When you’re roughing it, the best thing you can do for yourself is make sure you have somewhere comfortable to rest your head at the end of a long day. That’s why you’ll want to come prepared with a camp pillow that works hard enough for the both of you.
“I am a pillow guy,” says Jordy Shepherd, a mountain guide with the International Federation of Mountain Guides Associations, vice president of the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides and co-host of the Delivering Adventure podcast. “I can sleep well almost anywhere, be it winter camping, on a mountain ledge or on the beach, as long as I have a pillow. There are many options for backcountry pillows. Some are very compact and light, and work for both car camping and backpacking, as well as for hut trips.”
He recommends looking for a lightweight pillow that folds up very small yet inflates to a reasonable size. He appreciates the addition of plush microfiber and lofted padding on the top surface for extra comfort. “For me, as a backpacker, I’m typically looking for something that is both comfortable and minimal so it doesn’t take up a lot of space or weight in my backpack,” says Allison Boyle, the founder and CEO of She Dreams of Alpine and Become an Outdoor Backpacking Badass coaching program.
Camping pillows might seem pricey compared to the cost of regular pillows, but Shepherd says they’re “well worth the price to have a good night’s sleep after a long trek, or after multiple nights on a camping trip.”
In certain scenarios like car camping for example, you might not even need a camping pillow at all, according to Boyle. “If I’m car camping and I can drive my car to a campground I just bring a normal pillow from home with me. If I’m backpacking, I don’t bring a pillow at all,” she says, adding that she opts instead to ball her extra clothing or down jacket into a pillow inside her sleeping bag. “Not everyone loves the idea of this though, so test what’s right for you before going on a multi-night trip.”
It can be easy to get bogged down by all the camping pillow choices out there, but Boyle suggests keeping an open mind and not overthinking it. “The best choice is the one that gets you out there on the trail, so ultimately my recommendation is don’t get overwhelmed by all the options,” she says. “Choose one, test it out in a low-stakes environment and then get out there.”
“My current favorite is the Therm-a-Rest Air Head Pillow,” says Shepherd. “It meets all of my requirements in a backcountry pillow: it is light, folds up into a very small stuff sack and can be customized for thickness by adding or letting out air. It has a plush and slightly padded top surface with the feel of a real pillow. It barely takes up any space in your pack, and weighs very little. It is perfect for helicopter-accessed backcountry trips where gear space and weight are very limited.”
“This is the first piece of backpacking gear I ever got,” says Underscored editor Kai Bukhardt. “It’s a tiny, ultralight, inflatable pillow that only takes three breaths to inflate and is smaller than a headlamp. Even hardcore backpackers can’t deny that this pillow is absolutely worth taking. It’s not the most comfortable option out there, but if you’re obsessed with space and weight, it gets the job done.”
• Related: The best sleeping bags, according to camping experts
“It’s almost as good as your pillow at home thanks to a microsuede cover, a little bit of foam filler and a bunch of your hard-earned air,” says Underscored contributor Heather Balogh Rochfort. “It’s not the lightest out there, but my 41-year-old neck takes comfort over packability any day of the week.”
“I’m one of those ounce-counting backpackers who frequently gets neck pain and headaches from sleeping wonky, and the Fillo Elite has been a game changer when it comes to getting a good night’s sleep in the wilderness,” says Underscored contributor Emily Pennington. “Plus, it packs down smaller than the regular Fillo — roughly the size of a lemon.”
This 3-ounce stuffable pillowcase makes for a genius addition to your hike, with its empty shell that allows you to stuff it with cushiony belongings you’re already taking with you. It’s made with earth-friendly recycled materials, including ripstop polyester for increased durability and recycled polar fleece for maximum warmth.
• Related: The best travel pillows, tested by editors
For the cost of a fancy latte, experience next-level comfort at the campground with this luxurious camp pillow designed with a soft microfiber fabric. It includes extra insulation for chillier temps, folds into a drawstring sack for easy portability and comes in two sizes.
The lightweight and compressible nature of this popular camp pillow makes it an ideal nighttime solution. It features a plush recycled polyurethane foam fill with firmness you can customize via the drawcord, and its shell is made of a soft recycled polyester with extra insulation to prevent lumps and promote warmth. It comes in three sizes at less than 1 pound each and four unique patterns (yes please to the mushroom “Fun Guy” variation). Best yet? It’s machine-washable.
• Related: The best camping chairs, according to experts
Made of soft microsuede and a cozy memory foam, this 4-inch-thick pillow with nearly 9,000 Amazon reviews is a godsend after a long day out on the trails. Its cushioned memory foam packs down into a portable waterproof carry sack and it comes in two sizes and four colors for every type of outdoor enthusiast. Its removable cover is machine-washable and dryer-friendly.
Lull yourself to sleep in this glamping-worthy pillow made of enhanced memory foam and polyester fill that won’t flatten or lose shape under the weight of your head. Its curved shape provides some much-need support for your head and neck, and it packs down into an integrated zippered cover that’s machine-washable and dirt- and water-resistant. At just over 2 pounds, it’s a great solution for stationary stays at your campground.
• Related: The best camping tents, according to camping experts
Drift off soundly with Klymit’s Drift Camp 1-pound pillow on your next outdoor adventure. Its water-resistant outer shell makes it a low-maintenance option for rugged stays, while its inner cotton jersey pillowcase and shredded memory foam are customizable for your desired level of plushness. It’s bulkier than most options, making it the ideal accessory to a car camping trip.
Here at Underscored, we love a multifunctional item that saves on space and money. That’s what makes this 3-ounce camping pillow a solid bet. It’s a multi-use sleeping pad with an inflation pump that works both as a camp pillow, a dry bag or compression stuff sack for any loose items, and it’s compatible with sleeping pads from the same line. It’s a great option for those looking to inflate their camp pillow in seconds — versus minutes — and instead save their energy for the road ahead.
With its water-repellant and durable properties, this camp pillow is quite literally suitable for sea(shore) to summit. It features curved internal baffles to keep your head centered on the pillow, easy inflation and deflation for smooth campsite setup, a scalloped bottom edge ideal for side sleepers and a moisture-wicking synthetic fill to keep you dry in damp climates. Its brushed polyester shell is the finishing touch that’ll help you sleep soundly through the night.
Bundle up like a cocoon with this handy inflatable pillow by your side. What makes it a dream are its all-weather properties (simply opt for the cool nylon side during warm nights and the polyester microfiber side in cooler temps), and its ability to fit into the hood of your sleeping bag to keep it in place. Internal baffles further keep your head secure and its discrete zipper allows you to pop the cover in the washing machine.
• Related: What to put on your camping checklist, according to expert campers
Packing down to the size and weight of a soda can, this inflatable and highly portable camp pillow with more than 20,000 Amazon reviews is as hiker-friendly as it gets. It features a detachable latch and anti-slip rubber to keep it from sliding around and it fully inflates in as little as three breaths. Its thermoplastic polyurethane coating is water-resistant, and its curved design will help prevent you from waking up with any nasty neck pains.
Not only is this self-inflating pillow light as a feather, but its memory foam and soft surface material are quiet as a whisper so you won’t get woken up by any rustling. It boasts a contoured shape for extra neck support and a bonded ripstop nylon fabric that can withstand use directly on your tent floor.