Backpacking Pillow Bonanza! Katie's Take on 8 Ultra-Comfy UL Options!

Gear ReviewsKatie Kommer
 Best Lightweight Backpacking Pillow Review


Sleep is the number one factor that will make or break a backpacking trip for me. Comfort always trumps weight when it comes to my sleeping pad and pillow, because without a solid setup I’m doomed to a restless night in my tent. I prefer a bit of squish and plushness under my head and neck, so I typically choose a mid-range backpacking pillow (like the Therm-a-Rest Airhead) and take a weight penalty. However, one tip I’ve found through testing is to wrap a down jacket around an ultralight air pillow, creating your own plushy outer layer. 

I’m fortunate to be able to sneak into the backcountry at least every other week. This summer has been filled with overnight trips right outside my home of Salt Lake City, where I’ve been able to test a handful of backpacking pillows. Over the past couple of months, I’ve snuggled up with some pretty amazing head rests in the backcountry. Because I’m such a picky sleeper, my comfort ratings may be subjectively harsh. However, these ratings aren’t simply judging how soft the pillow is; they’re an indicator of how well I slept. Here’s how they stack up: 

 Best Lightweight Backpacking Pillow Review

 

Product

Weight

Price

Favorite Feature

Therm-a-Rest Airhead Down Pillow

4.9 oz

$59.95

Most packable and light “luxury” pillow I’ve tested

Therm-a-Rest Airhead Pillow

5.6 oz

$42.95

Cushy polyester masks the feeling of an air pillow

Sea to Summit Aeros Ultralight Pillow

2.1 oz

$39.95

Curved design makes it easy to move side to side

Klymit Luxe Pillow

7 oz

$39.95

Quilted outer fabric feels amazingly plush

Klymit Pillow X 

2.5 oz

$24.95

“X” air chamber design cocoons your head

Goosefeet Gear Ultralight Down Pillow

1.8 - 2.8 oz 

$35 - $41

Versatile level of comfort, depending on paired air pillow

Flex Air Ultralight Pillow

.56 oz (small)

$1.99

Can’t get any cheaper or lighter

Hyperlite Mountain Gear Stuff Sack Pillow

1.7 oz (large) or 1.2 oz (small)

$40 - $50

Extremely versatile, customizable level of comfort



Therm-a-Rest Airhead Pillow:

 Best Lightweight Backpacking Pillow Review


Comfort: 4/5 stars 

I was happily surprised by how comfortable this pillow is. Large air chambers typically tend to bother me throughout the night, but the synthetic-filled outer layer masks the feel of sleeping on an air pillow incredibly well. 

 

Packability and Weight: 4/5 stars 

For the level of comfort the Airhead Pillow provides, it packs down surprisingly well. It takes up roughly about the same space as an apple, and is extremely easy to roll up into its small stuff sack. However, for 5.6 ounces, it’s on the heavier side of the pillows I’ve tested, so it’s not my first choice for trips where I’m traveling as light as possible. 

 

Therm-a-Rest Airhead Down Pillow:

Comfort: 4.5/5 stars 

Therm-a-Rest’s down version of their Airhead lineup swaps the synthetic outer layer for a plushy, ultralight down fill. I found this to make a world of difference when comparing the two products. The down did a better job than synthetic of masking the feel of sleeping on an air pillow, which personally bothers me. However, this additional comfort makes the down version more expensive. 

 

Packability and Weight: 4/5 stars 

The Airhead Down Pillow is the exact same size as the normal Airhead pillow. However, for an extra $15, you get both upgraded comfort (in my opinion) and 0.7 ounces less weight. When comparing all the given features of the pillows I’ve tested, this one is my favorite. It balances weight, comfort and price point. 

 

Sea to Summit Aeros Ultralight Pillow:

 Best Lightweight Backpacking Pillow Review


Comfort: 3.75/5
 

This is the most comfortable truly ultralight pillow I tested. I prefer it to the Klymit Pillow X and the Flex Air Ultralight pillow. Sea to Summit uses a curved design which works well for side and restless sleepers, as opposed to the Pillow X, which I believe would work better for those who sleep soundly in one spot on their back. 

 

Packability and Weight: 4.5/5

As pictured, the pillow rivals the size of my 8 ounce coffee mug. In fact, when I’m carrying a bear canister I put the pillow inside the mug inside of the bear can, in order to be as efficient as possible with space. At just 2.1 ounces, the only lighter option is the Flex Air pillow. 

 

Klymit Luxe Pillow: 

 Best Lightweight Backpacking Pillow Review


Comfort: 5/5 stars 
 

This pillow is coooooomfy. It uses one large adjustable air chamber for inflation, and is wrapped in a soft quilted cover. The air chamber has a self-centering “X” design, so the pillow naturally cradles your head. As a side sleeper, I found this very comforting, whereas some other pillows make my head want to roll from side to side. 

 

Packability and Weight: 3.5/5 stars

Though this is the heaviest pillow I tested, it still weighs in at less than half a pound (7 oz). It’s also a bit bulkier than the other options, but packs down to roughly the size of two oranges. Though I don’t recommend this pillow for hikers who keep their pack weight as low as possible, it’s a great option for those who prioritize comfort and want something that will also be great for traveling or car camping. 

 

Klymit Pillow X:

 Best Lightweight Backpacking Pillow Review


Comfort: 3.5/5
 

As already noted, I struggle to sleep well with a pure air pillow. However, this self-centering X design does a great job of cradling my head when I’m on my side, whereas other air pillows can make my neck feel too upright and stiff. On one overnight trip, I paired this pillow with the Goosefeet Gear down pillow and I was extremely happy with the additional level of comfort the down covering provided. 

 

Packability and Weight: 4.5/5

Though this pillow isn’t the lightest of the bunch, at just 2.5 ounces it’s hard to find a more affordable ultralight option. It’s pack size and weight are very similar to the Sea to Summit Aeros pillow, though it’s 0.4 ounces heavier. However, at just $25 this is a better option for hikers on a budget. 

 

Goosefeet Gear Ultralight Down Pillow:

 Best Lightweight Backpacking Pillow Review


Comfort: 3.5/5

This one is a bit tricky to rank, because the level of comfort fully depends on the air pillow you choose to put inside. Goosefeet Gear’s pillow is essentially a lofty down covering, with room inside for either an air pillow or extra clothing. I like it the most when paired with the Klymit X pillow, but if you’re going for as light as possible you can use the essentially weightless (and cheap!) Flex Air pillows. 

 

Packability and Weight: 4/5

This pillow doesn’t come with its own stuff sack and is quite large, but it can be compressed really easily. I typically just shove it in with my quilt, and often forget it’s in my pack at all. The weight of the down tube itself is very low (~2 oz depending on size and fill), but bear in mind you’ll need to pair it with another air pillow for maximum comfort.

 

Flex Air Ultralight Pillow:

 Best Lightweight Backpacking Pillow Review


Comfort: 2.5/5

It’s not a surprise that the pillow that weighs essentially nothing is also the least comfortable. However, if you’re an easy sleeper, the adjustability of its inflation may make it enough for a good night’s sleep. Furthermore, when wrapped in a down jacket or cozy fleece the feeling of sleeping on air can be masked. In any case, it still beats sleeping without a pillow or using just rolled-up clothes (in my opinion). 

 

Packability and Weight: 6/5 

The Flex Air pillow is basically like bringing a sheet of paper along with you. It can be rolled up and shoved just about anywhere, and it weighs about half an ounce. Also, for less than $2, it’s unlikely to throw your budget off. 

 

Hyperlite Mountain Gear Stuff Sack Pillow:

 Best Lightweight Backpacking Pillow Review


Comfort: 4/5

When paired with another ultralight air pillow (I used the Sea to Summit Aeros), this delivers just as well of a night’s sleep as any in the lineup. Hyperlite Mountain Gear uses Polartec Fleece on one side of the stuff sack, where you lay your head at night. Ounce counters can use a down jacket inside the stuff sack to create a pillow, or filling the inner chamber with an air pillow also works. 

 

Packability and Weight: 5/5 

This isn’t only packable and lightweight, it serves a function during the day as well. On an overnight backpacking trip, I used the large stuff sack pillow to store my clean sleeping clothes during the day. Then at night I paired it with the Sea to Summit Aeros to create a pillow. Weighing less than 2 ounces and pulling double duty, this is a prime choice for those looking to go light. 

 

 

 Best Lightweight Backpacking Pillow Review
Backpacking Pillows on GGG!

 

 

Katie is a freelance writer based in Salt Lake City, Utah. When she's not behind her laptop, you can find her guzzling instant coffee in the backcountry or developing a new and expensive outdoor hobby. To see her adventures and occasional long rambles, follow her on Instagram @katelyn_ali

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2 comments

Erica Rice

Erica Rice

Thanks for the reviews. A pillow for me is non- negotiable and I am excited to try some of these options. I recently bought the Alps Mountaineering Camp Pillow which is a DREAM. It’s bulky but lightweight and it puffs up almost better than my best full size bed pillow. Highly recommend! Happy Trails!

Karl

Karl

Great article and obviously well-researched! I’ve been very happy with my Therma-a-Rest Down pillow, but since I always bring a down jacket just in case, I’m going to give the HyperLite stuff sack a try too. Thanks for the tips!

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