What do inflatable sleeping pads, backcountry bed-style sleeping bags, mini-LED lanterns, and two-door backpacking tents have in common? If you step back and look at product and technology innovation in the backpacking and camping industry, a lot of it has been focused on making the nighttime camping experience as comfortable as sleeping at home. The growing adoption of backpacking pillows is just another example of this larger trend.
There’s nothing wrong with making the backpacking sleep “experience” more familiar and comfortable for people, especially since advances in fabric and materials’ sciences have made gear so lightweight and easy to carry. I know I enjoy a few of these modern-day conveniences myself. If using a pillow on a backpacking trip is important, by all means bring one along.
Rather than speculate about the rate of backpacking pillow adoption, we ran a survey to see how many backpackers bunch up their clothing to form a pillow, how many bring a commercial pillow, and how many don’t bring or need a pillow to sleep.
Backpack Pillow Survey Findings
Over 90% of the 746 backpackers we surveyed use a pillow of some sort to rest their head on when they go to sleep. Of these, 37.8% bring a commercial inflatable pillow with them, while 50.9% form a pillow by bunching up a puffy coat or stuffing clothing into a stuff sack. Just 8.6% of the backpackers we surveyed don’t use a pillow at all, because they don’t use one at home or because they sleep in a hammock and feel they don’t need a pillow. The remaining 2.7% use a variety of other objects as pillow ranging from pipe insulation to inflated hydration reservoirs.
What’s the significance of these numbers? It’s clear that most backpackers want some kind of head and neck support for sleeping outdoors that’s comparable to what they use at home. Respondents who use a commercial pillow were also quite positive about the quality of sleep they get by using an inflatable pillow and that the additional few ounces required to carry one was well worth the added pack weight.
The survey found that the most popular backpacking pillows are:
- NEMO Fillo Backpacking Pillow
- Sea-to-Summit Aeros Pillow
- Klymit Pillow X Inflatable Pillow
- Exped Air Pillow UL
- Cocoon Hyperlite Pillow
If I were a backpacking pillow manufacturer, I’d be pretty bullish about getting more “clothing bunchers” to switch over to inflatable pillows since they are now so lightweight.
About this Survey
This survey was run on the SectionHiker.com website which has over 300,000 unique readers per month, so a large pool of potential respondents. Readers were incented to participate in the survey in exchange for a chance to win a raffle for a piece of backpacking gear.
While we’re confident that the results are fairly representative of the general backpacking population based on the size of the survey results where n=746 people, we can’t claim that the results are statistically significant.
There are also a number of ways in which the results could be biased including: backpackers who read SectionHiker.com might not be representative of all backpackers, backpacker who read Internet content might not be representative of all backpackers, backpackers who respond to raffle incentives might not be representative of all backpackers, our methods for recording responses might have been unconsciously biased, and so on.
The author is an expert in statistical analysis, survey, and experimental design and is sensitive to these issues. However, given the size of the respondent pool and the very strong consensus among user responses, we believe that the survey results published here will be useful to backpackers who are interested in learning about backpacking pillows and what their peers use.
Written 2016.SectionHiker is reader-supported. We independently research, test, and rate the best products. We only make money if you purchase a product through our affiliate links. Help us continue to test and write unsponsored and independent gear reviews, beginner FAQs, and free hiking guides.