Best Camping Pillow of 2020
Best Overall Camping Pillow
Nothing quite compares to the NEMO Fillo. We've exhausted ourselves searching for a camping pillow that can compete, and after several years, the Fillo is still sitting squarely at the top of our list. One of our weekend warrior testers has used this pillow for five years now, and despite a few altercations with a chew-happy dog, it's still going strong. This pillow dons a microsuede cover and a foam filler that provides comfort you can count on. Primarily an inflatable pillow, 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.
Its above-average weight is its main drawback, preventing the NEMO 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 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 made with much thinner material. Just be aware that we cannot recommend the striped version of this product.
Read review: NEMO Fillo
Best Bang for the Buck
The Therm-a-Rest Compressible pillow effectively balances comfort and price. It's almost like lying on a mini bean bag or Luvsac. With its soft, cloth exterior, and a generous amount of foam stuffing, it comes close to simulating the feeling of an ordinary pillow from home. It's large, fairly supportive, and easy to use, and when not in use, it simply rolls up into a built-in, cinchable, stuff pouch. Best-known for their sleeping pads, Thermarest uses foam pieces leftover from their pads' construction as the filling for their Compressible Pillows. This upcycling of materials checks our eco-friendly box.
While weighing more or less the same as the Fillo, this pillow isn't as compressible as its name professes. It's amazingly comfortable and well made, but it takes up precious room inside a pack. Additionally, it may not offer the amount of support many users desire forever, as it loses its loft fairly easily. And though we find it to be a fine product at a great price, in the end, this one is meant best for weekend and car camping trips.
Read review: Therm-a-Rest Compressible
Best for Backpacking
Sea to Summit Aeros
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 not in use, it condenses to about the size of a small avocado, making it virtually unnoticeable in your pack. The soft polyester cover, flexible air bladder, and 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 whether to bring a camping pillow on our next big backcountry trip.
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 firm layer of support. The Sea to Summit 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 is the pillow we prefer to bring on backpacking trips lasting several days or more.
Read review: Sea to Summit Aeros
Best for Lightweight Luxury
Therm-a-Rest Air Head Down Pillow
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. We almost didn't believe it either. Admittedly, we were a little skeptical of a down-topped inflatable. It sounded a bit gimmicky to us until we actually used it. Then, it delivered the goods. 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 manufacturer 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.
Read review: Therm-a-Rest Air Head Down
Why You Should Trust Us
All combined, our panel of pillow testers have spent decades hiking and backpacking the world. Ross Robinson is a Senior Review Editor at OutdoorGearLab who has hiked and backpacked for more than a decade. He has lived in several countries, including Thailand, Peru, and Germany, and has backpacked at least 500 miles in each. Ross is joined by Jason Wanlass, an avid trail-seeker who has hiked and backpacked hundreds of miles of routes in Iceland, Nepal, and the Patagonia Region of Argentina and Chile. Both reviewers have spent more days than they can count, wandering the great mountain ranges of the Western United States. Ross and Jason know the value of getting good sleep while on the trail. After decades of backcountry adventures, both reviewers have developed an extensive knowledge of camping pillows from their personal trial and error experiences.
For this review, we studied a long list of popular camping pillows while trying to figure out which pillows you, the consumer, are most interested in. We narrowed our list and purchased them before conducting hands-on testing on each of them. 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, 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.
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 core metrics: comfort, support, ease of use, weight, and packed size. After compiling their individual metric scores, we were able to give each pillow an overall score on a scale from 1 to 100. This score let us rank the pillows and assess their overall value.
Unlike some other categories that we test here at the GearLab, camping pillows don't cost hundreds of dollars. Regardless of their lower prices, we still found pillows that offered more value than others. In fact, some of the most expensive ones were the least comfortable. Instead, when you're spending more money in this category, you're typically paying 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 made from 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 more packable, more expensive pillows.
For its performance and low price point, we liked the Therm-a-Rest Compressible. It's a perfectly good cushion for most folks who head out for a handful of nights each year and don't need 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 will find this annoying. The NEMO Fillo is also reasonably priced for how premium it feels, while the Exped Air UL and the Big Agnes AXL seem a little overpriced compared to pillows that are far more comfortable. Utilizing a layer of down feathers on top of an inflated bladder, the Therm-a-Rest Air Head Down and Sea to Summit Aeros Down both come in at the highest cost. While the added feathers certainly increase comfort, they also increase the price.
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, 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. 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 kip. Among the inflatables, the Klymit Luxe scored high in our comfort tests, while the Exped Air UL and the Big Agnes AXL did not fare nearly as well, mostly due to their bare-bone designs. The Luxe's 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.
Soft, thick, and substantial, the Therm-a-Rest Compressible perched above the competition as one of the most comfortable. It features a polyester outer shell that is pleasant to the face. The TETON Sports XL most closely resembles a house pillow. The Sea to Summit inflatable pillow didn't overwhelm us in this metric. However, as an inflatable pillow, it goes a long way and is much more comfortable than the other super lightweight, inflatable pillows—the Exped AirPillow UL and the Big Agnes AXL.
Additionally, two newcomers to our inflatable list are the Therm-a-Rest Air Head Down and Sea to Summit Aeros Down. Both models are inflatable pillows topped with a thin layer of down. We found this extra layer very effective and feel that they are more comfortable than their strictly inflatable peers. When compared side by side, we think 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, we found it could provide above-average comfort.
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 in our review are far less weight than their hybrid and compressible counterparts. Easily crushing the competition, the Exped Air UL and Big Agnes AXL have two of the lowest measured weights. The Aeros is heavier but is far more comfortable. The NEMO Fillo hybrid pillow is the second heaviest, with the TETON Sport XL weighing the most of all contenders. To put things into perspective, the difference between the lightest and the heaviest pillows is 8.3 oz. 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 models are very lightweight. Even with the added down, the Aeros Down weighs in at just a titch lighter than its non-down sibling, the Aeros.
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 that relate 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 pillows is necessary eventually. Because it's the most similar to a house pillow, the Teton model 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, with a simple wipe-down that does the trick.
Inflating a pillow adds another step to set up, but we don't think it's a big deal. The NEMO Fillo, Therm-a-Rest Air Head Down, and Cocoon Ultralight Air-Core have our favorite valve systems, boasting a very effective twist valve, which makes fine-tuning micro-units of air an absolute breeze. 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 Exped AirPillow UL and the Big Agnes AXL scored well in this category, with large inflation valves that seal in the air automatically between breaths.
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 the size of a billfold at just 0.2 L., the Exped AirPillow UL receives top marks in this category. It's followed closely by the Big Agnes AXL. The Sea to Summit Aeros model comes in with a volume of 0.4 L, just a slightly larger packed volume than the Exped and the Big Agnes, 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 Rumpl Stuffable Pillowcase's packed size, 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 Luxe. Measuring in at 12.5" x 22", it was the largest pillow we studied but packs down to just 0.8 L. The largest volume of all models tested belongs to the TETON Sports XL.
This metric scores 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. 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 the best 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 really liked 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 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. Falling to the bottom of this category is the Sierra Designs DriDown, as it flattened out by the time we woke up. Lastly, of the ultralight pillows we tested, the Sea to Summit Aeros, Sea to Summit Aeros Down, and the Therm-a-Rest Air Head Down offer the most comfortable support.
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.
— Ross Robinson and Jason Wanlass