A camping pillow is both a luxury and an easy, lightweight addition to your pack. Here are the best camping pillows currently on the market.
It’s a common misconception that camping is equivalent to roughing it. Gone are the days of wadding up your down jacket and turning it into a makeshift pillow while you try to get a few winks. The truth is, sleeping in the great outdoors is just as comfortable as you make it. Nowadays, there are camping pillows for campers of every stripe.
Developers have been putting in some serious zzz’s when it comes to putting together the best camping pillow, and it shows. You’ve got everything from heavy, ultra-plush pillows for car campers to ultralight inflatable ones for backpackers. There are even pillow options for side sleepers. We took a good, hard look at some good, soft pillows, and we found the best pillows for camping and backpacking on the market.
We highly recommend scrolling through our list and checking out all the pillows. However, if you’re looking for something specific, you can jump to it right here:
- Best Overall
- Best Budget Pillow
- Best Inflatable Camping Pillow
- Best Budget Inflatable Pillow
- Best Camping Pillow for Side Sleepers
- Best Backpacking Pillow
- Best Ultralight Backpacking Pillow
The Best Camping Pillows of 2021
Best Overall: Therm-a-Rest Compressible Pillow
A lightweight and compressible offering from Therm-a-Rest, the Compressible Pillow ($27-30) is the closest approximation to the pillow we sleep on at home. Filled with leftover pieces of the high-quality foam Therm-a-Rest uses in its sleeping pads, this pillow expands to a whopping 27 x 16.5 inches for the XL size.
The foam gives it a luxurious, fluffy feel, and the foam provides a nice bit of insulation from any cold that comes up from the tent floor. The soft, recycled polyester fabric cover feels snuggly and warm against your face. When you’re not using it, the pillow packs into itself and compresses down to the size of a Nalgene bottle.
While not as light as some other pillows on this list (the XL weighs in at just under a pound), its comfort-to-weight ratio is on point. It’s light enough for backpacking, and it’s plush enough to leave your bed pillows at home during car camping. This perfect blend of versatility and comfort makes this the best camping pillow on our list.
One thing to note: The foam takes a while to puff up, so be sure to unpack it and let it expand as soon as you set up camp.
- Type: Foam
- Weight: 7-15 oz.
- Incredibly soft
- Mimics the feel of a full-size pillow
- Takes time for the foam to fully expand
- Some users find it lumpy
Best Budget Pillow: Wise Owl Outfitters Camping Pillow
If you’re looking for wallet-friendly comfort, the Camping Pillow from Wise Owl Outfitters ($17-20) is the smart choice. This memory foam camping pillow sports a microsuede cover for a soft feel, and it expands out to 5 inches thick to keep your head cushioned all night.
The foam packs down into the included waterproof stuff sack, compressing down to 12 x 7 inches for the large pillow. We love the fact that it’s machine washable and can go in the dryer. This is a huge plus for excessive droolers (you know who you are) and for getting out that campfire smoke odor.
The only real issue we’ve had with the pillow is that it doesn’t pack down very small. A big part of this is the stuff sack, which doesn’t compress the pillow down as much as it could. If you go with this pack, consider buying a small compression bag to really pack the Wise Owl Camping Pillow down to size.
- Type: Foam
- Weight: 9-13 oz.
- Memory foam is soft, yet supportive
- Packed size is big
Best Inflatable Camping Pillow: Sea to Summit Aeros Ultralight
Made of a 20-denier stretch-knit polyester laminated on a TPU air bladder, the Aeros Ultralight pillow ($40-60) is contoured to provide secure comfort while you sleep.
The scalloped bottom secures the pillow to your shoulders to keep it in place whether you’re sleeping on your back, stomach, or side. It even works well when sleeping upright in a chair. This makes it a great choice for road trips or long flights.
One of our favorite details is the three-way mini valve, which allows for rapid inflation and deflation. It also features a press-button release valve to let you fine-tune the pillow’s softness to your preference.
We also love Sea to Summit’s proprietary PillowLock system. This system works with Sea to Summit sleeping pads to stick to the pad and keep it in place while you sleep. When you pack it up, the pillow compresses into its stuff sack to about a third of the size of a water bottle, so you have no excuse to leave it at home.
- Type: Inflatable
- Weight: 2.1-2.5 oz.
- Compresses well
- Sticks to Sea to Summit sleep pads like glue
Best Budget Inflatable Pillow: Trekology ALUFT 2.0
The best inflatable pillow that we’ve seen for under $20, the ALUFT 2.0 from Trekology ($17) is perfect for ultralighters on a budget. The pillow is made of durable, water-resistant TPU fabric that’s just stretchy enough to provide some give when you lay your head on it.
Founded by a group of Ph.D. engineers in Portland, Ore., it’s clear that the designers put their degrees to good use. Details like tacky dots on the backside and elastic latches to hold it in place while you sleep are indicative of the thought that was put into its design. The contoured shape holds the head in place while you sleep, and the pillow only takes three to five breaths to completely inflate.
When it’s time to hit the trail, the pillow packs down to about the size of a soda can. In addition, the curved design and loft are ideal for side and stomach sleepers.
- Type: Inflatable
- Weight: 3.4 oz.
- Straps to keep the pillow in place
- Stuff sack is too small — it’s a pain to cram it in
Best Camping Pillow for Side Sleepers: NEMO Fillo King
The king-size version of NEMO’s excellent Fillo camping pillow, the Fillo King ($70) offers 6 inches of loft, which provides great support for side sleepers. The first camp pillow that we’ve seen that incorporated recycled foam filling with an inflatable interior, the Fillo Series combines softness and support better than any other pillow we’ve used.
This mix is perfect for side sleepers, letting you inflate the pillow to just the right amount of loft to let you sleep on your side without cranking your head toward the ground. In addition, the polyester jersey outer feels great against your face and soaks up drool (not a listed benefit, but we’ve verified this during repeated tests).
The stuff sack is integrated into the pillow, sliding into a pocket on the bottom of the pillow. This is huge for those of us who’ve tossed the contents of our tents looking for our pillow’s tiny stuff sack, only to find it stuck to the bottom of our sleeping bag. The soft face fabric mimics your favorite pillowcase at home.
The Fillo King is great for camping, but its packing size and functionality make it ideal for road trips, long flights, and even for lumbar support on the road.
- Type: Foam and inflatable
- Weight: 14.1 oz.
- Tons of loft
- Huge expanded size
- Integrated stuff sack
- Larger packed size than regular-size pillows
Best Backpacking Pillow: Cocoon Sleeping Bag Hood Pillow
Going light on weight doesn’t mean sacrificing comfort. Cocoon’s Air-Core Hood Pillow ($29) weighs less than 4 ounces, packs down to 4 x 3 inches, and sports a soft microfiber face. Built specifically for use in the hood of a sleeping bag, the Hood Pillow’s contoured half-moon shape prevents any bunching up or movement when used inside a mummy bag.
The inflatable air core is bolstered underneath a thin layer of synthetic filling for added softness and warmth. The twist valve lets you dial in the firmness and to make more room if you need to cinch the sleeping bag hood tighter on cold nights.
We love the reversible cover with microfiber on one side and nylon on the other. The microfiber provides added warmth on cold nights, and the cooling nylon side is built for summer camping, making it one of the more versatile ultralight inflatables on the market.
- Type: Inflatable and synthetic
- Weight: 3.8 oz.
- Tiny packed size
- Shape is ideal for mummy bags
- Nylon side sticks to face on sweaty nights
Best Ultralight Backpacking Pillow: Zpacks Medium Pillow
If saving weight is your goal, the Medium Pillow from Zpacks ($35) is the only way to go. Instead of designing a traditional pillow, Zpacks took its dry sack and sewed soft microfleece to one side of the interior. Rather than bringing a separate pillow with you, this brilliant design saves weight by using the stuff you’ve already brought with you as cushioning.
You can use it as a regular stuff sack while you hike, as the taped seams will keep everything dry even if you take a dunk in the creek. When it’s time to bed down, turn the sack inside out, fill it with your clothes, and then seal it up and get some shut-eye.
Packed size isn’t an issue, as you’ll be using it as a stuff sack, and at around an ounce, you won’t even notice it’s there. The only issue is if you run out of clean clothes — the idea of sleeping on a pile of week-old socks is less than appealing.
- Type: Stuff sack
- Weight: 1 oz.
- Lightest pillow available
- Doubles as a stuff sack
- Only as comfortable as what you pack inside it
Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose the Best Camping Pillow
Choosing the right pillow depends largely on how you usually camp. Specifically, do you sleep in your car, or do you hike out into the woods before you tuck in for the night?
Car campers can go the more luxurious route. Because you don’t have to carry the pillow around with you or fit it into a backpack, packed size and weight don’t matter.
Often, people will just bring along their everyday pillow to sleep on. But campfire smoke and the dirt and dust that come with living outdoors for a few weeks can leave your pillow smelly and dirty, rendering it unfit for use back home.
Car camping pillows are made up of materials that are durable and easily cleaned, so you can beat them up at a campsite without worrying about whether they’ll be usable when you get back home.
When choosing a car camping pillow, comfort is king. Go for a bigger pillow and one that uses foam filling.
Foam pillows like the Therm-a-Rest compressible pillow use foam cutaways from the brand’s sleeping pad construction. When unpacked, the foam puffs up and feels like a traditional feather pillow for a great night’s sleep.
Backpackers have a lot more to consider than car campers, as they’ll be carrying their pillows with them in the wild. Pack space and weight are an issue here, as you’ll be working with limited space in your pack and feeling every ounce with every step.
Inflatable pillows are a good option for backpackers because they pack down small and don’t weigh as much. The downside to inflatable pillows is that they provide little insulation from the ground, and they can make a crunching sound when you move on them (to go along with your inflatable sleeping pad). They also tend to be firmer than foam pillows.
We’ve found that a pillow that combines foam cushioning and an air core like NEMO’s Fillo is a great compromise between the two. Upcycled foam from the brand’s production process is used on the head side, and the core is inflatable for extra loft.
Side sleepers love the Fillo King’s extra loft. The lightest one we’ve found is a converted stuff sack from Zpacks. Backpackers have often used stuff sacks filled with clothes as makeshift pillows, and Zpacks took this a step further by lining the inside with a soft fleece material for added comfort.
It doesn’t matter how light a camping pillow is if it isn’t comfortable. Often, there is going to be a trade-off between comfort and lightness, but pillow companies are going to great lengths to minimize that compromise.
Some companies like Sea to Summit and Trekology have added contouring to their pillows, basically creating an inflatable hammock for the head. This lowers the chance of the pillow sliding around from underneath you.
It also helps to keep your head on the pillow if you tend to move around in your sleep. Other pillows feature straps or sticky material to prevent them from sliding around on your sleeping pad.
The style of the pillow is also worth considering. Foam-filled pillows are softer and replicate feather pillows better than inflatable, but the additional weight and space requirements can be an issue. We’re fans of pillows that combine the two, whether the cushioning is actual foam or a lightweight synthetic fill.
Cocoon’s Sleeping Bag Hood Pillow has a thin layer of synthetic fill over the air bladder for a soft feel at the head. One thing to note is that, when fully inflated, air pillows can feel too firm for some campers. Make sure to use the valve to fine-tune the softness of your pillow.
Face feel is another consideration, particularly for side and stomach sleepers. Most pillows feature a brushed polyester side for a softer touch.
If you’re car camping, packed size isn’t an issue, as you can stuff your pillow anywhere. For backpackers, how small your pillow packs down is a huge consideration.
Your backpack has limited space. Trying to fit everything you need into it can take a huge amount of creativity (and some serious Tetris skills). A tiny inflatable pillow can leave you more room for extra food, more layers, battery packs, or anything else you can think of bringing.
While often less comfortable than foam pillows, inflatable pillows tend to pack down to the smallest size. We’ve seen some that pack down to the size of an orange, which will leave plenty of room in your pack.
If you’ve got the room for it and you want a more comfortable option, a foam pillow usually packs down to the size of a Nalgene bottle. Smaller pillows can also fit into an exterior pocket or an extra water bottle pocket. This saves space in the pack’s main compartment.
If you’re really hurting for space, you can usually strap a pillow and any extra gear to the outside of your pack. The main issue with this is that it leaves the pillow at risk for snagging on a branch or rock. This can puncture a pillow’s air bladder and render it useless, so keeping it in the pack or a pocket is the preferred option.
Again, car campers don’t need to worry about weight. But backpackers need to count every ounce; every bit of weight added to the pack wears on their shoulders, backs, and knees.
When it comes to pillows, there has always been a trade-off between weight and comfort. Softer, fluffier foam pillows feel great when you go to bed, but the added weight can drag you down.
Inflatable pillows tend to feel firmer and are generally noisier than foam but can weigh half as much as foam pillows. When you’re looking for a lightweight backpacking pillow, look for one that weighs well under a pound.
Some of the best pillows we’ve seen have weighed 10 ounces or less without sacrificing much comfort. If you really want to save weight, the Medium Pillow from Zpacks is a great choice. It’s essentially a stuff sack with a soft interior.
If you turn it inside out and stuff it with clothes, it makes a great pillow. And at just an ounce, you’re not going to find a lighter option. Also, you’re using gear that you’d be bringing with you anyway, so you don’t have to save space for a pillow.
Generally, camping pillows are used inside the tent, so a decent pillow should last a while. With foam pillows, durability isn’t a huge issue, as they’ll work well even with a few small holes in the fabric. But it’s a huge issue with inflatable pillows; even a tiny pinprick could flatten it by the end of the night.
Even if you only use your pillow inside the tent, debris like pine needles and twigs can get into the tent. These little bits can eventually find their way to your pillow and find a way to puncture it in the middle of the night.
Look for inflatable pillows that are made up of a durable material, like thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU), or one that comes with a more rugged cover. Valves can also be a weak point on an inflatable pillow. Make sure the one you buy has a tough, well-built valve that isn’t prone to leaking. And ask around — fellow campers and online reviews are your best resources for gauging a pillow’s durability over time.
With a little care, you can prolong the life of your camping pillow. Always store it in your stuff sack to add a protective layer, and don’t carry it on the outside of your pack. Passing branches can poke or tear holes in your pillow while you hike, so be sure to store it somewhere inside the pack, whether it’s the main compartment or in an exterior pocket.
We like to flatten our pillows out and roll them up in our sleeping bags. This serves not only to add an extra layer of protection but also to keep our sleeping gear together so we don’t have to search for the pillow when setting up camp.
In general, the more features a pillow has, the higher the price will be. Lighter, more compressible pillows tend to cost more than their heavier, bulkier counterparts. On the plus side, well-established companies like NEMO and Sea to Summit have spent more time developing their products, dialing down more durable and comfortable designs.
When you shop for a pillow, determine your must-have features, weigh them against your budget, and find a camping pillow that’s best for you. If you’re new to camping and still trying to figure out what kind of pillow you want, go for a good budget pillow. It’s a great way to test a pillow without making too big of an investment.
If that pillow doesn’t work, you can keep it as a spare and kick down a little extra cash for a pricier pillow. If the budget option works out well, enjoy the pillow and use the extra money to snag a nice midlayer or a killer pair of socks.
Camping Tips & Tricks: Get a Good Night’s Sleep
We’ve spent enough evenings slowly sliding off our sleeping pads or waking up crammed into a corner of our tents to know the value of finding level ground, so pick your tent spot wisely. When you find your campsite, drop your pack and wander around the area a bit.
First, look for a spot on level ground. Not only is camping on angled ground uncomfortable, but it will also have you fighting to stay on your pad all night.
Once you’ve found the levelest spot, clear it of debris with your boot and pick up any rocks that can jab you in the back through your sleeping pad. Be diligent here — even a small rock can irritate your back.
The best-case scenario is a level patch of ground that’s covered in loam or pine needles that’ll act as a good, soft area. If you’re camping on bare ground, no worries. Just make sure that it’s level and clear of debris. A good sleeping pad will take care of the rest (pun intended).
Choose the Right Sleeping Pad
As your first defense against the cold, hard ground, a good sleeping pad is essential for a good night’s sleep.
Generally, the softest and cushiest sleeping pads are fully inflatable. Basically a huge rectangular balloon, inflatable sleeping pads will keep you completely off the ground and have the most mattress-like feel you can get when you camp. They’re also lighter and take up less pack space than foam pads.
There are a few trade-offs here. First off, inflatable sleeping pads are less durable than foam pads or combos. Any small prick in the pad can lead to a slow leak that will have you sleeping on the cold, hard ground all night.
Also, they’re notoriously noisy. Many campers report that it’s like sleeping on a bag of chips. If you’re a light sleeper and don’t want to sleep with earplugs, inflatable bags may be too loud for you.
They can also take a lot of time to set up, with several minutes of blowing into the valve.
That said, these still work great car camping and especially backpacking.
On the other end of the spectrum is the closed-cell foam pad. This is a thin foam sleeping pad that folds up like an accordion or rolls up to save space. Due to their unique shape, they are also known as “egg crates.” If you ever see one, you’ll understand why.
Closed-cell foam pads are thin and light, but extremely durable and they provide consistent insulation. Because there’s no inflation involved, they are impervious to tears and punctures.
Some ultralighters will even cut down their foam pads to save weight. Also, they set up instantly — just lay them down, and you’re good to go. On the other hand, they don’t provide the cushioning of an inflatable, and they take up a lot of space.
You’ll often see them attached to the outside of a hiker’s pack. These are best for minimalist backpacking, and many campers will combine these with the other two to add a layer of insulation and pad protection.
Self-inflating sleeping pads are a compromise between the two. These are basically a closed-cell foam pad within an inflatable sleeping pad. They are quick to set up. And they provide a combination of the insulation you’ll find in closed-cell foam pads and the cushioning you’ll find in an inflatable pad.
They’re heavier and usually more expensive than foam pads and not as compact as inflatables. They are also susceptible to tears. Lightweight and durable, these are popular for thru-hiking. They’re also popular for winter camping trips thanks to their insulative properties.
Few things feel better than getting warm and cozy in a sleeping bag on a cool night. So, be sure to get a sleeping bag that’s designed for the environment you’ll be camping in.
Sleeping bags come with a designated temperature rating. You can easily pick the right one for whatever location and season you decide to camp in.
If you tend to camp in cold weather, find a sleeping bag with a rating geared for colder temps. This also applies if you tend to sleep cold. Often, these will have venting options that let warm air out if you get too hot in your sleep.
Another option is to go to sleep with your socks and midlayers on, and then slowly de-layer while you sleep. One tester who does this says a pile of warm clothes stuffed in the toebox “keeps my feet warm.”
Keep the Essentials at Hand
It’s a lot easier to get a good night’s sleep when you know where everything is. When you head to bed, make sure everything you need is close by and easy to find.
Store your headlamp by your head, preferably in your tent’s storage netting. That way, you can grab it when nature calls or if you hear something outside your tent that requires investigation.
Many tents have elastic mesh nets stitched into the inside. This helps organize smaller items in your tent like the aforementioned headlamp, multitool, spare socks, and anything else that will fit.
Also, store your boots just inside your tent’s entryway, or just outside it. That way, you can slip them on when you wander outside to make coffee. Ideally, your tent will have a vestibule so you can keep them outside without exposure to any potential rainfall.
Getting wet in the middle of the night is a great way to ruin a restful evening. One common way to soak your sleeping bag is to get caught in a rainstorm without a rainfly. Another is to let condensation accumulate on the tent’s inner walls.
Rain is an easy fix. If there’s any chance of rain while you’re camping, set up your tent’s rainfly. Make sure that it’s cinched down to prevent the wind from blowing it away.
Condensation can be more difficult to deal with. However, a little care can go a long way in preventing moisture from building up inside your tent.
First, make sure that any wet clothes are outside the tent. Hang them to dry on lines or lay them out to dry during the night. Also, roll back your rainfly or leave your vestibule door open. The openings allow humid air and your exhalations to vent outside the tent.
Are Camping Pillows Worth It?
Absolutely. Camping pillows add a bit of comfort and help you get a better night’s sleep than a pile of clothes or a wadded-up jacket. The minimal investment of money, pack space, and weight is nothing compared to the comfort a pillow provides. It only takes one night of trying to sleep without one to realize the value that a good camp pillow provides.
How Do You Keep a Pillow on a Sleeping Pad?
Few things are more annoying to a camper than trying to keep your pillow on your sleeping pad. Waking up with your head on the ground and blindly groping around in the dark for a missing pillow is a great way to ruin your sleep at 1 a.m.
Thankfully, many camping pillows have features to prevent this. Some pillows are made with a contoured shape to mold to your head. Others have scalloped “wings” that help conform the pillow to your head and shoulders. This prevents it from squeezing out from under you while you sleep.
Some have texture on one side to increase friction and prevent sliding. This texturing often comes in the form of small rubber dots that add a bit of stickiness to help keep it on the pad. While it can help a bit, sleepers who tend to move around can still easily knock the pillow off the pad.
Some pillows include a more secure feature made up of elastic straps on the bottom of the pillow. The straps wrap around the sleeping pad to hold it in place.
Others still are made to pair specifically with sleeping pads in the same brand. Often, these pads and pillows are designed to nest within a sleeve on the sleeping pad. In some cases, the pillows have hook-and-loop fasteners that are paired with similar fasteners on the pads.
How Do I Wash My Camping Pillow?
Odors like campfire smoke and head funk can build up over time, eventually ruining a good night’s sleep. Be cautious when washing your camp pillow. Different pillows have different requirements when it comes to cleaning. Be sure to check your pillow’s packaging.
You may luck out and have a pillow you can toss in the washer and dryer when you get home. Others can be machine-washed but require hang-drying, so read carefully.
Most pillows require a bit more delicacy, particularly inflatable pillows. If you’re handwashing an inflatable pillow, make sure the valve is closed so water doesn’t get inside, and then immerse the pillow in soapy water.
You don’t need any special soap for this. Camp soap or laundry soap will work fine. Knead the pillow gently with your hands until it’s clean. Then rinse it with clean water to get the soap out and hang it to dry. Be careful not to tumble-dry inflatable pillows, as it can damage the air bladder.
Which Camping Pillow Is Best for Me?
The best camping pillow depends quite a bit on your personal sleeping preferences. If you’re a side sleeper, a thicker foam pillow is the better option. However, it will likely be heavier and take up more pack space.
If you’re trying to save weight and pack space, an inflatable pillow is a good idea. If you’re not sure what you want, look for a versatile pillow like NEMO’s Fillo line. It combines an inflatable bladder with slight padding on the face side, providing a mix of softness and packability. They also feature bungee cords on the back. This lets you roll up some clothes and stow them in the bungees if you want more loft.
If you’re new to camping and don’t know exactly what you want, think about what’s important to you and how much you’re willing to spend.
Have a favorite camping pillow? Let us know in the comments and we’ll check it out for future updates to this article.