Updated May 2017
Camping season is every season, and we updated this review for the Spring with the addition of a new popular pillow, the Exped REM. It performed well across every metric but fell just short of snagging an award. The Nemo Fillo remains seated as the overall champion in 2017. This review is also reformatted to better guide you to your right product.
Best Overall Camping Pillow
Adjustable and solid support
Easy to use
The NEMO Fillo
maintained its status as Editors' Choice Award winner in 2017 because of its solid performance across our scoring categories. This pillow's all-around satisfaction potential is high, with a microsuede cover and foam filler providing comfort. It features an inflatable air chamber that provides customized support, too. Packing into its internal stuff sack, the design is intuitive, and the packed size is small. Its main drawback is its above-average weight, which keeps it from being our first choice on extended backpacking trips. But the majority of camping happens on sites close to parking, and so for the most common circumstances, this model is the best.
Read review: NEMO Fillo
Best Bang for the Buck
Easy to use
The Therm-a-Rest Compressible
pillow combines supreme comfort for a decent price, which earned it our Best Buy Award. Updated in 2017 to include new colors, eight options give you the ability to personalize your pillow. It is also supportive and easy to use, helped by its simple design and built-in stuff sleeve. We liked that the internal filler material comes from upcycled mattress foam, too, checking our eco-friendly box. For weekend and car camping trips, this pillow rocks. At $20 MSRP, it's an excellent product at a low price.
Read review: Therm-a-Rest Compressible
Top Pick for Backpacking
Sea to Summit Aeros
Small packed size
Great adjustable support
The Sea to Summit Aeros
was awarded our Top Pick for Backpacking, scoring well in our weight, packed size, and support metrics. What sets this one apart is that it is still reasonably comfortable and easy to use, despite its minimal design. 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. This is the pillow we prefer to bring on backpacking trips lasting several days or more. 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.
Read review: Sea to Summit Aeros
Analysis and Test Results
For this review, we purchased eight of the highest rated and most popular camping-specific pillows and sent them to our lead author. With the help of camping buddies and backpacking partners, these pillows were found under a head on a nightly basis throughout the two-month testing period. Whether car camping, backpacking, or paddling into the wilderness, we took meticulous notes and compared the products side by side. Our lead tester often switched pillows throughout the night to get down to the nitty-gritty details of performance. Each model was scored in five exclusive test metrics on a scale from one to ten. These metrics are explained below in detail, including highlights of the top performers in each category.
Generally speaking, we really liked each camping pillow we reviewed. When it comes to selecting the right product for your camping adventures, be sure to focus on the characteristics most important to you.
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 of quality sleep decrease and impact your next-day energy. Several factors play into the comfort of a pillow, such as pillow type, shape and contouring, size, and the fabric of the outer shell.
The compressible pillows (not inflatable) rose 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.
Jenna Ammerman maximizes the comfort of a hammock by adding the Editors' Choice winning NEMO Fillo to the mix.
Among the pillows we tested, the Therm-a-Rest Compressible
is the most comfortable, being soft and thick, large, and featuring a polyester outer shell that is pleasant against 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 inflatable pillow, the Exped Air UL
Campers young and old will enjoy the comfort the TETON Sports model brings to the campsite.
While the comfort derived from a pillow is subjective by nature, we have outlined the comfort features that each one offers. To find the best one for you, read through the individual product reviews and comparing them to your specific needs.
Weight is a key factor for backpackers, but not so for car campers.
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, and a pillow that scored a 5 in comfort could be made an 8 or more.
Adding clothing to a pillow to add comfort and puncture resistance.
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 own scale to measure the weight of each pillow, stuff sack included.
In our review, the inflatable pillows were lighter 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 was 8.3 oz.
This pillow was the most similar to a bed pillow. Having a removable pillow case, it was easy to remove, clean, and slide back over the inner pillow.
Ease of Use
A good camping pillow is easy to use, not a pain to deal with. 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 pillow case and toss it in the wash. 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
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 fully inflate.
For size comparison, we laid the two inflatable pillows out next to a Motorola Moto G phone and a pair of sunglasses.
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
Models with compressible fill are made smaller by using a compression sack.
The thickness of this pillow provides sufficient support and great comfort.
In this metric, we scored the pillows on how firm it 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 your 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.
If you prefer softer, flatter pillows, look for a product that earned a lower score in our support metric.
Waking up fresh with the morning light after a comfy night's sleep is a pillow's purpose.
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.