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Over the last 7 years, our camping experts have purchased and tested 20 unique camping pillows with 17 of today's top models in this lineup. We've traveled the world testing each product in tents, hammocks, RVs, and airplanes. We measured each against 5 key performance metrics: comfort, weight, ease of use, packed size, and support. After hundreds of hours of sleeping on the job, we've compared notes, measurements, and experiences on each pillow. We tested a range of products that include compressible, stuffable, hybrid, and inflatable to give you our favorite recommendations that'll improve your night's sleep, wherever you lay your head.
After choosing your pillow, other key components to getting good sleep outdoors include finding the best tent and making sure you have the right sleeping pad or camping mattress. Sleeping pads are lighter and are mostly used in conjunction with a backpacking backpack, while mattresses are plusher and are good for general car camping. Regardless of what you enjoy doing in the outdoors, we're here to help you put together the perfect collection of camping gear.
Editor's Note: We updated our camping pillow review on November 7, 2022, with more information on our weighted test metrics.
The Nemo Fillo has been referred to as camping pillow royalty. For several consecutive years, this pillow has reigned supreme as our favorite choice for its consistently high scores in all of our testing metrics. The Fillo dons a microsuede cover and a foam filler that provides comfort you can count on. Primarily an inflatable design, the Fillo deploys with just a few breaths and has a twist nozzle to release air for customized support. What this pillow lacks in packed size (it's about the size of a softball), it makes up for with a remarkable combination of comfort and support. And because the stuff sack is attached to the pillow, you'll have one less thing to hunt down when packing up camp. We've simply exhausted ourselves searching for a pillow that can compete, leaving the Fillo still sitting squarely on its throne for another year.
An above-average weight is its main drawback, preventing the Fillo 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 picky with the scale will enjoy the benefits of the Fillo in just about any outdoor setting.
This pillow comes in two different fabrics, a microsuede that we love and a jersey that we do not. The microsuede is featured only on the solid-colored pillows (grey or green). The striped and heather print pillows are made of jersey fabric, which we found far less comfortable than the microsuede. We also suspect the jersey fabric may be less durable, as it's a much thinner material. Just be aware that we cannot recommend the striped version of this product.
If you're seeking both comfort and a low price, the REI Co-op Trailbreak Foam might just be your find of the year. We feel this massive compressible pillow is as close to the real thing as any camping pillow except the Hest Pillow. The Trailbreak is stuffed to the gills with high-quality foam bits leftover from the manufacturing of foam sleeping pads. These spongy discards are cocooned in a dual-fabric case, offering a warm fleece side and a cool silky polyester side. This pillow is ideal for campgrounds where you don't have to carry your gear far from your vehicle — its weight and size mean it's not suited for excursions into the backcountry.
We gave the Trailbreak very polarized scores. While earning top marks for its unsurpassed comfort and support, these scores were countered with low scores in packed size and weight. Regardless of the split outcome of this pillow, there are two things we unanimously agree upon: this is one affordable and comfortable pillow, and we think campers who want both will appreciate this amazing deal.
The Sea to Summit Aeros is surprisingly comfortable despite its lightweight. Weighing in at a mere few ounces, this pillow deploys to a generous size. When packed, it condenses to about the size of a plum, making it virtually unnoticeable in your pack. The soft polyester cover is complemented by a flexible air cell. We feel the stretchiness of the cell is what set's this pillow apart from its peers. Contoured lines in the pillow go a long way toward providing a good night's sleep. When we added up all these benefits, there was no doubt in our minds about whether to bring a camping pillow on our next big backcountry trip. One tester has used this pillow for six years of backpacking, and it's still going strong — impressive durability for an inflatable pillow.
Though not as comfortable as most of the compressible or hybrid options that we tested, this pillow keeps your head off the ground and provides a cradling layer of support. The Aeros also comes in Ultra Light, Premium Deluxe, and down top versions, so depending on which end of the ultralight spectrum you fall on, you can select one for your preferences. This one is our favorite of them all and is the pillow we prefer to bring on backpacking trips lasting several days or more.
Nemo took the best qualities of the Nemo Fillo and scaled them down to create the Nemo Fillo Elite. At 3 ounces, the Elite packs a massive punch when it comes to comfort and support while still packing up into a tiny 0.4-liter package. The Elite's hybrid design starts with an air bladder core, layered by Primaloft padding, then surrounded with a soft jersey cloth pillowcase. It's a great choice for backpackers, climbers, or mountaineers who want more than a plain inflatable and are willing to carry an extra ounce or two in exchange for much more comfort.
The Fillo Elite deploys into a generous 15 x 11" pillow; however, we were disappointed by its thickness. At only 3 inches in height, it doesn't sit high enough for most side sleepers to get adequate cushion between the head, neck, and shoulders. Additionally, the stuff sack is also a bit too small. This allows the Elite to achieve an amazing packed size but makes it a bit difficult to shove the pillow into place.
The Therm-a-Rest Air Head Down is similar to having your cake and eating it too. Rarely do you get this much luxury with an inflatable pillow, making it a clear favorite in balancing comfort and weight. The Air Head Down comes very close to being the best of both worlds. It weighs only 5 ounces, packs up small, offers great support, is easy to use, and is comfortable. Admittedly, we were a little skeptical of a down-topped inflatable; it sounded a bit gimmicky until we tried it out. But during testing, it proved to be very pleasant. If you're looking for a lightweight option that offers more than a little luxury, look no further.
Luxury car makers don't apologize for their high price tags, and the same is true for the makers of the Air Head Down. A thick layer of feathers quilted below fine silky fabric certainly raises this pillow's cost, which may turn away would-be buyers. Additionally, the use of down may be allergenic or problematic for some consumers. But, if you've been searching for a pillow that's more comfortable than a simple inflatable model but doesn't weigh half a pound, this model fits the bill.
When it comes to camping pillows, Trekology may be a slightly more obscure manufacturer. However, we were left feeling rather impressed following our first experience with the Trekology Aluft 2.0. The inflatable camping pillow market is already fairly saturated, so we were pleased to see a design where obvious effort was made to create quality-adding features. This pillow uses an entirely new, proprietary air valve to add and release air. It also employs a textured underside, which does a noticeable job at keeping the pillow in place. Additionally, it comes with a snap-on elastic strap designed to hold the pillow from moving by snuggly looping around most single-sized sleeping pads. Most inflatable pillows do not come standard with this strap. At best, some may have loops on both sides of the pillow, leaving the owner to design their own strap system. The Aluft is also ergonomically shaped and has a curved top that will fit most mummy hoods.
The extra strap and more complex air valve add half an ounce or more of weight to this pillow, which some serious backpackers may take exception to. The fabrics, overall design, and quality of the pillow are similar to many other brands, so the Aluft doesn't stand out much in these areas. However, we felt the unique innovations it does boast are valuable enough to be recognized in this review.
After testing nearly a dozen of pillows over the last seven years, you can trust us when we say the Hest Pillow is the most comfortable camping pillow we've ever examined. Additionally, it's massive, easy to use, very plush, and at the top of our list for support. It's also the first adjustable compression pillow we've ever seen, giving any user the ability to customize it to their own personal comfort and support levels. Simply unzip the pillow and remove stuffing by hand until you have the exact pillow you want. This feature makes the Hest a perfect fit for side-, back-, and stomach sleepers. When you're done sleeping, roll the pillow into itself and cocoon it safely in its rugged, built-in carrying case.
Generally, when a camping pillow crushes a specific metric like comfort, it will come at the expense of top scores in other areas. In the case of the Hest, it received our lowest scores for weight and packed size. It is not ideal for any backcountry adventure like backpacking, river running, or mountaineering, where space and pounds are limited. The manufacturer also calls the Hest a travel pillow, perfect for motels and Airbnbs. We did not test it in these environments; however, we can say with certainty that this pillow will take up a noticeable amount of luggage space.
For this review, we've spent several years purchasing and using the best and most popular camping pillows with the end goal of figuring out which pillows you, the consumer, will enjoy the most. After conducting hands-on testing on each of them, we've narrowed our list to what we feel are some of the best pillows on the market. With the help of camping buddies and backpacking partners, these pillows were nestled 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 red rock of Utah's National Parks, the backcountry of Montana, Minnesota's Boundary Waters, Washington's Olympic National Park coast, and Wyoming's Grand Tetons. We tested them in the deep woods of Alabama, Utah's Rocky Mountains, the moss-laden forests of Mount Rainier National Park, remote areas of Alaska, and the High Sierras of California and Nevada. We even took a few to Nepal on a trek to Mount Everest Base Camp.
Our camping pillow testing is divided across five different metrics:
Comfort (25% of total score weighting)
Weight (20% weighting)
Packed Size (20% weighting)
Support (20% weighting)
Ease of Use (15% weighting)
Our lead camping pillow tester, Jason Wanlass, has spent the last 20 years of his life exploring the outdoors. He's an avid trail-seeker who has hiked and backpacked hundreds of miles of routes in Iceland, Nepal, Slovenia, and the Patagonia Region of Argentina and Chile. Closer to home, he hikes weekly in the foothills above his home and has backpacked countless miles in nearly every Western state. Whether wandering vast U.S. mountain ranges like the Sierras, Tetons, or the Cascades or catching a plane headed for one of the remote corners of the world, Jason knows the value of getting good sleep while on the move.
Analysis and Test Results
Whether car camping, backpacking, or paddling into the wilderness, we lugged pillows worldwide, took meticulous notes, and compared the products side-by-side. Then we scored each model in five core metrics: comfort, support, ease of use, weight, and packed size. After compiling their individual metric scores, we gave each pillow an overall score on a scale from 1 to 100. This score lets us rank the pillows and assess their overall performance. It's important to note that, while many of the scores are only separated by just a few points, each pillow excels in different ways. For example, an inflatable pillow and a compressible pillow may have similar total scores; however, the inflatable has lower scores for comfort yet may excel for weight and packed size. Likewise, a compressible pillow may have top scores for comfort but far lower scores for weight and packed size. In the end, it's important to consider each product's total score and their scores in each performance area to find the exact pillow that will work best for you and your camping needs.
Unlike other products that we test at GearLab, camping pillows are relatively inexpensive. Regardless of their lower prices, we still found that some pillows offered more value than others. In fact, some of the most expensive ones were the least comfortable. In the realm of camp pillows, you'll generally pay a premium for less weight and smaller packed size. To achieve this, most high-priced pillows rely on an inflatable bladder. Lower-priced models are bulkier because they're constructed of foam or another soft padding. However, these materials also make the low-priced options typically more durable than the high-end stuff, adding to long-term value. On average, we also think they're more comfortable than the expensive packable pillows.
For its performance and low price point, we like the REI Co-op Trailbreak Foam Pillow. It's a perfectly good cushion for most folks who head out for a handful of nights each year and don't require something ultralight or ultra-packable. Consisting of foam and fabric, this product is simple, without a lot of moving pieces. In the end, we feel this simplicity gives this pillow durability. The Trekology Aluft 2.0 is another really well-pressed option, especially if you want backpacking-focused features. The Rumpl Stuffable Fleece is also a fair 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. The Nemo Fillo is also reasonably priced for how premium it feels.
Put simply, this metric rates the ahhhhh effect a pillow provides. For car campers, this is the most important criteria for selecting a pillow, and a strong consideration for backpackers, too, though weight obviously has to take precedence when you're carrying everything on your back. If you aren't comfortable, the likelihood of quality sleep decreases, along with probable harm to your next-day energy. Pillow type, shape and contouring, size, and the fabric of the outer shell are all factors that play into the comfort of a pillow.
The compressible pillows (not inflatable) rise to the top in this metric. A typical tradeoff for higher comfort is a larger packed size. All that plush filling can compress, but it can't disappear. Such is the case with the Hest Pillow. It is the most comfortable pillow we've ever tested, but it is also the heaviest, and it has the largest packed size. It features a stretched nylon outer shell that is pleasant and cool to the face and the ability to add or remove stuffing to find your perfect level of support.
In an attempt to achieve higher comfort with minimal packed size, hybrid models consist of an air chamber and a compressible top layer. We think the Nemo Fillo is one of the best at walking this tightrope between comfort and compressibility. Our reviewers also loved the feeling of the microsuede external shell when lying down for a nap. Among the inflatables, the Klymit Luxe scored high in our comfort tests. The quilted polyester shell combines with a rubber-based inflatable bladder to create a spacious surface that conforms effectively to different sleepers' needs and gives the product a great face feel.
We feel the Hest most closely resembles a house pillow in comfort, followed closely by the REI Trailbreak. Both are very comfortable pillows; however, the Hest has a thicker, denser foam core, resulting in a higher level of comfort. The Sea to Summit Aeros didn't overwhelm us in this metric, despite having a thin layer of down. However, as an inflatable pillow, it goes a long way and is much more comfortable than other super lightweight inflatable pillows. The Therm-a-Rest Air Head Down is another inflatable topped with a thin down layer. We found this extra layer very effective and feel that the Air Head and Aeros are more comfortable than their strictly inflatable peers. When compared side by side, the Air Head Down is more comfortable than the Aeros Down.
Also scoring decent marks for comfort is the Rumpl Stuffable Fleece. This pillow utilizes extra socks, clothing, or jackets as its fill. Due to the variation of possible stuffing, we had a little trouble assessing its true comfort. However, with careful and strategic stuffing of the sleeve, it can provide above-average comfort.
An easy way to add comfort (and puncture protection) is to wrap your pillow in clothing like a balaclava or shirt. A few carefully wrapped garments can make a significant difference and turn a modestly comfortable pillow into a top performer. Don't use smelly clothes, though.
The weight of your pillow is a big concern if you plan to carry your camping pillow in your pack on long-distance backpacking excursions. Shorter backpacking trips lasting a handful of days may allow for some leniency, and this metric shouldn't be important at all to car campers. We used our scale to measure the weight of each pillow, stuff sack included. In the end, we were trying to identify the pillow that best balances comfort and weight.
The inflatable pillows we tested weigh much less than their hybrid and compressible counterparts. Easily crushing the competition, the Big Agnes AXL has the lowest measured weight. The Sea to Summit Aeros weighs more but is also far more comfortable. The Nemo Fillo hybrid pillow is heavier still, with the Wise Owl Outfitters Memory Foam Pillow and the Hest Pillow weighing the most of all contenders. To put things into perspective, the difference between the lightest and the heaviest pillows is 31 ounces or nearly 2 pounds.
The Rumpl Stuffable Pillowcase is one of the lightest non-inflatable pillows we tested due to its lack of built-in stuffing. The Therm-a-Rest Air Head Down and Sea to Summit Aeros Down are also very lightweight. Even with the added down, the Aeros Down is half an ounce lighter than its non-down sibling, the regular Aeros. The Nemo Fillo Elite weighs just 3 ounces and offers more comfort and support than we expected for its lower weight, on par with the Sea to Summit Aeros (non-down version).
Some of our reviewers preferred using the Klymit Luxe without its exterior quilted pillowcase. On its own, the bladder weighs 3.7 ounces, and it's very soft, comfortable, and rugged enough to use without a cover. This is a great option if you want a larger pillow that is lightweight.
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. However, this metric should not be important 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. Packing down to just 0.3-liters, the Big Agnes AXL earns top marks here. The Sea to Summit Aeros model comes in with a volume of 0.4-liters, just a slightly larger packed volume than the AXL, but tons more comfort. Surprisingly, the Sea to Summit Aeros Down, which also includes a top layer of down, shares virtually the same packed volume as the standard Aeros. We were also very pleased with the packed size of the Rumpl Stuffable Pillowcase, but if you have to bring extra clothes just to stuff your pillow, the packed size benefits disappear.
We were also impressed with the packed size of the Klymit Luxe. Measuring in at 12.5 x 22", it is one of the largest pillows we studied but packs down to just 0.8-liters. One of the largest volumes of all models tested belongs to the REI Trailbreak, compressing to only a third of its deployed size and measuring 6.3-liters when packed. On the extreme end of the scale is the Hest Pillow with a packed size of 11.4-liters. But, as noted above, these are some of the most comfortable options in our lineup.
Models with compressible fill can be made smaller by using a compression sack. We like to stuff them inside our sleeping bag compression sacks for simplicity and optimal packability.
This metric scores the pillows on the loft they provide and how firm they remain from sunup to sundown. A pillow can be soft and comfortable but still not provide enough support to make the next day ache-free. Likewise, it can provide ample support, like some inflatable pillows, but not comfortable support. Your preferred sleeping position influences the amount of support you need. In general, stomach sleepers need a flatter cushion with less support, while side sleepers need a thicker, more supportive pillow to keep the spine aligned. Back sleepers seem to prefer support somewhere in the middle. Matching support to your sleeping habits is the best way to wake up fresh and minimize the chances of developing neck or backaches.
While compressible pillows trend toward the most comfortable, the inflatable and hybrid pillows like the Nemo Fillo 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. We also really like the varied support of the Sea to Summit Aeros, which has a lower and higher end of the pillow.
We were very pleased with the support provided by 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 provided 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. Of the ultralight pillows we tested, the Sea to Summit Aeros and Therm-a-Rest Air Head Down offer the most comfortable support. In addition to our favorite pillow, the Nemo Fillo, we feel the REI Co-op Trailbreak Foam Pillow has some of the best support of all models we tested. However, our favorite pillow in this metric is the Hest Pillow, which offers nearly the same support as a regular home pillow.
If you prefer a softer, flatter pillow, that's okay. Look for a product that earned a lower score in our support metric.
Ease of Use
When you get to camp, you shouldn't have to struggle to keep your head cushion in place during the night. Likewise, your pillow should deploy quickly and pack and unpack with ease. Lastly, your pillow should be a breeze to wash and dry. In this metric, we considered a myriad of features related to how easy each pillow is to use. 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.
Between dirt, dogs, and drool, cleaning your pillow will eventually be necessary. The TETON Sports XL is a cinch to clean, just remove the pillowcase and toss it in the wash. The Klymit Luxe also comes with a machine washable, removable pillowcase for easy cleaning. Models like the Therm-a-Rest Compressible can be thrown into the washer and dryer as-is, which is super convenient. Other models like the Aeros and DriDown pillows are trickier to clean because the manufacturers advise against using a washing machine with these products. Additionally, we found the inflatable pillows the easiest to clean because a simple wipe-down usually does the trick.
Inflating a pillow adds another step to the setup, but we don't think it's a big deal. Our favorite valve systems are found on the Nemo Fillo and Therm-a-Rest Air Head Down. Fine-tuning micro-units of air is an absolute breeze with the very effective twist valves on these models. Pillows like the Sea to Summit Aeros and its sibling, the Sea to Summit Aeros Down, employ wide-mouth, flat valves, allowing for quick inflation and rapid deflation, but a little less control when fine-tuning. In comparison, the Big Agnes AXL scores well in this category, with large inflation valves that seal in the air automatically between breaths.
Picking a pillow that best suits your camping or backpacking needs and sleeping style makes this gear category a subjective decision. Try to focus on the high-scoring products in the metrics that matter most to you rather than the overall scores. After all, selecting the right one will improve the quality of your rest, reduce aches and pains, and enhance the experience of overnighting outside. We hope this review helps you determine which pillow will keep you happy on your after-hours adventures at campsites and in the backcountry.
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