fillo best combines comfort with a reasonable packed size. Our reviewers also loved the feeling of the microsuede external shell when laying down for a kip. Among the inflatables, the Klymit Luxe scored best in our comfort tests. Its quilted polyester shell combines with a rubber-based inflatable bladder to create a spacious surface that conforms effectively to the needs of different sleepers and gives the product a natural house pillow feel.
Perched above the competition, the Therm-a-Rest Compressible is the most comfortable, being soft and thick, substantial, and featuring a polyester outer shell that is pleasant to the face. The TETON Sports 12 x 18 most closely resembles a house pillow. The Sea to Summit inflatable pillow didn't overwhelm us in this metric, yet its soft polyester knit cover goes a long way and is much more comfortable than the other super lightweight, inflatable pillow, the Exped Air UL.
Additionally, the Therm-a-Rest Down and the Rumpl Stuffable Fleece score decent marks for comfort. Both of these pillows are stuffable pillows, which use extra socks, clothing or jackets as fill. Due to the variables of possible stuffing, we had little trouble assessing their true comfort — depending on what we used to stuff them, their comfort varied.
If you plan to use your camping pillow on long distance backpacking excursions, the weight of your pillow is a top priority. Shorter backpacking trips lasting a handful of days allow for some leniency in this category. This metric doesn't have great consequence for car campers who don't carry camping equipment far from their vehicle. We used our scale to measure the weight of each pillow, stuff sack included.
The inflatable pillows in our review are less weight than the hybrid and compressible pillows. The stripped down ExPed Air UL is the champion lightweight at 1.7 oz, with the 3.1-oz Aeros placing second lightest. The NEMO Fillo hybrid pillow is the second heaviest, with the TETON Sport 12 x 18 weighing the most of all contenders. To put things into perspective, the difference between the lightest and the heaviest pillows is 8.3 oz. Due to their lack of built-in stuffing, the Therm-a-Rest Down Pillow and the Rumpl Stuffable Fleece were two of the lightest non-inflatable pillows we tested.
Ease of Use
When you get to camp, you shouldn't have to struggle with your head cushion. In this metric, we considered how easy each pillow was to set up and pack up, clean and dry out, and how well it stays in place in our mummy sleeping bags and under our heads. For simplicity's sake, we preferred pillows with attached stuff sacks. Searching for a misplaced stuff sack while packing up camp is less than desirable.
Cleaning pillows become necessary after a while (everybody drools!). The Teton model is a cinch to clean because it's most similar to a house pillow. Just remove the pillowcase and toss it in the wash. The Klymit Luxe also comes with a removable pillowcase that can be machine washed for easy cleaning. Models like the Therm-a-Rest Compressible can be thrown as-is into the washer and dryer, which is super convenient. Other models like the Aeros and DriDown pillows are trickier to clean, as the manufacturers advise against using a washing machine with these products.
Inflating a pillow takes more setup time. Our favorite valve system, though, is on the Aeros, which allows for quick inflation, easy adjustment, and rapid deflation (see photos above). In comparison to the competition, the Air UL scored lowest in this category with an air chamber that was tough to inflate fully.
The perfect do-everything camping pillow provides five-star comfort while taking up almost no space and weighing nearly nothing in a pack. We're still seeking that elusive and dazzling unicorn in the world of cranium cushions. Instead, manufacturers compromise between these opposing characteristics. This metric isn't important, however, to car campers who don't have far to travel between their vehicle and the campsite. Volume becomes an issue when you have to fit everything you're bringing along in your backpack, and sacrifices must be made.
For this metric, we measured the volume of each product in its packed form. The Exped Air UL receives top marks in this category, packing down to 0.2 L, the size of a billfold. Our Top Pick for Backpacking, the Sea to Summit model, comes in second with a volume of 0.4 L.
The largest volume belongs to the TETON Sports 12 x 18 model. We were also impressed with the packed size of the Luxe. Measuring in at 12.5" x 22", it was the largest pillow we studied but packs down to just 0.8 L. The Therm-a-Rest Down Pillow and the Rumpl Stuffable Fleece also score quite well in this metric, especially considering their comfort and support capabilities. Both pack up at just barely above 1 L.
In this metric, we scored the pillows on the loft they provide and how firm one remains from sunup to sundown. A pillow can be soft and comfortable, but still not provide enough support to make the next day ache-free. Your preferred sleeping position influences the amount of support you need. In general, stomach sleepers need a flatter cushion with little support, while side sleepers need a thicker, more supportive pillow to keep the spine aligned. Back sleepers need support somewhere in the middle. Matching the best support to your sleeping habits is the best way to wake up fresh and minimize the chances of developing neck or back aches.
While compressible pillows trend toward the most comfortable, the inflatable and hybrid pillows supported our heads the best. Moreover, they allow for a range of support preferences with the ability for the user to control the amount of air inside the pillow. The Exped REM provides the most support among all contenders, achieving a full 6 inches of firm loft supported by the internal air chamber. We also like the varied support of the Sea to Summit product, which has a lower and a higher end of the pillow.
We were very pleased with the support provided by the Therm-a-Rest Down and the Rumpl Stuffable. When the right combination of spare clothing is achieved (one of our favorite combos was a pair of pants wrapped in a fleece or down jacket), the support offered by both of these pillows is substantial and quite impressive. But, if all your clothes are wet, or if you're wearing all your extra clothes for warmth, you'll find support and comfort coming up short. Falling to the bottom of this category is the Sierra Designs DriDown, as it flattened out by the time we woke up.
Picking a pillow for your camping or backpacking needs and sleeping style makes this gear category quite subjective. Focus on the high scoring products in the metrics that matter most to you instead of the overall scores. After all, selecting the right one increases the quality of your rest, reduce aches and pains, and improve the experience of overnighting outside of permanent walls. We hope this review helps you determine which pillow will keep you happy on your after-hours adventures at campsites and in the backcountry.
— Ross Robinson