Brian York and Rita Yamin know the importance of getting a good night's sleep, both on the trail and off.
So when Brian, an obsessive gear tinkerer, couldn't find a way to get his inflatable backpacking pillow to stay centered on his air pad, he invented one.
After 19 iterations, countless prototypes and plenty of product testing, Pillow Strap officially launched in March 2023 — and has been improving people's sleep quality ever since.
The aptly named Pillow Strap is a tri-fold pocket made with lightweight fabric in which you stuff a softgood (think puffy jacket), or fill with an inflatable pillow. An elastic strap is attached to it, which slips over your air pad.
This innovative product keeps your pillow where you put it, so when you roll around in the night, your pillow doesn't roll around with you, inevitably slipping off your pad and disturbing your slumber.
Brian and Rita, who live in Chicago, love backpacking, kayaking and climbing. They came up with the idea during the pandemic, after years of trying to solve this backcountry woe.
"Brian always tries to make life simpler and a little more comfortable," Rita said.
"When we first started handing out prototypes for our friends to test, they came back to us saying the Pillow Strap had instantly become a permanent part of their sleep setup, because it helps them sleep so much better," Rita added.
Since its official launch, positive feedback from happy, well-rested campers has been pouring in. The knowledge that the couple are changing not only their own, but other people's lives for the better, has helped Pillow Strap move forward despite hurdles along the way.
"Fabric availability has been a minefield," Rita said. "In late 2020, we found the ideal fabric to start Pillow Strap. We purposely tried to stretch and tear the fabric, and no matter how much we abused it, within reason, the fabric would return to its original size."
But right before launch, the fabric was no longer available for order. They pivoted to alternatives, but soon those options ran dry too.
"In a complete stroke of luck, and after casting a very wide net, we managed to track down a very similar fabric," Rita said. "It was a happy ending to a turbulent situation."
Through Pillow Strap, Brian and Rita have learned new skills while honing old ones.
"Brian learned the basics of sewing from his mother and maternal grandmother, not in any specific training, but through some sort of osmosis," Rita said.
Brian's grandmother worked in a high-end clothing production factory, and his mother mended the family's clothing, “so there was always some sort of sewing going on.”
When Brian moved to Chicago, his grandmother gifted him an old Kenmore sewing machine. In the second bedroom of their city apartment, Brian has put that sewing machine to work, bringing Pillow Strap to life.
Both Brian and Rita find fulfillment in the work Pillow Strap provides.
"Getting to use a variety of skills, getting away from the computer screen and using our hands to create something has also been fulfilling," Rita said. "Working on a tactile product has provided us with a renewed sense of creativity and fulfillment."
As Pillow Strap continues to grow, Brian and Rita have high hopes for the future of this simple, yet effective sleep solution.
"We're very excited to get Pillow Strap into the hands (and under the heads) of many more people," Rita laughed. "In five years from now, we hope to say that we’ve helped lots and lots of people sleep better on their outdoor adventures."
Ali Becker is a freelance adventure writer and narrative storyteller who shares compelling conversations about personal transformations, overcoming limitations, wellness education and adventurous situations. You can follow her rambling adventures on social at @thisisalibecker.