10 Best Backpacking and Mountaineering Pillows

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10 Best Backpacking and Mountaineering Pillows

Backpacking and mountaineering are tough outdoor activities that require a rested body and a sharp mind. Not only can poor sleep lead to physical pain, but it can also increase brain fog. Being tired can lead to questionable decisions in the backcountry that dramatically increase your risk for injury.

With the right backpacking pillow, you can wake up feeling refreshed and ready for all the challenges ahead. A good backpacking pillow will also help you avoid neck and back pain. In this guide, I’ll review the 10 best backpacking pillows so you can sleep well under the stars.

Our Review Process

I’ve spent the last two decades mountaineering and backpacking in a variety of places. I’ve found that some items are worth carrying just to make the outdoors more comfortable. The best backpacking pillows fall into this category.

Having a backpacking pillow can save you from losing sleep or waking up with aches and pains. I’ve tried out dozens of backcountry pillows and I’m here to help you find one that will leave you rested and recharged on your next adventure.

Therm-a-Rest Compressible Pillow

Best Overall Pillow

My winner
10 Best Backpacking and Mountaineering Pillows - Therm-a-Rest Compressible Pillow
Pros

Very comfortable

Mimics the feel of at-home pillows

Compresses down to the size of a Nalgene

Good price point

Warm

Cons

Takes a while for the compressible foam to expand

Not as light as others

The Therm-A-Rest Compressible Pillow hits all the right notes for a backpacking pillow. The pillow is my overall top pick because of its packability, ultimate comfort, value, and insulation.

Due to the Therm-A-Rest Compressible Pillow’s foam design, it’s best to let the pillow expand. This process can take a few minutes. The inflation time for the upcycled foam (scraps of reused mattress foam) is annoying but otherwise not a big deal.

If you’re backpacking and want to splurge on one item, let it be this pillow.

Therm-a-Rest Compressible Pillow

Wise Owl Pillow

Best Budget Pick

My winner
10 Best Backpacking and Mountaineering Pillows - Wise Owl Pillow
Pros

Inexpensive

Comfortable

Large

Washer/dryer safe

Cons

Included stuff sack doesn’t compress well

Bulky

The Wise Owl Pillow is a great choice for backpackers and is my go-to budget pillow. This comfortable camping pillow is not only inexpensive but also large and machine washable. The amount of support and comfort you get from the memory foam is surprising, considering its low price.

The trade-off is an underwhelming carrying case and the general bulkiness of the pillow. A stuff sack is included, but it doesn't really compress the pillow that much. It may be worth buying a compression sack to fold down the pillow more. Still, at such a low price point, this comfortable camping pillow is a great choice for backpackers.

Wise Owl Pillow

Nemo Fillo Elite

Best Pillow for Backpacking

My winner
10 Best Backpacking and Mountaineering Pillows - Nemo Fillo Elite
Pros

Lightweight

Packable

Removable cover

Supportive

Cons

Not as soft as other options

Minimal insulation

The small Nemo Fillo Elite is one of the lightest pillows out there and perfect for extended trips through the outdoors. This firm pillow is surprisingly supportive, packs down well, and has a removable pillowcase that you can machine wash.

Due to the Nemo Fillo Elite's supportive and firm feel, it isn’t the softest pillow out there. It also doesn’t provide much insulation from the ground.

Still, this pillow works well in most conditions. If you’re worried about space and weight, the lightweight Nemo Fillo Elite is a great camping pillow candidate.

Nemo Fillo Elite

Sea to Summit Aeros Pillow

Best Pillow for Mountaineering

My winner
10 Best Backpacking and Mountaineering Pillows - Sea to Summit Aeros Pillow
Pros

Rapid inflation/deflation valve

Supportive

Packs down small

Enough height for side sleepers

Cons

Not as comfortable as others

The Sea to Summit Aeros Pillow is a great mountaineering pillow that I’ve used many times. The ergonomic shape cradles your head whether you're a side sleeper, back sleeper, or stomach sleeper. The pillow packs down to a third the size of a Nalgene water bottle and has an air pressure inflation valve, which rapidly fills up the air bladder.

While the Sea to Summit Aeros is a great supportive pillow, it isn’t as soft as other options. The firmness of the pillow may be an issue for lighter sleepers. There isn’t much insulation, so if you're mountaineering in snowy climates, you may want to wear a beanie while sleeping. However, this pillow’s utility, support, and ease of use make it perfect for mountaineering.

Sea to Summit Aeros Pillow

NEMO Fillo

Best Pillow for Hiking

My winner
10 Best Backpacking and Mountaineering Pillows - NEMO Fillo
Pros

Comfortable

Great support

Machine washable exterior

Good travel pillow

Cons

Heavy

If you’re looking for a hybrid pillow to accompany you on day hikes or casual camping trips, the NEMO Fillo is my top pick. The NEMO Fillo is a comfortable hybrid pillow option that provides excellent support. It also comes with a removable pillowcase that's machine washable.

Unfortunately, the NEMO Fillo is a heavier camping pillow and won’t be the best choice for extended backpacking trips. I recommend using this one on day hikes where weight isn’t a huge concern. You can lounge around on the summit or near a stunning lake in comfort.

NEMO Fillo

Therm-a-rest Air Head Down

Best Pillow for Side Sleepers

My winner
10 Best Backpacking and Mountaineering Pillows - Therm-a-rest Air Head Down
Pros

Comfortable

Soft surface

Non-slip

Ergonomic shape for side-sleepers

Packs down

Cons

Price

A little heavier

Side sleepers need a pillow with extra loft and enough shape to keep their spine in alignment. As a side-sleeper myself, I love the Therm-A-Rest Air Head Down. The pillow is comfortable, has lots of loft, a soft surface, a non-slip bottom, and an ergonomic shape.

This pillow is a bit pricey, in part because it’s made with down feathers. It’s also a little heavier than some ultralight options. However, if you can manage a little extra weight and heft, this is a stellar backpacking and mountaineering pillow. You can also pack it down well due to its inflatable design.

Therm-a-rest Air Head Down

ZPacks Medium Dry Bag Pillow

Best Ultralight Pillow

My winner
10 Best Backpacking and Mountaineering Pillows - ZPacks Medium Dry Bag Pillow
Pros

Utilitarian

Practical

Microfleece face fabric

Weighs 1 ounce

Good price point

Cons

Comfort is dependent on the clothes you bring

If pillow weight is your biggest concern, take a look at ultralight backpacking pillows like the ZPacks Medium Dry Bag Pillow. This pillow only weighs one ounce and is my favorite ultralight pillow. It's a fantastic, utilitarian purchase.

The Dry Bag Pillow doesn’t inflate. Instead, you stuff the bag with your clothes and lay on the microfleece outer cover for maximum comfort.

The level of comfort this pillow provides depends on what clothes you bring with you. Lumpy or balled-up clothes will create a lumpy surface on the pillow. A puffy jacket is a great stuff sack item for comfort. This isn't the fanciest backpacking pillow, but it weighs next to nothing. For many weight-conscious backpackers, that’s reason enough to try it.

ZPacks Medium Dry Bag Pillow

Hyperlite Mountain Gear Stuff Sack

Best Stuff Sack Pillow

My winner
10 Best Backpacking and Mountaineering Pillows - Hyperlite Mountain Gear Stuff Sack
Pros

Water-resistant

Ultralight

Compact

Comfortable

Multi-purpose

Cons

Comfort is dependent on the clothing you bring

Less supportive

The Hyperlight Mountain Gear Stuff Sack pillow is my favorite stuff sack pillow. This ultralight backpacking pillow is water resistant, compact, comfortable, and great for ultralight backpackers. When you’re not using the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Stuff Sack as a pillow, the water resistance makes it a great bag for a bear hang.

This is a less supportive makeshift pillow than others I’ve tried, and how comfortable it is, depends on what clothing you bring with you. Still, the pillow’s ultralight weight and practical design make the Hyperlight Mountain Gear Stuff Sack a winning choice.

Hyperlite Mountain Gear Stuff Sack

Sea to Summit Aeros Premium Pillow

Best Inflatable Pillow

My winner
10 Best Backpacking and Mountaineering Pillows - Sea to Summit Aeros Premium Pillow
Pros

Light

Packs down well

Supportive

Firm

Cons

Not as soft as other pillows

Minimal insulation

In my opinion, the Sea to Summit Aeros Premium Pillow is a fantastic lightweight backpacking pillow and the best inflatable pillow available today. It's a great firm pillow for ultralight backpackers, and deflating the air bladder allows it to pack down well. The Sea to Summit Aeros Premium is also highly supportive.

Like the regular Aeros, this lightweight backpacking pillow isn't as soft as some might prefer. The lack of insulation can also be a big factor for cold weather camping. Still, if you’re looking for a packable, supportive, and reasonably priced inflatable pillow for backpacking, the Aeros Premium is a solid option.

Sea to Summit Aeros Premium Pillow

HEST Pillow

Most Comfortable Pillow

My winner
10 Best Backpacking and Mountaineering Pillows - HEST Pillow
Pros

Exceptional comfort

Machine washable

Warm

Supportive

Cons

Expensive

Bulky

The HEST Pillow is one of the most comfortable backpacking pillows out there. The HEST Pillow's construction uses quality materials, and the pillow is thick enough to support side sleepers. The soft surface feels great on your face, and the warmth of the HEST Pillow also sets it apart from more spartan options.

The HEST Pillow is a luxury pillow, so it doesn't pack down much and can be quite bulky. It’s also one of the most expensive backpacking pillow options. If you’re willing to pay a premium for exceptional comfort, the HEST Pillow is an excellent choice.

HEST Pillow

Pros
Cons

Verdict:

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Backpacking Pillow Buying Guide

There are a few important things to keep in mind when deciding which pillow will give you the best night’s sleep in the backcountry.

Price

You can find great backpacking pillows for cheap, but budget options usually sacrifice something to keep prices down. A budget option may not be as supportive, packable, or comfortable as more expensive pillows.

If you have camped before and don’t have trouble sleeping, a budget option should suffice. If you’re new to sleeping outdoors, a comfortable camping pillow that cradles you into sleep is an excellent choice that's worth the extra money.

Pillow Type

Not all outdoor pillows are built the same. Inflatable pillows like the Sea to Summit Aeros rely on air or an inflation valve to puff up an inflatable bladder.

Stuff sack pillows are makeshift pillow covers that you stuff extra clothes into to create the pillow. These are the most efficient solutions in terms of weight, but they rely on whatever clothing you bring to make them comfortable.

A compressible pillow is made of compressible materials like upcycled foam. The foam expands when the pillow is unfurled from its stuff sack. The compressible materials offer support, but the foam may need extra time to reach its maximum inflated size.

Lastly, there are hybrid pillows that use a combination of components. This combination is usually an inflatable bladder topped with foam or down insulation. The NEMO Fillo is a good example of a hybrid pillow.

Weight

Weight is one of the top considerations for any mountaineering or backpacking trip. Unlike a car camping pillow, backpacking pillows need to be relatively lightweight. Any extra weight can slow you down on the trail or leave your back aching at the end of a big day.

For extended trips or larger mountaineering objectives, things can get heavy quickly. The good news is that there are quite a few ultralight pillows to choose from on trips where weight is a concern.

Packed Size

Space is another prime consideration. Packed size refers to how much space the pillow takes up when it's not in use. The packed size for a stuff sack will always be the smallest since it's just a cover.

Luxury pillows pack down to about the size of a Nalgene bottle. While small, when you have a tightly packed backpack, it may not be small enough. More ultralight options may be about the size of your fist, so they hardly take up any pack space at all.

Washing Care

Pillows naturally attract oil and dirt from your skin. Some pillows can be washed, but only by hand. The machine washable varieties are much easier to manage. If you’re having trouble finding a pillow that’s machine washable, a nice compromise is a removable cover that is machine washable.

Sleeping Style

Different sleeping styles demand different types of pillows. If you sleep on your back, you need a softer, lower-profile pillow that cradles your head and keeps your spine aligned throughout the night.

If you’re a side-sleeper, you’ll probably want a firm pillow with lots of support and loft. With a supportive pillow, your spine is more aligned with your head and neck. Stomach sleepers need a thinner, softer pillow that allows them to turn their heads and still be able to breathe.

Noise

Ultralight camping pillows may weigh next to nothing but will often make a lot of noise because of the crinkly materials inside them.

If you’re a heavy sleeper, this may not be an issue, but light sleepers won't enjoy sleeping on crinkly materials. If you’re a light sleeper, opt for backpacking pillow options that are softer and quieter, or make sure to bring some earplugs.

Insulation

Some backpacking pillow options are insulated, and some aren’t. Insulated pillows use synthetic insulation or down feathers to keep your head warm overnight.

Non-insulated pillows are great for warm summer nights. Insulation can matter a lot in the alpine or in an environment with wild temperature swings.

Soft Fabrics

Some pillows save weight by reducing the materials they're made of. This usually comes at the expense of comfort. If you like sleeping on soft and warm surfaces, make sure the pillow you're eyeing has soft face fabrics. Soft fabrics can help you fall asleep faster and prevent skin irritation.

Summary

If you want an outdoor pillow that ranks highly across the board, the Therm-A-Rest Compressible Pillow and the NEMO Fillo Elite are both excellent choices. People who prefer inflatable pillows should check out the Sea to Summit Aeros and Sea to Summit Aeros Premium. For budget shoppers, check out the Wise Owl Pillow.

Ultralight adventurers should check out the ZPack Medium Dry Bag Pillow or the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Stuff Sack. If comfort is the biggest concern, opt for the luxurious HEST Pillow. For day hikers and people interested in a casual camping pillow, the NEMO Fillo is a superb choice.

Common questions

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I’m happiest on long backpacking trips into little-known pockets of wilderness, skiing down backcountry mountains, and on all-fours, scrambling the rocky spines of alpine ridges. When I'm not adventuring in the outdoors, I'm most likely writing about them.

*The information on this site is based on research and first-hand experience but should not be treated as medical advice. Before beginning any new activity, we recommend consulting with a physician, nutritionist or other relevant professional healthcare provider.

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