When embarking on a hiking trip, every item in your backpack counts, and this includes your choice of a pillow. A good night's sleep is crucial, especially after a day of trekking through rugged terrains. But what do hikers use for pillows, and how do they balance comfort with the necessity to keep their packs light? Let's explore the various options available to ensure a comfy night's sleep under the stars.

Key Takeaways:

  • Hikers have a variety of pillow options ranging from inflatable pillows to makeshift solutions using clothing.
  • Comfort, pack weight, and the specific needs of side, stomach, or back sleepers influence the choice of pillows.
  • Advanced materials and designs, like those in the Sea to Summit Aeros or Therm-a-Rest compressible pillows, offer enhanced sleep quality without adding significant weight.
backpacking pillow

The Quest for the Perfect Hiking Pillow

For many hikers, the choice of a pillow can make or break their outdoor experience. The ideal camping pillow offers a soft surface, supports the neck, and doesn't add unnecessary weight to their pack. From inflatable pillows to foam pillows, the options are varied, each with its own set of benefits.

backpacking pillow

Inflatable Pillows: Light and Compact

Inflatable pillows are a favorite among backpackers due to their light weight and compact packed size. Most inflatable pillows, like the popular Sea to Summit Aeros, require just a few breaths to inflate, offering a supportive pillow with an adjustable firmness to suit personal comfort needs. Their flat valves prevent air leakage, ensuring a stable sleeping surface throughout the night.

Compressible Pillows: Soft and Comfortable

Compressible pillows, such as those from Therm-a-Rest, are filled with synthetic insulation or foam that can be compressed into a small pack size. These pillows expand into a thicker, more cushion-like shape, providing a softer sleeping experience akin to your pillow at home. They are particularly favored by side sleepers who need extra loft to keep their head aligned with their spine.

Foam Pillows: Durable and Firm

Foam pillows offer a different kind of comfort. Made from solid foam, they are more durable and provide a firmer support compared to air or compressible pillows. Although they tend to be bulkier, many back sleepers prefer foam pillows for the consistent support they offer throughout the night.

Stuff Sack Pillows: A Versatile Choice

A highly versatile option is the stuff sack pillow, which can be filled with clothes or a down jacket to create a makeshift pillow. This not only saves space but also puts spare clothes to use. Many backpacking pillows come with an integrated stuff sack, making them dual-purpose and convenient for hikers looking to minimize their pack weight.

backpacking pillow

The Role of Sleeping Pads in Hiker Comfort

Sleeping pads are not just a barrier between you and the ground; they're a crucial component of the sleep system for any hiker. When considering what hikers use for pillows, many opt to use their sleeping pads in conjunction with a small pillow or even rolled-up clothing to create a makeshift pillow. This setup not only provides comfort but also helps in maintaining body heat throughout the night. A good sleeping pad can complement any type of pillow, be it an inflatable pillow or a compressible pillow, enhancing the overall sleeping experience by providing additional support and insulation.

Moreover, the versatility of sleeping pads extends beyond just sleeping. During the day, they can be used as seats or makeshift tables at the campsite. For the minimalist hiker, a sleeping pad might serve dual purposes, acting both as a part of their sleeping system and as an integral component of their daytime camp setup. Some brands offer sleeping pads that pair well with their range of pillows ensuring that comfort doesn’t have to be sacrificed for the sake of pack weight.

The Evolution of Pillow Technology in Hiking Gear

As outdoor gear continues to evolve, so too does the technology behind hiking pillows. Initially, many backpackers would simply stuff a down jacket or extra clothing into a stuff sack to create a makeshift pillow. However, with the advent of specialized hiking pillows, comfort has become more accessible and less of a compromise. Modern inflatable pillows, for instance, often feature flat valves that allow for quick inflation and deflation—just a few breaths and you have a comfy place to rest your head.

The materials used in these pillows have also seen significant advancements. From the use of recycled plastic bottles to soft polyester covers with synthetic insulation, the focus has shifted towards sustainability without compromising on comfort. For side sleepers, some pillows now come with a contoured design to support the neck and head adequately.

Specialized Pillows for Different Sleepers

The type of sleeper you are also influences your choice of a hiking pillow. Side sleepers generally require pillows with more height to maintain neck alignment, whereas stomach sleepers might opt for flatter pillows. Back sleepers, on the other hand, might prefer a medium-loft pillow that supports the natural curve of the spine.

Pillows for Cold Nights

On cold nights, the material of your pillow matters. Pillows with a quilted or soft polyester cover can provide an extra layer of insulation, helping to keep your head warm. Some pillows even feature a removable cover that can be washed, ensuring hygiene is maintained throughout your trip.

Lightweight Options for the Minimalist Hiker

For those who prioritize minimal pack weight, the best lightweight pillow might be no pillow at all. Instead, they might use a rolled-up fleece jacket or a spare sweater. While not as comfortable as other pillows, this approach is practical for ultra-light backpackers.

Hybrid Pillows: Combining the Best of Both Worlds

Hybrid pillows, which combine air chambers with foam or synthetic padding, offer a balance between comfort and packability. These pillows provide the softness of foam with the adjustability of air, catering to a wide range of comfort needs without significantly increasing pack weight.

Choosing the Right Pillow for Car Camping

When weight is less of an issue, such as on car camping trips, hikers might opt for more luxurious pillow options. Car camping pillows often feature enhanced cushioning and larger dimensions, providing the ultimate comfort away from home.

Sustainable Choices in Outdoor Gear

The outdoor gear world is increasingly leaning towards sustainability. Many camping pillows now incorporate recycled plastic bottles in their fabrication, reducing waste and environmental impact. This shift not only supports the planet but also provides hikers with eco-friendly options.

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backpacking pillow


Choosing the right pillow for hiking involves considering several factors including sleeping position, weight, packed size, and material. Whether it's an inflatable, compressible, or a makeshift pillow, the goal remains the same: to ensure a restful sleep that rejuvenates for the next day's adventures. With the variety of options available today, every hiker can find a pillow that best suits their needs, ensuring they wake up refreshed and ready to hit the trails.

best camping pillow faqs


What is the best type of pillow for side sleepers?

Side sleepers benefit from compressible or hybrid pillows that offer more height to maintain neck alignment.

Can I use my down jacket as a pillow?

Yes, a down jacket can be stuffed into a stuff sack to create a makeshift pillow, making it a versatile and lightweight option.

Are there any eco-friendly pillows available for hikers?

Yes, many manufacturers are now using recycled materials, such as plastic bottles, to create sustainable and eco-friendly camping pillows.

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Discover the secrets to selecting the perfect camping pillow to ensure a restful sleep under the stars, enhancing your outdoor adventures!