Finding the best camping pillow can be the difference in sleeping peacefully or tossing and turning all night in the woods. We sought out to discover the market's most reliable by looking at more than 30 pillows and whittling that list down to 8 of the most popular. From hammocks in the backyard to high altitude camps in the Himalaya, we tested these pillows side by side, comparing both inflatable, hybrid, and compressible versions. Then we scored them on several important factors, including nighttime comfort, adjustable support, and ease of use. In the end, we did a lot of sleeping on the job in campgrounds, cars, 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 2018
This spring we looked over the list of our favorite camping pillows and decided to throw one more into the mix, the Klymit Luxe. We compared all eight pillows side by side and updated our review for spring and summer 2018 to give you the most up-to-date information on the best pillows available. The NEMO Fillo continues to top our testing metrics, and if you're gearing up for a long thru-hike, check out the Sea to Summit Aeros.
Best Overall Camping Pillow
The NEMO Fillo wins our Editors' Choice award for its solid performance across our scoring categories. This pillow has a microsuede cover and a foam filler that provides a lot of comfort. It also has an inflatable air chamber that gives you customized support. It packs down almost as small as the purely inflatable options but is more comfortable than them, which is what you want a pillow for anyways.
The main drawback to the NEMO Fillo is its above-average weight, which keeps it from being our first choice on extended backpacking trips. If you're trying to cut every ounce from your back, justifying a half-pound pillow is hard to do. But the majority of camping happens on sites close to parking, and so for the most common circumstances, the Fillo is the best.
Read review: NEMO Fillo
Best Bang for the Buck
The Therm-a-Rest Compressible pillow combines supreme comfort for a decent price, which earns 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's almost double the packed size, taking up precious room in our packs. This one is meant for weekend and car camping trips. It's only $25 too, which is 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. If you're on the fence about bringing a camping pillow on your next big trip but need and want some extra support at night, this model is your best bet. It packs down super small, fitting into the palm of our hands, and weighs only a few ounces. 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
Analysis and Test Results
For this review, we purchased and tested eight 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 a two-month testing period. 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 cost well under $100. 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. Our Price vs. Performance chart below shows you the price of each product in this review compared to its overall score in our tests. If you hover over the dots, you'll see which model is which. Those on the lower right side have a higher score and a lower price, and are a great value purchase. In this case, we liked the Therm-a-Rest Compressible and its $25 price point. Our Editors' Choice winner, the NEMO Fillo, is also reasonably priced at $40. 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 the 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 common 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 feeling.
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.
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.
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 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.
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. Falling to the bottom of this category is the Sierra Designs DriDown pillow, 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