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Updated Jun 22, 2022 1:02 PM

A camping pillow might be one of the most overlooked pieces of gear when camping or in the field. We tend to sacrifice comfort in the outdoors almost like it’s a badge of honor. Instead of laying your head on a rolled-up shirt or hiking boot, try a camping pillow.

However, finding the right camping pillow can be a challenge because it needs the right balance of comfort and packability. We unrolled our sleeping pads, threw on our night caps, and tested a range of camping pillows from ultralight to ultracush, so you can sleep better wherever travel takes you.

Methodology

We selected camping pillows to test by seeing what’s offered by retailers like REI and Amazon, as well as reputable brands like Therm-a-Rest and Sea to Summit. We sought items with features like an inflatable chamber, high loft memory foam, down or synthetic padding, a removable/washable cover, a contoured shape so the pillow fits neatly inside a sleeping bag hood and keeps the pillow centered on your neck, and a protective stuff sack or travel case. 

We also took into consideration pack size and weight. Taken as a whole, a camping pillow’s combined features will put it primarily in one of two categories: patrollers (backpackers) or FOB dwellers (car campers). If you’re a patroller hiking on foot, you’ll probably want something packable and lightweight. And, if you’re car camping, why settle for an ultralight, ultrasmall camp pillow when you can have cabin comfort? 

For this review, we conducted two different tests with the camping pillows. First, we evaluated ease of use, travel, and storage. And, second, we tested them for comfort. In the first test, we inflated and deflated the pillows (the ones with an air chamber), scrunched and twisted them, stuffed them into their travel sacks, and packed them into a backpack and toughbox to assess travel size and space. And in the second, we evaluated how comfortable they were to sleep on and we judged them based on two separate rounds of sleep: one with a cot and one without a cot. In both tests, we used the pillow with a sleeping pad and a sleeping bag. In total, we evaluated overall size, packability (reduced size), weight, loft, support, comfort, ability to clean, and overall durability.

At Task & Purpose, we strive to find the best gear available for your needs. In this case, we’re writing about the best camping pillows to go along with our ongoing coverage of the best camping gear like tents, chairs, sleeping bags, and more. For more information on our review process, check out our editorial guidelines.

Best Overall

Car campers and FOB dwellers, rejoice! For the best overall, we picked the HEST Pillow. This is the pillow for those who like maximum comfort in the outdoors, and don’t mind the size and weight necessary to achieve that comfort.

The stretch woven nylon sleep surface is a soft, moisture-wicking material and comfortable on the face. The memory foam and polyester blended fill retains its loft, and the zippered access allows you to adjust the fill level as desired. The loft and support makes this a great pillow for back and side sleepers. The contoured shape of the HEST Pillow helps keep the pillow centered on your shoulders and neck throughout the night.

With an integrated, highly durable, polyurethane-coated nylon stow cover, the HEST Pillow packs down to about half its size and stays clean and protected during travel. For long-term use, the cover is removable and machine-washable. The HEST Pillow felt like our most comfortable home pillow with a bomber protective travel cover.

Product Specs
  • Size: 22 x 15 x 8 inches
  • Reduced size: 14 x 9 x 7 inches
  • Weight: 2.2 pounds
PROS

Very comfortable high loft memory foam and polyester blended fill

Great support for back and side sleepers

Contoured profile keeps the pillow in place while you sleep

Durable cover is removable, washable, and serves as a travel case

CONS

Too large and heavy for backpacking or patrolling

Does not fit in the hood of a sleeping bag

The Therm-a-Rest Air Head Pillow is the go-to pillow if you’re backpacking or traveling light. As an inflatable pillow, it’s very lightweight and packs down small, but it doesn’t let up on comfort or durability. When every cubic inch matters, you won’t lose sleep making the decision to add this pillow to your pack.

The Air Head Pillow features a comfortable brushed polyester cover filled with their EraLoft synthetic insulation. The cover and insulation wicks moisture away from your face and it’s padded enough so you forget it’s an inflatable pillow. The cover is also removable and machine-washable, so you can keep the camping pillow clean and fresh for each outing. The shape of the pillow is contoured so it fits inside a sleeping bag hood, and stays centered over the shoulders and neck.

The inflatable chamber is made of high-quality polyurethane, the same type of material used in outdoor applications like inflatable rafts and kayaks. Therm-a-Rest is known for its highly durable inflatable products, and you’ll get plenty of longevity out of this camping pillow.

Note: We tested another version of this pillow called the Therm-a-Rest Air Head Down Pillow. Most of the characteristics were the same, except the polyester cover had a different feel, and contained 650 Fill Duck Nikwax Hydrophobic Down padding. We found the polyester material covering the padding was slick and did not wick moisture, which had a negative impact on overall comfort.

Product Specs
  • Size: 11 x 15.5 x 4 inches
  • Reduced size: 3.5 x 4 inches
  • Weight: 5.6 ounces
PROS

Lightweight and packs down small

Contoured shape designed to fit in a sleeping bag hood

Soft brushed polyester cover is removable and washable

Highly durable materials

CONS

Only 4 inches of inflatable loft

Small size not comfortable for long-term use

The Cocoon Ultralight Air-Core Travel Pillow surprised us. The Austrian company created an excellent lightweight camping pillow. It packs down small enough for backpackers, and it’s 14- by 18-inch inflated size also makes it a competitor for the car camping category.

We found this camping pillow to be very comfortable compared to other inflatable camping pillows. The magic is in Cocoon’s air chamber material. It uses a thinner, lighter inflatable material that allows Cocoon to increase the amount of synthetic fill in the removable cover while keeping the weight down. The result is a camping pillow that has similar size and weight characteristics of other inflatable pillows, but is remarkably more comfortable.

As great as that sounds, the thinner inflatable chamber material also made us question long-term durability. We have a lot of readers who test the limits of their gear every day. You’d want to take extra care to protect this pillow from punctures and wear around certain areas like the valve stem. If you take good care of your gear, this might be the camping pillow for you.

Product Specs
  • Size: 14 x 18 x 5.1 inches
  • Reduced size: 5.1 x 3.9 inches
  • Weight: 6.7 ounces
PROS

Lightweight and small for backpacking pursuits

Impressive synthetic fill comfort

Removable, machine washable cover

Baffle design cradles the head

CONS

Not contoured to fit inside a sleeping bag hood

Inflatable chamber material feels thin compared to others

The Aeros Ultralight Pillow is a no-frills, basic option for ultralight backpackers. This pillow is best if you’re willing to take on a couple of extra ounces to elevate your head and achieve a minimal level of comfort on the trail.

The polyester fabric is somewhat soft, but not as good at wicking moisture as other pillows we tested. The air chamber and cover are one piece, so it’s not possible to remove the cover or machine-wash. The manufacturer recommends hand-washing and air-drying only and further recommends using a removable Aeros Travel Pillowcase (sold separately) for even simpler washing.

This pillow is easy to inflate and deflate using the multifunction low-profile valve. Also, it includes the Sea to Summit Pillow Lock System, which keeps the pillow in place when used in conjunction with a Sea to Summit sleeping pad.

Product Specs
  • Size: 14.2 x 10.2 x 4.7 inches
  • Reduced size: 2.8 x 2 inches
  • Weight: 2.1 ounces
PROS

Ultralight and small pack size

Inflate or deflate to customize support

Contoured design fits in sleeping bag hood, and centers on shoulders and neck

CONS

Cover is not removable for washing

Not a long-term pillow solution

The Aeros Premium Pillow is a noticeable step up in comfort compared to the Aeros Ultralight Pillow. The brushed 50D polyester surface is soft on the face and wicks moisture well. The synthetic fill padding adds premium comfort in a camping pillow, as its name suggests. This pillow is a great option if you’re willing to accept slightly more weight for a big increase in overall comfort and support.

The rest of the features are similar to the Aeros Ultralight Pillow. You’ll find the multifunction low-profile valve that makes this pillow a snap to inflate and deflate. The contoured design fits in the hood of a sleeping bag and keeps the pillow centered over the shoulders and neck.

The cover is not removable, so cleaning must be done by hand and air-drying. You can opt to purchase an Aeros Travel Pillowcase (sold separately) if you prefer an easier cleaning solution. This pillow also includes the Sea to Summit Pillow Lock System, which keeps the pillow in place when used in conjunction with a Sea to Summit sleeping pad.

Product Specs
  • Size: 11.8 x 16.5 x 5.1 inches
  • Reduced size: 3.1 x 4.1 inches
  • Weight: 4 ounces
PROS

Very light and small pack size

Synthetic padding increases comfort

Brushed 50D polyester surface is super soft and wicks moisture

Contoured design fits in sleeping bag hood and centers on shoulders and neck

CONS

Cover is not removable for washing

The Therm-a-Rest Air Head Down Pillow is similar in most ways to the Air Head Pillow we reviewed above. It’s very lightweight and packs down small, yet also provides features of comfort and durability that you want in a camping pillow. It actually weighs about a half ounce less than the Air Head Pillow.

The main difference in the Air Head Down Pillow is in the cover. The cover is filled with 650 Fill Duck Nikwax Hydrophobic Down padding for those who prefer to sleep with feathered comfort.

The cover is removable and machine-washable, so it’s not difficult to keep the pillow clean between outdoor excursions. We like that the shape of the pillow is contoured so it fits inside a sleeping bag hood, and stays centered over the shoulders and neck.

The high-quality polyurethane inflatable chamber is very durable, living up to the reputation Therm-a-Rest has developed for their long-lasting inflatable products.

Product Specs
  • Size: 11 x 15.5 x 4 inches
  • Reduced size: 3.5 x 4 inches
  • Weight: 4.9 ounces
PROS

Lightweight and packs down small

Down padding in cover provides feathered comfort

Contoured shape designed to fit in a sleeping bag hood

Durable materials; cover is removable and washable

CONS

Only 4 inches of inflatable loft

Cover material feels slick and doesn’t wick as well

The NEMO Fillo King Camp Pillow is a hybrid camping pillow that combines an upcycled soft foam filling with an inflatable chamber. The air chamber includes a six-inch I-beam baffled air cell that helps it retain a pillow-like shape. This camping pillow is easily one of the most comfortable we tested. The foam fill does a great job of masking the air chamber, so it feels very much like a regular pillow.

The soft jersey-blend cover was comfortable to lay on, and wicked moisture well. The cover is also removable and machine-washable, so you can keep the pillow clean between trips.

For travel, the pillow rolls into an integrated stuff sack. Our only issue with the pillow is that it’s marketed as a backpacking pillow, but it’s two to three times the size and weight of most other backpacking pillows when fully reduced for travel. You’d have to be a backpacker willing to make huge sacrifices for cubic inches and weight in order to add this super comfortable pillow to your pack. For us, this hybrid pillow performs excellently in car camping or other travel categories, but it’s plausible you might take it into the backcountry if you really want to enjoy your sleep.

Product Specs
  • Size: 14 x 17 x 6 inches
  • Reduced size: 12.5 x 4.5 inches
  • Weight: 14 ounces
PROS

Hybrid foam and inflatable combination provides excellent comfort

Up to 6-inch loft, customizable to individual needs

Cover is removable and machine-washable

Rolls into an integrated stuff sack

CONS

A bit large for backpackers

Best for Side Sleepers

The Klymit Drift camping pillow is ideal for side sleepers, especially those with broad shoulders and those who like maximum support. The high loft memory foam and gel fiber core provides an excellent cushion that retains its form through the night. The fill chamber has zippered access so you can customize the fill level to your specific needs.

The reversible nylon protective outer shell is durable, water-resistant, and easy to clean. On the inside, the cotton jersey case is soft and wicks moisture well. The cover is easily removed and machine-washable to keep the pillow clean.

One potential issue we found is that pieces of the shredded memory foam can be felt through the cover, so those who prefer a smooth sleep surface might be less comfortable with this pillow. Due to its large size and weight, this pillow is best suited for our car campers and those not venturing too far from the FOB.

Product Specs
  • Size: 16 x 23 x 6.5 inches
  • Reduced size: Compresses to about half its size
  • Weight: 28 ounces
PROS

Shredded memory foam and gel fiber core provides great comfort

High loft and support is great for side sleepers

Reversible cover; protective nylon outside, soft jersey inside

Cover is removable and machine-washable

CONS

Shredded memory foam felt through the cover

Too large and heavy for backpacking

Our verdict on camping pillows

There are many great options when purchasing a camping pillow, but choose one that’s appropriate for the camping you plan to do and one that aligns with your preferred sleep style. For car camping, your best bet is the ultracush HEST Pillow. And, for an infallible backpacking pillow, opt for the feature-packed Therm-a-Rest Air Head Pillow.

What to consider when buying a camping pillow

Don’t be overwhelmed by the seemingly endless options when searching for a camping pillow. In reality, there are three main categories to choose from: compressible, inflatable, and hybrid camping pillows. 

Compressible pillows have a solid fill of down or synthetic material, and compress down to a smaller size. Inflatable pillows are the lightest and most packable option since most of the support comes from air. Hybrid pillows use a combination of solid fill materials and an inflatable chamber to achieve a balance of the best of the compressible and inflatable categories.

In addition to category, pillow features are also important to consider when selecting a camping pillow. The most important features include size, weight, loft, and durability. Size and weight determine the level of packability of camping pillows. Loft is a fancy way of discussing a camping pillow’s thickness and support. Durability is a key factor in choosing a camping pillow that can survive repeated use in dirty, rugged environments.

Types of pillows for camping

Compressible

A compressible pillow is ideal for car campers who don’t want to compromise comfort in the outdoors. Affectionately referred to as car camping pillows, these are the most comfortable category of camping pillows, but they come at the cost of also being the largest and heaviest. They get their high loft and superb cushion from a solid fill of memory foam, synthetic fill, or a combination of the two. And, because of their solid fill, expect these pillows to only compress down to roughly half their size. If looking for a pillow in this category, think about an ultra durable version of your most comfortable pillow at home. The HEST Pillow and Klymit Drift Camp Pillow perform superbly here.

Inflatable 

Inflatable pillows are popular for backpackers who want comfort on the trail while accounting for every cubic inch and ounce of gear in their packs. The Therm-a-Rest Air Head Pillow and Cocoon Ultralight Air-Core Travel Pillow are top picks in this category. 

At the core, an inflatable pillow is an air chamber inflated by breath and secured by a valve. Air chamber materials vary from a thick and durable polyurethane (commonly used by Therm-a-Rest), to other materials that are thinner and lower weight. Some may include baffles that help the pillow retain shape or create a pocket for your head. 

But the real differences in inflatable pillows are seen and felt in the covers. These may be removable or adhered to the exterior of the air chamber. Options include brushed polyester, jersey, nylon, and more. Some inflatable pillow covers incorporate down or synthetic fill padding for extra comfort. Many inflatable pillows are designed with a contoured shape that works well in a sleeping bag hood. 

Hybrid

Why not have the best of both worlds in a camping pillow? Hybrid pillows include an inflatable air chamber, while also incorporating a mix of foam and/or synthetic fill into the main chamber. In return, you get a pillow that has more cushion and support than a typical inflatable pillow, and is much lighter and packable than a solid-fill compressible pillow. The NEMO Fillo King Pillow was the best hybrid we tested. Hybrid pillows incorporate features and materials seen in both compressible and inflatable pillows, creating a category of pillow that can function for both car campers and backpackers.  

Key features of a camping pillow

Size

How large of a pillow do you need when camping? Does your tent emulate a small cabin with every creature comfort from home? If so, you might opt for the largest camping pillow available. The Klymit Drift Camp Pillow was the largest we tested, and came in at 23 x 16 x 6.5 inches. That’s a bit smaller than a standard size regular pillow you might use at home, but still large enough to provide massive comfort while camping. The largest camping pillows, mostly in the compressible category, only compress or reduce to about half their size.

Many of our campers are backpackers who carry all of their gear with them on the trail and scrutinize every cubic inch of gear that goes into their pack. The camping pillows that pack down smallest tend to be inflatable pillows, with the Sea to Summit Aeros Ultralight Pillow registering at two x 2.8 inches.  

Weight

Similar to size, the weight of a camping pillow is a key feature to consider depending on your type of camping. Car campers have less of a restriction on the weight of their pillows, so campers in this category often opt for compressible pillows packed with a foam or synthetic fill, and loaded with other comfort features. The heaviest pillow we tested was the HEST Pillow at 2.2 pounds.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, our backpackers compromise some comfort to lighten their load. Inflatable pillows are the standard when weight is a primary consideration. You only get a basic level of comfort for the two ounces that the Sea to Summit Aeros Ultralight Pillow weighs, but plenty of other inflatables are substantially more comfortable for only a few ounces more. 

Loft

How much loft do you need to sleep comfortably? Camping pillows range from about three to 6.5 inches of loft. Within this range, inflatable pillows typically register at three to five inches of loft, while compressible pillows roughly five to 6.5 inches of loft.

It’s important to note that users can customize the level of loft on many camping pillows by removing some of the fill from compressible pillows (check for zippered access to the fill compartment), or letting some air out of the inflatable pillow. Compressible pillows with too much fill or inflatable pillows that are overinflated can be more uncomfortable than not having a pillow at all.

Durability

If you’re going to invest in a camping pillow, you want to know it’s going to perform consistently when camping and be able to take some abuse that comes with being outdoors. This is a key feature of camping pillows that sets them apart from regular pillows.

For compressible pillows, having a travel case or cover made of rugged material is important. From being stuffed into tough boxes with other gear, to being dropped in the dirt, camping pillows need protection and durability built in. Also look for a removable and machine-washable cover that will keep your pillow fresh and clean every time you head out on a trip.

When it comes to inflatable pillows, the most durable are those with polyurethane chambers like those made by Therm-a-Rest. You want a pillow that can be inflated and deflated hundreds, if not thousands, of times with no punctures or tears. Also look for a removable, machine-washable cover to keep the sleeping surface fresh and clean.

Pricing for camping pillows 

Prices for camping pillows can range from $20 for a basic inflatable or compressible pillow to upwards of $85 for high-end models packed with comfort and features. You’ll find options of inflatable and compressible pillows that run the entire pricing range from bottom to top, while hybrid camping pillows begin in the middle of the range and increase from there.

On the lower end of the pricing range, you can expect a basic level of comfort that will keep your head off the ground and provide a soft surface to lay on. The further up the pricing range you go, you can expect an increase in comfort, better materials, more durability, and more.

Ultimately, pillows are a very personal piece of gear, so how much you choose to spend on a camping pillow will likely depend on how seriously you take your sleep and camping comfort.

Tips and tricks

As with something you do for decades upon decades, you pick up a few tips and tricks along the way in terms of selecting the right product, and/or using it. That’s the case with us and camping pillows. To help you bridge the information gap, here’s a selection of what we’ve learned along the way.

  • For inflatable camping pillows, don’t inflate all the way or it will feel like you’re sleeping on a rock. The comfort zone is usually around half to three quarters full of air. 
  • If you don’t want to dirty the cover of your camping pillow, bring an old pillowcase from home or cover it with a clean t-shirt you have in your pack.
  • Leave the valve all the way open when storing inflatable pillows, so any moisture inside can escape and help prevent mildew.
  • Store foam and synthetic fill pillows in their open position and not folded or compressed. Long-term compression reduces loft, support, and comfort.

FAQs about camping pillows

You’ve got questions. Task & Purpose has answers.

Q: Can you use regular pillows for camping?

A: You can use regular pillows for camping, and some people do. The problem is regular pillows are not designed to be used in an outdoor environment and are much more prone to soiling, staining, and ruin. They also are not very packable for backpackers.

Q: How do I wash my camping pillow?

A: It depends on the camping pillow. Some have removable covers that are machine-washable. Some must be hand-washed and air-dried. It’s always best to check the manufacturer’s instructions to be sure.

Q: How do you keep a pillow on a sleeping pad?

A: Many camping pillows have a contoured design that allows them to be used inside a sleeping bag hood, and keeps the pillow centered over the shoulders and neck. Some manufacturers may include non-slip fabric to prevent pillows from sliding.

Q: Are camping pillows worth it?

A: Absolutely. Many camping pillows provide remarkable support and comfort using materials designed to survive the use and abuse of camping outdoors.

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