Camping in the back country doesn’t have to be uncomfortable. The first time I went backpacking I barely slept. Between the critters running around, the coyotes howling and the eerie silence, it was a totally new experience for me.
To top it all off, I was SUPER uncomfortable. I had just bought an inflatable sleeping pad but decided to skip out on the pillow.
After trying to make a pillow out of all the clothes in my backpack, I was resigned to toss and turn all night, waking up every hour or two. In the morning I felt really tired and my neck was so sore I could barely move my head.
As soon as I got home I knew I had to buy a backpacking pillow before I spent another night sleeping in the woods.
Thankfully there are plenty of options on the market today. In this guide I’ll take a look at the different types of camping pillows and help you decide which one is right for you.
Inflatable pillows are the cheapest and most widely used camping pillows. They’re quick to inflate and do a pretty good job of simulating a ‘real’ pillow. Your pillow at home is probably made of memory foam and is pretty heavy. Since backpacking gear has to be lightweight, you won’t find any pillows that are made of memory foam or other solid materials.
Instead, they use a thick, durable outer layer that you can inflate with air. This means the pillow will be a similar shape to the one you’re used to sleeping on at home but probably not as comfortable.
When I bought my first camping pillow it was an inflatable. It worked pretty well and cost $10 so I couldn’t complain too much. Unfortunately my head kept falling off the pillow at night and overall it just wasn’t a great experience.
This led me to check out another type of pillow, the hybrid pillow.
Hybrid Camping Pillows
A hybrid pillow tries to combine the best parts of an inflatable pillow and a traditional one. The best example of this is the Nemo Fillo. This pillow is inflatable but also comes with a net on the back of the pillow where you can stuff your clothes in it. This lets you create a hybrid that isn’t as bouncy as an inflatable, but also more comfortable than a stuff sack filled with your clothes.
I thought this pillow would be the answer to my problems but it just never felt right. Tons of people rave about how comfortable these pillows are but for me, it just didn’t work. I ended up trading it in for a compressible foam pillow which is now my absolute favorite way to sleep when I’m camping. Here’s why.
Compressible Foam Pillows
Foam pillows don’t inflate at all. Instead, they have pieces of foam on the inside that are lightweight and can be compressed down.
Not only are these pillows significantly more comfortable than inflatable pillows, they’re also immune to leaks and holes. You never have to worry about damaging a foam pillow or having it slowly leak out air because there’s no valve or air intake at all.
The Thermarest Foam Compressible Pillow is the closest thing to a real pillow that I’ve ever slept on in the woods. Not only is it small and lightweight, but it’s insanely comfortable. In addition to using it while camping, I also take it along when I’m traveling on airplanes or staying in hotels since it’s usually more comfortable than anything the hotel would offer.
If you’re in the market for a backpacking pillow, your best bet is a compressible pillow. They might cost a little bit more than an inflatable pillow but they’re infinitely more comfortable and will likely last longer. Don’t cheap out when you buy your pillow or you’ll be regretting it when you’re trying to fall asleep in the woods and find yourself tossing and turning all night.